Walk before God in simplicity, and not in subtleties of the mind. Simplicity brings faith; but subtle and intricate speculations bring conceit; and conceit brings withdrawal from God. Saint Isaac of Syria, Directions on Spiritual Training
An incident took place in Holy Russia, in the remote depths of the country, at a distance of several hundred miles from the nearest village.
There lived a peasant orphan, completely illiterate but always hard-working; he spent not one moment in idleness. His soul was as pure as crystal, and he always listened to his conscience in every matter. His conscience was righteous; not feeble, but truly righteous, sensitive and strict. In his simple way, he never offended it by disobedience, and so he always heard its voice. If a man disobeys his conscience once, twice or more, then he stops hearing it. This simple man observed fasts, and was satisfied with very little. He was always cheerful and full of the joy of life, and he never judged anyone, considering himself to be worse and lower than everyone else.
One day he heard from a pilgrim that in order to be saved one must take up one's cross and follow Christ. Our simple man had never once been to church as an adult, since it was very far away from his little hamlet. He had been baptized in church as a baby, but he did not remember it. "You must take up your cross and follow Christ." Our simple young man understood these words literally. He ordered an enormous wooden cross and resolved to take it and follow Christ. His pure soul yearned towards God, his heart thirsted for salvation, but how was he to follow? Where? In what way? Where was Christ? There was the cross, but where should he carry it?
The simple man left all his few possession, and his work, hoisted his cross onto his shoulder, and set off. He went, as the saying goes, following his nose. He walked for a long, long time, until at last, in a dense forest, he came across a monastery. He knocked at the gates. "Who are you?" asked the gate-keeper, "and where are you going with your cross?"
"Here I am," said the simple man, "carrying my cross, but I don't know how to get to Christ. Won't you point out the way to me?"
"Here's a real crank," thought the monk to himself. "Iíll go and tell the abbot." The monk departed and told the abbot, who was surprised and ordered the simple man to be brought to him. "But he won't come," said the monk. "He keeps refusing to leave his cross and he can't come into your cell with his cross; it is much too big." Then the abbot went out himself to the simple man. He talked to him, and saw that he was a man of God.
"If you like," said the abbot, "we will help you to reach Christ. We are also going to Him." "Then where are your crosses?" asked the newcomer. "You know, the Lord will not accept you without a cross." "They are within us," said the abbot. "We carry them inside ourselves." "How can that be?" asked the newcomer in surprise. "You will see for yourself." replied the abbot, "but for the time being I give you my consent to remain here, and you will have a duty -- tidying up in the church. Take your cross and bring it down there, into the church."
The simple man entered the church with trepidation and began to tidy up. He raised his head -and froze. Above him, fight over the altar, a large wooden cross had been made, and on it the Lord was portrayed, full-length, crucified. Our simple man had never seen anything like it before. He stared at it: nails had been driven into the hands and feet, and they were bleeding. On his breast there was also blood and a wound. His head also was completely covered in blood, his face was swollen and beaten. Who was he? Who was he? "Who are you? You also bore your cross and were not parted from it. But how is it that you are still hanging on it?" The blood rushed to the simple man's heart. He felt such love and pity for the Sufferer, that it seemed he would give up his life if only he could serve the Sufferer and help him.
"How can you hang there all the time without food? Come down, come down from your cross, and I will feed you." On his knees, the simple man lifted up his hands and prayed and prayed without interruption. "Come down, come to me, teach me how and where I must carry my cross. Perhaps I too must be crucified on it?"
Thus he prayed to the Crucified One for several days and nights with all his heart, and fell down before him, and was soaked through with his own tears. And the Crucified Lord, hearing the prayers raised up to him from a full heart, came down from the cross, and taught the simple man how he should bear his cross in order to enter the Kingdom of Heaven. No one can be saved without his cross.
The Lord revealed to the simple man the mystery of the Triune God, the mystery of the love of the Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son and the Holy Spirit. "I am the Son of the Heavenly Father and have redeemed the human race with my cross. No one will enter the Kingdom of Heaven without his cross. No one will receive the grace of the Holy Spirit in his heart without his cross. You need only to join your cross with the cross of Golgotha, and to wind around it, like roses, deeds of charity."
The simple man listened to everything and received the Holy Spirit in his heart, and the Lord revealed to him that within a few days he would depart to the Kingdom of Heaven. The simple man began joyfully to prepare for death, praising ceaselessly and thanking God for everything. He also revealed to the abbot the hour of his end. The abbot shed a few tears and begged him to say a few prayers before the Lord for him also. With the whole of his pure heart, the simple man began to intercede for the abbot with the Saviour: "Take him into the Kingdom of Heaven also, release him from this temporal life." "But why should he be taken? He is not yet ready." "O, take him for the sake of the favor he did for me when he gave me a double portion of bread, of which I brought half to you. Do him a favor for the sake of the favor which he did. Take him into the Kingdom of Heaven. O Lord, our God, Thou art our Saviour, crucified for us, answer my prayer. Do not deprive him either of Thine ineffable grace and joy."
The Lord heard the prayers of the simple man and revealed to him the hour of the abbot's death, and the simple man disclosed to the abbot the hour of his end. The abbot began to prepare for his translation into eternity. At the appointed day and hour, the simple man passed away to the Lord, and two weeks later, at the appointed day and hour, the abbot reposed in tho Lord.
An excerpt from An Early Soviet Saint: The Life of Father Zachariah translated by Jane Ellis, Templegate Publishers, Springfield, Ill, 1976.
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