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One of the most popular books in Russia in recent years has been Everyday Saints, published in 2011 by Tikhon Shevkunov, a monk and priest who has since (2015) been made a Bishop. An article in The Financial Times ('Putin and the monk', 25 January 2013) tells us that it sold more copies than the Russian translation of Fifty Shades of Grey. It is an account, starting in the Soviet era, of life in the Pskov Caves monastery, on the border between Russia and Estonia (prior to 1939 it was in Estonia. It is the only Russian monastery that was never closed during the Soviet era. The book talks of the means by which it resisted closure during the renewed persecution under Khrushchev).

Father Tikhon Shevkunov

Here is a description of how entering the monastery was experienced by a young fashionable Soviet citizen, a lover of fast cars (a taste he was never able to shake off and which ultimately resulted in his death) who became well known and loved as a priest, Father Rafael:

'This new world Father Raphael had joined was full of joy and light, and governed by its own particular laws. In this world the help of the Lord would always come when it was truly needed. In this world wealth was ridiculous, and glamour and ostentatiousness absurd, while modesty and humility were beautiful and becoming. Here great and just souls truly judged themselves to be lesser and worse than any other man. Here the most respected were those who had fled from all worldly glory. And here the most powerful were those who with all their hearts had recognized the powerlessness of their own unaided humanity. Here the true power was hidden with frail elders, and it was understood that sometimes it was better to be old and ill than to be young and healthy. Here the youthful would leave behind the usual pleasures of their friends and mates in the normal world, and do so with no regrets, as long as they would not have to leave this special world without which they could no longer live. Here the death of each became a lesson to all, and the end of earthly life was just the beginning.' (5)

(5) Father Tikhon Shevkunov: Everyday Saints and other stories, Dallas, Texas, Pokrov Publications, 2012. I have it in a Kindle edition that doesn't give page references.

And here is an account of another, older priest monk who lived the ascetic life in its fulness:

'Father Dositheus was truly a great monk, though he was hardly noticed in the monastery. This is usually a reliable sign of an elevated spiritual warrior. He ended up in his parish as part of his obedience to his bishop, who had once sent him off to serve in the Church of the Protection in the village of Borovik. He was sent back there again and again, and eventually he was made the parish priest in this village that was nestled among the woods and swamps. When Father Dositheus went into reclusion in an abandoned little house about two kilometers down the river, on an island in the swamps, he would paddle back to the church on Saturdays and Sundays in a dugout canoe-like boat that he had carved out of a pine log. (Nobody else but the elder Dositheus was able to navigate in that craft for more than ten meters without turning over.) On all other days Father Dositheus would remain in complete seclusion. Into that utterly secluded little retreat Father Dositheus dragged the trunk of an oak tree with a hollow that he had carved out of its inside. The elder would clamber into that hollow for hours and hours, repeating the Jesus Prayer (6) to himself, retreating even from his own retreat, as it were, in his thorough renunciation of all things worldly. But the mysterious recluse had entered into his retreat from the world not from any loathing for the world, but precisely because with all the power of his intensely loving soul he cared for this world, and wanted to protect it with his passionate prayer and with his nameless labors for others, which were only discovered later, long after his death ...

'Once I asked Father Nikita whether this ascetic elder of his had been a very severe person. Nikita answered by telling me about one incident. At the time he had been a sixteen-year-old boy, and had suddenly for some reason become relentlessly angry and had even yelled at Father Dositheus. The elder threw himself at Nikita’s feet, and in tears began to beg his forgiveness for having allowed his ward to have gotten into such an unholy state of rage.'

(6) The 'Jesus prayer' is a very simple one sentence prayer for forgiveness.

Father Dositheus was finally drowned in the river which he used to paddle in his fragile dugout canoe:

'And indeed, it soon became known around the neighbourhood that drunken hunters from the local town were even boasting about the fact that as they were speeding down the river in their motorboat, they had knocked the frail old priest into the frozen water, just for a lark . . .'

Monks of the Pskov Caves monastery surrounding the much respected Elder John (Krestiankin)