From the book Everyday Saints and Other Stories by Archimandrite Tikhon
|The Pskov Caves Monastery|
This story occurred in 1986. A month earlier I had been sent back from the Pskov Caves Monastery to Moscow. Archbishop Pitirim, who headed the publishing branch of the Moscow Patriarchate, had been told that in the Pskov Caves Monastery there was a novice with a degree in cinematography. It just so happened that in that year the government had finally allowed the Church to prepare to celebrate 1,000 years of Christianity in Russia. Specialists were urgently needed to prepare a show for the ceremony commemorating the millennium: for the first time we would be showing the life of the Church on television, and making movies about Orthodoxy. So I was requisitioned.
For me it was a real tragedy to be moving back to the city that I had left for the Pskov Caves Monastery several years before, but my spiritual father, Father John, said to me, “A novice must above all obey: go where your holy superiors have commanded you.” Nonetheless, I always used any excuse I could to come back to my beloved monastery, even if only for a day or two.
One day I received a call from Father Superior Zenon, a monk and icon painter who also lived in Pechory Monastery at the time. He sounded very nervous and wouldn’t explain anything over the phone, but begged me to immediately come back to the monastery. I can’t remember what excuse I used to convince Archbishop Pitirim to give me leave, but the next morning I was already in Pechory, in the cell of Father Zenon. What did he have to tell me? Under conditions of greatest secrecy, he informed me that several weeks ago in the mountains of Abkhazia, amidst regions where monks had secretly been living illegally for several decades, there was one monk who had suddenly had no choice but to descend from the heights and come back into the secular world. Now he was in serious danger.
Monks had been living illegally in the mountains around Sukhumi for years, since the very beginning of the Soviet Union. They would relinquish the world forever and go into hermitage in remote mountainous regions, hidden from civil authority and even sometimes from ecclesiastical authority. Some of them were real heroes and spiritual warriors who sought seclusion in order to be with God through ceaseless prayer and contemplation. Others left the world in protest against the lies and injustice of the Soviet government and the Church that it controlled—ripping up their Soviet passports. Others wanted to have nothing to do with what the Soviets called “ecumenism,” collaboration, or any of the other empty slogans that our ecclesiastical authorities at the time were parroting.
Three years ago I had a chance to visit these mountains myself. With the permission of Archimandrite Cyril and Archimandrite Onuphrius of the Holy Trinity Monastery, I went with several friends to bring a monk from the monastery with us to the illegal monastic hideouts. The story of our trip is worth telling separately, but in any case I was well acquainted with the house of Deacon Gregory on Kazbegi Street in Sukhumi. From there almost all of the journeys from legal to illegal life departed, winding to the summits of the Caucasus past two or three shelters along the road into the mountains where pious Christians would hide the monks. The travelers would climb up steep mountain paths from one cell to another, ascending to ever more remote and beautiful places. Such were the hiding places of our spiritual heroes.
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