The Prayer from the Crypt: Keys to Reaching the Souls of Your Loved Ones and Others
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Seeing that because of this I should not be able to get myself a fixed abode, I made up my mind to go into Siberia to the tomb of St. Innocent of Irkutsk. My idea was that in the forests and steppes of Siberia I should travel in greater silence and therefore in a way that was better for prayer and reading. And this journey I undertook, all the while saying my oral prayer without stopping. After no great lapse of time I had the feeling that the prayer had, so to speak, by its own action passed from my lips to my heart.
That is to say, it seemed as though my heart in its ordinary beating began to say the words of the prayer within at each beat. Thus for example, one, "Lord," two, "Jesus," three, "Christ," and so on. I gave up saying the prayer with my lips. I simply listened carefully to what my heart was saying. It seemed as though my eyes looked right down into it; and I dwelt upon the words of my departed starets when he was telling me about this joy.
Then I felt something like a slight pain in my heart, and in my thoughts so great a love for Jesus Christ that I pictured myself, if only I could see Him, throwing myself at His feet and not letting them go from my embrace, kissing them tenderly, and thanking Him with tears for having of His love and grace allowed me to find so great a consolation in His Name, me, His unworthy and sinful creature! Further there came into my heart a gracious warmth which spread through my whole breast. This moved me to a still closer reading of The Philokalia in order to test my feelings, and to make a thorough study of the business of secret prayer in the heart.
For without such testing I was afraid of falling a victim to the mere charm of it, or of taking natural effects for the effects of grace, and of giving way to pride at my quick learning of the prayer. It was of this danger that I had heard my departed starets speak.
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For this reason I took to walking more by night and chose to spend my days reading The Philokalia sitting down under a tree in the forest. What wisdom, such as I had never known before, was shown me by this reading!
Giving myself up to it I felt a delight which till then I had never been able to imagine. It is true that many places were still beyond the grasp of my dull mind.
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But my prayer in the heart brought with it the clearing up of. Sometimes also, though very rarely, I saw my departed starets in a dream, and he threw light upon many things, and, most of all, guided my ignorant soul more and more toward humility. In this blissful state I passed more than two months of the summer. For the most part I went through the forests and along bypaths. When I came to a village I asked only for a bag of dried bread and a handful of salt.
I filled my bark jar with water, and so on for another sixty miles or so. Toward the end of the summer temptation began to attack me, perhaps as a result of the sins on my wretched soul, perhaps as something needed in the spiritual life, perhaps as the best way of giving me teaching and experience.
A clear case in point was the following. One day when I came out on to the main road as twilight was falling, two men with shaved heads who looked like a couple of soldiers came up to me. They demanded money.
When I told them that I had not a farthing on me, they would not believe me, and shouted insolently, "You're lying, pilgrims always pick up lots of money. I do not know whether I remained senseless long, but when I came to I found myself lying in the forest by the roadside, robbed. My knapsack had gone; all that was left of it were the cords from which it hung, which they had cut. Thank God they had not stolen my passport, which I carried in my old fur cap so as to be able to show it as quickly as possible on demand.
I got up weeping bitterly, not so much on account of the pain in my head as for the loss of my books, the Bible and The Philokalia, which were in the stolen knapsack. Day and night I did not cease to weep and lament. Where was it now, my Bible which I had always carried with me, and which I had always read from my youth onward? Where was my Philokalia, from which I had gained so much teaching and consolation? Oh unhappy me, to have lost the first and last treasures of my life. It would have been better to be killed outright than to live without this spiritual food.
For I should never be able to replace the books now. For two days I just dragged myself along, I was so crushed by the weight of my misfortune. On the third I quite reached the end of my strength, and dropping down in the shelter of a bush I fell asleep. And then I had a dream.
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I was back at the monastery in the cell of my starets, deploring my loss. The old man was trying to comfort me. He said, "Let this be a lesson to you in detachment from earthly things, for your better advance toward heaven. This has been allowed to happen to you to save you from falling into the mere enjoyment of spiritual things.
God would have the Christian absolutely renounce all his desires and delights and attachments, and to submit himself entirely to His divine will.
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He orders every event for the help and salvation of man; 'He willeth that all men should be saved. Soon you will be rejoicing much more than you are now distressed. I crossed myself, got up, and went on my way. The prayer again began to be active in my heart, as before, and for three days I went along in peace. All at once I came upon a body of convicts with their military escort. When I came up to them I recognized the two men who had robbed me. They were in the outside file, and so I fell at their feet and earnestly begged them to tell me what they had done with my books.
At first they paid no heed to me, but in the end one of them said, "If you will give us something we will tell you where your books are.
Give us a ruble. Then they told me that my books were in the wagons which followed the prisoners, among all the other stolen things they were found with. You will see a signature in the Bible which shows it is mine, and here is my passport showing the same name and surname. He then told me that the rascals who had robbed me were deserters living in a mud hut in the forest and that they had plundered many people, but that a clever driver whose troika they had tried to steal had captured them the day before.
Then I need not stop the whole convoy and the wagons just for your sake. I saw that he was a kindly and honest fellow and no longer young. He asked me who I was, where I came from, and where I was going. I answered all his questions without hiding anything, and so we reached the house which marked the end of the day's march.
He found my books and gave them back to me, saying, "Where are you going, now night has come on? Stay here and sleep in my anteroom. Now that I had my books again, I was so glad that I did not know how to thank God. I clasped the books to my breast and held them there so long that my hands got quite numbed. I shed tears of joy, and my heart beat with delight. The officer watched me and said, "You must love reading your Bible very much! Then he went on to say, "I also read the Gospel regularly every day, brother.
I knew my job, and my superior officers liked me for a conscientious second lieutenant. Still, I was young, and so were my friends. Unhappily I took to. So long as I kept away from drink, I was a good officer, but when I gave way to it, I was no good for anything for six weeks at a time. They bore with me for a long while,' but the end of it was that after being thoroughly rude while drunk to my commanding officer, I was cashiered and transferred to a garrison as a private soldier for three years.
I was threatened with a still more severe punishment if I did not give up drinking and mend my ways. Even in this miserable state of affairs, however much I tried, I could not regain my self-control nor cure myself. I found it impossible to get rid of my passion for drink, and it was decided to send me to a disciplinary corps.