One book, which is treasured today by the modern Orthodox community derives from the experiences of an extraordinary man who survived the gulag experience in Russia. This book, Father Arseny, 1893-1973: Priest, Prisoner, Spiritual Father : Being the Narratives Compiled by the Servant of God Alexander Concerning His Spiritual Father, I recently acquired. I’ve read about half of it, and I’d like to share a little from what I’ve read. The first part of the book are stories and fragments collected from prisoners who remembered Fr Arseny during their imprisonment. From a fragment entitled, O Mother of God! Do not Abandon Them! we find a recounting of a time in which Fr Arseny became very very ill. He was expected by all around him to die. During this time he recalled having out of body experience. At the first part of this, he recalled viewing the following:

As he prayed, he cried, begging God, the Mother of God, and all the Saints to have mercy on them all. But his prayer was wordless. And now the barracks and the entire camp appeared before his spiritual eyes in a very different way. He saw the whole camp with all its prisoners and its prison guards as if from inside. Each person carried within himself a soul which was now directly visible to Father Arseny. The souls of some were afire with faith which kindled the people around them; the souls of others, like Szikov and Avsenkov, burned with a smaller yet ever growing flame; others had only small sparks of faith and only needed the arrival of a shepherd to fan these sparks into a real flame. There were also people whose souls were dark and sad, without even a spark of Light. Now, looking into the souls of the people which God had allowed him to see, Father Arseny was extremely moved. “O, Lord! I lived among these people and did not even notice them. How much beauty they carry within them. So many are true ascetics in the faith. Although they are surrounded by such spiritual darkness and unbearable human suffering, they not only save themselves, but give their life and their love to the people around them, helping others by word and by dead.

“Lord! Where was I? I was blinded by pride and mistook my own small deeds for something grand.”

Father Arseny saw that the Light burned not only in the prisoners, but also in some of the guards and administrators, who, within the limits of what they could do, performed good deeds. For them this was extremely difficult, because it was very dangerous.

This image, of those around us, burning with varied lights some stronger some weaker and the need for us to encourage the sparks and growing or lessening flames of faith in those around us. This is a powerful metaphor, one which could spur us to find a way to put our faith in action. To listen, to love and to encourage that spark in our neighbor, in our family, and in all those with whom we come in contact. Even, or perhaps especially, those to whom, like the guards in Fr Arseny’s camp, we would normally see as those who are working against us.

Filed under: ChristianityMark O.OrthodoxReligionYou Cry Out

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