Elder Barsanuphius (1845–1913), a disciple of Elder Anatole (Zertsalov) and Elder Nektary, was a highly cultured man and a successful colonel before entering the monastic life at a relatively late age. Due to his purity of heart and spiritual sobriety, he was transformed by God into a grace-filled Elder virtually overnight. The period before the first World War and the Russian Revolution was a complex one. The world was seething in unprecedented passions, and one could clearly sense the approach of darkness. With a sympathetic soul Elder Barsanuphius attended to the world, and the Lord parted a curtain before him, showing him the horrors of the future.
“We live in a difficult time; we are weak and infirm but we have to encourage others. And here I am in the same condition, weak and infirm. I myself need help and consolation, but according to the obligation of my rank I have to comfort those who turn to me. They come to Optina from a world that no longer moans, as before, but howls; they come seeking consolation and soothing…. According to their faith they receive what they are seeking and leave in a state of peace.”
People from the world, thirsting for consolation in their sorrows, streamed to Optina. Elder Barsanuphius, in frail health but strengthened by the power of the Lord, received them, conversed with them, confessed them, and directed them to the only true path. He was a man of extraordinary spiritual vision, and could see clearly into the hearts of those who came to him.
“Elders are called clairvoyant, indicating that they’re able to see the future. Yes, great grace is given to eldership—this is the gift of discernment. This is the greatest gift given by God to man. They have, in addition to physical eyes, spiritual eyes, before which the human soul is revealed. Before a man thinks of something, before a thought arises in him, they see it with their spiritual eyes, and they even see the reason for such a thought arising. And nothing is hidden from them….”
Presented here, for the first time in English, is a complete biography of this great Elder, including his talks on a variety of subjects, excerpts from the journal of his cell-attendant (the future Elder Nikon, himself a great Optina Elder and a subsequent victim of the communist terror), and selections from his spiritual poetry.
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