Dare to do more!
AbbotMikhail (Semenov) on the path of monasticism
In olden times it probably happened like this: A person learns about spiritual life and that there are monasteries where monks give themselves entirely to the service of God. Without long deliberation he takes up his rucksack and leaves for the monastery where Divine Providence directs his steps. It is wonderful to see the same simple-hearted story happening even in our time.
How obedience is bound up with love, how a monastery can be built from zero, why elders are not wizards, and why a monk never justifies himself are a few of the topics we discussed with Abbot Mikhail (Semenov) of the Hermitage of the Savior “Made Without Hands” in the village of Klykovo.
Verily I say unto you: he who does not receive the kingdom of God as a little child will not enter into it.
A place where God is closer --Fr. Mikhail, it’s a frightening thing for a layperson to abandon his or her “life” and go to a monastery! Perhaps there should be something that pushes one away from the world?
--Everything done rightly is done out of love. How would the women of today react if their husbands were sent off to Siberia, like the Decembrist revolutionaries of Tsarist times? Would they follow them as those women did, not knowing when they might return? Not likely—a modern woman would probably get a divorce and marry a successful man who is not going to jail, who has nothing to do with criminality or treason. But the wives of the Decembrists, worldly women who were not poor, went into Siberian exile, to bad conditions, not counting on anything better, simply because they loved their husbands. It is the same with Christianity, with monasticism: everything is done out of love for God. It has no other meaning. It is not the indulgence of self-love or personal ambition. The problem is that modern man evaluates everything from the point of view of what pleases his own self. He thinks about the monastery: “Wait a minute, why do I need it? What do I get out of it? How do I profit from it?” But what does profit have to do with anything? If a person reaches some degree of love, he wants to be with the one he loves. That is how love for God is for a Christian. A person is capable of achieving everything in the world—he can earn money, he can have a good family. But he yearns for God; he yearns to have nothing in the way of his love, so that nothing would stand between him and God. But what better place is there for this than a monastery? A monastery is just such a place; people here live only for this. --When did you understand that this was the case for you? Did you grow up in a religious family?
--Yes, there were no atheists in our family. But there was zero religious information in the country, and naturally people could not find a deep knowledge of Orthodoxy—there simply was no literature. We did have the Gospels at home. I remember how mother bought the book in church for 100 Brezhnev rublesi and kept it as a treasure in the most honored place. It was wrapped in a towel, and she would only read it standing, holding it in that towel. Just having the Gospels was already an achievement! And under such conditions, what truths could we understand? Only the very simplest. I had a simple understanding of faith. I never was an atheist, and I never doubted, but was a believer to the measure of my own uncomplicated understanding. --But might you have remained just that—“believing within measure”?
No, I did not want that. I was interested in another kind of life from an early age—the life that hid behind the façade of this everyday, comfortable life. Since childhood I knew solidly from my grandmother’s stories that the future life awaits us, that it is just as full as this one, only it is eternal. I never ceased to believe in this when I became an adult. And you must agree that if a person is not a fool and understands that this earthly life will end, that another life awaits him, then he wants to know how to get there, right? As the Psalmist says, Make known to me, O Lord, my end, and the number of my days—what it is—that I may know what I lack (Ps. 38:5). This always troubled me. Then, in my youth, understanding that man’s everyday life is in one way or another always bound up with sin, I decided: Alright, I am now living however it works out. If some other opportunity to live without sinning does not come along, I will end my days working as a guard in a church, serving God alone to save my soul. Those were my naïve thoughts! I didn’t even know that there were monasteries, that one can live a fully spiritual life. When I learned of their existence I did not ponder long over what path to choose. --During your youth, you could count the number of open monasteries on your fingers. How did you learn about them?
--From books. This was in 1991, when Orthodox literature became available and I started reading it. I read very much, and learned about the writings of the holy fathers, hitherto unknown to me. This all touched me very deeply. I was angry that these riches had been hidden from us. To believe or not to believe is every person’s own choice. But they had taken that choice away from us. --You believed and immediately left for the monastery?
--Well, yes. I learned more about the Church, because I was always a believer.
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