St Barsanuphius of Optina

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St Barsanuphius of Optina

Postby Barbara » Mon 15 April 2019 4:49 am

A very little known or remembered fact about the great Elder, whose Feast Day is today, is the following.

When Elder Barsanuphius was appointed the highly prestigious position of Skete Superior [ meaning head of the Optina Skete of St John the Baptist ],


the Elder,


from his own money, spent 30,000 Tsarist rubles -- what I estimate to be about $ 420,000 today -- to renovate it. The Skete had fallen on bad times due to the illness of Elder Barsanuphius' predecessor, Elder Joseph [Litovkin]. Thus major projects were needed to get it in shape again.

Without advertising himself the way a modern businessman/self-marketer would do -- "Look how charitable I am ! I donated to the Red Cross" -- or a contemporary company trumpeting its trendy 'caring' thus :"We are giving x percent of our profits to charity, aren't we impressive ? " -- Elder Barsanuphius plowed this astounding sum, nearly half a million dollars, into fixing up the dilapidated Skete.

Far from being grateful, a number of monks at the main Monastery [ less rigorous asceticism than the Skete ] grumbled. They had no reason to complain, but malcontents always find excuses like rabbits out of hats. Somehow the core group of disaffected monks expanded to eventually form networks reaching to the salons of St Petersburg frequented by high Orthodox Church authorities. Ridiculous rumors abounded. When one lady was sent to check them out, she only added fuel to the fire by inventing more nonsense. If Elder Barsanuphius was given flowers by his grateful followers, this was distorted into "He is living in LUXURY so great that he has flowers strewn all over his cell". If an elderly woman was on hand to facilitate that interview, "He is allowing women too close access." No mention of her age or the reason for her presence : to be beyond any doubt highly respectable. And the like.

Instead of recalling the magnificent gift bestowed on the Skete and by extension on the Monastery by the future Saint, Optina officials were unable to stand up for their famed Elder probably out of fear and indecision. Once the snowball started rolling, it gathered momentum until in January 1912, then-Bishop Seraphim {Chichagov} was sent to investigate.

While remembered for his compilation of the Diveyevo Chronicle while yet a priest, Bishop Seraphim made no attempt to conduct an unbiased investigation. Barely speaking with the Elder to get his side of the story of the silly accusations, the future Metropolitan of Warsaw and All Poland made a sweeping, condescending conclusion. He sniffed, "Fr Barsanuphius [needs] to be given a more extensive sphere of activity, whereas in the Skete he [is] turning totally sour."

Myself, I would never trust this Met. Seraphim [Chichagov], who could roll such facile statements off the tongue with seemingly no worry about their accuracy. How did the emissary of the St Petersburg Synod determine the Elder was 'going sour' ? The whole notion is demented. The Elder was not a type of yoghurt that had been kept too long.

And worse, the Elder was obviously suffering from some old-age or pre-old age infirmities. To recommend that St Barsanuphius be given a heavier burden of work than he already was shouldering was equivalent to deliberately sentencing him to a premature repose. It was well known that during the Russo-Japanese War some years earlier, Fr Barsanuphius had been forced to go to the front in the Russian Far East as a chaplain over his vigorous protestations that he was physically in far too poor condition to travel such a vast distance confined to train compartments filled with other passengers.

When the St Petersburg Synod quickly confirmed Bishop Seraphim's assessment, the Elder was sent off to the inexcusably far away Old Golutvin Monastery essentially to die. And die he did, exactly one year later, observed his loyal attendant, Fr Nicholas [Belyaev - the future Elder Nikon of Optina ]. The date was April 14, 1913.

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