Alexey walked knee-deep and at times waist-deep in the snow. He hardly reached the hermitage. It was already dark.
He knocked on the door of a small hut where the light of a candle could be seen in a tiny window:
“Come in! Open!”
… Alexey entered, crossed himself before the only icon in the front corner, bowed.
… He knew a little about the elder Nicholas; only that he was from non-possessors. For public utterances, calling for the ethical purity of the servants of the church, to simplicity in life and decor, — he was exiled here many years ago.
Then the elder took a vow of silence for ten years — and kept it.
Through that — the attitude towards him has changed, and the holiness of him already was talked about very much.
Alexey was sent to him ostensibly to help in the elder’s weakness. And — for training Alexey to live in silence.
… Alexey looked around. In the dim light of the candle, the interior looked small and almost empty. A table, a chair, a wide bench… There is not even a bed.
He looked with attention at elder Nicholas — and suddenly… calmed down! So much kindness, affection, and peace were in the eyes of the elder! Alexey was embraced and filled with this gentle calm!
And despair due to the sorrow of his present fate, which squeezed like a vise and was weighing him to the ground — suddenly let Alexey go.
… The elder Nicholas was tall. It was evident that in the past his body was very powerful. But years did not break the soul, did not bend his back!
Gray beard framed his face filled with kindness. Each wrinkle on the face was like a shining ray of love.
Silence and kindness enlivened the space around his body.
… In the evening they had a talk:
“And why did they send you here, sonny?”
“Have you lived here alone for a long time?”
“For a long time… — yes. But I’m not the only one here! I live with God!”
* * *
So for Alexey came a new era in his life.
Gradually, Alexey told the elder Nicholas everything about himself: about how he grew up and was raised, how he chose the spiritual Path as the only right way for him.
Since childhood, Alexey had not only a zeal for prayers, but he aspired to cognition of God. He read a lot, had learned Latin and Greek. And in these languages, he read the spiritual books in the original.
However, even those books only encouraged the further search: they did not give answers to questions, which became more and more…
He told his dreams about striving to reach those states of the soul that the closest disciples of Jesus had found: to hear the Voice of God, to see God’s Light, to fully understand the Will of God!
Alexey said that he was reproached for pride, wisecracking, which are “from the devil”! They offered him to repent and live “like others”.
Alexey then repented a lot, carefully peering at himself as the soul.
But he could not live not seeking Truth, did not want and could not live “like others”.
Alexey said a lot about his understanding of Christian life. He, first, studied diligently the writings of the first Christian communities. And how different was the life of the first Christians in those communities — from that which now is led by people who call themselves Christians!
He was trying to understand: why is everything so hard and gloomy — in the organization of the present spiritual life in the Russian state?! And — is it possible to change something? And — how to change?
Elder Nicholas listened to him in silence, letting out everything that had ripened in Alexey…
Alexey also told about what caused him to be here: that his suggestions on transforming life in the church resulted in him being sent away from Moscow — so as not to disturb people’s minds with his ideas, so as not to start new troubles in church life!
… He told all to the elder Nicholas. He also revealed bitter thoughts and torments about ignorance of the present — how and why to live further?
* * *
Elder Nicholas spoke rarely. They ate in silence and spent time in prayers and simple usual matters, necessary for life.
Alexey did his best to devote as much time as possible to prayers. But there was not for him that quiet joy, with which the elder Nicholas was always replete.
And little by little, he began to ask questions about faith, about prayers, about understanding monastic life.
Each such conversation with elder Nicholas opened for Alexey the new vision of his own life before God and His Help.
And the elder Nicholas not only consoled Alexey but could also shame:
“Strong pride, sonny, is still in you! Many monks consider monastic seclusion in the hermitage — as the great happiness! And you — call it an exile! Spiritual seekers search for it! God sent such a gift into your fate! And you — are grumbling!”
“But it’s not about myself…”
“If it were not for yourself, then you would not grumble at fate!
“If you live here now — then will be less God near you than in Moscow?
“You yourself — namely voluntarily — accepted monasticism! And such a hermitage — you must esteem with joy! Through that — many prophets and hermits had found the holiness!
“You are not thankful for God’s Help and His Care about you! You do not see them!
“You here comprehend, sonny:
“Humility — heals the soul! Humility — soothes thoughts!
“While in the mind, chaos reigns, and thoughts seem to struggle among themselves for capturing your emotions and desires — hesychia, inner silence, — is like an unattainable shore!
“But into the calm of the spiritual heart, onto the other side of vanity and prideful thoughts — only the path of humility and the heart love leads!
“Humility — cleans the soul, fasting — heals the body!
“And efforts in the affairs — both earthly and spiritual — strengthen the will of man!
“Very much depends on the personal aspiration: all that, which happens to man, will go for the benefit of the soul — or to the detriment!
“Here — look: it happens that people suffer from hunger, they even get sick. But when one strictly observes a fast due to one’s own free will and for God, — something else happens: purification and health for both the body and the soul!
“And despondency — worse than any disease destroys a person’s life, as if rust eats away the soul!
“Soon the world’s fuss will leave you — and the heart will be filled with warmth! But you for this must leave the vanity of thoughts!”
“On God, not on your own problems and sorrows, you must direct your thoughts!
“That is the first small step!
“If thoughts are directed to God, then from God help comes!
“Through that — cleansing of mind comes up!
“If you start thinking about the sorrows of your own or about the bustle of the world — you must reject them and learn to think about God!
“And then — you will learn how to fill the soul with love and gratitude to God for everything!
“Ability to voluntarily subordinate yourself to the Will of God — this is the freedom that is obtained in the monastic life!
“There are deeds which are done for the body. And there are the labors of the soul.
“And these labors are not idle, they are not vain hot thoughts about something sublime!
“We live before God!
“Before Him is opened — in every moment — everything that happens in us!
“And it is possible to live rightly — under any external conditions! Our sins result not because of what is happening around us, but especially from our own vices that are inside!
“For example, it is quite possible to not allow in yourself sinful thoughts, empty talk, melancholy, and idleness!
“Prayers do not help in this — when only the words are said over and over again. Prayer is to become a living one! And it comes to life — in the spiritual heart, right here!”
… Elder Nicholas touched with his hand Alexey’s chest — so that for a brief time Alexey’s breath was caught. And Alexey saw with his inner gaze in his chest — light and space! But he could not keep it…
The elder continued:
“It may be if you only pronounce the name Jesus in the silence of the spiritual heart — it will be more than all prayers!
“You learn to pray — in your heart! Like if your mouth is located in the chest! And — like a candle in the spiritual heart is lit! Every word — let it sound from the heart! Then — the warmth in the heart will appear soon, the grace of God will begin to be felt, the presence of Him will become visible!”