Tuesday, February 24, 2009

An open last letter

Dearest Father Damian,

Please bless me.

Ever since hearing of your diagnosis I have been praying for you daily. I wish you weren’t so far away, and that we could have one more time to visit together. The setting of every conversation we have ever had, in my memory, feels as if it has been on a front porch in a rocking chair. Indeed it might have been on several occasions.

You have always been very dear to me. I vividly remember the first time I ever talked to you. Fr Mark & I had already come several times to the monastery on pilgrimages and other visits for some time, but I was afraid to talk to you. Apart from vague pleasantries exchanged when we visited with our parish, you and I had never spoken.

What I remember as our first conversation began with a nod you gave me when Fr Mark and I came late into one of the services after driving up from Columbia. I noticed your nod, but assumed it was given to the person behind me. Then you nodded again and I thought you were nodding to a person in front of me. After glancing around to see I was the only person in the general direction you were nodding, I smiled and nodded after your third attempt. I was embarrassed, for good reason.

The next day after liturgy you gave me a necklace with a charm of the Virgin which you told me you had put on Her tomb, when you were there only a few months prior to our visit. You told me, “I couldn’t figure out who I should give this to till now.” Then you went on to explain the necklace and a few tales of your trip. I have treasured the necklace and the memory of it ever since. It hangs in my icon corner and makes me think of you and pray for you every time I see it.

I have often thought of you since you visited with us before relocating out west. The children, especially Rose, Ella & Margaret, talk of you as an old and dear family friend. I am sorry that I haven’t been able to talk to you.

Dear Father, I am confident that the Lord has chosen this place for you to spend your remaining days before you go to meet Him. I hope that you will be comforted in the love and prayers of your spiritual children. You have made a strong and lasting impact on my life, and that of my children. Please be at peace and be at rest.

We love you dear Father.

With love and prayers in our Lord,

Matushka Anne Mancuso

Thursday, February 12, 2009

From this day, from this hour, from this very moment...

Once the Elder was invited on board a frigate that had come from St. Petersburg. The captain of the frigate was a man quite learned, highly educated; he had been sent to America by Imperial command to inspect all the colonies. With the captain were some 25 officers, likewise educated men. In this company there sat a desert-dwelling monk of small stature, in an old garment, who by his wise conversation brought all his listeners to such a state that they did not know how to answer him. The captain himself related: "We were speechless fools before him!"

Father Herman gave them all one common question: "What do you, gentlemen, love above all, and what would each of you wish for his happiness?" Diverse answers followed. One desired wealth, one glory, one a beautiful wife, one a fine ship which he should command, and so on in this fashion. "Is it not true," said Father Herman at this, "that all your various desires can be reduced to one - that each of you desires that which, in his understanding, he considers best and most worthy of love?" "Yes, it is so," they all replied. "Well, then, tell me," he continued, "can there be anything better, higher above everything, more surpassing everything and in general more worthy of love, than our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, who created us, perfectly adorned us, gave life to all, supports all, nourishes and loves all, who Himself is love and more excellent than all men? Should not a person then love God high above all and desire and seek Him more than all else?" All began to say: "Well, yes! That is understood! That speaks for itself!"

"And do you love God?" the Elder then asked. All replied: "Of course, we love God. How can one not love God?" "And I, sinful one, for more than forty years have been striving to love God, and cannot say that I perfectly love Him," answered Father Herman; then he began to show how a person should love God. "If we love someone," he said, "we always think of him, strive to please him, day and night our heart is occupied with this subject. Is it thus that you, gentlemen, love God? Do you often turn to Him, do you always think of Him, do you always pray to Him, and fulfill His holy commandments?" It had to be acknowledged that they did not! "For our good, for our happiness," concluded the Elder, "at least let us make a promise to ourselves, that from this day, from this hour, from this very moment we shall strive to love God above all, and fulfill His holy will!"