Chetverikov, Fr. Sergius. (1997). Elder Ambrose of Optina. (Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood).


I find it hard to underline in hagiographical works because I find the whole of the life beautiful, compelling and valuable.  What I have underlined strikes me more then an underling does in a non-hagiographical work.  That being said, perhaps I hesitate 


at underling because I do have the intention to read the work again in order to glean more and more from it as I slowly develop.  Nonetheless, there are various underlinings that cut right to the quick and it is no different with this life of Elder Ambrose. 



- The Sign of the Cross

- The Three Steps to Humility

- Elder Ambrose’s Prayer Rule

- Elder Ambrose and Feodor Dostoevsky

- The Ideal Man is Not Found in Literature but in Hagiography

- The Pilgrim from, “The Way of a Pilgrim”

- The Elder’s Touch

- The Elder and the Mother of God

- The Homily at the Divine Liturgy at Shamordino Convent on the Day of the Elder’s Repose by “a distinguished student from the Moscow Theological Academy” (name unknown)



The Sign of the Cross


     The Elder wrote about [the sign of the Cross] to one of his spiritual daughters: “The experience of the ages shows that the sign of the cross has great power over all a person’s actions during the entire course of his life.  Therefore it is necessary to strive to root in children the habit of protecting themselves with the sign of the cross often, especially when receiving food and drink, and going to bed and waking up, before departing somewhere in a vehicle, before leaving and entering and place; and they should not make the sign carelessly or according to fashion, but precisely, beginning with the forehead to the solar plexus, then to both shoulders, so that a proper cross is produced… The sign of the cross has saved many from great dangers and afflictions.” (166)


The Three Steps to Humility


     …Consciousness of one’s weakness, self-reproach and patience are the three steps to humility… (196)


Elder Ambrose’s Prayer Rule


     In order to hear the entire rule he would first awake at four in the morning, ring, and his cell attendants would appear and read the Morning Prayers, the Rule of the Twelve Psalms and the First Hour.  Then after a brief rest, the Elder would hear the Third and Sixth Hours with Typica and, depending on the day of the week, a Canon with an Akathist to the Savior or the Mother of God; he always heard Akathists standing.  The described rule was carried out by the Elder with more or less extended pauses.  (200)


     In spite of the Elder’s extreme exhaustion and sickliness, the day would always conclude with the evening prayer rule, consisting of Small Compline, a Canon to the Guardian Angel and the Prayers Before Sleep.  (207)


Elder Ambrose and Feodor Dostoevsky


     In the 1870’s Feodor M. Dostoevsky came to see him, seeking consolation after the death of his ardently beloved son.  The Elder was well disposed to him and said of him, “This is a man who repents.” (213)


The Ideal Man is Not Found in Literature but in Hagiography


     At the same time that our foremost authors of secular literature – Gogol, Turgenev, Dostoevsky and others – unsuccessfully strove to create a literary type of the ideal man, the Orthodox Church has from ages past nurtured, and nurtures still in its heart, not imaginary but living people who are penetrated with the spirit of truth and unhypocritical, active love for God and neighbour. (214)


The Pilgrim from, “The Way of a Pilgrim”


     Giving wise advice to others, the Elder at the same time, because of his humility, also sought advice of others, not relying on his own reason even with his wealth of discernment.  After the repose of Elder Macarius he did not have anyone to turn to for advice in his Monastery, so he turned to his Archbishop, Gregory.  In time he learned from trustworthy people about one hidden, wandering spiritual elder and immediately tried to become close to him, later writing him secret letters in order that he might do everything with another’s counsel.  In this he saw an expression of God’s will, for he was afraid to act according to his own will.

(footnote – It is supposed that this mysterious pilgrim was none other than a bishop who had left his cathedra and chosen the path of a pilgrim.  Could this have been the pilgrim who wrote the Candid Narrative of a Pilgrim to His Spiritual Father about the Grace-filled Effects of the Jesus Prayer [The Way of a Pilgrim in English], a manuscript which was found among Fr. Ambrose’s papers after his repose and the compilation of which some attributed to Fr. Ambrose himself? [See the introduction to the book: From the Stories of a Pilgrim about the Grace-filled Effects of the Jesus Prayer, published by Optina Monastery, written by Bishop Nikon])  (221)


The Elder’s Touch


     The Elder did not answer a word, only lightly tapped him on the head.  This was a sign of the Elder’s special favour. (224)


The Elder and the Mother of God


     Elder Ambrose always had a special reverence towards the Mother of God, which is why he never let a single feast of the Theotokos go by without serving a cell Vigil before Her holy icon.  In 1890, a special icon of the Mother of God, painted at the direction of the Elder, was sent to him at the Skete by the superior of the Bolkhov Convent.  The Heavenly Queen was depicted sitting in the clouds.  Her arms were outstretched for a blessing.  And below, amidst grass and flowers, there stood and lay sheaves of rye.  The rye sheaves were painted according to the wish and description of Fr. Ambrose, who gave this icon the name “She Who Ripens the Grain.”  The Elder sent up fervent prayers before that icon; he instructed and urged the spiritual children gathered by him in the community to pray before it.  In the last year of his life he made copies of this icon and sent them to many of his outside admirers.  Not long before his last illness he composed a special refrain in honor of it to be sung in the usual Akathist to the Theotokos:  “Rejoice, Thou full of grace, the Lord is with Thee!  Grant even to us unworthy ones the dew of Thy grace and show us Thy mercy!”  The sisters sang this refrain with the blessing of the Elder when the Akathist to the Mother of God was read in his cell.  He directed his spiritual children to celebrate the feast day of this icon on October 15.  (329)


The Homily at the Divine Liturgy at Shamordino Convent on the Day of the Elder’s Repose by “a distinguished student from the Moscow Theological Academy” (name unknown)


     “You should not be amazed at this great throng of worshippers…  In this poor community there lived a man, whom all of Holy Russia knew, and to whom, for a long time, there came innumerable crowds of people from all quarters…  The name of this man was known both in royal palaces and in village huts.  This was Batiushka Elder Ambrose, the great pastor and man of compassion of the Russian land.  It was he who drew this great crowd of his admirers here today…  In what do the merits of this man consist?  He returned the image of God to people and taught repentance.  This protector of the Russian land knew how to compel those, who from their very childhood had forgotten how to cry, to pour out tears of contrition, tears of repentance, tears of rebirth towards new spiritual life…  And thus, Holy Russia, grieve!  In losing this hermit, humble of spirit and body, you have been deprived of your great benefactor, who loved you with all the power of Christian love, who gave his whole life for you and, one may say, who brought it to you as a sacrifice.  You can no longer come to Fr. Ambrose with your grief and afflictions for consolation, and cannot send to him your Dostoyevskys and Tolstoys to be taught by the simple monk a higher science – the ability to live as a human being and as a Christian.  Weep bitterly, holy Optina Monastery!  You have been deprived of your Elder, who was the bearer of the holy tradition of eldership, who adorned you for so long…

     “O monks of Optina – in those moments when the weight of the monastic cross more mightily constricts the powers of your spirit, when your soul becomes grieved and anguished more deeply than usual, you will no longer be able to go for sure healing to your dear Fr. Ambrose.  Weep bitter tears also, O you of Shamordino!  You have been deprived of your spiritual father, who loved you with all the power of his self-denying pastoral love.  He begot you spiritually in the light of God.  He, like a tender mother daily cherished you in your infancy.  He gave you all the donations that flowed to him; he built this holy church for you; he gave you all the last days of his much-suffering life, which he spent within your walls, so as, in the sunset of his days, by his presence, with his eyes and words, to more powerfully inspire those who are labouring over your spiritual and bodily health.”

     Then the preacher called to the remembrance of his listeners the precepts of the Elder and prevailed upon them to follow them.  Turning to the Orthodox lay people, he said:

     “And so, Christian world who has forgotten God!  Come here and see how you must set your life in order.  Come to your senses!  Forsake the vanity of the world and realize that on earth one must live only for Heaven…  Do not think that to live on earth only for God is impossible.  Behold the coffin which convicts you…  Having forsaken the world, his relatives and acquaintances, Fr. Ambrose while still young went to the Monastery, where he lived in a poor cell and was nourished on the most meagre food.  And when he had become sufficiently strong in the struggle against the carnal man, he gave himself entirely to the service of his neighbour.  Never and to no one did he refuse counsel.  He treated everyone kindly.  Often by evening the sick Elder’s tongue was so weary that he was no longer even able to speak.  And how much good he did!  How many people he set back on their feet – not only by counsel, but even by financial assistance?  And look at this Monastery – his love created and reared it.  He lived the lives of others; he rejoiced and mourned with the joys and sorrows of his neighbors.  One might say that he had no life of his own.  And so, Christians – come to his coffin and learn that on earth one must live only for Heaven; that such a way of life is possible and realizable, and that the foundation of this life is full, active self-renunciation for the good of one’s neighbour.”

     Then turning to the monks, the preacher at first described Fr. Ambrose – how he was a great ascetic and man of prayer.

     “How his narrow cell,” he said, “would tell you how this constantly sick, almost perpetually dying Elder – burdened with tiresome daily conversations with visitors, his pastoral conscience tormented by the sins of the penitents – would sometimes arise from his bed and tearfully and attentively listen to the all-night cell Vigil.  How many solitary, fervent supplications, bitter tears, and prostrations these walls have seen!  This is their secret!  Yes, this was an ascetic, such as can rarely be found.  Now his dead lips speak aloud to all monastics about the strict, hard work of keeping the monastic vows and rules.”

     But Fr. Ambrose had yet another trait – an exalted trait of Christian asceticism which has been somewhat forgotten in recent times, but which monks must learn from the reposed one.

     “Living away from the world and fleeing it, he was able to live for the sake of it…  You may believe that not in a single reception room of any lay person, pastor or statesmen, were there as many people as there were in the narrow, lowly cell of this hermit.  Believe!  This whole world, which lies in evil, has not received from anyone as much council and instruction, both written and oral, as this reposed one has given it…  He was able, by the power of his faith and love, to widen the narrow walls of his cell into a vast expanse.  He, as a pastor, knew that there were many in the sinful but God-seeking world who hungered and thirsted for Christ’s words, for love and faith.  He loved this world and gave his whole life to it…  From the world there came to him all who labored and were heavy laden, and he gave them rest.”

     In this service of love monks must imitate the Elder…

     “And you, monastics, serve – serve sincerely and unrestrainedly, as the reposed Fr. Ambrose served people in the world.  Celebrate the church services piously, with fervent feeling and tears of love.  Where will the layman hear real services celebrated according to the rubrics, if not in a monastery?  Where is he to hear real, ancient, Russian church singing, if not in the churches of the holy monasteries?  Monasteries – preserve the rubrics and church singing in holiness, and by this, serve the world.  Where can a layman become attuned in regards to religion?  Again, in a monastery.  He walks within the walls of a holy monastery, where the relics of saints repose, where there are miracle-working holy icons.  He walks and his soul is filled with reverential fear.  He listens to each sound, he is edified by every inscription, every holy picture.  Know this, monks, and reverently protect this religious attunement of the layman.  Serve him in the Monastery in every way you can.  Preach to him tirelessly; believe that he will retain the sermons he hears in the Monastery for a long time.  Go through all your sacred treasures with him, through all the churches; show him and tell him everything.  Receive under your protection the poor, the sick and the orphan.  When you, monk or nun, stand at prayer, do not forget to pray earnestly for the sinful world – it needs your prayers.  And so, Russian monastics, remember and keep sacred the posthumous testament of Elder Ambrose: love even sinful people, and serve them as much as possible.”

Turning finally to the pastors of the church, the preacher invited them to learn from the Elder, and to study first of all his lofty spiritual state, which cannot always be found in contemporary pastors.

“Compare the attitude of parishioners to any priest with the attitude of those who came to the reposed Elder.  In the first instance, each one of them is aware of his own station and calling – the peasant comes after the nobleman, the rich before the poor.  You come to a priest with a family as to an acquaintance; often you will sit through the entire evening and not hear a single word about spirituality, about the church, about Heaven.  All these conversations are about worldly things, like those you have among yourselves.

“It was not so with the Elder.  Before him every man felt he was only a layman; princely titles and the dignity of the counts, glory and riches, distinction and the advantage of higher education – everything was left at the threshold of his cell…  Everyone spoke with him, and he spoke with everyone only about spiritual things; anything worldly that was said to him, he would unfailingly interpret as something spiritual…  They looked at Batiushka only as a servant of God…  He was a physician for the sick conscience…

Having said a few more consoling words to the Shamordino sisters concerning the fact that they would not have the grave of their beloved Elder, he counselled them: “Carefully preserve in its entirety and purity the spiritual image of the reposed, which will be pleasing to him and useful for him.”  Then the preacher concluded his sermon, having made a powerful impression upon all the listeners.  (356-361)

Make a Free Website with Yola.