Igumen Michael is a monk of the Monastery of the Holy King and Psalmist David, a staff member of the Information Department of the Georgian Patriarchate, and a translator from Greek for the Patriarchal Theological-Liturgical Commission. Fr. Michael met us in his monastery in the center of Tbilisi, in the Old City, on the banks of the Kura River. He spoke about a lot: how he came to God, and how he labored on Mt. Athos, of his meetings with the patriarch, with St. Gabriel (Urgebadze), and other interesting and edifying stories.
The only church in the world in honor of the holy King and Psalmist David
Churches in honor of the holy prophet and Psalmist King David are, for some reason, not built—perhaps, because the Lord Himself once said to David that he would not build the temple, but his son Solomon would. But David dreamed of the temple, gathered money, drew up plans, and blessed his son to build it. This temple is called the Temple of Solomon, but it was David that thought of everything: how the singers would sing to the Lord, how the order of services would go… And therefore, His Holiness Patriarch Ilia II told us, “Good. God warned King David that he himself would not build the temple, but we will build a church in his honor.”
And we serve now in the only church in the world in honor of the holy King David. There used to be a ruined church on this spot; only its foundation remained, and the ruins on top of it. No one knew exactly in whose honor this church was built—all the archives had been burned. But from the foundation they determined that it had been built in the eleventh century. The Church was restored ten years ago, and I have been serving in it since 2011.
How I sought God
I really loved to read adventure and fantasy books. When someone would die, I would think, “Why’d this person die? Someone loved him… But death breaks all ties, all bonds—it tears a husband from his wife. How can it be?” And I began to read everything I could find about religion. Then I became enthused by yoga, pressure point massage, acupuncture, and I did many exercises. I was searching for God.
The times changed, atheism faded into the past, and the persecutions against believers stopped. But when I started going to church in 1988, the police would still chase us, and our parents were scared and asked us not to go to services. I went to church with some friends once. We considered that I was the organizer of all such trips, so when the father of one of my friends came to the church and found us there, he pointed a gun at my forehead, demanded that I leave his son alone and not drag him along.
Something happened with me when I read the Gospel
I studied at the Physical Education and Sport Institute in Tbilisi; I did the pentathlon, and in my third year I decided to switch to seminary, although I hadn’t even read the Gospel. I had read the Koran, the Vedas, and the Buddhist sutras and mantras. But something happened with me when I read the Gospel. I had joy. Something within me said, “Buddha, of course, is good, but Christ is completely different.” He became family, and all others—strangers.
I used to tell my friends, “God is the top of the mountain, and all religions lead to the top from different sides.” But when I read the Gospel, John chapter 10: Verily, verily, I say unto you, He that entereth not by the door into the sheepfold, but climbeth up some other way, the same is a thief and a robber. But he that entereth in by the door is the shepherd of the sheep. To him the porter openeth; and the sheep hear his voice: and he calleth his own sheep by name, and leadeth them out. And when he putteth forth his own sheep, he goeth before them, and the sheep follow him: for they know his voice. And a stranger will they not follow, but will flee from him: for they know not the voice of strangers (Jn. 10:1-5)—I immediately realized that Christianity is not compatible with other religions. And the thesis that one and the same god comes in the guise of Krishna or Buddha is wrong, because Christ Himself spoke about the shepherd. It all become suddenly so clear for me. Pity for those who don’t believe in Him appeared within me. I really wanted everyone to become Christians and to be saved.
I don’t want to live a worldly life anymore
They arranged an interview for me, and at that time I had learned to read in Old Georgian; I almost knew the Psalter by heart, and many chapters of the Gospel. I really wanted to know my favorite chapters by heart, and I easily memorized them. When you love something, it’s easy to remember. It was so joyful and easy for me to learn it all! I also read St. Pachomius the Great, and this holy father advised not to tonsure novices as monks who hadn’t yet learned the Psalter and Gospels by heart. And so I studied.
Faith is the most important thing that God wants from us, and He Himself has the strength
I had such a thirst for monasticism, such a calling… I wanted to be alone, to lead a contemplative life, to pray, to learn how the universe is structured. I wanted that when Buddhism still attracted me—I sought to understand the meaning of existence. Why do men and animals live? Why was the world created?
How is it in Yoga? You concentrate on chakras—these points—and you as if dissect these points. If a uranium molecule breaks down, you have an atom bomb in your hand. If you open a chakra, you have access to energies. At some point—I didn’t understand it myself—someone as if prompted me: “If a person attains something on earth, it is earthly, and not divine.”
When yogis attain incredible power, they open within themselves the properties of some animal, some beast. For example, they become flexible, like a snake or a monkey, strong like a tiger, they learn to stay under water for a long time like a fish. And I realize that if a man is not given it from God, he can acquire nothing by himself: Without me ye can do nothing (Jn. 15:5).
I read the Gospel and thought about how I don’t want to become an animal—not even the best animal. If a man has faith, it changes his very nature. I realized that faith is the most important thing that God wants from us, and He Himself has the strength. If we think there’s something God can’t do, that He cannot forgive, we thereby defame God, because He speaks with us as with the omnipotent—with those who can do anything if they only turn to Him. When God speaks with man, He speaks with us not as animals, but as His likeness: Everything is possible for believers. And when I had read all of this, in one moment I understood that man can do nothing without God, but with God he can do anything!
And I began to look at the world this way: Persecutions of Christians, and wars, and natural cataclysms are all because God wants to cultivate people who will believe in Him as He wants. And after He gathers these people, He will do that which He planned when He created the world. God gathers the faithful.
If God wants someone to go to a monastery, then it will be so
I finished seminary and went to the monastery. I was looking for a spiritual father. The Lord said, The disciple is not above his master, nor the servant above his lord (Mt. 10:24). And again, If the blind lead the blind, both shall fall into the ditch (Mt. 15:14). I was looking for someone to teach me, to become my teacher, my spiritual mentor.
I found a very good spiritual father, Archimandrite Nikolai (Pitnava) in Gelati (the elder is now 81). He is an ascetic, a great faster and man of prayer, he has spiritual discernment and strong spiritual intuition. And I stayed at this monastery in Gelati. I lived there for two years and they tonsured me as a monk with the name of Michael. This was 1996.
I visited my parents once when I was still a novice in Gelati. My father took all of my icons from my room—he didn’t want me to pray. At night mama began to plead with him, “Don’t let our son go to the monastery! If he leaves now, he’ll never get married but become a monk!
My father answered, “It’s his choice; what can I do?”
The next day he came to me and said, “Mama’s not well: Her face is all twisted, and she doesn’t recognize us,” and he hung all of my icons in my room again. He said to me, “Pray that mama would get better!”
I went to the icons and began to pray, “I don’t know how this happened and why, but, please, Lord, and you, all saints, heal my mama! Make it so that we go to bed, and when we wake up, mama has become healthy again!”
We went to bed, and when we woke up, mama got up from bed completely healthy and her face was no longer twisted—it had become completely normal. She didn’t remember anything that happened to her in the real world, but she remembered seeing little black creatures with red eyes that were tormenting her.
And after that incident, my parents no longer tried to talk me out of going to the monastery.
My friend, the abbot of Sarafa Monastery, later told me that a similar thing happened with his nephew. And I thought, “If God wants someone to go to a monastery, or to become a priest, then it will be so! We do not control the world—God controls the world.”
When mama recovered and I returned to Gelati, Fr. Nikolai said to me, “Three days ago I woke up in the night: My heart was telling me that something was going wrong with you. I began to pray that nothing would keep you from returning to the monastery.”
Then I told him about what happened with my mama.
Once Metropolitan Sergei (Chekurishvili), then the bishop of Akhaltsikhskii and Samtskhe-Dzhavakhetinskii, came to visit us at the monastery. In his diocese, there is the ancient Safara Monastery—literally translated as “covered” or “sheltered.” Indeed, the monastery is located on the peak of a mountain in a gorge and hidden from prying eyes by the dense forest. From 1988 to 1992, Vladyka Sergei was the abbot of this monastery and then, becoming a bishop, he continued to pastorally care for it. Vladyka asked Fr. Nikolai to let him help him in Safara: They had a great need for brothers and for missionaries, because there were many Catholics and Armenian-Gregorians there.
Fr. Nikolai blessed me to go to Safara. The thing is that after the time of atheism, people were estranged from faith, and then they turned either to Catholicism or to Orthodoxy—and we had to get them to convert them to Orthodoxy. By this time I was already a hierodeacon, engaged in missionary work there until 1998. Then Vladyka Sergei was transferred to Lagodekhi, and I returned to my monastery in Gelati.
How we were unable to serve Liturgy on a feast
We had such a remarkable sign from God in Gelati: When the feast of St. John the Forerunner would come, something bad would happen in the monastery every time and we couldn’t serve the Liturgy. One of the brothers would get seriously ill, or some other bad thing would happen.
The feast was coming again, and our spiritual father, Fr. Nikolai, said, “Brethren, we know that something bad happens here every time on this feast. St. John the Forerunner is the patron of monastics, therefore if this happens on his feast, it means we are bad monks. It’s some kind of sign from the saint that we are not laboring as we should. The feast of St. John the Forerunner is drawing near, so let us all fast and pray that we might serve the Liturgy on his feast as we should.”
We began to fast and pray, and on the eve of the feast we ate nothing. On precisely that day, a parishioner had brought us honey from his apiary, and we decided that, as St. John the Forerunner had eaten honey in the desert, we would eat a little honey, to have strength for the Liturgy.
It turned out that the bees had collected this honey from poisonous plants, and it can seriously intoxicate, immediately shutting down the entire nervous system. We had only eaten about two spoons of honey, washed down with water, and the next day, no one could get out of bed. We couldn’t raise our hands—so strong was the poisoning. Our heads were fine, but there was no strength in our arms and legs. One brother even started having hallucinations.
Fr. Nikolai was terribly worried: “What did I tell you?! We shouldn’t have eaten this honey!”
And again we couldn’t serve Liturgy on the feast of St. John the Forerunner. Then Fr. Nikolai fervently prayed, with tears. The window in his cell was ajar, and while he was praying, a bird flew into his cell. It circled above him three times and then sat directly on his head. At first he didn’t realize where it went; then he touched his head and there was the bird. Then the bird again flew around the cell, and out the window. And Fr. Nikolai began to feel joy in his soul, and great consolation, and he said, “Glory to God, the Lord has not left us!”
And a year later, on the feast of St. John the Forerunner, we were finally able to serve the Liturgy.
May the Lord guide you on the right path!
Fr. Nikolai replied that he would not bless the car, since they were all drunk, but he blessed me to go to them and say, “May the Lord bless you and guide you on the right path!”
I really didn’t want to go, but since my spiritual father had blessed it, I went. As I was walking towards them I heard how they were seriously cursing. As I got nearer, they stopped swearing, but began mocking monks. And I said, “May the Lord bless you and guide you on the right path!”
They were holding glasses of red wine, and after my words, the glass exploded in the hand of the one who had been cursing the most, and a shard pierced him right under the eye. Blood gushed out and mixed with the red wine—it was a terrible sight.
It was obvious how scared they all were. They became silent, and stopped cursing and mocking, and then began to explain how, in fact, they are good and even believing people. One started recalling how his mom would take him to church in his childhood, another recalled how his mom would take him to Communion. That’s the story.
Our hostess didn’t look at us like crooks anymore
Once, one woman asked us to bless her house. Fr. Nikolai and I went to her house and noticed that she was looking at us with great suspicion, as if we were crooks and were going to steal something. I wanted to leave immediately.
Fr. Nikolai started blessing the house, and she started looking at us like magicians or sorcerers, that is, like thieves, but with some kind of power we could use on her.
After blessing the house, she told us that she was sick, and asked us to pray for her recovery. Fr. Nikolai invited her to kneel; he placed his old prayer book on her head and began to read a prayer for the sick. As soon as he began to read, she began to convulse and to sweat so profusely, as if someone had poured a bucket of water on her. She struggled to get on her feet, but Fr. Nikolai wouldn’t let her.
When he finished the prayer, her convulsions stopped. She said, “Oh, I feel completely different! It was like someone was choking me, and now I’m free!”
She even looked different. She didn’t look at us like crooks anymore, but rather, with respect. And she obviously didn’t suspect us of trying to steal anything anymore.
Obedience to the Holy Spirit
Man lives a spiritual life, prays, and suddenly something happens. It is the activity of the Holy Spirit. The more faithful and observant someone is, the better he listens and obeys the Holy Spirit, Who instructs him by words, by thoughts, and by feelings.
How I asked the holy fathers of old to help me with a decision
I dreamed of going to Athos, and I got a blessing to go, but when I was about to go, I seriously hesitated: Should I go or not? After all, this trip meant a huge change in my life.
And then on the feast of the Exaltation, I decided to go to an abandoned monastery near Gelati alone at night. There was a small church there. Many pilgrims come to Gelati on feasts, but I really wanted to pray to God in solitude.
And there I was, ascending the mountain, walking around the places where were buried the holy fathers of old, who had labored in this monastery many centuries prior, and about whom we knew absolutely nothing. And I got the idea of turning to them with the prayer, “Dear fathers who labored here, whose relics lie in this ground, help me make the right choice! Earlier, people who lost a cow, for example, would turn to the prophets, and the prophets would show them where there missing cow was. But I have a much more important matter—important for the salvation of my soul… So, please, help me!”
I stood on the mountain and prayed with outstretched arms. At some point, I looked up into the sky—there were very many stars over the nighttime mountain, so big and bright. And suddenly something drew my gaze to one of the stars. I looked at it, and suddenly it started moving, turned into a ball of fire, and descended upon the mountain, and everything all around become bright. I was terribly scared. I started crossing myself, and the ball turned to the east, becoming a flame at the last second, ascended into the sky and disappeared. I immediately went back.
I still don’t know what it was, but I realize that strong prayer can be accompanied by some remarkable spiritual phenomena. Angels, saints, and evil spirits appeared to the holy fathers, and for them it was a great trial, to say nothing of us, modern monks! We cannot bear any spiritual phenomena…
I had many temptations connected with my trip to Athos. I lost my passport—but my nephew found it, glory to God!
The Great Lavra on Athos
I gathered my documents and left for Athos, to Iveron Monastery. But when I arrived at Iveron, the fathers sent me to the Great Lavra (the Lavra of St. Athanasius), founded by St. Athanasius the Athonite in 963 and leading the twenty other Athonite monasteries. They told me, “If they don’t accept you at the Lavra then come back here.” But they received me in the Lavra, and I stayed and lived there almost five years.
It was the best monastery, meaning there were no inexperienced “elders” there: The brotherhood in the Lavra after St. Athanasius had never changed. In other Athonite monasteries it sometimes happened that one brotherhood would oust another and change the spirit of the monastery. But the spiritual tradition in the Lavra was handed on from one generation of monks to the next, preserving the spiritual succession. In the Lavra you could also choose your own spiritual father yourself.
St. George the Athonite (tenth century)1 is greatly revered on Athos. He said about the Holy Mountain that it “is the place that God chose for monks.” And truly, on Athos you feel that everything is led here by Divine power. The Most Holy Theotokos herself is the abbess of the Holy Mountain.
Many monks in the Lavra shared their stories with me of how they wound up on Athos, and they all felt the Divine power that had led them there.
He is from a hesychast cell
In 2000, there was a fire in Kavsokalyvia. Before the fire, someone had called Mount Athos and said that he was going to set Kavsokalyvia on fire—some thug. What was in the caller’s mind, no one knew, but all were on alert. But all the same, he somehow set it on fire, and there was a fire where the monks kept diesel oil. One two-storied cell, which was 200 years old, instantly burned and collapsed. They brought firetrucks on a boat. And I recall how all the monks were praying. They prayed, and even the wind stopped blowing. There was no wind and the fire did not spread.
And another surprising observation: I was going with two fathers (one from Iveron Monastery, the other from the Lavra, Arsenios and Nikodemos) to put out the fire. There was smoke in front of us—just like in the movies. Suddenly a monk came out of the smoke. One of my companions, Arsenios, asked him, “How’s it going there?”
Everyone was afraid that the fire would spread. But he didn’t say anything, and just walked by us and disappeared into the smoke. Arsenios and Nikodemos smiled. I asked, “What are you smiling about?”
And they told me about this silent monk: “He is from a hesychast cell.”
Do you understand? There was fire, smoke, flames, mortal danger, and he walked silently. He preserved his hesychia.
You can find cells on Athos where they are silent, cells where they labor in obedience, cells where they labor in fasting, where they eat nothing cooked. Fasting and obedience are ordinances for all monks, but here they somehow especially labor by these means, imposing upon themselves some extra ascetic labors.
The holy places make a man either more or less faithful
It’s quite noteworthy: When you leave Athos and go somewhere in the city, the people there are speaking about politics, about movies, about music. But on Athos the monks talk about monasticism. Everyone and everything there teaches you about monasticism. To live on Athos even for a few months is very edifying.
The holy places have such a property that they make a man either more or less faithful.
The Gospel says when they brought the Christ Child to the temple, He was met by St. Simeon. He said to Mary, His mother, Behold, this child is set for the fall and rising again of many in Israel; and for a sign which shall be spoken against; (Yea, a sword shall pierce through thy own soul also,) that the thoughts of many hearts may be revealed (Lk. 2:34-35).
This means that when Christ comes, Light comes, and everything falls into place. Some of those who considered themselves faithful may realize that they only formally believed. And unbelievers will comprehend the truth and become believers.
The holy places have such a property. For example, there was a man that wanted to become a monk. He wound up on the Holy Mountain, and feeling disappointment, he said, “No, I didn’t really want this.” But others, conversely, perhaps not planning to become monks, become monks.
And when some temptation happens, it is always the sword of Christ. It enters into the heart and either cuts away that which is not Divine in the heart and purifies it, or, if you don’t want to cut out the bad, it cuts away the holiness that was there.
God can change nature
A mother brought a possessed boy who was so insane that he ate everything around, including his own excrement, to St. Macarius the Great. The saint asked the mother, “How much food do you want your son to eat?”
The poor woman gave an approximate amount of food, but the saint accusingly asked her, “Why do you want so much, woman?”
The saint prayed, and the boy stopped eating everything, and began to eat a moderate amount of food. Thus the Lord, by the saint’s prayers, changed the sick boy! St. Macarius the Great counseled the boy on leading a life not of idleness, but of labors and prayers, then gave him to his mother and dismissed them both with peace.
The Athonite fathers do not chase correction in outward actions
There is much spiritual joy on Athos. I recall how once at the Lavra Igumen Philip got sick, and they blessed me to accompany him with his cell attendant to the city of Polygyros. When I returned to the Lavra from the hospital, I couldn’t wait for the boat to finally reach the dock, to find myself again in my beloved monastery.
There were very nice, simple, kind, and sincere brothers at the Lavra. There were elders who had labored in asceticism for many years. If you made any kind of mistake, they didn’t immediately make any comments—I could see my mistake in their eyes. They would just hint at it. For us, the most important thing was that you labor and try as you can. They didn’t chase after correctness or perfection in outward actions—for them the internal was most important.
As you bless!
For example, I remember once I was assigned to help in the main trapeza. By this time, the old abbot of the monastery Philip had reposed, and there was a new abbot, Prodromos. They were both very good. Prodromos always prayed together with the brethren and ate what the brothers ate—that’s how it is everywhere on Athos.
So I was working in the trapeza, and in came Abbot Prodromos (and he is the abbot of the first monastery on Athos) and said to the head trapeza worker, Monk Hierotheos, “Fr. Hierotheos, some friends have come to see me. They are walking around Athos on foot. Can we give them some bread? Is there a blessing to take four loaves to them on the road?”
Fr. Hierotheos answered, “Forgive me, Geronda, I can only give two loaves, otherwise there won’t be enough bread for the brothers.”
(They baked bread once a week, and it was supposed to be enough to last a week.)
The abbot said, “Well, of course, of course. As you bless!”
What an Athonite abbot is like
In Athonite monasteries, the Spiritual Council, elected by the monastery brotherhood, gives obediences. They are the elders of the monastery. That is, the abbot alone does not give the brothers obediences, but rather the Spiritual Council. Therefore, when one of the brothers does not fulfill his obedience, he bears responsibility not before the abbot, but before the council and through it before all the brethren.
What is the abbot like in an Athonite monastery? He is a man who gives an example to all the brothers, according to the rule.2 He is an example of the rule, not a dictator. It is an ancient tradition preserved on Mt. Athos. And the abbot is not chosen by the bishop, but by the brotherhood. If this is lost, then much in monasticism is lost. Whoever has succeeded in spiritual labors should be the abbot.
How did they used to create monasteries? The brothers lived and labored ascetically, as best they could. Then they would recognize that there was an elder among them who excelled spiritually. And they would say, “Let’s go settle near him, and get advice from him on how to struggle, that we too might succeed spiritually.” And they would settle near the elder, and so a monastery would arise. And he would advise them, and become the abbot. After the abbot’s death, the brothers would choose from among the brethren whoever was spiritually higher than the rest.
When a man struggles ascetically, he understands what he lacks, and he knows who has that which he himself lacks. And a man will very well understand how much he believes and how much he loves Christ. He understands his condition, and what city he is in—Jericho, Sodom, on the road to Jerusalem, in Jerusalem, or in the temple—if he has reached the Holy City or not. But if he doesn’t live ascetically, then he won’t understand.
Everything you see on Athos is monastic
Everything that you hear, everything that you see on Athos is monastic. Everything here helps a monk to labor ascetically—both the good and the bad.
What can be bad? For example, such thoughts come to you: “I never have time to pray at full strength—I have important work to do. And when I finish this work in a few years—building a cell, or repairing one that’s already built, or something else—then I’ll pray well.” And, having thought this way, you immediately understand that it’s all a lie, that it makes no sense—because you will never pray this way.
At first they put me in a newly-renovated cell in the Lavra, so it would be pleasing for me, so I wouldn’t have to care for the repair of the cell. There wasn’t even a single old nail in the cell—everything was new. There were even modern amenities: a sewer, water, electricity. But I didn’t feel monastic in this cell. I asked to be moved to a different cell, to the old building. They gave me an old cell without any amenities; everything was very simple, but everything there was much more pleasing to my soul.
Remembrance of death
One of the brothers of the Lavra—and he was a very good monk—was diagnosed with cancer. They were saying that he would die soon. But his tumor did not decrease or increase, and he didn’t die.
He said, “This disease is good for me—I always have the remembrance of death.”
And I noticed that he was a very stable person, very restrained in his words, weighing all that he said, and generally not saying anything in vain. He had a completely different disposition than us healthy people. Everything was different—his voice, his words, his gestures, his actions.
This is what remembrance of death means.
Orthodox prophecy is an admonition, not fate
They sometimes say on Athos that some of the Athonite elders prophesy. I really wanted to see a prophet, so I went to these elders. And I realized that in Orthodoxy there are no prophets. Orthodox prophecy is an admonition, not fate, not doom, not a destiny that you want or don’t want to come true. It’s an admonition: If you do this, this is what will happen—like an exhortation.
When the Athonite elders say something about the future, they never say it is fate, only that it will be so. They would say it as a warning, but then it would come true.
I noticed this even in Georgia. One bishop said to me, “Don’t do that, or this will happen next.” Logically what he said was completely impossible, but then it happened.
Until we meet in the Heavenly Kingdom!
Once there was such an incident on Athos: There was a monk living in a monastery, and suddenly he went insane. He took off all his clothes and began to run naked around the monastery. When the gates of the monastery were opened, he left for the forest and got lost there. His brothers looked for him, but didn’t find him. He didn’t have any supplies or clothes with him, and there were many snakes there, and many other dangers: You can fall into a ravine and break your bones, you can starve to death, or freeze at night. Everyone agreed that this brother had died.
Ten years passed. The brothers thought not even the bones remained of this poor monk. But suddenly he returned to the monastery, all overgrown and naked as before. The older fathers remembered him and were amazed that he was alive. The sick man was in his right mind. They dressed him. He confessed, communed, lay down, crossed his arms, and said to the brethren, “Until we meet in the Heavenly Kingdom!”
And he gave up his spirit. The brothers were unable to find out what happened with this father, and where he was for those ten years, what he ate, or how he lived.
When we think someone has gone crazy, in fact the Lord has marked him with His seal. He is plagued bodily and mentally, but spiritually he repents. You cannot sin and be saved. There are many spiritual phenomena we cannot explain, but the Lord has them under control, and He knows everything about them.
God does not differentiate the nationalities of His children!
Another thing I would like to say about Athos: Unfortunately, there is such a problem, that the Greeks consider themselves first in Christianity. Okay, it is so. But then, who should be second and third? And they consider themselves first, and second—the only. And when you arrive at Athos, they want—of all things—that you become a Greek. Once some German came to Athos and wanted to build a cell for five or ten monks to live there. They didn’t allow him. But when the Georgians lived on Athos, they wanted all nations to be on the Holy Mountain, so that it would be an international monastic center.
The spirit of monasticism has been preserved on Athos—it’s wonderful. But, unfortunately, the Greeks do not value Christians of other nationalities. If someone of another nationality becomes a Christian, the Greeks do not rejoice as true Christians ought to rejoice.
I am Georgian. When someone becomes a Christian, even of another nationality, I am happy. I rejoice! Christ had no earthly father. He is the Father of all. He does not differentiate the nationalities of His children!
Why did God make so many nationalities on Earth?
I often used to wonder why God made so many nationalities on Earth. And now I understand: If there was only one nation on Earth, they would have only one king, leader, head, and this one man’s mistake could lead to the death of the entire nation.
We see this in the Bible. The tribes of Cain departed from God, because when Cain killed his brother, he departed from his father, who had told him about God, about angels, about the providence of God. But Seth, his brother, lived with their father, and his descendants remained faithful and learned from Adam; he was like their spiritual father.
The Flood purged the Earth because people had created such a culture that not even young people could get away from sin; building, singing, sculpture—all customs became sinful, not preaching about a return to Paradise, but all departing further from God, cultivating the base passions. People became nonbelievers, evil. They invited cataclysms upon themselves, and they are still doing so.
Noah and his family remained after the Flood, and gradually people became fruitful and multiplied. At some point they said, “We don’t fit all in one place, we need to spread out, which will entail estrangement, and we won’t know one another. Let’s build a city and tower which will become a symbol of our unity.”
But the people made a fatal mistake, handed down from generation to generation, which was recorded in the Bible: Let us make us a name (Gen. 11:4), and not in the name of God. It was the biggest mistake—pride. People began to unite not around God, the Creator, the Source of all blessings, but around leaders. This disease exists in humanity since the fall of Adam. Instead of God we had Marx, Engels, Lenin…
And what did God do? He confounded the tongues of the people, and they no longer understood one another. Since that time, wars based on national enmity have not ceased upon the Earth.
What did God do then? He dissected mankind and divided the nations, as a commander builds a strategic warship, with many compartments and cabins in its body. If the ship gets shelled, only one compartment floods, and the ship remains afloat.
If mankind were one nation, it would be easy to poison and kill everyone. For example, they would be all Muslims, or all Buddhists, or all unbelievers. But national barriers save mankind from destruction.
And those people who are now Christians are those parts of the ship that keep the entire vessel afloat. Somewhere there is radical Islam and terrorism, but there are Christians who can help. They can missionize, as when sailors find some hole or some kind of damage and go to repair it.
There was no Babel curse between us
It would be good if Athos appreciated all nationalities—the richness and strength, with the help of which mankind still exists and is saved. When you are given much, much is demanded of you. The Greeks have a mission that will not be taken from them. And the Jews had all the prophets, apostles, and the Mother of God.
I say this not because it’s bad on Athos—it’s good on Athos. But I want it to be even better.
When I would speak with Greek clergy, I didn’t feel like I was talking with Greeks: There were no national barriers. I didn’t feel any national strife. Do you understand? There was no Babel curse between us. But in general, nationality is a temporal lifeline, given us by the Lord God.
If you want to jump over me, then go
Then my passport expired, and I returned to Georgia. It was so sad for me to leave the Lavra. They’re very good brothers, very kind people there.
His Holiness didn’t release me to Athos anymore, but kept me in Tbilisi. Twice I asked his blessing to return to Athos, but he didn’t bless me. When I asked the third time, His Holiness said, “If you want to jump over me, then go.”
I didn’t dare defy His Holiness. But I longed for the Lavra. Once I saw a photo of the Lavra and my heart sank. It was bad, but I’m trying not to think about it now.
His Holiness’ sweater vest
Their director suddenly started telling us his story. It turns out that his daughter was dying from a brain tumor just a short time ago. The doctors said that death was near, and his friend advised him to go to His Holiness, to ask his prayers.
They went to see His Holiness and told him about their child’s condition. His Holiness had a sweater vest. He gave it to them and said, “Lay this under your daughter’s head.”
The father went to the hospital and put the sweater vest under his sick daughter’s head. The next day the child’s attending physician called him: “Come quickly! There’s been a miracle with your daughter: The tumor has disappeared, and your daughter is completely healthy!”
When I heard this major boss’s story, it seemed to me he was more of a believer than me, and that he believes more in His Holiness’ words than I do. When he had told the whole story, I thought: If God wants, it doesn’t matter whether the person is an unbeliever—He can instantaneously call his man, immediately putting an end to his unbelief! Can you imagine how I felt? I’m standing in a weapons arsenal in a government building, the director of the whole organization in front of me, whose eyes are burning with faith in God…
I remember how His Holiness would come visit us students in the seminary, speak with us, and invite us to the patriarchate. He was overjoyed that there were so many faithful young people. I will never forget the joy on his face.
A question and answer for you
I want to share with you my recollections of Fr. Gabriel (Urgebadze), now glorified among the saints. I would go to Mtskheta, to Samtavro Monastery. Fr. Gabriel lived there. He would walk around barefoot, prophesying. One seminarian asked me if I wanted to learn something about myself and my future from Fr. Gabriel. I answered, “No, I don’t want to. If he can prophesy, it means he knows the question and the answer. That is, if he’s a real prophet, then he knows all.”
And just then Fr. Gabriel came to visit us. He began to berate one of the hieromonks: “Why are you looking at women?! Why do you pray so little?!”
Then Fr. Gabriel kicked everyone out of the room, came up to me and said, “Here’s a question and answer for you: Beware of temptation!”
And he named precisely which temptations I had to keep an eye out for. And then I became convinced of his prophethood in practice: I had precisely those temptations that he named for me.
Why don’t you want to go to seminary?
I have another recollection of Fr. Gabriel. I was visiting another city and became my friend’s Godfather there. After the Baptism, we went to see Fr. Gabriel. This friend worked as a cop. We were riding on the train, and my friend suddenly decided to share his worries with me. He told me, “You know, sometimes I doubt that God is good, because there is so much evil in the world.”
I answered him, “Friend, instead of the police, you should go to seminary to study. You are too sensitive to handle everything that happens in your line of work…”
We arrived to Fr. Gabriel, and the elder immediately asked my Godson, “Why don’t you want to go to seminary like your friend advised you?!”
Then Fr. Gabriel brought an old newspaper, several years old, and said, “Now I will read to you that God is love!”
He read the entire article to us and then began to instruct us that God is love, and to convince my friend to go to seminary…
I think that is all of my stories… May the Lord protect you!