The Fruits of Ascesis

Two Russians performed their ascesis at the Skete of the Precious Forerunner, father Arseny, who was the elder of the two and a priest, and father Nicholas, his attendant and the chanter.  We heard about their tear-filled divine liturgies from the monk Parthenios.  These two ascetics were monks of fasting, little sleep, unceasing prayer and many tears.

Six months before he fell asleep, father Nicholas went blind.  At the same time many other illnesses befell him.  He could no longer go to church, but sat or lied down on his bed, suffering in intense pain.  They had less and less liturgies, and soon they would only liturgize once a week.  The blind and sickly attendant continued to chant; there was no way he would miss doing this once a week.

On the Saturday of Meatfare, after the liturgy, father Nicholas visited his Elder in his cell and in tears told him:  “Holy Elder, after the liturgy when I went to my cell and sat on my bed, my eyes were opened and I could see everything around me clearly.  My cell door opened, and my cell became engulfed in light.  Two men with big lambadas came in and a third stood between them.  He wore the most shining garment and an ineffable light came from his clothing.  The man in the middle asked me, “Do you know me?”  I said, “Of course I know you.  You are Anikitos, our friend and co-ascetic at Mt. Sinai.  I heard that you died three years ago.  He said to me, “That’s right father Nicholas!  I am Anikitos!  Do you see with what glory our Lord and King Jesus Christ, our savior, has rewarded me for repenting a little and doing a little bit of ascesis?  He will free you from all your suffering and reward you also, and even more than this!  You will be free from your pain and suffering in four days.  Our Lord sent me to console you.”

“They left right after that and I was alone again.  I lost my sight again, but my heart was filled with ineffable happiness.”

When the elder heard this, he told him to be careful, and to not believe these things and be deceived.  “Only ask for God’s forgiveness and mercy, and His grace so that you may have a good account at the judgement seat of our good but just judge!”  This he told him so that he might not be proud and fall at the very end.

On Thursday of Cheesefare, they had their last liturgy together.  Father Nicholas took communion and after he received a piece of bread at the end of liturgy, he asked his elder if he would please come to his cell with him.  The elder followed him there.  Father Nicholas sat on his bed.  His face began to change, to shine like lightning.  He raised his eyes to heaven and looked to be in ecstacy.  The room was filled with an ineffable fragrance.  He came to and said, “I thank you, my holy father, for your patience with me and my weaknesses, and for the instructions that you gave me which led me to the Kingdom of Heaven.”  The priest asked him, “Father Nicholas, do you see anything?”  “I see that they came for me, and tore up the scroll with all of my sins.  Please bless me father!”  He bowed his head, and raised his eyes to heaven and calmly said, “Lord, receive my spirit…”

At that same moment he handed his soul to the Lord, whom he served since his youth in faith, abstention, obedience and love.  He lived ascetically in Christ, a path of many holy revelations and divine union, mystical prayer and many tears and he lived, within the many Divine Liturgies of his ascetical life, a life-changing miracle.

 

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