Fr Tikhon referred to Fr Nathaniel, the treasurer of the monastery, as “difficult”.
Fr Nathaniel was meticulous, seemingly calculative, and sometimes even harsh to novices.
But Fr Tikhon recognized why. Fr Nathaniel had to take care of the delicate finances of the monastery, where in a single day, up to 400 pilgrims and 100 monks had to be fed, well. There was also lots of repairs and construction, and daily supplies. And the monastery was also a beacon of charity, feeding and helping the poor, and even giving gifts to government officials to get them out of the way. It was an immensely difficult task for an elderly monk.
When some of us imagine monks to be living in the daily routine of prayers only, the reality is far from it. Monks pray daily, even unceasingly, and yet, above that, they are always laboring away. Some monks take care of menial tasks that many be herculean to many of us city folks. Some monks take care of endless administrative tasks that may cause those of us who are impatient to get inundated with frustration. Some monks also tend to the sick, physically, mentally, and spiritually, by providing medical and spiritual care. Being a monk is demanding, and only the toughest people ordained by God, are chosen to be angels among us. And that is why we ask for their holy prayers.
From Fr Tikhon’s observation, Fr Nathaniel hardly ate or slept. He was tirelessly tending to the many financial and administrative chores, at the expense of even rest. Although this elderly monk had boundless energy, he was not superhuman. There was once he fell into the snow, and many of the monks gasped and thought the old monk was dead. But really Fr Nathaniel just slept in the snow, for a while. Fr Nathaniel threw his whole being in service to the Church, not expecting any gratitude, but out of love.
And once the abbot of the monastery demanded to go into Fr Nathaniel’s cell, because nobody seemed to have entered before, and people got suspicious or at least curious. The reality was that Fr Nathaniel’s light switch was broken for a long time, and his cell was pitch dark. The abbot realized it and never bothered Fr Nathaniel again.
In our lives, we often encountered people who we may have thought of as harsh, negative, or difficult. In our limited faculties, we did not recognize the saints or the image of Christ beneath their exteriors. How shortsighted or blind we may have been (2 Corinthians 4:3-4)!
We may be spoiled with saints who treat us kindly, and we expect, in our views, that all saints must only utter kind words to us. Yet, with the yoke of admonishment and discipline from a pure heart of a saint, we may be refined closer as a rounded wheel to go closer to God (Job 28:1-2, Psalm 12:6).
The next time a person we run into at work, at the neighborhood, at leisure, or even somewhere out there, that we think is “difficult”, pause, and with humility and repentance, pray for God to open our eyes. We may be pleasantly surprised that beneath whatever delusions we have in front of our own eyes, is a saint we would embrace (St Matthew 13:16).
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.