Fr Tikhon first saw Archimandrite John (Krestiankin) when he visited Pechory Monastery in 1982. From an ordinary person’s perspective, no one would have imagined Fr John to be extraordinary. Fr John simply looked like an elderly kind and wise monk, and many people flocked to seek his blessing all the time, going on for hours.
Fr Philaret, the young steward of the monastery, was always seemingly rushing Fr John about quickly. Fr Philaret was in reality, helping to ensure that the old monk, then already in his seventies, would not become uncomfortable or get ill in the extreme cold weather outside.
Many people who came to see Fr John, realized that Fr John had a Divine gift of being able to read the secrets of human souls. What the people of the Old Testament called prophets, the Russian Orthodox Church believers call elders (starets).
And yet, Fr John, in all humility, never considered himself an elder, but simply an older man who has gone on life’s journey a little further. And Fr John persisted in this perspective till the end of his life.
Fr Tikhon, the author, very incisively related to us, the readers, that Fr John, was able to help many people to act with “certainty in the only correct way”, rather than simply act in a wise way. In short, Fr John was able to understand the Will of God for the sake of those who came to him.
At the same time, those who came to Fr John for help, often in the worst times of their lives, were able to place full confidence and obedience with Fr John as their confessor or spiritual father.
What makes these elders so special in our midst? In a nutshell, they fulfilled Galatians 6:2, by bearing the burdens and sufferings of others and so fulfills the laws of Christ. An elder does not just dole out nice wise words, but picks up the lives and souls of those who come to him, and prays for them before God.
The condition for us to have a good relationship with our spiritual fathers and elders, is humility, confidence, and obedience (1 Peter 5:5). If our elders intend that we can be reconciled with God for a full embrace for God’s Will for us, then we must also, in turn, be able to follow our elders’ instructions that are beneficial for us. Their intentions are for our reconciliation with God, and it should also be our wish. We cannot benefit from a starets unless we wish to walk towards God. A starets, or anyone, cannot force us to go towards God. It has to come from us, starting with our humility (St James 4:6, St Luke 14:11).
Let us pray the Jesus Prayer often, for in this, unceasingly, we repent with humility, and acknowledge our Lord:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.