Category Archives: Ascetic

Holy Fools in Russian Literature

by Philip Gorski

Holy Fool, detail from a painting by Surikov

Throughout the history of Russian literature, holy foolishness (iurodstvo) has been a ubiquitous motif. As an evolving theme, it remains challenging and paradoxical, constantly prompting us to reconsider the relations between “sanity” and “madness.” Most profoundly, it represents a powerful renunciation of what St. Paul called the “wisdom of this world,” to which he urged us not to be conformed since this wisdom “has been made foolish by God” (1 Cor. 1:20). I would like to make some brief observations regarding the development of the idea of iurodstvo by examining the compelling and innovative form that it took in the hands of a number of Russian writers during the nineteenth and twentieth centuries. This in turn may suggest further thoughts about what we might mean by the idea of “holy foolishness” today.

Nikolai Leskov (1831-95) is one of the many Russian authors who have explored holy foolishness in their writing. His stories contain numerous subtly drawn examples of holy foolish behavior. One of the best known is “Deathless Golovan,” about a simple and self-sacrificing man who cares for victims of a plague regardless of his own safety, and who amazes his neighbors by giving a Jewish man milk for his children. Elsewhere, in “Singlethought” (Odnodum, 1879), the unpredictable consequences of Bible-reading are examined. Here, the sober minded Alexander Afanas’evich Ryzhov has fallen into the ways of folly after the Scriptures have exerted an unfortunate influence upon him, the most worrying aspect of which is his steadfast refusal, as a provincial police officer, to take bribes or “gifts.” Indeed, his all-round unwillingness to become “businesslike” attracts the attention of the town governor and the archpriest, the latter being particularly worried that he may somehow, in Leskov’s words, be “straying from the truths of Orthodoxy.” Upon making enquiries he is troubled to discover that Ryzhov has “filled his head with Bible reading,” and has even, as he says, “gone as far as Christ.” “In that case,” the archpriest sadly concludes, “it’s all up with him.” For, as Leskov himself remarks,

In our ancient Russian land every Orthodox knows that whoever has read the Bible all the way through and has “even got to Christ,” can no longer be held strictly responsible for his actions, [for] such people are like the well known fools of God.

Ryzhov loves to read the Prophets, and Leskov describes him as “half mystic, half agitator.” The scandalous culmination of this tendency is the spectacle of Ryzhov one day physically forcing the rather disdainful provisional Governor to bow before the icons in Church. The only explanation that a stunned official can give for this is that “Bible reading is not suitable for everybody: among the monks it arouses the passions and among the laymen it unsettles the mind.” Whether or not Ryzhov’s mind is unsettled, it is significant that he remains firmly Orthodox, fasting and going to confession, even though he calmly tells the Provincial Governor – when asked – that the authorities are lazy, greedy and hypocritical, and that the rich rather than the poor should be taxed. He has come to these conclusions, he says, not from involvement in any sect, but from a reading of the Scriptures. And when the Governor tells him that he could be arrested or deported for this insolence, his response is that he has no one to fear except God.

Dostoevsky differed greatly from Leskov philosophically, but nonetheless shared an interest in the portrayal of pravedniki (righteous ones). His most renowned attempt in this respect was, of course, the holy fool Prince Myshkin with whom Dostoevsky aimed at the depiction of “a positively good man.”

There is also, in The Devils, the unnerving figure of Maria Lebedkin, who exhibits a powerful spiritual resilience in the face of continuous male brutality.

But one classically Dostoevskian righteous man, who owes much to the folkloric accounts of the holy fool but who is less well known, is the elderly strannik or wanderer Makar Dolgorukii who makes a fleeting but memorable appearance in Dostoevsky’s novel The Adolescent, and who makes his tranquil entrance by way of his overheard prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us.”

In the feverish activity of the novel, amidst the frantic conflicts of competing intellects, Makar shines out as one who is unashamed to speak of the mysteries of life, which are all the more beautiful because they are mysteries. In his conversations with the adolescent Arkadii he exhibits a calm familiarity with the grand claims made on behalf of science yet remains quietly aware of the limitations of the rationalizing mind. As he says at one point with regard to the invention of the microscope, “There’s nothing to say. It’s a great and glorious thing: everything has been given over to man by the will of God.” And as for the learned, the professors, he says, “We must pray for them, for they are like us, fellow suffering men the same as us. They read and talk all their lives, filled with bookish sweetness, but they themselves dwell in perplexity and cannot resolve anything.” Hence, for Makar, if man in his vanity rejects God, the result is the worship of an idol – “a wooden one, a golden one or a mental one.” Despite all this the amiable doctor Alexander Semtonovich, a true man of science, persists in viewing Makar as nothing more than “a vagrant all the same.”

Makar is no idealized portrait of a “simple” peasant iurodivyi. Arkadii thinks that he notices a rather sly side to his character which enjoys polemic, as if there were a propagandist quietly at work within him. Indeed, his Orthodoxy is of a notable kind. He believes that we are bound to pray tenderly “for all who have no one to pray for them,” for the unrepentant or condemned, and for suicides. Even more worrying, his ecstatic vision of the future “with Christ” is one without orphans or beggars in which, after the giving away of all riches we will become immeasurably rich in love. “This is communism you’re preaching,” Arkadii finally interrupts, before proceeding to expound communist doctrine for him “with great ardor, heedless of anything.” But old Makar is genuinely mystified, indeed shocked, to hear his vision claimed and then rendered in such intellectualized terms. His inspiration was never based upon a theoreticized blueprint, but grew instead out of his own love of God.

Dostoevsky was once described by Maxim Gorky as “an evil genius” whose only possible value might lie in “upsetting the spiritual equilibrium of the European bourgeois.” What Gorky particularly objected to was Dostoevsky’s espousal of Christian forbearance or meekness. The irony here is that Gorky the communist was driven all his life by an insistent spiritual yearning. From an early age, even before his apprenticeship in an icon workshop, Gorky was familiar with what one might call the religious underworld of Russia. And one of the characteristics of his fiction is a fascination with a wide variety of God-seekers, wanderers, monks and holy-fools, revealing a deep affinity with their religious thirst. As Leonid Andreev once said to him, “You speak like an atheist, but think like a believer.” In fact, the believer in him was fully but briefly revealed to the world in his 1908 novel, A Confession. In it a iurodivyi-like hero, Matvei, goes on his wanderings around Russia in search of God, and of what men live by. His journey is one of increasing disillusionment – until he is brought to the realization that the people “are in fact the creators of God, eternally working at the creation of miracles.” He ends with a prayer to mankind: “Thou art my God, the creator of all Gods, which thou weavest out of the beauty of thy soul and the labor and agony of thy seeking.”

A Confession is the artistic outcome of Gorky’s involvement with the group known as “the God-builders” (Bogostroitel’stvo), which attempted a synthesis of religion and Marxism. The holy foolish wanderer Matvei, pursuing a spiritual quest that is happily resolved in a mystical vision of the “God-creating” proletariat, is in fact Gorky reveling in a utopian, aestheticized dream of the communist future. In Ispoved the beautiful future is one based upon grand abstractions; “mankind” and “the people.” Unusually for Gorky, the individuals in this work are thinly drawn, subsumed within the collective and unconvincing. The holy fool Matvei, or rather Gorky, may no longer worship God, but he instead bows down before his own mental idol, in this case “mankind.” And when Gorky finally returned to the Soviet Union, coaxed back from exile, it was presumably, and sadly, as a believer in such seductive abstractions that he ended his wanderings.

To end this brief discussion of holy folly, I should like to consider a prose work by Anton Chekhov, a writer who believed the artist’s task was a spiritual one and who, in the words of one biographer, was a “reverent agnostic.” In his short story, “Ward No. 6,” a complacent doctor, Andrei Ragin, strikes up an unlikely relation- ship with a forgotten inmate of a psychiatric ward, Ivan Gromov, with tragic results. The inmate and the doctor are, I would argue, both very modern holy fools: they are also both encountered in a psychiatric institution – a symbol of rationalist modernity if ever there was one.

The origins of Ivan’s illness lie in his dawning but perfectly sane realization of how easily a person may be wrongfully accused and incarcerated by an impersonal legal machinery. Ivan is also horrified by the readiness with which society can “regard human suffering in a strictly official light” and how lacking in the virtues of mercy and forgiveness it has become. As he exclaims:

Is it not absurd to think of justice when every act of oppression is regarded by society as rational and expedient, and every act of clemency, such as an acquittal, is greeted with an outburst of unsatisfied revengeful feelings?

The blameless Ivan has become genuinely terrified by what he feels may happen to him and so he shuns society and leads an increasingly hermit-like existence, finally falling into a state of such distress that “he felt that all the violence in the world had accumulated behind his back and was chasing him.” The response of the doctor is to consign him to the asylum, where he is rapidly forgotten.

Some time later this same doctor, the fatalistic and bored Andrei Efunich, is cheered to rediscover this articulate and bookish man amongst his patients – a university man, no less, with whom one might discuss the life of the mind! Ivan however, seethes with anger, both over his own treatment and over the state of the world outside. As he says, “There are scores of madmen enjoying their freedom only because you are too stupid to distinguish them from normal men. Why then must I and these wretches be cooped up here for the sins of others like so many scapegoats?” The doctor attempts to console him with talk of the Stoics, of Logic and of “the triviality of external things,” but to no avail for as Ivan cries out, “I must be an idiot, for I suffer, am discontented and am continually amazed at human baseness!”

Despite his protestations that God has created him with warm blood and nerves, Ivan becomes gradually entangled in the web of the doctor’s easy rationalizations veering off into a discussion of Stoic philosophy which leaves him “rubbing his head in vexation.” Until, that is, his sudden remembrance of Christ. For Ivan, Christ’s example is not one of indifference, or of mere passivity, he is fully, even awkwardly, alive. As Ivan says, “Christ reacted to reality by weeping, smiling, mourning, flying into a rage and grieving.” Once Ivan remembers Christ in the Garden of Gethsemani, praying that the cup might pass, he laughs and can sit back down on his bed. And in this moment the isolation and agony of this self-confessed idiot is eased by his certain knowledge of the grief and sorrow of Christ himself. And it is at this point that he asks the doctor if he has ever really, suffered. In particular, was he ever, like Ivan, beaten as a child?

The answer is “no,” but the doctor is now about to experience sufferings of his own. He is gradually becoming a seeker after truth, rather than a seeker after diverting conversation. His dissatisfaction with his own life has led him to inadvertently overstep psychiatric convention by engaging – in however limited a way – with what the patient thinks and feels. Not only this, he is eventually overheard telling Ivan how he, too, has become sick of what he calls “universal madness, mediocrity and stupidity,” and is also seen sitting with Ivan, head bowed in silent, mournful and human sympathy. This is regarded by his colleagues as evidence of questionable sanity and so he is relieved of his post – although by now he is indifferent to this – and he is then subjected to well-meant but fatuous attempts by friends to distract him and cheer him up – the result of which is his passionate, unstoical outburst in which he tells these “fools” to “go to the devil.” Clearly, no one in their right mind would commit such a series of wilful acts of folly, so into the asylum he also must go. This is where he dies, during an ecstatic vision of freedom, of a herd of reindeer “rushing past him, extraordinarily beautiful.”

Leskov once famously said that Chekhov’s story “Ward No. 6,” with its madman-fool “singing,” as Chekhov wrote, “an incoherent, clumsy blend of songs which have not yet been sung to the end, is Russia. There is a sense, however, in which each nation might also be viewed as a “Ward No. 6,” each with its own indigenous inmate-fools, derided, vilified or simply ignored and unknown, their childlike and pilgrim minds unconformed with the world. And as new ways are constantly sought to diagnose or label behavior which is inconvenient in the sight of the worldly wise, so also the foolishness which may in fact be wisdom is constantly renewed and revealed, as St. Paul wrote, in “the lowly things of this world, and the things which are despised” (1 Cor 1:28).

Philip Gorski is studying for a Ph.D. in Theology at Nottingham University. This is an extract from a paper written for the International Christianity and Aesthetics Conference at the University of Utrecht in June 2004. The complete essay was published in the February 2006 issue of Sourozh, journal of the Russian Orthodox Church in Great Britain.

Wisdom from St. John Chrysostom


As it is not to be imagined that the fornicator and the blasphemer can partake of the sacred Table, so it is impossible that he who has an enemy, and bears malice, can enjoy the holy Communion…. I forewarn, and testify, and proclaim this with a voice that all may hear! Let no one who has an enemy draw near the sacred Table or receive the Lord’s Body! Let no one who draws near have an enemy! Do you have an enemy? Do not draw near! Do you wish to draw near? Be reconciled, and then draw near, and touch the Holy Gifts!

– Homily 20

We are commanded to have only one enemy, the devil. With him never be reconciled! But with a brother, never be at enmity in thy heart. – Homily 20

Praying against one’s personal enemies is a transgression of law. – Homily: Against Publishing the Errors of the Brethren

How great punishment must they deserve, who, far from themselves forgiving, do even entreat God for vengeance on their enemies, and as it were diametrically transgress this law; and this while He is doing and contriving all, to hinder our being at variance one with another? For since love is the root of all that is good, He, removing from all sides whatever mars it, brings us together, and cements us to each other.

– Homily 19: On St. Matthew: On the Lord’s Prayer

Do you fast? Give me proof of it by your works. If you see a poor man, take pity on him. If you see a friend being honored, do not envy him. Do not let only your mouth fast, but also the eye, and the feet, and the hands and all the members of our bodies. Let the hands fast, by being free of avarice. Let the feet fast, by ceasing to run after sin. Let the eyes fast, by disciplining them not to glare at that which is sinful. Let the ears by not listening to evil talk and gossip. Let the mouth fast from foul words and unjust criticism. For what good is it if we abstain from birds and fishes, but bite and devour our brothers?

– Homily III:8 On the Statutes

For Christians above all men are forbidden to correct the stumblings of sinners by force … it is necessary to make a man better not by force but by persuasion. We neither have authority granted us by law to restrain sinners, nor, if it were, should we know how to use it, since God gives the crown to those who are kept from evil, not by force, but by choice.

– Six Books on the Priesthood

An Abbess Who Said No

197755.pAn interview with Mother Maria of Asten

 A convent, chickens, inspectors, arrests, interrogations, lawyers, and the mass media: these were elements of a recent drama in the hamlet of Asten, an otherwise quiet farming district in the southern Netherlands. The unrest was over a small number of chickens kept by the nuns at the Nativity of the Mother of God Orthodox Convent in the days leading up to and following Pentecost Sunday in 2003. The abbess, Mother Maria, spent Pentecost in jail for violating Dutch agriculture laws. A nun in jail in tolerant Holland? How could it happen?

Mother Maria was born in The Hague in 1944 and was raised in an atheistic household. She came of age in a climate of doubt and searching in a nation recovering from years of German occupation. She attended university and became a linguist fluent in seven languages. A strong spiritual yearning at last drew her to Christianity.

She was received into the Orthodox Church in 1963. Two years later, age 21, she joined a convent in The Hague where she remained until 1973, when she went to Serbia to join the Zica convent near Kraljevo. Here she immersed herself in its tradition and came under the influence of St. Justin Popovich, then an abbot at a nearby monastery. He believed she was being formed for a special purpose in Holland. Her next step was to join a monastery in Greece in 1975 where she remained for seven years. During this time, people in Holland were petitioning for a new convent. She visited in 1982, after which it was decided that she would return.

In 1986, with the requisite blessings, she headed home and took up residence in a garden cottage and waited. Thus far, a series of hidden graces had occurred, but her move from a thriving monastery to isolation and uncertainty looked at first less than promising. She put out the word: Looking to buy a house with land, in a quiet place, with a garden, must be big enough for more sisters, and by the way, I have no money! But wonders happen. A wealthy man looking to endow a religious order heard of her need and offered his support.

The donor bought her a farm house on an acre of land in Asten. In January 1989, she moved in and went to work enlarging the house and converting its dilapidated chicken shed into a chapel and guest house. Little by little the property was improved. Pilgrims began to come. Donations trickled in and bills were paid. She was in time joined by nuns from other convents as well as lay people seeking a life of monastic prayer. Mother Maria had become the abbess of a secure foundation.

Life at Asten is focused, the services full and straightforward. Everything is orderly without being fussy. Mother Maria is someone who gets things done. As one sister commented: Its best if you move aside when shes onto something. She looks after her sisters with the devotion of a parent while attracting visitors from near and far to the Orthodox faith. Thanks to the monasterys hospitality, many families experiencing difficulties have found shelter in the convent guest rooms. With the donation of an adjacent plot of land, the convent has doubled its holdings. The convent chickens wander about freely.

In February 2003, the vogelpest — bird flu — reached Holland, invading industrial-scale poultry sheds in many parts of the country. The poultry industry was severely affected. The Ministry of Agriculture ordered a cull of the poultry in each affected area. Millions of chickens were destroyed. At the same time privately owned poultry were declared a hazard. Hobby farmers who had quarantined their chickens were ordered to surrender them. Though the disease had run its course by June, the government was taking no chances, since the poultry industry was waiting to resume production.

The convents chickens were untouched by bird flu. Nevertheless, government inspectors brought crates and demanded that the convents hens be surrendered. When they returned the next day, the crates were empty — the condemned chickens had been taken to safe houses out of the area.

On the eve of Pentecost, inspectors arrested Mother Maria for extended questioning. Within hours, she became a celebrity in the Dutch media.

Here are extracts from an interview made after her release by Fr. David Pratt.

Q: What is this all about?

A: First, we had a choice, either to obey the agricultural ministry and give up our chickens to be killed, or stand against that policy. I would have given them up, but I had a lot of information saying the disease had nearly run its course. Our chickens were not afflicted; we knew the symptoms, and they were far from any infected farms. So, logically speaking, why give them up if it was unnecessary?

Some veterinarians were saying this, not I. The question had become one of conscience and civil disobedience. Many times in history, we have seen when something is wrong in a country, that disobedience, at a certain point, can cause change. Previously, we had an outbreak of hoof-and-mouth disease. We saw many thousands of healthy cows destroyed because that was cheaper than vaccinating them. A lot of people protested, and now the EU favors a vaccination policy. Protestors caused that change. In America, was it not the civil disobedience of quite a lot of people who turned public opinion there against slavery? At a certain moment, the disobedience of many abolitionists caused a crisis: people saw slaves as human beings. Disobedience brought about a change of thinking. And it is possible to see this in Christian terms. There are times when Christians must obey the laws of the land, but there are times when we must say no, this is not good and stand up against certain laws. It is not always necessary to obey a government. Conscience is part of church history.

Once I made the decision not to exterminate the convents chickens, my relationship to them changed. I had to hide them. I needed help, but thats forbidden by law. Now my decision of conscience came to involve others — the sisters, our benefactors, and neighbors. They agreed to support my decision, and so my relationship to these people also changed. How do I answer the inspectors without betraying my supporters? How do we not betray each other? We know from our experience during the Second World War that when we act, we involve others, and if we dont act we involve someone else. Life is not black and white, and very often we have to make a choice between different degrees of badness. Life is not so easy if you live according to your conscience. Thats another theme in this experience — not to lie and not to betray others. Fortunately, Dutch law forbids self-incrimination; we are allowed to remain silent under interrogation.

Ecology is another theme. Under the law, I am the owner of the chickens and I have to answer for them. Under God, I dont own anything. The chickens actually belong to Gods creation. I am just responsible for them while they are here. Its my job to look after them. They trust us and look to us for food and shelter, and in return, they provide us with eggs. Thats a relationship. And I am responsible to God for it. I cant give them up to be killed!

Similarly parents dont own their children. They receive them and raise them as their own. Its similar here with livestock. In the New Testament there is the image of Christ the Good Shepherd who looks after his sheep and knows each one by name. Of course, that is a symbol referring to us humans, but were involved with nature in much the same way. Were the shepherds. We have dogs and cats with names. Theres a relationship going on here.

Q: Whats at the heart of this relationship?

A: I have been charged with breaking economic laws. This means the chickens are just economic units. Theres no special relationship — only money. The industrialization of domesticated animals has changed our position toward them and toward all of creation too, I think. The image of animals around and in support of a household no longer exists. We have stables filled with thousands of caged animals on a production line. What kind of image is that? Economic, of course. We have come to accept the existence of chickens that can barely stand in their cages, whose legs are feeble and useless, because we need their meat at fast-food restaurants. I dont know if human beings have a right to do that to animals. I dont think they do. This is not a picture of the shepherd and his sheep. We have reduced animals to the level of raw materials such as plastic or iron in a production process. Is this Gods law for creation? I doubt it.

Q: What are your views about the proper use, abuse and care of farm animals?

A: Nature is under our care. We use it to obtain food, but what Ive just described is abuse. Were going against nature when we raise animals that way. Raising them for food still implies a relationship of care. Monastics dont eat meat, and I dont think eating meat is necessary, but for people who do, there is no getting around the fact that these animals are alive and under our care. Bio-dynamic farming is gaining attention because it attempts to place animals closer to their natural way of life. Free-range chickens are obviously better off than the others. And if we accept that as true, then we have to consider restoring our relationship with all the animals we use for food and sustenance.

Q: Does our treatment of animals shape our treatment of each other?

A: Yes, it does. You see, Im protesting an economic policy. I petitioned the government to vaccinate our chickens. All the hobby farmers wanted to do that. But our petition was denied, though the EU permits vaccinations. Everything in Holland was geared toward resuming the poultry business as soon as possible. That was the economic rationale. At that point, I decided to protect my chickens.

Q: What finally provoked your action?

A: It was the papers the officials asked me to sign. They required the owners to sign papers before they gas the chickens. The similarity to the Holocaust was too much for me, and my conscience was already strained by the extermination of the cows. Did you know that the government publicizes a special phone number for informing on your neighbors? One lady was moving her chickens and was arrested because of this hot line. In other words, her neighbors denounced her. Thats Stalinist.

Q: Is it a problem being put on the front page of newspapers?

A: When a nun gets arrested, people take notice. Some say this has gone too far. But this gives us an opportunity to highlight certain urgent questions. Were conscious that human life in the womb and the geriatric center is threatened. When we deny life to an unborn handicapped child, its for economic reasons. When we terminate the life of an old person, economic reasons underlie the act. Some hospitals are proud to offer euthanasia. Economics drive that policy. If, today, you can economically destroy entire species of animals, then tomorrow you could do likewise with certain classes of people. If these agricultural measures were intended to ease world hunger, I could understand them. But this industry is not for the hungry; its for the wealthy.

Q: But what about rendering obedience to lawful authorities?

A: Sometimes your conscience just tells you to act. Conscience is very important. Theres no difference between a monk and a layperson in that regard. Every Christian with a life of prayer, based in the Bible and the Church Fathers, gets a sense of how to understand Gods law. We are trying to follow Psalm 118 — teach me Your statutes. We have to answer this question: What does God want? If you never hear the Gospel or never go to church, then its easy to forget that question and lose your conscience. Living as a Christian means never letting your conscience go silent. We must worship, go to confession, receive Holy Communion, pray, and study. Then we can ask if our life is in keeping with Gods will. I dont think there is a distinction between monastic and lay conscience. Theres only one kind of purity, as I understand the Fathers. There is just one ethic for everybody.

Afterword: Mother Marias stay in jail was brief. Not only were the convents chickens allowed to live but the Dutch government at last decided that all hobby chickens could be vaccinated rather than exterminated.

This is a shortened version of an article by Fr. David Pratt published in volume 9 of Divine Ascent, the journal of the Monastery of St. John in Pt. Reyes Station, California. The monastery and journal have a web site.

Good Reading

Mother Maria Skobtsova: Essential Writings

Orbis Books, 2003, pp 192, $15

ISBN: 1-57075-436-5

edited by Helene Klepinin-Arjakovsky

preface by Olivier Clement, introduction by Jim Forest

Many know the life of Mother Maria thanks to Fr. Serge Hackel’s biography, Pearl of Great Price. Now at last there is a collection in English of some of her the principal essays.

Mother Maria was the first woman to study at the theological academy in Saint Petersburg. She was also a poet of note as well as an artist. Some of her pen drawings are used to illustrate this book. Like so many Russians, the revolution made her a refugee. She finally settled in Paris. Following the death of one of her children, she became a nun but living in the world rather than apart from it. Her life became a ceaseless act of hospitality. During the German occupation, the relentless efforts she and her co-workers made to save Jews and others in danger resulted finally in her arrest and martyrdom.

“Man ought to treat the body of his fellow human beings with more care than he treats his own,” she wrote. “Christian love teaches us to give our fellows material as well as spiritual gifts. We should give them our last shirt and our last piece of bread. Personal almsgiving and the most wide-ranging social work are both equally justified and needed.”

The book’s editor, Hèléne Klepinin-Arjakovsky, is the daughter of Father Dimitri Klepinin, a priest who worked closely with her and, like Mother Maria, died in a German concentration camp. The book’s principal translators are Richard Pevear and Larissa Volokhonsky, renowned for their new editions of Dostoevsky, Gogol, Chekhov and Bulgakov.

In his preface, Olivier Clément comments: “Mother Maria lived a theology of encounter like that expressed in Matthew 25… She engaged herself fully in history, in organized spiritual resistance that she refused to distinguish from military resistance. But she remained fundamentally Orthodox in her mystical fervor and her love for the crucified and risen Christ, in her understanding of the cross of glory as the central point of history, and in her openness to the dynamism of the Holy Spirit.”

The Way of the Dreamcatcher

by Steve Georgiou

Novalis, 2002, pp 284, $19.95

ISBN 2-89507-244-2

In an exchange with his friend Thomas Merton when they were both university students, Box Lax told Merton the only thing worth aspiring to was sanctity. “How do you expect me to become a saint,” Merton asked. “Just by wanting to,” said Lax.

In 1993 Steve Georgiou, while visiting Patmos, happened to meet Lax. By then Lax had been living a hermit’s life on Patmos for many years. An enduring friendship took root between the young visitor and the old man. This book is a record of some of their conversations, the main theme of which could be summed up as sanctity.

Many readers will be drawn to this book by Lax’s haunting poetry. (The most recent collection is Circus Days and Nights, published last year just after Lax’s death.) Others will find their way to the poetry thanks to the conversations Georgiou “ an OPF member “ shares with his readers in this lovely book.

“Prayer is a way of sending out love everywhere at once,” Lax said. “When we forgive ourselves and each other, things that interfere with the flow of holiness dissolve.