«It is good to hide the secrets of the king, but it is glorious to reveal and preach the works of God». So said the angel to Tobit after the paradoxical healing of his blind eyes and after all these dangers that he went through and from which he was rescued, thanks to the devoutness that he had.
Because, the fact that someone is not keeping the secret of the king is perilous and devastating; but by being silent about the wonderful works of God, he is also putting his soul in peril.
For this reason myself, for I fear the consequences that the silencing has of the works of God, and because I reflect over the punishment that awaits the servant, who, after having received the talent by the Lord he hid it in the ground, without conducting any trade with it, by no means I will silence and hide a sacred story that has reached me.
And let no one doubt me, regarding whether I precisely write what I have heard, either because he thinks that I am saying completely extravagant things, either because he is impressed by the paradoxical content of the matter. Because, may it never happens to me to speak lies over sacred things and to adulterate a narration within which God is mentioned.
And when someone thinks with pettiness and in a manner unworthy of the greatness of the incarnate Word of God, and when he doesn't believe in what is being said regarding the greatness of God, this doesn't look reasonable to me at all.
But if there are some people who will read this biography and the paradoxical content of the story will allegently surprise them and they will not want easily believe it, let the Lord have mercy upon them. Because of course, they are also bound to the illness of the human nature, and they consider as hard to believe the things that are being said about the people of God.
I come therefore to the narration of a story that happened in our time; a man of God narrated it to me, a man who since the age of childhood had learned how to speak and act according to the will of God.
And I hope that the readers will not be led to disbelief, because they might think that it is impossible in our epoch one such a miracle to occur. Because the Grace of the Holy Spirit is entering the sanctified souls at all times, and produces prophets and friends of God, as Salomon taught us.
In the monasteries of Palestine there once lived a monk priest, who was blessed with holy life and speech and who since his childhood had been brought up in the ways and the customs of the monks. The name of that elder was Zosima.
And let no one think that because of the synonymy of the name Zosima, that I am referring to that other Zosima who was once accused of being heterodox in doctrine; because that one is another person and it is great the difference between the two, although they both had the same name.
This Zosima therefore, the Orthodox one, was hieromonk in one of the monasteries of Palestine, practicing every kind of ascetic rule and being capable for every kind of abstinence. He adhered to every rule that had been given to him by those who had initiated him to the spiritual labours, and on his own he had thought many more ways of spiritual exertion, in his effort to subjugate the flesh to the will of the spirit.
And he did not fail in his aim. Because the elder was so renowned for his spiritual life, that many monks from the neighboring monasteries, and many times also from distant ones, were coming to him to become his apprentices and through his teaching to be guided and directed towards the abstinence.
And although the elder was so great in the ascetic practice, nevertheless he never neglected the study of the Divine Scriptures, but even when he was asleep and when he was awake and when he was holding his handiwork in his hands and when he was eating, if of course it is possible to be called food the crumbs that he was eating, a single aim he constantly had, that was never ending, to always sing of God and to always study the Divine Words.
In fact they say, that many times the elder was granted the honor to see divine visions, and that the divine illumination was coming to him. And this of course is not surprising nor incredible, because as the Lord said, blessed are the pure at heart for they shall see the God.
That is, those who have purified their flesh and are always watching with the eyes of their soul being on alert, they can have visions of divine enlightenment, receiving thus already in this life the promises for the welfare that they will enjoy in the future.
Zosima was saying therefore, that he had been devoted into this monastery, already since the bosom of his mother, and that with all his might he went through the ascetic life in it until the fifty-third year of his life.
Then, as he was saying, he was disturbed by some thoughts, that allegendly he had become perfect in everything and that he absolutely no longer needed the instruction from any other human being. And as he was saying, he was thus thinking on his own:
I wonder, is there any monk on earth who has something to teach me that is unknown to me or that he can benefit me with some kind of asceticism, that I do not know yet or that I have not achieved? I wonder, is there to be found someone of those who practice the asceticism in the desert, who surpasses me in the theory or in the practice?
And while the elder was thinking thus, an angel of the Lord appeared and said to him: Zosima, you have struggled valiantly, as far as this lies within the power of man, and successfully you have walked the ascetic path; nevertheless, no one is perfect among the humans, because even if you do not know it, the struggles that are to come are greater than those that you have already passed.
In order for you to find out therefore, how many other ways are there that lead to salvation, «come out from your native land and from your kindred and from the house of your father», exactly as Abraham did, that most venerable one among the Patriarchs, and come to that monastery that is located near the Jordan river.
Immediately therefore the elder, followed the angel who was giving the order, and he exited from the monastery, in which he had lived as a monk since the age of his childhood, and when he reached the Jordan river, the most holy among all the rivers, he was guided to the monastery, where God had ordered him to go.
So after he knocked with his hand at the door of the monastery, he first met with the monk who was guarding the outer gate and that monk presented him to the abbot of the Monastery. After he had welcomed him and he found him in appearence and manners to be full of reverence, and after Zosima bowed in prostration and received the blessing, as it is usual among the monks, he asked him: Where are you coming from brother and for what reason have you come to us the humble elder men?
Zosima then responded: I don't think, father, that it's necessary to say where I come from, but I have come for the purpose of my spiritual profit. Because I have heard about you great things and worthy of praise that can bring the soul very near to Christ, our God.
And the abbot said to him: Our God, brother, Who can cure the human infirmity, only He can teach the divine mandates both to you and to us and lead us all to do what we must; because the man alone cannot benefit another man, if each one does not watch over himself and is not justly working keeping his mind constantly vigilant, and counting on the help of God in everything that he is doing.
Nevertheless, because, as you said, the love of God has motivated you to come and see us the humble elders, stay with us, if of course for this reason you have come, and the good shepherd with the Grace of the Holy Spirit shall feed us all, the One who gave His life in order to save us and He knows His own sheep and He is calling them by their name.
These things said the abbot to Zosima, who bowed once more in prostration and asked for blessing and after he added the «Amen», he stayed in that monastery.
There he met elders who were shining both in action and in the contemplation of God, full of eagerness in the spiritual life and practitioners of God's will; because there existed incessant psalmodies with all night long vigilances and they always had in their hands their handiwork and the psalms in their mouth.
Idle words were not to be heard among them, and the preoccupation for material things was not their concern. The annual incomes and the concerns that are more suitable to people who struggle for this life, were not known to them not even by name. Everyone focused their efforts into a single objective, how to desensitize the desires of the body, as long as their body had already died for the world and it didn't exist for the affairs of the world.
As their constant food they had the divine words and they were sustaining their body with only the necessaries, that is, on bread and with water, in analogy to the fervor that the flame of the divine love was giving to each one.
Seeing this, Zosima, he was finding a great benefit, as he was saying, continuously progressing in virtue and intensifying the ascetic struggle and encountering collaborators who were constructing the divine paradise within themselves.
After many days had passed, the time of the year came, during which there exists a tradition among the Christians to carry out the holy fasting that prepares them in order to worship the divine passion and the resurrection of Christ with clean consciousness.
The gate of the monastery was always kept locked and it never opened, in order for the monks to remain undisturbed in their asceticism. It only opened, if some monk was visiting the monastery for some important need. Because the place was not only recluse and hard to traverse but it was also unknown to most of the other monks.
Since the old days in the monastery they were following this rule, and it was because of this rule, as I think, that God guided Zosima to arrive to that monastery. What was the rule, therefore, and how did they practice it, I am going to say next:
The Sunday of the first week of the Great Fast of Lent, they were celebrating, as usual, the holy Liturgy and everyone participated to the immaculate and life giving mysteries and then, according to the custom, they would also eat some food.
Then all the elders were gathering in Church and after they had prayed on their knees for some time, they would kiss each other and they would bow in prostration to the abbot asking for his blessing, in order to have it as a collaborator and fellow traveler in the spiritual struggle they would be starting.
When these had come to an end, the gate of the monastery opened and all together chanting «The Lord is my light and my Savior; whom shall I fear? The Lord is the defender of my life; of whom shall I be afraid?» and the rest of that psalm, they would all go out of the monastery.
They would only leave one or two brothers behind who would remain in the monastery, not in order to guard the things that there were inside it -because they didn't have anything that could interest the thieves- but for the Church Temple, in order not to remain without liturgy.
Each of them was taking care of his own food, as well as he could and as he wanted; other was carrying bread proportionate to the need of his body, one was carrying dried figs, other was carrying dates, other legumes soaked in water and other was not carrying anything but only his own body and the modest clothes that he was wearing, and when the natural need would urge him, he would eat from the herbs that grow in the desert.
And they all had as their single rule and law that they were keeping inviolable, that no one would know how the other fasted or how he lived. Because after they had crossed the Jordan river, they would immediately separate one away from the other, and each one had the desert as his dwelling and no one would go to the other in order to meet up with him.
But even if sometime it did happen for someone to see the other coming towards him, he would immediately change direction and he would move to another place. They lived alone therefore continuously singing to God and receiving minimal quantity of food.
In this way they were spending therefore all the days of the fasting, and they would return to the monastery on the Palm Sunday, one week before the resurrection of the Saviour.
So each of them would come back carrying with him the fruit of his labour and only his consciousness would know in which way ha had toiled. And no one would ever ask the other, how or in what way had he struggled during that period. This was the rule of the monastery and in this way they faithfully practiced it.
Because each one of them who was going into the desert, would struggle on his own, under the gaze of God who sets the stage, and in this way he would free himself from the need of being liked by the people and of showing off his asceticism. Because the deeds that are done only for the eyes of the people and for someone to be liked by the people, not only they do not benefit in any way the one who is performing them, but they also become to him a cause of great damage.
Therefore Zosima as well, conforming to the custom of the monastery, crossed Jordan river, carrying a few supplies with him for the needs of the body and the old garment that he was wearing.
He was practicing the rule by walking through the desert during the day while he was sleeping during the night by lying down on the ground wherever the night would find him. At dawn he would again begin walking keeping always intense his pace of walking.
As he was saying, he had wished to go to the desert hoping someday to meet some father who would dwell in it, who would be able to help him in the fulfillment of his desire. For this reason he was walking fast and eagerly, as if he was running towards some important and familiar dwelling.
He walked twenty days, and on the twentieth day around the sixth hour, he stopped his walking for a while and after he had turned towards the east, he recited his customary prayers. Because he used to pause his hasty walk in determined hours of the day and to rest for a while, either by chanting on foot or by praying on his knees.
As he was chanting and was continually looking at the sky, he saw towards the right side of the place where he was standing some shadow appearing, that looked as if it was from a human body.
In the beginning he got distrussed and he was very scared, thinking that he was seeing a demonic ghost. But after he sealed himself with the sign of the cross and he expelled the fear, and since his prayer had already reached its end, he turned his gaze and he indeed saw someone walking towards the south.
That body that he was seeing was naked and tanned as if burned by the sun, and in the head it had a few white hair, like the wool of the lamb, that only reached till the neck.
Therefore, as soon as Zosima saw that, he got excited and was filled with joy from the paradoxical spectacle, and he began to run towards the same direction where also the body that he was seeing was hastingly advancing.
His joy was unspeakable, because during the whole period of these days he had not met a man or animal or bird, not even their shadow. He wanted therefore to know who was and where did he come from that person that he was seeing, hoping that he would become witness of some great mysteries.
As soon as that person perceived the presence of Zosima coming at a distance, he started running towards the interior of the desert. Then Zosima as well used all his strength, as if he had forgotten his old age, and without at all taking into account his tiredness due to the long walking, because he was in a hurry to reach the one who was avoiding him.
And while he was running in order to reach him, the other was escaping as if persecuted. Zosima however was faster and little by little he was getting closer to the one who was fleeing. And when he finally came close enough, so that he could be heard, he started shouting with tears and saying:
Why are you fleeing from me, the old sinner that I am, oh servant of the true God? Wait for me, whoever you are, do it for God, for Whom you have dwelled in this desert; wait for me, the weak and unworthy one, for the hope you have that you shall receive compensation for this great exertion of yours; hold on and give your prayer and blessing to me the old man, do it for God, who never turns away from no one.
And while Zosima was saying these things with tears in his eyes, and while both were running they found themselves in a place, which by its shape it seemed as if it was a dried up torrent. I don't think that indeed it was a torrent once, -because how would it be possible for a torrent to be formed in that area- but that it happened for that area to have such form.
When they arrived therefore to the place we mentioned which looked like the bed of a torrent, the person that was fleeing went down into the torrent bed and climbed back up again to the other side, while Zosima exhausted as he was and without being able to run any more he halted on the opposite side shedding many tears while his laments from very near could now be clearly heard.
Then the fleeing person spoke and said: Abba Zosima, forgive me for God's sake, I cannot turn back towards you and look at you in the face, because I am a woman and as you see I am naked, and I don't have clothes to wear in order to cover the shame of my body.
But if in any case you want to bestow a prayer to a sinner woman, throw to me the cloak that you are wearing in order to cover with it my female weakness and then I will turn to you and I will receive your blessings.
Ecstasy then and horror seized Zosima when he heard that person calling him by his name. Because, as the elder was experienced in the spiritual perception and full of wisdom concerning the divine affairs, he realized that it would not be possible for that person to call him by name, if he was not obviously gifted with the power of spiritual insight, since he had never before seen him and he had never before hear about him.
He quickly therefore executed her request and taking off the old and wrinkled cassock that he was wearing, he gave it to her by throwing it backwards. She took it and she dressed herself as much as possible and after she had covered some parts of the body, that needed to be covered more than the others, then she turned to Zosima and said to him:
Why did it seem good to you, abba Zosima, to come and see a sinful woman? What did you expect to see or to learn from me and you didn't get bored of making such a great effort?
Then the elder kneeled and was asking to receive the blessing, according to the custom, but because she also bowed in prostration, they both remained kneeling on the ground asking each one to receive blessing from the other. And nothing more they were saying both of them, but only the «Bless me».
After a lot of time had passed, the woman said to Zosima: Abba Zosima, it rather corresponds to you to bless and to pray, because you have been dignified by the order of priesthood and for many years you have been serving before the holy altar and many times you have offered the Divine Mysteries.
These words caused much fear and anguish to Zosima and as the elder was frightened he was sweating all over and moaning and his voice was being interrupted. And he said therefore, out of breath and with a trembling voice:
Oh spiritual Mother, it becomes obvious by your mode of life that you are close to God and that to a great degree you have died to the world. The grace that has been granted to you verifies that, because you call me by my name and you tell me that I am a priest, even if you have never seen me before.
And because the Grace of God is not recognized by one's high status but by the condition of the soul, it is you the one who has to bless me in the name of God, and to pray for me, because I am the one who has a need of your perfection.
And she said therefore yielding to the insistence of the elder: Blessed be God Who cares for the salvation of the souls of men.
When Zosima said the «Amen», they both rose to their feet and the woman said to the elder: For what reason, oh man of God, have you come to me the sinner? For what reason did you wish to see a woman who is naked from every virtue? But because without a doubt the grace of the Holy Spirit has guided you, in order to render me some service at the right time, tell me, how do the Christians live today? How do the kings live? How is the Church guided?
Zosima then responded to her: By your prayers, oh mother, Christ has granted lasting peace to all; but, in the name of the Lord, fulfill the petition of an unworthy old man, and pray for the whole world and for me the sinner, so that the time that I spent in this desert may not be fruitless to me.
And she responded to him: Abba Zosima, as I said, the right thing is that you should be the one to pray for me and for all of us, because you have been chosen for this work since you have the office of the priesthood. Nevertheless, because we have a mandate to practice the obedience, I will willingly execute your command.
When she said these words she turned towards the east and after raising her eyes and stretching out her hands towards the sky, she begun to pray in a whisper. Her voice however could not be clearly heard, and for this reason Zosima could not understand anything from what she was saying in the prayer. He was just standing there, full of fear looking at the ground and without saying absolutely anything.
And he was assuring, invoking God as witness, that as he saw her delaying in the prayer, he lifted his eyes a little and he saw her to have been lifted almost one meter from the ground and to be praying hunged in the air.
When he saw this he was seized by even greater fear and he fell on the ground, totally sweating and in great agony, and without daring to say anything, but he was only repeating to himself for a long time the «Lord have mercy».
And whilst the elder was lying prostrate on the ground he was tempted by the thought, whether she was some spirit and she was pretending that she was praying.
Then she turned and she lifted the elder and she said to him: Why, oh Abba, are you allowing to the thoughts to trouble you and you have been scandalized with me that allegedly I am a spirit and that I pretend to be praying? Know that I am a sinner woman, though I am guarded by the holy Baptism, and that I am not a spirit, but I am earth and ashes and totally made up by flesh, without ever thinking on my own anything that is spiritual.
And as she was saying these words, she sealed with the sign of the cross, the forehead, the eyes, the lips and the chest, saying: May God set us free, abba Zosima, from the evil one and from his designs, for much is his strength against us.
When the elder heard and saw all that, he fell to the ground and while touching her feet, she said with tears in his eyes: I conjure you do not hide anything from your slave, in the name of Christ our God, Who was born by the Virgin, for Whose sake you have dressed yourself in this bareness and for Whose sake you have thus exhausted your own flesh.
Tell me, who you are, and from where, and when, and in what way have you come and stayed in this desert; and don't hide anything from me from all that is related to you, but instead tell me everything, in order to disclose in this way the marvellous works of God; because as it has been written, «a hidden wisdom and a secret treasure, what profit is there in them two?».
Tell me everything, for the sake of our Lord; you will not tell these things to me just in order to boast or to show off, but in order to inform me the sinner and unworthy one; because I believe that God, for Whom you live and for Whom you have become a hermit, for this reason he guided me in this desert, in order to reveal your life to me.
Us human beings therefore we cannot resist to the plans of God, because if this was not to the liking of Christ our God for you to be known to the world as much as your ascetic fight, then not only he would not allow for anyone to see you, but He would neither strengthen me to walk such distance; because I had never thought and I was not able either to walk out of my cell.
After abba Zosima said this and much more, the saint helped him raise and said to him: I am ashamed, abba, forgive me, to narrate you the wretchedness of me deeds; but since you have seen my body naked, I shall likewise lay bare before you my deeds too, in order for you to know with how much disgrace and shame my soul is filled.
I didn't want to narrate my life to you, not because, as you supposed, I could have boasted about it besides, what do I have to boast about, since I have become a chosen vessel in the hands of the devil?
And I know that, if I start narrating my life, you will run away from me, as someone runs away from the snake, because you will not bear to hear with your own ears, all the wrongs that I have done.
I will recount it all to you however without hiding anything, after you first assure me, that you will not stop praying for me, so that I may find mercy during the day of the judgement.
So while from the eyes of the elder were incessantly running tears, the Saint begun the narration of her life, by saying the following.
My native land was Egypt. While my parents were still alive and I was twelve years old, I renounced my love towards them and I went to Alexandria; and I am ashamed even to think about it how in the beginning I corrupted my virginity and how I was drifted, uncontrollably and insatiably, to the passion of prostitution;
but it would be more appropriate to recount all that now in brief, so that you may know the magnitude of my hedonistic passion.
For more than seventeen years, forgive me Lord, I was a public temptation of promiscuity in the world, not so much, I am telling the truth, in order to gain money, because even when quite often some people wanted to give me money I wouldn't accept them. I thought however, to offer free of charge what I myself desired, in order to attract more men into sleeping with me.
And you should not think that I was not accepting the money because I had plenty, because I lived on alms or even many times by spinning canvas threads; but I had an insatiable desire and an irrepressible passion for lying in filth; and only this seemed to me that was the true living, the act of continuously practicing «the blasphemy against nature».
So while I was living in this way, one summer day I saw a large crowd of men from Libya and Egypt running towards the sea. Then I asked someone who happened to be in front of me; I wonder where are they going these men who are running? He replied to me; they are going to Jerusalem all of them, for the holiday of the Exaltation of the Holy Cross, which is used to take place in a few days.
Then I said to him: I wonder if they would take me with them, if of course I wish to follow them? He responded to me: If you have money in order to pay your ticket and your other expenses, there is no one that would obstruct you.
Indeed brother, I told him, I don't have money in order to pay the ticket and my other expenses; but I will also go myself and I will go aboard on one of these small boats that they have chartered and they are going to feed me even if they don't want, because I have a body and they will take this instead of a fare.
Because for this reason I wanted to travel, forgive me Lord, in order to have many lovers for the satisfaction of my passion. I told you, abba Zosima, don't make me narrate to you the ugliness of my deeds, because I shudder, the Lord knows it, since with my words I pollute both you and the air.
Zosima responded to her while wetting the ground with tears; Speak, oh mother, in the name of the Lord, speak and do not interrupt the continuation of this beneficial narration. Then she started speaking again and she added the following;
That young man then, after he had heard my obscene words, he departed laughing. Then I threw away the spinning wheel -because I happened to hold it in my hands at that moment- and I ran towards the sea, where I was seeing the others to be heading. Then I saw some young men there standing on the shore, about ten or more of them, with their bodies full of vigour and vivid in their movements and they seemed suitable to me for what I was looking for.
As it seems they were waiting some other travel companions, because some had already embarked on the ships. Then I invaded among them, without any shame as I used to do, and I said: Take me with you wherever you are going, because I am not going to be useless. Then I said even more obscene words and I made them all laugh.
When they realized my ability to seduce them to all sorts of insolence, they took me and they put me on the boat that was ready for departure and in the meanwhile there arrived also the others that they were waiting.
How can I tell you the rest, oh man? What language can describe and whose ears can take in everything that happened on the boat and afterwards, along the road trip? The things that I, the wretched, was forcing the poor youth to do even when they didn't want to? There doesn't exist any kind of lewdness, mentionable or unmentionable, for which I did not become a teacher to these poor ones.
And now I am amazed how the sea could tolerate my lasciviousness; how the earth didn't open its jaws for hell to swallow me alive, for all the souls that I had ensnared. But, as it seems, God was seeking my repentance, because He does not wish the death of the sinner, but He magnanimously awaits to accept his return to Him.
With such activities therefore we arrived at Jerusalem. And during all the days that I stayed in the city before the holiday, I was living in the same way, or rather even worse, because I didn't content myself only with the young men that I had and served me in my passion during the trip, but I also defiled many more, local citizens and also foreigners, that I was picking up for this purpose.
And when it finally arrived the holy celebration of the Exaltation of the Cross, I was still wandering around like before hunting for souls of young men. I was seeing since early morning however everybody running towards the Church and so I also went running with them.
I arrived with them therefore to the courtyard of the temple and when the time came for the holy elevation, I was pushing and being pushed around the entrance, trying to enter inside together with the crowd. And till the outer door, from where everyone entered inside the temple itself, where someone could see the lifegiving Wood, with very much toil and effort I was coming near, poor me.
But as soon as I would step on the threshold of the door, while all the others were entering inside without any obstacle, I, on the other hand, was obstructed by some divine power that didn't allow me the entrance. Because again and again I was pushed and I was thrown back and again I would find myself alone standing at the courtyard of the temple.
And because I thought, that this was due to the weakness of my female nature, I would try again as much as I could to push myself inside, and again I would mingle with the others pushing and being pushed, but I was struggling in vain.
Because again, as soon as my miserable foot stepped on the threshold of the door, while the temple admitted all the others without anyone obstructing them, it wouldn't admit me only, and some force was constantly blocking me as if there were a multitude of soldiers lined up with the order to prohibit my entrance into the temple.
Three or four times I made this attempt and when I was finally exhausted and I couldn't push any more and be pushed, because my body was tired from the intense effort, I retreated for a while and I left and I stood in some corner of the temple courtyard.
And just then I felt the cause preventing me from seeing the sacred and lifegiving Wood. A salvatory Word touched the eyes of my heart and was disclosing to me that the impurity of my deeds was the cause that was impeding my entrance.
I started therefore to cry and to lament and to beat my breast and to release sighs from the depths of my heart. As I was crying, I saw the image of the Saint Mother of God over the place that I was standing and while continuously starring at her I said towards her;
Oh Virgen Lady, you who gave birth in the flesh to God Logos, I well know that someone like me who I am so impure, for someone like me, full of promiscuity that I am, it is not right and logical to look at your image, the image of the eternal virgin, of the chaste, of the pure and undefiled in the body and in the soul. Because it is fair for you to hate me, the prodigal woman, and to completely abhor me.
But because, as I have heard, for this reason He became human the God Who was born by you, in order to call the sinners to repentance, help me as well that I am alone and I have no one to help me; just give an order so that I too may be allowed to pass through the entrance of the Church and don't deprive me of the opportunity to see the venerable Tree, on which the God you gave birth to was crucified in the flesh and He gave His own blood for my salvation;
just give an order, oh Lady, for the door to open to me too and I set you as a reliable guarantor in the name of the God you gave birth to, that I will never again going to revile this flesh of mine with any kind of disgraceful relationship.
From the moment that I will see the holy wood of the Cross of your Son, I will immediately abandon the world and everything related with it and at the same moment I will head where you will indicate to me and where you will guide me to as a guarantor of my salvation.
I said these words and after I received the flame of faith as some kind of information in my mind, and after I plucked up my courage leaning upon the mercifulness of the mother of God, I left from that place where I was praying; and I came again and I mingled with those who were entering in the church and no one was pushing me any more, no one obstructed me from coming closer to the entrance door into the temple. Then terror took over me and surprise, and my whole body was staggering and I was trembling.
Then, arriving at the door which until then was closed for me, all that force that obstructed me before, now it opened me the way in order to enter. Thus I entered without any effort and I found myself within the most Holy place and I was honoured to worship the lifegiving Holy Cross and I saw the mysteries of God and I felt how willing God is in order to accept the repentance.
After I fell therefore, the wretched me, upon the earth and I worshipped that holy ground, I went out again and I ran to her who guaranteed for me. And when I arrived to that place where the manuscript of the guarantee had been signed, I kneeled before the eternal Virgen Mother of God, and I prayed with these words.
You have shown me, oh benevolent Lady, your philanthropy; you didn't turn away the prayer of the unworthy; I saw glory that us, the prodigals, we rightfully don't see; glory to God Who through your intervention He accepts the repentance of the sinners.
Because what more can I think or say so much of a sinner that I am? It is time now, oh Lady Mother of God, to fulfil the agreement that you guaranteed. Guide me now wherever you want; be my teacher for the salvation, guiding me on the road that leads to repentance.
And as I was saying that, I heard someone shouting from afar; If you cross the Jordan river, you shall find good repose. As soon as I heard that voice, I thought that it had been heard for me and while crying I shouted and I said to the Mother of God: Lady, oh Lady, do not abandon me the prodigal one. And after I said that, I got out of the temple's courtyard, and I started to walk.
As I was coming out, someone who saw me gave me three coins. I accepted them, and I bought with them three breads which I took with me as a sign of blessing. Then I asked the man who was selling the breads: Which is the way, oh man, that leads to Jordan river? And after I learned the gate of the city that was heading to that direction, I went out running and with tears in the eyes I started marching.
Asking again and again and after I walked for the rest of the day, because, as I suppose it was the third hour of the day when I saw the Holy Cross, I arrived, when the sun was about to set, to the temple of the Saint John the Baptist, which is situated near the Jordan river.
And after I worshiped in the temple, I immediately went down the Jordan river and with its holy waters I washed my hands and my face. Also I received the Body and the Blood of Christ at the temple of John the Forerunner, and I ate half of one of the three breads and after drinking water from Jordan river, I slept the night lying on the ground.
The next day I found a little boat and I passed to the other bank, and again I asked from my guide to guide me wherever it was to her liking. I came to this desert therefore and from then until today I live here away from the world, receiving my God with gratitude Who saves from the faintheartedness and the storm all who turn to Him.
Then Zosima said to her: How many years have passed, my lady, since you inhabit in this desert? She responded; Forty seven years have passed, as I suppose, since I got out from the holy city.
And where do you find or what did you have as food, my lady, Zosima asked. The woman said; When I crossed the Jordan river I had with me two and a half breads, that slowly dried up and they became hard like a rock; by eating those therefore little by little I passed many years with them.
Zosima asked again; And so without effort, you have passed all these years, and the sudden change of you life didn't upset you at all?
The woman replied; You asked me now, abba Zosima, about a thing for which I shudder just by mentioning it; because if I now remember the so many dangers that I have endured and the so many thoughts that have severely tortured me, I am afraid lest I get infected again by them.
And Zosima said to her; Do not omit anything, my lady, that you might not mention to me; because since the beginning I very much begged you for that, that is to tell me everything without any omission.
And she replied to him; Believe me, abba, seventeen years I was wandering in this desert fighting against my irrational desires as if I was fighting against wild beasts.
Every time I was eating or I was trying to receive some food, I was craving the meats and the fish that Egypt has; I was craving the wine, that I loved very much, because I was drinking a lot of wine while I was living in the world, while here I didn't even have water and I could not bear the deprivation.
Also the desire was coming to me for the songs of fornication that were always inflaming me and was motivating me to sing again the songs of the deamons that I had learned. Immediately however, with tears in the eyes and with blows on the chest, I was reminding to myself the agreement that I had made as I was departing to the desert.
And I was mentally transferring myself in front of the icon of my godmother, the Virgin Mother of God, and with tears I was begging her to dispel these thoughts that were tormenting my miserable soul.
And when I had cried enough and I had beaten my chest, as much as I could, then I would see light illuminating around me all over the place and from then on, after the storm, some kind of lasting serenity would prevail inside me.
It seemed to me as if fire was being lit inside my miserable heart which was completely burning me up, and was turning me on into the desire of the sin. Immediately however, as soon as such thought was vexing me, I would fall upon the earth, wetting the ground with tears, thinking that the one who guarantied for me was present there in front of me and that she was penalizing me for my transgression.
I wouldn't get up from the ground therefore even if sometimes I would pass a whole of twenty four hours in that position, until that sweet light would illuminate me with its shining and would disperse the thoughts that were pestering me.
And I always had therefore the eyes of my soul incessantly turned towards her who guaranteed for me, asking from her to help me, into the ocean of the desert where I was in danger; and indeed, I had her as my helper and collaborator for my repentance.
And so I lived during that period of seventeen years, fighting against thousands of dangers; and since then until today she stands by me helping me in everything and through all the difficulties she is guiding me.
Then Zosima asked her; Wasn't it presented to you afterwards, my lady, the need for food or clothes? And she responded to him; After I consumed these breads, as I said to you before, during that period of seventeen years I was feeding myself with herbs and various others that are to be found in the desert; as for the garment that I was wearing when I crossed the Jordan river it became torn and completely worn out.
With much pain I suffered the cold of the winter and the heat of the summer, as I was burning from the heat during the day and I was freezing and trembling from the cold at night, and many times it happened to me to fall on the ground and remain immobile with my breath almost detained.
And I had to fight against many and various calamities and unheard temptations, and since then and until today the power of God in various ways has maintained my sinner soul and my humble body.
Because only by thinking from how many evils the Lord has delivered me, I had the hope of my salvation as my imperishable food. I was feeding and covering myself therefore with the Word of God that sustains the universe; because as the Lord said, «it is not by bread alone that man lives» and that to those who have stripped off the garments of the sin «because they have no roof, the powerful Grace of God becomes home and shelter to them».
When Zosima heard her mentioning even passages from the Holy Scripture and from Moses and from Job and from the book of the Psalms, he asked her: Have you read the Psalms or other books?
When the saint heard this, she smiled and she said to the elder; Believe me, oh man, that I have not seen other man since I crossed the Jordan river, except only today when I saw your face, and I have not found any beast either or other animal since I came in this desert; I never learned reading therefore, but I neither heard anyone to chant or to read aloud. The word of God however, which is alive and active, it teaches the knowledge to the people.
This is where it ends the story of my life, but I repeat what I did when I started the narration, and I beg you once again to pray to the Lord for me the prodigal one.
After the saint said these words and she finished the narration, again the elder tried to bow down in prostration and he cried out with tears in his eyes; Blessed be the God, Who created great and admirable things, glorious and exquisite things, and which cannot be calculated; blessed is God, Who has shown me how He rewards those who fear Him; because indeed You do not abandon, oh Lord, those who seek You.
Then she detained the elder and she didn't let him complete the prostration, but she told him: All these things that you have heard, I exorcise you in the name of our saviour Jesus Christ and our God, do not tell them to anyone until the moment that God will take me from this earth.
For now, go in peace on your way, and in the next year you shall see me again, because with the protection of God's Grace we shall meet again. And do this also, for the love of the Lord, that I am now asking you to do. During the period of the sacred lent of next year, do not cross the Jordan river, as you have the custom of doing in the monastery.
With surprise Zosima was hearing, that the saint woman knew even the rule of the monastery and he wouldn't utter anything else, but only glory to God Who gives great talents to those who love Him.
She then said; Stay therefore, Abba Zosima, at the Monastery as I said, because even if you wish to come out the circumstances will not be favorable to you.
During that holy night however of the Secret Last Supper take the Holy Communion, for my sake, the lifegiving Body and Blood of Christ, inside a vessel that is worthy to contain the holy Mysteries and by all means bring them and wait for me, at that place of the Jordan river which is closer to inhabited places, so that I can come and receive the Holy Communion.
Because since I received the communion at the temple of John the Forerunner, before I crossed the Jordan river, I have never been worthy until today to receice this holy Mystery. And now I long for the sacred Mystery with a strong and unrestrained desire, and for this I ask and I beg you to not disregard my request, but to bring to me, no matter what, these lifegiving and divine Mysteries, at the same time as the Lord also honoured His disciples to participate in the Holy Supper.
Finally, to abba John, the abbot of the Monastery where you live, tell him these words; Take good care brother of yourself and of your brotherly flock, because there are some things happening there, which need to be corrected. But I do not want you to tell him these things now, but when the Lord permits it to you.
After she finished these words and she said to the elder «do pray for me», she departed again towards the interior of the desert.
Then Zosima kneeled and he bowed down on the ground on which there still remained the footprints from the feet of the saint and after he glorified and he thanked God, he returned back full of joy both in his soul and in his body, glorifying and blessing our Christ and our God.
And after he crossed again that desert, he arrived at the monastery during the day that all the monks used to return.
And during the whole that year he was living peacefully in the monastery, without daring to tell any one, something from what he had seen. Only within himself he was begging God to show him again the person that he desired to see. He was grieving therefore and he was very sad when he was thinking the long time period of one year, wishing if it was possible for that time to become one day.
And when the Sunday arrived after which the holy fasting begins of the Great Lent, immediately after the customary prayer, while all the other monks were coming out singing, he got sick with fever and he was forced to remain inside.
Then Zosima remembered the words of the saint who said that even if you wish to get out of the monastery the circumstances will not be favourable to you. After a few days had passed and he was cured by his sickness, he continued living inside the monastery.
And when the other monks had returned again and the night came of the Secret Last Supper, he did what the saint had ordered him to do; he put inside a small chalice the purest Body and Blood of our Christ and God of ours and he also put in a small basket dried figs and dates and some lentils soaked in water, and he departed late at night and he went and he sat to the bank of Jordan river waiting for the arrival of the saint.
And as the saint woman was late in coming, Zosima did not get sleepy, but he was continually looking at the desert waiting to see the person that he desired to see. While the elder was sitting he was saying to himself: Could it be that my unworthiness prevented her from coming? Could it be that she already came and because she didn't find me she returned back again?
While thinking these things he shed a tear and he sighed and lifting his eyes towards the sky he was praying to God saying: Do not deprive me oh Lord from seeing again what you allowed me to see; do not let me go back empty without any result, and having with me just my sins in order to judge me.
But while he was praying and was saying these with tears in his eyes, some other thought passed from his mind: And what will happen if she finally comes? Because there is no boat. How will she cross the Jordan river and how will she come to me the unworthy? Alas to my unworthiness! Alas, who rightfully deprived me from such good?
But while the elder was thinking these things, behold, the saint woman arrived and she stood at the opposite shore of the river, from where she was coming. Zosima then stood up full of joy and exultation and praising God.
He continued therefore to struggle with the thought inside, that the saint would not be able to cross the Jordan river; he then saw her sealing the river with the sign of the cross, because, as he was saying, it was full moon that night and it was shining, and after the sealing, he saw her walking upon the waters and coming towards him.
And while she was still walking over the waters of the river, when he wished to bow into a prostration she prevented him, shouting: What are you going to do, abba? Do you want to bow in prostration you, being a priest of the Highest and especially while you are holding the holy Mysteries? And while he obeyed to the word of the saint, when she stepped upon the ground, she said to the elder: Bless me father, bless me.
He then replied to her all trembling, while admiring in ecstasy the paradoxical spectacle. Indeed, God told us the truth when he promised us that if we clean ourselves up from every sin, as much as this is of course possible for the human beings, then we can become similar to Him.
Glory to You, oh Christ our God, because You didn't overlook my prayer and You didn't withdraw Your mercy from Your servant; Glory to You, oh Christ our God, that You have revealed to me through this servant of Yours, how much far I am from perfection.
And as he was saying this, the saint requested to say the text of the sacred Creed of Faith and then she continued with the «Our Father who art in heaven...». And when this was done and the prayer was finished, then according to the custom, she gave to the elder the kiss of brotherly love and after she had received the lifegiving mysteries she raised her arms to the sky, and shouted with tears in her eyes:
Now, O Lord, You can let Your servant depart according to Your word, in peace, for my eyes have seen Your salvation.
Then she said to the elder: Forgive me abba, because I beseech you to fulfill for me another one desire of mine; for now go back to the monastery, and be protected by the peace of God, during the next year however do come back again to that torrent, where I encountered you before and you shall see me again as the God wants it to happen.
And he responded to her: I wish it would be possible to me to follow you already now and to be for ever able to see your holy face; but now do satisfy you too one request from the elder and get some food to eat from what I have brought you here; and while saying this he showed her the basket that he had with him.
She then touched the lentils with the tips of her fingers and after she have caught three grains she brought them to her mouth, saying that the Grace of the Holy Spirit was enough in order to maintain the substance of her soul without missing anything. And after she said these she said again to the elder: Pray, in the name of the lord, pray for me, and always remember my wretchedness into your prayer.
Then he was moaning and mourning and while touching the feet of the saint, he let her go, asking her with tears in his eyes to pray for the Church and for the kingdom of heavens and for him too; because he didn't dare continue holding her for too long, her, who was impossible to be hold.
So after she sealed again the Jordan river with the sign of the Holy Cross, she crossed it like before by walking on the water. The elder returned to the monastery keeping inside him much joy and fear and accusing himself, because he didn't care to know the name of the saint; he hoped however that he could learn it in the following year.
After that year had passed, he came to the desert again, that is, after he had done everything according to the custom of the monastery, he went in haste to meet that paradoxical spectacle.
After he walked in the desert and reached some indications that showed that he had found the place he was looking for, he looked right and left, turning his gaze everywhere around like an experienced hunter, intending to capture the sweetest prey.
And as he was not seeing anything moving around, he started again shedding tears and lifting his eyes towards the sky, he prayed saying: Show me Lady your treasure, which no one can steal away, and which you have well hidden within this desert, show me I beg You the angel that has a body, and for which this world is not worthy.
And while he was thus praying he finally arrived at the location that had the shape of torrent; and as he stood on the side of that place, he saw the saint lying dead, with her hands crossed at her chest and her body in such position that was directed towards the east. He approached then running and he was washing with tears the feet of the saint, because he didn't dare to touch no other part of her body.
After he cried for quite some time and he sang appropriate hymns for the occasion, he said the funeral prayer and he was thinking: Should I bury, I wonder, the relic of the saint? Could it be that doing something like this is not to the liking of the saint? And as he was thinking these things he saw letters carved on the earth next the head of the saint, that were saying the following:
Do bury here in this place, abba Zosima, the relic of the humble Maria; give back the soil to the soil and always pray for me to the Lord; I died the first day of the month Fermoutin according to the designation of the Egyptians and which the Roman are calling April, during the same night of the saving passion of the Lord, after the communion of the Divine and Mystical Supper.
So when the elder read these words, he rejoiced because he learned the name of the saint. He realized then, that as soon as she received the holy Mysteries in the Jordan river, she immediately came to that place where she died. And that the distance he walked with difficulty within twenty days, the saint had passed it within an hour and she immediately departed and she went towards God.
Praising God therefore and wetting the body with tears he said: It is the time already, oh humble Zosima to carry out what you have been ordered to do, but how are you going to dig a hole, poor you, without having any tool in your hands?
And as he was saying this, he saw a little further away a small piece of wood lying in the desert, which he took into his hands and he tried to dig with it. As the land was dry however it didn't obey at all to the elder who was striving, but he was only getting tired and his sweat was running without being able to achieve anything.
Then he sighed heavily from the depths of his heart and as he raised his head he saw a big lion standing next to the relic of the saint and licking the tips of her legs. After seeing the beast he got overwhelmed by fear and terror, especially as he remembered the words of the saint who had said that she had never seen any beast.
After he sealed himself with the sign of the cross and banished the fear from himself, he believed that the power of the saint would protect him and that nothing bad would happen to him. Then the lion begun to entertain the elder by wagging its tail, as if almost greeting him with its movements and also with its good mood.
Then Zosima said to the lion: Listen beast, the Saint of course has permitted for her relic to be buried, but I am old and I do not have the strength to dig the grave, and I don't have the right tool either for this task; and because it is not possible to me to go back at such great distance in order to bring the suitable tool, go on and do with your nails this necessary work, in order to deliver the body of the saint to the earth.
He had not finished saying these words and immediately the lion dug a grave with its front legs, as deep as necessary for the body of the saint to fit.
So after the elder again washed with his tears the feet of the saint and after he insistently begged her, even more now to pray for everyone, he covered the body with the soil, while the lion was present. And the body was naked, like before, without having anything on expept only that old and ragged piece of cloth which Zosima had thrown behind him in order for the blessed woman to cover some parts of her body.
And then, as the elder was setting off, the lion departed as well towards the inner desert, being calm as a sheep. And Zosima returned blessing and singing for Christ our God.
As soon as he returned to the convent he narrated everything to the monks, without hiding anything from what he heard and from what he saw. And he narrated everything from the beginning according to the order in which they happened, so that all who listened to the greatness of God they were astonished and all together with reverence and longing would honour the memory of the saint.
The abbot John also discovered some things in the monastery that needed to be corrected, so that neither in this case they did not result futil or useless the words of the saint. Finally, as they say, Zosima died as well in that monastery after he had lived almost a hundrent years.
The monks continued therefore to say these things by word of mouth one to the other and to project them, as an example, for the benefit of each one who wants to hear. I have never heard until today however that someone has delivered it to us in writing this narration.
These things therefore that I heard and learned from verbal narration I presented them into a written word; there might be others as well who have written the biography of the saint and certainly in a superior manner and more magnificent, although something like that has never fallen to my perception. Nevertheless I have also written this narration, according to the best of my abilities, without exposing nothing else except from the truth.
God therefore Who performed great marvelous events, Who rewards with very big gifts all those who hope in Him, let Him give the reward for the benefit of all those who read this narrative, to the man who gave the order for this biography to be expressed in writing, and let him be worthy to be found and be aligned on the side of Maria, of that blessed one, to whom this narration is referring, and together with all those who pleased God Himself in theory and in practice through the centuries.
Let us also glorify God therefore, the sovereign king of the centuries, in order to make us worthy as well to find mercy during the day of the judgement through our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs all glory, honour and adoration, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit now and ever and through the infinite ages of the ages. Amen.