In a small provincial town, there was a monastery. The elder Zosima lived in that monastery. He was highly respected by many people for the wonders of God that accompanied his words and acts.
Yet there were also those deeds of the elder about which only a small number of people knew, and the greatness of those deeds was hidden from the rumors of others.
The elder was able to nurture and cultivate, softly and gently, kindness and love in human hearts. And then that love blossomed and bore fruits.
In that town, there was also a free hospital, founded by a rich merchant whose daughter was healed by Zosima. Much was done in that hospital due to the donations of those people whom the elder helped. The head of the hospital was Doctor Fyodor.
* * *
In the family of Doctor Fyodor, a daughter was growing up. The girl was named Sophia, but usually people called her affectionately Zosia. Perhaps they called her so because the miracle of her birth, known to a few people and related to the elder Zosima.
Zosima paid special attention to the upbringing of this girl.
When Zosia grew up, she became a frequent visitor of the elder.
She loved to ask him questions. She loved to listen to his answers or just to sit quietly in that particular silence which always was in the cell of the elder.
In the last case, everything became calm inside her. Her joy — alive, radiant, and shining to all sides — turned into a special state of tender light, gentle calm, and the concentration on the Presence of God.
The parents of Zosia dedicated almost all their time and effort to the work in the hospital.
Playing with dolls or race-and-catch with other children could not capture Zosia’s attention for long. And her role in the life of the hospital grew year after year.
Just as a ray of sunshine slides and touches gently everything with its warm light and remains pure no matter what it touches but rather, on the contrary, makes everything more beautiful — so Zosia ran through the hospital wards as if she was doing her own ward round. Sometimes she stayed for a long time with one or another patient. Sometimes she told fairy tales to sick children. Sometimes she cheered up adults.
At first, Doctor Fyodor tried to guard her, at least, from the communication with the severe patients. He wanted to prevent the girl from being scared by the human suffering. But once he found Zosia near a moribund patient, whom he could not help by any medical means. He saw the girl talking with that patient and how the state of that patient suddenly changed…
That person then told Doctor Fyodor:
“I was granted God’s mercy: an angel came to me! And now I am not afraid of dying!”
From that time, it was no longer prohibited to Zosia to visit even seriously ill patients. She was always ready to give water, to call a nurse, or to simply say a kind and gentle word and give a sunny smile.
When a novice Nicholas appeared in the monastery and was accepted by Zosima as a disciple, Zosia and Nicholas became great friends quite soon. Nicholas taught Zosia to read and write. When she learned this — she was given a special privilege: she carried notes from some patients with their requests or questions to the elder Zosima and delivered his answers back to them.
* * *
Once Zosia came, as usual, to the cell of the elder and asked him:
“Tell me why some people are kind while others are not. Why is it so? Isn’t it possible to change something so that everyone becomes kind?”
“You, Zosia, can look at different plants. Some are strong and healthy; they grow well and turn towards the sun. Others, on the contrary, are stunted. There are also plants with crooked trunks… It depends on many factors: on the quality of the seed, on the type of soil where the seed fell, on the environment in which the plant grew…
“It is the same with people.
“Any plant will grow better if we begin to look after it correctly. Yet it’s impossible to make straight the trunk of the tree that grew crooked for a long time…”
“Yes! I understand! Just now we have such a patient with a ‘crooked trunk’.”
Zosia thought by herself for some time and then told the elder about the new patient who was causing big troubles to the entire hospital:
“She is very noisy and shouts at everyone, as if she is the only one in the whole world! She wants everyone to take care and attend only to her! And she considers everything to be wrong: kasha is cooked wrong, a prick is done painfully, the bed is hard, and a nurse doesn’t come quickly! She’s a rich landowner, and she lived alone for many years with a lot of servants who fulfilled her every whim… She is used to the situation when everything was only for her… And she speaks as if a swarm of gadflies is in her mouth! She sees only bad in everything around! She rails and condemns everyone and everything! She thinks that all around her are stupid, lazy, and clumsy! She believes they cannot treat her and do not know how to please her!… This woman was brought to our hospital by her personal doctor because he didn’t know how to help her. And the saddest thing of all is that it’s impossible to help her since she will apparently die soon. Her disease is incurable and her age is very advanced. Nevertheless, she doesn’t even think about the death of her body, as if this can’t happen to her. And we do not tell her either. She causes only problems to people around her…
“My dad asks how we can help her in this situation.”
“She has to been told that her time has come… It will be good practice for you, Nicholas! Today you can accompany Zosia and then talk with this woman.”
Zosia was happy because it was always interesting for her to be with Nicholas.
Being glad to the promised support, she gave Zosima those notes that she brought from patients.
“Well, Zosia, let’s get to work!” — the elder said.
Zosia sat at a desk, took a pen and ink and prepared to write the answers.
Zosima chose the first note, read it, looked with the inner sight at the destiny of the person who wrote the question, and gave this note to Zosia. She turned the sheet of paper to write the answer.
Pronouncing words slowly and clearly, Zosima formulated two short sentences. The girl carefully and accurately wrote the words of the elder.
Thus they answered all notes.
* * *
Soon Zosia with Nicholas went to the hospital. That day they still had to do a lot.
The hospital was close to the monastery. The road passed on a sloping hill towards the river. There was an extraordinary beauty all around!
Nicholas, who had been inside the monastery walls for a long time, was happy to see the majesty of the powerful river carrying gently its waters, the green hills, and the expanse of the blue sky with light clouds.
Little and warm palm of Zosia in his hand filled him with tenderness…
Zosia was walking next to him, being too full of joyous delight:
“I love this place so much! It is always so beautiful here, during the winter and during the summer… And I always feel so happy when I visit this place! It is as if I can push myself off the ground and fly above the earth! I even play sometimes like this: I imagine that I am a flying bird and can see everything from above…”
When they came to the hospital, Zosia said to Nicholas:
“This woman, her name is Lizaveta, I think she is very unhappy. And she is very afraid of death. That is why, she tries not to think about it at all…
“I also have asked myself whether I am afraid to die or not. Now it seems to me that I will be not afraid if my body has to die. Of course, if it’s not very painful. The soul can’t die…
“Have you thought about this too?”
“I’ve thought a lot, Zosia. I believe I won’t be afraid either if God calls me to Him. But how to tell this to another person, I still don’t know…”
They kept walking in silence. Zosia just squeezed his hand tighter with her own little hand as if trying to show her support for him.
They entered the ward.
“Ah, Zosia! You’ve come, at last! You are always not here when I need you! I have been waiting for you for four hours! I want you to read me that book! I sent someone to look for you, but he couldn’t find you anywhere!”
“Today I am not going to read for you. I brought him…” — Zosia pointed to Nicholas.
“And who asked you about that? He is going to beg alms for his monastery! I know these people! Do you want my money? You won’t get it! Or do you want me to confess? They can’t heal me! At last, her soul will be saved if she gives all her money to the church? This is what you think, right? I’ll be saved for my money! Yes? And if I don’t donate — then I will go to hell, right? I hate priests!”
“I can’t confess you, Lizaveta: I’m still just a novice. Zosima sent me to talk with you. And if you, in fact, want to confess and receive communion, it will be easy to organize.”
“Do you want to bury me here? You are talking as if I were dying!”
“This is true: your illness is incurable. And when the hour of death comes — God decides… And it is better to be always prepared for this hour.”
Lizaveta became pale and, with a trembling voice, but quietly and not loudly as usual, asked Zosia:
“Is it true, Zosia? I know you can’t lie. Is it true?”
The silence felt, in which only the heavy breathing of elderly, corpulent woman was heard, woman whose days in this body were numbered…
Zosia left quietly and closed tightly the door of the hospital ward.
“Do you want me to leave, Lizaveta?” — Nicholas asked.
“No… Sit down if you have come. Begin your sermons! But know that you won’t get any money from me!…”
Nicholas felt the Presence of God and, suddenly for himself, began to speak about how he had come to God. He spoke frankly and simply:
“I came to this town especially because no one knew me here. I thought this would be a good place to end my earthly life, from which I didn’t see any benefit… I thought that God doesn’t exist since so much evil is all around! And this evil often reigns over the good. And we can’t change anything in this world…”
Nicholas kept telling her his story about how a good woman Aksinya saved him from such an end, about how she asked him to carry a sick boy to the elder Zosima…
Then Nicholas spoke about the elder, about the purity of the soul, about Living God…
He thought that the woman, being shocked by the news of her impending death, was not listening to him at all… He thought she just wanted someone to be nearby, so that it was not so frightening to die.
However, everyone crosses the threshold of death alone…
When Nicholas paused, Lizaveta, unexpectedly for him, asked:
“So now you want to become like that elder, right?”
“Yes, I would like to learn to help those who can be helped…”
“But I see that it is already too late to help me… So why has your elder sent you to me?”
“For you to have time to do what you still can do.”
“And what is that?”
“You yourself need to think about this… I, on my part, would say that the time you still have might be used for a great benefit of the soul. I am not talking about money. You are the one who decides what to do with your own money. You can make a will.”
They stayed silent for a while…
“You know what I’ve thought up, Nicholas! I will bequeath all my property to Zosia. Although I am a bad and nasty old woman, I understand something in people: I have seen many of them during my lifetime… Zosia can do good! Do you think God guides her? If you want, I also bequeath some of my money to your Aksinya. You, probably, didn’t thank her for real! Will she be able to manage it correctly?
“There was little use of my life… So, at least, there will be some benefit of my death…”
… They continued talking for a long time…
Because her last hour was close, many things became clear to Lizaveta: what is important and what does not really matter…
From that day, she changed significantly. She stopped pestering everyone around with her whims and fancies, put in order her earthly affairs, and drew up a detailed will.
Her state also changed greatly since she perceived herself as the soul before God and began to prepare herself for the transition to another life.
* * *
One day, when Zosima and Nicholas were alone, the elder said:
“It’s time for me to leave…”
He said it quietly but clearly.
“Where?” — Nicholas did not understand.
“To the other side… Where Heavenly Father is calling me now…”
“Why are you saying this? You’re completely healthy!”
“Why does one always have to leave in suffering and pain? It’s possible to do it happily and being ready for another state of the soul — for the life without a mortal bodily shell!
“The infirmities of the body are often given to a person in order to facilitate the transition of the soul. In other words, it is done in order to convince the soul of the fact that the separation from the body will be good for it, and in order to stop the soul clinging to the life in the body and turn it completely to the life in another world.
“But if the soul has subdued the whims of the mind and body and if God is always near — then you can happily accept the death of this mortal shell!
“Let me go now, Nicholas…”
“But how? And what do you mean in saying ‘let me go’? Don’t I let you go? And how can I stop loving you and start wishing you death?”
“You are used to loving me in this body, hearing words that comes out from it, feeling God’s Love flowing through my body, embracing this corporeal frame of mine in response…
“You are saying: ‘I can’t stop loving you!’. But can the death of the body be an obstacle for love? When I leave, will you stop loving me? And I won’t stop loving you either.
“Why do people shed tears when the body of a person they loved dies? Because they do not see the soul, can’t hold it, can’t talk with it… They understand the death of the body… as separation.
“Another case may be when they feel sorry for themselves because they have stayed alone…
“However, for the early Christians, for example, the death was not a tragedy, as people often perceive it now! They expected the happiness of the reunion of the soul with God beyond the threshold of the death!
“They were waiting for this union with God, Whom they learned to love with all their heart! They learned to love Him more than everything else in their earthly lives!
“The first Christians accepted the baptism not because everyone around was baptized and it was the tradition! In those times, all people around, on the contrary, lived in other traditions… Those who wanted to receive the baptism did it because they wanted to build their lives according to the Teachings of Jesus! They wanted to live in the new spiritual purity and beauty, keeping the commandments of Jesus!
“You have already learned a lot, and when I leave — you will learn even more… Love that exists between us will teach! God will teach!”
“How do you know that it’s time?”
“God said! He is calling me…”
“Should I tell this to the prior?”
“No, don’t tell anyone…”
* * *
Someone knocked at the door…
“Here’s our joy! The Lord has led Zosia to us!” — Zosima smiled.
The girl ran into the cell, shining with radiant joy, freshness, and tenderness! Locks of white-goldish hair came out from under her kerchief… She was holding a basket full of cranberries in her hands…
“I brought you some berries! I picked them by myself! Look how many!”
Zosima took some berries. He ate slowly, with a blissful expression on his face, as if taking his last communion. He embraced the girl tenderly:
“Thank you! You’ve made us happy with these delicious berries!…”
Zosia wanted to leave all the berries to Zosima and Nicholas, but the elder objected:
“Please, leave only some for us. You can put them into the plate. And carry the rest to the hospital. Tell them that the elder ordered thus: these berries will bring health to them.”
They were sitting together for a long time, surrounded by the Presence of God. There were no conversations or questions… It was as if they, as souls, embraced one another!
When Zosia was about to leave, the elder said:
“Tell your father and mother that tomorrow they will hear the news and that they should accept it with great joy. Will you remember it?”
“I’ll pass it word for word! You’ve taught me how to remember important words exactly! So, then I go?”
“Go, Zosia… Go with God!”
* * *
This news quickly spread around the small town…
Nadezhda, the mother of Zosia, could not hold back her tears. Her husband, Doctor Fyodor, was stroking her head, embracing her tenderly. Nadezhda kept saying through her tears:
“How it is possible? Zosima died… He was absolutely healthy!…”
Their daughter ran up. Nadezhda, wiping her tears with a handkerchief, said:
“Zosia, the elder Zosima died yesterday…”
Zosia stood still, as if a radiant golden sun, which always tried to finish all its affairs in constant motion, stopped its movement for a while:
“So this is what he was talking about yesterday. He said that you would receive some news and should rejoice… I did not understand then…
“Mom, dad! He knew about this yesterday! And he wanted you not to cry about him, because he is with God and should feel good! And we should be glad for him!”
With these words, Zosia embraced her parents with great warmth and love, as if she were older, wiser, and stronger than they were…
Fyodor lifted her in his arms, and the girl hugged again her most beloved people. They stood in silence for a long time, embracing each other.
Then they went home…
Influenced by non-childish words of their daughter, Fyodor and Nadezhda were looking at their Zosia.
“Don’t you feel sad, Zosia, that you will never come to the elder’s cell? To whom will you ask your questions now?…”
“It’s a bit sad…” — Zosia replied. — “But I think he will find how to answer my questions so that I could understand! When I was very small and silly — he always invented new ways to explain to me so that I could understand. And now he will think up something!”
“Mom, dad! Look! Here is he walking next to! He consists of Light!
“Do you know what he is saying? He is saying: ‘God is always near us! And God will answer all the questions, we just need to learn to love and listen to His Advice!’
“It turns out that now I can hear and see him! But… why then do people say that he died?”
* * *
The spring came and all the trees in the monastery garden bloomed simultaneously. They were covered with white and pale-pink flowers. Fragrance! Peace! Wondrous beauty!
Nicholas was standing in the garden near the cell of the elder Zosima. Tomorrow he would take monastic vows and then continue doing what Zosima did.
The prior, archimandrite Ignatius, believed firmly that all that had been done by Zosima should be continued. So Nicholas must receive the visitors, listen, and give advice…
… He recalled how Zosima taught him to communicate with the visitors… Yes, he knew how to do some things already. But it was easy when Zosima was near. In that time, Nicholas knew that Zosima would not allow him to make mistakes that could cause harm. He corrected him and let him know if something went wrong… But now? Will I manage to do everything without Zosima?
Or Zosima is here, but just can’t be seen?
Nicholas thought about this, standing near the cherry tree, which they planted once with the elder. He admired its flowers, which appeared for the first time in the life of the tree, and stroked its still tiny trunk. There was no sadness in him. There was warmth in the heart, as during the conversations with the elder.
He recalled what they were talking about while planting this cherry tree.
Zosima said then: “When it flowers, I will not be here!”. He said it so happily!
“So you can’t see it, right?” — Nicholas asked being upset.
“I think I’ll see it! Why would God create the beauty in this world if He could not see it by Himself from His Abode or in some other way?…
“Pythagoras, for example, called the whole universe with the word ‘cosmos’, which in Greek means ‘beauty’, ‘harmonious order in the world’!”
“Have you read the works of the ancient Greeks?”
“Yes, of course. And I got a lot of benefit from them. Many sages before Jesus wrote about God and about the purity of a human life. And, probably, people strive for virtue less right now because only a few of them read these works…
“By the way, what is virtue? It means to do good and implies good thoughts, good words, and good deeds!
“Did you really think that I had read only one book in my life?” — Zosima laughed youthfully and joyfully and continued:
“I believe that those people who help God to create beauty on the Earth won’t be deprived of the opportunity to see it… However, it’s not so important! Great and wonderful blessings await those to whom God allows approaching Him! So, we have to work to multiply the good and create the beauty in actions and in souls… In this case, we will be worthy of entering the Kingdom of the Heavenly Father!”
* * *
At this time Nicholas was called:
“Some people have come with a blind boy. They do not want to go back: they don’t believe that Zosima is not here anymore…”
“They are right when they don’t believe this!” — Nicholas replied happily. — “Call them!”
A young, slim, beautiful, and richly dressed woman was walking towards the cell, holding by the hand a boy of about ten or eleven. She behaved as if she was trying to make every step instead of him so that he wouldn’t stumble or strike.
Seeing a broad-shouldered well-built man in a dress of novice instead of a gray-haired elder, she made a displeased gesture…
Nicholas invited them to enter the cell, saying:
“Let’s talk for a while. Come in, sit down.”
The woman made her son sit on a bench against the wall and sat herself. She directed her eyes towards Nicholas, but looked somewhere else, not at him. Finally, she said:
“Well, speak if you know what to say…”
Nicholas felt the state when the Light of the Holy Spirit allows seeing the souls and all that is happening to them.
He saw that she came to ask for a miracle, but she herself didn’t believe in the healing Power of God and was a barrier to the healing of her son…
He looked at the boy once more and saw that he felt sick, unhappy, and never dared to make a single step without support of adults… He couldn’t be healed right now… But his disease will go away quite easily if they change this situation…
How to find right words to help her understand? She doesn’t want and is not ready to hear the advice… She wants the saint elder…
Nicholas internally asked God to help these people and then entered more deeply in mergence with the Divine Light.
At this moment Zosia ran into the cell — and it was as if the sunlight began playing and sparkling all around.
She bowed and asked pardon for interrupting the conversation.
“Zosia, can you play with the boy in the garden for an hour while we are talking with his mother?”
Zosia happily agreed at once:
“What’s your name?”
Kostya’s mom, like a bird that protects its baby with its wings, looked at the girl anxiously and said:
“He is blind! He can’t see at all! Take care of him, please, so nothing bad will happen to him…”
Zosia came to the boy confidently and took his hand.
“Don’t worry about him! Everything will be all right!”
Then she said to Kostya:
“Come on, I’ll show you something!…”
“How are you going to show me something when I can’t see?!…”
“You will find out! Let’s go!”
Kostya’s mother anxiously watched the children leaving…
It took a lot of effort to make her not only hear his words, but listen.
At first, he asked about the boy’s illness and found out that he lost his sight after he had slipped on some wet logs and hit his head. They went to many famous doctors, who said that although his eyes were not damaged, they couldn’t recover his sight…
Nicholas himself saw with the developed vision of the soul that the damages of the nerve endings could be healed only with the help of God, and not by medical means… Yet he was not allowed to do this right now…
Then Nicholas said that it was possible to return the sight to the boy. But for this it was necessary to change that “hothouse” style of life in which he was under the continuous care. To strengthen his body, it was necessary to teach him to swim, to run, to ride a horse… And the most important thing for Kostya was to begin to take care of others. Thanks to this, he would stop feeling unhappy, weak, and terminally ill, but, oppositely, would start doing everything he could, pushing himself to the limit. And the adults should try to raise the level of this limit more and more each time. And then…
It seemed that the conversation was over…
Yet Nicholas knew that he should say or do something else so that the words he said would really touch deeply this woman.
Zosima, in such cases, usually gave some simple advice: “You have to do this and that”…
Nicholas started examining the options: “To advise them to acquire a dog and it will become a friend to the boy… a horse may be even better… Probably, I need to ask the boy himself right now…”
He opened the door of the cell and called:
In the garden, happy children’s laughter was heard.
“Come on, catch me!” — Zosia was running, and Kostya was running after her, avoiding confidently the trunks of the trees!
Zosia, having heard the call, yielded and Kostya caught her!
They walked side by side… without holding their hands!
The boy’s eyes couldn’t see yet, but the miracle had already happened!
Kostya entered first and went to his mother:
“Mom, Zosia taught me to look and see in a very special way: with the soul! We even played tag — and I caught her! Now I can see you too! She said that I would be completely cured soon, because if the soul obtains the sight, then the eyes of the body also begin to see. Zosima taught her so!”
Kostya’s mother burst into tears and hugged her son, while he kept trying to explain to her how splendidly Zosia taught him.
“Here is a miracle.” — Nicholas thought and smiled happily…
Later, when everyone calmed down a bit, Zosia said to Nicholas:
“My dad sent me to you. Two days ago, we found a girl of about two years at the entrance of the hospital. She was abandoned. There was a note with her, saying that her parents died and no one wants to take care of the child. Her name is Olga. She is pretty and has blue eyes, golden curls, and a beautiful smile! The only thing is that she hardly speaks: she knows only a few words. Apparently, no one talked often enough with her.
“My dad asked to find good parents for her to avoid giving her to the orphanage.”
Then Zosia suddenly became radiant of joy because a great idea came to her mind:
“Kostya, would you like to have a sister? Madam, the girl is so nice, healthy! My dad examined her, and he is a very good doctor! Let me show her to you! Do you agree?”
Kostya’s mother, being astonished by all that had happened, agreed at once. Kostya said confidently that he would teach Olga to speak, so they should definitely take this girl.
Zosia happily led the new mom and the brother to look at Olga…
Nicholas knew that everything had connected perfectly in this chain of destinies guided by God. He sighed happily and thanked God for His wonderful care manifested through Zosia!
Then he came out of the cell into the silence of the garden, where just a few moments ago the children’s voices sounded joyfully.
He began to think about how much he couldn’t do yet…
And then he saw gently smiling Great Face of Zosima consisting of Light. The elder said:
“Work hard, My son! You already are doing everything very well with the Help of God!”
Written down by Anna Zubkova
Under the editorship of Vladimir Antonov
and with his commentary