Graceful Gift of Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnitsa

“His beautiful face – that of a gray-haired, enlightened elder – looks as if it is illuminated with spiritual peace and joy. Such spiritual leaders are a gift from God in our time of sorrow,” Archimandrite John (Radosavlevic) wrote about Father Thaddeus in his book “The Monastic Lifestyle”.

Everything that happens in our lives can be perceived on the basis of a certain attitude of the heart: with grumbling or, on the contrary, with gratitude, as a gift, thus directing everything for the good.

The Serbian elder Thaddeus of Vitovnitsa, who is loved and revered by all Orthodox who are familiar with his teachings, and especially the Russians, possessed such a talent. It was no wonder: he became a disciple and heir to the traditions of spiritual life of the Russian monks; the first monastery he entered was the monastery of Milkovo, founded by the monks who had come from the Valaam Monastery, which had been annexed by Finland in 1924.

Saint Ambrose of Optina

There were also monks who had previously come to Valaam from the Optina Pustyn, including Archimandrite Ambrose, a disciple and tonsuree of St. Ambrose of Optina. He also blessed the young Serbian man to be admitted to the monastery upon a trial.

It turns out that the future Elder Thaddeus was an almost direct disciple of the Elder Ambrose of Optina. However, their fates were also similar, except that the Elder Ambrose spent almost his entire life confined to bed, while the Elder Thaddeus never lay down to rest.

Elder Thaddeus was on the verge of life and death more than once in his lifetime. He was born seven months old and was not supposed to survive, but the Lord decreed otherwise and the child survived. But he was very weak, and Thomislav (that was the elder’s name before the tonsure) was considering a completely different life than the one he could have had according to his father’s will. The final decision to devote his life to God came to the young man after he was diagnosed with tuberculosis, and doctors told him that he had no more than five years of life ahead of him. So he went to a monastery without telling anyone, aware that he still had a little time to dispose of and willing to offer the rest of his life to God by living in humility, repentance, and prayer.

Graffiti of Elder Thaddeus

Here’s how the elder later described what happened to him, “When I came to the monastery of Milkovo as a novice, they gave me a prayer rope and taught me how to pray. I did what I was told. I devoted myself completely to the Jesus Prayer. I figured out that I only had five years of my life left and that I could not waste it. So I decided to look for my way to God. Soon, it was because of this total devotion to God and sincere longing for God that I was illuminated by the divine grace that made me feel indescribable joy and peace in my soul. I listen to my heart and hear inside, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. I try to recollect some things and events from the past, but it does not work; all my thoughts are enveloped in some indescribable calmness, and there is untold joy and serenity for God in all my substance.”

After a while, the disease began to subside. When the Elder Ambrose passed away, the Milkovo monastery was in a state of disarray, and Thomislav had to move to another monastery. After his monastic tonsure with the name Thaddeus, the young man was ordained a hierodeacon, and soon became a hieromonk. First he served in the Rakovica monastery, and then in the Patriarchate of Peć until the Second World War. Once again he was caught between life and death: he was arrested by the occupation authorities twice and even sentenced to death, but an angel appeared to him in his prison cell and predicted that he would soon be release, “You have to comfort and encourage many more people.”

For fifty years, the elder was the abbot of one monastery or another. He made every effort to celebrate the Liturgy daily. Afterwards, he received people, supported and comforted them. The trials he had endured only brought him closer to the Serbian people.

The elder often taught about thoughts and their influence on a person’s spiritual life. Because of his heavy spiritual burden and poor health, Father Thaddeus suffered from years of nervous exhaustion, and he explained it by saying that when we pray for others, we take on some of their suffering. The elder himself experienced two nervous breakdowns, but got a great spiritual benefit from it, “I understood it as a warning from God, as a sign that I should … learn to live without any preoccupation. I realized that we all worry too much about ourselves, and only when a person fully surrenders himself to the will of God, will he be able to experience a carefree, joyful rest.”

“As soon as we are overcome by evil thoughts, we ourselves become evil. We Christians should not allow evil to occur even in our thoughts, and even more so in practice, otherwise it would mean that we have no strength to resist it.”

“As we think, so we live.”

 “The man who has acquired the kingdom of God radiates holy thoughts, God’s thoughts. The role of a Christian in the world is to purify the universe from evil and spread the Kingdom of God.”

He remained faithful to the Lord even till his death: injustice and persecution did not stop until the end of the elder’s earthly life. Forced by his adversaries to leave the monastery, he spent his last years in a family of benefactors.

“All the Holy Fathers who lived a good, peaceful, and quiet life – all said that the perfection of Christian life is in complete humility. Thus, patience is the most necessary thing in life. Be patient and forgive everything. If we maintain good thoughts and desires, they give us joy and peace in this life, and especially in eternity; then we see that there is no death, that it has been defeated. The Lord has overcome death and granted us eternal life!”

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