Village Kostylevo, Sverdlovsk region. Half a thousand kilometers to Yekaterinburg. A little more than 10 years ago, a monastery was established here — Kosminskaya Pustyn. A pustyn (lit. ‘desolate area’) that fights desolation…
Hegumen Peter (Mazhetov), abbot of the Kosminskaya Pustyn:
— The emptiness of life — that’s what was killing me when I came here. I could not understand how could one live like that?! Carrot, potato, alcohol — that’s it? And also TV. For example, a sweet little girl, grows up a little and becomes a rude country woman. It is clear why people drink too much — this is a consequence of an intellectual and emotional vacuum.
At first we went from house to house, gathered people, but it didn’t work. Now we have a creative club, everyone knows us, and whoever needs it comes himself: a couple of rehearsals, and it becomes clear whether a person will stay or not. Now there are 7–8 children and the same number of adults. One is Sergei Karasev, a virtuoso accordion player. He did rehab at our place — he has been living here for over a year. He is an interesting and kind person. And alcohol weakness — it is out of lack of demand. Now he is a deeply religious person, he has a good girlfriend. And how he open himself in creativity!
I realized that for a person to become a person, three things are necessary: faith in God, love — for someone or something, and of course — creativity. Moreover, it can be a sport — if it embraces all of you, sets high goals for you. And for monasticism, creativity — in prayer and labor — is important as well. This allows you to rise above your past, above your fallen nature, above your diseases.
How to reveal Christ to them?
We started with conversations, then had one music and literature evening, then another. Then we gathered local teenage girls and made a theatrical evening “February Roses” for the boys by February 23 (Russian Men’s Day). We engaged local singers and dancers — and it turned out great! So far, everyone remembers it.
Then the idea arose: to tell people far from the Church about the spiritual in secular language. This is how our first performance was born — about the Nativity of Christ. Both children and adults took part in it.
Actors were people from our monastery’s club for young families. That’s how the club works: For example, an experienced drug addict came to the monastery for rehabilitation, settled down, met a girl who was also a drug addict in the past, they became friends, decided to stay to work at the monastery, started a family, they already have children. Then other families joined them. But it’s not enough just to get together and drink tea, you need a unifying idea. We wrote a script — a Christmas story about people who got to Bethlehem 2,000 years ago and saw Nativity as it really happened. The performance turned out great. And it goes on. This is such a psycho — and spiritual therapy.
The most difficult, but most important thing is to combine the work of children and adults. When they are together, pairing occurs: adults try to adapt to children, and children are trying to get to the level of adults — this is useful for everyone. And a completely new preaching language is born.
What is theater in general? What is its mission? Remember how the Apostle Paul came to Athens and, speaking in the Areopagus, said to the Greek sages: As I passed by, and beheld your devotions, I found an altar with this inscription, To The Unknown God. Whom therefore ye ignorantly worship, him declare I unto you. So we are trying to show the unknown God to those whom He has not yet been revealed to. We reveal Christ to them with the language of the theater.
Kitten and Prohibition
I’m not looking for drug addicts and alcoholics — they come by themselves. Some then disappear without a trace, and some stay. The main thing is to go your own way. What is more, the more restrictions, the faster you go.
There is a rule: the tougher the principles, the more freedom. That’s a paradox. Until you have made a choice, you depend on any call, temptation, look. And after putting on, for example, monastic vestments, making vows — you are free, you can fly high into the sky, nothing blocks it for you.
And wine is vise versa: it cheers and liberates for a moment, but often it deprives a person of happiness and freedom. Alcohol is a substitute: it replaces both books and prayer rope for a person. And this is a serious problem: if I had not made a vow not to drink in due time, oh, how far would I have gone with alcohol! After all, the monastic life is full of experiences, temptations and upheavals.
A monk is a maximalist. There is such an anecdote: “I won’t limit myself in drinking!” — said the kitten and jumped into the well. It’s just about a monk. Either you give yourself completely to God, or do not disturb Him at all. But it is not enough for a maximalist to just sip a sip of wine — he won’t limit himself in drinking! In general, this is a problem of the Russian people: either pure asceticism and spiritual exploits, or alcohol to the very bottom.
In our monastery for many years there has been strict prohibition. But there is no sobriety society for the laity — somehow it did not go well. I am personally against the concept of “sobriety” as a slogan. It’s like in marriage — “The main thing is loyalty!” And love? “Love, of course, is good, but the main thing is loyalty!”
We need to talk not about sobriety, but about creativity, sports, love, faith, theater, paintings, dances, travel… About anything! And sobriety is implied. For me, a teetotaler is above all a pretty person. The worst mistake is to say banal, predictable things. The thought involuntarily arises: “Will you give it a rest?!” The right sobriety symposium is a conversation about what movies to watch with the whole family, what dances to dance on the New Year eve. This is much more effective.
Khrushchev would have shot himself!
We have a new project now: we are opening a school for young cosmonauts at the Serov Cadet Boarding School. It will be supervised by priests, and specialists will teach and prepare children for work in the space industry. Khrushchev would have shot himself! For he promised to show on TV “the last priest”, and here the priests are preparing children for space. By the way, there we have one of the topics — futurology, discussion of the future. Which is in your hands. This is what I think a sobriety society should do. We are responsible for the generation that follows us.
Why do people start drinking? Because they get tired of everyday life. Man is by nature a dreamer. Christ dreamed: “I came to cast fire upon the earth. How I wish that it was already ablaze!” And our task is to teach the generation that follows us to dream. Otherwise it will teach us to cry. Either we will teach them to happily think about the future, or they will teach us to remember the past with bitterness.
But in order to teach, one must be able to dream and make dreams come true himself. This is what our symposia should be about – plans for the future. And they should not be monotonous, routine, declarative. Who is a teetotaler? This is someone who does not just say not to drink, but tell what to do in order to live joyfully and happily. And a Christian is a person who perceives the world joyfully. And being able to dream is the first duty of a Christian.
I am sure that our youth have great potential – intellect, spirituality and morality. And we, teetotalers, need to bring them the energy of victory! They do not want to listen to our grumbling: “When I was your age…” They need people who believe in them. And it has always been this way, humanity has always been both bad and good, both dying and reviving, living, life-giving. And now, as before, it has a desire to believe, love and create!
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds
peace, health, and joy be with you,
Father, bless your people