“Love is Above Fasting!” Simple Stories with St Tikhon of Zadonsk

During his long life, Saint Tikhon wrote many spiritual works. The present generation of believers continue to turn to them for consolation, admonition, and instruction in true Christianity and monasticism. However, every instruction is learned better when it is supported by a true story.

“The first and foremost work for every Christian is the acquisition of eternal salvation. In our earthly wanderings we need clothing, food, drink, shelter and other similar things. But salvation is what we need most. We need it so much, that everything else is temporary and means nothing compared to it. He who has attained salvation has everything, and, vice versa, he who has not attained salvation has nothing even if the whole world belonged to him.”

St Tikhon’s former cell-attendant Chebotarev used to speak about the elder always being very apprehensive that his mind would not become attached to any temporary, mortal thing. In his cell there was no decoration, except for holy paintings depicting the passions of the Saviour and other such scenes. Everything corresponded to his humility and voluntary poverty. “Once he returned after Liturgy, so I took off his rhason and began to fold it. He took it from my hands and, throwing it on the floor, said, “This is nonsense, brother. Let’s put some food on the table quickly, I want to eat something.””

“A truly humble man cannot be grieved or aggravated by a reproach, because he considers himself worthy of every humiliation.”

Interceding for the peasants who were mercilessly oppressed by one landowner, St Tikhon was so harsh in his accusatory speech that his words provoked a backlash. The wayward landowner was so outraged with being equated with “slaves”, that in a temper hit the saint. Saint Tikhon turned around and left the house. But already on the way to the Mother of God Monastery, where the pensioned bishop laboured in retirement, the saint realized that he himself had unwittingly become the culprit of what had happened by speaking in a wrong tone and using arguments inaccessible to the interlocutor. Immediately returning back, he fell at the feet of his offender, asking forgiveness for “leading him into such a temptation.” That impressed the landowner, and he himself burst into tears of repentance, seeing before him a living personification of what he sometimes heard about at Sunday’s sermon. The nobleman bowed at the feet of the saint, begging to forgive him also. Since that time, the landowner has significantly changed his attitude towards the serfs, and no more complaints have been received.

“Love is Above Fasting!”

Once, at the time of Great Lent, St Tikhon’s close friend Kuzma Studenikin, the churchwarden of the Yelets Church of the Intercession, arrived at the Mother of God Monastery to see Schemamonk Mitrofan, with whom, as well as with St Tikhon, he enjoyed talking on spiritual topics. Kuzma was going to stay until Palm Sunday and share with Fr Mitrofan the festive meal, but on Friday it turned out that he urgently needed to return to Yelets. Just at the time when the churchwarden informed the schemamonk of that, a peasant arrived with a fresh Black Sea roach, a rare and delicious fish, which father had ordered for Sunday dinner. Frustrated by the imminent departure of a friend, Fr. Mitrofan asked if Kuzma would taste the fish soup “right now”. Studenikin agreed for the sake of brotherly love. It was during this untimely fish meal, that Bishop Tikhon unexpectedly entered the cell. The schemamonk fell to his knees, repenting that it was he who had seduced Kuzma to break the fast. But the saint, a strict adherent of church rules, not only did not reprimand them, but said, “Sit down, I know you. Love is above fasting!” And, sitting down at the table, he himself tasted a few spoons of fish soup.

“True love is selfless and does good without hope of reward”

“If we had love,” St Tikhon writes, “there would be no beggars or wretched people. People would not wear rags or go half-naked because love would make sure that they have clothes to wear; people would not wander homeless because love would provide shelter for them”

“It is noteworthy,” the cell attendant Chebotarev once said with sincere emotion, “on a day when he had a lot of poor visitors and gave out more money and other alms, he was more cheerful and joyful that evening, whereas on a day when there was little or no visitors, he was grieved.” The saint spent his entire pension and offerings from his wealthy devotees on deeds of beneficence. But sometimes it was not enough for him.

“We are comforted and rejoice when a physician heals our feeble body. Even if he resorts to a bitter and cruel medicine, we thank him and give him retribution. All the more we should rejoice and thank God from the heart when He heals our spiritual weaknesses with sorrows and misfortunes.”

“You know, that Kamenev (fool for Christ’s sake living in Zadonsk) knew my thoughts.” the saint once said, “A few days before that, a demon had inflicted a state of certain haughtiness on me, and as hard as I tried to abandon it, it wouldn’t go away. On the third day, after Vespers, I was sitting in front of my cell, overwhelmed by these thoughts even more than before. Then I see Kamenev running from the church, surrounded by children. Passing the porch, he suddenly hits me on the cheek and says in my ear, “Don’t be arrogant.” At that very moment I felt that the demon of high-mindedness departed from me.”

“The devil approaches no one more conveniently than the one who lives in idleness and laziness.”

The main weapon in opposing all the above-mentioned thoughts was tireless tearful prayer, the gift that the saint had been given by the Lord. He was never in idleness, and that was his shield. He kept repeating to his cell attendants, “He who lives in idleness sins incessantly.” The saint alternated the labours of prayer with work on his writings. He also found time for physical work, chopping wood and mowing grass.

As St Tikhon of Zadonsk used to say, “God, who lays the cross on our shoulders, also helps us carry it”. When we read such instructive stories from the life of a saint, we find confirmation of this every time.

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