The Venerable Ambrose of Optina was once engaged in a rather elevated talk with some people asking him questions about the depths of spiritual life. The conversation had just reached its climax when suddenly he interrupted it, fished out some old peasant woman from the crowd, sat next to her and spent a long, long time talking to her about feeding turkeys. When he had finished and returned to his initial interlocutors, they asked him: “How could you do such a thing? You were just talking about God, the spiritual life and the salvation of the soul, and you interrupted this to go and talk about trifles with some old woman from a neighboring village?..” St Ambrose then said a wonderful thing, “The conversation that you and I had was a luxury; you already know enough and do not need me to live a life that would lead you to the kingdom of God. But for this old lady, her turkeys are a matter of life and death. She is hired to graze them, she doesn’t know how to do anything else in life; and the turkeys are dying. If they die, she will lose her allowance and become a beggar…”
With his shrewd mind and enlightened heart, Elder Ambrose chose to speak of a trivial matter because it had a crucial meaning for someone. He could have finished his conversation but he knew that it could wait. He made that choice not because God is secondary, but because God is love. Undoubtedly, a person asking about spiritual life also needs salvation; but in that case he already knew enough to be saved. Salvation does not necessarily require much knowledge. Living out one commandment or fulfilling one word of the Gospel to the end is enough to become a saint.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds