Fir-tree on a mountain top
One day, Father Cleopa was on a visit to a monastery. Its brethren were facing numerous temptations and criticising their prior. Immediately, Father Cleopa understood the problem. He pointed to the top of a nearby hill and said,
“Do you see that fir tree? One that stands separately from the others? Strong winds are hitting it trying to break it. Your prior is in the same situation. He is being hit by all sorts of temptations, and you should be busy praying and helping him, not blaming or criticising him.”
In the summer of 1997, a group of army officers came to the monastery to see Father Cleopa.
The elder received them on the makeshift benches outside his cell. He was talking to them, but many were not listening, but laughing and making jokes.
A disciple near the elder was upset at their behaviour. He whispered to the elder,
“Your Holiness, would you like to go back to your cell? You must be very tired, and they do not seem to be interested in what you are saying.”
“Do not worry. I will stay some more. Perhaps at least one of them will benefit.”
He stayed on, while the officers continued to ignore him before they finally got up and went.
One Sunday morning, a man came to his door. He said that he had been there two weeks before with a group of army officers and asked to speak to Elder Cleopa in person. The elder welcomed him in his cell.
A retired bank teller from Bucharest joined Sichastria Monastery to live as a monk. He was tonsured with the name Serapion and was very zealous. He was over ninety years of age and lived in piety and humility.
He had brought with him a trunk with some of his clothes, all smart and expensive. He offered it as a gift to the monastery’s prior, Elder Cleopa. The elder declined to accept it.
“I have no use for these clothes, and I would rather not give them to the brethren, either. They are a luxury – the brothers are not used to it. They are also too fragile. Keep them!”
About a year later Father Serapion burst into the church. Visibly agitated, he ran straight to Father Cleopa in the altar.
“Someone broke into my trunk!” he cried.
“Who do suspect?”
“Gypsies, I suppose. There are a lot of them in the courtyard,” he replied.
“Do not point a finger at them, unless you know for sure. Calm down. Stay with us at the service, and we will see what we can find out later. I am sure we will find the thief,” said Elder Cleopa reassuringly.
To Father Serapion, these words were like a prophecy. He calmed down, and when the service was over he went with Elder Cleopa in the company of two monks asking him for permission to do an investigation. Father Cleopa responded with calm.
“Did you not approach me one year ago to give it to me?”
“I did. But this time, I had not given it away. I had it stolen.
That is different,” objected Serapion. “But if I had taken it, would it not have been mine”
“And I would have been free to do what I like with it”
“So why are you upset? You lost something that was not yours. You have not lost anything. You are as poor or wealthy as before! Like you had wished in the first place and as becomes a monk! These shirts and leggings were too short anyway, and too thin. No monk could wear them anyway.
“You are right. But I meant to give them away!”
“So what is the problem, then? Go back to your cell. You still have your trunk. Put some books in it, or some winter fuel.”
Father Serapion left, with a good lesson in poverty and monastic vows. When he closed the door, Elder Cleopa said to the monks.
These clothes were mine. He had been keeling them for a whole year making no use of them. Today, I gave them away to the gipsies because they were cold and had nothing to wear. I asked them to pray for a man named Serapion, their giver.
When the rest of the brothers, including Serapion, knew about it, no one was upset.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds