Last week, we shared with you the life of Schema-Archimandrite Vitaly. As a follow-up to that publication, here are some episodes from his life and excerpts from his advice to his spiritual children.
Ascetising in the Caucasus mountains, Father Vitaly was helping two schema-nuns living as hermits. One day, they went together to a nearby village to pick up some flour. They were walking back to their cells with their load. One of the nuns had poor vision and was unwell, so she was walking slower than the rest of the party. Father Vitaly said to the women, “Keep going, and I will walk ahead.” At the cell, he offloaded the flour, mixed some dough with soda, made several loaves of flatbread, put them under his shirt to keep them warm, and walked back to meet the nuns. He met them at the cross on a tree, took out the warm bread and shared it with the nuns. Refreshed, they continued their journey. They had three more hours to go.
Bread for Christ
A monastic brother ascetised as a hermit some distance away from the field where Brother Vitaly was living in a hermitage with several other monks. One day, that brother asked Brother Vitaly to make him some bread and bring to him.
Father Vitaly made the bread, but the other brothers had gone to the village and left him no boots. He rubbed kerosene into his feet and went barefoot, covering a distance of several kilometres over snow, rocks and water.
When he reached the cell, his brother looked at the bread and said he did not like it and would not have it. Silently, Father Vitaly turned around and walked back.
When the other brethren heard his story, they were angered. They advised him not to see that brother anymore because he was ungrateful. But Father Vitaly replied, “No, the elders did not teach me this. They told me to put away my tasks and go help my brother when he asks me for my help, and serve him as I would serve Jesus Christ Himself.”
Father Vitaly arrived in Tbilisi dressed in nothing else but rags. Bishop Zinovy told him to burn all the clothes on him and change into new. The boots he had been wearing were too small for his feet. The bishop gave his blessing, and he was given another pair. Father Vitaly bowed to the bishop and said, “Your Holiness, I found my old boots were invigorating – they called me to prayer.”
One day, Father Vitaly was walking to the spring of Saint Basilisk in the company of his spiritual children. On their way, they met an intoxicated man who began to shout profanities at them. When the man came close, everybody ran. Father Vitaly did not; instead, he embraced and kissed him.
Immediately, the intoxicated man changed. No longer did he sound or look intimidating. He thanked Father Vitaly for his blessing and said it was the first time that anyone had treated him in this way.
Father Vitaly asked his spiritual daughter,
“What do you wear for work? Do you wear a skirt? What colour?”
She showed him the skirt.
“Do they tell you anything?”
“They ask me why I dress as a nun.”
“Try wearing a shorter skirt for a change,” he suggested.
“But father, that is not my style. I will feel awkward in it,” she objected.
“Listen to me. You can wear a shorter skirt if you need it for work. Or else you might not suffer because of the way you dress and find it unbearable. Imagine your superiors getting at you, ‘Why are you wearing this? You are giving us a bad image!’ But remember, our most important part is right here, in our hearts. Our clothing is only a camouflage.”
When father Vitaly was in hospital, his spiritual children brought him food. A sister was upset that he was giving everything away and not leaving anything for himself. He said to her, “Honestly, it is the only thing that keeps me alive.”
“Tell me about your day”
Father Vitaly said to his spiritual daughter,
“Sit down and tell me about your day – what you did at work, who you talked to.”
So she told him about her conversation at work, what a colleague said and how she responded. Unexpectedly, Father Vitaly interrupted.
“Why did you criticise her?” – he asked.
“Your sister, the woman you work with.”
The woman was surprised at his remark. She thought it was a normal conversation. She tried to explain to Father Vitaly that many people have commented on her work, and she did not take it as criticism.
Father Vitaly replied: “I would pay closer attention to that if I were you. With these small criticisms and rebukes, we aggravate our relationships. We must watch what we are saying. One cannot take back a careless remark, but it is easy to offend another with it.”
Father Vitaly received numerous visitors. One of his spiritual daughters worked at the refectory. Her job was to serve food to all who came and clean up after them. A group gathered around Father Vitaly to hear his talk. The woman felt left out, and grumbled silently, “I want to hear him, too. Why did not anyone think to stay behind to help me wash up?”
No sooner had she thought this than Father Vitaly walked into the kitchen, washed up and went back, without saying a word.
From the teachings of Father Vitaly
Reminding ourselves about death, hell and the last judgement, we keep alive in us our fear of God, and this fear is like a bridle that keeps us on the right track of living by the Lord’s commandments.
It is better to suffer pain and cleanse ourselves from sin than to stay in good health and condemn ourselves to suffer in the fire of hell. Without the Grace of God, no man can endure by himself.
Pray at all times. Say your prayer, and it fills all the gaps.
Always say this prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” Over a meal, in conversation, on the road or doing chores, do not stop saying Jesus’ prayer.
Make praying as habitual and automatic as breathing, and you will be saved. Read this prayer for any need or sorrow, and in time you will be given.
With people who argue or criticise, keep silent and say this prayer. Jesus’s prayer works miracles.
Read Psalms 27, 51 and 91, and the Lord and the Theotokos will shed their grace on you.
But grace is a fine matter; it takes a lot of work to have it, but it is easy to lose. It flees from the slightest untruth, impurity or bitterness.
Challenge yourself to pray each morning and evening and in your every occupation. At a minimum, say, “God bless! Glory be to the Lord!” Above all other thoughts, say: “Help me, O Lord! Protect me, O Lord! Be, O Lord, the doctor of my soul and body. Teach me, O Lord, how to do Your will.” That will keep you in conversation with God, which is genuine prayer. Do not entertain any other thoughts – they are not from God.
Do not despair but always trust in His help and His grace.
Remember that the Lord will reward your obedience with His gift of patience, Divine Grace and salvation.
Give love, have humility and patience. With love, walls will come apart.
When you cannot resist the urge to judge, repeat 150 times, “Rejoice, O Virgin full of grace!” The Mother of God will help you refrain from judging others.
If you cannot forget a wrong done to you and bitterness is still nesting in your heart, say to yourself, “God is love, but I have no love; the Lord will cast me out.” By thinking in this manner, you will defeat your bitterness.
Sanctify your home in all cases. Your home is your sanctuary.
Sprinkle your dwelling with holy water daily. Hold up an icon of the Holy Theotokos, make the sign of the cross with it four times in every direction, saying, “Rejoice, O Virgin full of grace!” to receive comfort from God.