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169. Jan. 7/20, 1975B. St. John the Forerunner

Dear Sister in Christ, Barbara [Murray],

Greetings in our Lord Jesus Christ. I believe we never thanked you for your Christmas gift. We opened it on Christmas day in the “Tsars Room” and immediately put it on the analogion in the corner; it is most beautiful.

John’s visit to us enabled us to get to know him fairly well, which we hadn’t done before. The boy is much brighter than we suspected, and is obviously far ahead of his class in most subjects. He reads quite a bit, and in general knowledge is quite aware. At times with us, especially when talking with me at night, he “relaxed” and became quite a normal boy, interested in many things, anxious to please, happy to talk seriously about the things that interest him (which are many). But at other times, especially with everyone present, he would revert to his “old self”: stubborn, disobedient or grudgingly obedient, putting on his act of “I’ll do as I please.” Obviously his whole home situation has deeply wounded him, and he is prepared to get his “revenge” on life by not cooperating with people. If he could “straighten out,” he could be very good; if he doesn’t, he will doubtless be very bad and will harm people in life.

Probably his being with you is the best thing for him right now. It is good that you are strict with him as much as you can be; I could tell that he had a proper fear and respect when you take away his “bicycle rights,” and in general he seems to realize that you are fair with him. He seemed to enjoy it with us very much (he even got to chop down his first Christmas tree!) and already talked about his next visit; we told him that would depend on his behavior in Etna, and he promised to make some effort at improvement. I suspect this improvement, if it really comes, will be only gradual, or even in fits and starts; but if he does make some effort there is hope for him. If he has our Skete in mind as a kind of “reward” for his behavior, this idea may help him too. You are doing a very important thing in giving him a home at this important time of his life; may God reward you for your efforts and patience, and give you the wisdom to handle him.

By the way, Alexey has told us that you and he were shocked when Nina told you that we sup-posedly had told her that we were against John’s staying with you in the first place; but this was a bad misunderstanding on her part. We had told her that Maria Kraft was making a bad mistake in thinking that once she is “rid” of her children she can then begin to think about a convent and real “spiritual life” — because if one does not recognize that one’s spiritual struggle begins right now with whatever God has given us (and all the more if we ourselves have gotten into a difficult situation!), we will not begin the “spiritual life” later, either. And so, if Maria only knew, her salvation could lie in her suffering through the raising of her own children; but if she doesn’t suffer this through, then later on, when she thinks to be starting real “spiritual life,” she’ll find she has nothing at all, and “spiritual life” which begins after we are rid of present problems is only an abstraction. I think all this is true — but the spiritual benefit of “suffering through” comes only if one voluntarily accepts it, and the fact remains that Maria really wants to be rid of John, which he knows or feels. For the good of the boy, it is obviously much better that he be with you; if he were to go back to his mother now, I think there would be no hope whatever for him to turn out good. The two younger boys, being so “extrovert,” will be harmed much less than would John, who is already so turned in on himself.

Alexey has told us something of the difficulties and sufferings of your “fragile” Orthodox com-munity. This suffering is the material of which a real Orthodox life is built! In general the feeling of being “abandoned” is present almost everywhere among true Orthodox Christians today; but our contact with each other is already a source of strength and encouragement.

Please pray for us. With love in Christ our Saviour, and may He grant you His grace.

S. M.

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