It was a warm September evening, as we, the still-young novices of the Pskov Caves Monastery near Pskov, were strolling about the corridors and galleries of the ancient monastery walls, making ourselves comfortable, looking out high above its gardens and fields. As we talked, we began reminiscing about how each of us had come to be at the monastery. And the more we listened to each other, the more amazed we became.
It was 1984 at the time, and there were five of us. Four had grown up in nonreligious families, and even for the fifth in our group, the son of a clergyman, our preconceptions of the sort of people who go off to join a monastery were utterly Soviet. Just a year earlier, each of us had firmly believed that the only people who ever entered a monastery nowadays were fanatics or complete failures in life. Losers, in short—or else victims of unrequited love.
But looking at each other, we could see that this simply wasn’t true at all. The youngest in our group was just eighteen, and the oldest was twenty- six. All of us were healthy, strong, and attractive young men. One had graduated with highest honors from university with a degree in mathematics; another, despite his youth, was already an acclaimed artist in Leningrad. Yet another of our group had lived most of his life in New York, where his father was working, and had joined our monastery after completing his third year of university. The youngest (the priest’s son) was a talented engraver and wood carver, and had just completed his education at an art school. And I had recently graduated from the screenwriter’s division of the prestigious National State Cinematic Institute. In short, each of us youngsters had enviable worldly careers to look forward to.
So why had we come to the monastery? And why were we planning to stay here for the rest of our lives? We knew very well. It was because, for each of us, a new world had suddenly opened up, incomparable in its beauty. And that world had turned out to be boundlessly more attractive than the one in which we had previously lived our young and so-far very happy lives. In this book I want to tell you about this beautiful new world of mine, where we live by laws completely different from those in “normal” worldly life—a world of light and love, full of wondrous discoveries, hope, happiness, trials and triumphs, where even our defeats acquire profound significance: a world in which, above all, we can always sense powerful manifestations of divine strength and comfort.
I have not needed to imagine anything. Everything you are about to read really happened. Most of the people you will read about are alive and well today.