Monday, May 21, 2007

Basil, the Bear and Casting Out Fear

In his most excellent novel Russka, Edward Rutherford traces the history of Russia from earliest historical time to the post-Communist present. In the Epilogue, a distant American ancestor of a monastery's noble founder returns to Russia after the 1991 coup, just in time to observe the reburial of holy man Basil's remains in the newly reconstituted Monastery.

The homily delivered by the Archimandrite Leonid over the bones of Basil tells us how holy men and women are made, and a lot about how we face our fears:

For many years the Elder Basil dwelt in his hermitage praying and giving spiritual guidance; to him also are ascribed a number of miracles. But today, as we have his blessed remains before us, it is to the very start of his life as a hermit that I wish to turn.

It was always said that the Elder Basil had a gift with animals. It was remarked that a large bear would often appear, and that he would find this bear and talk to it like a kindly father to a child; and people therefore decided that he had a gift.

In fact, the opposite was the case. The elder, at the start of his seclusion, was very much afraid when the bear appeared,. so much so that, the first time, he cowered in his little hut all night and almost returned to the monastery the next day. The second night, the same thing happened.
Only on the third night did the elder Basil understand what he must do.

For on the third night, Basil remained outside his hut, seated quietly on the ground. and he said the Jesus prayer:

"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."

Not because he asked any longer that his body be saved; but rather that, he considered- "What can this bear do to me, who by God's grace has eternal life?"

And thus his fear of the bear disappeared.
And so my children, we are here not without feart. We know what has passed in former decades in the russian land. But in rebulding this monastery, and in remembering the example of the elder Basil, we know that we must not fear the bear.
We must love the bear. For perfect love casteth out fear.

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