(Out of all of the people who read this blog, probably only two of you will understand it. That's okay, sometimes you need to post things like this....)
When I first met the Anti-Staretz, he was not yet tonsured and was not even in a monastic habit. I was twenty four, in love with Byzantine liturgy and the spirituality of St. Therese of Lisieux, and had no idea what the world was really like. When I had my first conversation with him, I concluded that he was was a smug, overly-intelligent bastard who liked Evelyn Waugh and a good martini. He had no reason to be a monk, I thought. But it was from him I learned to believe, not just as a monk or as a Christian, but as a mere human being.
There is so much phoniness to all religious sentiment. It takes a lifetime to get rid of prideful piety, exaggerated gestures, and thinly veiled self-righteousness. There are religious authors, Catholic, Orthodox, and other, who seem to think that the key to religious life is to lie to yourself, over and over again, until you turn so naive that you start to believe it. With all due respect to these authors, they are so full of sh#*. No wonder there are so many atheists and agnostics in the world. If we have to walk through life with people pissing on our heads and trying to believe that it is really raining, then we are better off pursuing the most base debaucheries. At least we would have more fun while doing it.
I had so many conversations with Anti-Staretz where it seemed that he really didn't believe firmly in anything. It felt like he was constantly taking the ground out from under himself. He had hacked away at every single prejudice, every single misconception, and every single platitude that others take for granted, and I felt sometimes that we both were at the end of it all staring into an abyss of uncertainty. I would go to bed, and when I entered the katholikon again at four in the morning, there he was again, at the kliros, starting over again, like he had done for years:
"Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us......"
It took many, many conversations with him for me to realize that you can be a saint and still be yourself, even if being yourself means being a cynical bastard. And that is what Anti-Staretz and I have in common. Maybe it would have been better for us if we had been two ignorant monks who thought the abbot's word was the will of God. Maybe it would be better if I had a blog with a big picture of the Pope and if I carved "I love Benedict XVI" on tree trunks when no one is looking. But that is simply not going to happen.
What we can really be certain about in life is very, very little, and it seems with the passing of time it becomes less and less. Certainty as a sentiment is not the test of faith, deeds are. It is not that we have to lie about our difficulties, our opinions, and our failures in order to believe. The key is to accept them and to keep going. To keep going to Orthros at four in the morning, to keep going to Mass on Sunday even if everything is not perfect, and to keep striving to love even if you know you will fail is how we will make it through this vale of tears. There is no certainty in this: there is only duty and resolve, and that duty and resolve must come from the heart. And that is what I learned from Anti-Staretz. Pure Gospel, pure life.
He will be missed. Life is a series of long good-byes until we meet again at the Final Judgment. Hopefully, we will all be standing on the right side of the Throne.