Archimandrite Anastassy (Shvetsov-Zagarsky):
Upon the Remnants of Holy Rus
Odoev is a town some ten-fifteen minutes from Anastasov Monastery. It was built in the 16th century, closed in the 18th, all but disappeared in the 20th, and returned to the Church in 2002. The white Church of the Nativity of the Mother of God, is surrounded by a few similar white buildings and some new construction. All around is the smell of clover and grass taller than a man’s head.
Since 2011, Archimandrite Anastassy (Shvetsov-Zagarsky) has lived at Anastasov Monastery. He is 98 years old. Some 60 of them he served as a priest in the San Francisco area of California. He emigrated to the United States after World War II, when he was a prisoner of war. He was the son of a priest by the name of Vladimir Shvetsov, who was executed in the late 1930’s.
“This is too much material for an interview—this begs to be a book,” I thought, sitting on a bench near the elder’s room. He is meeting with his spiritual children, also from Moscow.
Finally, he emerges, a woman whose face is flushed from tears, a young man and a young woman.
I quickly realized that my audacious hopes for a book will not pan out. I decided not to ask any questions at all. Let him tell me what he wants—this is a person with great spiritual experience, old and wise, not at all feeble—he seems to gaze past you as he talks…
Remember to Make Confession.
“How do you hold your hands when asking for blessing? They have to be in the form of a cross. You are actually not kissing my hand, but the Cross of Christ,” he says.
“Come, sit down. What is all that, a recorder? Put it away. And the camera. Don’t worry, you’ll remember everything.
“Tell me about yourself. What’s your name? Do you make confession often? It is good to do so before Holy Communion, and at least once during every Lenten period! If your heart desires, partake of the Holy Gifts more often. Remember to make confession! If your soul demands it, if you sense your fins and want to change, you can make confession even every week.”
Fr Anastassy has bright eyes and a quiet voice. He does not have a celestial appearance—just a simple priest, but one with a great deal of experience.
Condemnation or Healing?
“Why do you think that before Communion, we must make confession? These are two different Mysteries.
“Listen to the prayer that the priest reads as he brings out the Chalice. You must read it! It begins with the words ‘I believe, O Lord, and I confess that Thou art truly the Christ, the Son of the Living God.’ Do you remember how it ends? ‘May the communion of Thy Holy Mysteries be neither to my judgment, nor to my condemnation, O Lord, but to the healing of soul and body. Amen.’
“Condemnation or healing? If you have a few seconds, while you listen to this prayer, try to understand if you approach the Chalice under condemnation, or for healing.
“What are we condemned for? Because we approach the Lord with a dirty conscience, we don’t fully repent of our sins. It turns out, then, that we partake of Communion for naught, for the Mystery will not help an unrepentant soul. That is what it means for Communion to lead to condemnation.”
Just think how many miles of text have been written and will be written about the connection between confession and Communion! How many priests express their opinion, some like Fr Anastassy, others more “liberal,” or limited to some formal response… The understanding of this almost century-old monk is suffered, wept over, engraved in his heart. This is probably the only way to speak of the Mysteries—that they are written in your heart…
There is No Sin That Has No Name.
“So you approach Communion, but there is still some rot in your soul—a sin that you hid during confession. Not necessarily intentionally, you just forgot. But if you forgot, that means you don’t repent of it, and if you didn’t repent, then the sin is not forgiven. Because even the Lord Himself cannot forgive you a sin if you don’t repent of it.
“What is confession? Confession is naming your sin. Every sin has a name. There is no sin that has no name. That is why some prepare for confession, many ponder their sins for a long time, write them down so as not to forget. Those who come to me to confession, I always ask that they bring a list of sins.”
It is interesting to note that this is known in the area of psychology—one can only solve a problem if it is named, understood beginning to end. Everything that we internalize deeply sinks into our subconscious, into the Freudian ‘id,’ and then it splashes out in the form of neurosis. Did Fr Anastassy study Freud? I doubt it.
Where Do You Find a Spiritual Father?
“You name your sins, the priest will read the prayer of absolution over you, and he’ll either rip up or burn your paper, or give it back to you, no matter. It is important that you forget nothing, say everything, everything will be forgiven.
That is why the Lord gives us priests, appointed by bishops. Don’t think about whether they make their own confession less frequently than you. That’s their business—that’s their misfortune—they’re busy people. They conduct divine services, perform services of need, provide spiritual guidance to their flock, build churches…
“I’m often asked ‘Where do you find a spiritual father?’ An odd question. If you attend the same church, make confession to the same priest—that’s your spiritual guide.
“Don’t hasten to accuse a priest. Those who rarely make confession themselves are spending a great deal of time bearing witness, being present at your confession before God.
“This is one of the biggest problem among ‘neophytes,’ to find a spiritual guide. People sometimes travel to the ends of the earth, to remote monasteries, go from church to church. Meanwhile, a person who spends decades serving and ministering to dozens of people, in essence, recognizes that he is no greater than a simple parish priest.
“Condemnation in general is a terrible crime before God. Who are we to condemn our brothers or sisters?! Never, under any circumstances, do not condemn anyone. You have no right to consider the sins of others. You know nothing about them. You can’t look into anyone’s heart.
“By condemning, you sin not only before the person, but before God. Our Father in Heaven granted His Son, our Lord Jesus Christ, the power to judge. What are you doing if you condemn a brother or sister: ‘He did this wrong, she said that…’? It is as though you declare to Him, ‘No need of You! I know better than You who committed what sin.’
“The Lord will teach you, and harshly. You won’t even notice it as you fall into the same sin you accused another of.”
I reached into my purse for a tissue—he hit the nail on the head. Log in to the internet, you find yourself judging someone who posted something you don’t agree with, you walk outside and criticize a bad driver, a forgetful saleswoman, a cursing teenager… But what do you know of their hearts?
I Don’t Grant Interviews Anymore.
“So tell me why you came, what do you want to talk about?”
“Father, I wanted to talk about your life story. About the people you have known, how you served abroad, why you came back to Russia…” I said.
“Oh, no, I don’t grant interviews anymore. I’ve given about five already. If someone asks for an interview, I just send them away.
“Moscow has a thousand newspapers—what if a journalist from each comes to me, am I supposed to talk about myself a thousand times?
“No, no, don’t even ask. Tell others that I won’t grant any more interviews. If you need some advice, you’re welcome to it, I will say what I can, with God’s help.”
I hear the sound of construction outside. I wanted to ask the priest if the noise bothers him. Maybe he wants me to leave because there are too many distractions from what is most important. Why did I come to disturb this man of God?
As though sensing my concern, he smiled broadly and waited for a question. No, he’s not chasing me away. He simply doesn’t want to talk about himself.
The Canonization of Saints—There is No Hurry.
I begin: “Let’s talk about the veneration of saints. Your father, Priest Vladimir Shevstov, died a martyr. Has he been canonized to the sainthood?”
“See, you already know everything about my life!
“The Russian Orthodox Church of the Moscow Patriarchate has not glorified him, or at least I don’t know of any such decision. In the Church Abroad, he was canonized long ago—they were quicker to make such decisions.
“Why do they take longer to glorify saints in Russia—I don’t know. It’s not for us to judge, that’s why we have a hierarchy, commissions on the canonization of saints, the Synod. Why don’t you ask His Holiness?” he said, smiling.
“There is no hurry, we already know of so many New Martyrs, that it would take a while to list them all! When the Lord deems fit, the names of other podvizhniki will be made known.
“I don’t wish to judge anyone. I try to be patient. Really, why aren’t the tens of thousands of those who lay down their lives for Christ already canonized?
“Or maybe we’re not ready ourselves?...”
Upon the Remnants.
“It is our duty to venerate the saints. How? Let us begin by studying their lives. By the time you finish reading, you’ve forgotten how the life began, and you reread it.
“Last year I read the ‘Lives of Saints’ of St Dimitry of Rostov. I am going to reread it.
“And how much has been written about the New Martyrs! Read about them. Their podvigi enriched the Russian Church by orders of magnitude!
“Just think! Eighty years [from the Revolution of 1917 to the fall of the USSR in 1991 was 74 years, but Fr Anastassy kept repeating the number 80. He may have referred to the fact that strife in the Russian Empire began during the 1905 Revolution or World War I, but the persecution of the Church began later—M.S] were dismantling Holy Rus. She existed, and no longer…
“Every corner of Russia, every diocese needs help today. We still have not rebuilt anything. We only wander through the remnants of Holy Russia. This is all that is left of her.”
I leave his residence. The smell of clover is everywhere. The white church stands there, a few monastery buildings. I smile and sniffle like a child.
There is more than just remnants left for us.