Riveting account of monastic life in Russian caves

Unlikely bestseller

A book about the life of monks in Pskov-Caves Monastery in Russia has become an unlikely bestseller.

Everyday Saints and Other Stories, by Archimandrite Tikhon (translated by Julian Henry Lowenfeld) (Pokrov Publications)

- Reviewed by Francis Phillips, The Catholic Herald

First published in Russia in 2011, this book, despite its unlikely title, has been consistently at the top of the country’s bestseller lists. This tells you something about Russia. Although officially atheist for more than 70 years following the collapse of communism, there has been a dramatic rediscovery in the country of traditional Russian Orthodoxy.

Alongside the flashy oligarchs, the economic difficulties that followed the collapse of communism and the nationalist ambitions of the current government, the religious soul of the country has steadily reasserted itself.

The charm and fascination of this re-issued work of more than 450 pages does not lie in hagiography. In writing about the life of the monks in Pskov-Caves Monastery, near the border with Estonia, the author has managed an almost impossible feat: to make the working of grace and the life of the supernatural seem entirely normal.

This is the secret of his success. He simply describes monastic life (and occasionally parish life) as he has experienced it. Thus the reader is drawn irresistibly into an otherworldly dimension.

Beginning in 1984, Fr Tikhon, a graduate from a prestigious film school in St Petersburg, relates how he and the other four novices in his group arrived at Pskov Caves Monastery. Four were from entirely irreligious backgrounds.

All had excellent career prospects ahead of them. Yet “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 lived our … lives.”

Despite being written nearly 30 years later, Fr Tikhon’s book never loses its quality of gratitude and wonderment at “the beautiful new world” he had discovered, a world in which “above all, we can always sense powerful manifestations of divine strength and comfort”. These manifestations are reflected in the lives of some of the compelling personalities within the monastery walls.

Photo: The Catholic Herald

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