I will not reprint the entire book. I am simply printing these pre-materials in order to better explain the work to the reader of this blog. With this information, the letters will make more sense.
New Valamo, 5 February 1956
My beloved children!
You have collected my letters and would like to publish them. You know I wrote the letters at different times and to different people, so they are inevitably repetitious. It would be good if I could read them again, but this is impossible as my ailing legs prevent me from coming to you. I am certainly getting decrepit. I am already eighty-three years old. I thank God that my memory, although it grows dull, has not failed me.
I wrote the letters as the Lord laid it upon my heart. I am a man of shy nature and limited mind - of this I am fully aware - and my memory is poor. I have not been to school and I wrote just as I speak.
In those days there was still no kerosene; at night people worked in their huts by the light of a splinter.1 I looked after the fire, always putting a new splinter into the holder, and the embers fell into a ready bucket of water. My father
1. Wood dipped in tallow and used as a torch.
plaited bast2 shoes, and my mother and sisters spun or mended. I also had two brothers. And this is interesting: patches did not exist; a hollow was made in the stove, the glowing coals were raked into it with a coal-rake and in that way a fire was kept alive. If it happened that the coals vent out, mother would say: 'Vanka, go down to Andrew's for coals'. And so I brought coals in a little pot. I blew on the coals, lit a splinter - and there we had light again!
A tailor came to us to make fur coats. He could read, and he began teaching me. I was a dull learner, but my sister learned the letters quickly and reproached me, 'How is it you can't understand? I have learned already, and you still don't understand!' At last I too learned to read.
When I had begun reading I acquired a few booklets of Lives of Saints — at that time such booklets were printed. I had a friend of like mind. We pondered together how to be saved. We went on foot to the Nil Hermitage 15 kilometres away. We dried some rusks, put them in a knapsack and off we went. We walked there this way three times. We had heard that a hermitess Matrona was living there in the woods, but we found no way of meeting her. Of course we were rather stupid: we were only thirteen years old.
My eldest brother lived in Petrograd. He was good at business and not stupid; he had an eating-house and he took me in. I lived with him a little while and acquired more booklets all the time. Once when my brother went to the country I went to Konevitsa Monastery. A travelling tnmpanion who knew Finnish turned up. We did not like
2 Flexible tree bark.
Konevitsa, so we went on to Valamo. I stayed at Valamo, but my companion went back to Petrograd. I was then sixteen. My mother came to visit me. When I had spent four years in the monastery I was called up for military service. I served in the rifle battalion for four years - that was the term of service in those days. After my service I lived for a couple of years at my father's and then for the second time came to Valamo in 1900. I have been living in a monastery ever since and it has never entered my mind to return to the world.
I thank the Lord that in his mercy He granted me, sinner that I am, to spend my whole life in a monastery. Whoever reads my letters, I fervently beg him: remember this great sinner in your holy prayers.
A staretz of Valamo Monastery"