In this video from SoulSeekers Worldwide’s YouTube channel, Fr. Anthony, an Orthodox monks talks about his prayer life and longings. It is a fascinating video that I invite you to watch.
There’s an old Orthodox story told by Elder Ilie Cleopa, a Romanian Orthodox priest whose life you can read more about in this article. I couldn’t find an English version of it on the internet, so I decided to translate it. The English translation below was done by myself, having this text as a source material.
Being humble (lowly of heart) is a good thing that the devil can’t do. We fast, but he never eats; we diligently work, but neither does he sit idle; we read (religious) books, but he is a great theologian, he knows all the Scripture by heart. Whatever we do, he also does. But there’s one thing he can’t do. He can’t humble himself; he can’t say “forgive me!”.
I will tell you a holy short story from the book “Everghetinos”. There was this nun at a nun monastery; she was a sacristan in the monastic life, the poor thing. The sacristan wakes up at 11 p.m at night and wakes up the abbess, as the Matins is celebrated at midnight. We used to do this too. When I was a sacristan, I used to carry a little bell and a hammer. I used to go and knock three times on the door and say: “For the prayers of our Holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ, Son Of God, have mercy on us!”, and the one inside the house would say: “Amen”.
I used to ring the bell and move on to the next house. That was the way in which things were done at the time and that’s how we used to do them. Just like the nun from this story. What did she do to not fall asleep? She used to read Psalms from sunset until the hours of the Matins, and when it was 11 p.m., she ran to the abbess to receive the blessings required for her to ring the bells and wake up the sisters for prayer.
The devil used to be very displeased with her because her reading of the Psalms would burn him. But she toiled like this for years. So what did the devil think of in order to make the abbess and the other nuns reprimand her? The devil would go at night and ring the bells. But he wouldn’t do it at the right time. As soon as the nuns went to sleep, they would hear the bells going “ding dong ding dong…”. The abbess would call her and say:
“You foolish girl, the sisters have just went to bed, so why did you ring the bells?”
But she used to say:
“I’m sorry, Mother Superior, for I did bad.”
She didn’t know it was the devil. She thought it was another nun, trying to frame her. Another time, the devil rang the bells both in the evening and after midnight, after the sisters were asleep. But he didn’t ring them on time, so that he could trouble the nun who kept reading from the Psalms.
So what did she do? “I’ll climb up to the bell tower!” she said, “Seeing how I’m not asleep anyways!”. So she took the Psalms book, a cross in her hand and some candles — cause light bulbs hadn’t been invented at that time — so she could read in the bell tower, and to see which of the other nuns rang the bells to frame her, as she was given penance by the abbess and the spiritual fathers many a time because the bells were rang earlier than they should have been.
When she went to the bell tower, the devil came. He put one foot on one window case, the other foot on the other window case, and reaches out for the rope to ring the bells. So, as she was standing there with the cross in her hand, she said:
“In the Name of Jesus Christ, stop! May God’s power bind you!”
“Oh no, servant of God, free me and I will never return!”
“Let me go! I swear that I will never come to this monastery again!”
“No. Wait until Mother Superior comes here to see who had been ringing the bells all this time, while she and the council of sisters gave me penance thinking that I was doing it.”
“Release me, servant of God!”
“No. May God’s power and the Holy Cross retain you! Stay like that, with your hand on the rope!”
And the poor nun climbed down from the bell tower and went to see the abbess.
“Come see who has been ringing the bells all this time, while you were punishing me for doing it!”
The abbess took a few nuns from the council and went to see who was ringing the bells. She thought it was another nun, who had been doing it just to cause trouble. When she arrived in the bell tower and saw him:
“Woe! Sister, chase him away! Oh, dear me, we’re scared to death! He’s very ugly!”
When they saw that the devil was a bell-ringer, they wanted to run away.
“No! Let him stay like this! He can’t run away, as he is bound.”
But he was constantly shouting:
“Release me, servants of God, and I will never return to this monastery!”
“No! Stay here until I get all the sisters in the convent to come, so you can ask their forgiveness for troubling them by ringing the bells early!”
“That I cannot do!”
Did you see the devil’s evil nature? “That I cannot do”. That’s what they say in hell: “We won’t serve You! We won’t serve You!”. Always going against God, as they have fallen because of pride.
So they rang the bells and the sisters gathered.
“The devil is in the bell tower! That one sister is ordering him to ask for forgiveness.”
When they saw him, (some of them) screamed and scurried away.
“Say forgive me!” the nuns told him.
“I can’t, for if I do I will become an angel.”
“That’s just what we want. To see a devil turning back into an angel, like he used to be (before Lucifer’s rebellion).”
See, since he has fallen due to pride, he cannot say “forgive me”. This applies to us too. If you see someone asking you for forgiveness and you don’t say “May God grant you forgiveness!”, you’re like the devil who can’t say “forgive me”. “I don’t want to say forgive me! But why? He’s the one who’s guilty, not me!”
“I’m not saying forgive me!”
Then the nun said:
“Look, if you won’t say forgive me, then sing us a song, like you used to sing when you used to be an angel.”
“If I sing, you’ll melt like candle wax.”
“We’re not afraid!”
“And what song should I sing?”
“Sing the Trisagion Hymn, The Holy God song.”
When he started singing, every nun who heard him cried. He was singing very beautifully. But do you know how he sang? Holy God, Holy Mighty, Holy Immortal, and then he stopped. That was it. He didn’t want to say, have mercy on us.
“Say have mercy on us!”
“May the Power of The Holy Cross burn you!”
“Oh no! Release me, and I will never step foot around here ever again! I will tell the entire hell what happened to me here.”
“No! Say have mercy on us!”
When he saw that the Power of The Holy Cross was burning him, he sang. And when he sang have mercy on us, he shone as brightly as the Sun and he flew up to Heaven. He became an angel. And then the nuns began making prostrations.
“We thank The Lord for we have seen a devil who was reverted into an angel for saying have mercy on us!”
That’s why anyone who has ever wronged someone else should immediately say forgive me, brother, for I was wrong!
Let me know your opinions about the story in the comment section below.
Fr. Proclu Nicău was born on the 13th of November 1928. The hermit died on the 28th of January 2017, at the age of 88. Fr. Proclu Nicău, one of Romania’s most significant Orthodox Elders, lived in a humble monastic cell near the forest, in the Mitocul Bălan village, in the Crăcăoani township, in the Neamţ county. The blue-eyed priest, short, but with an ascending mind, spoke holy words that he had been granted through ceaseless prayers, not taken from books or studies.
He was a hieromonk from the age of 13, when he entered the Sihăstria monastery. He had obedient, humble and loving from the beginning. His birth (layman) name was Gheorghe Nicău.
Thus, while he was a brother at the monastery, young Gheorghe Nicău’s mustache used to grow longer (bushier) than his beard and because of this, some of the monks used to make fun of him. He went and complained about this issue to Fr. Macarie, an Elder who lived in asceticism alongside Fr. Cleopa. Then he received the following piece of advice: “If the brothers laugh at you, do the same. Laugh together with them, at your own expense, but don’t laugh at them because if you do, you will lose.” By doing so, he made the brothers humble themselves and the temptation disappeared.
The humble brother Gheorghe Nicău was part of the group of young monks that had been sent by the Patriarch at the Slatina monastery with the purpose of reinvigorating the monastic life in the old monastery. Here, he grew under the guidance of Fr. Cleopa Ilie. In the community of the Slatina monastery, brother Gheorghe Nicău lived for eight years and here he received his monastic tonsure receiving the name Proclu.
When he was dragged out of the monastery by representatives of the Communist Party, Fr. Proclu was sent to work the land (n.a. to work the land of the country was something that the Communists often forced persecuted members of the clergy to do). When he heard the reason for which he had been forced to leave of the monastery, the monk boldly asked: “Why don’t you stop the abortions, so that there may be people to work the land?”. As punishment, the Communists shaved off his beard and hit him over the head.
Later, the Holy Father from the Sihăstria monastery called them back into the community, but the 410 Decree would prevent him from returning. Together with him, many monks were forced to return into the world. For this reason, Fr. Proclu Nicău headed for the Mitocu Bălan village from the Crăcăoani township, where his parental heritage was.
Once arrived at his birthplace, Fr. Proclu withdrew himself in a poor cell, as humble as it was quiet, not far away from the woodside. The priest’s eremitic cell, a wooden room built by himself, resided on a wooden hill, at the feet of the Neamţ mountains. His sister, Georgeta, lived slightly to the north. When he was 82 years old, Fr. Proclu had lived in the cell for almost 50 years.
However, the more he tried to isolate himself from the world, the more the world sought him. Thus, even if the road to his cell is a toilsome one, even though it branches off from the main road that connects the cities of Piatra Neamţ and Târgu Neamţ, it had been walked by many believers, some eager to receive a blessing, others seeking advice, and others perhaps only out of curiosity.
On the locked door of the cell it said: “Please, don’t knock. I’m old and ill.” Nevertheless, the priest almost always used to soften up when he heard the persistent requests of some of the believers who sought spiritual solace and blessing.
When asked why he had chosen to live an eremitic life, far away from society, Fr. Proclu humbly answered: “‘Cause I’m stupid, I have a small mind. ‘Cause if I had a bigger mind, I should stay among people! Truth to say, someone has an animal and they keep it locked up. And someone else asks them why they keep it locked up. «Cause it’s intractable. It bucks.», they’d say. My trick is that I have observed the Holy Fathers and even Christ.”
Fr. Proclu Nicău testified about himself: “I’m with one foot in the grave and with one on the shore. This is all I need: to keep my mouth shut and pray for everyone. Many people come to me. Some leave complacently, it’s a pleasure to talk to them, it’s as if they were filled with the grace of God. With others, it’s more difficult. I don’t give advices. Want to know why? There are plenty of people out there who can give advices: The Church, the spiritual directors, the Holy Ones. I don’t take notice to the fact that the person might have been a member of any particular political party, that they might have belonged to another religion. This is the way I pray for everyone: «God, help them get to Paradise, for if I pray for everyone The Good Lord will receive me too.» I ask those who come to see me to add me to the diptych, to the Holy Liturgies and to the Eucharist.”
Translated into English by Lucian Hodoboc from: https://www.crestinortodox.ro/parinti/parintele-proclu-nicau-125878.html