Michael was born in 1877 in the country of Latvia. He had hardly reached the age of one and a half when his mother died; and when he was six, his father died also. He lived a sorrowful life as an orphan, and thus his childhood was not worth remembering. Later he would never talk about it, thus there is little known. It took him a while to act on his resolve, but when he was in his teen he made the decision to become a monk. His relatives tried to talk him out of it, telling him to get a job and make a successful materialistic life for himself.
In the factory where Michael worked, an incident occurred that shook him to his core with the thought of sudden death. A mechanic, wanting to stop a certain machine, got too close. The mechanic’s jacket was caught and in a minute there was nothing left of him. This brush with death finally led him leave the world.
On the third day after Pascha (Easter), when Michael was eighteen, he—quietly, without saying anything to anyone—took a little bundle on his shoulders and silently left home. In his bundle, Michael carried a Holy Bible and two changes of clothes.
Sleeping in the forest under an open sky, the future elder fed off of what God sent him. Michael walked from Monastery to Monastery, which prayer upon his lips, abandoning all earthly care. While seeking the will of God about himself, the thought came to his mind: “Be firm, in defense of pure Orthodoxy. You will have to endure much, but stay firm, even unto death.”
In 1902, Michael entered Valaam Monastery and abandoned the world forever. Behind the ancient stone walls of the Monastery, he lived for many years in silence and peace, communing with his own heart. Fifteen years later, the Elder’s silence was broken. A revolution had taken place in Russia and a new government was instituted, a government based on Atheism. Much like in the arenas of Diocletian, the blood of Monks and Priests were spilled by the gallons into the barren earth. The young Monk Michael suffered much over this, knowing the fate that his fellow Christians were facing outside his Monastery.
Then one day, in the dead of winter, the Monastics of Valaam saw a man running towards their island, across the frozen lake, towards their Monastery. He shouted to warn the Monks that the communist soldiers were coming to the Monastery. The three hundred Monks quickly loaded all the Monastery possessions on sleds and horses and began the sorrowful walk to the free country of Finland. Since they were all nearly freezing to death, they decided to make a bonfire. Warming himself by the fire, with the rest of his brothers, the young Monk Michael stood looking at his beloved Monastery at a distance. Longing for his home, he wept as the winter breeze froze his tears.
Eventually the Monks made it safely to Finland; and free from persecution they built a new Monastery in the wilderness, practically out of nothing. During these dark and difficult times, there arose a new persecution from within the new Monastery. There was a movement to “reform” the ancient Tradition of Orthodoxy to make it conform to the fashions of the fallen world. All those who stood upright against this new “system” was mercilessly persecuted and shunned. Michael suffered much for this because he recalled his resolve to “be in firm defense of pure Orthodoxy.”
For his steadfastness to uphold the old Traditions, Michael was put on trial. In the midst of the trial, the future elder said: “You can bury me alive but I will not step away from the testament which I have been given.” After his trial, he was banished to a deserted island.
In 1957, Monk Michael was forced to leave the Monastery because of the persecution. Sorrowing that he had not won over his brothers, Michael moved to Pskov Caves Monastery, on the border of the Soviet Union. Elder Michael lived out the final years of his life on this earth in total silence and seclusion, living for prayer alone.
The following accounts are accounts of meetings, talks, and conversations with the Elder in the years before his repose. His talks seem to reveal that his mind was dead to this world, and alive to the other world.
His astonishing eyes, bright and clear, looked at me. I realized that Fr. Michael had the gift of clairvoyance; He read my thoughts and knew my past. “Father,” I asked him, “what to you think of death?”
The Elder answered: There is no death. There is merely a passing from one state to another. To me personally, the life of the other world is much more real than my life here. The more the Christian lives the interior life, the more he is detached from this world, and imperceptibly he approaches the other world. When the end comes, it is easy; the thin curtain simply dissolves.
The mystery of sin is in operation from a long time ago, but rather I think the time is now pointing to another direction. Indeed, how many martyrs have we had recently and even now? It shows how many Saints are still living. At the end of time there will be no more martyrs because Apostasy will be so vile.
“Is the interior life difficult?” I asked the Elder.
The Elder said: No, if you are taking it in the right way. In the interior life, there is not straight line. A person either ascends or descends. No one who looks for comfort can expect to attain interior peace. He does not even know what it is. In the world there are many people who are merely just walking corpses, thinking about nothing but their comfort. When we are young, or even middle-aged, we can hide our true self. An old person cannot do this. Often the revelation of a person’s true self is appalling.
It is important to avoid the same falls, whatever they may be; drinking, gambling, impurity, and so on. After ever fall, our repentance weakens. We become accustomed to our sins and in the end Divine Grace produces no impression on us; and we become, first, indifferent to the Christian life, and then violently hostile to God. When a man reaches this stage, he looses the capacity to recognize his fault and becomes degenerate. On the other hand, those who truly feel sorry, even if they fall into the same sin again and again, begin to feel indifferent towards it and then hate it. Gradually all sins become disgusting to them, and they become Saints of God. Everyone is free to select the first or the second way. Thos who select the right way, must remember that the earlier one starts, the better it is. It is difficult to break former habits. Criminals and murderers are not born as such. They were not different from anybody else, but they neglected to regret small sins and ended up as degenerates.
Elder Michael once gave me a piece of paper that said the following, “Happiness and misfortune, rise and fall, health and sickness, glory and dishonor, wealth and poverty; everything comes from God and must be accepted as such.”
I looked at the Elder saying, “This is a hard saying, Father.”
The Elder Answered: No, many people struck by misfortune become either depressed, considering everything they lost, or rebellious, believing that they have suffered unjustly. The truth, of course, is that God bends us all His own way, which is the best for those concerned.
We have merely a dead faith. This is common to the devils. They no there is a God, but they oppose Him nevertheless. Remember always that all troubles in this life are designed to make us more detached from this world. Therefore they lead us to a better life.
You see, while we have no peace of mind, we cannot see God. We are able to understand the past within the limits allowed by God, but we do not know what to do now and what to plan for in the future. If we have no peace of soul, it means that, inwardly, we have still not reached a state of wholeness and are blinded with passions which prevent us from seeing the world in its true light. But when we attain an inward peace, our passions are mastered and we clearly see who we are and where we are going. You see, it is impossible to be a good servant of God and to labor in His vineyard in whatever position, with any success, unless inner peace is attained first. People value this peace above all else, but it is obvious that they cannot attain it from those who do not have it themselves. So many sermons, books, and exercises, produce no effects because they are not born out of inner peace, in contemplation and detachment. But when you attain inner peace, everything is all right because God is with you. Only in deep inward peace can we see God and understand His Will.
“What helps, Father,” I asked the recluse, “To obtain inward peace?”
The Elder answered: Patient enduring of sorrows and pure prayer.4