Father Zachariah was a starets in the nineteenth century Russian tradition, like Father Zosima in The Brothers Karamazov. At first sight almost a mediaeval figure, he lived for nearly twenty years under Soviet rule and had a profound influence on those who knew him. Despite painful illness and harassing by the NKVD [forerunner of the KGB], his faith burned ever brighter in old age, and he was a source of inspiration to many even after his death in 1936. He was forced to leave the Monastery of St Sergius in Zagorsk in 1917.
Though political events are mentioned only in passing, their consequences are clear enough. As a young novice, Zachariah’s life in the Monastery was hard. Monks and superiors alike scorned him for his humility and devotion, made him a drudge, refused to ordain him for many long years, and even physically assaulted him. “If you lived like normal people, Zachariah, you would have been a monk long ago.” Yet Father Zachariah’s steadfast devotion to his calling never wavered in these years when monasticism was at a low ebb.
Written in a simple, non-literary style, the Life has passages of a fairy-tale quality; dreams, visions, prophecies, miracles and healings are described in a matter-of-fact way as part of everyday life. But the faith which underlies them is real enough, and the teachings of Father Zachariah speak to the heart just as forcefully today as they evidently did when they were first uttered.
Jane Ellis was born in Liverpool in 1951. She graduated from Birmingham University in 1973 with a degree in Russian Language and Literature. Since then she has been a researcher at Keston College, the Centre for the Study of Religion and Communism, in Kent.
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