“Greater can no love be than this:
From a life of infinite joy and freedom in God
Willingly to embrace limitation, pain, and death
For the salvation of mankind.
Such, ever, has been the sacrifice
Of the great masters for the world.”
Such is the divine gift to mankind of Christ, of our Masters, of the great saints of all religions, of our own beloved Swamiji. Such also is the divine service there for every devotee to perform — each one, according to his ability and his realization, to enter into the fray and there act as a channel for the supernal blessings of God.
In the Russia of the decades following 1919 the persecution of those who believed in God was state-sponsored. The Party faithful joined the Militant Atheist’s League and read the widely-disseminated journal named Godless. The anti-religious persecution in Nazi Germany was just as fierce. Caught in the grip of these two powerful dictatorships, each demanding loyalty to the State as the supreme power and authority over human life, were the fearful millions of ordinary people. Those who loved God were forced underground, like the early Christians in the catacombs. Many hid their icons and worshipped secretly. The bravest found ways to serve those now deprived of their traditional faith.
Bright lights among these courageous souls were those called yurodivy: These went even into the concentration camps to give love and spiritual support to their imprisoned brothers.
One who made it through alive to tell the story was a Croatian priest, his memoir written under the alias “Father George” to protect those still serving where atheism was law. Father George had felt inwardly called to serve those who loved God — and those who had been taught to see God as a myth — and to do so where World War II was raging in eastern Europe and Russia. Travelling in various disguises, as a plumber, as a medical doctor, sometimes as a Partisan officer allied to the Russian army, he never took up arms or inflicted injury. His work was with the souls of everyone he encountered — simple country people trying to survive the years of war and oppression, soldiers of many nations, Partisans, even members of the dreaded MVD secret police (ever vigilant against the forbidden practice of religion).
Wherever he went Father George found souls yearning for freedom, yearning especially for spiritual sustenance, for a way to believe in goodness and love in the midst of the bitter disillusion of life under a state that denied God. Loyal to his own path (he was Roman Catholic), he showed equal respect to all religions and their followers — Orthodox, Protestant, Jewish, Moslem — and equal compassion as well, not only for the oppressed but also for the oppressors. One high-ranking Soviet officer sought out Father George, sensing his openness to higher realities. Witnessing the execution of a young soldier, the officer had looked into the young man’s eyes as life left his body: What he saw there, and felt in his own heart, was first sadness, then compassion, then forgiveness. In that moment faith was reawakened and a soul long imprisoned started on its journey to freedom.
Billeted with a unit of MVD secret police, in extreme danger of discovery, Father George was able to cultivate friendships, gently to awaken trust in these most suspicious of Soviet agents — to speak quietly, indirectly, of God, unemphatically, as though commenting on the weather. Late one night a woman officer burst in on him: “Tell me more about God!” All night they conversed, she drinking in what her embittered soul had longed to believe, that God exists and that He is kind. Before Father George moved on deeper into Russia, seven of the MVD officers were coming nightly to share the joy of faith blossoming after long drought.
Travelling into Russia with Partisan units from many Eastern European countries, Father George came upon a devastated village where a Slovakian unit was camped whose priest had somehow been overlooked in the general purge of all chaplains from army groups. Word spread that an actual priest was in reach. Soon there appeared a ragged procession, many barefoot and shivering, mothers with small children, young boys, women in their twenties. They had come from villages in all directions, some quite distant, seeking the batiushka, the little priest, to baptize their children, even those well along in years. The year was 1944: These devoted souls had never known a priest; their villages had been without one since 1919. After the ceremony the mothers came one by one to the batiushka, to slip into his hand an egg, a bit of cheese, a small loaf of bread, “giving him the whole of their poverty as thanks,” then back on the road, the long homeward trudge to their own devastated villages.
Finally exposed as a priest, Father George was imprisoned in Prague, tortured by the Czechoslovakian ZOB secret police, their purpose to break his spirit, force him to confess himself a Vatican spy. With impersonal dedication to his mission, he saw his physical suffering as part of his service. Concentrating his will, Father George too became a yurodivy, one who willingly joined those suffering in prison in order to bring courage and spiritual solace. Even at the worst, mind and faculties numbed into a comatose state, he could still pray. And his prayer was to endure, to stand strong in his faith through whatever came, so that he could continue his service to Christ, and to Christ in his fellow prisoners.
By God’s grace Father George was released to the West, there to write his memoir and so to speak for the millions who hungered for God but had no voice — and thus to awaken in free peoples the kindness and hope of prayer, wafting cloudlike over mountains and all barriers of ideology and race — the thousand ways we separate ourselves one from another — to drop their healing balm wherever suffering and darkness reigned.
In 2009, our beloved Swamiji lay helpless for weeks on end, his body a battlefield on which played out a great struggle between the forces of light and the forces of darkness. A true yurodivy, Swami kept his mind always on Master, and on Divine Mother, so that She might use him as She saw fit in service to the Divine in us all. Suddenly he entered a state of great bliss, one that stayed with him the rest of his days. Wholly self-offered to Divine Mother, his long illness departed, to be replaced by an outpouring of joyous inspiration: a new renunciate order, pathway for lovers of God in every faith to hasten their journey to the one, true Home.
“Through all trials we sing Thy name.
Joy in Thee is life’s sole aim.”
In divine friendship,
For Ananda’s “Thank You, God” Tithing