A Pilgrimage to Optina MonasteryBy the grace of God, two Hermitage monks have been given the opportunity to make a pilgrimage this summer to Russia. They departed from the U.S. on May 31st, and spent their first weekend in Moscow visiting the holy sites there. Following this, they travelled to Optina Skete where they spent several weeks living the monastic life there alongside the brethren.This is a great gift of God, not only for our two monks but for the entire Hermitage brotherhood. Optina Monastery and its Skete hold an extremely important place in the history of monastic life in the Russian Church. It was at Optina that the 19th-century reflowering of monasticism chiefly occurred, due to their emphasis on the inner life as well as their unbroken succession of “startsii”—God-bearing elders capable of spiritually directing not only the monks, but also the countless thousands of laypeople who flocked to Optina from all corners of the Russian land.Here at the Hermitage, all novices read the lives and counsels of the Optina Elders as a vital part of their monastic formation. This is especially important for us because the Optina Elders lived during times not so dissimilar to our own, when Russian society had become quite worldly and the apostasy of the modern world was already becoming rooted in the hearts and minds of even those Russians who sought the life of piety and obedience to God. Therefore the monks living at Optina struggled with many of the same thoughts and temptations that we ourselves are faced with when we begin to live the monastic life, and the God-enlightened counsels of the Optina Elders to their spiritual children also resonate deeply in our own hearts.Though we already feel a special closeness to Optina for these reasons, as well as the presence in our church of the relics of many of the Optina Elders, nevertheless for many years it has also been our desire to form a relationship with the Optina of today. We are therefore tremendously grateful to God for this chance to get to know the brotherhood there, to live for several weeks alongside them, and most importantly to struggle together with them in the monastic arena and to learn from their wisdom and experience. May God grant that this seed takes root and grows, so that the flower of Optina’s spirituality may also bloom here in the desert of America.