June 16 – Moses of Optina; Lutgardis of Aywières

Moses of Optina (1782–1863) went to Moscow to seek his fortune when he was nineteen, and after an unexpected rendezvous with a monastic recruiter in a dark alley, ended up becoming a monk at Sarov under the famous Seraphim (Jan 2). From there he moved to Roslavl, then finally to Optina. Bishop Philaret (the future famous Metropolitan of Kiev) suggested Moses become a priest, and when he demurred, the Bish said, “if you don’t, I’ll bring it up against you at the Judgment.” This may seem kind of harsh from our point of view, but they probably had a different point of view. “Well if you put it that way…” said Moses, who was indeed priested and in time became abbot of the monastery.

As abbot he undertook a massive building project—buying land, planting orchards, multiplying buildings. When the budget got tight, he would travel to Moscow and try to scare up a few kopeks. “God has everything” was his slogan. In a time of famine he hired on a bunch of villagers to build guest houses, so their families would not go hungry.

Something of a hothead, Moses struggled to overcome his quick temper, and would take walks into the forest to calm himself if he got too riled up (thus inventing “give yourself a time out” 100 years before it was cool). When he knew he was dying, he started blessing people from his bed, and continued after everybody in the room had been blessed. Later a letter came from Petersburg saying that a man saw Moses in a vision, and he seemed to be blessing every member of his family. After he died, the money coffer for the monastery was opened, and a coin was found wedged between the bottom and the side. His brother Anthony quipped, “Father Moses must not have seen this, or he’d have spent it.” I love it when my subjects write my jokes for me.

Lutgardis of Aywières (1182–1246) was sent to a monastery at age twelve because her dowry had been lost (by whom? you gotta love the passive voice<sup.[1]) in a “business venture” (card game?). Without a dowry, her chances of getting a “suitable” husband were nil. She was young and pretty and addicted to fancy clothes and innocent amusements (card games?), but all that (well, a half of it) changed when, during a visit with a friend, our Lord appeared to her, showed her his wounds, and asked her to love only him. We don’t know what happened to the friend (presumably she scored some nice clothes), but Lutgardis accepted Jesus as her Bridegroom, and went on to become a Benedictine nun at age twenty. The other nuns were skeptical about her sudden conversion, but then they weren’t visionaries.

Lutgardis had many other visions of our Lord, often speaking to him as if he were in the room with her. Once when he bade her ask anything she wanted from him, she asked for a better grasp of Latin so she could understand the services and music better[2]. Speaking of linguistics, when later they tried to make her abbess of the monastery, she moved to a French monastery, figuring if she couldn’t speak the language, they couldn’t make her abbess (it worked). She also wanted the stricter Cistercian way of life, we’re told. She was nevertheless famed for passing on spiritual wisdom, which might make a more suspicious person wonder just how bad her French could have been (perhaps she did it in Latin). She had the gifts of healing and prophecy, and an “infused” knowledge of the meaning of the Scriptures (whatever exactly that means). She lived her last eleven years physically blind, but that just drove her to depend more on her inner visions of Christ. She accurately predicted the time and manner of her death; her relics were transferred to Belgium to avoid destruction in the French Revolution; she is the patron saint of childbirth and of the blind. Although not of people whose fathers gambled away their dowries. Doubtless a mere oversight.

[1] I’m guessing dad. Sorry, dad is guessed.
[2] I love this. So unexpected and so perfect!