In 1938 a man died on Mount Athos. He was a very simple man, a peasant from Russia who came to Mount Athos when he was in his twenties and stayed for about fifty years. He was a man of utmost simplicity. He had gone to Athos because he had read in a pamphlet about the Holy Mountain that the Mother of God had given a promise that anyone who would serve the Lord in these monasteries, she would stand for him and pray for him. So he just abandoned his village and said ‘If the Mother of God is prepared to stand for me, there I go, and her business is to save me.’ He was a most remarkable man and for a long time he was in charge of the workshops of the monastery. The workshops of the monastery were manned by young Russian peasants who used to come for one year, for two years, in order to make some money, really farthing added to farthing, in order to go back to their villages with a few pounds, perhaps, at the utmost to be able to start a family by marrying, by building a hut and by buying enough to start their crops. One day other monks, who were in charge of other workshops, said
“Father Silouan, how is it that the people who work in your workshops work so well while you never supervise them, while we spend our time looking after them and they try continuously to cheat us in their work?’ Father Silouan said ‘I don’t know. I can only tell you what I do about it. When I come in the morning, I never come without having prayed for these people and I come with my heart filled with compassion and with love for them, and when I walk into the workshop I have tears in my soul for love of them. And then I give them the task they have to perform in the day and as long as they will work I will pray for them, so I go into my cell and I begin to pray about each of them individually. I take my stand before God and I say “0 Lord, remember Nicholas. He is young, he is just twenty, he has left in his village his wife, who is even younger than he, and their first child. Can you imagine the misery there is there that he has had to leave them because they could not survive on his work at home. Protect them in his absence. Shield them against every evil. Give him courage to struggle through this year and go back to the joy of a meeting, with enough money, but also enough courage, to face the difficulties”.’ And he said ‘In the beginning I prayed with tears of compassion for Nicholas, for his young wife, for the little child, but as I was praying the sense of the divine presence began to grow on me and at a certain moment it grew so powerful that I lost sight of Nicholas, his wife, his child, his needs, their village, and I could be aware only of God, and I was drawn by the sense of the divine presence deeper and deeper, until of a sudden, at the heart of this presence, I met the divine love holding Nicholas, his wife, and his child, and now it was with the love of God that I began to pray for them again, but again I was drawn into the deep and in the depths of this I again found the divine love. And so’, he said, ‘I spend my days, praying for each of them in turn, one after the other and when the day is over I go, I say a few words to them, we pray together and they go to their rest. And I go back to fulfil my monastic office.’
Here you can see how contemplative prayer, compassion, active prayer an effort and a struggle, because it was not just saying ‘Remember, 0 Lord, him, him and him.’ It was hours and hours spent just praying with compassion, praying with love, both blending together.