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Giants of Russian Literature Were Often Close with Actual Saints: Dostoevsky and St. Ambrose

"The communication between famous people and saints is always very intense, fruitful, devoid of an empty exchange of courtesies and secular falsehood."

There is famous quote from St. Ambrose about the Jews which passed into common usage, becoming a popular Russian proverb to this day: "One Jew is fine, it can even be a good thing. When they are many, expect disaster."


The communication between famous people and saints is always very intense, fruitful, devoid of an empty exchange of courtesies and secular falsehood. Inside this dialogue, not only issues of a spiritual nature were resolved: there was a joint creative search, new discoveries, and a rethinking of familiar values.

Saint Ambrose of Optina and Fyodor Mikhailovich Dostoevsky

From the memoirs of Anna Grigoryevna Dostoevskaya, the writer’s wife: “Fyodor Mikhailovich went to see the doctor, came back terribly pale and knelt beside the sofa on which we laid the baby. I also knelt down next to my husband. How terrible my despair was when suddenly the baby’s breathing stopped and death came…

Fyodor Mikhailovich kissed the baby, put the sign of cross on him thrice and burst into tears. I also was crying”. In May 1878, Dostoevsky buried his young son Alexey. Terrible grief literally crushed the writer. Totally exhausted, he decides to visit Optina Pustyn hoping to find solace here and learn how to live on.

Anna Grigoryevna Dostoevskaya

June 25. The writer just states briefly in a letter: “We spent two days in Optina Pustyn. Then we went back on the same horses …” Details of the visit to the monastery can be restored indirectly.

The writer’s wife writes that Dostoevsky met with the famous elder – Saint Ambrose of Optina – thrice. She also reveals what the writer and the saint were talking about:

“When Fyodor Mikhailovich told the elder about the misfortune that had befallen us and my grief too violently manifested, the elder asked him if I was a believer, and when Fyodor Mikhailovich answered positively, he asked him to pass on his blessing to me, as well as those words that were said to the saddened mother later by elder Zosima in the novel…”

Indeed, later, in the 1906 edition of The Karamazov Brothers, Anna Grigoryevna, on the sidelines of the Peasant Women Who Have Faith chapter, directly compared the words of elder Zosima with what Saint Ambrose told her husband.

Perhaps the most comprehensive, albeit extremely brief testimony of the communication between Dostoevsky and the saint was left by E.N. Poselyanin, the spiritual child of the Optina elder.

In the book “Useful for the Soul Reading”, he conveys one phrase that the saint said after the writer came out of his cell: “He is repenting”. The saint speaks of genius with the highest spiritual “praise.”

Optina Pustyn

This meeting is the result of a long and painful search of Dostoevsky. Overcoming personal tragedy – the death of his son – the writer in his latest novel, The Brothers Karamazov, draws a line to his creative and personal path, not without influence of what he felt in Optina Pustyn and what he saw in Saint Ambrose. Communication between celebrity and the saint has become more than just a private page in the life of Dostoevsky. It also symbolized something more global: a meeting of the intelligentsia and the Church.

Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds


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