Where real worth lies

Once a learned Bishop was traveling by ship from Archangel to the great monastery at Solovetsk. As the ship neared a remote island, the captain told the bishop that three old hermits had spent their entire lives there in deep prayer. The bishop was intrigued, and insisted on visiting. So the captain dropped anchor and the bishop went to the island in a small dinghy.

The three hermits were ancient, with white beards down to their knees, and they were dressed in rags. They greeted the bishop, bowing to the ground. He blessed them, and then asked them how they served God on their tiny bit of island. They replied that they had no idea how to serve God. They just served one another.

Well then, the bishop asked, how do you pray? They replied that they simply lifted their arms heavenward and chanted: “Three are ye, three are we, have mercy upon us.” The bishop was alarmed at all this, and he spent the rest of the day teaching the three aged hermits the Lord’s Prayer and the rudiments of theology. But they were slow learners, and the bishop had to keep repeating his lessons.

As the sun was setting, the bishop bade the hermits farewell and returned to the ship. But as it sailed away from the island, he saw something….. The three hermits were running after the ship, on water, as if they were on dry land. When they caught up with the ship, they bowed down and humbly begged the bishop to remind them of how the Lord’s Prayer went, because they’d already forgotten it. The bishop crossed himself and, in tears, told the hermits to continue with their old way of praying because they had no need of his poor instruction. Then he bowed deeply before them, and asked for their blessing. After giving it, the hermits ran back across the sea to their island, and a light shone until daybreak on the spot where they were lost to sight.

from, Tolstoy, Три Старца, (Three Hermits), An Old Legend current in the Volga district, 1886

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