How We Bought Our Combines
the summer of 2001 a young man named Yaroslav N.
applied to join our Sretensky Monastery. He was
descended from a family of Russified Germans. He had
been born and bred in the Altai Mountains, and had
immigrated with his parents to Germany. There he had
received German citizenship. Thus, to our surprise, he
had two passports: a Russian one and a German one.
There was more than a month left before the entrance
exams, and the young man asked whether during that time
he could live in the monastery. I asked him what he
knew how to do. It turned out that he had studied
accounting in Germany.
“So you know how to deal with accounting
programs?” I was very happy to hear this.
“Of course, Father! Computer programs are my
That was exactly what we needed at the time. We gave
Yaroslav a workplace in the accounting department, and he
began to work for us so well that we could not have been
I should mention that that year we had decided to allocate
all the money earned by the monastery from the books it
publishes to buying agricultural equipment. We have a
skete in Ryazan Province where we go for monastic retreat.
All the farms or collective farms in the surrounding area
had gone to rack and ruin over the past decade or were in
such a state of decay that it was truly painful to look at
the dying villages around us.
One winter evening, farmers from the neighboring village
had come to our skete. These people had been driven to the
furthest depths of despair. They told us that they
hadn’t been paid one kopeck of their already
miserable salary for the past three years. There was no
equipment left on the farm except for a ramshackle and
half-broken tractor and an old Soviet-era Jeep-like car
belonging to the chairman. The collective farms’
cattle had not been fed and for lack of fodder would have
to be sold to a slaughterhouse within a week for almost
nothing at all. In certain families the children were
being fed nothing more than steamed animal fodder. We
shuddered to hear all of this, and we couldn’t
refuse our neighbors when they asked us to take over their
completely collapsed farms and help them. To our complete
horror, they begged us, “Please take us
on—even as serfs!” It was quite obvious that
they were utterly desperate and had absolutely no one else
to whom they could turn.
Well, we took them on, but it was easier said than done.
As we acquainted ourselves with the problems of these
farms, we understood that we would have to rebuild
everything from zero, starting entirely from scratch. Even
after we paid them their salary and purchased fodder for
the cattle, it was not enough: in any case huge sums of
money would be required to buy the minimal agricultural
equipment needed to get the farms running
again—$200,000. We decided to save up this money
ourselves, by putting off repairs to the monastery
and also by postponing various of our publishing projects.
We did not deposit our savings in the bank. We had all too
vivid a memory of the financial crisis and default of
1998. Our parishioners, some of whom were quite savvy in
matters of finance, suggested that we save our money for
the purchase of agricultural machinery not in rubles, but
in dollars. And they suggested that we keep them not in a
bank account but in a safe hiding place.
The Father Treasurer and I found such a place. We drilled
a niche in one of the rooms of our bookkeeping department,
installed an excellent safe in the niche, and then hid the
key to the safe in the bottom drawer of the desk under a
pile of old copies of the Journal of the Moscow
Patriarchate. Then we hid the key to that drawer under
the floorboard! We were utterly delighted with ourselves
and were certain that now the money we had saved would be
safer than if it had been deposited in Sberbank (the
Russian state savings bank).
By fall we had saved up $180,000. We needed just a little
more and soon we would be able to order grain harvesting
combines and tractors and sowing machines. We were already
leafing through catalogs of agricultural machinery, and
discussing which brands would be more effective for future
harvests. But then on September 14, 2001, as I was setting
out for our farm in our car, I received a telephone call
from the Treasurer of the Monastery. His voice was
trembling from anxiety and he was barely able to speak:
“Father . . . only please don’t get alarmed.
There’s no money in the safe. And Yaroslav has also
disappeared. Please come back as soon as possible!”
What I came back to the monastery, things were exactly as
he had said: there was no money in the safe, and Yaroslav
was gone. However, both keys were neatly back in the
places where they were before, in the bottom drawer of the
desk and under the floorboards.
However devastating this blow was, we still had to do
something. I telephoned our parishioner Vladimir
Vasilyevich Ustinov, who at the time was the Chief
Prosecutor of the Russian Federation. Vladimir Vasilyevich
came to the monastery and brought several detectives with
him. The detectives did their
thing—interrogations, dusting for fingerprints,
inspection of the scene of the crime—and meanwhile
the Father Treasurer and I wandered dispiritedly about the
monastery waiting for their results.
Finally Vladimir Vasilyevich asked me to step into our
Father Treasurer’s office. As soon as I walked
in I could see by the expression on everyone’s face
that there was no good news. Gesturing me to have a seat,
Vladimir Vasilyevich said:
“It was a good thing that you sat down just now,
Father. Try not to be nervous, and prepare yourself for
what we are about to tell you. This so-called
‘student’ Yaroslav N. has already left Russia.
There is no doubt that he took the money. And if that is
the case, then unfortunately there is nothing that we can
do to return it.”
“Why is that?” I whispered.
“Because the thief is a citizen of Germany,”
Ustinov patiently explained, “and Germany will never
hand over one of its citizens to us, just as we have never
handed over any of our citizens to them.”
“But he’s a criminal!” I said, amazed at
“Indeed he is,” Ustinov sighed, “but
there are certain rules that are not made up by us, and we
can’t change them. Never in the entire history of
Russian or Soviet jurisprudence has there been one single
case when the government of Germany has handed over one of
its citizens to us for a criminal trial.”
“And where is this Yaroslav?”
“Probably at home in Germany. After all, he has a
German passport. Therefore he calmly sailed through the
green corridor in customs (for “nothing to
declare”) with all your money. Nobody’s going
to thoroughly inspect a citizen of Germany. You
understand this; you’ve flown overseas. Now of
course we will start a criminal case, and we will file a
report with Interpol. But the best thing you can do,
Father, is not to waste time and nerves. Forget about this
money altogether and start saving up once again for your
agricultural amusements,” the Chief Prosecutor
From these words I nearly lost the gift of speech.
“How are we supposed to just forget? That was
$180,000! Those were all our combines! No, Vladimir
Vasilyevich, we can’t just forget about it!”
“Believe me, there is nothing we can do.”
“Well, if there’s nothing you can do, then we
. . . we will pray. If neither the government nor the
police can help us, the Mother of God will protect
Those were my words, but I was shaking inside. The fact is
that there was no source of hope but prayer. I told our
brotherhood everything that had happened, and together we
began to pray. First and foremost we prayed to the icon in
whose honor our monastery has been founded, the icon of
the Holy Mother of God of Vladimir.
Two weeks passed. Front-page headlines were already
screaming with scandalous stories of how a million dollars
had been stolen from the Abbot of the Sretensky Monastery.
Then suddenly one truly bright day Vladimir Ustinov drove
back to our monastery. He looked not only surprised but
“Can you believe it, Father? That thief of all your
combines has actually been found!”
“Really? They found him?” It was so surprising
that at first I didn’t even believe it.
“Yes, can you imagine? This morning we received a
report from Interpol; strange as it may sound, that
scoundrel has been detained at the border crossing in
Frankfurt on the Oder.”
Ustinov told me that Yaroslav had driven from Russia
through the Ukraine and Poland and was finally passing
into Germany. He had passed through German customs at the
border town of Frankfurt on the Oder numerous times, and
because of his German passport had never had any problems.
Indeed, he would never have had any problems this time,
had his crossing not been on September 14, 2001—in
short, on the third day after the infamous terrorist
attacks in New York and Washington. Seeking terrorists,
the alarmed German border guards began inspecting everyone
from head to toe, their own citizens as well as
foreigners. And so it happened that they found on
Yaroslav’s person $180,000 that had not been
declared and whose honest origin he of course could not
explain. These funds had been confiscated from him, had
been duly registered, and had been sent for safekeeping to
the prosecutor of Frankfurt on the Oder.
Scarcely had Vladimir Vasilyevich finished telling me the
news when I cried for joy. “When will the funds be
returned to us? We’re going to Frankfurt
“I don’t want to upset you, Father, but the
thing is . . . they won’t return the money to
you,” Ustinov sighed.
“I was trying to explain: first of all, we
can’t prove that this is the same money he
“Why can’t we? One hundred and eighty thousand
dollars was stolen from our monastery, and they found
$180,000 on him there. Yaroslav N. disappeared from us
here when these funds were stolen here, and he is there
when the funds are found on him! It all fits! And
I’ll bet the fingerprints—”
“All of this may fit here,” said the
prosecutor with sympathy, “but only a court will
consider these facts. And the court will never
“What do you mean it will never convene?”
“I mean that the Germans will postpone it and
postpone it forever. And that Yaroslav will figure out
some explanation for the funds one way or another.
Besides, the court case has to be held in the presence of
the accused, and of course there’s no way that
he’ll ever show up for his own trial.”
“I thought they’d arrested him at the
“Not at all. They merely confiscated the funds, but
they let Mr. N go. Father, do not have any illusions. Be
glad at least that that scoundrel was not able to use your
“Glad? What consolation is that? He may not be able
to use those funds, but neither can we! And we need to buy
“Well, that, Father Tikhon, is beyond my
“All right then,” I sighed once more.
“We’ll keep praying!”
“Pray as long as you like!” Ustinov got angry.
“But you should know that in their entire history
neither the Germans, nor the French, nor the British, nor
the Americans have ever extradited any of their criminals
to us, nor have they ever sued them for crimes committed
on our territories. Nor will we ever give them any of our
“Well, then, we will pray!” I repeated.
Nearly a year elapsed. This happened to be a period when
we were restoring our complex but extremely important
relationship with the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad. And
it happened that Archbishop Mark of Berlin and Great
Britain invited me to Munich to prepare a summit meeting
between Patriarch Alexiy and Metropolitan Laurus, the
Chief Hierarch of the Russian Orthodox Church Abroad.
His Holiness the Patriarch blessed my voyage and I flew
off to Bavaria. I was met by Archbishop Mark’s
closest helper, Father Nikolai Artemov, who came to greet
me at the airport and drove me back to the residence of
the archbishop, the tiny Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev
on the outskirts of Munich.
It turns out there are over eighty million inhabitants of
Germany. But the very first person I saw when I got out of
the car in that little monastery was—Yaroslav N.! I
lunged for him and grabbed him.
I must admit that my memory of what happened next is a bit
foggy. Yaroslav was so surprised to see me that he
didn’t even resist. Before the very eyes of Father
Nikolai, the bewildered monks, and Archbishop Mark
himself, I dragged Yaroslav into the monastery, shoved him
into some room, and locked the door behind me.
“What are you doing, Father Tikhon?”
Archbishop Mark reproached me, beside himself with
“This man stole an enormous sum of money from
“It must be some mistake. He’s going to be
working in our monastery as an accountant.”
A crowd of monks gathered around us. Finally it occurred
to me to put myself in the place of the astonished
Archbishop Mark. Some priest he had never met before
arrives from Russia, the former Soviet Union, and suddenly
grabs a citizen of Germany and locks him up in someone
So I told the archbishop and his monks the story of what
happened with Yaroslav. But I could see that they
couldn’t believe me. Then I asked for permission to
make an overseas telephone call and dialed the Chief
Prosecutor in Moscow.
“Vladimir Vasilyevich! I’ve caught him!”
I yelled through the telephone.
“Caught whom?” Ustinov’s voice sounded
“What do you mean—whom? The thief, of course,
the same one who stole our money!”
“Wait a second . . . what do you mean you caught
“In Germany? Are you joking? How could you possibly
have found out where he was?”
“Well . . . I got out of the car, and I looked and
there he was. I grabbed him, dragged him into the
monastery, and locked him in a cell.”
There was an unpleasant pause. For a moment I was afraid
that Ustinov thought I was pulling his leg. But a minute
later I realized that this was not the case, because from
the other end of the line there came a real yell.
“You let him go at once!”
I was petrified. “What do you mean let him
“Release him immediately!” It seemed that
Ustinov was yelling loud enough for all of Moscow to hear.
“Have you any idea what you’ve just
“Vladimir Vasilyevich! How could they possibly just
The prosecutor didn’t listen to me at all.
“You have deprived a citizen of Germany of his
freedom. And on German soil. You will be sentenced to two
years for that. And we’ll be going crazy trying to
spring you from jail! Let him go at once! This minute! And
let him run wherever his feet will carry him!”
I thought for a moment and said, “No, I won’t!
The Lord sent him to me. How could I possibly release him
now? Do what you want with me, Vladimir Vasilyevich! But
I’m holding him here until the police arrive.”
And I insisted on my position no matter how loudly Ustinov
yelled. And there was nothing he could do to change my
mind from where he was sitting in his Chief
Prosecutor’s office in Moscow. Finally, he relented:
“Very well, right now I will call German Interpol.
But if you get arrested, don’t say I didn’t
Soon enough the Bavarian representative of Interpol drove
up to the monastery. However, instead of arresting
Yaroslav, he began to interrogate me. Our conversation
went as follows.
“Have you been carrying out illegal investigations
on German soil?”
“How did you find this man?
“I got out of the car and I saw that it was
Yaroslav! So I grabbed him!”
“So you’ve been tracking him? Following him?
Trying to determine the subject’s
“Of course not. It’s just that the Lord
delivered him to me.”
“Excuse me, who?”
“Excuse me once more. Who?”
“The Lord God. He has delivered him into my
“Yeah, right!” The Bavarian looked at me as if
I were crazy.
He then asked in great detail about the entire case. Then
he repeated all his questions. Gradually the disbelief on
his face began to be replaced by enormous astonishment.
Finally he said, “You know, if it really happened
just the way you’re telling me, I’m willing to
offer you the position of director of Bavarian
To this I replied: “Thank you, but I already have
another civilian job. I’m the chairman of a
collective farm and therefore I cannot accept your kind
* * *
The effect of these events that had been so utterly
unpredictable, happening one after another, also could not
help but form a stunning impression on Yaroslav.
First, the money he stole had suddenly been
confiscated—and not just anywhere, but in Germany,
when it had seemed to him that all dangers were in the
past, and he had already been celebrating in his mind his
spending of this money, feeling his complete triumph.
Second, this had happened at the customs point at
Frankfurt on the Oder, a place that Yaroslav had selected
on purpose because he had crossed the border there many
times before without incident. And he had been caught by
me in the monastery in Munich, where he had already almost
managed to get himself a job . . . as a bookkeeper! And
finally, his confinement was not just anywhere, but once
more in a monastic cell—very much like the cell in
Moscow from which he had so improperly fled a year ago.
What’s more, I believe that all these coincidences
began to weigh on the conscience of the young man for his
sad and ill-considered deed in our monastery. After all,
he knew all too well what the purpose of this money was
and just how difficult the saving of it had been, and I
have no doubt that in fact deep down he felt pain and
shame no matter how he tried to justify himself in his
But most important of all, he felt the action in the world
not just of the Church, but of the mysterious and
benevolent Providence of the Lord. And this truly amazed
Yaroslav. And he began to think deeply. In the end he
confessed to everything and took responsibility.
He was held in pretrial confinement, and then after a
while there was a trial. Yaroslav was sentenced to four
years in jail for his theft, and he served the full term
of his sentence in Bavaria. The monks of the novices of
the Monastery of St. Job of Pochaev in Munich visited him
all the time and helped him as best they could.
Meanwhile the Chief Prosecutor’s office and the
Ministry of Justice of Russia, in accordance with
protocol, worked out an arrangement with the German
Justice Ministry. And finally, by a decision of the German
court, the $180,000 that the German prosecutor of
Frankfurt on the Oder had been keeping safe was
transferred to representatives of our Justice Ministry,
which traveled to Frankfurt especially for the occasion.
Early in the morning of July 6, 2003, these
representatives brought a box with this money to our
Sretensky Monastery and gave it to our Father Treasurer,
who signed a receipt for it. It was a day of our patronal
feast, the celebration of the Icon of the Vladimir Mother
of God—that same icon before which we had prayed to
the Virgin Mary for a favorable ending to the misfortunes
that had befallen us.
I did not need to think about the theme of the sermon for
our celebratory Liturgy. I just told our parishioners the
story and jubilantly showed the entire church the box that
had just been brought to us that morning. And soon we
bought the agricultural machinery we needed.