Biography of a Robber
Anthony C. Williams

My name is Ivan Yakovich. I will not deny anything. I am the most awful man on Earth; I rob, steal, kill, lie, etc. I live in Moscow. I have lived as a robber for five years. I will tell you about my life.

One day, I was walking through the woods, when I had the most uncontrolable desire to rob someone. So I went to the city streets in the blackness of night, and I waited. After a while, I saw a fine looking young man. I leaped at him. My first blow crashed into his jaw. He reeled backwards and fell onto the paved streets. I advanced towards him; he was knocked out. I reached into his pocket and pulled out his wallet. It contained 1000 rubles; not so good, but better than nothing. I walked back to my hut in the woods and went to bed.

In the morning, I went into the city of Moscow. Since I wear a mask when I rob people, nobody knows me when I go to town. I walked past a church. I asked somebody outside about it; he said it was an Orthodox church. I went inside; there was a man dressed in some really funny looking clothing. He had a funny looking hat, a black dress, and some sort of cloak. I asked somebody who he was, and he said he was the priest. Later I found out that his name was Otyets Pyoter. Then, a person with a black dress held out a plate of money to me. I pulled out the wallet that I had stolen from the young man the night before, and put some of the 1000 rubles in the tray. The man in black smiled, nodded, and walked away and did the same thing to another person.

After the service, someone said to me, “Did you hear that a young man was robbed of all his money? He was going to use it to buy some medicine for his very sick daughter.” “No, I didn’t,” I said. I went back to my hut in the woods. I began to reflect upon my life. I thought about the people that I had robbed. Was it really good to rob people? I thought about the man that I had robbed yesterday night. I looked out a window and saw darkness coming in. I went to bed.

The next morning, I went for a walk in the woods. I got on my horse (not really my horse; I stole it), and rode off into the woods. On the way, I met another man in black. I asked him who he was. He said “My name is Brother Anatoly; I am a monk from the monastery dedicated to St. Seraphim of Sarov.”

“Why do you wear black?” I asked him.

He said, “Because that is what the Lord God commands.”

“What do the others at the monastery do?” I asked.

“We pray, eat, and sleep, but mostly pray.”

“How do you pray?”

“Well, you ask forgiveness of God, pray for others, thank Him for giving you the things you need, ask him for the things you need.”

“Would you mind taking me to your monastery?” I asked.

“Not at all,” he said, so off we went.

We went to this big building and went inside. He led me to what seemed to be an office; we went in, and there sat another man in black. “This is Vladika,” he said.

“Good afternoon!” I said.

“Good afternoon” he said.

The monk said “This is... um... er...”

“Ivan Yakovich,” I finished for him.

“Yes, that is correct” he said. “I think this man is interested in becoming a monk.”

“Is that correct?” the man called Vladika asked me.

I said, “Well, maybe I could just live here for a little while and see what it feels like... with your blessing.” I added. “You are welcome” said Vladika. “Brother Anatoly,” he called, “Show him to his cell!”

Brother Anatoly led me to a door and opened it. He said, “Here is a chart of the meals, and the church services.”

“Thank you,” I said.

He left. I sat down and read a book. When I looked at my clock, it read three minutes after four. Then I looked at my chart; it said: Vigil, five o’clock. Then I thought: how do I know there really is a Jesus Christ? Maybe it’s just a made up thing. I lay down and took a nap. When I woke up, the clock struck five. I got up, but fell back! My leg hurt terribly. I tried to get up again, but again I fell back on the bed.

I looked across the room. There hung a picture of a man. On one side of him was written “Jesus”, and on the other side, “Christ”. I thought: maybe if I ask him for my leg to be healed, the pain in my leg would go away. So I turned to the picture and said: “O Jesus Christ, if you are the true God, let my leg be healed.” With that, I crossed myself in the Orthodox fashion and went to sleep. The next morning, I said a silent prayer and tried to get up. I couldn’t believe it! I could rise from my bed! I turned to the picture of Jesus Christ and said, “O Jesus Christ, I thank you for your mercy!” Then I looked at my chart. It said: Divine Liturgy, six o’clock. I looked at my clock; it said six thirty, I opened my door and went out; there was nobody in sight. I went out the doors of the monastery, and walked over to the church. I went into the church. The deacon was reading the Gospel. The deacon was just reading “... And the soldiers likewise demanded of Him, saying: And what shall we do? And He said unto them, Do violence to no man.”

“Do violence to no man...” I thought. Then I remembered the man I had robbed. I swore then and there that I would repay the man that I had robbed.

After the service I went to my room. I picked up a book I had bought from the monastery book store. It was titled, “The Psalter.” I flipped to about the middle of the book; it read, “Psalm 50”. I read the first few lines; it went like this. “Have mercy on me, O God, according to Thy great mercy, and according to the multitude of Thy compassions blot out my transgression.” I thought again about my robberdom. I was thinking about my life when there came a knock at my door. “Come in!” I said. Brother Anatoly stepped in, “Vladika would like to see you,” he said.

“Well, then,” I said, “let’s go to him!”

He led me to the office and opened the door. There sat Vladika. He asked me, “Have you thought about becoming a monk?”

My mind raced. Then I made my decision. “Yes,” I said, “I have decided to become a monk. Something tells me it is the right thing to do.”

Vladika and Brother Anatoly smiled. Vladika reached into his desk and pulled out a prayer rope, and said “Here, take it; it is for you.”

“Thank you,” I said. And I went off rejoicing, and glorifying God.

Drawing by Anthony Chadwick Williams