Fr. Ephraim’s mother died when he was a child. His stepmother was very tough with him, and in his childhood he would often climb into the attic and pray for a long time. After graduating from the agricultural technical school, he became a fool-for-Christ for the next twenty years.
Fr. Ephraim lived in the Crimea, working outside of his profession, and went often to church. Once he had a portentous dream that people were carrying icons out of the church. Soon that church was closed.
Fr. Ephraim labored ascetically for some time in Taganrog. Then he came to Glinsk Hermitage, where he received the monastic tonsure and was ordained a hierodeacon. His obedience was night guard. He studied the holy fathers and progressed spiritually.
In Glinsk Fr. Ephraim became known for his gifts from God. He was clairvoyant and had grace-filled, ceaseless prayer; moreover the righteous man always prayed with tears and compunction. At the same time, the elder never ceased to be a fool-for-Christ.
In order to test the brothers’ inward preparedness for concelebrating the Liturgy, Fr. Ephraim came up with the most unpredictable challenges…
“[So,] I asked, could anyone become St. Seraphim of Sarov if he fulfills the saint’s ascetic labors?
“’Every person has his own measure,’ answered Fr. Ephraim. ‘Even if someone fulfills all the ascetic labors of St. Seraphim of Sarov, he still won’t have it [the grace of St. Seraphim], because he can’t contain such gifts of the Holy Spirit without harm to himself. They are destructive if they are received before their time and not according to their own measure. The whole secret to salvation is humility, but few understand it. It takes very much work to understand it: understanding that you are a sinner, and desiring only repentance and mercy.’
“I had a spiritual daughter, a nun (now reposed), who was constantly having visions about me, the veracity of which I doubted. She also said that she had the ceaseless prayer of Jesus in her heart. I asked Fr. Ephraim about it. He answered, ‘But this is prelest [spiritual delusion]. True grace-filled Jesus prayer of the heart is a very rare gift, and people who possess this gift are outside the world, hidden “under a bushel”.’
“’Why does the Lord only give it to the few?’
“’Because then who would do good works in the world? Everyone would be praying, stuffed away into their own corners… Usually what people think is grace-filled prayer of the heart is really just pronouncing the words with attention (with the mind) in the heart, and this is a subtle flattery of the demons.’ Here he showed me how the voice even changes depending on the place where the attention is placed: He placed his finger on his forehead, then to his throat, and then to his heart, and each time there was a particular sound of his voice when saying, ‘Fr. Vasily’. ‘Here your name is also, as if in my heart’, he said. So your praying nun is in subtle state of prelest’.
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