Book review: Elder Leonid of Optina

Elder Leonid

Elder Leonid of Optina
by Fr. Clement Sederholm
Translated from the Russian
Saint Herman Press
Published in November 1990
272 pages


Somehow, it feels like the Optina Fathers have been with me in the background for a while. I can’t remember how, but I discovered their morning prayer decades ago. Even though I was a Trappistine (Roman Catholic) nun, I had pasted their prayer on the door of my cell, and I would say it each morning when I left my cell for the first time of the day.

Last year, a parishioner lent me volume 6 in the series, about Fr Sebastian,  because it was set in the area where her family had lived.

I really enjoyed it and thought time had come for me to read the whole series. This was confirmed at my visit of the amazing ROCOR monastery in West Virginia, the Hermitage of the Holy Cross, where they have a collection of relics of all the Optina Fathers.

So I just finished reading volume 1, on Elder Leonid.

Elder Leonid is an important father, as it is during his time and under his influence that the monastery of Optina fully embraced the tradition of eldership.

Each book of the series usually has pages on the life of the father, and then excerpts from his writings. I found the pages specifically dedicated to his teaching fascinating, but alas, there were only 30 of them. 

This volume has also a long appendix on Elder Theodore of Svir, Father Leonid’s spiritual father.

What struck me in the life and teachings of Elder Leonid is his abandonment to the loving Providence of God.
For sure, we are spiritually blind, or short-sighted at best, and can never see the whole picture. We may thus be tempted in some circumstances to rebel and wait for something better. Something that we personally think would be better. And we may be unhappy when we ask the Lord for something, and He seems to refuse or give us something else. Elder Leonid was totally sure that these circumstances had been allowed by the Lord and that they were ultimately for his own good.

A priest I know resonates deeply with this, and often talks about the open door. He will not launch into something, unless the Lord gives a clear green light. For instance, you may want to move, judging that your neighborhood has too many problems. But where will you go? And when? Unless the Lord puts on your path someone who will talk about a place available somewhere, and you experience peace in prayer about it, time has not yet come to make the move.

With our society so acutely self-centered, and focusing so much on independence and freedom of doing whatever you want, whenever you want, this certainly sounds absurd or like  total foreign language. But unsurprisingly, this supposed freedom does not seem to bring deep happiness around us. 

I think Elder Leonid’s message is very relevant today, and the world would be a better place if we were to rely more often on the wisdom of spiritual fathers and on the green light of God.

I highly recommend this book to strengthen your faith in God’s loving Providence.




  1. You describe this attitude of abandonment and “faith in God’s loving Providence” with such love and trust. This seems to be the thread that binds together most of the saints, one might say all of them! It is the other side of our “discerning God’s will” — having the humility and patience to wait for that “green light” in prayer and going back often to check that we have not strayed by mistake. As you say, our society distrusts anything but self-will. It involves a true conversion of heart to perceive the infinite love of God in his Providence. It is a lifetime work! Thanks for sharing this book and introducing this Elder’s teaching!


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