By the time Pavel and Elena reached the mountains the snows had come to stay for the winter. After nightly sheltering under fallen rocks with their many pelts and gathered food, they finally came to the mouth of a cave they had seen up on a ledge.
“Wait here,” Pavel said.
After a few minutes Elena heard him yell, “Step away from the entrance!”
“I’m clear!” she rejoined. Then a group of foxes ran out and off into the mountains.
The afternoon sun was shining into the cave as Elena entered. Pavel was standing to the side investigating an organized stack of rocks.
“It looks like someone left this.”
Elena helped him lay the stones aside. Underneath was a large wooden chest with an inscription on the top. “Love God, then do what you will. – St. Augustine”
“What do you think?” asked Pavel.
“I don’t know what I think about St. Augustine, but the advice is intriguing. Maybe we should ponder it before we try to open it.”
“You’re getting ahead of yourself. What about the person or people who left it here? We should look around some more.”
“I can’t see to the back of the cave.”
“We need a fire.”
The fire revealed several faded frescoes that Pavel and Elena recognized as icons. In the left back corner of the cave was a mound of skins. As they approached they smelled a sweet fragrance. As they removed the skins, they discovered the skeletal remains of a man. The fragrance was coming from his moist clothing, which included a tattered yellowing cloth shirt with red embroidery.
“This is a Saint.” Pavel said solemnly. “From his shirt, I’d say he was an Old Believer.”
Elena crossed herself and made a prostration, and remained kneeling on the ground. Pavel did the same.
“ Strange that the foxes and other animals left him alone,” Pavel said.
“I think we should too,” said Elena. “This is a holy place. Should we stay here?”
“If the foxes were allowed, why shouldn’t we be?”
“’Love God and do as you will’,” Elena said quietly. “I guess he willed to live and die in this cave.”
“Given his circumstances, whatever they were.”
Some would be afraid that that phrase leads to license to sin,” Elena said, “Or be deluded into thinking that they love God and will rightly.”
“They would probably go with what they believed without permission.” Pavel said, getting up and going back to the box.
“If most don’t need permission to act on your own will, why make that statement?”
“Perhaps St. Augustine was addressing hesitant people. People who thought they couldn’t act until they heard the voice of God.”
“Didn’t he believe in grace alone? If he thought that his will was corrupt, then how could he trust it?”
“I haven’t read much of St. Augustine. I’d have to know more before I could say.”
“I will that we open the box.”
Inside the unlocked box on one side were several old books all printed in the 18th century. On the top was a Bible, then a prayer book, then the Philokalia in Greek, On the Incarnation by St. Athanasius, 400 Chapters on Love by St. Maximus the Confessor, The Conferences by St. John Cassian, The Ladder of Divine Assent by St. John Climacus, Confessions of St. Augustine, and Paradise Lost by John Milton. The rest of the box was filled with a clay bowl, a wooden spoon, and a brass teapot.
“I can’t imagine a richer treasure trove!” said Pavel. “I will that we borrow these things.”