The Spiritual Testament of a Russian Count

by Count G.A. Cheremeteff

Count G.A. Chereme­t­eff (1887–1971) was born into one of the wealth­i­est and most respect­ed noble fam­i­lies of Impe­r­i­al Rus­sia. Fol­low­ing in a long line of mil­i­tary lead­ers, he served as a cav­al­ry offi­cer in the First World War and in the vol­un­teer White Army pri­or to its evac­u­a­tion from Crimea. Count Chereme­t­eff, reunit­ed in exile with his fam­i­ly, set­tled for a short time in Seis am Schlern, a moun­tain vil­lage in the Ital­ian Alps. The tes­ta­ment below, writ­ten to his son Alexan­der Georgievich, takes as its theme a quartz stone that accom­pa­nied the hand-writ­ten testament.

  1. This is a quartz stone tak­en from the for­est between Auchsh­tau­dom and Alpen­rose. May it remind you of Seis. You love Seis, don’t you?  But if you love it, then you must even more love God who cre­at­ed Seis and you.  How may one man­i­fest love toward God on earth?  By doing good to men and by lov­ing them as your own self. And so, the first thing that this stone must remind you of is love, and love — God.

  2. This stone is from Seis.  Things are good in Seis for Seis is high in the moun­tains.  Like­wise you must strive high­er with your soul, up to the heav­ens, to every­thing high and noble; in one word, to God. The sec­ond reminder of this stone is the excla­ma­tion at the Holy Litur­gy: “Let us lift up our hearts.” 

  3. A quartz stone
    This stone is white, like snow on the moun­tains.  May your soul be as white.  How to achieve this?  Through puri­ty of thoughts.  Chase away from your­self impure and dark thoughts that lead to temp­ta­tion.  Do not probe, do not be tempt­ed to con­tem­plate dark and impure things — once, and then again, and still anoth­er time, or else this will imper­cep­ti­bly trans­form  into a habit, and lat­er into ill deeds.  And even with­out deeds the impure, dark and dis­or­dered thoughts them­selves become the cause of ill­ness­es and fail­ures in life, for they sep­a­rate us from God.  And so, the stone’s third reminder: [to fos­ter] pure thoughts and chase away the dark and impure, for with pure thoughts every­where for you will be Seis, but with impure thoughts even in Seis it will be dreary. 
  4. May the white of this stone also remind you of white-stoned Moscow, of Rus­sia. Remem­ber that you are Ortho­dox and Russ­ian, that you must work on your­self and improve your­self for Rus­sia and the Holy  Ortho­dox Church, and that these two con­cepts are insep­a­ra­ble, and that one must be faith­ful to the Church and the Home­land until death. This is the fourth reminder. 
  5. One may strive to be better than others or one can strive to be better for others.

    This stone is cre­at­ed by God, and God is per­fect.  In striv­ing toward God we become per­fect. But there are dif­fer­ent kinds of per­fec­tion; the whole essence is in our inten­tion.  One may strive to be bet­ter than oth­ers or one can strive to be bet­ter for oth­ers.  In the for­mer case envy appears toward the more suc­cess­ful; in the lat­ter, the more suc­cess­ful are just an exam­ple wor­thy of emu­la­tion.  In the for­mer, the less suc­cess­ful evoke con­tempt; in the lat­ter —  sym­pa­thy and a desire to help.  The for­mer aims for per­son­al glo­ry, the lat­ter for the glo­ry of God, the only kind nec­es­sary.  And so, the fifth reminder: to have in your deeds pure inten­tions and to strive not to become bet­ter than oth­ers but bet­ter for oth­ers. For in becom­ing bet­ter, you will bring more good to peo­ple.  Regard­ing inten­tions, these deter­mine the tone of an action. For if you give mon­ey to the poor out of van­i­ty, this is bad; if out of a desire to help, this is good.
  6. Nobility of soul is the sole nobility in life...he is noble whose deeds are noble...

    This stone is very hard, and your faith and your spir­it must be just as firm.  There is no place for cow­ardice, for not a hair of your head will per­ish with­out the will of the Heav­en­ly Father.  May His will be done. There is no place for sloth or idle­ness, for these are the source of every vice. If this stone were soft it would have long ago turned to dust and decom­posed. But it is strong and stead­fast. So like­wise must you be strong and firm, and not give your­self to cor­rupt thoughts, fear, or sloth.  You must be noble like a pure firm stone, and remem­ber that nobil­i­ty of soul is the sole nobil­i­ty in life.  Some­one born with a noble name and title is not by this alone made noble. These only lay upon him a require­ment, with all his deeds to uphold the good name of his ances­tors.  A scoundrel is always vile, but if he car­ries an hon­or­able name besides this becomes utter­ly sick­en­ing. The sixth reminder of the stone: firm­ness of spir­it and nobil­i­ty of soul, for he is noble whose deeds are noble, what­so­ev­er name he may bear. 
  7. This stone is a good exam­ple for you. With a gen­er­ous hand God has sprin­kled sim­i­lar stones and great bless­ings upon men.  Like­wise you must be gen­er­ous, for char­i­ty is a great virtue and pre­serves a man’s life.  This is the sev­enth reminder.       
  8. Wan­der­ing in the for­est, per­haps you often stepped on this stone with­out real­iz­ing and pressed it with your foot, and nev­er­the­less it gives you kind reminders. So should you for­give peo­ple offens­es against you per­son­al­ly and do good to them regard­less. This is the eighth reminder. But while for­giv­ing per­son­al offens­es, you must man­ful­ly bat­tle against those who offend the weak and destroy the church­es and com­mand­ments of God.  Remem­ber that one can and should for­give only per­son­al debts, i.e. offens­es com­mit­ted against you, but you have no right to for­give oth­ers’ debts and you must fight against evil­do­ers.  The Holy Fathers say: “Whoso­ev­er pro­tects the offend­ed will find God as his ally.”

    Love God and neighbor. Be patient toward others' deficiencies, for you have your own. Pray morning and night without fail, don't be lazy. Hope in aid from God, don't boast, and above all avoid pride, for this is the mother of all vice.

    Christ him­self even gave us an exam­ple in chas­ing the mon­ey-chang­ers out of the tem­ple by the lash. In the Gospel it is said: [Do not] resist an evil per­son (Mt. 5:39), i.e. one who offends you, and instead do good to him, but nowhere is it said that one is not sup­posed to fight evil, for Christ him­self in His whole earth­ly life showed us a firm exam­ple of bat­tle with evil, which He also con­quered, despoil­ing Hades and death by His Resurrection.

In con­clu­sion I will say this: Remem­ber that this stone is not a holy icon and it has no mir­a­cle-work­ing pow­er with­in itself, it is only a reminder. Remem­ber how good it was in Seis.  If you ful­fill all that is writ­ten here, it will always and every­where be just as good, but if you befoul your soul, it will be bad everywhere.

Love God and neigh­bor. Be patient toward oth­ers’ defi­cien­cies, for you have your own. Pray morn­ing and night with­out fail, don’t be lazy. Hope in aid from God, don’t boast, and above all avoid pride, for this is the moth­er of all vice.

May the Lord, the Most-Holy Theotokos, and the holy inter­ces­sors pro­tect you.

Your father, G. Cheremeteff

A part of Fr George’s Cer­tifi­cate of Ordi­na­tion to the priest­hood, includ­ing the ordain­ing bish­op’s hand-writ­ted attestation.

Fol­low­ing World War II, Count Chereme­t­eff renounced his title in favor of his son and was ordained to the holy priest­hood by the hand of Bish­op Afanasy (Mar­tos) to min­is­ter to the Rus­sians liv­ing at the Dis­placed Per­sons camp in Fis­chbek, Ger­many. Here he active­ly worked to both pro­tect the émi­gré flock and to cat­e­chize the youth, putting spe­cial empha­sis on train­ing them in the litur­gi­cal offices and sacred music.

In 1958, Fr. George was trans­ferred to Lon­don, where he became the spir­i­tu­al father of the Holy Annun­ci­a­tion Con­vent. The rem­i­nis­cences of a late abbess of that con­vent have been pub­lished at ROCOR Stud­ies. 

Fr George in London

Fr George reposed in the Lord in 1971. In an issue of Православная Жизнь [No. 6 (570) June 1997] ded­i­cat­ed to his lega­cy, the edi­tors remarked: “Fr. George offers in him­self an exam­ple of how much the nobil­i­ty could do for Rus­sia and Ortho­doxy if it were whol­ly com­mit­ted to the thou­sand-year ide­al of Holy Rus.”

More about Fr. George’s life is avail­able in Embassy, Emi­grants, and Eng­lish­men: The Three Hun­dred Year His­to­ry of a Russ­ian Ortho­dox Church in Lon­don, in a pre­sen­ta­tion giv­en in 2014 in con­nec­tion with the release of this book, and in an inter­view with Fr George’s grand­son at