Laurus is a story of relinquishment. Arseny starts as an herbalist, a doctor in the medieval period. He learns all he knows from his grandfather. He also attains a few books from his grandfather. His grandfather dies and Arseny inherits the books that teach him a little about world history in the tales of Alexander; healing, and some Orthodox prayers (but he mainly learns this from the Monastery—listening to and watching the liturgy).
Later his beloved and his child die. Arseny loses more and more.
When Arseny is in utter desolation and wandering, yet continuing to heal those afflicted by the plague, he loses his coat in which he carries the only thing of his old life—his grandfathers books. A brigand clocks Arseny on the head in the dead of winter and takes his coat. All the knowledge in those books is now gone. And he is in danger of dying in the bitter Russian winter.
The Christian life is a journey of gaining and losing oneself. A journey from blindness to vision. Arseny loses everything dear to him. Yet, this loss is given back to him at times. All that he had learned was in his mind, but also in his action. He didn’t need the books to know how to heal, God had given him the gift of healing from his knowledge, yes, but also through God’s direct gift to Arseny. He was already acting on what he knew.
Along the journey, Arseny meets many people, whom he will never see again. But in their meeting, more was gained. Persons with the image of God communing and edifying each other. But he loses these friends too. In the medieval age, those who traveled would never see their traveling companions ever again in their lifetime because either death would take them or you would see them off to their country and never travel again.
This life is a series of gains and losses. But every encounter, knowledge gained, wisdom gained is a gift. The Christian life is a series of relinquishment. We cannot grip so tightly to anything except those things that we are called to be or do. We cannot even hold our calling so tightly because even that may become an idol. We accept the gifts that God gives us: friends, jobs, ministries, wisdom, etc., but we must also be prepared to relinquish much of what we think we need.
I think Arseny’s story shows how difficult it is to leave behind the old self and to be transformed by God. But it is also a tale that relinquishment is the most difficult thing we will ever do—letting things go, letting people go, letting ideas go. But the beauty and the wonder and the mystery is that these things will also be resurrected.