A series of extracts from this fascinating biography by Louise-Marie Frenette
Eye-witness accounts from hundreds of interviews in France and Bulgaria
By 1930 or 1931, Mikhaël was no longer attending lectures at the university. He remarked later that much of what he had studied had been a waste of time, that it had ‘drawn a veil between reality and his life’, and was best forgotten. In Bulgaria, before qualifying for a teaching position in Sofia or any major city, three years of experience in a village school were required.
For his first school term, Mikhaël was employed in a high school not far from the capital. It is probably here that he lived in the cottage that he once described as ‘so small that two people could not be in it at the same time’. In the classroom, applying educational methods that owed little to prevailing customs, he soon obtained results that surpassed his most optimistic expectations.
Mikhaël had noticed that delinquency had been on the rise in the country following a popular series of plays about the bandit Zigomar. This confirmed his conviction that the power of suggestion exerted by theater and cinema has a stronger influence on people’s minds and behavior than church, school, or even family. With this in mind, he organized and produced several short plays with his pupils. One of them in particular, the adaptation of a Tolstoy legend about a grain of wheat, was a great favorite with the parents. Seeking to awaken his pupils’ minds and hearts to new ideas, he explained the lines they recited and helped them to discover the beauty in them. At home the children talked about this new teacher who was so unlike those they had known before, and their grateful parents began to pay him frequent visits.
Three or four years later, Mikhaël was appointed head of a college, and during this time he was busier than ever. His methods, based on a pedagogical principle of love and patience, created once again a sincere and dynamic relationship between himself and the students. Their parents, not knowing how else to thank him, brought him cheese, nuts, and fruit. His office was often fragrant with the scent of their gifts. At the same time, however, he attracted the envy and resentment of some of the other teachers, who, unwilling to change their attitude toward their students, opposed him in different ways.
Jealousy always came as a surprise to Mikhaël. He found it difficult to realize just how powerful and tenacious it could be. But in spite of his new responsibilities and endless problems of this kind, he was always full of energy and undertook to give a series of spiritual talks for the peasant population of the region, who attended in great numbers. They loved this new director who used such colorful imagery and expressive gestures, and who spoke with such humor, peppering his talks with anecdotes to illustrate his meaning.