St Sophrony of Essex
The trouble with fixed rules is that they appease the consciences of those who can keep them, and give them the feeling that they are saved. That is very naïve. The Pharisees, the ascetics and theologians of the Old Testament, fasted too, but this was not enough. Christ said: “Unless you exceed the virtues of the Pharisees, you cannot be saved”.
Saint Paul, that great genius given to us by divine Providence, affirms that no law has ever led anyone to perfection. That being said, the Church’s rules can nonetheless be helpful in the beginning. For it is true that if one is left on one’s own, left to one’s own devices, from the beginning, one can feel rather lost.
It is more difficult to develop a certain capacity for discernment than to fix oneself rules.
In the desert, Christ opposed the temptations of the devil by immediate rejection, even giving the theological bases for His answers. It is a lesson for us. Each time we have a bad thought, we should reject it immediately, and refuse to enter into dialogue with it. But this practice can only be assimilated by long ascetic effort, and by the action of grace in us.
St John of Kronstadt
What, then, O, brethren, is required of us in order that we might avail ourselves of all the grace brought unto us from on high by the coming to earth of the Son of God? What is necessary, first of all, is faith in the Son of God, in the Gospel as the salvation-bestowing heavenly teaching; a true repentance of sins and the correction of life and of heart; communion in prayer and in the Sacraments; the knowledge and fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. Also necessary are the virtues: Christian humility, almsgiving, continence, purity and chastity, simplicity and goodness of heart.
Let us, then, O brothers and sisters, bring these virtues as a gift to the One Who was born for the sake of our salvation – let us bring them in place of the gold, frankincense and myrrh which the Magi brought Him, as to One Who is King, God, and Man, come to die for us. This, from us, shall be the most-pleasing form of sacrifice to God and to the Infant Jesus Christ.
St. Paisios of Mt. Athos
Patience stems from love. In order to endure the other person, you must feel deep compassion and pain for him. And I see that the family is saved with patience. I have seen beasts turn into lambs. With trust in God, everything evolves normally and spiritually.
Once when I was in the Monastery of Stomion, I saw in Konitsa a woman whose face was just full of light. She was the mother of five children. Then I remembered who she was. Her husband was a carpenter. A single word spoken to him, for example, “Master John, can this be done this way?” was enough to make him very angry. “You’re going to show me my work?” he would scowl, and he would break his tools, throwing them, and leave. Since he broke things up like this in strangers’ homes, imagine what he did in his own home! Well, this woman was the wife of Master John, the carpenter. No one could stand to be around that man for a single day; yet this woman lived with him for years. She suffered everyday living with him, but she had learned to face everything with kindness and forbearance. Because I knew the situation in their family, I would ask each time I saw her, “How is Master John? Is he working?” “Well, sometimes he works, and sometimes he relaxes a little!” “How are you getting along together in the family?” “Very well, Father!” she would reassure me. And she said it from her heart. She never took into account that he often broke his tools – expensive tools – and that she had to do extra work to get by. Do you see with what patience, with what kindness and with what a noble spirit she faced her many adversities! Nor did she criticise him at all! And for this, God shed His Grace on her, which made her face shine with inner light. She raised her five children to be outstanding individuals and kept the family together.
Archbishop of Australia Makarios on Prayer
For the Orthodox Church, prayer is a state which involves both the body and soul. It is not a turning into our own selves, an impersonal relationship, but communion between two persons, between myself on one hand, the praying human being and God on the other hand, who is truly present and with whom I am joined with. ‘I pray’ means that I stand before God and speak with Him. That means I partake in a living dialogue, which isn’t confrontational, it doesn’t contain argumentative thoughts or carefully worked out lines of reasoning.
It is a state of faith and internal power, a supernatural energy which moves the person who prays towards eternal life. Besides, Christ became human to defeat death and grant eternal life to us.
But this eternal life doesn’t refer to a an extension within time of our existence after we have died, but the fulfilment of Grace which gives meaning and life to the past and the future, to the body and soul of man. ‘ I stand before God’ means that I use the language of silence and in this way my prayer doesn’t turn into a metaphysical pastime or a daily rule which is based on an ethical religious obligation, but becomes freedom and life. A word which leads to God, person to person, creating a communion which is tender but also strong, which enthuses you but at the same time, brings you peace.
There is a language with which you communicate without coming into communion with anyone. Worldly dialogue is based on exactly this type of speaking, which it uses as a tool to achieve a specific outcome.
However there is a language with which you commune without means of communication, and there is a mode of language which simply informs. There is language which inspires and transforms humans. There is also a language of the spirit, a religious language. But prayer is the spiritual language par excellence which is the continuation of Pentecost since it is a gift of the Holy Spirit. This language may be theological, but not every theological expression is necessarily spiritual. “The theological expression with the deeper meaning of the word is not born from books or theoretical knowledge but from the ascetic life and prayer, from self-emptying and the experience of God.” (Maxime Egger, «Prologue»: Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, «On the Spirit and Life», Holy Monastery of the Forerunner, Essex, England.)
To stand then, before God, means that I begin a meaningful dialogue, with a spiritual way of speaking which flows from the upper room of Pentecost, not so that I can persuade or gain anything, but to truly commune with God, whom I love. If we don’t love God and our fellow man, it’s better that we don’t venture into prayer. The language of prayer is not a communicative language, it does not exist to serve needs and purposes or to cover up existential lacunae. The Evangelist very correctly indicates, “The kingdom of God does not come with observation; nor will they say, ‘See here!’ or ‘See there!’ For indeed, the kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:20-21)
Prayer prepares us for the kingdom of God which we shouldn’t be searching for far away from us. It is a matter for the human heart, to live the presence of God and to feel the things of God as phenomena which take effect in humans and the things of humans as phenomena taking effect in God (Father Michal Kardamakis, “Blood and Tears”.)
I stand before God means that I discover life in all its majesty inside myself and I live the Resurrection before the common Resurrection of all.
It is not possible for the presence of God to be comprehended in a worldly fashion and with human reason. After all, all the anthropomorphic images we utilise to describe God do not correspond to, or address who He actually is, but serve a liturgical necessity: our own inability to comprehend Him without images and symbols. For this reason, when talking about the presence of God during the time of prayer, we do not refer to some visible ‘figure’ which stands before us, but more so to a state which is lived existentially.
The presence of God constitutes a divine manifestation, which illuminates and opens the eyes of the soul.
After all, Christ came to the world, to free us and make us gods by grace. He came, to give us the ability to see and experience the vision of “the unapproachable light.” He came, so that we can know Him in a manner fitting to God, so that we might feel and experience His presence as light and peace. He came to grant us “the ancient beauty” and adoption as His children. He did not come, to teach us theoretical or legalistic truths or to offer a worldly justice for those who rely on their own strengths and achievements. He came and spoke, “as one possessing the power of love, not like the scribes, ‘He will not quarrel nor cry out’” (Matt. 12:19)(Archimandrite Vasilios, “Beauty will save the world” Holy Monastery of Iveron, Mt. Athos) because the weak and those who are afraid to have complete power over their own selves undermined, also quarrel and cry out. I stand before God means that I transcendently feel and live His presence more so than just seeing it with the eyes of the body.
When man enters into the state of prayer, he comes to realise that the fearsome powers of darkness impede him, through many means, from attaining a sense of stability. For this reason, from his point of view, an enormous amount of power of both soul and body needs to be expended, effort and intensity, at least in the initial stages, until accordingly, prayer can become a way of life. However the vigilance of the one who is praying needs to be permanent and continual, because many times in our spiritual struggle, prayer can appear to be a fruitless endeavour or even a waste of time. Someone might be praying for days and weeks or even years, but never experiences what transforms them coming into their life. They don’t sense that somewhere out there God exists and is listening to them. They don’t see any glimmer of light, nor do they feel warmth or sweetness in their heart. They don’t find desire or hope. They feel as if God has abandoned them, as if He doesn’t want to concern Himself with them. His existence is a nothing, a great emptiness, which disheartens them and even repels them from the task of prayer. This burdening of course, is nowadays felt even more strongly, since humans require some sort of motivation to tire themselves and they want to receive immediate satisfaction. Nothing is without reward. No one waits to receive the fruits of their labours with patience and endurance. Everyone’s in a hurry. And if to this demoralising condition you add the scheming of the devil, which leads man – even one who prays – to thoughts of unbelief and denial of God, of reacting and blaspheming against Him, then all the interest, energy and liveliness in the attempt to pray is lost.
Conversely, the spiritual life will always have ups and downs, and we need to recognise that. Sometimes we may perceive that we are progressing and other times we realise that we are going nowhere. Other times, again, we will lose our courage and reach a point of despair. During other instances, we will possess the power of prayer intensely, but at other points, we will feel that we are talking on our own without purpose. Nevertheless, “these alternating experiences and the states which someone who prays fervently and from the heart undergoes, bring him precious knowledge of the mystery of the ways of salvation…..For every person there exists a unique path towards God,” (Elder Sophrony, “The enlargement of the Heart”) which he enjoys when it is revealed to him in a mystical fashion.
In this way, he comes to know God in a very personal way, which touches all of his existence and changes his whole being. Let it not escape our attention that the difficulty with prayer and our disorientation away from the living God who is standing before us, constitutes one more proof that the power of prayer is immense, regardless of whether we see any results or not.
One of the devil’s greatest victories, is to convince us that communion with God is a utopia or unachievable. He tries to persuade us that God is not present. That He is not beside us, that He isn’t seeing or hearing us. It’s the same lie which he planted in the souls of the first-created humans, when he trapped them with the temptation that God couldn’t see them, that he was not present among them. We must acknowledge that all these different emotions: that I am useless, that I can’t feel God’s presence, that I experience disillusionment and am overtaken by spiritual listlessness, are nothing else but the stench of the devil and the terror he feels, when he sees us praying before the living God.
But deep down, we know that despite these experiences of denial and disillusionment, God does not cease to be present and alive, since His presence and omnipotence do not depend on our own state of soul and spiritual condition. God does not stop loving us. He loves us and sees us. He does not take back His promises. He does not renege on his word. This Gospel passage always holds true: “Ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you. For everyone who asks receives, and he who seeks finds, and to him who knocks it will be opened.” (Matt. 7:7-8)
God forgives our mistakes. He is merciful and long-suffering. “He is so great, so near, so faithful, so powerful, so merciful, that no one could create a more useful person to converse with him.” (Elder Sophrony, “On Prayer”)
Prayer is not a privilege of fallen man. Humans, as creations of God according to His Image and Likeness, have the tendency to pray and seek for union with God, but this presupposes man’s good disposition as well as his free will.
For this reason, we have the commandment and example of prayer from the actual God-Man Christ, who didn’t show us what was natural and self-evident, but those things which lift humans up and make their road to theosis easier. The obstacles and difficulties which occur from time to time, signify a trial of our free will and our freedom. In the struggle of prayer, our love towards God is judged, since it is at this point that we are called to make our choice. Whoever loves God, stands strongly and decisively in his love, and his free will chooses exactly this love of God and nothing else whatsoever.
One cannot love without suffering. And the more someone loves, the greater the pain he suffers. We must love until the end. Prayer is a sign of love towards Christ, with Whom we desire to be united with. It doesn’t however cease to be painful, because it requires great boldness and patience. Let us stand then before God, Who exists despite our own ability to sense Him. Let us stand before Him with wisdom, with discernment and humility, without expecting anything for ourselves. Let us live the freedom of prayer and let us rid ourselves from excuses and choices which keep us encaged in the love of created things. Let us stand before God and pray as the least and most useless servants and as faithful stewards. (Elder Sophrony, “On prayer”) Our prayer is necessary because it joins us to God. We don’t expect that from prayer we will calm down, or that our financial problems will be solved, our psychological issues be cured, that the thoughts which bother us will leave us, or that the pains from our various separations will be healed. We desire one thing: to stand before God and to be in communion with Him. It is Him whom we want to know and love.
Many times we transfer the mindset of the world into our spiritual life and we attempt to interpret those things which don’t belong in that world with a worldly manner of thinking. Prayer is not a method of spiritual self-affirmation which is based on our own human strengths, because in the Orthodox Church there is no one who is self-affirmed or self-created, only a person who is graced, that is, someone who has been overshadowed with the grace of God. A worldly person will view prayer as an extra opportunity to satisfy a deeper need for a transcendent experience, since through prayer they will gain something for their own benefit. In his eyes he imagines religion to be a means through which he can secure perfect spiritual comfort.
This is why he uses Christ and Theology, prayer and spirituality as a blissful panacea (a cure-all). With this worldly spirit we think that today we will grab a prayer rope in our hands, we will find a spiritual guide and tomorrow the signs of bearing fruit spiritually will start to appear. Prayer however, surpasses the limits of this type of logic. Prayer is an attempt to transition, “soul and body”, to another state. We do not experiment and use prayer to prove ourselves on a personal level or to substantiate for ourselves in practice, that God exists, only when he answers our insistent requests.
Additionally, God’s silence in itself, is an answer, and a negative answer from God is a response.
Prayer is not an opportunity of the here and now, or a happening of a moment in time, but it is our whole life, our existence, our inner world, which comes to understand that in the end, nothing more beautiful and more peaceful exists in life, than to stand before God and to pray to Him, not because I want something in return, but more so, that I delight in this communion with Him. In this manner, mystically and gradually, the union of man with God is accomplished. “The interpenetration of Divine and human life occurs with a twofold movement. Man lifts the energies of his soul towards God, and God condescends towards him.” (Elder Sophrony, “On Prayer”)
He who prays, slowly begins to enter the road towards perfection, receiving strength from the energy of the true God, so that he may struggle to reach his destination. The more he prays, the more he stands against that power which blocks him from reaching the destination of theosis and sanctification.
With prayer, man receives a stabilising of his self-doubts and becomes more brave and stronger. He is strengthened inside himself with the sense that he is standing before God. Through the prayer of the heart he slowly begins to move into the world of Divine light. The body, even though it is material, ceases to be sensual. The soul may have passions and be latched onto worldly things but prayer engenders another sensation. A turn towards eternity. When the Apostle Paul used to say, “ I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago—whether in the body I do not know, or whether out of the body I do not know, God knows—such a one was caught up to the third heaven. And I know such a man—whether in the body or out of the body I do not know, God knows— how he was caught up into Paradise and heard inexpressible words, which it is not lawful for a man to utter.” (2 Corinthians 12:2-4), he gave the main characteristics of his own experience, which was the absence of bodily sensation, and by extension, the absence of sensing the material world and the transfer of his hypostasis (being ‘caught up’) into the spaciousness of Heaven and the sense of the last things. ‘I stand before God’ means a meeting and an experience during which man lives states which cannot be expressed by words. He who stands before Gods stops doubting and being scared. He doesn’t tarry in the angst of the whether his requests have been answered by God.
He feels that he gained the greater gift, which is the entrance into eternal life and, accordingly, he isn’t anxious about small and trivial issues. It’s difficult to live eternal life, having a corruptible body and living in a world which is continually being destroyed. But he who is prayerful, receives at the right time that gift of the foretaste of eternity.
And then he stops thinking, remembering, worrying, fussing over daily things. He lives another state of elevation, of the good alteration. The body descends in to a state of dying whilst being alive and the mind is held captive by the love of God. This state is the foretaste of eternal life. Father Sophrony of Essex used to say that prayer surpasses the immeasurable dimensions of the worldly reality and flashes across the universe instantly like lightning, from one side to the other. (Elder Sophrony, “We Shall see Him as He Is”) Driven by the verse of the Greek National Anthem “that hastefully defines the land”, he would advocate that prayer courses through all the eons, external to the dimension of time, and that the mind of the spiritual person can with one movement, measure the whole world. (Elder Sophrony, “On Prayer”)
Finally, ‘I stand before God’ means that I fall silent. Calling on the name of Christ, which contains all names, I enter into the space of silence. Silence is not so much that I cease talking or thinking as it means to distance myself from my own self and lower myself into non-existence.
As someone matures spiritually the more they keep silent, even during the time of prayer. It’s not what you say or do. But exactly that internal experience you possess, the sensation of fulfillment that you are standing before God. All of these things, which are not a utopia nor unachievable and for which you don’t exclusively need to be a bishop or monk to experience, are easy and accessible to all those who love Christ and wish to have communion with Him. Grace will come with a little patience and then many things which we can’t comprehend right now, since our mind has not attained a complete understanding of all things, we will comprehend experientially and in ourselves.
Of course, gifts are precious and make a difference because they always come with surprises. It’s a gift to be taken in a moment to eternity, but the return back to the reality of our world is unavoidable. This return however, to the solidity of this world, makes us desire Christ even more and long for His Kingdom with a calm and peaceful state of anticipation. Prayer is a consequence of the spiritualisation of the senses, underlining the unbreakable unity of the human person and shows that the body is saved and sanctified together with the soul.
********************************************************Archimandrite Irinei, The Beginnings of a Life of Prayer
Amongst the most difficult and pernicious of all the thoughts that come upon us in times of prayer (as indeed at many other times) are those of judgment: judgment against our brethren for their wrongs, their faults, their shortcomings. Thoughts enter into our mind that remind us of failings we have witnessed or believe we have identified, and these furrow their way into our heart and occupy our attention with great force. For this reason, they must be dismissed at the first sign of their advent, before they gain any footing in our interior life. The moment they are allowed entrance to the heart, the spiritual battle for prayer is lost.
Judgment of a brother kills prayer. It destroys even the beginnings of prayer—that ardent desire and longing to abide in God and rest in Him—for in judging we create in ourselves not the opportunity for union with the Trinity, but division and separation from the Lord.
When the Lord commands us, “Judge not, lest ye be judged”, let this be for us a guide and rule to prayer. Should the just Master judge our heart rightly, we would find ourselves cast into the outer darkness, where the union of true prayer is neither a hope nor a possibility. Yet in His love He overlooks our sins and offers divine forgiveness. So let us likewise dismiss judgment and with it all condemnation of our brethren, so that we may exercise divine love and grow closer to God.
It is impossible to love God if we do not love our neighbour, and it is impossible to love our neighbour if judgment is our secret greeting and the substance of our hidden relationship with him. Do not claim to pray, or even to be a Christian, if your heart fosters any judgment of your brother!
(The Catechetical Sermon of St. John Chrysostom as read during Matins of Pascha)
If any man be devout and love God, let him enjoy this fair and radiant triumphal feast. If any man be a wise servant, let him rejoicing enter into the joy of his Lord. If any have labored long in fasting, let him now receive his recompense. If any have wrought from the first hour, let him today receive his just reward. If any have come at the third hour, let him with thankfulness keep the feast. If any have arrived at the sixth hour, let him have no misgivings; because he shall in nowise be deprived thereof. If any have delayed until the ninth hour, let him draw near, fearing nothing. If any have tarried even until the eleventh hour, let him, also, be not alarmed at his tardiness; for the Lord, who is jealous of his honor, will accept the last even as the first; he gives rest unto him who comes at the eleventh hour, even as unto him who has wrought from the first hour.
And he shows mercy upon the last, and cares for the first; and to the one he gives, and upon the other he bestows gifts. And he both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. Wherefore, enter you all into the joy of your Lord; and receive your reward, both the first, and likewise the second. You rich and poor together, hold high festival. You sober and you heedless, honor the day. Rejoice today, both you who have fasted and you who have disregarded the fast. The table is full-laden; feast ye all sumptuously. The calf is fatted; let no one go hungry away.
Enjoy ye all the feast of faith: Receive ye all the riches of loving-kindness. let no one bewail his poverty, for the universal kingdom has been revealed. Let no one weep for his iniquities, for pardon has shown forth from the grave. Let no one fear death, for the Savior’s death has set us free. He that was held prisoner of it has annihilated it. By descending into Hell, He made Hell captive. He embittered it when it tasted of His flesh. And Isaiah, foretelling this, did cry: Hell, said he, was embittered, when it encountered Thee in the lower regions. It was embittered, for it was abolished. It was embittered, for it was mocked. It was embittered, for it was slain. It was embittered, for it was overthrown. It was embittered, for it was fettered in chains. It took a body, and met God face to face. It took earth, and encountered Heaven. It took that which was seen, and fell upon the unseen.
O Death, where is your sting? O Hell, where is your victory? Christ is risen, and you are overthrown. Christ is risen, and the demons are fallen. Christ is risen, and the angels rejoice. Christ is risen, and life reigns. Christ is risen, and not one dead remains in the grave. For Christ, being risen from the dead, is become the first fruits of those who have fallen asleep. To Him be glory and dominion unto ages of ages. Amen.
– Geronda, a mother told me, “My body is very weak and I get very tired, I don’t even have time to finish my chores, let alone say my prayers properly.”
– She has to simplify her life so that she can have time to pray. A mother can make great progress through simplicity. If a mother has simplified her life but still gets tired because she has many children, then, yes, she is entitled to say, “I am tired.” But if she wearies herself trying to make the house look good for the guests, well then, what can we say? Some mothers, in order to keep the house tidy, asphyxiate the children, they impose a military type of discipline. A wise and discriminating person, seeing an immaculate home with many children, will come to the conclusion that either the children are damaged, or the mother is barbarian and imposes military discipline. Once I had gone to visit the home of a large family. I was so pleased to see the children with their childish naughtiness spoiling the worldly order of things – which requires having everything in its place. That is the greater disorder which wearies contemporary man.
In the past, there weren’t that many spiritual books available for a mother to read and be helped. Today, even though there are many Patristic texts and a lot of translated works available, unfortunately most mothers are either preoccupied with foolish things or they work in order to make ends meet. It’s better for a mother to be involved with the nurturing of her children, rather than being overly involved with household chores and inanimate objects.
+ St Paisios
There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside.
They who sow courtesy reap friendship, and they who plant kindness gather love.
Lust has these three companions: the first, blindness of understanding; the second, hardness of heart; the third, want of grace.
Leisure without the fear of God is, for those who do not know how to use time, the teacher of wickedness.
Troubles are usually the brooms and shovels that smooth the road to a good man’s fortune; and many a man curses the rain that falls upon his head, and knows not that it brings abundance to drive away hunger.
Human life is but of brief duration. ‘All flesh is grass, and all the goodliness thereof is as the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God shall stand forever’ (Isa. 40:6). Let us hold fast to the commandment that abides, and despise the unreality that passes away.
Through the Holy Spirit comes our restoration to paradise, our ascension into the kingdom of heaven, our return to the adoption of sons, our liberty to call God our Father, our being made partakers of the grace of Christ, our being called children of light, our sharing in eternal glory, and, in a word, our being brought into a state of all “fullness of blessing,” both in this world and in the world to come, of all the good gifts that are in store for us, by promise hereof, through faith, beholding the reflection of their grace as though they were already present, we await the full enjoyment.
+ St. Basil the Great
The Nativity of Christ.—He has come upon earth, He Who in the beginning created us from earth and breathed His Divine breath into us; He has come Who “giveth to all life, and breath, and all things” (Acts xvii. 25.); He has come, He Who by a single word called all things visible and invisible from non-existence into existence.
And in what humility has He come! He is born of a poor Virgin, in a cave, wrapped in poor swaddling clothes, and laid in a manger. Riches, honours, glory of this world fall down, fall down in humility, tearful devotion, and deep gratitude before the Saviour of men, and share your riches with the poor and needy. Do not pride yourselves on your visionary, fleeting distinctions, for true distinction can only be found in virtue. Glory of this world learn here, before the manger, your vanity. Thus, let us all humble ourselves; let us all fall down in the dust before the boundless humility and exhaustion of the Sovereign of all, of God, Who has come to heal our infirmities, to save us from pride, vanity, corruption, and every sinful impurity.
+ St John of Kronstadt
A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breathe with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the name of God. The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy…
Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue…
We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This can not all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. Only with the passage of time and with fervor will they be conquered. Don’t let anything deprive you of hope…
Attention is the first teacher of truth and consequently absolutely necessary. Attention rouses the soul to study itself and its longings, to learn their true character and repulse those that are unholy. Attention awakens the soul, rouses it from sleep…Attention examines every thought, every desire, every memory. Thoughts, desires, and memories are engendered by various causes, and often appear masked and with splendid garb, in order to deceive the inattentive intellect and enter into the soul and dominate it. Only attention can reveal their form. Often their dissimulation is so perfect that the discernment of their true nature is very difficult. One must remember the saving words of the Lord: “Be wakeful and pray that you enter not into temptation.”
+ St Nektarios of Aegina
The great tragedy of our time lies in the fact that we live, speak, think, and even pray to God, outside our heart, outside our Father’s house. And truly our Father’s house is our heart, the place where ‘the spirit of glory and of God’ (1 Pet. 4:14) would find repose, that Christ may ‘be formed in us’ (Gal. 4:19). Indeed, only then can we be made whole, and become hypostases in the image of the true and perfect Hypostasis, the Son and Word of God, Who created us and redeemed us by the precious Blood of His ineffable sacrifice.
Yet, as long as we are held captive by our passions, which distract our mind from our heart and lure it into the ever-changing and vain world of natural and created things, thus depriving us of all spiritual strength, we will not know the new birth from on High that makes us children of God and gods by grace. In fact, in one way or another, we are all ‘prodigal sons’ of our Father in heaven, because, as the Scriptures testify, ‘All have sinned, and come short of the glory of God’ (Rom. 3:23). Sin has separated our mind from the life-giving contemplation of God and led it into a ‘far country’ (Luke 9:15). In this ‘far country’ we have been deprived of the honour of our Father’s embrace and, in feeding swine, we have been made subject to demons. We gave ourselves over to dishonourable passions and the dreadful famine of sin, which then established itself by force, becoming the law of our members. But now we must come out of this godless hell and return to our Father’s house, so as to uproot the law of sin that is within us and allow the law of Christ’s commandments to dwell in our heart. For the only path leading out of the torments of hell to the everlasting joy of the Kingdom is that of the divine commandments: with our whole being we are to love God and our neighbour with a heart that is free of all sin.
Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex
How happy are we Christians! What God is ours!
How much to be pitied are those who do not know God…
O, unhappy, erring peoples! They cannot know what true joy is…
But our joy is Christ. By His sufferings He has inscribed us in the Book of Life, and in the Kingdom of heaven we shall be with God for ever, and we shall see His glory, and delight in Him. Our joy is the Holy Spirit, so pleasant and delectable. He bears witness to the soul of her salvation.
O brethren, I beg and pray you in the name of God’s compassion, believe in the Gospels and in the witness of the Holy Church, and you will, while still here on earth, savour the blessedness of Paradise. For the Kingdom of God is within us; with the love of God the soul knows Paradise. Many princes and prelates abandoned their thrones when they came to know the love of God. And this we can understand, because the love of God is a consuming love – it gladdens the soul to the point of tears by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and no earthly things can compare with it.
+ St Silouan of Mount Athos
Do not remain idle as you are now. It takes forcefulness; it takes a struggle; it takes extreme humility and perfect obedience. So don’t just stand there, but cry out, “My dear Christ! My dear Panagia!” Do not become enervated and do not accept thoughts from the devil. Cry out to Christ continuously. Do not let the tempter have time to create the thought in your nous. Before he has time to do so, you should destroy it with the prayer. When you allow the filth that the enemy throws in you to remain inside you, well, in a little while he will bury you in it. Afterwards, what a struggle it takes to be cleansed! Therefore, exert yourself. It takes toil and pain; it is no joke! Your heart will drip blood. Bitterness and venom will you drink, and thus you will receive freedom and taste sweetness. Do not underestimate the struggle. You must keep crying out like a lunatic, “Save me, my dear Jesus! All-holy Theotokos, help me!” Your tongue should run like a motor, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me! Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me! Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!” And when you get tired, a consolation will come to you that you have never tasted before. However, if you remain idle and negligent as you are now, you will not be cured unto the ages….
I cannot describe to you how much our Panagia likes chastity and purity. Since she is the only-pure Virgin, she wants and loves everyone to be like that. As soon as we cry out to her she rushes to our help… She draws the nous to prayer and the heart to love. Many times the entire night passes in tears and sweet cries, singing praises to her and especially to Him Whom she carries.
+ Elder Joseph the Hesychast
Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish where you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.
Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow.
You see, the fly only knows where the unclean things are, while the honeybee knows where the beautiful iris or hyacinth is.
As I have come to understand, some people resemble the honeybee and some resemble the fly. Those who resemble the fly seek to find evil in every circumstance and are preoccupied with it; they see no good anywhere. But those who resemble the honeybee only see the good in everything they see. The foolish person thinks foolishly and takes everything in the wrong way, whereas the person who has good thoughts, no matter what he sees, no matter what you tell him, maintains a positive and good thought.
+ St. Paisios of Mt. Athos
If you would know of the Lord’s love for us, hate sin and wrong thoughts, and day and night pray fervently. The Lord will then give you His grace, and you will know Him through the Holy Spirit, and after death, when you enter into paradise, there too you will know the Lord through the Holy Spirit, as you knew Him on earth.
We do not need riches or learning in order to know the Lord: we must simply be obedient and sober, have a humble spirit and love our fellow-men. The Lord will love a soul that does this, and of His own accord make Himself manifest to her and instruct her in love and humility, and give her all things necessary for her to find rest in God.
We may study as much as we will but we shall still not come to know the Lord unless we live according to His commandments, for the Lord is not made known through learning but by the Holy Spirit. Many philosophers and scholars have arrived at a belief in the existence of God, but they have not come to know God.
To believe in a God is one thing, to know God another…
O ye peoples of the earth, fashioned by God, know your Creator and His love for us! Know the love of Christ, and live in peace and thereby rejoice in the Lord, who in His mercy waits for all men to come to Him.
Know, all you peoples, that we are created for the glory of God in the heavens. Cleave not to the earth, for God is our Father and He loves us like beloved children.
St Silouan of Mt Athos
Marriage and Μonasticism
The two complement each other.. . Both are sacraments of love … It is tempting to make a simple contrast: to say that asceticism and chastity are the characteristics of monasticism, and love the characteristic of marriage. Yet the two states cannot be thus opposed. Married people, as well as monks, are called to the “narrow way” of ascetic life, to fasting and self-denial; if the monks are martyrs, then so also are the married, as the crowns and hymns and the Marriage Service plainly indicate. Perfect love is always a crucified love; yet, for both monks and married Christians, if the cross is voluntarily accepted, it proves a door to resurrection and new life. In the same way, chastity – understood in its proper sense of integrity and integration – is a quality not only of the single but also of the married life. In a sense, marriage includes within itself the characteristic values of monasticism: the monastic vows of poverty, chastity, and obedience – when understood, as they should be, in a positive manner as a way of enabling us to be free to love God and one another – are also applicable to the married life. And if asceticism and chastity are marks of the married life, then love.., is a mark of a true monk.. If the monk abstains from marriage, this is not because the married state is sinful, but because he personally is called to express his love for God and humankind on a different level… Marriage and monasticism are the “two hands”‘ of the Church, the two complementary expressions of one royal priesthood. Each needs the other, and in her mission the Church uses both her hands together.
Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia
If Lent is the recovery by man of his faith, it is also his recovery of life, of its divine meaning, of its sacred depth. It is by abstaining from food that we rediscover its sweetness and learn again how to receive it from God with joy and gratitude. It is by “slowing down” on music and entertainment, on conversation and superficial socializing, that we rediscover the ultimate value of human relationships, human work, human art. And we rediscover all this because very simply we rediscover God Himself—because we return to Him and in Him to all that which He gave us in His infinite love and mercy. And thus, on Easter night we sing: “Today are all things filled with light, Heaven and earth and the places under the earth; all creation does celebrate the Resurrection of Christ on whom it is founded….” Of this expectation, do not deprive us, O Lover of Man!
– Fr Alexander Schmemann
For many, if not for the majority of Orthodox Christians, Lent consists of a limited number of formal, predominantly negative, rules and prescriptions: abstention from certain food, dancing, perhaps movies. Such is the degree of our alienation from the real spirit of the Church that it is almost impossible for us to understand that there is “something else” in Lent—something without which all these prescriptions lose much of their meaning. This “something else” can best be described as an “atmosphere,” a “climate” into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force on us a few formal obligations, but to “soften” our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden “thirst and hunger” for communion with God.
– Fr Alexander Schmemann
“When someone steals another’s clothes, we call them a thief. Should we not give the same name to one who could clothe the naked and does not? The bread in your cupboard belongs to the hungry; the coat unused in your closet belongs to the one who needs it; the shoes rotting in your closet belong to the one who has no shoes; the money which you hoard up belongs to the poor…
“A tree is known by its fruit; a man by his deeds. A good deed is never lost; he who sows courtesy reaps friendship, and he who plants kindness gathers love…
” We need not only read Sacred Scripture, but learn it as well and grow up in it. Realize that nothing is written in Scripture unnecessarily. Not to read Sacred Scripture is a great evil…
” There is still time for endurance, time for patience, time for healing, time for change. Have you slipped? Rise up. Have you sinned? Cease. Do not stand among sinners, but leap aside”.
Man seeks joy and happiness in heaven. He seeks what is eternal far from everyone and everything. He seeks to find joy in God. God is a mystery. He is silence. He is infinite. He is everything. Everyone possesses this inclination of the soul for heaven. All people seek something heavenly. All beings turn towards Him, albeit unconsciously.
Turn your mind towards Him continually. Learn to love prayer, familiar converse with the Lord. What counts above all is love, passionate love for the Lord, for Christ the Bridegroom. Become worthy of Christ’s love. In order not to live in darkness, turn on the switch of prayer so that divine light may flood your soul. Christ will appear in the depths of your being. There, in the deepest and most inward part, is the Kingdom of God. The Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21)….
He who has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved by my Father and I will love him and will manifest myself to him. (John 14:31).
Effort is required. For we have to wrestle against the rulers of the darkness of this age (Eph. 6:12). We have to wrestle with the roaring lion [1 Pet. 5:8]. We cannot allow the devious enemy to prevail in the struggle.
Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue….
We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This can not all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. Only with the passage of time and with fervor will they be conquered. Don’t let anything deprive you of hope.
The negative inherited traits are not a hindrance to spiritual progress. For when one is struggling, even slightly but with great philotimo, then he is moving in the spiritual realm, in the miraculous, and all the unpleasant inherited traits are dispelled by the Grace of God. God is greatly moved, and indeed helps the one who may have inherited negative traits but is struggling, with philotimo, to fly heavenwards, using an atrophied wing- the bad inheritance. I know many people who, with their own small amount of effort and the great help of God, were delivered from their legacies. In God’s eyes, these people are great heroes, for what moves God is the work we do on the old man….
God is kind by nature and always provides for our good and, when we ask Him for something, He will provide it, as long as it is for our good. Whatever is necessary for the salvation of our soul and for the maintenance of our physical existence, God will provide it in abundance, and we will have His blessing. Whatever He deprives us of, either to test us or to protect us, we accept with joy as well as with thoughtfulness, as it is for our benefit. God knows when and how to provide for His creation.. He helps in His own way at the right time…
Is it really possible to deny God only because everyday experience does not give Him to us? But we know that “everyday experience” is in no way absolute, that it encompasses only some superficial sides of events and phenomena, that plain common sense is limited, and that there are many irrefutable facts which do not fit into what would seem to be unshakable, self-evident truth. Everyday experience gives us almost none of the things modern scientists talk about, but we believe their experience; we believe them without even knowing them or having the remotest possibility of testing the larger part of their assumptions and conclusion. On what grounds do we disbelieve the innumerably greater quantity of religious experiences, the testimony of people who are pure as crystal?
The experience of these experts in the “science of sciences” does not speak of unsubstantiated faith, nor of opinion, nor of an accepted hypothesis, nor even simple tradition, but of the fact of their knowledge of God.
The main experience of religion – a meeting with God – possesses (at least in its highest points) such a victorious power and fiery conviction, that it leaves any other obviousness far behind. It can be forgotten or lost, but not denied…. If people of faith began to tell about themselves, about what they have seen and learned with final certainty, then a whole mountain would form under which the mound of sceptical rationalism would be buried and hidden from sight.
Knowledge of God is an exact science, and not a chaos of mystical ecstasies and unhealthy exultations caused by inflamed nerves. Knowledge of God has its own systems, conditions, and criteria. How can we attain the knowledge of God? It begins with a selfless search for the truth, for the meaning of life and moral purity, and by forcing oneself towards goodness. Without such a beginning, the “experiment” of knowing God cannot be successful. These conditions are expressed in the Gospels briefly and clearly: “Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God”. (Mt 5:8).
Christ is in our midst.
I fully sympathize with your experiences. Even now you are troubled by sins committed in your youth. The enemy of mankind, the devil, made you afraid to open your distressed heart to me when you were here at the monastery.
It is always like that; when a person commits a sin, he thinks he gets consolation from it, but after he has tasted sin, the result is the opposite: great sorrow and languor of spirit, and the poor soul feels like a fish cast ashore. It is a hard situation and a person all but despairs. At such a difficult moment it would be good to talk to an experienced person, who could, of course, undoubtedly help.
There is no sin that is beyond God’s mercy, and the sins of the whole world are like a handful of sand thrown into the sea.
But you write: “Will the Lord forgive me?” You confessed and repented. The Lord forgave you and does not remember your sins. Be sure of this. In your difficult time of the past your poor soul suffered and endured the cost of sin. But now be at peace and thank God for his holy mercy.
God accepts equally the Jesus Prayer and remembrance of God. Remembrance of God suits your way of life better. Prayer of the mind must proceed under the guidance of an experienced person who himself knows about it from his experience.
The Lord keep you. I ask for your holy prayers.
(Letters from a Russian monk, Father John)
Woe to those who are rich, who are full, who laugh, and who are praised. But good shall come to those who endure every wrongful accusation, beating, robbery, or compulsory difficulty. This is completely opposite to what people usually think and feel! The thoughts of God are as far from human thoughts as heaven is from the earth. How else could it be? We are in exile; and it is not remarkable for those in exile to be offended and insulted. We are under a penance; the penance consists of deprivations and labors. We are sick; and most useful for the sick are bitter medicines. The Savior Himself all of His life did not have a place to lay His head, and He finished his life on the cross — why should his followers have a better lot? The Spirit of Christ is the spirit of preparedness to suffer and bear good-naturedly all that is sorrowful. Comfort, arrogance, splendor, and ease are all foreign to its searching and tastes. The model is the forty-year wandering of the Israelites in the desert. Who follows this path? Everyone who sees Canaan beyond the desert, boiling over with milk and honey. During his wandering he too receives manna, however not from the earth, but from heaven; not bodily, but spiritually. All the glory is within.
+ St. Theophan the Recluse
“What I see around me would drive me insane if I did not know that no matter what happens, God will have the last word.” — St Paisios of the Holy Mountain
If there is one overarching debasement of the Christian vision in our, days, it is in the loss of a constant gaze upon the future life of man in the Kingdom. The focus of the saeculum, of the secular world, is upon the now. This moment, this world, this life: these are the contexts of meaning. While the Christian may often acknowledge the Kingdom, may even speak of its attainment and its nature, how rarely today does an orientation of all life and living around and toward this Kingdom actually manifest itself, even among the baptized. Rather, the Kingdom of God is often taken as a kind of “backdrop” by which one can give a Christian flavour to the present. “I shall do such-and-such now, because such an act is loving, and the Kingdom of God is a kingdom of love”. Or, “I shall seek this good now, rather than that, because God’s Kingdom focuses on such aims”. It is not that there is no nobility in such reflections (certainly, they are better than a view which takes no account at all of the Kingdom); but the Christian life demands more than this; Christ does not say, “When you consider this life, remember the Kingdom and so let it inform what you seek”; rather, He commands: Seek first the Kingdom of God and His righteousness. Only after He has given this sole and primary focus to Christian endeavour, does He add: and all these things will be added unto you.
If you cannot find Christ in the beggar at the Church door, you will not find Him in the chalice.
No matter how just your words may be, you ruin everything when you speak with anger.
There is nothing colder than a Christian who does not seek to save others.
If you wish to leave much wealth to your children, leave them in God’s care. Do not leave them riches, but virtue and skill.
Since it is likely that, being men, they would sin every day, St. Paul consoles his hearers by saying “renew yourselves” from day to day. This is what we do with houses: we keep constantly repairing them as they wear old. You should do the same thing to yourself. Have you sinned today? Have you made your soul old? Do not despair, do not despond, but renew your soul by repentance, and tears, and Confession, and by doing good things. And never cease doing this.
Be ashamed when you sin, but not when you repent.
Happiness can only be achieved by looking inward and learning to enjoy whatever life has and this requires transforming greed into gratitude.
+ St. John Chrysostom
Shine in our hearts, O Master who loves man, the incorruptible light of Your divine knowledge, and open the eyes of our mind to the comprehension of the preaching of Your Gospel. Instil in us also the fear of Your blessed commandments that, trampling down all carnal desires, we may pursue a spiritual way of life, both considering and doing all things well-pleasing to You…
O Lord our God, who has granted forgiveness to men through repentance, and has shown, as an example to us of the knowledge of sins and confession, the repentance of the Prophet David unto pardon, do You Yourself, O Master, in the manifold and great offenses into which we have fallen, have mercy according to Your great mercy, and according to the multitude of Your compassions. Blot out our transgressions; for against You have we sinned, O Lord, who knows both the hidden and secret things of the heart of man, and alone has authority to forgive sins; inasmuch as You have created a clean heart in us, and with Your guiding Spirit You have established us, and has made known to us the joy of Your salvation. Cast us not away from Your face; but be graciously willing for us to offer to You even until our last breath a sacrifice of righteousness and an offering upon Your holy altar. Through the mercies and compassion and love of man of Your only-begotten Son, with whom You are blessed, together with Your all-holy and good and life-creating Spirit, now and ever, and to ages of ages. Amen.
(Taken from prayers read by Priest during Matins service)
We have within us deeply rooted weaknesses, passions, and defects. This cannot all be cut out with one sharp motion, but patience, persistence, care and attention. The path leading to perfection is long. Pray to God so that he will strengthen you. Patiently accept your falls and, having stood up, immediately run to God, not remaining in that place where you have fallen. Do not despair if you keep falling into your old sins. Many of them are strong because they have received the force of habit. Only with the passage of time and with fervour will they be conquered. Don’t let anything deprive you of hope…
A Christian must be courteous to all. His words and deeds should breathe with the grace of the Holy Spirit, which abides in his soul, so that in this way he might glorify the name of God. He who regulates all of his speech also regulates all of his actions. He who keeps watch over the words he is about say also keeps watch over the deeds he intends to do, and he never goes out of the bounds of good and benevolent conduct. The graceful speech of a Christian is characterized by delicateness and politeness. This fact, born of love, produces peace and joy. On the other hand, idle talk gives birth to hatred, enmity, affliction, competitiveness, disorder and wars….
Do not think that you have a right to complain when your prayers are not answered. God fulfils your desires in a manner that you do not know.
– St. Nektarios of Aegina
This foretaste of the new creation—of a world transfigured—is also experienced by the Church in the countenance of her saints who, through their spiritual struggles and virtues, have already revealed the image of the Kingdom of God in this life, thereby proving and affirming that the expectation of a world of peace, justice, and love is not a utopia, but the substance of things hoped for (Heb 11:1) , attainable through the grace of God and man’s spiritual struggle.
Finding constant inspiration in this expectation and foretaste of the Kingdom of God, the Church cannot remain indifferent to the problems of humanity in each period. On the contrary, she shares in our anguish and existential problems, taking upon herself—as the Lord did—our suffering and wounds, which are caused by evil in the world and, like the Good Samaritan, pouring oil and wine upon our wounds through words of patience and comfort (Rom 15:4; Heb 13:22), and through love in practice. The word addressed to the world is not primarily meant to judge and condemn the world (cf. Jn 3:17; 12:47), but rather to offer to the world the guidance of the Gospel of the Kingdom of God—namely, the hope and assurance that evil, no matter its form, does not have the last word in history and must not be allowed to dictate its course.
The conveyance of the Gospel’s message according to the last commandant of Christ, Go therefore and make disciples of all nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all that I have commanded you (Matt 28:19) is the diachronic mission of the Church. This mission must be carried out not aggressively or by different forms of proselytism, but in love, humility and respect towards the identity of each person and the cultural particularity of each people. All the Orthodox Church have an obligation to contribute to this missionary endeavour.
Drawing from these principles and the accumulated experience and teaching of her patristic, liturgical, and ascetical tradition, the Orthodox Church shares the concern and anxiety of contemporary humanity with regard to fundamental existential questions that preoccupy the world today. She thus desires to help resolve these issues, allowing the peace of God, which surpasses all understanding (Phil 4:7), reconciliation, and love to prevail in the world.
[Taken from an official document of the Holy and Great Council of the Orthodox Church, held in Crete, June 2016]
Christ is in our midst!
You write of your illnesses that they are sent by God for your sins. No, you must not think that way. The Lord’s thoughts are unsearchable, and our limited little minds cannot understand why different kinds of sicknesses and sorrows are given by God to different ones of us sinners. But realize that in this vale of tears, this temporal life, we cannot escape them. The Lord give you wisdom! Don’t think of God as a very stern judge and punisher. He is very merciful; He took human flesh and suffered as a man, not for the saints’ sake but for sinners like you and me. We must not despair, for there is no sin that exceeds God’s compassion. It is always the devil that brings despair; one must not listen to him.
Try as far as possible to fulfil the Lord’s commandments. Judge no one for anything and you will not be judged. If you watch yourself, you will of course find sins, which will show you that you have no cause to condemn others. And also: ‘Whatever you do not wish for yourself, do not do it to others either’, and other Gospel commandments.
You also write that you used to pray better, but now you do not hear the Lord knocking at your heart. Do not think like that either! Your prayer used to be dreamy and you thought something of yourself, but now you have begun to understand a little – so you can see yourself more truly. The closer a person comes to God, the more sinful he sees himself to be. St Peter Damascene writes: ‘If a person sees his sins like the sands of the sea, that is a sign of a healthy soul’. This is the position of the saints, and they are experienced in the spiritual life. But people want to see themselves as correct in every respect.
Letters from Father John, a Russian Monk
The wise spiritual life was explained with precision by the Holy Fathers in their writings, but what they wrote can best be understood by being lived. If you yourself work to free your heart of passions, then everything will be clearer and more understandable.
You write that your duties distract you from prayer. As you work, keep the memory of God; this too is prayer. It is good that you have this striving for the spiritual life and for prayer. This is already half of salvation, and God will help you to go further. Only do not be depressed and fainthearted; may the Lord help you.
You also write that you have not even reached a beginning. This feeling is a good thing, it leads to humility. According to the law of spiritual knowledge, spiritual life has to be like this. The closer a man comes to God, the more he sees his faults and his sinfulness. Lord, deliver man from seeing himself as righteous.
Do not get excited, do not strive for the highest things prematurely. In the spiritual life one does not make leaps and bounds, it has to be gradual, with patience.
Father John, a Russian monk
Excuses have nothing to do with the spiritual life. I must understand that when I try to justify myself with excuses, I’m in a wrong state of mind. I cut off my communication with God and am deprived of divine Grace, because divine Grace does not come to one who is in a wrong state. The moment a person justifies the unjustifiable, he is separated from God. There is no stronger barrier to the Grace of God than excuses! One who justifies himself with excuses makes no progress in the spiritual life, nor can he find any inner peace. God will not condemn us for a mistake we have made, but we must not try to justify ourselves for that mistake, and consider it to be just a natural thing.
If you think that you’re at fault 25 percent, when in fact you are at fault only five percent, don’t you profit spiritually? Be “generous” when weighing your faults; you don’t want to short-change yourself spiritually. This is the spiritual work you must do: find and acknowledge your fault, and “catch” yourself next time. Otherwise, you are “caught” by yourself; you justify yourself but you find no peace.
St Paisios the Hagiorite
The wise spiritual life was explained with precision by the Holy Fathers in their writings, but what they wrote can best be understood by being lived. If you yourself work to free your heart of passions, then everything will be clearer and more understandable….
You write that your duties distract you from prayer. As you work, keep the memory of God; this too is prayer. It is good that you have this striving for the spiritual life and for prayer. This is already half of salvation, and God will help you to go further. Only do not be depressed and fainthearted; may the Lord help you.
You also write that you have not even reached a beginning. This feeling is a good thing, it leads to humility. According to the law of spiritual knowledge, spiritual life has to be like this. The closer a man comes to God, the more he sees his faults and his sinfulness. Lord, deliver man from seeing himself as righteous.
Letters from a Russian Monk- Father John
This new experience – this opening of the heavens and the expansion of the horizon – is one of the most beautiful experiences that a person can have. From then on, the character of our life is changed. From then on, we soar through the sky on wings. Provided we want to. Because there’s always the chance that, in our soaring flight, a treacherous, critical moment might come when we remember our self and prefer it over everything else. All things are indeed ours. But all things will turn against us like a bitter enemy if once again we become confined within ourselves.
But the moment we reject such narrowness and enter into the breadth and know the depth of the love of Christ (Eph 3.19), we discover that the whole world is ours: the earth, the sea, and the sky are all for us; so too the angels, the saints, and all the sacraments of the Church. And God Himself – the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit – is wholly ours, for He gives to us His fullness. Do you see? You renounced yourself, and in return received God.
Elder Aimilianos of Simonopetra
A man who has never had that experience, be it only very briefly, who has never felt that he is exiled from God and from real life, will never understand what Christianity is about. And the one who is perfectly “at home” in this world and its life, who has never been wounded by the nostalgic desire for another Reality, will not understand what is repentance.
Repentance is often simply identified as a cool and “objective” enumeration of sins and transgressions, as the act of “pleading guilty” to a legal indictment. Confession and absolution are seen as being of a juridical nature. But something very essential is overlooked—without which neither confession nor absolution have any real meaning or power. This “something” is precisely the feeling of alienation from God, from the joy of communion with Him, from the real life as created and given by God. It is easy indeed to confess that I have not fasted on prescribed days, or missed my prayers, or become angry. It is quite a different thing, however, to realize suddenly that I have defiled and lost my spiritual beauty, that I am far away from my real home, my real life, and that something precious and pure and beautiful has been hopelessly broken in the very texture of my existence. Yet this, and only this, is repentance, and therefore it is also a deep desire to return, to go back, to recover that lost home. I received from God wonderful riches: first of all life and the possibility to enjoy it, to fill it with meaning, love, and knowledge; then—in Baptism—the new life of Christ Himself, the gift of the Holy Spirit, the peace and the joy of the eternal Kingdom. I received the knowledge of God, and in Him the knowledge of everything else and the power to be a son of God. And all this I have lost, all this I am losing all the time, not only in particular “sins” and “transgressions,” but in the: sin of all sins: the deviation of my love from God, preferring the “far country” to the beautiful home of the Father… But the Church is here to remind me of what I have abandoned and lost…
From the book Great Lent by Fr Alexander Schmemann
You write that our duties distract you from prayer. As you work, keep the memory of God, this too is prayer. It is good that you have this striving for the spiritual life and for prayer. This is already half of salvation, and God will help you to go further….
In conclusion I would like to say: “Bear one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ” (Gal. 6:2). What you do not want done to you, do not do to others, that is the golden rule. Remind yourself often of the hour of death and never condemn anyone for anything, because whatever you condemn others for, you will fall into the same sins, it is never otherwise.
From the letters of Fr John, a Russian monk
Let us tend to ourselves, brothers, let us learn self-control while we have time. Why do we neglect ourselves? Let us be doing something good all the time so that we may find help in the time of trial. Why do we fritter away our lives? We are always hearing a great deal about the spiritual life and we don’t care about it, we even despise it. We see our brothers snatched away from our midst and we don’t abstain [from passion and excess] even when we know that in a little while we too shall be near death. Why do we not remember that saying of the senior that, “If a man lose gold and silver, he can always find more to replace it. Time once lost cannot be found again by living in idleness and negligence. No matter how hard we try to regain one hour of this time we shall never find it”. How many desire to hear the word of God and find no one to expound it, while we hear and despise it and are not stirred up by it. God knows, I am frightened by our imperviousness. We who can be saved, and do not even desire it. For we can cut off our unruly desires when they are newly born and we don’t think about it; we allow them to grow up and harden against us so that we make the last evil greater than the first. For, as often I tell you, it is one thing to uproot a blade of grass and another to uproot a great tree.
St Dorotheos of Gaza
The Christian struggle is waged in the heart, for this is the focal point of creation itself. It is here that we see the fullness of the Creator’s purpose, and here that the whole of creation finds its summation. It is the human person who is the capstone of God’s creative work, which exists as a microcosm of all creation. And so any struggle which seeks to Christianize the cosmos, to evangelize and fulfil Christ’s call to mission, yet which does not begin with the human heart, works with secondary things rather than primary. Such action is analogous to one who seeks to repair a crumbling house by working on its outer timbers, while its foundations remain in crumbling disintegration. The foundations must be repaired and strengthened first; only then can the remainder of the structure be repaired in a manner that will last, that will abide.
So it is with the Christian life. Ascesis begins in the heart: in obediently reorienting the heart toward the Kingdom, in understanding its enemies and the passions that lay buried within it, and coming to combat and defeat them by Christ’s power.
The Christian engages in this action, not as a selfish pursuit aimed solely at the benefit of his own person, but because he knows that it is in the genuine ascesis of the heart that authentic Christian mission has its true foundations. Without it, he scrambles to aid a broken world while broken himself; he tries to offer healing of an ailment of which he suffers most of all. He can only be truly of aid, of genuine witness, when he learns to cry out to Christ, “You have come into the world to save sinners, of whom I am chief,” and from that cry works to live a sober, serious, authentic Christian life of struggle and growth.
For the Christians are distinguished from other men neither by country, nor language, nor the customs which they observe. For they neither inhabit cities of their own, nor employ a peculiar form of speech, nor lead a life which is marked out by any singularity. The course of conduct which they follow has not been devised by any speculation or deliberation of inquisitive men; nor do they, like some, proclaim themselves the advocates of any merely human doctrines. But, inhabiting Greek as well as barbarian cities, according as the lot of each of them has determined, and following the customs of the natives in respect to clothing, food, and the rest of their ordinary conduct, they display to us their wonderful and confessedly striking manner of life. They dwell in their own countries, but simply as sojourners. As citizens, they share in all things with others, and yet endure all things as if foreigners. Every foreign land is to them as their native country, and every land of their birth as a land of strangers. They marry, as do all [others]; they beget children; but they do not destroy their offspring….. They are in the flesh, but they do not live after the flesh. They pass their days on earth, but they are citizens of heaven. They obey the prescribed laws, and at the same time surpass the laws by their lives. They love all men, though they are persecuted by all. They are unknown and condemned; they are put to death, yet they are restored to life. They are poor, yet make many rich; they are in lack of all things, and yet abound in all; they are dishonoured, and yet in their very dishonour are glorified. They are evil spoken of, and yet are justified; they are reviled, and bless; they are insulted, and repay the insult with honour; they do good, yet are punished as evil-doers. When punished, they rejoice as if quickened into life; they are assailed by the Jews as foreigners, and are persecuted by the Greeks; yet those who hate them are unable to assign any reason for their hatred.
Epistle to Diognetus, by anonymous 1st or 2nd century writer
Prayer is a divine gift and blessed grace. The heart which God fashioned from the dust, into which He has breathed His own breath, is called beyond the confines of mere materiality. The mystery of the separation between Creator and creature is overcome, as the maker and Fashioner of the human heart calls it to Himself.
When the heart responds to this call and is drawn up into God, it finds its true home, peace, and joy. This is as St. Seraphim of Sarov reminded his hearers: “When the mind and heart are united in prayer and the soul’s thoughts are not dispersed, the heart is warmed by spiritual warmth in which the light of Christ shines, making the whole inner man peaceful and joyous. We should thank the Lord for everything and give ourselves up to His will; we should likewise offer Him all our thoughts, words, and actions, and strive to make everything serve only His good pleasure.
From the book “The beginnings of a Life of Prayer” by Archimandrite Irenei
If God had not been incarnate upon earth, if He had not made us godly, if He had not taught us in His Own person how to live, what to hope for and expect, if He had not pointed out to us another perfect and eternal life, if He had not suffered and died and risen from the dead—then we should still have had some reason to live, as we all now live—that is to mostly lead a carnal, earthly life.
But, now, we ought to meditate upon higher things, and count all earthly things but dung, for, everything earthly is nothing, in comparison with heavenly things.
Meanwhile, the Devil, the father of lies, in spite of the Saviour’s teaching and His spirit, teaches us to attach ourselves to earthly goods, and forcibly nails our sensual heart to them.
The heart naturally seeks happiness—and the Devil gives a false direction to this tendency, and allures it by earthly happiness, that is—by riches, honours, splendour of dress, furniture, silver, equipages, gardens and various amusements.
+ St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ
The Christian today- not unlike the Christians of other eras, but in ways that are continually “updated” as society carries on- is not told simply that he mustn’t fight the passions, that he mustn’t battle the devil: he is told that the passions are unreal and the devil does not exist. He is told that ascesis is unnatural, that spiritual warfare is delusional. He is told that judgment is oppressive and the desire to become something defined by another (even God!) is psychologically unhealthy. He is told that to believe in the Church’s tradition is simplistic, pietistic adherence to the past; that he had better “think for himself.”
He is told, in other words, that the very arena of the spiritual contest is unreal, and that his work is foolishness. He is made to believe that the only way it can be defended at all in modern society is for it to be conformed to society’s views.
He is told, we might say, precisely what the devil would want him to be told.
The Christian today, then, is charged with a mission: to reclaim from this disastrous situation the right contours of truth and reality, and to live them fully despite the world’s constant insistence to do otherwise. The Christian must reclaim, firstly in himself (this, the ascetical struggle), and then with an eye to and for those around him, the right vision of our condition in this life and our approach to it.
How are we to do this? He only way is by renewing in ourselves the ascetical vision handed on to us in the Church, and by conforming ourselves to the life that binds us to the wellspring of life, Christ Himself. Given the degree to which the world etches itself into our minds and hearts, this means at a basic and practical level that we must struggle inwardly to reclaim that which the Church unfailingly provides, so that our struggle is built up by the true bulwark of the Faith.
(From the book, “The beginnings of a life of Prayer”, by Archimandrite Irinei)
For many, if not the majority of Orthodox Christians, Lent consists of a limited number of formal, predominantly negative, rules and prescriptions: abstention from certain food, dancing, perhaps movies. Such is the degree of our alienation from the real spirit of the Church that it is almost impossible for us to understand that there is “something else” in Lent- something without which all these prescriptions lose much of their meaning. This “something else” can best be described as an “atmosphere”, a “climate” into which one enters, as first of all a state of mind, soul, and spirit which for seven weeks permeates our entire life. Let us stress once more that the purpose of Lent is not to force upon us a few formal obligations, but to “soften” our heart so that it may open itself to the realities of the spirit, to experience the hidden “thirst and hunger” for communion with God.
(From the Book “Great Lent” by Fr Alexander Schmemann)
Despondency is the worst thing. It is a snare set by Satan to make a person lose his appetite for spiritual things and to bring him into a state of despair, inactivity and negligence. In this state a person is unable to do anything and rendered useless. The person says, “I am sinful and wretched,… I didn’t do this, I didn’t do that… I should have done that then, now it’s too late, nothing can be done… I’ve wasted my life…” He is brought into a sense of inferiority and consumed by fruitless self-reproach. Do you know what a destructive thing that is? It is pseudo-humility.
Such a person reaches a point where he doesn’t even want to receive Communion because he regards himself as unworthy of everything. This is a snare set by Satan so that a person will lose his hope in God’s love. All this is quite terrible and contrary to the Spirit of God.
I, too, think that I am sinful and that I am not living as I should. Nevertheless, I make whatever distresses me into prayer. I do not shut it up inside myself. I go to my spiritual father and confess it and it is finished and done with. Don’t let’s go back and recriminate and say what we didn’t do. What is important is what we will do now, from this moment onwards- as St Paul says, forgetting the things that are behind and stretching forth to the things that are before us. [Phil. 3:14]
“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbour? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”
(+ St. Nektarius of Aegina )
Remember that the Lord is in every Christian. When your neighbour comes to you, always have great respect for him, because the Lord is in him, and often expresses His will through him. “It is God which worketh in you both to will and to do of His good pleasure” (Phil. 2:13). Therefore, do not grudge anything to your brother, but do unto him as unto the Lord; especially as you do not know in whom the Lord will come and visit you; be impartial to all, be kind to all, sincere and hospitable. Remember that sometimes God speaks even through unbelievers, or disposes their hearts towards us, as it happened in Egypt when the Lord gave Joseph favour in the sight of the keeper of the prison. (Gen. 39:21)
(St John of Kronstadt)
“Let us go forth in peace” is the last commandment of the Liturgy. What does it mean? It means, surely, that the conclusion of the Divine Liturgy is not an end but a beginning. Those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” are not merely a comforting epilogue. They are a call to serve and bear witness. In effect, those words, “Let us go forth in peace,” mean the Liturgy is over, the liturgy after the Liturgy is about to begin.
This, then, is the aim of the Liturgy: that we should return to the world with the doors of our perceptions cleansed. We should return to the world after the Liturgy, seeing Christ in every human person, especially in those who suffer. In the words of Father Alexander Schmemann, the Christian is the one who wherever he or she looks, everywhere sees Christ and rejoices in him. We are to go out, then, from the Liturgy and see Christ everywhere.”
(Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia)
How to Come to Know God
If a person wants to get an idea about the pyramids of Egypt, he must either trust those who have been in immediate proximity to the pyramids, or he must get next to them himself. There is no third option. In the same way a person can get an impression of God: He must either trust those who have stood and stand in immediate proximity to God, or he must take pains to come into such proximity himself.
(St. Nicholas of Serbia, Thoughts on Good and Evil)
As it is impossible to verbally describe the sweetness of honey to one who has never tasted honey, so the goodness of God cannot be clearly communicated by way of teaching if we ourselves are not able to penetrate into the goodness of the Lord by our own experience.
(St. Basil the Great, Conversations on the Psalms, 29)
Many rich and powerful men would pay dearly to see the Lord or His Most Pure Mother, but God does not appear in riches, but in the humble heart… We need neither money nor reputation to come to know God, but only humility.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, I.11,21)
No matter how much we may study, it is not possible to come to know God unless we live according to His commandments, for God is not known by science, but by the Holy Spirit. Many philosophers and learned men came to the belief that God exists, but they did not know God. It is one thing to belief that God exists and another to know Him. If someone has come to know God by the Holy Spirit, his soul will burn with love for God day and night, and his soul cannot be bound to any earthly thing.
(St. Silouan the Athonite, Writings, VIII.3)
Don’t you see that this is why we make no progress? We remain all the time against one another, grinding one another down. Because each considers himself right and excuses himself, all while keeping none of the commandments yet expecting his neighbour to keep the lot! How did that holy Spiritual Father reply when asked, “What do you find most important in the spiritual life, Father?” He replied, “In everything to blame oneself.” Everywhere we find the Fathers kept this rule, relating everything to God, even the slightest things, and they found peace.
But someone will say, “Suppose a brother troubles me and I examine myself and find that I have not given him any cause, how can I accuse myself?” If a man really examines himself, in the fear of God, he will usually find that he has given cause for offense, either by deed or word or by his bearing. But if, in scrutinizing himself, as I said, he sees that he has given no cause in any of these ways at that moment, it is likely that at another time he has offended him either in the same circumstances or in others, or perhaps he has offended another brother and he would suffer on that account or for some other wrong doing. If, as I was saying, he examines himself in the fear of God and searches diligently his own conscience, he will always find cause for accusing himself. Again there is the case of a man minding his own business, sitting at peace and quiet, and when a brother comes up and says an annoying word to him he is put out by it. And from the circumstances he thinks he is justifiably angered, and he speaks against the one who troubled him, saying, “If he had not come and spoken to me and annoyed me I should not have been at fault.” This is a delusion, this is false reasoning! For it was not the one who spoke that put him in a bad mood. He only showed that it already existed in him, so that he could, if he chose, make reparation for his fault. But the man referred to above is like clean-looking winter wheat, externally good and ready for use, but when someone crushes it, its corruption is revealed. He was sitting at peace, as we were saying, but he had his anger inside him and he did not know it. One word to him from the other and the corruption hidden inside him leapt out. If, therefore, he were ready to ask forgiveness and humbled himself before that brother, he would be cleansed and would advance in wisdom and see that he ought rather to thank the brother who had been an occasion of spiritual help to him.
St Dorotheos of Gaza
Lest us surrender ourselves wholly to the will of God. Let us devote ourselves wholeheartedly to doing the will of God. With unceasing prayer, let us ask God for the gift of carrying out His will, and also for the gift whereby the will of God may always be welcomed by us. Whoever surrenders himself to the will of God finds that God is with him inseparably. This is felt and experienced and the truth of it is attested by every soldier of Christ who fights lawfully, by every athlete and combatant who is guided by the Gospel.
Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov
I entreat you not to leave your heart unguarded, so long as you are in the body. Just as the farmer cannot feel confident about the crop growing in his fields, because he does not know what will happen to it before it is stored away in the granary, so a man should not leave his heart unguarded so long as he still has breath in his nostrils. Up to his last breath he cannot know what passion will attack him; so as long as he breathes, therefore, he must not leave his heart unguarded, but should at every moment pray to God for His help and mercy.
He who receives no help when at war should feel no confidence when at peace.
Be attentive to yourself, so that nothing destructive can separate you from the love of God. Guard your heart, and do not grow listless and say: “How can I guard it, since I am a sinner?” For when a man abandons his sins and returns to God, his repentance regenerates him and renews him entirely.
St Isaiah the solitary, Philokalia
The most precious thing in the world is to know God and understand His will, even if only dimly. The soul that has come to know God should in all things submit to His will, and live before Him in awe and love: in love, because the Lord is love; in awe, because we must go in fear of grieving God by some evil thought….
The best thing of all is to surrender to God’s will, and bear affliction with confidence in God. The Lord seeing our affliction will never give us too much to bear. If we seem to ourselves to be greatly afflicted, it means that we have not surrendered to the will of God….
Look at the man who likes to have his own way. His soul is never at peace. He is always discontented- this is not right, this is not as it should be. But the man who is entirely given over to the will of God can pray with a pure mind. His soul loves the Lord, and he finds everything pleasant and agreeable…
The man who has come to know the love of God himself loves the whole world and never murmurs at his fate, for temporary affliction endured for God’s sake is a means to eternal joy.
The soul that is not humble and has not surrendered herself to the will of God cannot come to know anything, but flits from one idea to another and so never prays with an undistracted mind, or glorifies the majesty of God.
How mistaken are those people who seek happiness outside of themselves, in foreign lands and journeys, in riches and glory, in great possessions and pleasures, in diversions and vain things, which have a bitter end! In the same thing to construct the tower of happiness outside of ourselves as it is to build a house in a place that is consistently shaken by earthquakes. Happiness is found within ourselves, and blessed is the man who has understood this. Happiness is a pure heart, for such a heart becomes the throne of God. Thus says Christ of those who have pure hearts: “I will visit them, and will walk in them, and I will be a God to them, and they will be my people.” (II Cor. 6:16) What can be lacking to them? Nothing, nothing at all! For they have the greatest good in their hearts: God Himself!
St. Nektarios of Aegina, Path to Happiness
The soul that loves God has its rest in God and in God alone. In all the paths that men walk in in the world, they do not attain peace until they draw nigh to hope in God.
St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 56, 89
There is no need for much speaking; but stretch out your hands and say, “Lord, as You wish and as You know best, have mercy on me.” And if the warfare grows fierce, say “Lord, help.” God knows what is best for us and He is merciful to us.
Macarius the Great
Rabbi Shelomo asked: “What is the worst thing the evil urge can achieve?” And he answered: “To make us forget that we are each the child of a king.”
(A Jewish saying quoted by bishop Kallistos Ware)
A soul filled with thoughts of sensual desire and hatred is unpurified. If we detect any trace of hatred in our heart against any man whatsoever for committing any fault, we are utterly estranged from love of God, since love for God absolutely precludes us from hating any man. * He who loves Me, says the Lord, will keep my commandments; and “this is my commandment, that you love one another”. Thus he who does not love his neighbour fails to keep the commandment, and so cannot love the Lord. * Blessed is he who can love all men equally. * Blessed is he who is not attached to anything transitory or corruptible. * Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty. * If you make provision for the desires of the flesh and bear a grudge against your neighbour on account of something transitory, you worship the creature instead of the Creature.
St Maximos the Confessor
A temptation came upon you from your brother, and the hurt led you to hate. Do not be overcome with hate but overcome hate with love. You will prevail in this way: pray for him sincerely to God, accept his apology, or else come up with an apology for him yourself, think of yourself as the cause of the temptation, and be patient until the cloud has passed by.
A patient man is rich in prudence, because he refers every happening to its end, and while waiting for it he puts up with difficulties. “And the end is everlasting life”, (Romans 6:22) according to the divine apostle; “and this is eternal life, that they may know you, the only true God, and the one you have sent, Jesus Christ.” (John 17:13)
The man who still loves empty fame, or is attached so some material object, is naturally vexed with people on account of transitory things, or harbours rancour or hatred against them, or is a slave to shameful thoughts. Such things are quite foreign to the soul that loves God.
The person who truly wants to be healed is he who does not refuse treatment. This treatment consists of the pain and distress brought on by various misfortunes. He who refuses them does not realize what they accomplish in this world or what he will gain from them when he departs this life.
Food was created for two reasons, for nourishment and for healing. Therefore those who take it for any other reason misuse what has been given for their use and are condemned for their luxury. And as with everything else, misuse is sin.
St Maximus the Confessor
Orthodox spirituality is Christ-centred and Church-centred. This means that man is sanctified and saved through the God-man Christ, living within the Church which is the blessed Body of Christ. Christ does not exist outside of the Holy Trinity and outside of the Church. For this reason, living within the Church, which is an infirmary and hospital, we can be cured.
Participating in the uncreated Grace of God and experiencing ecclesiastical life are effected through the Sacraments and ascetic practice. Through the Sacraments, the uncreated Grace and Energy of God enters our heart; through ascetic practice on the one hand, we prepare the way of God’s Grace to act therapeutically and redemptively within our heart; on the other hand we safeguard Divine Grace which we received through the Sacraments.
… Our rebirth is accomplished in the Sacraments; however our co-operation (synergy) is also needed. God’s energy is offered through the Sacraments: Baptism gives man his identity with and hypostasis in Christ; Chrismation perfects the newly-born, granting him inner direction; Holy Eucharist maintains and keeps the vitality and well-being that man has received.
If the energy of God is offered through the Sacraments, synergy- the response to this great gift- is a matter of our own eagerness and indulgence. Thus God operates and man co-operates. Our own ascetic endeavour is, then, required so as to safeguard Divine Grace…
Baptism is not enough, one must observe the commandments of God, in other words, practice the ascetic life. The ascetic life, though, is not solely for monks, but it is the keeping of the commandments by all followers of Christ. Our endeavour to put into practice God’s commandments constitutes asceticism in Christ. After His resurrection Christ said to His disciples: “Go therefore and make disciples of all the nations, baptizing them in the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit, teaching them to observe all things that I have commanded you.” (Matthew 28:19-20). So Baptism does not suffice to make man a disciple of the Gospel, the keeping of the commandments of Christ is also necessary.
It is interesting to note the stance of St Gregory Palamas to two of the heretical claims of his era. Like all Fathers of the Church, St Gregory did not overrate one part of the truth at the expense of another, but rather maintained a spiritual balance, precisely because he was renewed by the Holy Spirit. The first claim was expressed by the Massalians, ancient heretics whose ideas were revived during the time of St Gregory. According to their teaching, the Sacraments of the Church are not of such great importance for man’s salvation. They claimed that that which unites a person with God is the so called noetic prayer. It is prayer which cleanses man and accomplishes his divination (theosis)- not the sacramental life. The second heretical claim came primarily from Western Christendom, as expressed by the philosopher Barlaam. Barlaam greatly emphasized the sacramental life of the Church at the expense of the hesychastic life. He despised hesychasm and everything having to do with noetic prayer. Barlaam did speak also of prayer but in an abstract and reflective manner. St Gregory undertook a comparable struggle against both heretical claims. He maintained, just as the Church does, that the excessive emphasis on the part of one claim and the undervaluation on the part of the second, regarding the truth, constitutes a divergence from Orthodox life and consequently distances a man from salvation. He stressed that for a person to be cured (and consequently for his salvation) a combination of both the Sacramental and ascetic life is needed.
From the Book “Orthodox Spirituality” by Metropolitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos
Orthodox Christianity views marriage as essentially a Christian vocation, a union in and with Christ. The ultimate end of that vocation is the same as that of monasticism: theosis or eternal participation in the life of God. Like monasticism, Christian marriage requires a continual askesis: a spiritual struggle, grounded in ongoing repentance. To quote a modern Orthodox theologian, “True virginity and true marriage are reached by a common road: the self denial of the cross, and ascetic self-offering.” This way of the Cross is symbolised in the Orthodox marriage ceremony by the nuptial crowns, which are crowns of victory but also crowns of martyrdom, of saving witness one to the other and to the world…
Christian marriage engages the couple in ceaseless spiritual warfare at every level of their common life. Through continual repentance and the seeking of forgiveness, obstinate pride resolves into tender affection, and self-centred lust into self-sacrificing devotion. Beyond that, however, the couple’s struggle unites them in a common “priestly” ministry, as they offer themselves and each other to God as a “sacrifice of praise.” The telos or ultimate end of conjugal union, then, is the salvation of the other, the beloved, with whom one is eternally untied in a covenant bond of faithfulness and self-giving love.
Fr John Breck
God’s eternal Son became man, and something happened to change the whole world. He is not just a new man, a new specimen of our species. He is the new man, God’s own man to produce new men- men and women with a new mind and a new heart, ready to go God’s way at whatever cost to themselves. New persons in Christ are like Christ Himself, new people with a whole new attitude toward life. “If any man is in Christ, he is a new creation- the old is past and gone, and everything is become fresh and new.”
As C.S Lewis wrote in his book, Beyond Personality, “Mere improvement is no redemption, though redemption always improves even here and now, and will, in the end, improve them to a degree we cannot yet imagine. God became Man to turn creatures into sons; not simply to produce better men of the old kind but to produce a new kind of man.
Fr Anthony Coniaris
May the Lord give you the blessing of a strong desire to stand inwardly before God. Seek and you will find. Seek God: such is the unalterable rule for all spiritual advancement. Nothing comes without effort. The help of God is always ready and always near, but is only given to those who seek and work, and only to those seekers who, after putting all their own powers to the test, then cry out with all their heart: Lord, help us. So long as you hold on to even a little hope of achieving something by your own powers, the Lord does not interfere. It is as though He says: “You hope to succeed by yourself- Very well, go on trying! But however long you try you will achieve nothing.” May the Lord give you a contrite spirit, a humble and a contrite heart
St Theophan the recluse, quoted in the book, “the Art of Prayer”
… for it is written, “An angry man is not dignified”
Prov. 11:25 LXX
If therefore you desire to attain perfection and rightly to pursue the spiritual way, you should make yourself a stranger to all sinful anger and wrath. Listen to what St Paul enjoins: “Rid yourselves of all bitterness, wrath, anger, clamour, evil speaking and all malice”(Eph.4:31). In saying “all” he leaves no excuse for regarding any anger as necessary or reasonable. If you want to correct your brother when he is doing wrong or to punish him, you must try to keep yourself calm; otherwise you yourself may catch the sickness you are seeking to cure and you may find that the words of the Gospel now apply to you: “Physician, heal yourself” (Luke 4:23), or, “Why do you look at the speck of dust in your brother’s eye, and not notice the rafter in your own eye?” (Mat. 7:3).
No matter what provokes it, anger blinds the soul’s eyes, preventing it from seeing the Sun of righteousness. Leaves, whether gold or lead, placed over the eyes, obstruct the sight equally, for the value of gold does not affect the blindness it produces. Similarly, anger, whether reasonable or unreasonable, obstructs our spiritual vision. Our incensive power can be used in a way that is according to nature only when turned against our own impassioned or self-indulgent thoughts. This is what the Prophet teaches us when he says: “Be angry and do not sin” (Psalm 4:4 LXX) – that is, be angry with your own passions and with your malicious thoughts, and do not sin by carrying out their suggestions. What follows clearly confirms this interpretation: “As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart” (Psalm 4:4 LXX)- that is, when malicious thoughts enter your heart, expel them with anger, and then turn to compunction and repentance as if your soul were resting in a bed of stillness.
St John Cassian, Philokalia
The Christian who has true humility realizes that God uses others to help clarify His will for each person. St Dorotheos wisely asks, “For how can we know the will of God or seek it completely if we believe only in ourselves and hold onto our own will?” When seeking God’s will we must not only turn to the Scriptures and the writings of the Holy Fathers, but we must also ask the advice of those whose experiences in the faith have taught them so much. To lean on one’s own understanding without seeking counsel is to fall into the devil’s hands: “Such people the devil likes, and he always rejoices over them, the ungoverned, those who are not subject to one who has power, under God, to help them and to give them a hand.” In short, if in humility we ask for another’s help, we allow ourselves to receive both the counsel and the encouragement needed to live the Christian life.
The heart has a lot of power. All of its willpower must be directed towards spiritual life. We should know that it overflows with joy for everything it is doing, only when it is done out of gratefulness and love and not as an obligation or duty…. There is great joy, when there is a desire for self-sacrifice.
Our Lord’s message demands of us change. Throughout the Gospels Jesus makes it clear that those who will follow Him are going to have to change the way they live; He will not let them follow Him and remain as they were. He is very clear that He is God, and as God He intends to make demands on His followers. They cannot follow Him and merely add Him to their life as it already is; in following Him the very structure and fabric of their life will be challenged and changed….
We need to love God more than anything or anyone. The love of God must consume our souls, so that we can say with the psalmist, “Whom have I in heaven but You?… And there is none upon earth that I desire besides You… My flesh and my heart fail;… but God is the strength of my heart and my portion forever.” (Ps 73:25-26)
Fr John Mack
Love every man as yourself- that is, do not wish him anything that you do not wish for yourself; think, feel, for him, just as you would think and feel for your own self; do not wish to see in him anything that you do not wish to see in yourself; do not let your memory cherish any evil done to you by others, just as you would wish that the evil done by yourself should be forgotten by others; do not deliberately imagine in yourself or in others anything wicked or impure; believe others to be as well-disposed as yourself, unless you see clearly that they are ill-disposed; do unto them as you would to yourself, and not otherwise, and you will find in your heart great peace and blessedness. He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God and God in him.
To love your neighbour as yourself, to sympathize with him in his joy and his sorrow, to feed, to clothe him, if he is in need of food and clothing; to breathe, so to say, the same air with him- look upon all this as the same thing as feeding and warming yourself, and do not count these as virtues or as works of love to your neighbour, lest you grow proud of them. For we are members of one another.
St John of Kronstadt
The wreaths, or wedding crowns, are symbols of Christ’s presence. More specifically, they are symbols of martyrdom. Husband and wife wear crowns to show that they are ready to become martyrs for Christ. To say that “I am married” means that I live and die for Christ. “I am married” means that I desire and thirst for Christ. Crowns are also signs of royalty, and thus husband and wife are king and queen, and their home is a kingdom, a kingdom of the Church, and extension of the Church. The wreaths also symbolize the final victory which will be attained in the kingdom of heaven. When the priest takes the wreaths he says to Christ, “Take their crowns to your kingdom.” And so marriage is a road: it starts out from earth and ends in heaven. It is a joining together, a bond with Christ, who assures us that He will lead us to heaven, to be with Him always. Marriage is a bridge leading from earth to heaven. It is as if the sacrament is saying: “Above and beyond love, above and beyond your husband, your wife, above the everyday events, remember that you are destined for heaven, that you have set out on a road which will take you there without fail.” The bride and the groom give their hands to one another, and the priest takes hold of them both, and leads them round the table, dancing and singing. Marriage is a movement, a progression, a journey which will end in heaven, in eternity.
May God grant us grace to learn obedience and to see its fruits. May God grant us the grace to be obedient children to our father confessor.
It is a very difficult thing to be a father confessor today. Many times father confessors don’t say anything, because they know it will not be received. They’re quiet, even though they know the medicine that will heal the soul, because they know there is no spirit of obedience. And so many people are not healed because they are not obedient. The spiritual fathers and the father confessors weep over the obstinate hearts of their children. They weep over children who fight back and argue, instead of saying, “With your blessing.”
May our cold obstinate hearts break. May we face what is being said, and in honesty admit that we are rebellious. And may we come to ourselves and be willing to obey, so that we will live to see the miracles of obedience- the flowering of our cold hearts and the bearing of the fruit of the Spirit in our lives.
Fr. John Mack
Doing God’s work at home is the same for clergy and laity. It consists in parents loving each other and caring for their children in the obvious ways: spiritually, intellectually, emotionally, and physically. It consists in children honouring their parents with proper obedience, respect and care.
The first of one’s neighbours to be loved are the members of one’s own natural household. “Charity begins in the home” is an apostolic teaching. “If anyone does not provide for his relatives, and especially for his own family, he has disowned the faith and is worse than an unbeliever” (1 Tim 5:8).
While some who call themselves Christians may sin by failing to care for their own flesh and blood- being rude and negligent at home while acting politely and kindly to those outside- others may sin by idolizing their families- including their countries, nations, and churches- and by failing to care seriously for anyone other than “their own.” Such communities can assume ultimate value in people’s lives and become objects of idolatrous worship. It is imperative to remember the radical teaching of Christ that “he who loves father or mother more than me is not worthy of me, and he who loves son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me, and he who does not take up his cross and follow me is not worthy of me” (Mat 10:37-38).
Fr Thomas Hopko
What was Jesus doing before He was transfigured? Luke 9:28-29 says that he went up on the mountain to pray, and as He was praying, He was transfigured before them. St Gregory Palamas says that Jesus did not need to pray to be transfigured, because Jesus was God. We are not told that Jesus prayed because it was necessary for Him. We are told that the Transfiguration took place while He was praying because it is necessary for us. If we wish to see the things of heaven, then we must be men and women who pray. And not just men and women who pray say 5 minutes of prayer in the morning and then go on with the rest of our life until we’re beat and tired, and then say 5 minutes of prayer before we fall back into bed. That’s not what we mean. St Paul says, “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Every second of the day must be prayer. You can receive Holy Communion without tasting that the Lord is good, because if you receive Holy Communion without prayer, then your body and soul have not received the grace of God. To taste heavenly food, we must pray. To hear angels, we must pray. To feel the presence of God and the saints, we must pray. We must work and labour in prayer so that we can fulfil the purpose of our existence.
Fr John Mack
Sometimes God allows for a relative or a fellow worker to cause us problems in order to exercise our patience and humbleness; however, instead of being grateful for the chance God gives us, we react and refuse to be cured. It is like refusing to pay the doctor who is giving us a shot when we are sick.
Our duty and concern must be how to please God and our fellow man; we should not be preoccupied with our needs, as God will take care of them. There is a silent spiritual agreement between God and man. He will look after us, while we will concentrate on how to live our lives according to His will. “Cast all your anxieties on Him, for he cares for you.”
Father Paisios of Mount Athos
The devil cunningly induces us- instead of arousing us against himself- to notice our neighbours’ sins, to make us spiteful and angry with others, and to awaken our contempt towards them, thus keeping us in enmity with them, and with the Lord God Himself. Therefore, we must despise the sins themselves, and not our brother, who commits them at the devil’s prompting, through infirmity and habit; we must pity him, and gently and lovingly instruct him, as one who forgets himself, or who is sick, as a prisoner and the slave of his sin.
St John of Kronstadt
The righteous Christian does not practice good acts for his own benefit, i.e. in order to be rewarded or to avoid hell and gain paradise, but rather because he prefers good to evil. Everything else is a natural consequence of the good that fills our soul without having asked for it. This way, good has dignity; otherwise, it originates from the cheap attitude of “give and take.”
Doing the will of God is a discipline in the best sense of the word. It is also a test of our loyalty, of our fidelity to Christ. It is by doing in every detail, at every moment, to the utmost of our power, as perfectly as we can, with the greatest moral integrity, using our intelligence, our imagination, our will, our skill, our experience, that we can gradually learn to be strictly, earnestly obedient to the Lord God. Unless we do this our discipleship is an illusion. Αnd if our life of discipline is a set of self-imposed rules in which we delight, which makes us proud and self-satisfied, it will leave us nowhere, because the essential momentum of our discipleship is the ability in this process of silence and listening, to reject our self, to allow the Lord Christ to be our mind, our will and our heart. Unless we renounce ourselves and accept his life in place of our life, unless we aim at what St Paul defines as “it is no longer I but Christ who lives in me”, we shall never be either disciplined or disciples.”
Archbishop Anthony Bloom
Value by its effects that greatest miracle of Jesus Christ, the Son of the living God, manifested when we partake with faith of his divine sacraments- Holy Communion. What is this miracle? The access of peace and life to your heart, to a heart killed by sin, which is so apparent from the uneasiness of heart and spiritual deadness that often precedes Communion. Never consider it from habit as anything ordinary or unimportant: by such thoughts you will incur the wrath of God, and you will not enjoy peace nor feel renewed life after Communion. By having lively and heart-felt gratitude for the holy and life-giving sacrament you will obtain Life from the Lord, and your faith will increase more and more.
St John of Konstadt
A psychologist once asked 3,000 persons, “What are you living for?” He was startled to find that most of them were simply enduring the present while they waited for something better in the future. Actors doing small parts were waiting for the “big chance”. People in business were thinking of their present jobs as drudgery, a mere marking of time, until fate opened the door to something better. One middle aged mother said, “I only hope that my nerves can stand the ordeal until my husband retires and the children get homes of their own, and then I can get a little rest.” When this all happened, this same mother was a very unhappy person. She looked back to the time when she was busy and the house full of children as the happiest period of her life… “Behold, now is the acceptable time, behold now is the day of salvation.” (2 Cor. 6:2) Now– not tomorrow– is the time to live. Now– not tomorrow– is the time to be saved, to be made whole. Our time on earth is limited. Every moment is unique and unrepeatable. Tomorrow is not ours, today is. Now is the time to do the compassionate act. Now is the time to say the word of forgiveness– before our time runs out. Now is the most glorious period of life. God’s time is always now.
Fr Anthony Coniaris
The Lord, before His incarnation, let man experience all the bitterness of sin, all his powerlessness to eradicate it; and when all longed for a deliverer, then He appeared, the all-wise and all-powerful healer and helper. When men hungered and thirsted after righteousness as it grew weaker, then the everlasting righteousness came…. This is indeed the miracle of miracles; this reveals the infinite mercy, wisdom, and omnipotence of the Lord towards His creatures, that He Himself, the Lord of all, the infinite, the unbounded, was pleased and was able to become man that we might be saved, that the Word, by whom all things were made, was made flesh and dwelt among us, living with men, and made like unto man in everything, sin alone excepted.
St John of Kronstadt
You keep writing about your troubles and your inner disorder. Realise that it cannot be otherwise in the temporal life, and do not try to find out from whom and through whom they come, for they do not come without God’s permission. If not even a hair of our head will perish, how much more sure is God’s protection of man. It is also said: “By your endurance you will gain your lives.” (Luke 21:18-19) I have already written to you before that there is just one way to deal with sorrows: prayer and patience. At a time of trouble wait for peace, and when there is peace prepare for trouble. In this temporal life peaceful and troubled times alternate. Even the holy men of God were not free from these changes. But you want to find some new path in order to escape hard experiences. This cannot be. You haven’t had abuse hurled at you or been struck on the cheeks, have you? Just remember the patience of the God incarnate: the blows on the cheeks, the hitting on the head with a stick, the spitting in his face and many kinds of ridicule. And he endured all this for the sake of our salvation. But we do not want, for the sake of our own salvation, to suffer even small annoyances.
Father John, a Russian monk
Hallowed Be Thy Name. We sanctify the name of the Father in grace who is in heaven by mortifying earthly lust, of course, and by purifying ourselves from corrupting passions, since sanctification is the total immobility and mortification of sensual lust. Arrived at that point, we quiet down the indecent howling of anger which no longer has, to excite it and persuade it to be carried over to familiar pleasures, the lust which is already mortified by a holiness conformed to reason. Indeed, anger, as a natural ally of lust, ceases to rage once it sees that lust is mortified.
Maximus the Confessor, Commentary on the Our Father
A basic condition for the spiritual life is that we should understand that, on our own, we can do absolutely nothing. No matter how hard we try, the spiritual life is something that someone else gives to us. And the “someone else” is the Spirit of God, the Comforter, the “treasury of good things and the giver of life”, the treasury from which all the riches of spirituality come forth, the source from which the spiritual life emerges and overflows. Of course, sometimes we get confused, and think that to be spiritual means to be a “good person”: not to steal, not to kill, not to go to bad places or with bad friends, to go to Church on Sunday, to read spiritual books, and so on. But no, this is not the spiritual life. A spiritual person, a true Christian, is someone whose entire life is sworn to God. Initially by means of his baptism, and later, in his heart, such a person swears an oath to God, to live for God, and to remain with God forever. A spiritual person is an athlete who has burst into life, who stands out from the crowds of human beings, and runs with all the speed of his soul to heaven. A spiritual person is one who with shining eyes and chest thrust forward, has set his course and races to heaven. He is not a “good man”. A spiritual person knows that, in order to succeed, he needs strong wings: the wings of the Holy Spirit.A spiritual person must therefore do everything possible to attract, to win over, the Spirit of God, because only the Holy Spirit, God himself, has the gifts of the spiritual life. According to St Gregory of Nyssa, the “distribution of the royal gifts” of the Holy Spirit takes place in the Church through the Sacraments.
Fr Aimilianos of Simonopetra
Do not say: “I do not know what is right, therefore I am not to blame when I fail to do it.” For if you did all the good about which you do know, what you should do next would then become clear to you, as if you were passing through a house from one room to another. It is not helpful to know what comes later before you have done what comes first. For knowledge without action “puffs up”, but “loves edifies”, because it “patiently accepts all things” (1 Cor. 8:1; 13:7).
Mark the Ascetic in Philokalia, volume 1
St Luke tells us that the Transfiguration took place while Jesus was praying. Is it not in periods of prayer that we are most likely to witness the glory of God? Is it not prayer that produces an inner change in man which becomes reflected in a transfigured life?
Fr Anthony Coniaris
St Silouan declared that the Spirit brought him through torments of doubt to the firm conviction that “Jesus Christ is God.” This Spirit, who bestows the gift of faith, fills every aspect of our life and leads us progressively toward the twin goals of Knowledge of God and Love of Enemies. If we can know anything at all of God, and even enter into the most intimate communion with Him, it is only because God grants us this mystical knowledge by His Spirit, who dwells within the temple of the heart. If we can love even our enemy, it is only with the compassion and mercy of God Himself, who infuses our heart with the transforming grace of the Spirit. This is a grace that lifts us above our passions- corrupted feelings of victimization and shame, of anxiety and defensive rage- and enables us, in the power of the Spirit, to embrace with love even those who hate us, who threaten us, and who, on a purely human level, inspire our contempt and loathing…One of the greatest and most illuminating gifts we receive from the Spirit is recognition and acceptance of the fact that we are often our own worst enemy. It is that burdensome fact that can lead us to make enemies even of those who are closest to us. Little irritations can transform an insignificant incident into a household drama that creates tension, alienation and rejection. The ascetic life is made up of struggles against just these kinds of temptations. There needs to be a change of heart that only God can accomplish. “The Lord’s love,” Silouan declares, “is made known in no other wise than through the Holy Spirit.”