On lack of faith

Lack of faith, fear for the future and forgetting about the good providence of God often lead to acts, which later on we must regret much.

About warfare and prayer

“It is better not to notice the warfare on account of not paying attention to it and being focused on prayer, rather than, abandoning the attention to prayer, give in to contemplating the warfare, which is above our strength, and from this perceived contemplation arrive at high mindedness, which is inseparable from self opinion.” — St. Ignati (Brianchaninov)

About temptations

Do you wish to overcome a temptation? Thank the Lord for it and receive His immediate aid. Complaining, on the contrary, makes one weak.

On God’s grace in our deeds

“…God resisteth the proud, but giveth grace unto the humble.” (James 4:6)

Often, in the church and generally in life, we see the following: someone is putting all his efforts, one might say trying to jump out of his skin, in order to do good, to serve God and neighbour, but his efforts produce only temptations, confusion, and offences. I’m certain that I also in the past and in the present was and am, at times, a temptation for my neighbour.

Why?

The reason for this is in the passions within us, in pride, self-opinion, self-love, self-will, love of glory, vainglory, and others. The main reason for stumbling in all our good beginnings is our pride. It distances us from God, Whom we aspire to serve and deprives us of His grace. Without God’s grace our work, if it doesn’t become sin, loses it’s benefit and becomes a cause of temptations.

How often do we see people serving, singing, teaching, organizing, doing, and yet all of it takes place with a certain indescribable additive that evokes repulsion and disgust of those around? All of this is the action of pride, or another passion, covered by good intentions, yet clearly stripping the good work of God’s blessing and His grace.

Having poured out the grace of the Holy Spirit on the Holy Apostles, the Lord called all into unity. The grace of the Holy Spirit always unites the faithful and even those, who were never acquainted before, often accept each other as old friends when they are united by the grace of God.

That is why humility is always the foundation of success in all our works.

Something from the life of St. Symeon the Stylite could serve as a good example here. When he began his struggle, the desert fathers, who didn’t see such an ascesis before, gathered and discussed whether it was from God, or not. Then, they sent to St. Symeon brothers, who told him that the fathers do not bless him to live upon the pillar. As soon as he heard that, immediately, he began to climb down, but they stopped him saying that now they see – in his readiness to be obedient – that his way of struggle is from God. Thus, by his humility he acquired God’s grace and blessing for his struggle.

There is another very instructive story about the bad influence of passions on our works:

A disciple of some elder brought a basket of vegetables and said it was an offering of some man. The elder told his disciple that he will not eat of those vegetables because of the stench of stinginess coming from them. The disciple was surprised and told the elder that he himself didn’t smell anything. Then, the elder told him to take the vegetables to the cows, which will also refuse to eat them. The disciple obeyed and was very much surprised when the cows only mooed and turned their heads away from the basket with vegetables.

Alas, our passions – and our pride first and foremost – also invisibly defile our good works and make them a source of temptation and confusion for others. That is why let us strive with our whole heart, with our whole mind, and with all our strength, to found all our deeds in humility. Then, the grace of God will always abide with us and our neighbours will not be tempted. Then, God Himself will be our Helper and His angels will always help us as well.

About enmity

…The Lord commanded us to love our enemies. Any offense or enmity hinders us from serving God and the Church. Our strife afflicts the Church…

About temptations

…Without temptations no one can be saved…

Much can be said about someone based on his reaction to temptation. Some murmur quietly, some judge the offender, some make a loud fuss, and some altogether become enraged and seek vengeance; rarely, some quietly, with tears thank God for correction, offer Him a heart that is broken and humbled, which He will not despise.

Yes, all of us are familiar with temptations: illness, betrayal, offence, undeserved – seemingly – accusations, various break downs… It is difficult to describe everything that can happen with us on life’s journey. St. Anthony the Great has the following words: “Everyone can steer the ship during good weather, a true seaman is revealed during the time of a storm.”

The tempests of temptations are a certain God’s x-ray, which reveals to us the passions hiding deep within our souls. If there were no temptations, we would have never found out how week and helpless we are without God. If there were no temptations, we would never come to know how far we are from perfection, to which we are called by God.

Once, I asked an acquaintance if he plays tennis. He told me that he never lost a match to anyone in his life, for which I admired him greatly… then he added that he never played… My admiration vanished without a trace.

Each temptation is a spiritual battle, a combat that shows us our true spiritual state. Winning, we obtain God’s grace and move forward to the next battle, yet even when we lose, we should not become despondent, our spirit should not be cast down. If a temptation should overcome us, let us not give the enemy any cause for joy and let us turn our failure into a weapon against him by sincere repentance and humility.

Much in our life depends on our attitude: if in at all times and in all things we thank the Lord, then no temptation will be able to crush our faith, but if we grumble and seek an easy life, if we wish to pass through the wide gates, then every – even the most minute and insignificant – temptation will be a torment for us. Therefore, let us thank the Lord for every temptation and let us protect our souls from all harm by humility and meekness. Being tempted, let us be discerning and let us not proudly seek temptations, because hotheaded imprudence never served anyone for good. In contrition of heart let us always remember the words of the Lord’s prayer: “…and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from the evil one.” Amen.

On giving of thanks

The holy apostle Paul teaches us to thank the Lord always and in all things. However, the feeling of gratitude, for the most part, is familiar to us only when all things are smooth, when everything is going our way. Alas, in times of temptations our first reaction is grumbling, vexation, irritation. All of this does not attract the grace of God toward us, but quite the opposite, it drives it away from us. Our negative thoughts and feelings, like raging waves, toss the ship of our heart hither and thither, hindering the captain – the mind – in steering, at times threatening altogether to break it over the rocks – over bitter sorrow.

Blinded, devoid of reason by ingratitude in times of temptation, we are like sick people, who grumble and complain against the doctor for bitter, but beneficial medicine.

Let us remember Joseph the Most Comely, whom his brothers, first, wanted to kill, but then sold him into slavery, into Egypt. In all his sorrows he continued to thank the Lord and to serve Him faithfully, and for that he was rewarded with honour and glory, having become a great chief in Egypt, second to Pharaoh in power, and a saviour from hunger not only for the Egyptians, but also for his brothers.

Thanksgiving to the Lord for everything, especially for sorrows, calms the tempest of feelings and thoughts, giving the mind ability to see circumstances clearly, and consequently, the ability to make correct decisions, ones beneficial for the salvation of the soul. Ingratitude, grumbling, and sorrow darken our reason, cover the eyes of our soul with thick wall of smoke and darkness and do not allow it to see God. The one, who believes, knows that without God even joy is not a joy.

Therefore, let us try every day, every hour, at all times and in all things to fulfill this bright commandment: to thank the Lord for all things. The words of thanksgiving in our mouth will be sweet as honey, which by its sweetness helps us swallow bitter medicine. Thus, our gratitude will sweeten our sorrow and grief, will make it more tolerable, and at times altogether help us see everything in a different – Divine – light and will heal our heart, having purified it of bitterness and having filled it with joy in the Lord, Who, in all our sorrows, is our Quick and Almighty Protector.

On self-will

Very often, one can even say, in the majority of cases, we come to church in the search for help, especially during the time of trouble, sorrow, or grief. The heart shows us the way, gives us a direction; the soul of every person yearns for God and inexorably attracts one to the church. Having crossed the threshold of the church, having heard the most accessible and comforting prayer “Lord, have mercy”, little by little, we become eyewitnesses and participants of a great miracle: our repentance, renewal, and healing.

At first look, it seems that this process is extremely simple: church is perceived as a pharmacy, or a store – you come, get what you need, and continue on your way. However, such an approach – even when it is at the subconscious level – always ends in a disappointment. Some for a short while, others for a number of years try to get something from God; I shall dare to say that some try to get their own way with all righteous and unrighteous means.

In some cases, everything is resolved in good time: we are churched and begin to see our needs differently. Yet at other times, on account of our weakness of soul and our willfulness, we get stuck in erroneous opinions, built upon and by all means founded on our fleshly reasonings. Stubbornly striving after our goal, there are times, when we undertake considerable efforts: we fast too strictly, take upon ourselves extended prayer rules, read one after another books on spiritual life, look for elders, in order to use their blessings as some seal of approval for our desires and actions. In other words: we become great zealots, yet without proper understanding.

In itself, fasting, prayer rule, reading of spiritual books is without doubt of great benefit, save for the times when they are, in essence, some bargaining tool in trading with God. I really need something, so I’ll fast more strictly, I’ll say some extra prayers, will read some books, and look, perhaps, the Lord will give me what I want. How always painful it is to see such, though most sincere, yet still mistaken way of thinking.

Such an approach toward spiritual life was already condemned by the Lord. Blinded by our desires, we do not hear His strict warning. Addressing pharisees, lawyers, and scribes, the Lord accused them for trying by all means to keep the letter of the law, at the same time violating its spirit. The Lord said: “Ye blind guides, which strain at a gnat, and swallow a camel!” (Matthew 23:24)

What did He want to say by those words? The Lord did not abolish the law, He fulfilled it and taught us to live by the commandments. Consequently, we should fast, pray, and read the Holy Gospel. Only we must always remember that we do all that in order to have the strength to fight with our passions: with pride, avarice, hardness of heart and others. Our passions are those camels, which we swallow, in other words, we do not pay due attention to fighting them.

If we use the weapons for the spiritual struggle with the passions for our own self-centered goals and then, when, in the end we do not get what we want, we are mistaken about the reasons for our sorrows and consider ourselves righteous and worthy of God’s help, we run the risk of becoming exhausted and mentally ill, of losing our faith, of becoming angry with the church and its ministers, the risk of becoming a prey of the evil one.

Such are the consequences of self-will.

God resists the proud, but gives grace to the humble. Saint Isaac the Syrian said that grace is bestowed not for the virtues, but for the humility, which is born in those, who try to acquire the virtues and come to see their falls, sins and shortcomings.

In the garden of Gethsemane, the Lord gave us an example of how we should pray and ask God: “O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me: nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.” (Matthew 26:39) In this short prayer the Lord humbles Himself twice, saying first: “if it be possible”, and then: “nevertheless not as I will, but as Thou wilt.”

Let us also, when we seek help from God, seek deliverance from sorrows, believe with our whole heart in His loving providence for us sinners, knowing that everything always happens for the better, for our benefit. Let us always remember that the words “Thy will be done” are part of the Lord’s prayer. Then, no sorrow, no trial will be able to darken our reason and separate us from the love of God and commitment to His Church.

On thoughts

Even as a speck of dust, so is the improper thought in the heart of man.

Often, we do not consider the thoughts and ideas that attract us.  We do not reason regarding their propriety, wholesomeness, and usefulness.  Accepting the enemy’s suggestions indiscriminately, we suffer harm; often little, but at times great harm, maleficent or altogether deadly for the soul.  The picking of mushrooms could serve as a good example in this case.

Certainly, everybody knows that one has to pick mushrooms very carefully in order not to get poisoned while eating them.  There are obviously poisonous mushrooms:  toadstool, fairy-mushroom; there are also much more dangerous mushrooms:  the false ones.  They look very much like the edible ones, but in reality are poisonous.  The experienced pickers examine all the mushrooms very carefully before placing them in the basket.  If there is a slightest shadow of doubt as to whether a mushroom is edible or not, they throw it out.

In order to avoid pernicious harm to the soul, one must act much in the same way with all thoughts, desires, and ideas.  All thoughts that are from God, ones that are pure, penitential in nature, humble, and filled with love toward God and one’s neighbor, should be accepted and placed in the basket of the heart.  All thoughts from the enemy, those that are proud, cruel, self-centered, self-loving, evil, malicious, and others like unto them, must be thrown out.

The eyes are washed with pure water or a medical solution.  In the same way, the heart must be cleansed by prayer and protected from the dirt of improper thoughts, in order for it always to be able to see the Lord and His light clearly, in order for it to be a temple worthy for the dwelling of the Holy Spirit.