T A B L E O F C O N T E N T S
[CHAPTER 1. THE MOST HOLY SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST] (#bk2-chapter-1)
[CHAPTER 2. HOW ONE SHOULD PARTAKE OF THE HOLY SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST, OR PARTAKE OF CHRIST OUR LORD SACRAMENTALLY—IN THE SACRAMENTS] (#bk2-chapter-2)
[CHAPTER 3. HOW TO KINDLE THE LOVE OF GOD IN ONESELF BY ENTERING DEEPLY INTO THE SACRAMENT OF THE EUCHARIST] (#bk2-chapter-3)
[CHAPTER 4. COMMUNION OF THE SPIRIT] (#bk2-chapter-4)
[CHAPTER 5. ON GIVING THANKS TO GOD] (#bk2-chapter-5)
[CHAPTER 6. ON SURRENDER TO THE WILL OF GOD] (#bk2-chapter-6)
[CHAPTER 7. ON WARMTH OF HEART, AND ON COOLING AND DRYNESS OF HEART] (#bk2-chapter-7)
[CHAPTER 8. ON GUARDING AND EXAMINING CONSCIENCE] (#bk2-chapter-8)
[CHAPTER 9. ON PREPARATION FOR BATTLE WITH THE ENEMIES IN THE HOUR OF DEATH] (#bk2-chapter-9)
[CHAPTER 10. THE FOUR TEMPTATIONS WHICH COME FROM THE ENEMY IN THE HOUR OF DEATH. THE FIRST TEMPTATION, AGAINST FAITH, AND THE MEANS TO OVERCOME IT] (#bk2-chapter-10)
[CHAPTER 11. SECOND TEMPTATION IN THE HOUR OF DEATH— THROUGH DESPAIR] (#bk2-chapter-11)
[CHAPTER 12. THIRD TEMPTATION IN THE HOUR OF DEATH— BY VAINGLORY] (#bk2-chapter-12)
[CHAPTER 13. FOURTH TEMPTATION IN THE HOUR OF DEATH— BY PHANTOMS] (#bk2-chapter-13)
[CHAPTER 14. ON SPIRITUAL PEACE OF HEART] (#bk2-chapter-14)
[CHAPTER 15. ON THE MEANS OF PRESERVING INNER PEACE] (#bk2-chapter-15)
[CHAPTER 16. PEACE OF HEART IS ESTABLISHED LITTLE BY LITTLE] (#bk2-chapter-16)
[CHAPTER 17. TO PRESERVE PEACE OF HEART ONE MUST AVOID HONOURS AND LOVE HUMILITY AND POVERTY] (#bk2-chapter-17)
[CHAPTER 18. IT IS ESSENTIAL THAT THE SOUL REMAIN SECLUDED IN ITSELF, FOR GOD TO ENCOMPASS IT WITH HIS PEACE] (#bk2-chapter-18)
[CHAPTER 19. ON GOOD SENSE IN WORKS OF LOVE FOR YOUR NEIGHBOURS, FOR THE SAKE OF YOUR PEACE OF SOUL] (#bk2-chapter-19)
[CHAPTER 20. STRIPPED OF ITS WILL, THE SOUL SHOULD SURRENDER TO GOD] (#bk2-chapter-20)
[CHAPTER 21. DO NOT SEEK PLEASURES AND COMFORTS, BUT ONLY GOD] (#bk2-chapter-21)
[CHAPTER 22. DO NOT LOSE HEART WHEN INNER PEACE WITHDRAWS OR IS INTERRUPTED] (#bk2-chapter-22)
[CHAPTER 23. MANY ARE THE WILES OF THE ENEMY TO DESPOIL US OF INNER PEACE; SO WATCH] (#bk2-chapter-23)
[CHAPTER 24. ONE MUST NOT BE PERTURBED BY IMPOVERISHMENT OF SPIRITUAL FEELINGS OR BY OTHER INNER TEMPTATIONS] (#bk2-chapter-24)
[CHAPTER 25. EVERY TEMPTATION IS SENT FOR OUR GOOD] (#bk2-chapter-25)
[CHAPTER 26. REMEDY AGAINST BEING PERTURBED BY SMALL TRANSGRESSIONS AND WEAKNESSES] (#bk2-chapter-26)
[CHAPTER 27. IF A MAN IS PERTURBED, HE MUST IMMEDIATELY RE-ESTABLISH PEACE IN HIS SOUL] (#bk2-chapter-27)
The most holy sacrament of the Eucharist
So far, dear reader, I have spoken to you of the four weapons required to overcome the enemies in unseen warfare, namely non-reliance on oneself, an unshakeable hope in God, resisting and struggling with sin, and prayer. Now I want to indicate to you another powerful weapon in this warfare, namely, the most holy sacrament of the Eucharist. This sacrament is the highest among sacraments, and is the most powerful and effective of all spiritual weapons. The four weapons of which we have spoken receive their power from the forces and gifts of grace, obtained for us by the blood of Christ. But this sacrament is Christ’s blood itself, and His flesh itself, in which Christ is Himself present as God. When we use those four weapons, we fight the enemy with the power of Christ; in the latter case our Lord Christ Himself strikes down our enemies through us, or in company with us. For he who eats Christ’s flesh and drinks His blood abides with Christ, and He in him, as He said: ‘He that eateth my flesh, and drinketh my blood, dwelleth in me, and I in him” (John vi. 56). Therefore, when we overcome the enemies, it is the blood of Christ which overcomes, as it is written in Revelation: ‘and they overcame him” (the slanderous devil) ‘by the blood of the Lamb’ (Rev. xii. 11).
This most holy sacrament, this all-conquering weapon, or rather Christ present in this sacrament, can be actively received in a twofold manner: first, sacramentally, in the sacrament of Christ’s flesh and blood, with the necessary preparation, that is, contrition, confession, purification by penance and the required fast; secondly—inwardly and spiritually in mind and heart. The first may take place as often as outer circumstances, inner state and the discretion of one’s spiritual Father allow; the second can take place every moment; so you may always have this all-powerful weapon in your hand and constantly wield it against your enemies. So harken to this and partake of the Holy Mysteries of Christ as often as possible, so long as you have the permission of your spiritual Father. But strive to partake of Christ our Lord inwardly and spiritually without ceasing; I have offered you guidance to this in the preceding chapters on prayer.
How one should partake of the holy sacrament of the Eucharist, or partake of Christ our Lord sacramentally—in the sacraments
To achieve the aim with which we approach this divine sacrament, we must have certain special dispositions, perform certain special practices and undertake certain special measures before communion, during communion and after communion. Before communion, we must purify ourselves of all the filth of sins, both mortal and not mortal, through the sacrament of repentance and confession, and fulfil whatever our spiritual Father imposes on us during confession, combining it with a firm resolve to serve only our Lord Jesus Christ with our whole heart, whole soul, whole strength and whole mind, and to do only what is acceptable to Him. Since in this sacrament He gives us His flesh and His blood, and with it His soul, His Divinity, and the full force of His incarnated dispensation, when we think how insignificant is what we give Him, compared with His gift, let us at least resolve in our heart to be diligent in doing all we can to His glory; and even if we should gain possession of the greatest gift ever offered to Him by earthly or heavenly intelligent beings, let us profess our readiness to offer it without hesitation to His Divine Majesty.
If you wish to partake of this sacrament, in order to overcome and destroy by its power the Lord’s enemies and your own, begin to meditate the evening before, or even earlier, on how much our Saviour, the Son of God and God, desires that by partaking of this sacrament you should give Him a place in your heart, so that He should be united with you, and help you to drive out from it all your passions and overcome all your enemies.
This desire of the Lord is so great and ardent that no created mind can contain it in its perfection. Yet, in order to move even a little towards this understanding, you must try to impress deeply in your mind the following two thoughts: first, what unutterable delight it is for the all-merciful God to be in most sincere communion with us, as the holy Wisdom Itself testifies, saying: ‘And my delights were with the sons of men ‘ (Prov. viii. 31); and second, how strongly God hates sin, both because it prevents his union with us, so desirable to Him, and because it is directly opposed to His divine perfections. Since His nature is infinitely blessed, pure light and ineffable beauty, He cannot but totally abhor sin, which is nothing but the extreme of evil, darkness, corruption, abomination and shame in our souls. God’s abhorrence of sin is so great that from the very beginning all the acts of divine Providence for us and all the ordinances of the Old and New Testaments were directed towards exterminating sin and wiping out its traces. Most of all is this true of the most wondrous passion of our Saviour Jesus Christ, Son of God and God. Some theologians and teachers say even that if it were necessary, our Lord Jesus would be ready to take upon Himself endless other deaths to destroy the power of sin (recall the saying of St. Dionysius the Areopagite about the vision of Titus). This is how the wrath of God pursues it.
Having understood from such thoughts and contemplations how great is God’s desire to enter your heart, to gain there a final victory over your enemies, who are His enemies also, you cannot help feeling an ardent desire to receive Him into yourself, in order that He should accomplish in you such a deed in actual fact. Thus fully inspired by courage and filled with daring by the sure hope that the heavenly Commander, your Jesus, can enter you, frequently challenge to a fight the passion which troubles you most and which you wish to overcome, and strike it down with hatred, contempt and disgust, at the same time rousing in yourself the prayerful desire for the opposite virtue, and the readiness to do corresponding deeds, precisely such and such. This is what you should do on the eve of communion. In the morning, a little before the Holy Communion, make a mental survey of all the times when you were carried away, did wrong, or sinned, from the time of your last communion till now. Remember also the blindness and foolhardiness with which all this was done, as though for you there were no God, Who judges and rewards. Who has seen it all and Who has borne terrible tortures and a shameful death on the cross to deliver you from such things. Realise that you scorned all this every time you inclined towards sin and put your own shameful lusts above the will of your God and Saviour. Let the face of
your soul be covered with shame when you realise such ingratitude and foolhardiness. Yet do not let yourself be overwhelmed by the disturbance of all this, and cast out any hopelessness. In His infinite long-suffering the Lord sees your repentance and your profession of readiness to serve henceforth Him alone, He inclines towards mercy and hastens towards you and into you, in order to engulf and drown in the immensity of His loving kindness the immensity of your ingratitude, your foolhardiness and lack of faith.
So approach Him with the humble feeling of unworthiness, but with full hope, love and devotion, preparing a spacious tabernacle for Him in your heart, to let the whole of Him enter you. How and in what way? By banishing from the heart not only passionate attachment to and sympathy for any created thing, but even all thought of such, and by closing its door, to prevent anyone or anything entering it, except the Lord alone.
After communion of the holy Mysteries, enter immediately the secret depths of your heart and there worship the Lord with devoted humility, inwardly addressing Him in such wise: ‘Thou seest, O my all-merciful Lord, how easily I fall into sin, to my ruin, what power the passion that attacks me has over me, and how powerless I am to free myself from it. Help me, give power to my powerless struggles, or rather take up Thyself my weapons and fight for me, finally to overthrow my cruel enemy.”
Then turn to the heavenly Father of our Lord Jesus Christ and of ourselves, Who together with His Son has in His benevolence entered into you in these mysteries, and to the Holy Spirit, Whose grace has inspired and prepared you for partaking of the blood and flesh of the Lord, and Who now, after communion, richly sheds His grace upon you; and adore the one God, worshipped as the Holy Trinity, Who bestows His favours upon us. Having given Him reverent thanks for the great mercy shown you at this moment, present to Him, as an offering, your firm resolution, readiness and ardent desire to fight your sin, in the hope of overcoming it by the power of the one God in Three Hypostasies. For you should know that if you do not use all the efforts you can to conquer your passion, you will receive no help from God; and if, in striving with all zeal and diligence, you rely only on your own powers, you will have no success. Strive with all diligence, but expect success only from God’s help. Help will surely come and, rendering your powerless efforts all-powerful, will give you an easy victory over that against which you struggle.
How to kindle the love of God in oneself by entering deeply into the sacrament of the Eucharist
In order to kindle a great love of God in yourself by entering deeply into the heavenly sacrament of the blood and flesh of Christ, turn your thought to the contemplation of the love, which God has shown you personally in this sacrament. For this great and almighty God was not content with creating you in His likeness and image, and when you sinned and offended Him and so fell from your high rank, He was not satisfied with sending His Only-begotten Son to live thirty-three years on earth to deliver you, and, by terrible torment and painful death on the cross, to redeem and snatch you out of the hands of the devil, to whom you became enslaved through sin, and again to restore you to your former rank; no, He also deigned to establish the sacrament of His flesh and blood as food for you, so that the whole power of His incarnated dispensation might imbue your nature most essentially. Make this last token of God’s strong love for you the object of your constant contemplation and deep pondering, so that, seeing its manifold fullness and richness, you should thereby feed and inflame your heart with undivided love and longing for God.
- Think of the time when God began to love you, and you will see that His love for you has no beginning. For since He himself is eternal in His divine nature, eternal also is His love for you, whereby before all ages He took counsel with Himself and resolved to give you His Son in a miraculous and ineffable manner. Realising this, rejoice in ecstasy of spirit and cry: ‘So even in the abyss of eternity my nothingness was watched over and loved by the infinite God; even then did He make provision for my good, and His love, which is beyond all words, resolved to give me for food His Only-begotten Son. After this, can I permit myself for a single moment not to cleave to Him with all my thought, all my desire and all my heart?”
- Think also that all mutual affections between creatures, however great they may be, have their measure and their limit, beyond which they cannot go. Only the love of God for us is limitless. So, when it became necessary to satisfy it in a certain special way, He sacrificed to it His Son, Who is His equal in greatness and infinitude, for His nature is one and the same. Thus His love is as great as His gift, and conversely His gift as great as His love. Both the one and the other are so great, that no created mind can conceive anything greater. So requite this boundless love at least with all the love of which you are capable.
- Reflect further that God conceived this love for us not through any necessity, but solely through His natural loving-kindness. He loved us from Himself spontaneously, with love as much beyond measure as beyond understanding.
- Reflect also that on our side we could never have forestalled this love by any deed so worthy of praise or reward, that the infinite God would requite our utter poverty with the wealth of His love; that He loved us only because in His loving-kindness He wished it; and not only loved us, but gave Himself to us, His unworthy creatures.
- Look at the purity of this love and see that, unlike the love of creatures, it is unmixed with any expectation of future gain from us. For God has no need of gain from outside, being Himself all-sufficing and all-blessed in Himself. Thus, if He wished to pour His ineffable love and loving-kindness upon us. He did so not for the sake of any profit for Himself from us, but for our own good.
Thinking of all this, can you help crying out in yourself: ‘O the wonder of it! The Almighty God has laid His heart upon me, the least of His creatures! What dost Thou wish of me, O King of glory? What dost Thou expect of me, who am nothing but dust and ashes? I see clearly, O Lord my God, in the light of Thy infinite love, that Thou hast but one desire, which most reveals the radiance of Thy love for me, namely that Thou desirest to give me the whole of Thyself as food and drink for no other purpose but to transmute the whole of me into Thyself, not because Thou hast any need of me, but because I have extreme need of Thee; for in this way Thou dwellest in me and I in Thee; and through this union of love I become as Thou art. In human words: through the union of my earthly heart with Thy heavenly heart a single divine heart is created in me.”
Such thought cannot but fill you with wonder and joy, when you see yourself so highly valued by God and so beloved by Him, and understand that in His infinite love for you He seeks and desires nothing from you, save only to attract your love to Him self and thus to give you bliss, by delivering you from every passionate attachment to creatures and to yourself. For then you will be able to bring the whole of yourself as a burnt offering to Him, your God, and from then onwards, for all the rest of your life, only love of Him and an ardent desire to please Him will possess your mind, your will, your memory and all your senses. Every favour coming from God’s love for you can produce this effect in your soul: but this effect is most natural if you look with understanding on the most blessed sacrament of the divine Eucharist. While you look at it with your mind, open your heart to it, and pour out the following devout prayers and loving sighs: ‘Oh, heavenly Food! When shall the hour come when I am totally immolated for Thee and consumed, not by some other fire, but by the fire of Thy love? O uncreated Love, O Bread of Life! When shall I live by Thee alone, for Thee alone and in Thee alone? When, O my life, beautiful, sweet and eternal, when, O Manna from heaven, shall I turn away from all other earthly food, when shall I desire only Thee and be fed by Thee alone? When will it be, O my all-satisfying sweetness, O my highest good! O my Lord, most desired and most good! Tear this poor heart of mine from every wrong attachment and tendency, adorn it with Thy holy virtues and fill it with that good disposition which would make me, in all sincerity, do all things solely to please Thee! Then, at last, I shall attain to opening to Thee my heart, no longer unworthy of Thee, and, invoking Thee with love, shall make Thee enter it. And then, my Lord, having entered it, Thou wilt not meet with resistance and wilt perform therein all the actions Thou art wont to perform in souls devoted to Thee.”
In such loving thoughts and feelings you may spend the evening and morning, preparing for communion. Then, when the sacred hour of communion draws near, imagine most vividly, with humility and warmth of heart, Whom you are about to receive into yourself, and who are you, who are about to receive Him.
He is the Son of God, clothed in inconceivable greatness, before Whom tremble the heavens and all the powers: He is the Holy of holies, brighter than the sun, purity beyond all comprehension, compared with which all created purity is filth. In His love for you He took the form of a slave, chose to be despised, scorned and crucified by the malice of the lawless world, and at the same time remained God, holding in His hand the life and death of the whole world. And who are you? You are—nothing, who in your corruption, evil and malice have become less than nothing, worse than the least and most unclean of all creatures, the laughing stock of the demons of hell. Carried away by your fantasies and lusts, you have scorned your great Lord and Benefactor and, instead of giving thanks to the bountiful God for so many and such great favours, you have trodden under foot His priceless blood, spilt for your sake. Yet, in spite of it all, He is calling you to His divine supper in His unceasing and unchanging love for you. At times He even forces you to approach it by fearful admonitions, reminding you of His words said to all: ‘Except ye eat the flesh of the Son of man, and drink his blood, ye have no life in you” (John vi. 53); and just as He does not shut to you the door of His mercy, so He does not turn His face away from you, even though, in your sins, you are a leper, weak, blind and poor, a slave to all passions and vices.
The only things He demands of you are:
- That you should grieve in your heart at having offended Him;
- that you should abhor sin above all things, any sin, great or small;
- that you should give yourself up to Him entirely and care for one thing only, with all the love and longing of your heart —to conform to His will always and in everything you do, and be for ever fully obedient to Him alone; (4) that you should have a firm faith in Him and an unshakeable trust that He will have mercy upon you, will cleanse you of all your sins and will protect you from all your enemies, both visible and invisible.
Fortified by this ineffable love of God for you, approach the Holy Communion with holy fear and love, saying: ‘ I am unworthy, O Lord, to receive Thee; for many and many a time have I angered Thee by my sins, and have not yet mourned all my wicked deeds.
I am unworthy, O Lord, to receive Thee; for I have not yet cleansed myself of the dispositions and attachments to what is not pleasing to Thee. I am unworthy, O Lord, to receive Thee, for I have not yet surrendered in all sincerity to Thy love, Thy will and obedience to Thee. O my God, all-powerful and infinitely good! In Thy merciful loving-kindness, do Thou Thyself make me worthy of receiving Thee, for I run to Thee with faith.”
After this, when you have received the Holy Communion, shut yourself in the secret depths of your heart and, forgetting all created things, address to God these or similar words: ‘ Almighty King of heaven and earth! Who made Thee enter my unworthy heart, when I am accursed, and poor, and blind, and naked? No one, of course, but Thy immeasurable love for me. O uncreated love! O love most sweet! What dost Thou want of me, beggar that I am? Nothing, as I see and understand, except my love for Thee; nothing, except that no other fire should burn on the altar of my heart but the fire of my love for Thee, which would consume all love and all desire other than that of bringing myself to Thee as a burnt offering and fragrant incense. Naught else didst Thou ever desire or seek from me, and naught else dost Thou desire or seek from me new. So hear now, O Lord, the vows of my heart! See, I combine my desire with Thy desire; and as Thou hast given the whole of Thyself to me, so I give the whole of myself to Thee, to be wholly in Thee. I know, O Lord, that this cannot be, unless I renounce myself wholly; it cannot be if any trace of self-love remains in me, if I harbour some sympathy or disposition towards a will of my own, thoughts of my own, or some self-pandering habits of my own. Therefore I desire and I strive from now onwards to oppose myself in all that is not acceptable to Thee, but which my soul may desire, and to compel myself to do all things pleasing to Thee, even if everything in me and outside me should rebel against it.
By myself, I have not strength enough to succeed in this. But since from now on Thou art with me, I daringly trust that Thou Thyself wilt accomplish in me all that is needed. I seek and strive that my heart may be as one with Thy heart; and I trust that Thy grace wilt grant me this. I seek and strive to see nothing and to hear nothing, to think of nothing and have sympathy with nothing, except that which Thy will, determined by Thy commandments, leads me to and shows, and I trust that it will be granted me by Thy power working in me. I strive and I seek not to let attention stray from the heart, where Thou dwellest, there to gaze at Thee unceasingly and be warmed by the rays of light issuing from Thee; and I trust that this will be given me by the touch and embrace of Thy hands. I strive and seek for Thee alone to be henceforth my light, strength and joy; and I trust to be given this by Thy saving action on my inner man. It is of this that I pray and shall always continue to pray. O merciful Lord, grant me this, grant me this.’
Then strive to increase from day to day your faith in this most holy sacrament of the Eucharist, and never cease to wonder at the miraculous mystery of it, reflecting on how God manifests Himself to you in the guise of bread and wine, and becomes essentially present in you, to make you more holy, righteous and blessed. For blessed are they who do not see, yet believe; according to the words of the Saviour: ‘ Blessed are they that have not seen, and yet have believed” (John xx. 29). And do not wish that God should manifest Himself to you in this life under any guise other than this sacrament. Try to set alight in yourself a warm desire for this sacrament and to make progress every day both in your fervent readiness to do only God’s will, and in spiritual wisdom, making it the queen and ruler over all your actions of the spirit, the soul and the body. Every time you take communion, while partaking of this bloodless sacrifice, offer yourself as a sacrifice to God, that is, profess your complete readiness to endure every affliction, every sorrow and every wrong you may meet in the course of your life, for the sake of the love of God, Who sacrificed Himself for us.
St. Basil the Great describes more fully the duty imposed on the communicant by the Holy Communion, basing it on the words of St. Paul that those who eat the flesh of the Lord and drink His blood show the Lord’s death (I Cor. xi. 26). This death was suffered by the Lord for the sake of all men, and so also for the communicants. For what purpose? ‘ That they which live should not henceforth live unto themselves, but unto him which died for them, and rose again’ (II Cor. v. 15). So those who approach the Holy Communion with faith, love and such readiness to be faithful to God’s commandments and to every clear manifestation of His will, that they are prepared to lay down their lives for it, undertake the task no longer to live either for themselves, the world or sin, but for the Lord God they receive into themselves in the Holy Communion, Who died and rose again for them.
Finally, having received through the Holy Communion the Lord, Who sacrificed Himself for you, and having partaken of the force of this sacrifice, after glorifying the Lord and rendering thanks to Him, send in the name of this sacrifice prayers and supplications to your heavenly Father about your own needs, of the spirit, the soul and the body, then about the holy Church of God, your family, your benefactors and the souls of those who died in faith.
Being connected with the sacrifice through which the Son of God has obtained mercy for us all from God the Father, this prayer will be heard and will not be left without fruit.
Communion of the spirit
Communion with the Lord through the sacrament of flesh and blood is possible only at definite times, according to one’s possibilities and zeal, but never more than once a day. But inner communion with the Lord, in the spirit, is possible every hour and every minute; that is, through His grace, it is possible to be in constant intercourse with Him, and to be aware, when He so wishes, of this intercourse in one’s heart. According to the Lord’s promise, by partaking of His flesh and blood we receive Him Himself, and He enters and dwells in us with all His blessings, allowing the heart, that is prepared for it, to be aware of this. True communicants are always in a palpably blessed state after communion. Then the heart partakes of the Lord in spirit.
But since we are constrained by our body and surrounded by external activities and relationships, in which duty forces us to take part, so, by the splitting of our attention and feeling day by day, the spiritual partaking of the Lord is weakened and becomes overlaid and hidden. The sense of partaking of the Lord becomes hidden; but intercourse with the Lord is not broken, unless unfortunately some sin enters and destroys the state of grace. Nothing can compare with the delight of partaking of the Lord; therefore the diligent, when they feel it weaken, hasten to restore its full power, and, when they have restored it, they feel themselves again partaking of the Lord. This is spiritual communion with the Lord.
It is in this way that it takes place in the times between making communion with Him through the Holy Mysteries. But it can also be unceasing—in a man who always keeps his heart pure and his attention and feeling constantly directed towards the Lord. All the same, this is a gift of grace, granted to a man struggling on the path of the Lord, if he is diligent and pitiless to himself.
Even if a man partakes of the Lord in spirit only from time to time, this partaking is still a gift of grace. All that we can bring is thirst and hunger for this gift, and diligent striving to obtain it. There are, however, works, which open the way to this communion with the Lord and help to obtain it, although it always seems to come as it were unexpectedly. These works are pure prayer, with child-like crying of the heart, and special acts of self-denial in the practice of virtues. When no sin pollutes the soul, when no sinful thoughts or feelings are tolerated) that is, when the soul is pure and cries to God, what can keep the Lord, Who is present, from letting the soul taste Him, or the soul from awareness of this taste? And so it happens thus, unless the Lord deems it better, for the good of the soul, to prolong its thirst and hunger for Him before satisfying it. Amongst acts of self-denial the most powerful of all for this purpose is humble obedience and casting oneself under the feet of all men, stripping oneself of acquisitiveness and suffering injustice with a good heart, all this in the spirit of complete surrender to the will of God. Such actions liken a man to the Lord more than any others, and the Lord, present in him, allows his soul to taste Him. Also pure and diligent fulfillment of all God’s commandments bears fruit in the abiding of the Lord in the heart, together with the Father and the Holy Spirit (John xiv. 28).
Spiritual communion with the Lord should not be confused with mental memory of communion with Him in the Mysteries of flesh and blood, even if this memory is accompanied by strong spiritual sensations and an ardent longing for actual communion with Him in the Holy Mysteries. Neither must it be confused with what the worshippers present in the church receive when the Eucharist is celebrated. They receive divine sanctification and benevolence, as participants in the bloodless sacrifice through faith, contrition and readiness to sacrifice themselves to the glory of God: and they receive in the measure of these dispositions. But it is not the same as communion, although communion can also take place here.
On giving thanks to God
Every blessing we possess, and every good deed we do is of God and comes from God. It is therefore our duty to give thanks to Him for everything:—for every blessing we receive from His munificent hand, whether visible or invisible, for every right action, for every right effort and for every victory over the enemies of our salvation, as we were directed: ‘In every thing give thanks: for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus concerning you’ (I Thess. v. 18). So take care to keep feelings of gratitude to God warm from the first moment of awakening from sleep and throughout the day, and go to sleep with words of thanks on your lips. For you are immersed in Divine blessings, one of which is sleep itself.
God does not need your thanks: but you stand in extreme need of Divine blessings. And the place to receive and store these blessings in you is a grateful heart. ‘ The best way of preserving the benevolence of a benefactor,’ says St. Chrysostom, ‘is remembrance of his favour and constantly giving thanks.’ And St. Isaac writes: ‘The gratitude of the receiver encourages the giver to bestow greater gifts than before. He who is not grateful for little will be disappointed in his hopes of much. A gift is always increased, except when there is no gratitude.’ St. Basil the Great adds to it a useful warning, saying: ‘If we do not give thanks for the blessings given by God, it becomes necessary to withdraw these blessings in order to bring us to our senses. As the eyes fail to see what is too near, but need a suitable distance, so ungrateful souls, when deprived of blessings, often become aware of former mercies: and while they had no gratitude to the Giver when they enjoyed the gifts, they glorify the past when they have lost if (ch. On giving thanks, p. 74, Vol. 4).
Giving heed to my words, you will ask: ‘ How can I set the feeling of gratitude alight in myself and always keep it?’ Examine all God’s favours to mankind—to our race—and to you yourself, and go over them frequently in your thought, rehearsing them in your memory; and if you have a heart, you will not be able to refrain from singing your thanksgiving to God. You will find examples of such hymns in prayers and in the writings of the saints. Hear how St. Basil the Great describes God’s munificence towards us.
‘From non-being we were brought into being, were created in the image of the Creator, were endowed with mind and speech, which constitute the perfection of our nature and give us knowledge of God. To diligent study, the beauties of creation are like a book showing us the greatness of God’s Providence in all things, and His Wisdom. We can discern good from evil; nature itself teaches us to chose what is useful and turn away from the harmful. Being estranged from God by sin, we are recalled to communion with Him, freed from ignominious slavery by the blood of His Only-begotten Son. And what of the hope of salvation and the delights of angelic bliss; what of the kingdom of heaven and the promised blessings, surpassing all word or understanding!’ (ibid. p. 51). Read this description of God’s favours towards us, or choose another one, or compose one yourself, including in it the blessings which God has given you personally. Repeat them often in word and thought, not only every day, but many times a day, and you will always have the feeling of gratitude to God.
But, once provoked, a feeling does not like to stay hidden: it seeks manifestation and expression. How, then, can you fittingly express to God your feelings of gratitude to Him ? By doing what God wants of you, when He surrounds you with His munificent gifts. And what does God want? Surrounding you with His blessings, God wants that in seeing them you should constantly remember Him—so remember; He wants you wholly to cleave to Him with love—and so cleave; He wants you never to digress from His will in anything you do, and to strive to please Him in every way—so do so; He wants you to rely on Him alone in all things—so rely; He wants you to remember the many occasions when you have offended your Benefactor by your evil and shameful deeds, so that you are filled with contrition, repent and weep, until you make peace with your conscience and receive the assurance that God has completely forgiven you—so do this.
Do you see how wide is the field of thanksgiving and how many the means to fulfil this duty? Learn from this how unpardonable is the sin of those who arc remiss in this, and strive not to stain yourself with this sin. Ingratitude among men is called black. What word can you find for ingratitude to God? So take care and always keep the feelings of gratitude to God warm in yourself, especially in church during the liturgy when the bloodless sacrifice, called the Eucharist, is offered to God, for Eucharist means giving thanks.
Do not forget that here the only worthy thanks you can render to God is full readiness to sacrifice both yourself and all you have to the glory of His holy name.
On surrender to the will of God
When a man has repented he gives himself up to the service of God; and immediately begins this service by walking in His commandments and His will. This work and labour begins in the sweat of the brow. Commandments are not hard in themselves, but there are many obstacles to practising them in the external circumstances of the struggler, and especially in his inner tendencies and habits. With God’s help a tireless struggler overcomes everything in the end and achieves peace within and a calm flow of events without—relatively, of course.
The struggler always acts himself, although with the help of God. But the experience of the first days makes him realise that in spite of all his efforts if anything good is done, it is done only because he is given force from above to do it. The further he goes, the more this conviction grows and becomes deeply rooted. When comparative peace is established within, this conviction is emphasized and takes command, until finally it ends in complete submission to God’s will, or in total surrender to His influence.
God’s influence begins to act in those who struggle for salvation from the first moments of their turning to God, and it effects the turning itself. But it begins to grow as the struggler turns further and further away from himself and cleaves to God and, realising his own impotence, has an ever firmer trust in God’s power. When at last he surrenders himself entirely to God, God is actively present in him, both in showing what he must do and in fulfilling it. This is the summit of Christian perfection, in which ‘it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do’ (Phil. ii. 13). As was said in the beginning, the seed of this perfection lies in non-reliance on oneself and in hope in God; but here it is shown in full maturity.
What constitutes the essence of total submission to the will of God can be learnt when it manifests itself in full force. It comes of itself and there are no special rules for acquiring it, so it is impossible to say: do this and do that and you will receive it. It grows imperceptibly under non-reliance on oneself and hope in God. I have mentioned it here simply because it has to be mentioned somewhere, and what was said, at the end of the previous chapter, of sacrificing oneself to God offered an opportunity to mention it now. Total surrender to the will of God actually is this sacrificing of oneself as a burnt offering to God.
The proof of this state is dying to oneself)—to one’s own opinions, wishes and feelings or tastes, in order to live by Divine intellect, in conformity with the Divine will and in partaking of God. In the forefront of all this endeavour is our Lord and Saviour. He surrendered the whole of Himself to God the Father, and us in Himself, ‘ For we are members of his body, of his flesh, and of his bones’ (Eph. v. 80). So let us hasten in His footsteps, since He gave to God the Father an undertaking for us (John xvii. 19), in the hope that we shall indeed be such and act so.
Why is this sacrifice made at the end, and not in the beginning? Because an offering to God must be perfect, without blemish. And in the beginning perfection is sought, but not yet attained. When in the end it is attained, then it is fitting to offer oneself as a sacrifice. At first man only dedicates himself to this sacrifice, but at the end he actually makes the sacrifice of himself. Indeed, it is impossible to sacrifice oneself as a burnt offering before attaining perfection. Other sacrifices can be offered, such as propitiatory offerings, offerings of purification, of thanksgiving, but not the burnt offering. One can attempt it, and one can talk about it, but it will be words and not the actual deed. This deed is accomplished without words.
Know that as long as you are still attached to something earthly, as long as you still lean on something within or outside you, that is not God, as long as you find flavour in something created and enjoy it, you are unfit to be a burnt offering. First endeavour to renounce all this, make all the lives in you stop and only one life remain—life in God. In other words, make it so that you no longer live, but instead God, our Lord Christ and the Holy Spirit live in you. Then immolate yourself to God, or then you will be immolated to God. And, until this comes to pass, have as an offering to God a contrite spirit and a contrite and humble heart, and be content with this .for a time, but not for ever. For in the end you will have to come to sacrificing yourself wholly as a burnt offering to God.
On warmth of heart, and on cooling and dryness of heart
Spiritual warmth of heart is the fruit of feeling for God and for everything divine. It is born at the time when a man turns to God in repentance. In the course of tasks of penitence to purify the heart it acquires more and more strength, and from intermittent feelings of warmth visiting the heart from time to time it gradually becomes constant, until finally it becomes a permanent state of the heart.
When in one place in his writings St. John of the Ladder advised: ‘Strive always to have feeling towards God and divine things’, he meant this warmth. Every object which delights the heart, warms it; so warmth of heart can be of many kinds. Spiritual warmth is born from the influence of spiritual things upon the heart, which takes place in the order of spiritual life. Its distinctive feature is renunciation of all created things, when the attention is wholly fettered by God and by all things divine. This feature makes it as far removed from warm feelings of soul and of body as heaven is removed from earth.
The feeling of spiritual warmth is concentrated and appears simple and single; but in its essence it is the fusion of many spiritual movements, just as a ray of light is the fusion of the seven colours of the spectrum. It contains reverence, contrition, tenderness, prostrating oneself before God, worship, holy zeal and love of God. Since these spiritual feelings cannot all become established in the heart at once, spiritual warmth does not immediately become ‘an attribute of our heart.
Until spiritual warmth of the heart has become a permanent state, it comes and goes. Either it comes of itself, as a heavenly guest, or it is a fruit of spiritual exercises—reading, meditation, prayer, acts of self-denial and doing good. It goes when attention strays from spiritual subjects, following which the heart partakes of things which are not of the spirit, and delights in them. This quenches spiritual warmth, as water quenches fire.
Do you wish to preserve this spiritual warmth in your heart? Keep your attention within and stand praying in your heart before God; do not allow your thoughts to wander, distracting your attention, let no sympathy for things of the soul or the body enter the heart, cut off at once all cares and worries at their inception, keep alive your zeal to please God and to save your soul. In external affairs, observe the order dictated by reason, direct them all towards your chief aim and, while doing the one, do not burden your thought by cares about the many. But I will add that when once you have experienced this warmth, you cannot but strive to keep it; striving, you will use suitable methods to this end; using them you will see the best way to keep it. If you carry out this work with good judgment, spiritual warmth will become your trusty guide, teaching you how to control your inner life and how to behave in external affairs and control your whole conduct—in order to keep this very thing.
Just as the presence of spiritual warmth in the heart is sweet, so is its absence bitter, wearisome and frightening. It has been said already that it goes when attention and heart deviate from things of the spirit and turn towards things not of the spirit. By this is meant not something sinful—since a man who has had a taste of spiritual warmth is no longer attracted by sin—but all the soul-body realm, vain, earthly, created. As soon as attention inclines towards it, spiritual warmth immediately declines; but when the heart also cleaves to it, it withdraws altogether, leaving behind coldness towards all things divine and towards God Himself, accompanied by indifference to all spiritual works and occupations, practised for the purpose of preserving this warmth. If a man recol ects himself at once and hastens to re-establish his habitual warmth-producing order, this warmth returns quickly or not so quickly. But if he pays no attention to it and, through being dispersed, infatuated with something or self-reliant, deliberately allows himself to linger in this cooling atmosphere, and especially if he takes the risk of satisfying in actual deed his non-spiritual tastes resurrected by it, his very zeal for spiritual life becomes undermined, if not completely deadened. The latter is the forerunner of falling into former habitual sins, which will not fail to overcome the negligent. But if a man recollects himself, he has no difficulty in returning to his spiritual state, even from there.
This is how cooling always happens; it is always through our own fault, since it is produced by weakening of attention and of watchfulness over oneself. This weakening is caused either by the temptations of a man’s worldly surroundings, when forms of worldly prelest stupefy a man and abduct him from his own self; or by the wiles of the enemy, who contrives to induce a man to come out of his inner self, which the enemy sometimes succeeds in doing, merely by adding his own more attractive pictures to the natural flow of images of fantasy, and sometimes by somehow affecting also the body. But, whatever the cause, the action of cooling begins with attention coming out of the inner depths, and its further progress is established by the heart cleaving to something, at first vain and empty, and later passionate and sinful. And in every case it is a man’s own fault. For neither the world nor the devil can violate man’s freedom; they can only subject it to temptation.
Sometimes cooling is due to the action of grace. In its true aspect, spiritual warmth is the fruit of grace present in the heart. When grace comes, the heart is warm, when it goes—it is cold. Grace also leaves a man, when he comes out of himself attracted by wrong things. Then this cooling is and is called punitive. But sometimes grace withdraws of its own accord, for the purpose of assisting the spiritual progress of the servants of God. And in such cases this withdrawal is and is called instructive. But in this instance the consequences are still the same—cooling, a sensation of emptiness in the heart; for the guest and visitor has gone. The difference between these coolings is that the guilty cooling weakens the very zeal for spiritual life, whereas cooling due to an instructive withdrawal of grace makes it burn with even greater fervour, which is also one of the purposes of such withdrawal.
Divine grace withdraws of its own accord for purposes of instruction for the following reasons: to excite zeal, which sometimes slackens through a long period of calm;—to make a man examine his situation with greater attention and reject the attachments and occupations not directly connected with a life acceptable to God and not leading to Him;—to increase and strengthen the consciousness and feeling that everything good in us is the fruit of God’s grace;—to make us value more highly the gifts of God in the future, care more about preserving them, and be more deeply humble;—to make us surrender with greater sincerity into the hands of Divine providence, with complete self-denial and self-belittlement; to force us not to become attached to spiritual delights themselves, thus dividing our heart in two, since God wishes the whole of it to belong to Him alone; to prevent us from relaxing our efforts when Divine grace works in us, but to make us toil without sleeping on the path of God, straining all the powers with which He has endowed us precisely for this purpose.
Thus, even when cooling results from an instructive withdrawal of Divine grace, you yourself are the cause of it, since, although Divine grace withdraws of its own accord, it does so with its eye on you. So when you feel a cooling for spiritual things and occupations and generally for all divine things, enter deeply into yourself and examine carefully why it has happened; and, if it is your fault, hasten to eliminate and efface it, not so much because you are anxious for the return of spiritual delights, but rather because you want to destroy in yourself all that is unfitting and not pleasing to God. If you find nothing of this kind, submit to God’s will, saying to yourself: ‘ God has so decided: let Thy will be done on me, O Lord, weak and unworthy as I am.’ Then be patient and wait, never allowing yourself to deviate from the habitual order of your spiritual life and spiritual works and exercises.
Overcome the lack of taste for them, which has assailed you, by forcibly making yourself practise them, paying no attention to thoughts which try to distract you from your efforts by suggesting that this occupation is useless; drink willingly your cup of bitterness, saying to the Lord: ‘See my humility and my efforts, O Lord, and deprive me not of Thy mercy,’ and let your efforts be inspired by the faith that this cup comes from God’s love for you, because He desires you to attain a greater spiritual perfection.
Follow willingly in the footsteps of the Lord not only to Mount Tabor, but also to Golgotha, in other words, not only when you feel divine light and spiritual joys and delights within you, but also when you are assailed by darkness, afflictions, stress and bitterness, which the soul has to experience at times from the temptations of the demons, both inner and outer. Even if this cooling is accompanied by such darkness and confusion that you do not know what to do and where to turn, have no fear. Stand firm in your place, remain submissively on your cross and cast far away from yourself every earthly comfort, which the world or the flesh choose to offer, prompted by the enemy. Try also to hide your sickness from all other people, and speak of it to no one but your spiritual Father; and this, not to complain about the affliction which has visited you, but rather to seek guidance about how to avoid it in future and how to suffer it with a good heart now, for as long as God pleases to keep you in it.
Continue to practise your prayers, communion and other spiritual exercises as usual, but not for the sake of spiritual joys, not in order to be taken down from your present cross, but to be given strength to remain nailed to this cross with soul untroubled, to the glory of Christ our Lord, crucified for us, and to live and act always as is pleasing to Him. If at times your condition makes it impossible for you to pray and have good thoughts, as you had done before, owing to a great darkening and confusion of your mind, do all this as well as you can, so long as you do it without laziness and self-indulgence. Then what lacks perfection in execution, will be accepted as perfect for the sake of your desire, effort and seeking. Remain in this desire, effort and seeking, and you will see its wonderful fruits—inspiration and strength, which will fill your soul.
I offer you here an example of how to call to God in times of such darkening of the mind. Call to Him: ‘Why art thou cast down, O my soul? And why art thou disquieted within me? Hope in God: for I shall yet praise him, who is the health of my countenance, and my God’ (Ps. xliii. 5). ‘Why standest thou afar off O Lord? Why hidest thou thyself in times of” (my) ‘ trouble?” (Ps. x. 1). ‘ Forsake me not, O Lord: O my God, be not far from me” (Ps. xxxviii. 21). Remembering how Sarah, the beloved wife of Tobias, was inspired by God to pray in her trouble, cry: ‘Every man working for Thee, O Lord, knows truly that if this life is a trial, it will be crowned, and if it is filled with afflictions, it will be redeemed and, by Thy mercy, will not cease even in corruption. Thou dost not rejoice in our perdition; but Thou bringest calm after storm, and joy after tears and weeping. Blessed be Thy name for ever, O God of Israel!’
Recall also to your mind Christ our Lord, Who, through His immeasurable sufferings felt Himself abandoned by His heavenly Father in the garden of Gethsemane and on the cross, and when you feel yourself as it were crucified in your present position, cry from your heart: ‘Thy will be done. O Lord!” ‘Not as I will, but as thou wilt” (Matt. xxvi. 89). If you do this, your patience and your prayer will rise on high to God’s presence, as the flame of your heart’s sacrifice. And you will prove yourself filled with love as strong as death, and ardent readiness of will to shoulder your cross and follow after Christ our Lord on any path, by which He chooses to call you to Himself. This is true life in God! To desire and seek God for the sake of God, and to possess Him and partake of Him in the way and measure that He wishes. If men entered the path of godly life with this attitude, and measured their progress by its strength, instead of by the tides of spiritual joys and delights, they would not be so easily overcome by temptations, which come of themselves, or through the wiles of the enemy, neither would they languish uselessly, nor complain, when times of cooling and dryness come. On the contrary, they would accept such times thankfully and suffer them gladly, convinced that if it is God’s will it must be for their own good. So, disregarding them, they would continue along the path of a life pleasing to God, observing all the established ordinances with still greater zeal, greater self-denial and greater urging of themselves.
It happens sometimes that while the soul languishes in this state of coolness and absence of taste for anything spiritual, the enemy attacks with greater vigour, inciting evil thoughts, shameful impulses and seductive dreams. His aim is to provoke hopelessness from the sense of being abandoned by God and to make a man give up the struggle, and incline towards something passionate, in order to lead him back with ease into the vortex of sinful life. Being aware of this, stand firm. Let waves of sin roar round the heart; but as long as your heart is filled with aversion to sin and with desire to be faithful to God, your little craft is safe. Divine grace has withdrawn its comforts from you, but it stands watching nearby, and will not leave you without help, so long as your will is on the side of good. So stand firm, inspired by the certainty that this storm will soon be over and with it your dryness will leave you.
Believe that this is allowed for your own good; since, if you endure this time of trial and temptation, you will come out of it with greater knowledge of your own weakness, greater humility and a stronger conviction that God’s help is always ready at hand. I have already had occasion to speak to you about such tempestuous attacks of the enemy. Read again what I said there.
On guarding and examining conscience
Use all means, brother, to keep your conscience pure; in thoughts, words, and deeds, let it always remain blameless; let it never reproach you and gnaw at you for anything. If you do this, it will gain strength both in your inner and outer actions and, becoming mistress over all your life, will govern it rightly. A pure conscience will make your life blameless, for then it will be sensitive and strong for good against evil. Conscience is the law, inscribed by God in the hearts of men, to shed light on their path and guide them in righteousness, as the Apostle Paul teaches, calling it ‘the work of the law written in their hearts’ (Rom. ii. 15). On the basis of this saying, St. Nilus gives the following advice: ‘In all your works follow the guidance of conscience like a lamp.’
There are four relationships in which you should keep your conscience blameless: in relation to God, to yourself, to your neighbours, and to everything, which is in your hands.
All this you know; yet I will remind you of the most important points: In relation to God—abide in remembrance of God and walk in the presence of God; be aware of yourself being carried and protected by God’s power,’ and led towards that end, for which He called you to existence; dedicate yourself and all you have to the service of God and the glory of His name; live in Him, have trust in Him and surrender to Him your fate, both in time and in eternity.
In relation to yourself—be just to yourself and give its due to every part of your being: let your spirit, which seeks the heavenly and eternal God, rule over soul and body, whose joint function is to organise the temporal life; let the soul obey the dictates of the spirit and bend the neck of the mind to truth revealed by God, and so illumine the whole scope of its knowledge,—let it keep the will in the ordinances of Divine commandments, not allowing it to turn aside towards its own desires, opposing them—let it teach the heart to find flavour only in divine matters and in those which bear the divine imprint and are its expression,—and in this spirit let it order and conduct its affairs, both public and those of daily life; to the body give what it needs, observing a strict measure, and establish for yourself the rule to ‘make not provision for the flesh, to fulfil the lusts thereof” (Rom. xiii. 14) ever and in anything. If you keep to this, you will be a good ruler and true benefactor of yourself.
In relation to your neighbours—respect them all as being images of God, wish them all well and do good to them as much as is in your power; be humble before all and seek to please them ail within the limits of what is good, rejoice with those who rejoice and grieve with those who grieve; judge and humiliate no one, even in thought or feeling; do not conceal the truth, if you know it, from those who seek from you guidance and advice, but do not impose yourself upon anyone as a teacher of your own accord, and above all keep peace and harmony with all men, ready on your part to make any sacrifice to this end, and take every care to lead no one astray.
In relation to things—respect all things as God’s creations; preserve and use to the glory of God those, which God has placed in your possession; be content with what you have, whatever its measure, and give thanks to God for it,—form no passionate attachments for anything and regard all things as external means and instruments, so as to be free in your dealings with them, without their becoming ties and obstacles in your righteous endeavours ; do not allow yourself to lean on these fragile supports, do not boast of your possessions, nor envy those of another, avoid avarice and do not be prodigal in things which are not good.
Every man is obliged to observe all this every day in one form or another, almost at every step. Thus, if you ‘live honestly”, you will have a ‘good conscience”, imitating St. Paul (Heb. xiii. 18).
Those ‘willing to live honestly” and zealous for salvation behave as I have indicated, trying not to go wrong in any of these things and not to stain their conscience. Yet, in spite of all their efforts, now wrong thoughts and feelings, now wrong words, now wrong actions slip through, at times unnoticed, at others even observed, and cover with dust the pure face of conscience, so that, towards the end of the day, hardly anyone escapes looking like a wayfarer, who has walked along a dusty road, with dust clinging to his eyes, nose, mouth, hair and covering his whole face. This is why every man zealous for salvation is given the task of examining his conscience in the evening and, seeing all the wrong things which gained admittance to his thoughts, words and actions, to wash them off with repentance: in other words, to do what the dusty traveler does, for the latter washes himself with water, while the former cleanses himself with repentance, contrition and tears.
This self-examination must put everything to the test, both good and bad, right and wrong, from all the sides indicated above. If you see something right in itself, look whether it was right as regards impulse and intention, right in the mode of putting it into practice and the attitude towards it after its completion, that is, whether it was done for effect, for gaining favour with men, or for self-indulgence,—whether it was fitting, timely and in the right place,—whether having done it you had blown your own trumpet before yourself and praised yourself, without giving praise to God. A right deed is truly right when it is done from obedience to God’s will and to the glory of God, with complete renunciation of self and forgetfulness of self.
If you find something wrong, examine how you happened to do it, when you keep a constant desire to do only what is right; find the external and internal causes that led to it, how you should have controlled yourself on this occasion so as not to sin, and why you have not done so; then, without blaming things or people, but only yourself, determine sensibly how you should behave in future to avoid sinning in these or similar circumstances, and establish a firm rule for yourself to carry out your decision without deviation, self-indulgence or seeking favours, thus using even impurities to fertilise the field of your heart.
At the end of this examination, give thanks to God for all things that were right, without awarding any part in it to yourself, for indeed ‘it is God which worketh in you both to will and to do’ (Phil. ii. 13) and without Him we can do nothing good (John xv. 5).
So render thanks to God and, imitating St. Paul, forget it, and follow his example increasing your zeal and ‘reaching forth unto those things which are before” (Phil. iii. 13). As to wrong things, repent and be contrite before the Lord, blaming yourself that the loaves you bring Him as your offerings are never quite pure, but always mixed with chaff and impurities, and make a firm resolution to watch yourself closely the following day, and allow nothing wrong to slip through, not only in words and deeds, but also in thoughts and feelings.
Those who watch themselves perform all this, that is, the examination and the action that results, actually during the course of the day’s happenings, so that in the evening the examination of their conscience is only a repetition of that made in the course of the day, its correction and amplification. It is impossible not to agree that this latter method is better and more natural. No wrong which was allowed can be hidden from conscience: and having once noticed it, conscience immediately becomes troubled. Is it not more natural to calm it at once by self-condemnation, contrition and decision to behave rightly in future, than to leave all this till evening?
I would like to add one or two more words on this subject. Examine your actions with the utmost strictness and explore deeply into their causes, pronouncing thereupon a merciless verdict against yourself. The more deeply you explore into all that happens in you and comes from you, eliminating all wrong things and affirming right things, the more quickly you will cleanse your conscience; just as the deeper the well, the purer the water.
Once conscience has learnt what is right and wrong, it will not cease to demand actions corresponding to the former, and pursue with condemnation and remorse any allowing of the latter. But, until it reaches full knowledge of the one and the other, or until it has its ‘senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Heb. v. 14) thus possessing in itself eyes to see,—it remains in this sense to some extent dependent on the other powers of the soul, and especially on the judgment of reason. But until the heart is purified of passions, reason is often bribed by them and so produces many justifications, which cloud the eye of conscience and mislead it into taking black for white. Therefore, so long as you are still struggling with passions, in examining yourself place your deeds before the mirror of the word of God and be guided by this in determining their quality and value. Moreover, do not be lazy or diffident in paying frequent visits to your spiritual Father.
Begin and end the examination of your deeds with a diligent prayer, asking the Lord to give you eyes to see the innermost depths of your heart, for ‘the heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately wicked; who can know it?’ (Jeremiah xvii. 9). No one but God, Who is ‘greater than our heart, and knoweth all things’ (I John iii. 20). “For thou, even thou only, knowest the hearts of all the children of men’ (I Kings viii. 39). There are wrong feelings deeply hidden in the heart; at times they slip into a man’s actions, at times they are not even noticed and pollute them with the stench of sin. So pray with David the Prophet: ‘ Cleanse thou me from secret faults’ (Ps. xix. 12).
On preparation for battle with the enemies in the hour of death
Although our whole life on earth is an unceasing warfare and we have to fight to the very end, the chief and most decisive battle awaits us in the hour of death. Who falls at that moment cannot rise again. Do not be surprised at that. For if the enemy dared to approach our Lord, Who was without sin, at the end of His days on earth, as the Lord Himself said: ‘The prince of this world cometh, and hath nothing in me ‘ (John xiv. 30); what can prevent him from attacking us, sinful as we are, at the end of our life? St.
Basil the Great says in his commentary on the words of the 7th Psalm: ‘Lest he tear my soul like a lion, rending it in pieces, while there is none to deliver’ (Ps. vii. 2), that the most tireless fighters who have struggled unceasingly with the demons throughout their life, have avoided their nets and withstood their onslaughts, at the end of their life are subjected to an examination by the prince of this age, to see whether anything sinful remains in them; and those who show wounds, or the blots and imprints of sin are retained in his power, whereas those, who show nothing of this, freely pass him by and attain rest with Christ.
If this is so, it is impossible not to keep it in view and prepare oneself beforehand to meet that hour and to pass through it successfully. The whole of life should be a preparation for this. You will prove well prepared for that hour, if in the whole course of the temporal life allotted to you, you fight with courage against the enemies of your salvation. Having acquired during life the skill to overcome your enemies, you will easily gain the crown of victory in the hour of death.
Moreover, think often of death with attention, bringing to mind everything which must then happen. If you do this, that hour will not catch you unawares, and so will not frighten you, or will not frighten you too much, and your soul, not weakened by fear, will show itself more firm and strong to undertake the struggle and overcome the enemy. Men of this world flee from the thought and memory of death, so as not to interrupt the pleasures and enjoyments of their senses, which are incompatible with memory of death.
This makes their attachment to the blessings of the world continually grow and strengthen more and more, since they meet nothing opposed to it. But when the time comes to part with life and all the pleasures and things they love, they are cast into excessive turmoil, terror and torment.
To make this thought of death bear its full fruit, you must put yourself mentally in the place of a dying man and, in the pain and straitness of mortal agony, must vividly imagine the enemy temptations which may assail you, at the same time reproducing such thoughts and feelings as have the strength to repulse them. I shall now describe to you the enemy’s onslaughts possible at that moment, and ways of repulsing them, so that you should, while still alive, get used to rehearsing them in your mind, and be able to put them into practice when your hour of death comes. For this war and this battle comes but once, and, since it is inevitable, a man must learn how to meet it and engage in it with skill, lest he makes a mistake and suffers losses which cannot be repaired.
The four temptations which come from the enemy in the hour of death. The first temptation, against faith, and the means to overcome it
The four chief and most dangerous temptations to which our enemies, the demons, usually subject us in the hour of death are: (1) wavering of faith, (2) despair, (3) vainglory, (4) various images assumed by the demons which appear to the dying.
As regards the first, when the evil enemy begins to sow in you thoughts of unbelief or, appearing in a visible shape, speaks to you against faith, do not enter into argument with him, but affirm within yourself faith in what he attacks, and say to him with holy indignation: ‘ Out of my sight, Satan, father of lies. I refuse to listen to you; with my whole soul I believe and have always believed in what my mother, the holy Church believes. And this is enough for me.’ Admit no thoughts of unbelief, and stand firm, according to the Scriptures: “If the spirit of the ruler rise up against thee, leave not thy place’ (Ecclesiastes x. 4). Be vividly aware, and keep this awareness, that this is nothing but the guile of the devil who strives to confuse you in the last hour. If you cannot stand firm in your mind, keep alert in desire and feeling, do not let them incline towards the suggestion, even if it is served up under the cover of texts from the Scriptures, which the destroyer of souls introduces. For whatever text of the Scriptures he may remind you of, he does so with the aim of leading you to perdition by a distorted interpretation and perversion of the true words of God.
If this evil snake asks you: what does the Church teach? do not answer, and pay no attention to his words, ignoring him altogether.
Aware that he is nothing but lies and deceit, and that he has begun talking to you to confound you with words, plunge deep into the contemplation of faith in your believing heart. Still, if you feel yourself firm in faith and strong in thought, and wish to confound the enemy, answer him that the holy Church believes in what alone is the truth. If he asks again: what is this truth? say that the truth is that in which he believes, namely, that by the cross, our Lord Christ has stricken his head and has abolished his power. Then cleave with the eye of your mind to the contemplation of the Lord, crucified for us, and pray to Him: ‘O my God, Creator and Redeemer!
hasten to my aid and do not let me be shaken, however little, in the truth of Thy holy faith. Since, through Thy loving-kindness, I was born in this truth, let me abide in it and so end my mortal life to the glory of Thy name.”
Second temptation in the hour of death— through despair
The second temptation in the hour of death, by which the enemy strives finally to strike us down, is fear at the memory of the multitude of our sins. This fear cannot be avoided; but it is mitigated by belief in the redemption of our sins by the death on the cross of Christ our Saviour. The enemy obscures this faith and fans the fear of our sins, so as to stifle all hope of salvation and strike us down with hopelessness and despair. So, my brother, prepare yourself beforehand to repulse this attack, and resolve even now to grasp firmly in your hand our victorious standard— the cross of Christ, when you approach the gates of death. In other words keep firmly in your heart the faith in the redeeming power of our Lord’s death on the cross. If, entering the gates of death, you actually experience attacks of hopelessness, hasten to realise, first of all, that they are works of the enemy, and not the natural results of the recollection of your sins. This recollection brings humility, contrition and heartfelt grief at having offended the just and merciful God; therefore, although it brings fear, this fear does not extinguish the hope of God’s mercy, and being mixed with it, produces a daring trust in salvation, removing all sense of being cast out. If you know this, you will always recognise, as coming from the devil, every recollection of sins, which has the power to oppress and cast you into despair, extinguishing all hope of salvation and striking you down through fear of being cast out. Once aware of this it will not be difficult for you to have hope beyond hope, which will banish all despair.
Hope beyond hope plunges a man into contemplation of the Divine mercy, into whose infinite depths a man endowed with it casts the great multitude of his sins, with a firm conviction that God desires and seeks not our ruin but our salvation. The only sure foundation on which this conviction can gain strength at any time, and particularly at that time, is the boundless power of the death of our Lord and Saviour on the cross. Therefore, since we must always seek the protection of this cross, how much more must we do so then! Here is a fitting prayer to address to your Lord and God on entering the gates of death: ‘ O Lord! Many are the reasons for me to fear that, in Thy justice. Thou wilt condemn me and cast me out for my sins; but still greater is my daring hope of Thy forgiveness according to Thy infinite mercy in Christ Jesus, our Saviour and Redeemer. So I beseech Thee to spare me, Thy poor creature, in Thy infinite goodness, for though condemned by my sins, I am washed by the priceless blood of Thy Son and our God, to glorify Thee forever. I give the whole of myself into Thy hands: deal with me in Thy mercy. Thou alone art Lord of my life.’
Third temptation in the hour of death— by vainglory
The third temptation in the hour of death is through vainglory and self-appreciation, which moves a man to rely on himself and his own works. Therefore never, and especially in the hour of death, let your attention dwell on yourself and what is yours, giving way to satisfaction with yourself and your works, even if your progress in virtues were greater than that of all the saints. Let all your satisfaction be in God, and place your hope wholly on His mercy and the sufferings of our Lord and Saviour; belittle yourself in your own eyes to your last breath, if you wish to be saved. If some good deed of yours happens to come to your mind, think that it was the work of God in you and through you, instead of your own, and that it is entirely due to Him.
Take refuge in the protection of Divine mercy; yet do not allow yourself to expect it as a reward for the many and arduous struggles endured or for the victories you have gained. Stand always in saving fear and sincere conviction that all your efforts, struggles and endeavours would have remained vain and fruitless, if God had not taken them under the wing of His benevolence and had not helped them and worked in them. So put now your trust in this merciful benevolence.
If you follow this advice of mine, be sure that in the hour of death the enemies” attacks will fail and a free road will open before you, by which you will pass with joy from the earthly valley to the heavenly Jerusalem, the home you longed for.
Fourth temptation in the hour of death— by phantoms
If our evil, cunning and tenacious enemy, who is never tired of tempting us, should attempt to seduce you in the hour of death by some phantoms, visions or transformations into an angel of light, stand firm in the consciousness of your poverty and utter nothingness. And say to him from a courageous and fearless heart: “Return accursed one, to your darkness. I am unworthy of visions and revelations. Only one thing I need—the infinite compassion of my Lord Jesus Christ, and the prayers and intercessions of our Lady, the Mother of God, the Virgin Mary and of all the saints.” Even if certain clear signs make you think that you see true visions sent by God, do not be too quick in believing them, but rather hasten to plunge deeply into the realisation of your nothingness and unworthiness. Do not fear to offend God by this; for our humble feelings are never unpleasing to Him. If you have need of such visions, God knows how to prevent you from closing your eyes to them, and will forgive the reluctance of your belief that they come from Him. He Who sends grace to the humble, does not take it away for actions inspired by humility.
Such are the more usual weapons used by our enemy to attack us in our last mortal hour. But he also uses for the same purpose any other passion, which possessed the dying man during his life, and to which he is most addicted, and the enemy tries to provoke it, so that the man may leave this life in a passionate state, which would then decide his fate. This is why, beloved, we should be armed against our strongest passions before this great battle is upon us and, fighting against them with courage, should overcome them and cleanse ourselves of them, to make victory more easy at our last hour, which may come at any moment. In this connection the Lord says to all men: ‘Fight against them until they be consumed’ (I Sam. xv. 18).
On spiritual peace of heart
Your heart, beloved, is made by God for the sole purpose of loving Him alone and of serving as a dwelling for Him. So He calls to you to give Him your heart, saying: ‘My son, give me thine heart” (Prov. xxiii. 26). But since God is peace passing all understanding, it is quite indispensable for the heart, which wishes to receive Him, to be peaceful and free of all turmoil. For only in peace is His place, as David says. So strive above all things to establish and make firm the peaceful state of your heart. All your virtues, all actions and endeavours should be directed towards achieving this peace, and especially your valiant feats of struggling against the enemies of your salvation; as the great practiser of silence, Arsenius, says: ‘ Make it your whole care that your inner state should be in accordance with God, and you will vanquish your outer passions.”
Peace of heart is disturbed by passions; so if you do not allow passions to approach the heart, it will always remain at peace. In the unseen warfare, the warrior stands fully armed at the gates of the heart and repulses all those who attempt to enter and disturb it.
While the heart is at peace, victory over the attackers is not difficult. Peace of heart is both the aim of spiritual warfare, and the most powerful means to achieve victory in it. So, when passionate turmoil steals into the heart, do not jump to attack the passion in an effort to overcome it, but descend speedily into your heart and strive to restore quiet there. As soon as the heart is quietened, the struggle is over.
Human life is nothing but unceasing warfare and endless temptation. Temptation provokes struggle, and so warfare ensues. Owing to this warfare you should always keep awake and do your utmost to guard your heart and watch over it, to keep it peaceful and quiet. When some disturbing movement arises in your soul, strive with zeal to stifle it and pacify the heart, lest this confusion makes you stray from the right path. For the human heart is like a weight on a clock or like a boat’s rudder. If you make the weight lighter or heavier, this will immediately change the movement of all the wheels, and the hands will cease to show the correct time. If you move the rudder to the right or left, the course of the boat is at once altered, so that it no longer stays on its former course. In the same way, when the heart is thrown into turmoil, everything within us is brought into disorderly movement and our very mind loses the capacity of right thinking. This is why it is so necessary not to delay in quietening the heart as soon as it becomes troubled by something internal or external, whether in time of prayer or at any other time.
And you must realise that you will know how to pray rightly only when you have really mastered the task of guarding your inner peace. So direct your attention to this subject and try to find out how to achieve a state of affairs when every action is done in peace of heart, with pleasure and joy. I should say, in brief, that preserving peace of heart should be the constant endeavour of your whole life; you must never allow it to be cast into disorderly turmoil. Then, doing all your business tranquil in the shelter of this peace, as it is written: ‘ My son go on with thy business in meekness’ (tranquility) (Ecclesiasticus iii. 17) you will attain the bliss promised to the tranquil: ‘Blessed are the meek; for they shall inherit the earth’ (Matt. v. 5).
On the means of preserving inner peace
To preserve inner peace:
- First of all keep your outer senses in order and flee all licentiousness in your external conduct,—namely, neither look, speak, gesticulate, walk nor do anything else with agitation, but always quietly and decorously. Accustomed to behave with decorous quietness in your external movements and actions, you will easily and without labour acquire peace within yourself, in the heart; for, according to the testimony of the fathers, the inner man takes his tone from the outer man.
- Be disposed to love all men and to live in accord with everyone, as St. Paul instructs: ‘If it be possible, as much as lieth in you, live peaceably with all men’ (Rom. xii. 18).
- Keep your conscience unstained, so that it does not gnaw at you or reproach you in anything, but is at peace in relation to God, to yourself, to your neighbours, and to all external things. If your conscience is thus kept clean, it will produce, deepen and strengthen inner peace, as David says: ‘ Great peace have they which love thy law: and nothing shall offend them” (Ps. cxix. 165).
- Accustom yourself to bear all unpleasantness and insults without perturbation. It is true that before you acquire this habit you will have to grieve and suffer much in your heart. through lack of experience in controlling yourself in such cases. But once this habit is acquired, your soul will find great comfort in the very troubles you meet with. If you are resolute, you will day by day learn to manage yourself better and better and will soon reach a state when you will know how to preserve the peace of your spirit in all storms, both inner and outer.
If at times you are unable to manage your heart and restore peace in it by driving away all stress and griefs, have recourse to prayer and be persistent, imitating our Lord and Saviour, Who prayed three times in the garden of Gethsemane, to show you by His example that prayer should be your refuge in every stress and affliction of the heart and that, no matter how faint-hearted and grieved you may be, you should not abandon it until you reach a state when your will is in complete accord with the will of God and, calmed by this, your heart is filled with courageous daring and is joyfully ready to meet, accept and bear the very thing it feared and wished to avoid; just as our Lord felt fear, sorrow and grief, but, regaining peace through prayer, said calmly: ‘ Rise, let us be going: behold, he is at hand that doth betray me’ (Matt. xxvi. 46).
Peace of heart is established little by little
Your constant care should be not to let your heart become agitated or troubled, but to use every effort to keep it peaceful and calm.
Seeing your efforts and endeavours, God will send you His grace and will make your soul a city of peace. Then your heart will become the house of comfort as is allegorically expressed in the following Psalm: ‘Jerusalem is builded as a city” (Ps. cxxii. 8). God has required only one thing from you, that every time you are disturbed by something, you should immediately restore peace in yourself, and should thus remain undisturbed in all your actions and occupations. You must know that this requires patience; for just as a city is not built in a day, you cannot expect to gain inner peace in a day. For gaining inner peace means building a house for the God of peace and a tabernacle for the Almighty, and in this way becoming a temple of God. You must also know that it is God Himself Who builds this house in you, and without Him all your labour will be in vain, as it is written: “Except the Lord build the house, they labour in vain that build if (Ps. cxxvii. 1). You must know too that the main foundation of this peace of heart is humility and avoidance of actions, works and occupations which bring worry and care. As regards the first—who does not know that humility, peace of heart and meekness are so closely related that where one is, the other is too. A man whose heart is at peace and who is meek is also humble, and a man who is humble in heart, is also meek and at peace. This is why our Lord joined them indissolubly together, saying: ‘ Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart’ (Matt. xi. 29). As regards the second, we see its prototype in the Old Testament, namely, in the fact that God wished His house to be built not by David, who spent almost all his life in wars and tribulations, but by his son Solomon, who, by his name, was a peaceful king and fought no one.
To preserve peace of heart one must avoid honours and love humility and poverty
Thus, my brother, if you love peace of heart, strive to enter it by the door of humility, for no other door but humility leads therein.
And in order to acquire humility, strive and force yourself to welcome all afflictions and tribulations with a loving embrace, as beloved sisters, and to flee all fame and honours, preferring to be unknown and scorned by everyone, and to receive no care or consolation from anyone but God. Convinced of its beneficence, establish firmly in your heart the thought that God is your only good and your sole refuge, and that all other things are but thorns, which will cause you mortal harm if introduced into your heart.
If you happen to be put to shame by someone, do not grieve, but bear it with joy, convinced that then God is with you. Seek no honour and have no desire other than to suffer for the love you bear to God and to those things that enhance His glory.
Urge and force yourself to rejoice when you are insulted, blamed or scorned. For this ill-treatment and dishonour conceals a great treasure and if you willingly accept it, you will soon become rich in spirit, unbeknown to the man who has done you this service, that is, who brought this dishonour upon you. Never seek to be loved or honoured in this life, so that you may be more free to suffer with the crucified Christ, for then you will meet no hindrance to this from anyone or anything. Beware of your own self as your bitterest enemy, and do not follow your own will, mind, taste or feeling, if you do not wish to get lost. Therefore always be fully armed against yourself, and when your desire inclines towards something, however holy, strip it naked of everything extraneous and place it, alone, before your God, with the greatest humility, imploring Him that in this His will and not your own may be done.
Do this with a sincere and heart-felt surrender of yourself to the will of God, with no trace of self-love, knowing that you have nothing in yourself and can do nothing by yourself in your work for salvation.
Guard yourself from thoughts) which appear holy and inflame an unreasonable zeal for themselves, of which the Lord speaks allegorically: ‘Beware of false prophets, which come to you in sheep’s clothing, but inwardly they are ravening wolves. Ye shall know them by their fruits’ (Matt. vii. 15, 16). Their fruit is the languishing and breaking of the spirit. Know that everything which draws you away from humility and from inner peace and quiet, however beautiful it may seem, is nothing but false prophets who, under the cover of sheep’s clothing, that is, of a hypocritical zeal to do good to their neighbours without discrimination, are in truth ravening wolves who raven you of your humility, peace and quiet, so necessary to every man who desires steady progress in spiritual life. The more the external aspect of an action seems holy, the more carefully it must be examined, but without heat or agitation. If you happen sometimes to fall into error in this, do not be dejected but humble yourself before God and, conscious of your weakness, use it as a lesson for the future. For it may be that God has allowed it to happen, to break some concealed feature of your pride that you do not suspect.
If you feel your soul pricked by a barb of the poisonous thorn, that is by passion, or a passionate thought, do not become agitated, but redouble your attention and strive not to let it reach your heart. Meet them face to face, and resist them, keeping your heart behind you, out of their reach and pure before God. Thus, because of its purity, you will always have God present in the depths of your heart. At the same time, fill your inner man with the conviction that all that befalls you and happens in you is a test and an education, to teach you in the end truly to discern things, which lead to your salvation, so that, in following them you may be worthy to receive the crown of truth, prepared for you by God’s loving-kindness.
It is essential that the soul remain secluded in itself, for God to encompass it with His peace
Since the God of gods and the Lord of lords was pleased to create your soul that it might be a dwelling place and a temple for Himself, you should hold it in great respect and not let it be debased by inclining towards something lower than itself. Let your whole desire and hope be always centred on this invisible visitation of God. But you must know that God will not visit your soul, if He does not find it secluded in itself. God wishes it to be secluded in itself, that is, to be as far as possible empty of all thoughts and desires, and above all of its own will. In connection with this last, you must not undertake any severe feats of endeavour or voluntary privations of your own accord and without due deliberation, or seek opportunities to suffer for the love of God, obeying only the suggestions of your own will. For this you must have the advice of your spiritual Father, who guides you as God’s deputy.
Obey him in all things, and, through him, God will indeed direct your will towards what He Himself wills and finds most useful for you. Never do anything solely from your own will, but let God Himself do in you only what He wants from you. Your wishing should always be free from yourself; that is, you should have no wishes of your own, and if you have a wish it must be such that whether it comes to pass or not, or even if what comes to pass is opposed to it, you are not in the least grieved thereby, but remain serene in spirit, as though you wished absolutely nothing.
Such a disposition is true freedom of the heart and seclusion, for then it is shackled neither by mind nor will in relation to any-thing.
If you present to God your soul thus emptied, free and single in itself, you will witness the miraculous works He will perform in it.
But above all He will encompass you with Divine peace, which gift will become in you a receptacle for all other gifts, as the great Gregory of Salonica says (in his Word to the nun Xenia, Greek Philokalia, p. 944). O wonderful unification, secret treasure-house of the Almighty, where alone He consents to listen to the converse you address to Him, and Himself converses with the heart of your soul! O desert and solitude which has become a paradise! For there alone does God allow a man to see Him and converse with Him.
‘I will now turn aside, and see this great sight” (the bush) says Moses in the desert of Sinai, a physical place, yet rich in inner contemplations (Ex. iii. 3). If you wish to be worthy of the same, step in this place unshod, for this ground is holy. First bare your feet, that is, the dispositions of your soul, and let them be stripped and free of every earthly thing. Carry neither purse, nor scrip going on this way, as the Lord commanded His disciples (Luke x. 4). You should no longer desire anything from this world, and should salute no man by the way, as Elisha instructed his servant and the Lord commanded His disciples; your whole thought, whole disposition and whole love should be turned only to God and not to any creatures, ‘let the dead bury their dead’ (Matt. viii. 22); walk alone in the land of the living, and may death have no part in you.
On good sense in works of love for your neighbours
for the sake of your peace of soul The Lord said in the Gospels that He had come to send the fire of love on the earth of our heart, and that His great desire is that it be quickly kindled" (Luke xii. 49). Love for God has no measure, just as the beloved God Himself has no bounds nor limits. But love for one’s neighbour must have its bounds and limits. If you do not keep it within the right limits, it may turn you away from the love of God, cause you great harm and cast you into perdition. You must indeed love your neighbour, but your love must not cause harm to your soul. Do all your works in a manner simple and holy, with nothing in view, except to please God; and this will protect you from any false steps in actions dictated by love for your neighbour.
The most important thing in these actions is assisting in the salvation of your neighbours. But these actions are often interfered with by injudicious zeal, which brings nothing but harm both to your neighbours and yourself. Be an example of sincere faith and of a life pleasing to God, and, like the Apostles, you will be the fragrance of Christ, drawing all men to follow Him. But do not importune all people indiscriminately with your words, for in this way you will only destroy your peace with others and in yourself.
Have an ardent zeal and a strong desire for everyone to know truth in the same degree of perfection as you have it, and to be intoxicated with this wine, which God has promised and which is now given by Him without price (Isaiah lv. 1). This thirst for the salvation of your neighbours you must always have; but it must arise from your love of God, and not from ill-judged zeal. God will Himself plant such love for your brethren in your soul, when it has renounced all things, and will come in His own time to collect its fruit. But you must not sow anything of your own accord; all you have to do is to offer to God the earth of your heart, free of all tares and thistles, and He will sow the seed in it, how and when He wills. This seed will bring fruit in its proper time.
Remember always that God wishes to see your soul withdrawn from everything, in order to unite it with Himself. So leave Him to act in you, and do not hinder Him by the interference of your will. Make no plans for yourself, except one—always seek to please God by obedience to His will. The householder has already gone out to find labourers for his vineyard, according to the Gospel parable. Put away all care and all thought, strip yourself of all anxiety about yourself and all passionate attachment to anything temporal, and God will clothe you in Himself and will give you things you cannot even conceive. Wholly forget about yourself, as much as you can, and let only love of God live in your soul.
Moreover, you must use circumspection and moderate your zeal in relation to others, and the Lord will preserve you in peace and serenity of soul. Watch, lest your soul suffers loss in its chief blessing, peace of heart, from foolish worries about the profit of others. The source from which you can be enriched by this blessing is total obedience of your soul to God, together with renunciation of all things. Do this, but not in expectation of reward, and never admit the thought that you can do something worthy of it. God Himself acts in all things, and expects nothing from you, except humility before Him, and the gift to Him of your soul, freed from all earthly things, with only one wish in the depths of your heart—to have God’s will fulfilled in you, always and in all things.
Stripped of its will, the soul should surrender to God
Brother, trust in God, Who calls all men, saying: “Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest’
(Matt. xi. 28), and follow this voice that calls you, at the same time hoping for the coming of the Holy Spirit. Plunge with eyes closed into the sea of Divine providence and benevolence; let the mighty waves of God’s will carry you, like some inanimate thing, with your own will unresisting, thus quickly to be borne to the harbour of salvation and Christian perfection. Practice this many times a day, and seek inner and outer solitude as much as is possible, so as to consecrate all the powers of your soul to the practices, which have special power to produce in you a strong love of God, such as: prayer, unceasing invocation of the most sweet name of our Lord and Saviour, tears which flow from love for Him, a warm and joy-giving adoration of Him, and other spiritual works. Let these works be performed in you without forcing and coercing your heart, lest you foolishly exhaust yourself by compulsory exercises, and thus become hardened and incapable of receiving the influence of grace. Procure for this work the advice of the experienced and, with its help, strive to acquire the habit of constant contemplation of God’s holiness and His countless favours. Accept with humility the drops of sweetness, which may fall into your soul from His ineffable goodness.
Yet do not importune God asking for such manifestations of His benevolence; but stay humbly in your inner seclusion, waiting for God’s will to be done in you. And when God grants them to you without overstraining on your part, you will experience their sweetness and fruitfulness. The key, which opens the mysterious treasure-house of spiritual gifts of knowledge and Divine love, is humility, renunciation of self and surrendering oneself to God at all times and in every action. The same key locks the door of ignorance and spiritual coldness.
Love, as much as you can, silently to stand with Mary at the feet of Christ our Lord and to listen to what He has to say to your soul.
Beware, lest your enemies, the greatest of whom is you yourself, hinder this holy standing in silence before the Lord. When you seek God with your mind, to come to rest in God, do not assign to Him any place or limits by your narrow and impotent fantasy. For He has no limit and is everywhere and in all things, or rather—all things are in Him. You will find Him within yourself, in your soul, every time you truly seek Him. God Himself desires to be with us, sons of men, to make us worthy of Him, although He has no need of us.
When you read the Holy Scriptures, do not have in mind to read page after page, but ponder over each word; when some words make you go deep into yourself, or stir you to contrition, or fill your heart with spiritual joy and love, pause on them. It means that God draws near to you; receive Him humbly with open heart, as He Himself wishes you to partake of Him. If for the sake of this you fail to complete the spiritual exercise (i.e. reading) allotted to you, do not worry. For the purpose of this as of all spiritual exercises is to become worthy to partake of the Lord, and when this is granted, there is no point in worrying about means. In the same way, when you reflect on some divine subject, especially some instance of the passion of Christ our Lord, pause at the part, which touches your heart, and keep your attention longer on it, to prolong this holy feeling.
One of the great obstacles to preserving inner peace, my brother, is binding yourself as by some immutable law, by a set rule, to read so many Psalms and so many chapters from the Gospels and Epistles. Those who set such rules to themselves, are usually in a hurry to complete the reading, not concerning themselves as to whether the heart is touched by it or not, or whether spiritual thoughts and contemplations arise in the mind; and when they fail to finish the reading, they are agitated and worried, not because they were deprived of the spiritual fruit of reading, which they need in order to create a new man in themselves, but simply because not everything was read. Listen to what St. Isaac has to say about this (ch. 30): ‘ If you wish to gain delight in reading texts and understand the words of the Spirit you utter, brush aside the quantity and number of verses, so that your mind could be absorbed in studying the words of the Spirit, until, filled with wonder at the Divine dispensation, your soul is incited to a lofty understanding of them and is thus moved to praise of God or to sorrow that profits the soul. Slavish work brings no peace to the mind; and anxiety usually deprives the reason and understanding of the power of taste, and robs the thoughts like a leech, which sucks life from the body along with the blood of its members.’
If you sincerely wish to complete the course of your present life virtuously, have no other aim but to find God wherever He chooses to manifest Himself to you. When this is given you, stop all other activity and do not persist with it; forget all else and have rest only in your God. When the Almighty chooses to withdraw from you and ceases to manifest His nearness to you in some present instance, then you can again turn to your usual spiritual exercises and continue them, having still in view the same aim, to find through them your Beloved, and, having found Him, again to do what I said above, that is, stop whatever you are doing, to rest in Him alone. Take good note of what I have said, for there are many engaged in spiritual work, who deprive themselves of the saving fruits of peace, derived from their spiritual works, by the fact that they persist in them, afraid to suffer loss if they fail to complete them, convinced, wrongly of course, that this constitutes spiritual perfection. Thus following their own will, they coerce and torment themselves much, but receive no real quiet nor the inner peace, in which God truly dwells and has His rest.
Do not seek pleasures and comforts, but only God
Always choose what is difficult and painful, and do not love pleasures and comforts, which bring no profit to the soul. Love to be in a subordinate position, dependent upon the will of others. Each action should be for you a step bringing you nearer to God, and let no action of yours become an obstacle on this path. This should be your joy.—God alone should be for you the sweetest delight and all else bitterness. Offer to God every hardship you meet. Love Him and surrender all your heart to Him, without reflection or fear. And He will find the means to solve all your perplexities and to raise you if you have fallen. In a word, if you love God, you will receive every blessing from Him. So offer the whole of yourself as a sacrifice to God, in peace and quiet of spirit.
To help your progress on this path, and free it from weariness and confusion, place your will in God’s will. The more completely you succeed in placing it there, leaving nothing for yourself, the more strength and comfort you will gain. Let your will be so attuned as to desire only what God desires, and to desire none of the things He does not desire.
Always and with every action renew the intention and resolve of your soul to please God in all things. Make no plans for the future, since you do not know ‘ what a day may bring forth ‘ (Prov. xxvii. 1), but keep yourself unbound and free. This does not forbid any man from taking reasonable care and pains about things required by his state and position, since such care is in conformity with God’s will and does not interfere with inner peace, devotion to God or man’s progress in the spirit. In everything you undertake, keep a firm resolve to do all you can, all that is needed and all that is obligatory for you, but be indifferent to everything else and humbly submit to whatever outer results may follow.
The thing that you can always do is to sacrifice your will to God; so wish for nothing more. As a result you will always enjoy freedom and, tied by nothing from any side, will always rejoice and be at peace in yourself. This freedom of spirit constitutes the great blessing, of which you hear in the writings of the saints. It is nothing but a steady abiding of the inner man in himself, with no desire emerging from his inner fastness to seek something outside him. As long as you keep yourself thus free, you will be partaking of that divine and inexpressible joy, which is inseparable from the kingdom of God, established within us, as the Lord says: ‘The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke xvii. 21).
Do not lose heart when inner peace withdraws or is interrupted
Those who follow the path of God often experience times when the holy peace, the sweet inner seclusion and the freedom they love are interrupted and withdraw, and when sometimes movements of the heart raise such clouds of dust within that they cannot see the path they have to follow. When you happen to experience something of this kind, know that God allows it to happen for your own good. This is precisely the warfare for which God has rewarded His saints with radiant crowns. So, remembering this, do not lose courage in the trial you have met. And, as in any other trouble, look up to the Lord and say to Him from your heart: ‘O Lord my God! Take care of Thy servant, and let Thy will be upon me. I know and profess that firm is the truth of Thy words and Thy promises are not false. I put my trust in them, and stand unwavering on Thy path.” Blessed is the soul which thus surrenders itself to the Lord each time it experiences trouble and hardship! If, in spite of this, the struggle persists and you cannot harmonise and unite your will with the will of God as quickly as you would wish, do not grieve or lose heart, but continue to surrender yourself to God, and bow down willingly to His decisions—and through this you will gain victory. Remember the battle, which our Lord Christ had to fight in the garden of Gethsemane, when His human nature, at first horrified by the cup to be drained, cried: ‘ O my Father, if it be possible, let this cup pass from me ‘; but later, coming back to itself and putting its soul in the hands of God, said from its full and free will, and with deepest humility: ‘ nevertheless, not as I will, but as thou wilt’ (Matt. xxvi. 89).
When you are in difficulties, refrain from making any step before you raise your eyes to the crucified Christ, our Lord. There you will see written in large letters how you too should behave in the affliction which has befallen you. Copy it for yourself, not in letters but in actions; namely,—when you feel attacks of self-loving self-pity, do not pay heed to them and do not cravenly crawl down from your cross, but resort to prayer and endure with humility, striving to conquer your will, and to be firm in wishing for God’s will to be done upon you. If you come out from your prayer with this fruit, rejoice and exult. If you fail to attain it, your soul will be left fasting, not having tasted its natural food. Try to let nothing dwell in your soul, for however short a time, except God alone. Do not grieve or be distressed by anything. Do not turn your eyes to the evil of others and to bad examples; but be like a little child which, in its innocence, does not notice them and harmlessly passes them by.
Many are the wiles of the enemy to despoil us of inner peace; so watch
Our enemy, the devil, rejoices when our soul is in confusion and our heart in agitation. So he uses all his cunning to try and perturb our souls. The first means in these attempts is to excite self-love, resulting in withdrawal of the grace, which creates and pre serves inner peace. For this purpose, he suggests the idea that all things which are and appear good in us, are acquired by our own labour and diligence and, banishing humility and simplicity, disposes us to put a high value on and ascribe great weight to ourselves, and to feel ourselves something important, shrouding in forgetfulness the action of Divine grace, without which no one can even say the Lord’s name, as St Paul testifies, saying: ‘No man can say that Jesus is the Lord, but by the Holy Ghost’ (I Cor. xii. 3). This grace is given to all believers and its presence is a sign that a man is a true believer. Having received it, a believer no longer does, nor can do, anything truly good without its help; it remains always with him, according to the Lord’s promise, and the enemy can do nothing with him, while it is in him and encompasses him. So the enemy’ strives by all possible means to make it withdraw, and the first thing he does for this end, as was said, is to suggest self-appreciation or feelings that we are not nothing, but something, and something not without importance. To him who accepts such suggestions, the enemy offers a new idea, consisting in being sure that he is better than others, more zealous and more rich in works. Having succeeded in implanting this opinion, the enemy thereupon leads a man to judge and despise others, which is invariably followed by pride. All this can take place in the heart in the course of a single moment; but even so, the action of grace is immediately reduced, which results in inattention to oneself, weakening of zeal, and arising of thoughts, at first empty, and later passionate, which is followed by the stirrings of passions themselves, and is indissolubly connected with a storm raging in the heart—Inner peace is lost. Such a state is not permanent, and if the sufferer remembers himself, he returns to himself, and is filled with contrition, repents and by prayer reestablishes his habitual inner order.
The enemy is banished; but he does not lose heart, and returns again and again with the same suggestions for the same purpose—to destroy inner peace.
Knowing this, my brother, and in order to oppose these hostile efforts, keep an alert watch over yourself, according to the words of the Lord: ‘Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation’ (Matt. xxvi. 41). Watch yourself with all diligence, lest the enemy steals near and robs you, depriving you of this great treasure, which is inner peace and stillness of soul. The enemy strives to destroy the peace of the soul, because he knows that when the soul is in turmoil it is more easily led to evil. But you must guard your peace, since you know that when the soul is peaceful, the enemy has no access to it; then it is ready for all things that are good and does them willingly and without difficulty, easily overcoming all obstacles. To succeed more readily in this, try to foresee the advances of the enemy. An advance of the enemy is—a self-reliant thought. Make it a rule to regard as clearly coming from the enemy every thought, which tends to decrease your conviction that all good comes from God, that you can succeed in nothing without the help of His grace, and that, therefore, you must put all your trust in Him alone. You must regard all such thoughts as clearly coming from the enemy and wrathfully reject and chase them away, until they disappear. The action of the Holy Spirit in us is on all occasions to lead our souls towards union with God, to kindle in them a sweet love of Him, a blessed confidence and a firm trust in Him.
Whatever is opposed to this is the work of the enemy.
He uses all the means and methods he can invent to disturb the soul: he introduces into the heart superfluous fears, increases the soul’s weakness, prevents it from keeping the necessary dispositions and from delighting as it should in confession, in holy communion, or in prayer, but makes it go through all these not with humble daring and love, but fearfully and confusedly;—he makes the soul receive with hopeless sorrow and pain the impoverishment of religious feeling and the absence of inner delight, which often come in times of prayer or during other spiritual “exercises,—by suggesting to it not that this impoverishment is allowed by God for its own good, but that it means that all its efforts and endeavours lead nowhere, and so are best all abandoned ; by this he finally brings it to a hopelessness and confusion so great that it actually begins to think that everything it does is indeed useless and fruitless, and that God has completely forgotten and abandoned it.
But this is clearly a lie. A soul may experience dryness and an impoverishment of religious feelings and of spiritual sweetness; but, in spite of this, it can perform all kinds of good actions, moved by simple faith and armed with holy patience and constancy. Still, to help you better to understand it all, and to prevent you suffering harm when God finds it desirable, for your own good, to allow or to send you such impoverishment of spiritual feeling and of sweetness, I shall describe in the following chapter what blessings come from humble patience to those, who show it in times of dryness and coldness of heart,—in order that you may learn how not to lose your peace of soul and not be eaten up by sorrow, when you have to suffer either this or some other disturbing inflow of thoughts and passionate impulses.
One must not be perturbed by impoverishment of spiritual feelings or by other inner temptations
Although I have already spoken in chapter seven of the dryness and cooling of the heart, and of the grief these bring to the soul, I shall now add something I did not say there,—namely, that this grief and this dryness of heart or impoverishment of spiritual joy and sweetness, bring much profit to the soul, if we accept and endure them with humility and patience. If a man knew of this profit beforehand, he would certainly not consider this state a burden nor be grieved if he has to experience it. For then he would not regard this bitter dearth of inner spiritual comforts as a sign of Divine displeasure, but would see it as the work of God’s particular love for him, and so would gladly accept it as a great mercy.
Indeed, he may already draw comfort from the very fact that these states are chiefly experienced by such men as abandon themselves with particular zeal to the service of God, and give special attention to avoiding all things that may offend Him;—and they experience them not in the beginning of their conversion to God, but when they have worked for Him for a considerable time, when their heart is sufficiently purified by holy prayer and contrition, when they have felt a certain spiritual sweetness, warmth and joy, which made them consecrate themselves wholly to God, and when they have already begun to do so in practice. Neither do we see that sinners and people addicted to the vanities of the world and of daily life ever have such experiences or are subjected to such temptations. This clearly shows that such bitterness is an honorable and precious food, to share which the Lord invites those He loves best, and even if its taste is not pleasant at the time of eating, yet it brings us great profit although this is not then evident. For when the soul is in this state of dryness, when it tastes this bitterness and suffers temptations and thoughts the mere memory of which makes one tremble, it poisons the heart and almost kills the inner man. But, when the soul finds itself in this state, it learns to distrust itself and not to rely on its own good state, and so acquires true humility, which God so much wishes us to have. Moreover it then becomes inspired with a desire to acquire a most ardent love for God, a most diligent attention to its thoughts and the greatest courage to endure such temptations without harm and comes out of this struggle with ‘ senses exercised to discern both good and evil’ (Heb. v. 14) as St. Paul said. But since these good fruits are hidden from the sight of the soul, I repeat, it is troubled and flees from this bitterness, for it does not wish to be deprived of its spiritual comforts even for a short time, and regards every spiritual exercise not accompanied by them as wasted time and useless labour.
Every temptation is sent for our good
In order to make you understand better that all temptations in general are sent us by God for our own profit, pay attention to what I have to say. The tendency of man’s corrupted nature is to be proud, to love self-glory and self-display, to hold fast to his own opinions and decisions and always to want everyone to give him a much higher value than he actually has. This self-appreciation and high opinion of oneself are extremely harmful in the work of spiritual endeavour, so much so that even a shadow of them is enough to prevent a man from reaching true perfection. Therefore, in His wise dispensation for us all, and especially for those who have sincerely abandoned themselves to His service, our loving Father in heaven allows temptations to assail us, so as to bring us to a state in which we can easily escape this terrible danger of self-appreciation, and are almost compelled to reach a truly humble knowledge of ourselves. He did this with the Apostle Peter by letting him deny Him thrice, in order that he should realise his own weakness and not rely on himself. St. Paul had a similar experience when, after being ravished to the third heaven and shown the ineffable divine mysteries, God made him endure a certain wearisome and troublesome temptation, so that he should bear in himself this indication of his own impotence and nothingness and so progress in humility and boast only of his weaknesses, lest the magnitude of the revelations granted to him by God should make him puffed up with pride, as he himself testifies: ‘ And lest I should be exalted above measure through the abundance of the revelations, there was given to me a thorn in the flesh, the messenger of Satan to buffet me, lest I should be exalted above measure” (II Cor. xii. 7).
Thus, moved by compassion for this unfortunate and lawless tendency of ours (always to think highly of ourselves), God allows all kinds of temptations to assail us, at times very grievous, so that knowing our weakness we should be humbled. In this the Lord shows His loving-kindness as well as His wisdom; for by humbling us He makes us derive the greatest benefit from things which appear most harmful, since of all things humility is what is most necessary and useful to our soul. Thus, if all temptations are given us to teach us humility, it follows that every servant of God who tastes these bitter states of the heart—dryness, lack of spiritual savour, dearth of spiritual comforts in his heart—experiences this in order to learn humility through thinking that they were brought about by his own sins, that no other soul could be so lacking in all things, or work for God so coldly as his soul, that such states only visit those who are abandoned by God, and consequently that he too is abandoned and abandoned deservedly. From such humble thoughts is born this good: a man, who formerly thought of himself as something, and something very important, now,
having tasted the bitter medicine sent him from above, begins to regard himself as the most sinful man in the world, unworthy even to be called a Christian. And indeed he would never have arrived at so base an opinion of himself and such deep humility, if he were not moved to it by those special temptations and this great sorrowing and bitterness of heart. So they are a great mercy, which God shows in this life to a soul, which surrenders itself to Him with wise humility, to let Him cure it as He wills and by the remedies He alone knows perfectly and deems necessary for healing and bringing it to a good state.
Besides these fruits, brought to the soul through these temptations by impoverishment of spiritual comforts, there arc also brought many other fruits. Made contrite by these inner burdens, a man forces himself with renewed vigour and zeal to run to God and beg for His speedy help, does diligently everything deemed useful to cure the grief of his soul and banish the bitterness from his heart, and, to avoid this torment of soul in future, makes a firm resolution to walk henceforth on the path of spiritual life, paying the strictest attention to all movements of the heart, and to avoid even the merest shadow of sin and the slightest negligence capable of separating him from God and God from him in any way whatsoever. Thus the grief he considered so contrary to his aims and so harmful, becomes for him a spur, inciting him to seek God with greater warmth and to avoid more strenuously all things incompatible with God’s will. In brief—all sorrows and torments, which the soul suffers during inner temptations and the dearth of spiritual comforts and delights, are nothing but a purifying remedy; by their means God in His loving-kindness cleanses the soul if it endures them with humility and patience. And these torments ensure for such patient sufferers a crown which is gained only through them, a crown the more glorious the more painful the torments suffered by the heart.
It is clear from all this that we must not torture ourselves too much or be sorely troubled either by other temptations which assail us from without, or by the aforesaid temptations within, as are those who have little experience in the matter. For, in their inexperience, they regard what comes from God as coming from the devil, or from their own sins and imperfections; they take signs of Divine love for signs of Divine wrath, interpret His gifts and favours as blows and scourgings, brought upon them by extreme Divine displeasure, and regard all they have done and are doing as useless and worthless labour and their present loss as beyond repair. For if they believed that these temptations bring no loss of virtue, but, on the contrary, greatly increase it when the soul accepts them with humility and suffers them with thankfulness; if they believed that they are arranged by God’s loving benevolence towards us, they would not be excessively troubled and would not lose their peace of heart from the fact that they experience such temptations, have unseemly and shameful thoughts, and are cold and dry during prayer and other spiritual exercises. All this would only make their soul more deeply humble before God and would make them resolve in their heart to fulfil God’s will in everything they do, since it is only in this way that God wishes to be pleased in this world; they resolve too to strive by all means to keep themselves peaceful and calm in accepting all things that befall them, as coming from the hand of our heavenly Father, from whence also comes the bitter cup they have to drain at the present moment. For whether a temptation comes from the devil, from other men or is caused by sins, it still depends on God and is sent by Him for our good and to turn some other great temptation away from us.
Remedy against being perturbed by small transgressions and weaknesses
If you happen to fall into some pardonable transgression by word or deed, for example, if you are perturbed by some accidental happening, or criticise, or listen to criticisms by others, or enter into argument about something, or are at times impatient, flustered, or suspicious of others, or if you neglect something,— you must not be too perturbed, sorrowful and despairing in thinking about what you have done; above all you must not aggravate your perturbation by sad thoughts about yourself, that evidently you will never manage to be free of such weaknesses, that your will to work for the Lord is too weak, or that you are not progressing on the path of God as you should,—for every time you do this you burden your soul with thousands of other fears produced by faintness of heart and sadness.
For what follows? You are ashamed to stand daringly in the presence of God, since you have proved unfaithful to Him, you waste time in examining how long you had lingered in every transgression, whether you were identified with it and had begun to desire it or not, whether you had rejected this or that thought or not, and so on. And the more you thus torture yourself, the more your spirit is disorganised, and the greater becomes your stress and unwillingness to confess your sins. Even if you go to confession, you do so with a disturbing fear, and after confession you still find no peace; for it seems to you that you have not said everything. Thus you live a life that is bitter, disquieted and of little fruit, and you waste much time uselessly. And all this happens because we forget our natural weakness and lose sight of the attitude the soul must have to God. In other words, we forget that when the soul falls into some pardonable sin that is not mortal, it should turn to God with humble repentance and hope, and not torture itself with excessive sorrow, bitterness and stress.
I say this about pardonable sins, for only these are excusable for a soul, which has embraced the strict life described here. We address ourselves here to those who lead a spiritual life and actively seek to make progress in it, exerting every effort to avoid mortal sins. Those who do not lead a strict life, but take life as it comes and remain untroubled even if they offend God by a mortal sin, require other advice. The remedy given above is not for such men. They must grieve deeply and weep bitterly, always strictly examine their conscience and confess all their sins without self-pity, and they must neglect no means which can cure and save them.
In small everyday transgressions, repentance must always be inspired and imbued with firm trust in God, and still more must it be so in sins more grievous than ordinary, into which even a zealous servant of God sometimes falls by God’s leave. For a penitent distress, which so tortures the heart and gnaws at it, can never re-establish hope in the soul, if it is not accompanied by a firm trust
in Divine goodness and mercy. This trust must always fill the heart of those wishing to reach the highest degrees of Christian perfection. It animates and tautens all the powers of the soul and the spirit. Yet many who have entered the path of spiritual life fail to pay attention to this, and so stop in their progress with heart weakened, and move no further; thus they become unsuitable for receiving the blessings of grace, which the Lord has distributed along this path and which usually reward only those whose efforts never slacken and who move steadfastly on and on.
But above all, those who experience some perturbation of the heart, or some perplexity, or a split in their conscience, must turn to their spiritual Father or someone else experienced in spiritual life, at the same time trustfully begging the Lord to reveal the truth through them and send them a reassuring solution of their troubles and perplexities. Thereupon a man should be wholly set at rest by their word.
If a man is perturbed, he must immediately re-establish peace in his soul
Every time you fall into some pardonable transgression, even if it happens a thousand times a day, as soon as you notice it, do not torture yourself and so waste your time without profit, but at once humble yourself and, conscious of your weakness, turn to God with hope and call to Him from the depths of your heart: ‘O Lord my God! I have done this because I am what I am and so nothing can be expected of me but such transgressions or even worse, if Thy grace does not help me and I am left to myself alone. I grieve over what I have done, especially because my life has no righteousness responding to Thy care of me, but I continue to fall and to fall. Forgive me and give me the strength not to offend Thee again and in no way to digress from Thy will. For I zealously wish to work for Thee, to please Thee and be obedient to Thee in all things.” Having done this, do not torment yourself with thoughts as to whether God has forgiven you. The Lord is near and listens to the sighings of His servants. So calm yourself in this certainty and, having regained your calm, continue your usual occupations as though nothing had happened.
You must do this not once but, if necessary, a hundred times and every minute, and the last time with the same perfect trust and daring towards God as the first. In doing this you will render due honour to the infinite goodness of God, Whom you must always see as full of infinite loving-kindness towards us. Then you will never cease to make progress in your life and will go on moving forward without waste of time and labour.
Another way of protecting your inner peace when you succumb to these trespasses, is the following: combine the inner action of realising your worthlessness and your humility before God, with a warm remembrance of the great mercies, which God has shown you personally, and thus reviving your love for Him, rouse in yourself a desire to thank and glorify Him; and then actually thank and glorify Him warmly from the depths of your soul. Since thanking and glorifying God is the highest manifestation of our living union with God, if you take your downfall rightly, its fruit will be, with God’s help, your rising higher towards Him. This should be kept in view by those who are too sorely troubled and tormented by small transgressions, to make them see how great is their blindness in this matter, and how much they harm themselves by their ill-judgment. So it is really to them that this last advice is directed. It puts into our hands the key with which the soul can open the great treasure-house of the spirit and can in a short time be enriched by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom be glory, honour and worship, together with His Father Who has no beginning, and the Holy Spirit, now and for ever and ever. Amen.
Part One What is Christian perfection?—Warfare is necessary to acquire
One should never believe in oneself or trust oneself in anything
On hope in God alone and on confidence in Him
How to recognise whether a man acts without self-reliance an
On the wrong opinion of those who deem excessive grief a virtue
Some indications on the scope and limits of disbelief in one
On how we should exercise our mind, lest it be sick with the
On reasons for our wrong judgment of things and how to form
On protecting the mind from too much useless knowledge and i
How to train one’s will to have but one ultimate aim in all
Some reminders that can impel our will towards desire to ple
On the many desires and tendencies existing in man and on th
On how to fight against the dumb sensory will, and on the tr
What to do when the higher, intelligent will seems to be ent
War should be waged ceaselessly and courageously
How a warrior of Christ should prepare for battle in the mor
In what order should you fight your passions?
How to fight sudden impulses of passions
How to struggle against bodily passions
How to overcome negligence
On the control and right use of the outer senses
The same sensory objects we were speaking of can be means an
How to translate sensory impressions into profitable lessons
General lessons in the use of the senses
On control of the tongue
How to correct imagination and memory
A warrior of Christ should use all means to avoid worries’ a
What to do when we are wounded in battle
The order of battle pursued by the devil in spiritual warfar
How does the devil confirm sinners in their slavery to sin?
How the enemy keeps in his nets those who have realised thei
On the wiles of the enemy against those who have entered the
How the enemy diverts a man from righteous deeds and spoils
How the enemy turns the virtues themselves against those who
Some indications useful in the work of overcoming passions a
On the order of acquiring virtues
What dispositions are needed to acquire virtues in general a
Virtue should be practised constantly and with all diligence
A man should not avoid opportunities he meets for good actio
One should love those opportunities of practising virtue whi
How to progress in one and the same virtue in different circ
How long should one exercise oneself in each virtue and what
One should not desire too strongly to be free from the attac
Warning against evil counsels of the devil in relation to go
Our severe judgment of others comes from a high opinion of o
What is mental or inner prayer, and of what kinds can it be?
How to learn to pray in this way
On praying in one’s own words
On short prayers, or short prayerful sighings to God
On the Jesus Prayer
Aids to success in gaining the habit of prayer
The role of prayer in unseen warfare
Part Two The most holy sacrament of the Eucharist
How one should partake of the holy sacrament of the Eucharist
How to kindle the love of God in oneself by entering deeply
Communion of the spirit
On giving thanks to God
On surrender to the will of God
On warmth of heart, and on cooling and dryness of heart
On guarding and examining conscience
On preparation for battle with the enemies in the hour of de
The four temptations which come from the enemy in the hour o
Second temptation in the hour of death— through despair
Third temptation in the hour of death— by vainglory
Fourth temptation in the hour of death— by phantoms
On spiritual peace of heart
On the means of preserving inner peace
Peace of heart is established little by little
To preserve peace of heart one must avoid honours and love h
It is essential that the soul remain secluded in itself, for
On good sense in works of love for your neighbours, for the
Stripped of its will, the soul should surrender to God
Do not seek pleasures and comforts, but only God
Do not lose heart when inner peace withdraws or is interrupt
Many are the wiles of the enemy to despoil us of inner peace
One must not be perturbed by impoverishment of spiritual fee
Every temptation is sent for our good
Remedy against being perturbed by small transgressions and w
If a man is perturbed, he must immediately re-establish peace
[source]:(http://www.monasterovirtuale.it/scupoli.html) from the Venetian original of Lorenzo Scupoli ‘Il Combattimento spirituale’ enhanced by Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain, and Saint Theophan the Recluse TRUE