- The future life
- Beware of false prophets
- The fear of God
- Prayer and fasting
- Idle speech
- Be brave in temptations
- Be careful what influences you
- The purpose of life
- Do not stop repenting
- How to benefit from the liturgy
- Be inwardly attentive and vigilant
All of these are extracted from this book below. It is an excellent book precisely because it is written by the great and extremely clear and deep author – St Theophan the Recluse. Alongside St Ignatius Brianchaninov, these two authors are perhaps the greatest Russian writers of Orthodox spirituality of all time and even perhaps the greatest writers of the Orthodox spiritual life from the entire history of the church. If you like the extracts below buy this book as a soft or hard copy from online. Feed your soul!
The future life
The Lord said of the future life that people there do not marry and are not given in marriage—that is, our everyday earthly relationships will have no place there. It would follow that none of the norms of earthly life will either.
Neither science, nor art, nor governments, nor anything else will exist.
What will there be?
God will be all in all. And since God is spirit, He unites with the spirit and acts on what is spiritual, all life there will be a continuous flow of spiritual movements.
There can be only one conclusion drawn from this: since our goal is the future life, and what is here is only a preparation for it, then to spend all the time of one’s life only on what is appropriate in this life alone and has no relevance to the future life means to go against our purpose, and to prepare ourselves for a bitter, most bitter lot.
We are not absolutely required to drop everything; but while working as much as is necessary for this life, we must direct our main concern toward preparation for the future life, trying wherever possible to turn even earthly menial labor into a means for achieving this goal.
Beware of false prophets (Matt. 7:15).
From the beginning of Christianity and to this day there has not been a time when this warning was not applicable.
The Lord did not indicate exactly which false prophets to beware of, for how could they be pinpointed?
They change like fashions and are continually generating more like them. They always appear in sheep’s clothing, with a likeness of good will in their deeds and a mirage of truth in their speech.
In our time their clothing is sewn of progress, civilization, education, freedom of thought and deed, a personal conviction which does not allow for faith, and such like. All of this is a deceptive cloak.
Therefore, if you come across this show of clothing, do not be hasty to open your ears to the words of “prophets” dressed in such clothes.
Examine closely whether there is a wolf concealed under this sheep’s clothing.
Know that the Lord is the only motivator toward true perfection, the sole softener of hearts and customs, the sole educator, the sole giver of freedom and filler of the heart with a feeling of the truth which forms a conviction so strong that nothing in the world has the power to shake it.
Therefore, as soon as you perceive in these new “prophets’s” talk some shadow of contradiction to the teaching of the Lord, know that they are predatory wolves, and turn away from them.
The fear of God
The fear of God leads to the beginning of a holy and God-pleasing life and is its most faithful guardian, when one follows the inspiration of the fear of God and makes such a beginning.
The present Epistle reading teaches us this, bringing to mind the threatening judgements of God and the punishment shown already here of those who do not submit to His will.
He, it says, spared not the angels that sinned (II Pet. 2:4). They were pure, and dwelt in a most radiant habitation. But as soon as they sinned, they were cast down into the nethermost darkness.
Will He spare you and me, if we go against His will?!
Impiety overflowed in the days of Noah. God brought upon them a flood, and destroyed them all, except for eight souls of the family of Noah. He did not take into account that there were many people.
Will He deliberate over you alone, whether to destroy you or not, when you do not to listen to His voice?!
For a long time the Lord spared Sodom and Gomorrah. But instead of coming to their senses, they rushed to the height of impiety. Therefore, they were struck by fire when they did not expect it.
This fire is an image of the eternal fire, which awaits the impious.
Neither will you escape this fire, if you walk the same path as they. Bring all of this to mind when sitting by yourself, especially in the silence and darkness of night; and thus arousing a fear of God, fear sin, for in it the flame of eternal fire stealthily approaches you.
There is nothing from without a man, that entering into him can defile him: but the things which come of out of him, those are they that defile the man ([St.] Mark 7:15).
This and similar passages – for example, But meat commendeth us not unto God (I Cor. 8:8) – are usually cited by those who do not like to fast, supposing that they thereby sufficiently justify the fact that they do not fast according to the rule and custom of the Church.
Everyone who is faithful to the Church knows how invalid this excuse is. Fasting decrees that we abstain from some foods not because they are defiled, but because we can more conveniently refine our flesh by this abstinence – something crucial for inner progress. This meaning of the law of fasting is so essential that those who consider some foods to be defiled are numbered among the heretics.
For those who are not well-disposed to fasting it is better not to insist on this point, but on the point that fasting is not obligatory, although it is definitely the means for overcoming sinful urges and the strivings of the flesh. There is no way that they can resist on this point.
If inner progress is obligatory, then the means by which it is obtained is also obligatory, namely, fasting. Each person’s conscience says this to him.
In order to soothe their conscience, they assert: I’ll compensate for my omission of fasting in another way; or, fasting is harmful for me; or, I’ll fast when I want to, but not during the established fasts.
However, the first excuse is inappropriate because no one has yet managed to cope with his flesh or to order his inner life properly without fasting.
The last excuse is also inappropriate, because the Church is one body, and to separate oneself from others within it means opposing its good order. One can remove oneself from the general customs of the Church only by leaving it; but, while someone is a member of it, he cannot say this or demand that.
The second excuse has a shade of validity. Indeed, among the limitations of fasting, the obligation is lifted from those upon whom fasting acts destructively, because the fast was established not to kill the body, but to mortify the passions.
But if one were to conscientiously count the true number of such people, it would be seen that they are so few that they do not even count.
Only one real reason remains – lack of desire. There is no point in arguing with this. You will not be brought to Paradise against your will.
Prayer and fasting
“This kind goeth not out but by prayer and fasting.” [Matthew 17:14-23]
If this kind goes out by the prayer and fasting of another person, then it is even less able to enter one who fasts and prays.
Although there are a slew of demons and all the air is packed with them, they cannot do anything to one who is protected by prayer and fasting.
Fasting is universal temperance* , prayer is universal communication with God; the former defends from the outside, whereas the latter from within directs a fiery weapon against the enemies. The demons can sense a faster and man of prayer from a distance, and they run far away from him so as avoid a painful blow.
Is it feasible to think that where there is no fasting and prayer, there already is a demon? Yes, it is.
The demons lodging in a person, do not always reveal their presence, but lurk there, stealthily teaching their host every evil and turning him away from every good thing; so this person is certain that he is doing everything on his own, but meanwhile he is only fulfilling the will of his enemy.
Just commence prayer and fasting and the enemy will immediately depart, then wait on the side for an opportunity to somehow return again. And he truly will return, as soon as prayer and fasting are abandoned.
In the multitude of words there wanteth not sin (Prov. 10:19).
Christians who are attentive toward themselves call all the senses the windows of the soul; if these windows are opened, all the inner warmth will leave.
But the most spacious doorway that releases this warmth copiously is a tongue given freedom to speak as much and whatever it wants.
A multitude of words causes the same degree of harm to attentiveness and inner harmony as is inflicted by all of the senses in total, for words stimulate all the senses, and force a soul not seeing to see, not hearing to hear, not touching to touch.
What on the inside is daydreaming is on the outside a multitude of words; but the latter is more ruinous, for it is real and therefore makes a deeper impression.
Furthermore, it is closely connected with self-opinion, impudence, and self-wilfulness—those destroyers of inner harmony which are like a tempest, leaving lack of feeling and blindness in their wake.
After all this, how can one escape sin in the presence of a multitude of words?!
Be brave in temptations
The devil approaches the God-man with temptations.
Who among men is free of them?
He who goes according to the will of the evil one does not experience attacks, but is simply turned more and more toward evil. As soon as one begins to come to himself and intends to begin a new life according to God’s will, immediately the entire satanic realm enters into action: they hasten to scatter good thoughts and the intentions of the repentant one in any way they can.
If they do not manage to turn him aside, they attempt to hinder his good repentance and confession; if they do not manage to do that, they contrive to sow tares amidst the fruits of repentance and disrupt his labors of cleansing the heart.
If they do not succeed in suggesting evil they attempt to distort the truth; if they are repulsed inwardly they attack outwardly, and so on until the end of one’s life. They do not even let one die in peace; even after death they pursue the soul, until it escapes the aerial space where they hover and congregate.
You ask, “What should we do? It is hopeless and terrifying!”
For a believer there is nothing terrifying here, because near a God-fearing man demons only busy themselves, but they do not have any power over him. A sober man of prayer shoots arrows against them, and they stay far away from him, not daring to approach, and fearing the defeat which they have already experienced.
If they succeed in something, it is due to our blundering. We slacken our attention, or allow ourselves to be distracted by their phantoms, and they immediately come and disturb us more boldly.
If you do not come to your senses in time they will whirl you about; but if a soul does come to its senses they again recoil and spy from afar to see whether it is possible to approach again somehow.
So be sober, watch, and pray—and the enemies will do nothing to you.
Be careful what influences you
At that time the Jews attempted to overshadow the light of Christ’s Resurrection with the mist of a lie: His disciples stole Him (Matt. 28:13).
It was easy to overcome such pettiness, and the truth triumphed. But until today the enemy has not ceased to spread mist before the Sun of Resurrection, hoping to overshadow it.
Let nobody be troubled!
What can be expected from the father of lies other than lies?
He taught many of his minions to write entire books against the Resurrection. This written mist is also dissipated by books.
Do not pick up a bad book, and you will not be mist-enshrouded by it; but if you should accidentally come upon such a book, take up a good book as an antidote, and you will refresh your head and breast.
There is another mist that comes from the enemy — in our thoughts. But this can also be immediately is dissipated, like smoke in the wind, through sensible Christian discernment.
Review all the preceding with discernment and you will see clear as day that it would have been impossible for all of it to happen except through the power of Christ’s Resurrection.
This conviction will then be a firm standpoint from which you will easily repel and strike down the enemies of the truth.
The purpose of life
The Lord chose the apostles, that they should be with Him, and that he might send them forth to preach, and to have power to heal sicknesses, and to cast out devils.
Every Christian is chosen—chosen for similar deeds, namely: to be with the Lord, through unceasing remembrance of Him and awareness of His omnipresence, through the preaching and fulfillment of His commandments, and through a readiness to confess one’s faith in Him. In those circles where such a confession is made, it is a loud sermon for all to hear.
Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them.
Do this and you will be an apostle, a fulfiller of what the Lord chose you for, an accomplisher of your calling as messenger. When at first you succeed in all this, then perhaps the Lord will appoint you as a special ambassador—to save others after you have saved yourself; and to help those who are tempted, after you yourself pass through all temptations, and through all experiences in good and evil.
But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.
Do not stop repenting
When Moses and Aaron began to intercede before Pharaoh to let their people go, the answer to this was increased work for oppressed Israelites, to the point that they raised an outcry against their intercessors: ye have made our savour to be abhorred in the eyes of Pharaoh (Ex. 5:21).
This is exactly what the soul of a repentant sinner experiences. When the fear of God and one’s conscience—the inner Moses and Aaron—begin to inspire a soul to finally rise up onto its feet and shake off the yoke of sinful slavery, joy passes through all of its members. But the enemy does not sleep; he heaps mountains of mental obstacles—thoughts that sin is insurmountable, and brings in fear from all sides—fear for one’s prosperity, for external relationships, for one’s influence, even for one’s life.
It even happens that one stops having only just begun.
Be inspired brother! The Lord of hosts shall be exalted in judgement, and God that is holy shall be sanctified in righteousness (Is. 5:16). God is stronger than the enemy. Cry out to Him, and you will hear the same thing that Moses heard then: Now shalt thou see what I will do to Pharaoh (Ex. 6:1).
The enemy does not have power over a soul; he only can frighten it with illusory terrors. Do not give in, endure, go forward courageously, saying to yourself: I will not give in even unto death, and I will go bravely wherever the Lord calls me, with the spirit of repentance which now acts in me.
How to benefit from the litugy
“My House shall be called the house of prayer; but ye have made it a den of thieves.”
Everyone knows that a church calls for reverence, for a collecting of thoughts, for deep thinking about God, and for standing in the presence of God, but who fulfils this? People go to church with a desire to pray, to stand in it for a while with warm fervour; but then thoughts begin to wander, and bargaining begins in one’s head even louder than that which the Lord found in the Jerusalem temple.
Why is this so?
Because the way one stands in church is a reflection of one’s entire life. As people live, so do they behave in church. A church influences and somewhat supports spiritual movements; but then the usual course of one’s spiritual constitution takes over.
Therefore if you want your time in church to consist of worthily standing in the face of the Lord, prepare for this in your ordinary life; walk, as much as you can, in a prayerful frame of mind.
This labour will bring you to the point that in church also you will stand reverently all the time. This reverence will inspire you to be reverent in your ordinary life as well. Thus you will walk ever higher and higher. Say, ‘O Lord, help’ —and begin!
Be inwardly attentive and vigilant
Without attentiveness in everyday affairs you cannot do anything properly; but in spiritual matters—it comes first.
It notices what is bad and brings it before the inner judge; sets the guard of the inner chamber, where the best course of action is discussed, and then protects the one who carries out the decisions.
This is not surprising, because the spiritual life in its fullness is called a sober life, and in patristic writings we meet mostly words about soberness or attentiveness, for they are one and the same. Therefore, how important it is to make a habit of attentiveness!
The initial labor of those who have begun to be concerned about their souls is usually directed toward this. And their work only begins to resemble work from the point where attentiveness begins to be gathered within themselves; usually the attentiveness is all external, and not internal.
From this moment the inner life is conceived and with this attentiveness it ripens and strengthens.
What does this mean?
It means standing with the mind in the heart before the Lord and consciously discussing all, and undertaking all before His face.
This job, obviously, is complicated. It becomes successful with prayer, and is as much strengthened by it, as it strengthens prayer itself.