St. Seraphim and the Sea of Life: Instructions Part I


Concerning Renunciation of the World

The fear of God is obtained at the time when a man, having renounced the world and all that is in the world, focuses all his thoughts and feelings on the one notion of the law of God, wholly immersing himself in contemplation of God and in perceptions of the blessedness promised by the Saints.

It is impossible to renounce the world and come to a state of spiritual contemplation while remaining in the world.  For as long as the passions are not calmed it is impossible to acquire peace of soul; and the passions are not quieted as long as we are surrounded with things that arouse the passions.  In order to come to perfect passionlessness and attain perfect stillness of soul, it is necessary to struggle much in spiritual reflection and prayer.  But how is it possible to wholly and serenely immerse oneself in the contemplation of God and instruction in His law, and to lift one’s whole soul to Him in ardent prayer, while remaining amidst the incessant noise of the passions warring in the world?  The world lies in evil.  The soul cannot love God sincerely without having freed itself from the world.

Concerning Stillness

The venerable Barsanuphius teaches: As long as a ship is at sea it endures perils and the onslaught of winds, but once it reaches a tranquil and peaceful harbor it remains calm and no longer fears perils and afflictions and the onslaughts of winds.  And so you, monk, as long as you remain among people, expect afflictions and perils and the onslaughts of mental storms, but when you enter into stillness you will have nothing to fear (Bars., Answer 8,9).  Perfect stillness is a cross upon which a man must crucify himself with all his passions and lusts.  Just think how much abuse and how many insults our Master Christ endured at first before He ascended upon the cross.  It is the same with us; we are not able to come to perfect stillness and hope for holy perfection if we do not suffer with Christ.  For the Apostle says, “If we suffer with Him we shall also be glorified with Him” (Rom. 8:17).  There is no other way (Bars., Answer 346).

He who has come to stillness must unceasingly remember why he has come, so that his heart does not turn to anything else whatsoever.

Concerning heedfulness of oneself

He who walks upon this path must not pay attention to extraneous rumors through which the head can be filled with idle and vain thoughts and recollections, but he must attend to himself.

It is especially necessary for one on this path to be watchful so as not to let himself turn to the affairs of others, neither to think nor speak of them – as the Psalmist says: “that my mouth might not speak of the works of men” (16:4) (27) – but rather he should pray to the Lord: “From my secret sins do Thou cleanse me, and from those of strangers spare Thy servant” (Ps. 18:13,14).

A man must direct attention to the beginning and end of his life.  In the middle, where fortunate or unfortunate happenings occur, one should be indifferent.

In order to preserve heedfulness, one needs to be withdrawn within oneself, according to the saying of the Lord: “Salute no man by the way” (Luke 10:4) – that is, do not speak unnecessarily.

On meeting the elders or brethren, one ought to honor them with a bow, having one’s eyes always closed.

Concerning care for the soul

Man, in reference to the body, is like a candle that is lit; it must burn down and the body must die.  But the soul is immortal; therefore our care for the soul must be greater than that for the body: “For what will it profit a man if he gain the whole world and lose his soul, or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul?” (Mat. 16:26).

Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan and others were virgins from their youth until the end of their lives.  They directed their entire lives to caring for the soul and not for the body.  And so it is necessary for us to focus entirely on the soul. The body should be strengthened only for this: that it may aid in the strengthening of the spirit.

If we willfully exhaust our body to the point that the soul also is exhausted, then such an oppression would be indiscreet even though it may be done to gain virtue.

Should it be pleasing to the Lord to lay sickness on a man in order to test him, then He will grant him the power to endure.

With what one should nourish the soul

It befits one to nourish the soul with the word of God; for the word of God, as Gregory the Theologian says, is angelic bread, through which souls that hunger for God are fed.  Above all, one needs to exercise oneself in the reading of the New Testament and the Psalter, and this should be done standing. Through this the mind is enlightened and is in turn changed with a divine change.

A man should accustom himself to having his mind as if swimming in the law of God, which should be a guide in the ordering of his life.

Once a man has nourished his soul with the word of God, then he is filled with the understanding of what is good and what is evil.

The reading of the word of God should be conducted in solitude so that the mind of the reader may be totally immersed in the truth of the Holy Scriptures, and receive from God a warmth in himself which in solitude produces tears, which cause the whole man to be kindled and filled with spiritual gifts that delight the mind and heart more than any word.

Concerning peace of soul

If a man does not abandon worldly concerns he cannot have peace of soul.  Peace of soul is obtained through afflictions.  The Scriptures say, “We have gone through fire and water and Thou hast led us to rest” (Ps. 65:12).  He who desires to be pleasing to God must pass through many afflictions.  How can we extol the holy martyrs for the suffering that they endured for the sake of God if we are not able to endure a little fever?

Nothing is so helpful in the acquisition of interior peace as silence, and to keep conversations with others as short as possible; but one should converse with oneself unceasingly.

Nothing is better than peace in Christ, for in it every warfare of the spirits of the air and earth is destroyed.  “For we wrestle not against flesh and blood but against principalities, against powers, against rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places.” (Eph. 6:12).

The sign of a wise soul is when a man has his mind descend within himself and has activity in his heart.  Then the grace of God envelops him and he abides in a peaceful state and through it in the most peaceful state.  In peaceful state, that is, with a good conscience.  In the most peaceful state since the mind contemplates within itself the grace of the Holy Spirit, in accordance with the word of God: “His place is in peace” (Ps. 75:3).

On preserving peace of soul

One should try by every means to preserve peace of soul and not to be disturbed by insults from others.  Therefore it is necessary to strive to contain anger in every way, and through heedfulness of the mind and heart to restrain from unbecoming impulses.

So then, we must bear insults from others with indifference, and accustom ourselves to having such a disposition of spirit as to feel that their insult did not have to do with us but with others.  Such an exercise can bring quietness to our heart and make it a dwelling place of God Himself.

We see an example of such freedom from anger in Gregory the Wonderworker, from whom a prostitute in a certain public place demanded a reward as though he had committed a sin with her.  But he, being not the least bit angry with her, meekly told a certain friend of his, “Quickly give her the price, as much as she demands.”  As soon as the woman received that unrighteous reward she was subjected to an assault by a demon.  The saint drove the demon away from her by prayer (Lives of Saints, Nov. 17).

If it is not possible to be undisturbed then one should at least try to restrain the tongue, in accord with the words of the Psalmist: “I was troubled and spake not” (Ps. 76:5).  For preserving peace of soul one must also flee from every judgment of others.  Silence and lack of judgment preserve peace of soul.  When a man is in such an orderly state, he receives divine revelations.

In order to be delivered from judging, one must take heed to oneself, not accepting extraneous thoughts from anyone, and be dead to everything.  For the preservation of peace of soul, it befits one to enter into oneself more frequently and ask: “Where am I?”

At the same time, one must watch in order that the bodily senses, especially sight, serve the inner man, and that they do not distract the soul through sensual objects; for gifts of grace are received only by those who have interior activity, and are vigilant over their souls.