St. Seraphim and the Sea of Life: Instructions Conclusion
Those who are truly resolved to serve the Lord God must exercise themselves in the remembrance of God and unceasing prayer to Jesus Christ, saying in their minds: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” By guarding oneself from dispersion through such an exercise and by preserving peace of conscience, it is possible to draw near to God and to unite oneself with Him. For according to the word of St. Isaac of Syria we are not able to draw near to God except by unceasing prayer (Homily 69).
Therefore it is necessary to always strive not to give oneself to a dispersed mind. For through a dispersed mind the soul strays from the remembrance of God and from love of Him, according to the working of the devil. As St. Macarius says, the whole concern of our adversary is to turn our mind from the remembrance of God, and from fear and love (Homily 2).
When the mind and the heart are united in prayer and the thoughts of the soul are not dispersed, then the heart is kindled with a spiritual warmth in which the light of Christ shines, filling the whole inner man with peace and joy. We should give thanks to God for everything and be delivered up to His will. Likewise we should lay before Him all our thoughts, words, and deeds, and we ourselves should strive so that all things will be pleasing to God.
By itself too much talking with those whose habits of life are contrary to ours is sufficient to unsettle the inward state of a heedful man. But most lamentable of all is the fact that it can quench the fire which our Lord Jesus Christ came to implant on the earth in the heart of man. For nothing so cools the fire of the Holy Spirit which He breathes into the heart of a monk for the sanctification of the soul as communication, talkativeness, and conversations (Isaac the Syrian, Homily 8).
It is especially needful to keep oneself from dealings with the female sex. For as an unlit wax candle melts if it is placed in the midst of burning candles, so also the heart of a monk, from conversations with the female sex, imperceptibly grows weak. Concerning this, St. Isidor of Pelusium (Lives of Saints February 4th) states in letters: “If there are any conversations which corrupt good habits, conversations with women, even though they be good, still have the power to secretly corrupt the interior man with defiling thoughts, and though the body remains pure the soul becomes defiled. For what is more firm than stone and what is softer than water? – yet through continual application nature prevails.” Therefore, for the preservation of the inner man, it befits one to strive to restrain the tongue from talkativeness: “For the wise man enters stillness” (Proverbs 11:12). (1)
Concerning thoughts and desires of the flesh
We should always be pure from unclean thoughts, especially when we offer prayer, for there is no harmony between foul odor and fragrance. When thoughts occur, there is also coupling with them, so we must repulse the first onslaught of sinful thoughts and disperse them from the land of our heart. While the children of Babylon – that is, evil thoughts – are yet infants, we must break them to pieces and crush them on the rock that is Christ (Ps. 137:8-9) – especially the three foremost of them – gluttony, covetousness and vainglory – through which the devil strove to tempt even our Lord Himself at the end of His struggles (Mat 4:1-11). The devil as a lion hides in his den (Is. 9:30), secretly setting for us snares of impure and impious thoughts. And so immediately, as soon as we see them, we should break them off by means of godly reflection and prayer.
Concerning the duties of subordinates in relation to Superiors
Acquire humility, obedience, and submissiveness, and you shall save yourself, says the Venerable Barsanuphius. And by no means talk back saying: “What is this?” and “To what purpose is this?” But be fully submissive, above all to your Abba, who for the sake of God takes care of you and to whom you have entrusted your soul (Questions and answers of Barsanuphius and John, answer 242).
Whosoever desires to be a true disciple of Christ should not have authority over himself in anything, so that he does nothing by himself but only that which his teacher says. For whatever he does according to his own mind is not pleasing to God, although to himself it seems to be good. If anyone thinks he knows better than his Abba what is good for himself, why then does he call himself his disciple?
Cast your will behind yourself and preserve humility in all your life and then you will save yourself. Humility and obedience can effect the uprooting of every passion and the planting of all virtues (Bars., answers 309, 359, 351, 618, 68, 226).
The subordinate must be dead to himself during this life in order to possess eternal life. He must be like a cloth in a textile mill, according to the word of Venerable Antiochus. For as cloth, through being bleached, beaten, ground, washed, and rinsed, is made white like snow, likewise the novice bears degradation, offense, and reproach, which cleanse him and make him as purified as glistening silver refined by fire (Ant., Word 113).
One must not meddle in the affairs of one’s superiors and judge them, for by this one offends the greatness of God from Whom every authority is appointed: “For there is no power but of God and the powers that be are ordained of God” (Rom. 13:1).
As is good, one should not oppose authorities in order not to sin before God and be subjected to His righteous chastisement. “He who resists the authorities resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist shall have sin imputed to themselves” (Rom. 13:2). (2)
He who is obedient prospers considerably in the formation of his soul, and in addition he obtains through this an understanding of things and comes to tender feeling.
Concerning not judging one’s neighbor and forgiving offences
One must not judge anyone, although with one’s own eyes one may see someone sin or wallow in transgression of the commandments of God; according to the word of God: “Judge not, that ye be not judged” (Mat. 7:1). One must not nourish in the heart evil or hatred towards one’s neighbor who is hostile. Rather, one must love him, and as much as one is able, do him good, following the teachings of our Lord Jesus Christ: “Love your enemies, do good to them that hate you” (Mat. 5:44).
And so, if we would strive as much as we are able to fulfill all this, then we can have the hope that in our hearts shall shine the Divine light, revealing to us the way to the Jerusalem above.
Why do we judge our brethren? Because we do not strive to know ourselves. Whoever occupies himself with self-knowledge never notices others; judge yourself, and you will stop judging others. And so, beloved, let us not observe the sins of others and judge them, so as not to hear: “The sons of men, their teeth are weapons and arrows, and their tongue is a sharp sword” (Ps. 56:5). For when the Lord leaves a man to himself, then the devil gets ready to crush him, as a millstone does a grain of wheat.
Concerning solitude and silence
Ambrose of Milan says, “Through silence I have seen many saved, but through talkativeness not one.” And again one of the Fathers has said that silence is the mystery of the age to come, while words are the implement of this present world (Philokalia, Callistus and Ignatius, section 16.11).
Simply sit in your cell in heedfulness and silence, and by every means strive to bring yourself near to the Lord; and the Lord will make ready to transform such a man into an angel: “For upon whom,” He says, “shall I look but upon him that is meek and silent and trembles at My word?” (Is. 66:2). When we abide in silence, then our enemy, the devil, is unable to gain any advantage with respect to the hidden man of the heart. By this one must understand silence of mind.
If you are not able always to abide in solitude and silence, live in the monastery and occupy yourself with the obediences that are laid upon you by the Superior. Then whatever time remaining from your obediences should be devoted to solitude and silence. For this little bit, the Lord God will not refrain from sending His rich mercy upon you.
From solitude and silence, tender feeling and meekness are born. The
action of the latter in the heart of man can be likened to the calm water of Siloam that runs without noise or sound. As the prophet Isaiah speaks of it, “the waters of Shiloah that go softly” (Is. 8:6).
Abiding in the cell in silence, the practice of prayer and the study day and night of the law of God make a man pious. For according to the words of the Holy Fathers, the cell of a monk is the Babylonian furnace, in which the three youths found the Son of God (Philokalia, St. Peter of Damascus, Book 1, section 114). “A monk,” according to the words of Ephraim the Syrian, “cannot stay long in one place if he does not beforehand love silence and temperance. For silence teaches stillness and continual prayer, while temperance renders the thought undistracted. So at last one may find this desired peaceful state” (Book 2, section 59).
When the evil spirit of sorrow seizes the soul, then it fills her with bitterness and unpleasantness. It does not allow her to complete prayer with the necessary earnestness, and it hinders the reading of Scriptures with the attention that is proper. It makes the soul devoid of meekness and a good-natured manner in relations with the brethren, and it gives birth to aversion for every conversation. For the soul, when filled with sorrow, acts as one who is senseless and delirious; she is not able to calmly receive good counsel or to meekly answer questions laid before her. She flees people as though they were the cause of her disturbance, and does not understand that the reason for her illness lies within. Sorrow is the worm of the heart that gnaws at the mother who gave her birth.
The sorrowful monk is not able to move his mind towards contemplation and he is never able to complete his prayer purely.
He who has been victorious over the passions has been victorious over sorrow. But he who is a victim of the passions cannot avoid the chains of sorrow. As the sick man is known by the color of his face, so he who is ruled by the passions is detected by his sorrow. It is impossible for one who loves the world not to be sorrowful, but he who has contempt for the world is always joyful.
As fire purifies gold, so sorrowful longing for God cleanses the heart of sin (Ant., Word 25).
Instruction to a beginning monk
As you live in the cloister observe the following: as you stand in the Church, attend to everything without overlooking anything. If you happen to be in your cell and do not have handiwork, show all diligence to reading, and above all read the Psalter. Make an effort to read through each stasis many times in order that you may contain everything in your mind. If you have handiwork, apply yourself to it; if you are called to an obedience, go to it. During handiwork, or wherever you may be at an obedience, unceasingly say the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” In prayer take heed to yourself – that is, gather your mind and unite it with the subject of the prayer, and do not turn to any other thing. When the Lord kindles your heart by the warmth of His grace, then the prayer shall flow in it unceasingly and always be with you, delighting and nourishing you.
When you shall hold within yourself this food of the soul – that is, conversation with our Lord Himself – why should you go to the cells of the brethren even though someone should call upon you? Truly I tell you that this is idle talk and love of idleness. If you do not understand yourself, how then are you able to discern that which concerns others and teach them? Be silent; remember always the presence of God and His name. Enter into discussions with no one, but by every means guard yourself against judging those who converse much, or who laugh. Be in this case deaf and dumb, so that whatever they say about you, you will let it all pass by your ears.
As an example for yourself, you can take Stephen the New (Lives of Saints, Nov. 28th), who was unceasing in prayer, meek in character, silent, humble in heart, compunctionate in spirit, pure in body and soul, irreproachable in virginity, in poverty true, in non-acquisitiveness like a desert dweller. He was unmurmuring in obedience, thorough in his duties, patient and earnest in his labors.
Sitting at table, do not look or judge how much anyone eats, but attend to yourself and nourish your soul with prayer. For dinner eat what is sufficient, and at supper restrain yourself. On Wednesday and Friday, if possible eat only once. Every day without fail, in the evening sleep four hours: the 10th, 11th, 12th, and the hour past midnight; if you become weak, you can sleep in the afternoon. Hold to this constantly until the end of your life, for it is necessary to calm your head. I, from my early years, have kept such a way. And we always beg the Lord God to give us rest at nighttime. (3) If you shall thus keep yourself, then you will not be despondent, but healthy and joyful.
(1)Here the Septuagint translation, as in other quotes in this article, is rendered and may differ from other texts familiar to the reader.
(2)Here we have translated directly from the Slavonic text.
(3)This is a reference to the Compline service of the Orthodox Church.