Table of Contents  

  • Man's Freedom
  • Books and Reading
  • Self-Justification
  • Monasticism and the World
  • The Advantages and Drawbacks of Being an Artist
  • Worldly Pleasures and Spiritual Pleasures
  • Prayer and the Jesus Prayer
  • Confession
  • Intrigues in Elder Nikon's Journal


Man's Freedom


     “Don't think for a minute that you came on your own: No man can come to Me, except the Father which hath sent me draw him (John 6:44). Freedom is given us by God, and on your part there was only free will. You merely did not resist when He , taking you by the hand, led you here. The Lord saves us; we don't save ourselves, but He, the Merciful One , saves us, in view of our desire for this.

     “And so,give thanks to God – you yourselves see how many people perish in the world.Reflect now yourselves – for what reason has the Lord shown you such mercy that He has led you here, to the monastery, to our secluded, quiet skete? Yes! Only with God's help is it possible to walk this narrow, sorrowful path.

    “Here is a monk making his way along a path which leads through the midst of precipices and cliffs. He walks and comes to a precipice along sharp rocks. He goes up to the very edge, and there's no road beyond it. Beneath his feet is the precipice, an abyss a mile deep. Before him, on the other side, is a cliff half a mile away. To the left and to the right, all around, are just cliffs and precipices. It seems as though he can't take another step. To turn back is also dangerous; moreover, there have already been landslides since he came. There is one way out – to jump onto the cliff across the abyss using the a rock that's sticking up from it. It's terrifying; moreover, the rock might collapse, and what would he do then? But then the Lord says, 'Don't be afraid, be firm. I will help.' And He sends His angel. The angel takes the trembling monk by the hand: 'Well, with God's help!' “It's terrifying!' 'Don't be afraid; hope and believe that you'll overcome the obstacles.' All a tremble, the monk casts himself across the abyss and, thanks be to God, is standing unharmed on the rock. 'Ah, that wasn't so terrible after all. Now I won't be afraid anymore.'And he goes further and further, and closer and closer to the Throne of Glory of the Heavenly King. This is what the path of a monk is. And with God's help many pass through it easily, for My yoke is easy, and My burden is light(Matt. 11:30)” (p.258-259)


Books and Reading


i) “'Batiushka,I've noticed that reading the books of atheists and in general, of those who are not in agreement with my worldview, while they don't change my views,nevertheless leave me with a kind of aftertaste.'

“'Yes,'the Elder replied, 'the Holy Fathers and our Elders advised us to read books of our own tenor, and by this reading to strengthen and develop our convictions more.'” (p.289)


ii)“Once Fr. Barsanuphius said to me (Elder Nikon), 'If I were not the Superior and Elder, I would read only Lives of Saints and other Patristic books....'” (p. 746)


iii)“Among other things, the Elder said that when he was a novice, persecuted and spurned by everyone, his state was more joyful and bright than now. He said that this is due to the fact that then his soul was nourished by reading the Gospel, the Psalter and Patristic books, while now he does not have that opportunity. Now he has to read other books – the books of human souls. Then he said to me, 'Don't listen to the enemy, who suggests to you that the time when you will take up reading for real is still ahead. Don't listen to the evil one– he's a deceiver. For you now is just the time for study.'” (p. 782)




     “'Self-justification is not a monastic thing. In his time the great elder Anatole told me the following: “Never justify yourself.”

     “'But what if I'm right, Batiushka?'

     “'It's all the same, right or wrong; be silent when you're accused, and then say,“Forgive me, I'm guilty.'

     “'Well that's fine, but what if someone says that I've killed a man – should I not justify myself then either?'

     “'Right –be silent and then say, “Forgive me.” If you haven't actually killed anyone,then perhaps you've killed someone by word. Therefore don't justify yourself,and acknowledge yourself to be sinful and guilty of everything. And for the fact that you speak thus, the Lord will reveal to you later that you really were guilty.'” (p. 290)


Monasticism and the World


i)“...I will not be sinning in saying that only monastics can attain the highest blessedness. It's possible to be saved in the world, but to be completely whitened, to be washed clean of the old man, to be raised up to a height equal to that of the angels, to the highest spiritual creativity – is impossible in the world.” (p. 340)


ii)“On that trip, during one of our talks, the Elder took off the cap he wore in his cell and put it on me: 'Let me see how my little child will look as a nun.'

“I took this as a joke, because I had had no thoughts about monasticism. Even more – at the beginning of my acquaintance with the elder I had asked him if, in his opinion, I could be saved in the world, because 'I cannot and will not' enter a monastery, as I declared directly to him. I would like to present the Elder's reply.

“'It's possible to be saved living in the world, only ... be careful! Imagine an abyss,at the bottom of which there bubbles a turbulent stream. From the water, every so often, horrible monsters thrust their heads out and open their jaws wide to swallow whoever falls into the water. You know that you have to cross over the abyss, and a narrow, thin pole is thrown across it. What a horror! The pole could suddenly break under you or your head could start spinning, and you might fall right into the jaws of the terrible monsters. How frightful! Might you cross it carefully? With God's help, of course, everything is possible, but it's frightful all the same. Suddenly someone tells you: “Look, over there on the right, two or three steps away there's a bridge built on firm piers, with iron handrails – why tempt God, why risk your life? Isn't it simpler to go across by that safe path?” Have you understood me? The abyss s the sea of life,which we all have to get across. The pole is the path of the layman, and the bridge, protected on all sides, firm and stable, is the monastery.'” (p.543-544)


iii)“I liked this homily very much. Fr. Barsanuphius has said that humility and love are the highest virtues and must be the exceptional traits of every monk.”(p. 763)


The Advantages and Drawbacks of Being an Artist


     ( Inconjunction with the above quote – Monasticism and the world i) ) “As an example of such worldly people Fr. Barsanuphius would take 'artists', that is,creative intellectuals (authors, composers and painters). In them there is often strength of soul – however not directed towards God. Still, even those kinds of yearnings sometimes blaze up in them – but then they die out. 'The majority of our best artists and writers,' Fr. Barsanuphius said, 'can be compared with people who have come to church when the service has already begun and the church is full of people. Such people stand at the entrance – it's difficult to go in, and they don't even make an effort to do so. Something or other carries over them from the Divine services: the Cherubic Hymn, or We Praise Thee.... Thus they have stood and stood, without having been in the church itself. So also are the artists and poets at the gates of the Kingdom of Heaven – they have stood there, but have not entered; and meanwhile, so many means have been given to them for their entrance therein. Their souls, like dynamite, have flared up at the slightest spark, but unfortunately they did not fan this spark, and it went out.” (p.340-341)


Worldly Pleasures and Spiritual Pleasures




i)“When I was in the world I loved opera. Good, serious music gave me pleasure and I always had a subscription – a seat in the orchestra. Later on, when I learned of different, spiritual consolations, the opera ceased to interest me.When a valve of the heart closes to the receptivity of worldly enjoyments,another valve opens, for the receptions of spiritual joys.” (p. 440-441)


ii)“Now theatrical tunes and melodies have even penetrated into the Church,forcing out ancient chant. Meanwhile, the latter is more highly artistic, but they don't understand this.” (p.452)




     “At the same time that people in the world are attracted to worldly literature, often of immoral content, in the monasteries there is the reading of the Psalter and,in one's free time, the Lives of the Saints. When I entered the Monastery, the desire arose in me to read all of our classics. I revealed this to the Elder,but he forbade me. I'm glad now that I heeded his wise counsel, since the desire to occupy myself with worldly literature was the enemy's fishing line,to arouse within me recollections of worldly life and, perhaps, regrets over it. I don't wish to say that reading the works of our great writers is a sin –but there is reading that is more profitable and edifying. In the first place,there is the reading of the Psalter – this book was written by the holy King and Prophet David at the urging of the Holy Spirit. The Prophet David himself says, My tongue is the pen of a swiftly writing scribe (Ps. 44:1). And the Lives of the Saints are indispensable readings, which act beneficially upon the soul, especially if you read them in Slavonic.” (p. 441-442)




     “Truly,he who has known the highest bliss is not sensitive to earthly consolations.But for this knowledge one must have a lofty soul” (p. 452)


Prayer and the Jesus Prayer


i) “The Paschal Canon was composed by John Damascene – and so wondrously, majestically composed. It elevates the soul and fills it with spiritual joy, to the measure of the receptivity of each. But the question arises: where is the key to the opening up of spiritual joys? To this there is one answer: in the Jesus Prayer.There is great power in this prayer. It has varying degrees. The very first is the simple utterance of the words, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' At the highest degrees it attains such power that it can move mountains. Of course, not everyone can attain to this, but to utter this great prayer is not difficult for anyone, and the benefit is enormous. This is the most powerful weapon for the struggle against the passions. One woman, for instance, is proud. Another is overcome by lustful thoughts; it would appear that she doesn't even see a man, but a thought keeps telling her to fornicate.A third is envious and has no strength to fight against it – where does one get this strength? Solely in the Jesus Prayer. The enemy distracts us from it in every way: 'Well, what is this nonsense of repeating the same thing when neither the mind nor the heart takes part in the prayer? Better to replace it with something else....' Don't listen to him, he's lying; continue laboring in the prayer, and it will not leave you fruitless.

“All the saints held to this prayer, and it became so dear to them that they wouldn't have agreed to exchange it for anything. When their mind was distracted by something else, they suffered and strove to begin the prayer again. Their striving was similar to the desire of a thirsty man to drink. Sometimes a man does not manage to satisfy his desire due to the lack of water; then, finding a spring, he drinks insatiably. Thus did the saints thirst to begin the prayer,and they began it with ardent love.” (p. 453-454)


ii)“And I earnestly beg you – banish all images from your head and heart, that there might be only one image there – Christ's. But how do you attain this?Again, by the Jesus Prayer. The other day one of our skete schema-monks came to see me.

     “'I've fallen into despondency, Abba, since I don't see in myself – in one who bears the exalted angelic habit – a change for the better. The Lord calls one strictly to account if he's a monk or schema-monk only according to his clothing. But how can I change? How can I die to sin? I sense my total feebleness.'

     “'Yes,' I replied, 'We're absolutely bankrupt, and if the Lord judges according to works,He will find nothing good in us.'

     “'But is there hope for salvation then?'

     “'Of course there is. Always say the Jesus Prayer, and leave everything to the will of God.'

     “'But what kind of benefit can there be from this prayer if neither the mind nor the heart participates in it?'

     “'Enormous benefit. Of course, this prayer has many subdivisions, from simple utterance to creative prayer. But for us, even if we were to be on the bottom step, it would be salvific. The powers of the enemy run from one who utters this prayer, and sooner or later he'll be saved all the same.'

     “'I've been resurrected!' the schema-monk exclaimed. 'I won't be despondent anymore.'

     “And so I repeat: say the prayer, even if only with your lips, and the Lord will never abandon you. The utterance of this prayer doesn't require the study of any kind of sciences...” (p. 455-456)


iii)“Unfortunately, prayer did not save him, because he expected only ecstasies and did not want to bear the labor of prayer.” (p. 496)


iv)“'I summoned you to ask you – in what do the chief conditions for success in prayer consist? Can you give me an answer to this?'

     “Success in prayer is attained through patiently abiding in the labor of prayer. The enemy tries in every way to tear an ascetic away from the Jesus Prayer. With this aim he fights from both the right and the left. First he instills the thought that it is not worthwhile to labor, for nothing will be attained anyway. 'Look,' he says, 'how much time you've labored, and you haven't attained anything yet.' Or he fights from the other side, instilling the thought that you have already attained sanctity, that you don't need to do the Jesus Prayer,that it's utterly superfluous. He will also fight against the ascetic with similar thoughts with the aim of knocking him off the path of prayer; but the ascetic must conquer them with patience, that is, he must patiently continue the prayerful labor he has begun and not cease it under any circumstance.' This said Fr. Cleopas, knowing this struggle well from personal experience.

     “Hearing those wise words from Fr. Cleopas, Metropolitan Gabriel embraced him, kissed him, and said, 'In one minute you've resolved all my perplexities and questions.'

     “This is what experiential knowledge means. And so, in the podvig of prayer, the main thing is patience....” (p. 748-749)



     “With what thankfulness and reverence will those who have been to Confession with the Elder preserve his memory. This was a kind of could never forget, for through it his conversion to God was accomplished. It is essential to repent and, by repentance, to lay the beginning and foundation of a new life. Confession is a Mystery, without which a man's salvation cannot be accomplished; for almost every man, after passing through the blessed years of innocent infancy, departs from pious life, from grace-filled feelings and thoughts, to 'a far country,'and roams into various sins and vices. And often whole years, and even decades,pass in this way! But then a man as it were changes his mind and understands that one cannot live that way, that such a life is destruction; and he begins to feel the need for another life, a life according to God, according to his conscience. But after such a long time of wandering along the byways of sin, a man loses his true and correct ideas, and thus he does not even know how or with what to begin. He tries with his own strength to correct his life, but comes to a state of bewilderment and depression, seeing that he does not succeed in his intention. Then the grace of God leads him to the thought that it is essential, first of all, to repent, and by repentance to lay the beginning and foundation to a new life.

     “To repent means to make peace with God and to receive from Him the forgiveness of one's sins. This is accomplished in the Church of Christ at Confession, at a Confession which is sincere and heartfelt. One must approach it with recognition of its necessity, for confession is a spiritual judgment at which a man is given by God the possibility of vindicating himself,if he does not wish to fall under eternal condemnation at Christ's Dread Judgment. If we condemn ourselves, we shall not be condemned at that great and eternal Judgment. It is true that it sometimes happens that before he comes to a recognition of the necessity of such a Confession, a man has been to Confession repeatedly. But in what way? He has gone either for form's sake, or out of habit, or for other reasons. He has not confessed all his sins, being ashamed to state his more grievous sins out of false shame, or not understanding the seriousness of the sins, sometimes even considering mortal sins to be innocent amusements. Of course, under such conditions Confession loses its power, a man's mind not enlightened, and the heaviness of sin continues to lie upon his soul as a terrible weight. But something different takes place with a man who has come to Confession with a recognition of his sins. After Confession he senses the appeasement of his conscience, he perceives the hope of salvation, and his soul is, as it were, reborn and awakened from the heavy sleep of sin. Then he is ready to embark upon a new path – the path of pleasing God. Not everyone is able, with equal facility, to make up his mind to approach Confession with all sincerity. For many, Confession is preceded by an agonizing struggle, and some do not even realize the whole necessity of Confession.” (p.805-807)

Human Intrigues in Elder Nikon's Journal


·        - “(The lamp is going out. I can't write anymore.)” (p. 661)

·        - “On January 15 I had to interrupt my journal –there was no kerosene. I'll continue a bit more from the end.” (p. 661)

·        - “That's enough for the present. I still have to pray the five hundred.” (p. 663)


·        - “The Lord keeps consoling me, the sinner. I reconcile myself to every obedience, nothing burdens me, and I'm in a good mood all the time.

“Once I came to see the Elder. 'Well then, is everything all right?'

“'Yes, everything's fine, glory to God.'

“'Yes, beginners are always happy, if they've come to the monastery wholeheartedly.” (p.694-695)

·        “I can't write any more, they've come to call me to the hay mowing. It's a very hot day, and we're going to turn the hay with rakes. This is already the second month that there has been so little free time that I sometimes haven't even washed my face, and I haven't straightened up my cell for several days.” (p. 698)


·        “Yes, the Jesus Prayer – there's a weapon. And I, the wretch, totally forget about it. Yes, everything that is truly spiritual and Godly does not come as quickly as I had thought it would.” (p. 699)


“Now that I'm fulfilling my new obedience as secretary, I drink morning tea with Fr. Barsanuphius.”(p. 709)


·        “Once at tea the Elder said to me, 'I'm not well today; I feel poorly. Such states have begun to recur more often with me.... I didn't want to go to Matins, but I went. I thought – if I die, then let it be there at the Rule, and not here.'

“That's how one should bear sickness, I thought – not the way I do: the slightest thing, and right to bed.” (p. 710)


·        “When Fr. Barsanuphius, living attentively, had taken up the Jesus Prayer, many people considered him to be in a state of demonic delusion.” (p. 759)


·        “Today the Lord vouchsafed me the sacrament of Confession. I confessed my usual sins (emphasis mine) and, in addition, was able to confess, by the mercy of God, previously committed, terrible sins from when I was in the world. I ate, as usual, with the Elder. After the meal, when Fr. Barsanuphius lay down to rest, I sat beside him on a chair. Suddenly the Elder said to me, 'Nicholas Mitrofanovich.' For some reason, unexpectedly for myself, I said, 'What do you say Batiushka?' “I tell you, hell really does exist.'” (p. 766)


·        “I also told the Elder that vainglorious thoughts come to me, in which I'm an Elder, or an Abbot, etc.

     “'Yes,that's just what I thought,' replied the Elder. 'One ought not desire that. Of course, anything can happen – the Lord could put you in this place, or its possible that He will shelter you over there in one of the cells. Forgive me for the Lord's sake, but I consider the latter to be higher.'” (p. 777)


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