Table of Contents

  • The three types of Christians
  • What does the Christian Understand by "Sin"?
  • The Orthodox monk's main concern is the prayer of the heart
  • Prayer and imagination
  • The busy life and inner silence
  • One's attitude towards those difficult to love
  •  On "f"reedom and "F"reedom
  • Humility
  • Doubt
  • The heights of spiritual-centeredness over scholarly-centeredness
  • On smoking
  • Media or Spiritual insight Vying for Knowledge of People and the World


The Three Types of Christians

    "The experience of the Fathers through the centuries suggests three kinds or types so far as the pattern of Christian spiritual life is concerned.


    "The overwhelming majority of people fit into the first category.  Drawn to faith by a small measure of grace, they live their lives in a moderate effort to keep the commandments.  Only towards the end, because of the pain they suffer, do they know grace to a somewhat greater extent.  A certain number of them do, however strive harder and finally receive a larger measure of grace.  This happens with many monks.


    "To a second category belong those who, attracted by a relatively small degree of grace, yet zealously wrestle in prayer against the passions, and in this painful struggle know greater grace; and spending the rest of their lives in still more urgent striving arrive at a high level of perfection.


    "In the third and rare category belongs the man who at  the outset of his ascetic path, for his fervour, or, rather, because he is foreknown by God, receives great grace, the grace of the perfect.


    "This last category is not only the most rare but the most difficult because no one - so far as we can judge from the lives and writings of the Holy Fathers, from oral tradition concerning ascetics of latter centuries, and the experience of contemporaries - can retain to the full the gift of divine love, and afterwards for a long while endure the withdrawal of grace and abandonment by God.


    "Such ascetics suffer more than all others, since having known grace, having contemplated Divine light, by contrast they feel abandonment by God and the onslaught of the passions incomparably more profoundly, more sharply and acutely - they know WHAT they have lost.  Moreover, grace experienced changes man?s whole being and makes him immeasurably more sensitive to every spiritual manifestation.


    "This last category suffers more than all because Christ-like love in this world is subject to an exceptionally harsh 'fiery trial' - in this world Christ-like love is inevitably painful.  And here we have Blessed Staretz Silouan, and the explanation of his words, ?You cannot understand my sorrow? and ?He who has not known the Lord cannot seek Him in tears."


    "When he describes Adam's inconsolable grief, his weeping when he was driven from Paradise, he is, in fact, speaking of his own sorrow after losing grace." (p.27-28)

"What Does The Christian Understand by Sin?"

    "Sin is primarily a metaphysical phenomenon whose roots lie in the mystic depths of man's spiritual nature.  The essence of sin consists not in the infringement of ethical standards but in a falling away from the eternal Divine life for which man was created and to which, by his very nature, he is called.


    "Sin is committed first of all in the secret depths of the human spirit but its consequences involve the individual as a whole.  A sin will reflect on man's psychological and physical condition, on his outward appearance, on his personal destiny.  Sin will, inevitably, pass beyond the boundaries of the sinners individual life, to burden all humanity and thus affect the fate of the whole world.  The sin of our forefather Adam was not the only sin of cosmic significance.  Every sin, manifest or secret, committed by each one of us affects the rest of the universe.


    "The earthly-minded man when he commits a sin is not conscious of its effects on himself as is the spiritual man.  The carnal man does not remark any change in himself after committing a sin because he is always in a state of spiritual death and ha never known the eternal life of the spirit.  The spiritual man, on the contrary, does see a change in himself every time his will inclines to sin - he senses a lessening of grace."  (p. 31-32)

The Orthodox Monks Main Concern is For Prayer in the Heart

    The Orthodox monk's main concern is to keep the mind at prayer in the heart, and this makes him able to perceive an intrusive thought before it enters his heart.  The mind continuing silently entrenched in the heart sees the intrusive though approaching from without, endeavoring to get into the heart, and through prayer drives it off. 

Prayer and Imagination

    "Brother Simeon [later the Fr. Silouan] did not yet know how to keep his mind free from imagining of irrelevant thought.  When he prayed he did not exclude imagination, the home ground of the devils.  Imagination, unavoidable at the start of the spiritual life, brings temptation.  Inasmuch as it is inevitable during the preliminary period, it is not regarded then as ?enticement?, thought he novice gradually progresses from that form of prayer to another which consists of ?enclosing the mind in the words of the prayer?.  This is a more difficult, arid type of prayer but correspondingly sounder and less hazardous.


    "Brother Simeon, though ardently concentrated on God, was simple and naïve.  He let imagination play a part in his prayer, which very soon assumed a dangerous form and gave devils the opportunity to tempt the young ascetic.  And that strange light that flooded his cell one night and even illuminated his inner being, and the monstrous shapes that showed themselves in the dark, and even in the daytime, appeared to him and conversed with him - were all fraught with great peril.


    "Of course almost all the holy ascetics knew this combat with demons, and so to encounter them is a normal phenomenon of the path to spiritual perfection; but how many of them suffered from them, how many of them continued mentally ill to the end of their days - went mad; how many people fell into despair and perished; how many suicides, how many crimes have happened in the world as a consequence of demonic spirituality?


    "Those who have waged this struggle know how cunning and flattering these devils can be, how violent when repulsed.  Every time what happened to Brother Simeon happens with a postulant, his spiritual father exercises the utmost attention.  The struggle against demons should not cause dismay.  Dismay is half-way to defeat, debilitating the soul and rendering her more vulnerable to devilish assaults.  (p. 38-39)   How he himself overcame is in the next paragraph, he increased his ascetic discipline.

The Busy Life and Inner Silence

    "I once asked the Staretz, 'Doesn't being steward and having to live among so many people make inner silence difficult'"


    "What does inner silence mean?" he replied.  "It means ceaseless prayer, with the mind dwelling in God.  Father John of Krondstat was always surrounded by people, yet he was more with God than many solitaries. I became steward in an act of obedience and because of the Abbot's blessing I can pray better at my task than I did at Old Russikon where out of self-will I had asked to go for the sake of inner silence. If the soul loves and pities people, prayer cannot be interrupted." (p. 63)

One's attitude toward those difficult to love

    Father Silouan's attitude towards those who differed from him was characterised by a sincere desire to see what was good in them, and not to offend them in anything they held sacred.  He always remained himself; he was utterly convinced that "salvation lies in Christ-like humility", and by virtue of his humility he strove with his whole soul to interpret every man at his best.  He found his way to the heart of everyone - to his capacity for loving Christ. (p. 63)

On "f"reedom and "F"reedom

    One day the Staretz had a conversation with a young student visiting Mt. Athos who talked a great deal about freedom.  As always he listened gently to the ideas and experiences of his lively, nice but naïve visitor.  Naturally, the latter's conception of freedom meant political freedom on the one part and, for the other, being able to follow the dictates of one's heart.


    In reply, the Staretz explained his own ideas and aims.


    "Who doesn't want freedom?"  he said.  "Everyone does but few know what freedom consists of, and how to attain it.  To become free, one must first of all "bind" oneself.  The more you bind yourself, the more freedom your spirit will know.  One must pinion the passions in oneself, so that they don't get possession of you, restrain yourself so as not to harm your neighbour.  People generally seek freedom in order to do what they like.  But that is not freedom but the power of sin over you.  Freedom to fornicate, overeat and get drunk, or be spiteful, use violence and kill, and so on, is certainly not freedom but, as the Lord said, "Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin".  One must pray hard to be delivered from such bondage.


    "We believe that true freedom means not sinning, in order to love God and one's neighbour with our whole heart and our whole strength.


    "True freedom means constant dwelling in God."


    Though what the Staretz said was too profound for the youth to grasp; though what he said was apparently simple, the young student left deeply impressed. (p. 65)

    "I have already recounted the conversation between the Staretz and a young student, which partly reveals his views concerning freedom.  Here I want to introduce some complementary thoughts that he expressed orally and partly in writing, though in language incomprehensible to most people.


    "The Staretz' life was spent, above all, in prayer, and the praying mind does not think - does not reason - but lives.  Its activity consists, not in the manipulation of abstract concepts but in participation in being.  The truly praying mind has to do with categories different in quality from those of rational reflection.  It is concerned not with intellectual categories but with actual being, which cannot be confined within the narrow framework of abstract concepts.


    "The Satretz was not a philosopher in the usual sense of the word but he was a true sage and knew things beyond the bounds of philosophy.


    "Let us consider, for instance, the experience known as "remembrance of death".  This appellation in the ascetic writings of the Fathers signifies, not man?s usual awareness of his mortality, not just knowing that one day we shall die - it is an especial spiritual consciousness.  The first stage begins when we realise how brief is our earthly existence.  Now diminishing, now increasing, at times the feeling turns into a profound sense of the corruptibility and impermanence of all earthly matters - an awareness that affects one?s whole attitude to everything in the world.  Whatever is not eternal loses all value, and a futility of striving after material things takes over.  The mind detaches itself form the outside world, to concentrate within, where the soul is confronted by a searchless abyss of darkness.  This vision plunges the soul into an anguish which generates intense prayer, irresistible by day and by night.  Time ceases to flow, not at first because the soul has glimpsed the light of eternal life but, on the contrary, because everything is consumed by a sense of eternal death.  Finally, after passing through many and various stages, by the action of grace the soul is lifted into the realm of Divine light.  And this is not philosophical overstepping but life, genuine life, having no need of any dialectical "proofs".  This is in definable, indemonstrable, secret knowledge, yet despite its being impossible to define, like authentic life it is incomparably more powerful and intrinsically convincing than impeccable abstract dialectics.


    "The Satretz would pray,


    'Lord, people have forgotten Thee, their Creator, and they seek freedom for themselves.  They do not realise that thou art merciful and lovest the repentant sinner, and dost accord him the grace of the Holy Spirit.'


    He was speaking of words in his prayer to the omniscient God and did not amplify his thoughts.  "Men seek their own freedom," that is to say, freedom outside God, outside true life, in "outer darkness" where there is, and can be, no freedom, fro freedom can only exist where there is no death, where there is authentic eternal being - in God, that is.


    "Thou art merciful and dost accord them the grace of the Holy Spirit.  God gives the gift of the Holy Spirit and then man becomes free.  Where the Spirit of the Lord is, there is liberty."


    Ontological or, as the Staretz called it, experienced knowledge of human liberty is extraordinarily profound in the prayer of grace.  With his whole soul he recognised that there is only one real servitude - the servitude of sin - and one real freedom, which is resurrection in God.


    Until man attains his resurrection in Christ everything in him is disfigured by fear of death and, consequently, by servitude to sin, also; while of those who have not yet come to know the grace of the resurrection only the "blessed" that have not seen, and yet have believed? escape such disfiguring. (p. 105-107)


    "St. Pimen the Great, schooled by long experience of battle against the devils, knowing that [by] far the most dangerous and powerful enemy is pride, fought all his life to acquire humility, and so said to his disciples, 'Be assured, children, that where Satan is, there am I also'.  But at the bottom of his heart, knowing how good and merciful is the Lord, he trusted that He would save him." (p. 66)

    "Often for a single flash of doubt in God's mercy - 'Well, and supposing the Lord does not forgive me?' - the soul loses much.  Despair is worse than anything -it is blasphemy against God, as if God were incapable of saving us, as if the scale of our sins could transcend the measure of divine compassion.  He took upon Himself all the sins of the whole world. If a mother can forgive her child's every misdoing, because it has not yet attained the age of reason, so even more does the Lord forgive us if we humble ourselves and repent" (p. 67)

The Heights of Spiritual-Centeredness over Scholarly-Centeredness

    "[Fr. Silouan] believed that if the spiritual man were to abandon the ascetic life and turn his mind to learning, he would show greater capacities as a scholar than the man less talented spiritually - in other words, that the man with mystical gifts, living the life of the spirit, inhabits a higher, nobler plane than the man whose province is learning in the sphere of logical thought; and since the spiritual man has a higher form of existence, he will, on descending to a lower plane, show greater talent there, though perhaps not immediately, than the non-spiritual person.  The Staretz said that "the children of this world are in their generation wiser than the children of light", not because they are wiser in actual fact but because "the spiritual man is absorbed by God and has little time to spare for worldly matters." (p. 70-71)

On Smoking

    "In 1905 Father Silouan spent several months in Russia, often visiting monasteries.  On one of his train journeys he sat opposite a shopkeeper, who in a friendly gesture opened his silver cigarette-case and offered him a cigarette.  Father Silouan thanked him but refused to take one.  Then the shopkeeper began talking, asking, "Are you refusing, Father, because you think it is a sin?  But smoking is often a help in life.  It relaxes you, and makes a few minutes' break.  Smoking helps one to get on with one's work or have a friendly chat, and in general."  And so on, trying to persuade Father Silouan to have a cigarette.  In the end Father Silouan made up his mind to say to him, "Before you light up a cigarette, pray and repeat one 'Our Father.'" To this the shopkeeper replied, "Praying before having a smoke somehow doesn't work." To this Silouan observed, "So better not start anything which cannot be preceded by untroubled prayer." (p.70)

Media or Spiritual Insight Vying for Knowledge of People and The World

    "[Father Diadoch] was relating something he had read in the newspaper and, turning to Staretz Silouan, he asked,
    "What do you think about that, Father Silouan?"


    "Batioushka, I don't care for newspapers with their news."


    "Why not?"


    "Because reading newspapers clouds the mind and hinders pure prayer."


    "How odd," said the father-confessor.  "For my part I find just the contrary - newspapers help me to pray.  We live here in the wilderness, seeing nothing, and gradually the soul forgets the world and becomes shut up in herself.  Prayer then slackens. But when I read the newspapers I see how it is with the world, how people suffer, and that makes me want to pray.  Then, whether celebrating the Liturgy or praying alone in my cell, I entreat God for all mankind, for the whole world."


    "When the soul prays for the world," said Father Silouan, "she knows better without newspapers how the whole earth is afflicted.  She knows what people?s needs are and feels pity for them."


    "How can the soul know of herself what goes on in the world?"


    "Newspapers don't write about people but about events, and then not the truth.  They confuse the mind and, whatever you do, you won't get at the truth by reading them; whereas prayer cleanses the mind and gives it a better vision of all things."


    "I don't quite see," said the father-confessor.

    We all waited for Staretz Silouan to reply but the Staretz sat in Silence, head bent, not suffering himself to explain in the presence of a father-confessor and older monks how the soul can, in spirit, know the life of the world and the needs and tribulations of men when, remote from all things, she prays for the universe." (p. 73)


Make a Free Website with Yola.