From the Book: "I Know A Man In Christ" Elder Sophrony The Hesychast and Theologian
by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos
In the file that I [Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos] had made up from my visits to the Monastery of St John the Baptist in Essex, my meetings with Elder Sophrony and the various words of his that I have set out above, I also found a separate collection of the Elder’s sayings, which did not form part of the discussions that I had with him on particular dates.
These are words that the Elder addressed to me from time to time, or that I heard him saying to others, or that some of the monks and nuns (Father Kyrill, Father Raphael, Father Zacharias, Sister Magdalen) mentioned to me as the Elder’s words. They really did express the ‘spirit’ of the Elder. Most of these sayings were passed on to me by Father Zacharias, with whom I had a strong fraternal friendship which I still maintain. Sometimes we had long discussions. It was he who passed on to me various orders, requests and wishes from the Elder, as he was continuously with him. At various times Father Zacharias would say during our conversations: “The Elder says on that subject…” I recorded these words in a special notebook. In any case, the Elder once told me: “Zacharias has taken all my teaching”, and I was convinced that he was reporting the Elder’s words accurately.
I set out these words to round off this second part of the book, and also so that we can look at Father Sophrony’s oral teaching.
The aim of marriage is for the couple to collaborate with God, so that they will give birth to sons and daughters of God. Prayer is needed when choosing. In order for them to make a good choice, much prayer is needed that the suitable person may be given for this purpose.
When someone marries, he does so in order that his wife may be his helper for salvation. He must show love, and they must struggle for their salvation.
Today it is a privilege not to have children. Parents suffer martyrdom. When the children grow up, society takes them. Parents idolise their children. They live their whole lives in them and identify with them. This is a mistake. Through marriage the husband takes the wife as a helper, so that they may achieve perfection [theosis]. Children are gifts from God. Often the children bring anxiety and the nous is distracted from God. Nature itself (God’s creative, life-giving and providential energy) will bring it about that there are not many children; it will grow weak and it will not be possible for many children to be born. When people marry and God gives children, they should glorify God. If God does not give children, they should be calm and not worry.
It is not a matter of giving birth to beings for historical reality, but of giving birth to persons for the reality that transcends history, that they may enter Paradise. Many give birth to children who become fodder for hell.
Married couples must learn self-emptying. They must give way to one another. Then they learn to accept another existence in their own existence.
The upbringing of children begins from the day of the wedding. The couple ought to live with prayer and the fear of God. When a mother prays when she is pregnant, the embryo feels the energy of the prayer. When a child is conceived the parents ought not to be angry. When it is born, they ought to pray; they should also pray when they have the child in their arms. Whatever the mother does, she should do it with prayer. She should make the sign of the cross over the child when it is asleep, and pray when she breastfeeds it or gives it food.
The fact that many children nowadays have unkind instincts is because they were not breastfed by their mothers. (When a woman asked whether she should feed her baby with her own milk or with cows’ milk, I replied: “Who gave birth to it – you or the cow?”)
The aim is not simply that the infant should partake of the Most Pure Mysteries, but that it should live in an atmosphere of prayer at home. The atmosphere of the home should be one of prayer. The parents ought to inspire the children with their love for Christ and the All-Holy Virgin.
When the children are small, there ought to be rules at home, which should gradually give way as the children grow up. Then they are given freedom. We should also give them presents. The children may feel that they live in a rather old-fashioned way when they live life in the Church. The important thing, however, is for the children not to become atheists. Atheism is worse even than carnal sin.
The aim in bringing up children is that they may acquire personal love for Christ and the All-Holy Virgin. We ought not to advise them simply to become good people. Also, we have to help them to stay in the Orthodox Church, not merely to avoid sin. The fact that they stay within Orthodoxy is a great thing, and may be the cause of salvation, even if they have made some mistakes in their lives. Children ought to be inspired by love for Christ and the All-Holy Virgin.
Constructive leisure activities are essential for those who live in the world. It is preferable for children to get out of the house rather than to stay at home and watch television.
If we want our children to live in modern cities in the same way as we lived in the past, we will drive them mad. There are children who seem all right when they are small, but when they grown up they lose their reason.
It is preferable for children not to partake of the Body and Blood of Christ rather than to partake under compulsion from their parents, without wanting to themselves. If the mother prays during the child’s conception, pregnancy and birth, she gives it spiritual birth as well as physical birth – she gives birth to a spiritual being. There were many atheists in Russia, but the worst atheists were the children of priests. We must make sure that we bring up children in such a way that they do not regard Orthodoxy as difficult and burdensome.
Parents ought not to neglect their children much on account of services and sermons. Also, many Greek parents in England do not allow their children to go round with English children. This is a bad thing. The child has to learn how to live in a community with different people.
The general view on bringing up children is as follows: care is needed prior to marriage. The choice of a suitable spouse must be made with prayer. The couple ought to begin their life with zeal, and with prayer that God might enlighten the children that will be born so that they become His own children. As they bring up their children they ought, with discretion, to give them freedom and allow them to go on their way. We should not use the word ‘forbid’, even as regards leisure activities. How they behave in secondary matters is less important than whether they love Christ. So that they may love Christ, we ought not to talk to them psychologically and theologically in stilted language, but to pray inwardly in our heart. When the parents have God’s grace within them, the children sense it.
There should be open discussions within the home. Also, the atmosphere of prayer ought to prevail, not just an atmosphere of words. We should form our children. And formation, according to the Church, means giving form – the form of Christ.
It is good for children to have contact and meetings with lots of young people. Because in this way they will realise that relations with the opposite sex are not confined to the carnal level, as happens in marriage.
In the past matchmaking was prevalent. Now personal acquaintance predominates. It is not so important what happens, but whatever happens must be done with prayer.
Freedom does not mean “Do what you like”, but “Do what you like within limits”. In other words, we discuss with the children; we do not express surprise and amazement at every bad thing they do. And in some secondary matters we leave them to do as they like. If a child wants to go to a party, we should tell him or her: “Pray, and do whatever God enlightens you to do.” And we should add: “I shall not hold it against you if you go to the party after praying.” In this way we develop their sense of responsibility and their relationship with Christ. We teach them to pray to God about everything they do.
Freedom plays a major role in bringing up children.
We should pray God to give inspiration. God enlightens everyone, especially mothers, and gives them inspiration. This is the only way we can bring up children.
Some people speak about ‘marital priesthood’ and assert that in married life one lives the threefold dignity of the Lord. This is speculative theology. The threefold dignity of the Lord (Prophet, King and High Priest) is lived through repentance. Otherwise all those things that are said are a theology of the passions.
In the Old Testament God made known His will negatively through the law, through ‘not’ and ‘no’ – “Thou shalt not kill” and so on. The people were tormented and lost hope because they could not put it into practice, and they cried out: “Come, Thou Messiah, and save us.” In this way the law became “a tutor to bring us to Christ”.
In the Old Testament childlessness was considered a curse because all women wanted to become mothers and grandmothers of Christ, the Messiah. In the New Testament things have changed, because now we live the Messiah, Christ.
God did not create masters and slaves but sons in relation to a Father. All those who become sons of God by grace afterwards also become spiritual fathers of Christians.
God glorified the All-Holy Virgin and kept her in silence. The mystery of the Theotokos is a mystery of silence. For that reason God did not enlighten people to talk about her natural life. However, the Church glorified her.
A saint’s word opens the hearer’s nous, and with this word he can preach a whole sermon.
God’s revelation is not visions, but the advent of divine grace, which comes in stages.
Christ said something once and this word remains for ever. We realise this from the saints as well. They heard a word once and they kept it for the whole of their lives. In this way we also comprehend the energy of God’s word.
For someone to do missionary work in an Orthodox way, he has to have the Holy Spirit within him, but he must also assimilate the culture of the place where he is. Then he can make a contribution.
No one can bear to live with a saint, because the saint’s word is fiery. The saint ascends the Cross with his whole life; he is crucified. And the one who lives with him cannot bear this life of the Cross.
There are no writings by female saints. This is not because there are fewer holy women than men. There are more holy women, but female saints lead a hidden life; they are able to keep their life secret. The All-Holy Virgin received great grace from God. We do not have revelations that come from the All-Holy Virgin, but we know that she had great grace; the Church and all who pray to her are aware of it.
Also, women did not need to reveal their experiences in order to guide their flock. All those who have left us a few of their words were Abbesses. But male saints, too, would have kept silent, and we would not have their writings, had it not been necessary for them, as people with responsibility and shepherds of the Church, to guide their flocks.
God’s covenant with human beings is His call to each one. Accepting the call is keeping the Covenant.
Priests share in Christ’s martyric priesthood. The Pope exercises his authority from a high position. Orthodox priests share in Christ’s self-emptying, in the martyric priesthood of Christ, Who was crucified and went down to Hades.
The trials that the saints underwent are greater than our own trials, because their hearts were sensitive and everything in their lives took on larger proportions. Christ’s Cross transcends any human martyrdom because Christ was sinless. We inherit death and we strengthen the power of death throughout our lives with our sins.
Christians will always be misunderstood by those around them.
We should also respect the freedom of non-believers and atheists, and not judge them. Then they too will leave us free to do our work.
In Greece they are prone to gossip and easily take offence, but at the same time they have intuition, and they understand that other people have good intentions and mean well. This is because Greece is an Orthodox country.
When someone has a rule from his spiritual father not to take Holy Communion, but he takes Holy Communion because he thirsts for it, then, apart from being disobedient, he does harm to his soul, because afterwards he stops thirsting for Holy Communion. If, however, he obeys his spiritual father, he will continue to thirst for Holy Communion. This thirst is beneficial. Just by keeping the word of one’s spiritual father one receives grace from God.
When someone has passed through Buddhism he needs to repent and weep a lot. Otherwise a certain pride will remain in him as a residue from his previous life. Carnal sins (fornication) are forgotten through repentance and are easily cured. Psychological and spiritual sins (pride, heresies, experimenting with Buddhism) are not easily cured. It is the same with culture. A monk who spends his time on cultural pursuits shows that he has no experience of repentance. If he had repentance, all his past interests, including culture, would be left behind, since the grace of God would be before him.
What do the words “Keep your mind in hell, and despair not” mean? They mean nothing to us, but Staretz Silouan understood them as a great consolation, because he was going through the period of Godfor-sakenness. That is why he said: “I received the weapon of my salvation.” It was like a triumph. Hell means the withdrawal of God’s grace. This is God’s chastening. For Staretz Silouan the way out was “Do not despair.”
God abandoned the Apostle Peter during the time of trial in order to prepare him for greater grace. He received so much grace from God that even his shadow cured people.
The grace of God that comes to the saints is so great that the soul is unable to keep it. For that reason they leave the world and the monastery. This happened to St Seraphim of Sarov.
When someone who is married does not honour spiritual virginity (purity of heart) and does not exercise it, he does not live well even as a married man, because married life is nourished by this purity of heart.
Godly despair is different from worldly despair. Godly despair is linked with profound repentance, abandonment by God.
The difference between something psychological and something spiritual is the difference between what is human and what is divine. Everything in the spiritual life is the fruit of human collaboration and divine grace.
God arranges sufferings and trials for the proud man so that he might be saved. To someone who is physically strong He gives an illness to stop him indulging himself. Afflictions crush the heart, and this crushing produces prayer.
Man is a microcosm. He repents, he becomes holy, he receives the whole world, and thus a small creation takes place.
We are all murderers to varying degrees. When we are emotionally in favour of a state that fights against another state, we too participate spiritually in the killings that take place.
Practising virginity requires obedience. A monk is not protected from various temptations when he lives with his mother and sister, but when he has the blessing of his Elder and is obedient to him.
The essence of obedience is that someone opens his heart – his hypostasis – and accepts the will of another hypostasis. This enables him to acquire knowledge of all created being. When someone is completely obedient to his Elder, his heart opens up and he inherits the Elder’s ‘riches’ in a very short time. This is not something psychological, but something that comes about in the Spirit. This means that, if the disciple receives a grace from God during prayer, his mind immediately turns to his Elder and he says that this happened by the prayers of the Elder. This is spiritual obedience and love for the Elder. Through this process, obedience to the Elder deadens the passions. This is the only way to deaden and transform the passions.
Often impertinence becomes a burning fire. Simplicity, not impertinence, is needed.
The Apostle Paul expounds the charisma of love in his Epistle to the Romans better than in the Epistle to the Corinthians.
The prayer “Against Thee only do we sin, and Thee alone do we worship” has great theological significance. We worship God, but we are also unable to live with Him. He is a mirror that reveals our ugliness. Thus man grows spiritually both downwards and upwards.
Prayer ought to take place in the dogmatic framework of ecclesiology and the Gospel. Otherwise prayer cannot act. And even if it acts, at the time of temptation it departs and is lost. We must be familiar with the whole of God’s training.
There are many degrees of humility. The first is the recognition of sinfulness. Secondly, man compares himself with the perfect law and sees that he is worse than everyone else. Thirdly, he accepts charismas as gifts from God. Fourthly, he sees the humility of Christ.
Keeping Christ’s commandments is for all Christians. The monastic life is a technical method to help us keep Christ’s commandments better. So we do not preach monasticism but Christianity.
I do not like talking about intuition, but about the heart’s awareness and inner conviction, which is the working of divine grace.
We should not oppose the evil one with words, because opposition increases evil. As Abba Dorotheos says, the good swimmer passes under the wave.
Someone ought not to humble himself before those who do not humble themselves, because they will perceive it as weakness and will go on to strangle him. When those who are born again in the Spirit meet someone humble, they humble themselves even more, whereas those who are not born again, when they meet someone humble, take the opportunity to impose themselves on him.
Five minutes of prayer when the whole body is in pain are more precious than a whole night of praying with bodily ease.
It is preferable to do only a little spiritual work, but with peace in our heart, rather than to attempt a lot and lose our peace of heart.
We should prefer to have a little of all the virtues rather than one virtue to perfection, because in this way one’s nous, will and desire are purified. The soul acts in the whole body, so man needs to be wholly cleansed.
We should not only talk about prayer; we should also know how to keep ourselves from hopelessness. Usually people fall as a result of pride or despair. These two are man’s greatest enemies.
Each one has a particular way of life that is unlike any other. All, however, lead to God and end with Him, just as the spokes of a wheel are connected with the hub.
Even in spiritual drought God sends us consolation, as He knows our weaknesses. It would be to our advantage to live our whole life in spiritual dryness but to struggle. In other words, if we could reach Christ through being utterly abandoned by God, through emptying ourselves completely, as happened with Christ on the Cross. Then man would also have great glory. We shall have glory depending on how much we empty ourselves and how much pain we endure.
Nothing, either spiritual or material, belongs to us but to God. It becomes ours when we offer it to God. Through the prayer that we say before the meal, we offer up the material good things to God, and then they become ours, because God gives them back to us so that we can live.
Freedom is not political independence, but that the evil one has no authority over us.
Not all the saints received the same grace from God, but all filled the vessel that they offered to God.
Sometimes reading patristic writings makes the spiritual life difficult. For instance: a certain Christian has a spiritual experience. If he reads a patristic book he begins spying on himself, trying to fit himself into the corresponding categories of the spiritual life, according to what he has read. Thus the left hand consumes and destroys whatever the right hand does. Great simplicity is required in the spiritual life. Illiterate old ladies whisper prayers to God and have faces like children, whereas educated people speculate and their faces are troubled and aggressive.
Sometimes it is good that agitation arises between the brethren. Because, on the one hand, they escape from despondency and, on the other, they become humble.
Once someone receives God’s grace the war, the battle, begins. He receives great grace and his body must also be transformed. The carnal mentality draws the soul downwards, but at the same time God’s grace draws it upwards. This is a difficult moment. Someone can be led astray from the right or from the left. The psychological pain is great, and it can strike him at the weakest point of his body, his heart or his brain. Then obedience to a discerning Elder is necessary. Our own will must disappear from within us.
One interpretation of the Apostle Paul’s words, “Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly” (Col. 3:16), is as follows: When we hear or read a word of God, we feel it by grace to be food for our heart. This is spiritual, not intellectual, remembrance of God.
Man’s formation and transformation means that he takes the form of Christ’s servant.
The passion of worldly sorrow is a great passion that preoccupies people today. Unfortunately we retain sorrow within us and we caress it until it kills us. One must fight against the passion of sorrow and cure it.
One should not listen to one’s own thoughts, because the devil and the satanic spirit work through thoughts. If someone heeds his own thoughts in trivial matters, the devil will gradually gain power, strength and domination over him. Then he will cast him into major delusions. If the devil tells him to do something and he obeys, later on he will even tell the man to commit suicide and he will obey him.
A Roman Catholic asked me why we Orthodox repeat the Jesus Prayer so often. I told him: “We repeat it because we are slow on the uptake and do not understand. When, however, we understand something, we never leave it.”
The angels sinned in eternity, whereas human beings sin in time.
Western Christians force themselves to pray, and this creates pressure in the brain. The Orthodox pray with ease, because this prayer takes place with the grace that exists abundantly in the Orthodox Church.
Long services usually make inner prayer difficult. After a long vigil service Staretz Silouan said, “We killed the donkey (the body) but we didn’t do anything.” Fasting helps spiritual progress less than prayer, particularly inner prayer accompanied by mourning. Fasting a lot without discretion sometimes creates problems in prayer.
It is easier for people to keep burning charcoal in their hands than grace in their hearts. They perceive divine grace as a consuming fire. What is needed is humility and self-accusation, and for them not to receive divine grace in a festive manner.
People in the West are unaware of the mystery of divine abandonment, of God’s chastening, which is why they fall into despondency. This mystery of divine abandonment and self-emptying is repeated again and again in the life of Orthodox monks, but they know what this mystery is and how to deal with it. Self-emptying leads to glory, if one is able to endure.
God’s commandments are the manner of divine life. Man cannot keep the commandments of God to the full, so he needs grace. Prayer accomplishes this. Sometimes, when someone keeps God’s commandments and lives the ethos of the crucified Christ, he senses God’s grace without praying, or he prays out of love. The aim is not to pray without ceasing (when it is done mechanically and formally); the aim is our communion with God, which is also achieved through prayer.
The Fathers did not ask for many words. They received one spiritual word, left for the desert, and lived for many years with that word. They attempted to put it into practice and they were nourished by it. We say, and we want to hear, lots of words, but we do nothing to put them into practice. When someone talks a lot, he becomes spiritually weak.
Simple people are moved by the slightest thing, and this gives them energy. However, they may also complain and grumble about the slightest thing, and this exhausts them.
Someone who has obedience and love can adapt himself to any situation.
Many people have unassailable ignorance.
As a layman I was very sensitive. Someone was contemptuous of Holy Scripture and thumped his hand on the table. I was in pain for two weeks. Afterwards, however, I stopped being sensitive, because this energy too was transformed.
People in the West live with their brain: their lives are centered on reason. So, if scientists were to invent a machine, they would be able to read people’s thoughts and direct them. All those, however, who live with their heart, within which God’s grace acts, and who pray in their heart, have the sign of the Cross in their heart and no one is able to control them spiritually. They have freedom of spirit.
In the cave of the Holy Trinity (near the Monastery of St Paul) I prayed ardently and wept aloud, because no one could hear me and I had freedom, whereas in Karoulia it was difficult for me, because I had neighbours.
The twelfth chapter of the Apostle Paul’s Epistle to the Hebrews describes the spiritual fact of God’s chastening. Sometimes this chastening from God comes about through the Jesus Prayer, sometimes through weeping, and at other times through Godforsakenness. God trains man in many ways and offers him more perfect knowledge to prevent him experiencing a fall, as did Adam when he was first created. In this way his progress towards God will be steadier.
The following state occurs in those at the start of their spiritual life: something they say or a sin they commit causes them great agitation. We ought to be slightly contemptuous of these forgivable little everyday falls, in order to make some other gains. It is better to be at a low level and peaceful, rather than high up and anxious.
When the heart is on fire for the Jesus Prayer and for various reasons it cannot pray, it is like a dormant volcano.
When someone cannot rebut his thoughts, he should at least tell them to his Elder. Even then he will benefit.
When someone reaches a certain spiritual state and has grace from God, he begins to be taught by God. Then everything instructs him. God sent St Antony the Great to the shoemaker to learn self-accusation, even though St Antony had grace and was superior to the shoemaker, which is why we commemorate St Antony and not the shoemaker. Also, someone who is spiritual is taught by the whole of nature.
When someone who has hidden, unconfessed sins hears a spiritual word, he feels pain somewhere in his body. Divine grace also reveals his state to him in this way, and if he wishes, he can escape from this spiritual misfortune.
When someone prays in a particular way and encounters various obstacles, and at some point he is unable to pray in that way, if he has inspiration, another path will open up. Another way will be found and he will acquire greater knowledge of God.
When we speak about asceticism in the Orthodox Church we do not simply mean bodily ascetic practices, although these too are essential, but the soul’s resurrection from the passions, love towards God and the quickening of the soul by the Holy Spirit.
When Staretz Silouan died I felt like an orphan for one week. Afterwards I felt differently.
When someone prays in his heart, he is sometimes given a word. This word begets other words. Thus his nous is opened and he grasps the meaning of the whole of Holy Scripture. Every word of revelation encompasses the entire meaning of Holy Scripture.
When someone begins to live according to Christ, the community rejects him. Then he acquires another community, because we Christians also have our own community. We lose nothing, even in this world.
My greatest trial, when I became a monk, was that I had to abandon art, because I thought that through art I would draw near to the eternal. The eternal, however, is approached through prayer, the renunciation of the wealth of the mind and, above all, through theoria of God.
The experience gained by living and practising asceticism in a monastery enables a monk to live in the desert as well. Otherwise he cannot put the desert to good use. When someone departs for the desert and a thought about something (hurting a brother) torments him, this thought will give him no peace.
Spiritual virginity even cures lost bodily virginity. Abba Zosimas, who had both bodily and spiritual virginity, bowed down before St Mary of Egypt, who was a prostitute from an early age. The spiritual virginity that St Mary of Egypt acquired cured her completely.
Spiritual virginity is of greater worth. Spiritual virginity means keeping Christ’s commandments, when one’s nous cleaves to God through prayer. Everyone, whether married or unmarried, can acquire this spiritual virginity. Monks who do not have spiritual virginity are wretched, because they neither have children on the natural level nor do they transfer existence to Paradise.
If people have the idea of being saved and they manage it, how will we monks whose aim is to be saved not manage it?
For a monastery to make progress it must have either an Elder or pilgrims. Pilgrims help monks to reduce their passions, because the monks have to offer them something, to show love and to sacrifice themselves. It is very beneficial when every week one pilgrim is regenerated at the monastery.
– The holy Fathers make a distinction between mourning and weeping aloud. Mourning means compunction. Sometimes the one who mourns breaks into loud sobs, which are of a spiritual and charismatic, not psychological, nature. This is weeping aloud. In this case the desert is necessary, so that no one will hear him weeping. Then the monk is unable to stay in the monastery. Weeping aloud increases tears.
The parents of monks realise the benefit of their child’s dedication to God at the hour of their death.
No one ought to ask for the priesthood, whereas one ought to ask for the monastic schema, because monasticism is the search for repentance.
When I was a monk at the Monastery of St Panteleimon, I did not want any thought of ordination to the priesthood or diaconate to enter my mind. Nor did I want to suggest that I be ordained. When the Abbot suggested ordination to me, during the service, as they could not put the deacon’s stole on me, I moved my arm to help them. Afterwards this troubled me a lot, in case a desire [for ordination] had perhaps existed within me and had expressed itself in this way. Priesthood brings many temptations. When someone goes forward or begins on his own, he cannot overcome them.
Martyrdom in the monastic life, and in the Christian life in general, consists in how one will live through the successive stages of Christ’s life.
In order for the monastery to function well it must have a discerning spiritual father or a good typikon and good organisation, otherwise it will turn into a gypsy camp.
Brianchaninov complains in his autobiography about the severity with which his first Elder treated him. In this way he sapped his strength for prayer. For that reason the Elder ought to take care of his spiritual children in every respect.
A monk said: “I am very sure about the things I say from the Elder’s words.”
We live as though we had nothing in our minds and when they ask us, we have something to say.
Sometimes one becomes spiritually weaker after a talk. This happens when one speaks many times a day with energy and intensity.
The holy Fathers do not usually speak in detail about matters to do with marriage and married couples. When someone lives in repentance, he finds the solution to many problems. When someone has the fear of God, he is enlightened to deal with more specific problems.
People will have to answer to God for the word they say to people which is beyond them.
We ought to speak when forced to do so. Then we too force God, Who cannot be forced, and He gives us a word of freedom.
We must respect other people’s freedom. Nothing done by force endures in time and eternity.
When a spiritual father encounters a response from someone, he loves him, because both of them benefit. Therefore it is not wrong for there to be a special love in the Spirit and gratitude between spiritual father and disciple.
When we accept the spiritual father as a gift from God, or when gratitude and thankfulness to God for the spiritual father arise in prayer, then we love him in the Spirit.
When someone wants to change his spiritual father, he must first seek his blessing, and so leave in peace. He should never refer anywhere to complaints or things that happened in the past. If he complains and mentions various events, the devil acquires power over him, whereas otherwise the devil’s fire goes into the air. In the French Revolution someone said: “Give me a letter from someone and I will cut off his head”, in other words, he would find a pretext to put him to death. For that reason, the best we can do in such cases is keep silent.
Spiritual fathers have a difficult task, because they must continually point out their spiritual children’s mistakes. This stirs up a reaction and causes hatred.
When we speak about things that we do not know personally and that are beyond us, we place a barrier (a wall) in front of us that prevents us from experiencing them.
The death of an innocent man imperceptibly changes the whole world for the better, because the energy of the innocent man benefits the whole world and cures injustice.
We ought not to make vows to God. However, if we make them, we must fulfil them.
St John of Kronstadt was once invited to cure someone who was allegedly paralysed. It was a trap, because they wanted to murder him. When St John realised the deception he said: “Let it be, Lord, according to Thy word.” And the allegedly paralysed man became actually paralysed. Subsequently St John prayed and he became well. When someone pretends to be ill, God allows him to become ill.
There is only a slight difference between geniuses and madmen.
By praying for two weeks and studying patristic texts, intelligent people can write a whole book about prayer and think that they can pray.
When someone knows earthly pleasures through art, he feels disappointment and bitterness. This is because one pursues art in order to grasp the eternal, but this cannot be achieved through any human work. The soul knows that eternity is not to be found there, so it feels pain.
When someone receives a spiritual gift, he usually attracts other people’s envy. Then he feels the need to hide it. So, without realising it, he becomes a fool for Christ’s sake.
The subject of foolishness for Christ’s sake is a very subtle one. Some have undertaken this task to conceal the riches of their spiritual gifts, and so as not to provoke people’s envy.
We must turn psychological states into spiritual phenomena, into weeping. There is a method which Christians ought to know. We are aware of a trial, of contempt on the part of others or an unjust attack. Then our heart is embittered by this injustice and produces various thoughts that affect our whole life. Prayer stops at once.
The therapeutic method is to leave aside the brother who has wronged us and to begin a conversation with God. We say: “My God, it’s my fault. I am unworthy to be loved by people…” Then repentance and weeping begin, and this cures the negative psychological phenomenon and makes it spiritual. We see this in the life of Christ. The Apostle Peter was preventing Christ from going to the Cross, but Christ had steadfastly set His face to go to Jerusalem, to Golgotha. His crucifiers were howling, but He had His nous turned towards God’s will and was praying to His Father. He did not engage in a dialogue with people but with God. In this way we become healthy and are cured. This is a kind of ‘struggle’ with God.
The Philokalia does not write much about the scientific method of prayer, but it writes a lot about the atmosphere of prayer and about keeping Christ’s commandments. Some Westerners only translate those parts of the Philokalia that write about the technical method of prayer, and so they present it as a sort of Christian yoga. This is a mistake.
Mindfulness of death, as lived and described by the Fathers, is not an external awareness that one day we shall die. Elderly people have this as well, and they mention it often. Rather, it is a charismatic state; it is the consciousness of inner deadness. Man sees that he is inwardly destitute of God’s grace, and that he has passions. He knows that God is the God of the living, but he is spiritually dead and has lost God. This is what people experience in the West, which is why they say that God is dead. God has not died, but man has died to God.
When, by grace, man sees this inner deadness, he also sees deadness in the whole of creation. He feels that everything is lifeless, dead. He sees death everywhere. This causes profound suffering; he gives himself over to weeping and seeks Life, the Living God, his resurrection.
This is a charisma, a spiritual event that gives birth to prayer. When this gift is absent, we use external things to give us a sense of death, such as pictures of graves and bones, and so on.
Christianity is so great that one refuses to believe it, as happened after Christ’s Resurrection: “They worshipped Him; but some doubted”. They did not doubt out of lack of love, nor out of disbelief, but out of a sense of greatness. At the Second Coming of Christ the just will be amazed, but the sinners will also be amazed; the former because they did not expect to be saved, the latter because they did not expect to be condemned.
If mindfulness of death purifies man, how much more does death itself – that is to say, the coming of death, when it is accompanied by repentance.
All our life long we go through the tribunal, the judgment.
The customs houses about which the Fathers write are symbols of a reality. The Fathers understand them as follows: after the fall of man, the soul is nourished by the body, in other words, it finds refreshment in material pleasures. After death, however, these bodily passions that used to divert the soul no longer exist, because the soul has left the body, and they choke and stifle the soul. These are the customs houses and hell. Abba Dorotheos says that hell is for someone to be shut up for three days in a room without food, sleep or prayer. Then he can understand what hell is.
When someone acquires mindfulness of death, he understands how senseless it is to acquire and accumulate material possessions.
At the Second Coming the just will say: “When, Lord, did we do this, when did we do that?” They will not know what good they have done, because they passed through all the dryness of this present life with patience and faith. They put their trust in the words of Holy Scripture.
Paradise is the grace of God and His Kingdom. God continuously sends His grace and calls us in this life. Those who despise God and drive Him away, will see at His Second Coming what sort of a God they drove away, and they will be burned up. Those who live in God now will be in raptures then.
We have such a rich God, Who has such great grace, but all the same we live in such poverty. We are upset by the slightest thing; this is a wretched state. We ought to be joyful all the time. Our life should always be a daily surprise. Not a day passes without God giving us a new sense of eternal life.
—I Know A Man In Christ: Elder Sophrony The Hesychast and Theologian by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos (Excerpt Everyday Life — Pastoral Ministry)