Step 4 ~ On Obedience
¶53. By resolving to make one’s confession, the soul is thereby held from sinning as by a bridle. For what we do not confess, that we do fearlessly as though in the dark.
¶53. By resolving to make one’s confession, the soul is thereby held from sinning as by a bridle. For what we do not confess, that we do fearlessly as though in the dark.
¶51. If, without constraint, anyone receives some task from his father, and in doing it suffers a stumble, he should not ascribe the blame to the giver but to the receiver of the weapon. For he took the weapon for battle against the enemy, but has turned it against his own heart. But if he forced himself for the Lord’s sake to accept the task, though he previously explained his weakness to him who gave it, let him take courage; for though he has fallen, he is not dead.
¶50. If anyone has his conscience in the utmost purity in the matter of obedience to his spiritual father, then he daily awaits death as if it were sleep, or rather life, and is not dismayed, knowing for certain that at the time of his departure, not he, but his director, will be called to account.
¶49. He who is not submissive in speech, clearly will not be so in act either. For he who is unfaithful in little is also unfaithful in much, and is intractable. He labours in vain, and he will get nothing from holy obedience but his own doom.
¶48. He whose will and desire in conversation is to establish his own opinion, even though what he says is true, should recognize that he is sick with the devil’s disease. And if he behaves like this only in conversation with his equals, then perhaps the rebuke of his superiors may heal him. But if he acts in this way even with those who are greater and wiser than he, then his malady is humanly incurable.
¶47. A man will know his brotherly love and his genuine charity when he sees that he mourns for his brother’s sins, and rejoices at his progress and gifts.
¶46. He who exposes every snake shows that he has real faith; but he who hides them still wanders in trackless wastes.
¶45. Spiritually show God your faith in your father and your sincere love for him. And God, in unknown ways, will suggest to him that he become attached to you and kindly disposed towards you, just as you are well disposed towards him.
¶44. Blessed is he who, though maligned and disparaged every day for the Lord’s sake, constrains himself to be patient. He will join the chorus of the martyrs, and boldly converse with the angels. Blessed is the monk who regards himself as hourly deserving every dishonour and disparagement. Blessed is he who mortifies his will to the end, and leaves the care of himself to his director in the Lord; for he will be placed at the right hand of the Crucified. He who will not accept a reproof, just or unjust, renounces his own salvation. But he who accepts it with an effort, or even without an effort, will soon receive the remission of his sins.
¶43. When we are stung by rebukes, let us remember our sins until the Lord, seeing the force of our efforts (the efforts of those who do violence to themselves for His sake), wipes out our sins and transforms the sorrow that is gnawing at our heart into joy. For it is said: According to the multitude of the sorrows in my heart, Thy consolations brought gladness into my soul. At the right time, let us not forget him who said to the Lord: How great are the many and evil afflictions which Thou hast showed unto me; yet, having returned, Thou madest me to live, and out of the depths of the earth, after I had fallen, Thou broughtest me up.
¶42. To admire the labours of the saints is good; to emulate them wins salvation; but to wish suddenly to imitate their life in every point is unreasonable and impossible.
¶9. He who submits himself, passes sentence on himself. If his obedience for the Lord’s sake is perfect, even if it does not seem perfect, he will escape judgment. But if he does his own will in some things, then although he considers himself obedient, he lays the burden on his own shoulders. It is good if the superior does not cease reproving him; but if he is silent, then I do not know what to say. Those who submit themselves in the Lord in simplicity run the good race without provoking the cunning of the demons against themselves by their exacting investigations.
¶8. The fathers have laid down that psalmody is a weapon, and prayer is a wall, and honest tears are a bath; but blessed obedience in their judgment is confession of faith, without which no one subject to passions will see the Lord.
¶7. It is absolutely indispensable for those of us who wish to retain undoubting faith in our superiors to write their good deeds indelibly in our hearts and constantly remember them, so that when the demons sow among us lack of faith in them, we may be able to silence them by what is preserved in our memory. For the more faith flourishes in the heart, the more alacrity the body has in service. But he who has stumbled on distrust has already fallen; for all that does not spring from faith is sin. The moment any thought of judging or condemning your superior occurs to you, leap away from it as from fornication. Whatever you do, give that snake no licence, no place, no entry, no power; but say to that serpent: ‘Listen, deceiver, I have no authority to judge of my superior, but he has been appointed to sit in judgment on me. It is not I who am to be his judge, but he is deputed to be mine.’
¶6. When motives of humility and real longing for salvation incite us to bend our neck and entrust ourselves to another in the Lord, before entering upon this life, if there is any cleverness and prudence in us, we ought first to question and examine, and even, so to speak, test our helmsman, so as not to mistake the sailor for the pilot, a sick man for a doctor, a passionate for a dispassionate man, the sea for a harbor, and so bring about the speedy shipwreck of our soul. But when once we have entered the arena of piety and obedience, we must no longer judge our good manager in any way at all, even though we may perhaps see in him some slight failings, since he is only human. Otherwise, by sitting in judgment we shall get no profit from our subjection.
¶5. You who have decided to strip for the arena of this spiritual confession, you who wish to take on your neck the yoke of Christ, you who are therefore trying to lay your own burden on another’s shoulders, you who are hastening to sign a pledge that you are voluntarily surrendering yourself to slavery, and in return want freedom written to your account, you who are being supported by the hands of others as you swim across this great sea—you should know that you have decided to travel by a short but rough way from which there is only one erring path, and it is called self-rule. But he who has renounced this entirely, even in things that seem to be good and spiritual and pleasing to God, has reached the end before setting out on his journey. For obedience is distrust of oneself in everything, however good it may be, right to the end of one’s life.
¶4. The beginning of the mortification both of the soul’s desire and of the bodily members is much hard work. The middle is sometimes laborious and sometimes not laborious. But the end is insensibility and insusceptibility to toil and pain. Only when he sees himself doing his own will does this blessed living corpse feel sorry and sick at heart; and he fears the responsibility of using his own judgment.
¶3. Obedience is absolute renunciation of our own life, clearly expressed in our bodily actions. Or, conversely, obedience is the mortification of the limbs while the mind remains alive. Obedience is unquestioning movement, voluntary death, a life free of curiosity, carefree danger, unprepared defence before God, fearlessness of death, a safe voyage, a sleeper’s progress. Obedience is the tomb of the will and the resurrection of humility. A corpse does not argue or reason as to what is good or what seems to be bad. For he who has devoutly put the soul of the novice to death will answer for everything. Obedience is an abandonment of discernment in a wealth of discernment.
¶2. But let us not fail, if you agree, to describe clearly in our treatise the weapons of these brave warriors: how they hold the shield of faith in God and their trainer, and with it they ward off, so to speak, every thought of unbelief and change of place; how they constantly raise the drawn sword of the Spirit and slay every wish of their own that approaches them; how, clad in the iron armour of meekness and patience, they avert every insult and injury and missile. And for a helmet of salvation they have their superior’s protection through prayer. And they do not stand with their feet together, for one is stretched out in service and the other is immovable in prayer.
¶1. Our treatise now appropriately touches upon warriors and athletes of Christ. As the flower precedes the fruit, so exile, either of body or will, always precedes obedience. For with the help of these two virtues, the holy soul steadily ascends to Heaven as upon golden wings. And perhaps it was about this that he who had received the Holy Spirit sang: Who will give me wings like a dove? And I will fly by activity, and be at rest by divine vision and humility.
There is nothing impossible unto those who believe; lively and
unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of
an eye. Besides, even without our sincere and firm faith, miracles
are accomplished, such as the miracles of the sacraments; for
God's Mystery is always accomplished, even though we were
... incredulous or unbelieving at the time of its celebration. "Shall
their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?" (Rom. 3:3).
Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and
mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God's wisdom, nor
our infirmity God's omnipotence.
[My Life in Christ]
¶29. Demons often transform themselves into angels of light and take the form of martyrs, and make it appear to us during sleep that we are in communication with them. Then, when we wake up, they plunge us into unholy joy and conceit. But you can detect their deceit by this very fact. For angels reveal torments, judgments and separations; and when we wake up we find that we are trembling and sad. As soon as we begin to believe the demons in dreams, then they make sport of us when we are awake too. He who believes in dreams is completely inexperienced. But he who distrusts all dreams is a wise man. Only believe dreams that warn you of torments and judgments. But if despair afflicts you, then such dreams are also from demons.
This is the third step, which is equal in number to the Trinity. He who has reached it, let him not look to the right hand nor to the left.
¶28. The demons of vainglory prophesy in dreams. Being unscrupulous, they guess the future and foretell it to us. When these visions come true, we are amazed; and we are elated with the thought that we are already near to the gift of foreknowledge. A demon is often a prophet to those who believe him, but he is always a liar to those who despise him. Being a spirit, he sees what is happening in this lower air, and noticing that someone is dying, he foretells it through dreams to the more light-minded. But the demons know nothing about the future from foreknowledge. For if they did, then the fortunetellers would also be able to foretell our death.
¶26. A dream is a movement of the mind while the body is at rest. A phantasy is an illusion of the eyes when the intellect is asleep. A phantasy is an ecstasy of the mind when the body is awake. A phantasy is a vision of something which does not exist in reality.
¶24. By much labour and effort a good and stable character is developed in us. But what is achieved with great labour can be lost in a single moment, for 'Evil conversation corrupteth good habits,' being at once worldly and disorderly. The man who associates with people of the world or approaches them after his renunciation will certainly either fall into their traps or will defile his heart by thinking about them; or if he is not defiled himself, yet by condemning those who are defiled, he himself will be defiled.
¶22. When men or demons praise us for our exile, as for some great exploit or achievement, then let us think of Him Who for our sake was exiled from Heaven to earth, and we shall find that throughout all eternity it is impossible for us to make return for this.
¶20. No one has surrendered himself to exile to such an extent as that great man who heard: 'Go forth out of thy land, and out of thy kindred, and out of the house of thy father.' And then he was called into a barbarous land that spake another tongue.
¶21. Sometimes the Lord has brought more glory to the man who has separated after the manner of this great patriarch, but even if glory is God-given, yet it is excellent to divert it from oneself with the shield of humility.
¶15. Let him be your father who is able and willing to labour with you in bearing the burden of your sins; and your mother—contrition, which can cleanse you from impurity; and your brother—your comrade who toils and fights side-by-side with you in your striving toward the heights. Acquire an inseparable wife—the remembrance of death. And let your beloved children be the sighs of your heart. Make your body your slave; and your friends, the holy powers (angels) who can help you at the hour of your death, if they become your friends. This is the generation of them that seek the Lord.
¶14. It is not from hatred that we separate ourselves from our own people or places (God forbid!), but to avoid the harm which might come to us from them. In this, as in everything else, it is Christ who teaches us what is good for us. For it is clear that He often left His parents according to the flesh. And when He was told, 'Thy Mother and Thy brethren are seeking for Thee,' our good Lord and Master at once showed us an example of dispassionate hatred when He said, 'My mother and My brethren are they who do the will of My Father who is in Heaven.'
¶13. He is an exile who, having knowledge, sits like one of foreign speech amongst people of another tongue.
¶9. Run from places of sin as from the plague. For when fruit is not present, we have no frequent desire to eat it.
¶8. Eve was exiled from Paradise against her will, but the monk is a willing exile from his home. She would have liked the tree of disobedience again; and he would certainly expose himself daily to frequent danger from relatives according to the flesh.
¶7. Have you become an exile from the world? Do not touch the world any more; because the passions desire nothing better than to return.
¶4. In hastening to solitude and exile, do not wait for world-loving souls, because the thief comes unexpectedly. In trying to save the careless and indolent along with themselves, many perish with them, because in course of time the soul's fire goes out. As soon as the flame is burning within you, run; for you do not know when it will go out and leave you in darkness. Not all of us are required to save others. The divine Apostle says: 'Everyone of us shall give account of himself to God.' And again he says: 'Thou therefore that teachest another, dost thou not teach thyself?' This is like saying: I do not know whether we must all teach others; but we must most certainly teach ourselves.
¶2. Those who have come to love the Lord are at first unceasingly and greatly disturbed by this thought, as if burning with divine fire. I speak of separation from their own, undertaken by the lovers of perfection so that they may live a life of hardship and simplicity. But great and praiseworthy as this is, yet it requires great discretion; for not every kind of exile, carried to extremes, is good.
¶1. Exile means that we leave forever everything in our own country that prevents us from reaching the goal of piety. Exile mean modest manners, wisdom which remains unknown, prudence not recognized as such by most, a hidden life, an invisible intention, unseen meditation, desire for humiliation, longing for hardship, constant determination to love God, abundance of love, renunciation of vainglory, depth of silence.
The world is a sick man, whom sin has made sick, for sin is a sickness, and to scorn sinners is to scorn the sick. With prayer our healer walks around the grievously sick patient. With prayer he walks, with prayer he heals and makes whole. Do not scorn sinners, but pray for them, feel pity and compassion for every creature, but do not condemn. Expand and deepen your soul with prayer and you will begin to cry over the mystery of the world bitterly and vehemently. Make your heart prayerful, together with your soul and your mind, and they will become inexhaustible fountainheads of tears for all mankind.
¶12. If young people who are prone to the desires of physical love and luxurious ways wish to enter the monastic life, let them exercise themselves in all sobriety and prayer, and persuade themselves to abstain from all luxury and guile, lest their last state be worse than their first. This harbor provides safety, but also exposes one to danger. Those who sail the spiritual seas know this. But it is a pitiful sight to behold those who have survived perils at sea, suffering shipwreck in harbor.
This is the second step. Let those who run the race imitate not Lot's wife, but Lot himself, and flee.
¶11. If anyone thinks that he is without attachment to some object, but is grieved at its loss, then he is completely deceiving himself.
¶7. The man who has come to hate the world has escaped sorrow. But he who has an attachment to anything visible is not yet delivered from grief. For how is it possible not to be sad at the loss of something we love? We need to have great vigilance in all things. But we must give our whole attention to this above everything else. I have seen many people in the world, who by reason of cares, worries, occupations and vigils, avoided the wild desires of their body. But after entering the monastic life, and in complete freedom from anxiety, they polluted themselves in a pitiful way by the movements of the body.
¶2. After our call, which comes from God and not man, we have left all that is mentioned above, and it is a great disgrace for us to worry about anything that cannot help us in the hour of our need, that is to say, the hour of our death. For as the Lord said, this means looking back and not being fit for the Kingdom of Heaven. Knowing how fickle we novices are, and how easily we turn to the world through visiting, or being with, worldly people, when someone said to Him: 'Suffer me first to go and bury my father,' our Lord replied, 'Let the dead bury their dead.'
¶1. The man who really loves the Lord, who has made a real effort to find the future Kingdom, who is really pained by his sins, who is really mindful of eternal torment and judgment, who really lives in fear of his own departure, will not love, care or worry about money, or possessions, or parents, or worldly glory, or friends, or brothers, or anything at all on earth. But having shaken off all ties with earthly things and having stripped himself of all his cares, and having come to hate even his own flesh, and having stripped himself of everything, he will follow Christ without anxiety or hesitation, always looking Heavenward and expecting help from there, according to the word of the saint: My soul hath cleaved after Thee; and according to that other ever-memorable man who said: I have not wearied of following thee, nor have I desired the day or rest of man, O Lord.
Do not allow yourself to be overly concerned with the judgements of fate. Just have an unwavering desire for salvation and, standing before God, await His assistance until the time comes.
[Living without Hypocrisy, p. 19]
If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force (cf. Matt. 11:12).
[Elder Ambrose of Optina, p. 25]
The mistake on our part is that we do not want to submit our will to the all-good Divine Providence, which indicates to us through circumstances the path beneficial to our soul. Instead we look for some sort of peaceful way for ourselves which exists only in our dreams, and in reality is nowhere on earth. There will be rest not for everyone, but only for a few, when they sing: With the saints give rest ...
[Living without Hypocrisy, p. 142]
The merciful Lord accomplishes and does everything through His will for our benefit, even though the means and results may seem to be in opposition to us. With the help of the most merciful Lord God, we will be patient, and we will see.
[Living without Hypocrisy, p. 23]