In my opinion the grace of the Holy Spirit most readily fills those who undertake spiritual work wholeheartedly and determine from the very beginning to stand firm and never to give ground to the enemy in no matter what battle, until they conquer him. However, the Holy Spirit, Who has called them, at first makes all things easy for them, in order thus to sweeten the beginning of the work of repentance, and only later shows them its ways in their full truth (arduousness). Helping them in all things, He impresses on them what works of repentance they should undertake, and lays down the form and limits both as regards the body and the soul, until He brings them to complete conversion to God, their Creator. For this purpose He constantly urges them to give exertion to body and soul in order that both alike, being equally sanctified, should equally become worthy heirs of eternal life; to exert the body in constant fasting, work and frequent vigils, and the soul, in spiritual exercises and diligence in all forms of service (and obediences) performed through the body. This (to do nothing carelessly, but always with care and the fear of God) should be zealously observed in all work done with the body, if we wish it to bear fruit.
Leading the repentant man to undertake spiritual work, the Holy Spirit, Who called him to repentance, also grants him His comforts and teaches him not to turn back nor be attached to anything of this world. To this end, He opens the eyes of the soul and gives her to see the beauty of the purity reached through the works of repentance. In this way He kindles in it zeal for complete purification both of itself and of the body, that the two may be one in purity. For this is the aim of the teaching and guidance of the Holy Spirit – to purify them completely and bring them back to their original state, in which they were before the Fall, by destroying in them all adulterations introduced by the devil’s envy, so that nothing of the enemy should remain therein. Then the body will become obedient to the dictates of the mind in all things, and the mind will masterfully determine its food and drink, its sleep and its every other action, constantly learning from the Holy Spirit to “keep under” the “body, and bring it into subjection” (I Corinthians 9:27) as did Apostle Paul.
It is known that the body has three kinds of carnal movements. The first is a natural movement, inherent in it, which does not produce anything (sinful, burdening the conscience) without the consent of the soul and merely lets it be known that it exists in the body. The second kind of movement in the body is produced by too abundant food and drink, when the resulting heat in the blood stimulates the body to fight against the soul and urges it towards impure lusts. Wherefore the Apostle says: “be not drunk with wine, wherein is excess” (Ephesians 5:18). In the same way the Lord commands His disciples in the Gospels: “take heed to yourselves, lest at any time your hearts be overcharged with surfeiting, and drunkenness” (Luke 21:34). And those who are monks, and are zealous to achieve the full measure of sanctity and purity, should take particular care always to keep themselves such that they can say with the Apostle, “I keep under my body, and bring it into subjection” (1 Corinthians 9:27). The third movement comes from the evil spirits, who thus tempt us out of envy and try to weaken those who have found purity (who are already monks), or to lead astray from the path those who wish to enter into the door of purity (that is, those who are as yet on the threshold of monkhood).
However, if a man arms himself with patience and an unswerving faithfulness to the commandments of God, the Holy Spirit will teach his mind how to purify his soul and body from such movements. But if at any time he weakens in his feeling and permits himself to neglect the commandments and ordinances he has heard, the evil spirits will begin to overpower him, will press upon all parts of the body and will befoul it by this movement, until the tormented soul will not know where to turn, in its despair seeing nowhere whence help could come. Only when sobered, it returns again to the commandments and, shouldering their yoke (or realising the strength of its obligations), commits itself to the Holy Spirit, it regains a salutary disposition. Then it understands that it should seek peace solely in God, and that only thus is peace possible.
Striving to attain perfect purity, it is needful to bear the labours of repentance both in soul and body, harmoniously and in equal measure. When the mind is granted such grace that it can enter upon its struggle against passions without self-pity or self-indulgence, it receives suggestions, directions and comforts of the Spirit, with Whose help it can successfully repulse from the soul all impure impacts that come from the lusts of the heart. Combining with the mind or the spirit of man, this Spirit helps a man in his decision strictly to fulfil the commandments he has learned, by directing him to repulse from the soul all passions, both those which mix with it from the side of the body and those of its own, which exist in it independently of the body. He teaches a man to keep the body in order – the whole of it, from head to foot; eyes – to look with purity; ears – to listen in peace (or to peaceful things) and not to take pleasure in gossip, slander and criticism; tongue – to say only what is good, weighing every word, and allowing nothing impure or passionate to become mixed with its speech; hands – to be moved primarily for lifting in prayer and for acts of mercy and generosity; stomach – to be kept within suitable bounds in food and drink, allowing only as much as is needful to support the body, not letting lust and gluttony lead it beyond that measure; feet – to walk righteously, according to the will of God, aiming at the service of good deeds. In this way the whole of the body becomes accustomed to every good and, submitting to the power of the Holy Spirit, gradually changes, so that in the end it begins to participate, in a certain measure, in the qualities of the spiritual body, which it is to receive at the resurrection of the just.
. . . With all my strength I pray to God for you, that He may send into your hearts that fire, which our Lord Jesus Christ has come to send on the earth (Luke 12:49), that you may have power to govern rightly your intentions and senses and to distinguish good from evil.
When the wind blows steadily, every sailor can think highly of himself and boast of his skill; but only a sudden change of wind reveals the skill of experienced helmsmen.
God guides all by the action of His grace. Therefore do not be lazy or lose heart, but call to God day and night to entreat God the Father in His loving-kindness to send you help from above to teach you what to do. Do not give sleep to your eyes, nor slumber to your eyelids (Psalms 131:4) in your zeal to bring yourself to God as a pure offering, in order to see Him; for without holiness no one can see God, as the Apostle says (Hebrews 12:14).
He who does not with his whole heart conceive hatred of all that belongs to the material and earthly flesh and to all its movements and actions, and who does not lift his mind on high to the Father of all, cannot receive salvation. But a man who does this will move our Lord to mercy by his labours and will be given an invisible transubstantial fire, which will burn up all the passions in him and completely purify his mind. Then the Spirit of our Lord Jesus Christ will come to dwell in him and will abide there, teaching him to worship the Father aright. But as long as we take pleasure in our material flesh we shall be enemies of God, His angels and all the saints. I beseech you in the name of our Lord Jesus Christ, do not neglect your life and your salvation, do not let this short moment of time rob you of eternity which has no end, nor this material body deprive you of the kingdom of light, which has no bounds and which no words can describe. Truly my soul is troubled and my spirit freezes at the fact that, although we are given freedom to choose and do the deeds of the saints, we are intoxicated by passions, as though drunk with wine, and do not want to lift our minds on high and seek greater glory, do not want to imitate the deeds of the saints nor follow in their footsteps, to become heirs of their words and receive with them an eternal heritage.
How many myriads there are of evil demons and how numberless are their varied wiles! . . . They urge us to speak evil of one another, or, speaking sweet words, to conceal bitterness in our hearts, to criticise the outer aspect of our brother, while we harbour a wild beast in ourselves, to quarrel among ourselves and oppose one another, wishing to have our own way and appear as the most upright. Every man who enjoys sinful thoughts falls willingly when he welcomes (as in sympathy with) the suggestions of the enemies and when he expects to justify himself solely by his visible deeds, while within he is the abode of the spirit of wickedness, who teaches him every evil. The body of such a man will be full of shameful uncleanness – for he becomes a prey to devilish passions, which he does not repulse from himself. Demons are not visible bodies, but we become their bodies when our souls accept dark thoughts from them. For, having accepted these thoughts, we accept the demons themselves and make them bodily manifest.
Having fallen from his heavenly rank through pride, the devil constantly strives to bring down also all those who wholeheartedly wish to approach the Lord; and he uses the same means which caused his own downfall, that is pride and love of vainglory. These and similar things are the means by which the demons fight us and hope to separate us from God. Moreover, knowing that he who loves his brother loves also God, they put into our hearts hatred of one another – and this to such degree that at times a man cannot bear to see his brother or say a word to him. Many have performed truly great labours of virtue, but have ruined themselves through folly. It would not be surprising if the same thing were to happen to you too; if, for example, having cooled towards active work, you begin to imagine that you already possess virtues. For there you have already fallen into that devilish disease (high opinion of yourself), thinking that you are close to God and are in the light, whereas in actual fact you are in darkness. What made our Lord Jesus Christ lay aside his garments, gird himself with a towel, and, pouring water into a basin, begin to wash the feet of those who were below Him (John 13:4, etc.), if not to teach us humility? For it was humility He showed us by example of what He then did. And indeed those who want to be accepted into the foremost rank cannot achieve this otherwise than through humility; for in the beginning the thing that caused downfall from heaven was a movement of pride. So, if a man lacks extreme humility, if he is not humble with all his heart, all his mind, all his spirit, all his soul and body – he will not inherit the kingdom of God. (Ibid.)
I have prayed for you, that you too may be granted that great Spirit of fire, Whom I have received. If you wish to receive Him, so that He dwells in you, first offer physical labours and humility of heart and, lifting your thoughts to heaven day and night, seek this Spirit of fire with a righteous heart – and He will be given unto you. In this way Elijah the Tishbite, Elisha and other prophets received Him. He who tills himself thus (as I have described) is granted this Spirit for ever and for ages of ages. Remain in prayer, seeking most arduously with your whole heart – and you will be given. For this Spirit resides in righteous hearts. And when He is received, He will reveal to you the highest mysteries, will banish from you the fear of man or beast, and heavenly joy will be yours day and night, so that you will be, in this body, like those who are already in the kingdom.
If a man wishes to attain to love of God, he must have fear of God. Fear gives birth to mourning, and mourning to courage. When all this has ripened in the soul, it begins to bear fruit in all things. And, seeing these beautiful fruits in the soul, God draws it to Himself, like choice incense, takes joy in it with His Angels for all time, fills it with rejoicing, and protects it in all its ways, to let it reach its place of rest without harm. Then, seeing the Most High Guardian encompassing it, the devil no longer attacks it; indeed he fears to come near it owing to this great power. Obtain this power that the demons may fear you, your labours be light and Divine things a sweet joy. This sweetness of Divine love is far sweeter than honey. Many monks and virgins, living in communities, having had no taste of this Divine sweetness nor received Divine power, have thought that they had it already. But, since they had made no effort to gain it, God did not give it to them. He who strives to obtain it will surely gain it through God’s mercy; for God is no respecter of persons. When a man wishes to have in himself the light of God and His power, and so disregards both the abuse and the honours of this world, hates all things of the world and ease of the body, and purifies his heart of all bad thoughts, when he unceasingly brings to God fasting and tears day and night, as well as pure prayers, then God enriches him with that power. Strive to obtain this power – and you will do all your works with calm and ease, will receive a great daring towards God and He will grant all that you ask.
Pray that God may give you grace to see and understand all things clearly, so that you can discriminate correctly between good and evil. It is written by Apostle Paul that “strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age” (Hebrews 5:14). These are men, who by long and diligent work have their senses and intentions trained to discern both good and evil, who have become sons of the kingdom and are enrolled for Divine sonship. God has given them wisdom and good judgement in all their works, so that neither man nor devil can seduce them. You must know that the enemy tempts the faithful under the guise of good and succeeds in seducing many because they have neither wisdom nor good judgment. Therefore when Apostle Paul had learned the riches of understanding, which are destined for the faithful, and whose greatness has no bounds, he wrote to the Ephesians, “That the God of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of glory, may give unto you the spirit of wisdom and revelation in the knowledge of him; the eyes of your understanding being enlightened; that ye may know what is the hope of his calling, and what the riches of the glory of his inheritance in the saints (Ephesians 1: 17-18). He wrote this from his exceeding great love for them, knowing that if they attain it they will find hardship in nothing, no fear will touch them; but the joy of the Lord will comfort them day and night and their labours will be sweet for them at all times. Many of the monks and virgins living in communities do not attain to this measure. And you, if you wish to attain to this measure, in which is the height of perfection, should withdraw from all those who while they bear such names, that is monkhood and virginity, yet lack this clear vision and good judgment. For, if you become connected with them, they will not let you make progress, and may even cool your ardour, because they themselves have no ardour but only coldness, since they follow their own desires. So, if they come to you and begin worldly conversations, according to their own desires, do not consent to it. For Apostle Paul writes, “Quench not the Spirit. Despise not prophesyings” (I Thessalonians 5: 19-20). Know that nothing quenches the Spirit more than idle talk.
Every man whose effort is to become truly spiritual must try to hold himself aloof from noisy crowds and not go near them, so as to be outside the vortex and turmoil of men in body, heart and mind; for where there are men, there is turmoil. Our Lord showed us an example of withdrawal from people and solitude when He used to go alone up into a mountain to pray. In the wilderness too he conquered the devil, who dared to wrestle with Him. Naturally He was not powerless to conquer him even among the multitude; but He acted thus to teach us that we can more easily overcome the enemy and reach perfection in silence and solitude. Neither did the Lord show His glory to the disciples in the midst of people, but led them up into a mountain and there showed them His glory. John the Forerunner also dwelt in the wilderness until he appeared to Israel. In the world it is easier for the enemy to press upon us with his weapons, both inner and outer; attracting some men as helpers and assistants obedient to him, he there wages war against the faithful. Some shameless woman may serve as a very strong weapon to him, spreading wide her ensnaring nets. When Ezekiel saw four living creatures, each with four faces, all showing the glory of the Lord, he was not in a city or a village but outside in a plain; for God said to him, “Arise, and go forth into the plain, and there shalt thou be spoken to” (Ezekiel 3:22). In general such visions and revelations were given to the saints only in mountains and wilderness. Prophet Jeremiah, knowing how much solitude pleases God, also said, “It is good for a man when he bears a yoke in his youth. He will sit alone, and be silent” (Lamentations 3:27-28). Again, knowing well how much harm human talk brings to those who want to please God, he could not refrain from saying, “Who would give me a most distant lodge in the wilderness, that I might leave my people, and depart from them?” (Jeremiah 9:2). Also Prophet Elijah received food from the angels, and this not among a crowd of people, nor in a city or a village, but in the wilderness. All these and similar things, which occurred to the saints, were written to persuade us to imitate those who loved retirement, for it can lead us too to the Lord. So try to be well grounded in it, that you may be led to the vision of God, which is the most spiritual contemplation.
Oppose the devil and try to discern his wiles. He usually hides his gall under an appearance of sweetness, so as to avoid detection, and he fabricates various illusions, beautiful to look at – which in reality are not at all what they seem – to seduce your hearts by a cunning imitation of truth, which is rightly attractive. All his art is directed to this end – to oppose by all possible means every soul working well for God. Many and varied are the passions he introduces into the soul to quench the Divine fire, in which all strength lies; but above all he overcomes it by the inertia of the body and all this is connected with it. None the less, when he sees at last that some men guard themselves from all this and accept nothing from him and show no promise of ever obeying him – he withdraws from them with shame. Then the Spirit of God comes to dwell in them. And when the Spirit of God comes to dwell in them, He brings them rest, or lets them enjoy rest in all their activities, and makes the yoke of the Lord sweet for them, as it is written in the Gospels “and ye shall find rest unto your soul” (Matthew 9:29), although they have taken His yoke upon themselves and are bearing it. Then they become indefatigable, both in the practice of virtue and in carrying out obediences and night vigils. They feel no anger at human calumny and have no fear, whether of man, beast or spirit; for the joy of the Lord stays with them day and night, gives life to their reason and is their food. Through this joy the soul grows and becomes apt for all things or perfect; and through this joy it ascends to heaven.
Beware of the counsels of the evil one, if he should come in the guise of one professing truth to beguile you and lead you into deceit. Even if he should come to you as an angel of light, do not believe him or obey him; for he is apt to fascinate the faithful by the attractive semblance of truth. Those who are not perfect do not know these wiles of the devil and are not aware of what he is constantly putting into them; but the perfect know, as the Apostle says, “But strong meat belongeth to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil” (Hebrews 5:14). These the devil cannot seduce; but he easily fascinates those faithful, who keep scant attention on themselves, by a bait which appears sweet, and he catches them as a fisherman catches fish with a hook hidden in the bait . . . as Solomon says, “There are ways that seem to be right to a man, but the end of them looks to the depth of hell” (Proverbs 16:25). These things happen to them because in their self-reliance they always follow the inclinations of their heart and fulfil their own desires, not listening to their fathers or asking their advice. So the devil shows them visions and illusions, and puffs up their hearts with pride. Sometimes he sends them dreams at night, which he fulfils in the daytime, thus to plunge them into greater prelest.* (see explanatory note below) More than that, he at times shows them light at night, so that the place where they are becomes bright; and he does many other things mistaken for true signs. He does all this to set their mind at rest as regards himself and make them accept him for an angel. As soon as they have accepted him as such, he hurls them down from their height, through the spirit of pride which takes possession of them. He strives to keep them in the conviction that they have become greater and more glorious in spirit than many others and have no need to turn to their fathers and listen to them. But they, according to the Scriptures, are in reality clusters of grapes, shiny but bitter and unripe. Directions of the fathers are onerous for them, for they are convinced that they know everything already.
I shall indicate to you the practice, which alone makes a man firm in the good and keeps him such from beginning to end: and this is – love God with all your soul, all your heart and all your mind, and work for Him alone. Then God will give you great strength and joy, and all godly works will become for you as sweet as honey, and all physical labours, mental occupations and vigils, generally the whole yoke of God, will be sweet and light for you. However, from His love for men the Lord at times sends them adversities, that they should not exalt themselves but continue striving; and, instead of courage, they feel heaviness and weakness; instead of joy – sadness; instead of peace and quiet they feel agitation; instead of sweetness – bitterness; and many other similar things happen to those who love God. But, by struggling and prevailing, they gradually become stronger and stronger. When they finally overcome it all, then the Holy Spirit abides with them in all things and they fear evil no more.
Purity, everlasting and unchanging peace, fullness of mercy and other beautiful virtues, crowned by blessing, are God’s commandments. Strive to fulfil these commands of the Spirit, which will give life to your souls and through which you will receive the Lord into yourselves – they are the safe way. Without purity of heart and body no one can be perfect before God; therefore it is said in the Gospels, “Blessed are the pure in heart: for they shall see God” (Matthew 5:8). Perfection is born of purity of heart. The heart contains good naturally and evil unnaturally. Evil gives birth to passions of the soul, such as condemnation, hatred, vainglory and the like. The good gives birth to knowledge of God and sanctity or purity of soul from all passions. If a man decides to mend his ways and begins to avoid all evil, arming himself against it by his efforts – mourning, contrition, sighings, fasting, vigils, poverty and many prayers to God – the Lord by His grace will help him and will free him also of all passions of the soul. Many who have long been monks and virgins have not learned to master this science of purity, because, disdaining the directions of their fathers, they have followed the desires of their own hearts. For this reason evil soul-destroying spirits have taken possession of them, wounding them day and night with invisible arrows and giving them no peace in any place, so that their hearts were occupied now by pride, now by vanity, now by impious envy, now by censure, now by anger and rage, now by quarrels and many other passions. Their lot will be with the five foolish virgins, because they senselessly waste all their time – do not curb their tongues, do not keep their eyes pure, do not protect their bodies from lusts and their hearts from impurities and other things, lamentable for their uncleanness – and they are satisfied simply with a linen garment, which is a mere token of virginity. So they are deprived of the heavenly oil for lighting their lamps, and the bridegroom will not one day open to them the doors of his chamber but will say to them, as he said to the foolish virgins: “Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25:12). I am writing this because I wish you to be saved – to become free and true, and a pure bride for Christ, Who is the Bridegroom of all souls, as Apostle Paul says: “I have espoused you to one husband, that I may present you as a chaste virgin to Christ” (2 Corinthians 11:2).
Let us awake from sleep, while we are still in the body, let us sign over ourselves and mourn over ourselves from our whole heart day and night, to be delivered from the terrible torment, groaning, weeping and anguish which will have no end. Let us beware of the wide gate and the broad way leading to destruction, although a great many go in thereat; but let us go in at the strait gate and the narrow way which lead unto life, and few there are which go through it. Those who follow the latter way are real doers, who receive the reward of their labours with joy and inherit the kingdom. As to those who are not yet quite ready to approach it, I implore them not to be negligent while there is time, lest in the hour of need they find themselves without oil and with no one who would agree to sell it. For this happened to the five foolish virgins who found no one from whom to buy it. Then they cried, weeping, “Lord, Lord, open to us. But he answered and said, Verily I say unto you, I know you not” (Matthew 25: 11-12). And this happened to them for no other reason than laziness. Later they woke up and began to busy themselves, but it was of no avail, for the Master of the house got up and closed the door, as it is written.