Sts. Barsanuphius and John
Sts. Barsanuphius and John lived in the sixth century as fellow spiritual strugglers in
Palestinian monasteries and in isolation in the desert.  We are blessed today to
have a wonderful  collection of their teachings on the spiritual life which should be
studied by every serious student of the Christian faith.  St. Barsanuphius spent
some fifty years in his cell, forbidding himself the sight of another person.  A great
ascetic, he was brought three loaves of bread a week by the monastery purser, but
often did not eat even that.  St. John was his equal in asceticism and was blessed
with the additional gift of prophecy.  

The book written by these two fathers contains 850 answers to various questions
asked by a wide variety of people.  Some were written by St. John, but the vast
majority were give by St. Barsanuphius.  He did not actually write the answers down
himself, but dictated them to Abba Serid.  When the saint first began to give his
answers to questions, he asked Abba Serid to write it down.  Not expecting to retain
in his memory all the words said to him by the great desert father, Abba Serid was
in a quandary how to write down so many words and expected the saint to tell him
to bring paper and ink in order to take dictation as he listened.  By his gift of
clairvoyance, St. Barsanuphius read the secret thought of Serid.  His face became
like a flame and he said to Serid, "Go, write it down and fear not.  Even if I say
innumerable words for you to write down, know that the Holy Spirit will not you write
one single word more or less than what I have said, even though you wish it, but
will guide your hand in writing down everything correctly and in right order."
DIRECTIONS IN SPIRITIUAL WORK[1]
-- Dispose yourself to give thanks to God for everything, hearkening to the word of
the Apostle: "In every thing give thanks" (I Thessalonians 5:18).  Whether you are
assailed by tribulation, or suffer want or persecution, or have to bear physical
hardships and infirmities, give thanks to God for all that befalls for "we must
through tribulation enter into the kingdom of god" (Acts 14:22).  So let not your soul
be assailed by doubt, nor your heart weaken; but remember the word of the Apostle:
"Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed day by day" (II
Corinthians 4:16).  If you do not endure sufferings, you will not be able to mount
the cross and share its fruit which brings salvation.
-- While the ship is at sea, it is a prey to dangers and winds.  When it reaches a
calm and peaceful harbor, it no longer fears dangers, calamities or winds, but
remains safe.  In the same way, while you are among men you must expect
tribulation, dangers and mental buffetings.  But when you reach the harbor of
silence prepared for you, then you will have no fear.
-- You have no peace from thoughts, which impel you to trouble others, and in turn
to be troubled by others.  But know, my brother, that if we offend by word or deed,
we are thereby ourselves offended a hundredfold.  By longsuffering in all things and
refrain from letting your own will enter into anything.  Carefully examine your
thoughts lest they infect your heart with deadly poison (ill temper) and make you
take a gnat for a camel, a pebble for a cliff, and lest you become like a man who has
a beam in his own eye but beholds the mote in the eye of another.
-- You call yourself a sinner, but in effect you show that you do not feel yourself to
be one.  A man, who admits himself to be a sinner and the cause of many evils,
disagrees with no one, quarrels with no one, is not wroth with anyone, but considers
every man better and wiser than himself.  If you are a sinner, why do you reproach
your neighbor and accuse him of bringing afflictions upon you?  It seems that you
and I are as yet far
from regarding ourselves as sinners.  Look brother, how base we are: we speak with
our lips only; our actions show something different.  Why, when we oppose
thoughts, do we not receive the strength to repulse them?  Because, previously, we
have surrendered to criticizing our neighbor and this has weakened our spiritual
strength.  So we accuse our brother, being ourselves guilty.  Put all your thoughts in
the Lord, saying: God knows what is best, and you will be at peace and, little by
little, will be given the strength to endure.
-- Churn the milk and you will bring forth butter; but if you wring the nose, you will
bring forth blood (Proverbs 30:33).  If a man wants to bend a bough or a vine into a
hoop, he bends it gradually, lest it break, for if he suddenly bends it too much, it
snaps. (This refers to strict measures of abbots and excessive asceticism of monks.)
-- Do you wish to be free of afflictions and not to be burdened by them?  Expect
greater ones, and you will find peace.  Remember Job and other saints, and the
afflictions they
suffered.  Acquire their patience, and comfort will come to your spirit.  Be of good
courage, stand firm and pray.
-- While we have time, let us have attention in ourselves and learn to be silent.  If
you wish to be untroubled by anything, be dead in relation to every man, and you
will find peace.  I speak here touching thoughts, touching all kinds of activities,
relationships with men and cares.
-- You wrote me asking me to pray for your sins.  And I will say the same: pray for
my sins.  For it is said: "As ye would that men should do to you, do ye also to them
likewise" (Luke 6:31).  Although I am accursed and lower than all men, I continue to
do so as much as I can, according to the commandment: "Pray one for another, that
ye may be healed" (James 5:16).  
DIRECTIONS IN SPIRITIUAL WORK -- PART V[2]
-- Give the body as much (food) as it needs, and you will not suffer harm even if you
eat three times a day.  Even if a man eats only once a day but ill judgedly, what
good is that to him?  Overeating is followed by an uprising of lusts and thereupon
the enemy makes the body heavy with sleep to defile it.
-- If a man eats not for pleasure but from bodily infirmity, God does not judge him.  
Food is forbidden to us in order to protect us from surfeit and stimulations of the
body.  But infirmity abolishes their activity, for where there is infirmity, there too is
invocation of God.

-- (To a sick man asking for prayers in his prostration.)  My repining and despondent
brother!  Why do you fret?  Why do you cry?  Why do you send afar for help when
Jesus stands near you and desires you to call for His help!  Call to Him: "Teacher!"
and He will answer you.  Touch the edge of His garment, and He will cure you not
only of this  affliction but of all your passions.  If your mind were where it should be,
the stings of poisonous snakes and scorpions could not drive you thence to the
sensation of bodily sickness.  "I forget," says David, "to eat my bread.  By reason of
the voice of my groaning" (Psalms 102:4- 5).  Do not fret: God's mercy is near you.
-- Two gifts God gave to men, by which they may be saved and  delivered from all
the passions of the old man: humility and obedience.  But we do not strive after
them, do not desire to abide in them, nor be guided by them.  Leave off all
evasions, bend your neck to humility and obedience, and you will receive mercy.  If
you practice with humility and obedience what you hear from the fathers, God will
grant you His blessed help not only in the work you are doing, but will make all your
works successful, for He protects the path of those who fear Him and watches over
their progress.  Why are you indignant?  Why do you argue?  God's mercy will help
you if you constantly remain in Godly patience.  Cease being ill-tempered, irritable
and envious.  Die to every man.  Say to your thought: Who am I? "Dust and ashes"
(Genesis 18:27), and a dog (Matthew 15:27).  Do not discuss others, belittling and
ridiculing them.  Compel yourself not to say: "What is this?  Wherefore is that?"
(Ecclesiasticus 39:21).  Why have I not the same as this or that man has?  But work
diligently at your small manual tasks with fear of God, and you will receive no small
reward.
-- When despondency brings sleepiness, which interferes with the work you have to
do, get up to pray and do not stop praying -- and through prayer the Lord will banish
sleepiness.
-- If a man is asked for something he has not got, he will not be judged for not
giving what is asked of him.  The Apostle Peter himself, when a lame man asked
him for alms said: "Silver and gold have I none" (Acts 3:6); and did not borrow to
give him alms.  In the same way, if a man has only enough of something for his own
immediate needs, he must not give it away in alms, lest it happens that later, in
time of want, he suffers
affliction, being unable to bear privations.  If the other persists and importunes him,
and he replies: "Forgive me, I have nothing to give you," it will not be a lie, for if he
has only
enough for his own essential needs, he has indeed nothing to give another.  Let him
say to one who begs: "Forgive me, I have only enough for my own needs."  
Remember the five virgins who answered, when the others asked for oil for their
lamps: "Not so; lest there be not enough for us and you" (Matthew 25:9).  And the
Apostle Paul writes to the Corinthians: "Now at this time your abundance may be a
supply for their want" (II Corinthians 8:14) but: "I mean not that other men be
eased, and ye burdened" (II Corinthians 8:13).
-- When you wish to give alms but your thought brings doubt as to whether it is
best not to give, test your thought and if you find that the doubt comes from
avarice, give a little more than you intended.
-- How can he, who has nothing to give, come to have a share in blessedness?  
Blessedness is promised not only to those who give alms.  "Blessed are the poor in
spirit," "blessed are they that mourn," and so forth (Matthew 5:3, etc.).  So if you
cannot give alms, be poor in spirit, that you may inherit the kingdom of heaven
together with the saints.  Mourn over your sins in this world, to be comforted with
those that mourn.  Acquire meekness, that you may inherit the earth.  Be pure in
heart, that you may
see God in His glory.  For the sake of the Lord, suffer reviling, persecution and all
manner of evil said against you falsely, to rejoice and be exceeding glad at the
great reward you will receive in heaven.
Spiritual Counsels for Everyone -- Part I[3]
-- Concerning the measure of continence in food and drink the Fathers say that one
should use both the one and the other a little less than necessary, that is, one
should not fill the stomach completely.  And everyone should determine for himself
his measure both of cooked food and of wine.  During wintertime no one drinks
much; however, even then one should drink a little less than necessary, and he
should act likewise with regard to food.  In addition, the measure of continence is
not limited only to food and drink, but extends also to conversations, to seep, to
clothing, and to all the feelings; in all of this there should be a measure of
continence.   
-- During a time of disturbance and warfare of thoughts, one should lessen a little
even the ordinary quantity of food and drink.
-- To act “according to one’s strength” means to use a little less than necessary
both of food, and drink, and sleep . . . . As for food, restrain yourself when you wish
to eat a little
more, and in this way you will always make use of it moderately.
-- Let us always accuse ourselves: for victory consists precisely of this.  As for the
resolve to go away into the desert, as the Fathers said, there are three conditions,
which if anyone observes, he can live both among people and in the deserts, and
wherever he might go, namely: to reproach oneself, to leave one’s own will behind
him, and to consider oneself  lower than all creatures.  And let it be known to your
love, that all the efforts of the devil are directed towards separating us from each
other; for he clearly sees that the word of Scripture is fulfilled upon us: “brother
being helped by brother, as a city firm and well-defended” (Proverbs 18:19).  May
the Lord not permit him to fulfill his will in us, but may He crush him, according to
the unlying word of Scripture, “swiftly under our feet” (Romans 16:20).
-- Q: How can one be saved in the present times?
A: In every time, if a man can cut off his own will in everything, and have a humble
heart, and death always before his eyes – he can be saved, by God’s grace; and
wherever he might be, fear does not take possession of him, for such a one
“forgetteth the things that are behind, and stretcheth forth to those that are before
(Philemon 3:13).  Act thus, and you will be saved by God without sorrow.
-- Q: Pray that I might place a beginning to salvation.
A: The beginning is humility and the fear of God: “The fear of God is the beginning
of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7).  And what is the beginning of wisdom, if it is not to
remove oneself from everything hateful to God?  And how does one remove oneself
from this?  Do nothing without questioning and counsel; likewise, say nothing
unfitting, and at the same time acknowledge oneself to be senseless, unsalted, and
degraded, and in general insignificant.
-- Q: Having many sins, I wish to repent, but because of bodily infirmity I cannot
labor like the Fathers: I beg you, tell me: how can I make a beginning?
A: Brother!  They are poor whom the Lord glorifies because they have renounced all
their possessions, that is, all their passions, and have become stripped of them for
the sake of His Name, such ones are poor in truth, and to them belongs
blessedness.  And there are other poor who have acquired nothing good, whom the
Lord threatens, saying: “Depart from Me, ye cursed” (Matthew 25:41).  He who has
such possessions and is burdened by them, let him renounce them, so that he may
remain without care.  And so, if you desire to make a beginning of repentance, look
at what the harlot did: with her tears she washed the feet of the Master (Luke 7:
38).   Lamentation will wash anyone of sins; but a man attains lamentation with
difficulty, by means of much instruction in the Scriptures, of patience, of reflection
on the terrible Judgment and eternal shame, and through self-renunciation, as the
Lord has said: “He who would come after Me, let him renounce himself and take up
his cross and follow after Me” (Matthew 16:24).  And to renounce oneself and take
up one’s cross means: to cut off one’s own will in everything and consider oneself to
be nothing.  Since you have said that you are infirm in body and can do nothing –
therefore, do according to your strength, taking bread and drink a little less than
ordinarily, for God accepted the two mites of the widow and rejoiced over them more
than over all the rest.   Instruct yourself not to be free in your relations with others,
and you will be saved.    
Spiritual Counsels for Everyone -- Part II[4]
- [to a sick monk] Concerning fasting, do not grieve, as I have said to you before:
God does not demand of anyone labors beyond his strength. And indeed, what is
fasting if not a punishment of the body in order to humble a healthy body and make
it infirm for passions, according to the word of the Apostle: "When I am weak, then
am I strong" (II Corinthians 12:10). And disease, more than this, is a punishment
and takes the place of fasting and even more – for one who bears it with patience,
thanks God, and through patience receives the fruit of his salvation; for instead of
weakening his body by fasting, he is already sick without that. Give thanks to God
that you have been delivered from the labor of fasting. Even if you will eat ten times
in a day, do not grieve; you will not be judged for this, for you are doing this not at
the demon’s instigation, and not from the weakening of your thought; but rather,
this occurs to us for our testing and for profit to the soul.
-- To the Monk Andrew, when he became faint from the temptations that had come
upon him:
Andrew! My brother one in soul (with me), do not grow faint. God has not abandoned
you and will not abandon you. But know that the sentence pronounced by the Master
to our common father Adam: "In the sweat of your brow you shall earn your bread"
(Genesis 3:19) is immutable. And just as this commandment is given to the outward
man, so to the inward man it is commanded to aid the prayers of the Saints by
means of one’s own ascetic labors; and these prayers greatly help a man so that he
will not remain fruitless. For just as gold which is heated in a furnace, held with
pincers and beaten with a hammer, becomes pure and fit for a royal crown, so also a
man being supported by the mighty and much-performing prayer of the Saints is
heated by sorrows, receives the blows of temptations and, if he endures everything
with gratitude, becomes a son of the Kingdom. And therefore, everything that might
happen to you occurs for your benefit, so that you also might receive boldness
before God, both through the intercession of the Saints and through your own labors.
And do not be ashamed to offer now to God the beginning of these labors, lest in
place of spiritual joy, sorrow should overtake you; and believe that He who has
given the promises will fulfill them (Hebrews 10:23). Prosper in the Lord, my beloved.
-- And so, brother, hate perfectly so as to love perfectly. Depart completely, so as to
draw near completely. Disdain one kind of adoption, in order to receive another
adoption. Cease to fulfill desires, and you will fulfill desire. Wound yourself, and
treat yourself. Mortify yourself, and bring yourself to life. Forget yourself, and know
yourself. And you will have the works of a monk.
-- Restrain your tongue from idle talking, your stomach from love of sweetness, and
do not irritate your neighbor. Do not be brazen, consider yourself as nothing,
preserve love toward everyone, and have always God in your heart, remembering
"When I shall appear before the face of God" (Psalms 41:3). Keep this, and your soil
will bring forth a hundred-fold fruit to God, to Whom may there be glory unto the
ages. Amen.
Choosing Between Right and Wrong[5]
-- Q: If before the soul there are two harmful things, and it is absolutely impossible
to avoid one of them, what should one do?
A: Of two harmful things, one should choose the less harmful. In the stories of the
Fathers it is written: Someone came to ask of another a dinar, and the other did not
give it, saying: "I have nothing to give you." When he was asked why he did not
give it to him, he replied: "If I had given him one, it would have caused harm to his
soul, and therefore I preferred to violate one commandment rather than allow
something ruinous for the soul."
-- Q: I was sent on business to the Holy City (Jerusalem), and from there I went
down to pray at the Jordan, without asking permission for this from the Abba. Did I
do well or not?
A: Without being commanded, one should not go anywhere. That which we do
according to our own thoughts, even if it seems good to us, is not pleasing to God.
But in keeping the commandment of your Abba who sent you is both prayer and
pleasing to God, Who said: "I came down not to do My own will, but the will of the
Father Who sent Me" (John 6:38).
-- If it happens (in some case) that you do not have at hand one from whom to ask
counsel, then, naming your Elder, pray thus: "God of ______ (Elder)! Do not allow
me to incline away from Thy will and the counsel of Thy slave, but instruct me how
to act." And what God shall inform you, that do.
-- Q: My Master! How many times should one pray so that one’s thoughts might
receive assurance about this?
A: When you cannot ask the Elder, one should pray three times about every matter,
and after this look to see where the heart is inclined, even though it might be fallen,
and act in this way. For (this) assurance is noticeable and in every way
understandable to the heart.
-- Q: How should one pray these three times – at different times, or all at the same
time? For it also happens that one cannot put off some matters.
A: If you have free time, pray three times in the course of three days; but if there is
extreme need, when there is a difficulty, as at the time of the Savior’s betrayal –
then take as your example that He went away three times for prayer and prayed
pronouncing the same words three times (Matthew 26:44). Even though, as it
seemed, He was not heard, for it was absolutely essential that that dispensation
should be fulfilled, still by this example He instructs us also not to become sorrowful
when we pray and are not heard at that time; for He knows better than we what is
profitable for us. But in any case let us not leave off giving thanks.
-- Q: And if after prayer I do not quickly receive assurance, what should I do? And
when this happens by my own fault, but is hidden from me, how can I understand
this?
A: If after the third prayer you do not receive assurance, know that you yourself are
to blame for this; and if you do not recognize your transgression, reproach yourself,
and God will have mercy on you.
-- Q: A thought instigates me not to ask the Saints so as to understand what is
profitable, lest, having disdained this in my infirmity, I should sin.
A: This thought is very harmful; in no way listen to it. For one who, having
understood what is profitable, sins, condemns himself in every way; but he who sins
without having understood what is profitable, never condemns himself, and his
passions remain unhealed. And this is why the devil instils in him (such a thought),
so that his passions will remain unhealed. But when the thought instils into you that
you cannot fulfill the answer (of the Elder) out of infirmity, then ask in this way: "My
Father! I desire to do such and such; tell me what is profitable, although I know that
even if you tell me I cannot fulfill and keep what is said; but I wish to learn only so
as to condemn myself for having disdained what is profitable." This will lead you to
humility. May the Lord preserve your heart by the prayers of the Saints. Amen.

Delusions, Dreams, and Distractions[6]
-- Q: Can the demons communicate anything good? And how does one discover that
it is demonic? And what distinguishes it from something good from God?
A: To someone it might seem that he receives something good, but this is from the
evil one for his deception. For every good thing which comes from the devil for the
deception of a man, being precisely examined, turns out to be unreal; for the devil is
a liar, and there is no truth in him (John 8:44), as is shown by the consequences of
that (false good). His light ends in darkness, according to the Apostle’s word which
speaks about diabolic heralds transformed into the servants of righteousness "whose
end will be according to their deeds" (II Corinthians 11:15); and the Savior says:
"From their fruit ye shall know them" (Matthew 7:16). If you investigate with
understanding and judgment, you will find in the false good (which comes) from the
devil, there was not even a trace of good, but either vainglory, or disturbance, or
something similar; but the good which comes from God always increases
enlightenment and humility of heart and gives a man quietness. But when, out of
ignorance, we suffer in something from the deception of the evil one, and later we
recognize in this a temptation, then let us call ourselves and hasten to Him Who is
powerful to do away with this temptation. One should know that to some the
difference (between the good of the devil and that of God) is understandable from
the very beginning; while to sinners, only at the end (of the temptation), just as a
skilled master in gold work can take gold (in his hand) and tell before it is tested
with fire of what sort it is, while an unskilled one does not find this out until it has
been tested with fire.
-- Q: When I do something good, how should I humble my thoughts? And how does
one reproach oneself after doing something good?
A: For humility of thoughts, even though you might have performed all good deeds
and kept all the commandments, remember Him Who said: "When you have done all
this, say that we are unprofitable slaves, for we were obliged to do what we have
done" (Luke 17:10) – and all the more when we have not even attained as yet to the
fulfilling of a single commandment. Thus one should always think and reproach
oneself at every good deed and say to oneself: I do not know whether it is pleasing
to God. It is a great work to do according to God’s Will, and yet greater to fulfill the
Will of God: this is the joining of all the commandments; for to do something
according to God’s Will is a private matter and is less than fulfilling the Will of God.
Therefore the Apostle said: "Forgetting what is behind, and stretching forth to what
is ahead" (Philemon 3:13). And no matter how much he stretched out to what was
ahead, he did not stop and always saw himself as insufficient, and he advanced; for
he said: "whatever is perfect, think on this"(Philemon 3:15), that is, so as to
advance.
-- Q: Tell me, Master, how can the devil dare in a vision or a fantasy during sleep to
show the Master Christ or Holy Communion?
A: He cannot show the Master Christ Himself, nor Holy Communion, but he lies and
presents the image of some man and simple bread; but the holy Cross he cannot
show, for he does not find means of depicting it in another form. Inasmuch as we
know the true sign and image of the Cross, the devil does not dare to use it (for our
deception); for on the Cross his power was destroyed, and by the Cross a fatal
wound was given him. The Master Christ we cannot recognize by the flesh, which is
why the devil tries to convince us by lying that it is He, so that having believed the
deception as if it were truth, we might perish. And thus, when you see in a dream
the image of the Cross, know that this dream is true and from God; but strive to
receive an interpretation of its significance from the Saints, and do not believe your
own idea. May the lord enlighten the thoughts of your mind, O brother, so that you
might escape every deception of the enemy.
-- Q: A thought says to me: "If the holy Cross appears to you, you, being unworthy
of this, will fall into high-mindedness." This thoughts brings fear and terror upon me.
A: Do not be disturbed about this, because, if the holy Cross will truly appear to
you, it will abolish the pride of high-mindedness: where God is, there is no place for
evil.
-- Q: I have heard that if one and the same dream appears to someone three times,
one should recognize it as true; is this so, my Father?
A: No, this is wrong; such a dream also one need not believe. He who has appeared
once to anyone falsely can do this three times and more. Watch, lest you be put to
shame (by the demons), but pay heed to yourself, brother.
-- Q: If, during the time of psalm-singing, or prayer, or reading, a bad thought
comes, should one pay attention to it and leave off (for a while) the psalm-singing,
prayer, or reading in order to oppose it with pure thoughts?
A: Disdain it and enter more carefully into the psalm-singing, prayer, or reading, so
as to gain strength from the words you pronounce. But if we shall begin to be
occupied with hostile thoughts, we will never be in a condition to do anything good,
heeding what the enemy instils. But when you see that his cunning fabrications
hinder psalm-singing, prayer, or reading, even then do not enter into dispute with
them, because this matter is beyond your strength; but strive to call on the Name of
God, and God will help you and do away with the cunning of the enemies, for His is
the power and the glory unto the ages. Amen.
Spirituality in the Workplace[7]
-- Q: When a brother asks me about some word or matter which I do not know,
should I reply to him or not? Likewise, when I am not asked, but I myself see that
someone is doing something badly, should I at least once speak about this to the
one who is doing badly, or not?
A: To all these questions there is a single answer: be careful not to speak out of
vainglory, but speak with humility and the fear of God. In all the cases (about which
you ask), speak and remind another, if necessary – but only in your own monastery,
and not in a different place; because those who live in one community are as it were
one body. But when you are in a different place, say nothing of yourself, so as not
to show yourself a teacher; but when you are asked, speak with humility, and God
will instruct you, O brother.
-- Q: Tell me, my Father, what it means to pay heed to one’s thoughts? Should one
be occupied with this at a definite time? And how does one do this?
A: The Fathers have assigned a time for paying heed to one’s thoughts saying: "In
the morning test yourself, how you spent the night; and in the evening likewise,
how you spent the day. And in the middle of the day, when you are weighed down
by thoughts, examine yourself."
-- Q: If I speak a sarcastic word to someone, and he doesn’t understand it, should I
repent before him, or be silent and give him no thought about this?
A: If the brother does not understand that you spoke to him in sarcasm, be silent
and do not disturb him; but strive to repent over this before God.
-- Q: Since you have assigned me to be in this service, in the infirmary, tell me, my
Father: should I read certain medical books and teach myself to make medicines, or
is it better not to be concerned about this, as something that causes the mind to
wander, and abandon it (so that it will not arouse vainglory in me) and be satisfied
with what I already know, doing whatever is possible with the aid of oil, flour,
ointments, and in general simple remedies such as are used by those who do not
read (medical books). How should I act? For my heart trembles in this service lest I
sin in something and add to my passions yet other sins.
A: Inasmuch as we have not yet come to perfection, so as to be entirely delivered
from the captivity of passions, it is better to occupy ourselves with medicine than
with passions. But we should place our hope not in medicines but in God, Who kills
and brings to life and says: "I will strike and I will heal" (Deuteronomy 32:39). While
reading medical books or asking someone about them, do not forget that without
God no one receives healing. And thus, he who devotes himself to the medical art
should give himself over to the Name of God, and God will grant him help. The
medical art does not hinder a man from being pious; but make use of it like a
handiwork for the benefit of the brethren. Whatever you do, do with the fear of God,
and you will be preserved by the prayers of the Saints. Amen.
-- Q: You told me before that the cutting off of one’s own will consists also of not
arguing out of a desire to stand on one’s own. But what should I do, my Father:
sometimes it happens that I bring a sick man something that is apparently
beneficial; but often it harms him, and I grieve that in this I have done my own will.
I see likewise that I am occupied the whole day, and this somehow does not allow
me to remember God. Also, gluttony disturbs me. Tell me, what should I do? For I
believe that in these things is my salvation.
A: If, thinking that something will bring benefit to the sick, you act according to your
will, and the opposite happens, that it brings them harm – God, who beholds your
heart, will not judge you; for He knows that you have done harm while desiring to
bring benefit. But if someone who knows (about this matter) should tell you about it
beforehand, and you should disdainfully disobey him, this would be pride and self-
will. Many have constantly heard about some city or other and then they chance to
enter it without knowing that it is that very city; so you also, O brother, spend the
whole day in remembrance of God and do not know it. To have a commandment and
strive to keep it – this is submission to and remembrance of God. Brother John has
rightly said to you: first put on leaves, and then, when God commands, you will bear
fruit. If you do not know what is profitable, follow one who knows, and this is
humility, and you will receive God’s grace. You have rightly said that your salvation
lies in this; for you did not come here of yourself, but God guided you here. "Be
strong in the Lord" (Ephesians 6:10): you receive not a little benefit from the
occupation about which you complain. As far as possible, struggle against gluttony.
And the Lord will help you to know and do what is profitable. Be manful and
strengthened in the Lord.
-- Q: I am apprehensive, my Father, because I am in charge of the infirmary, for this
is something involving authority, and this might give occasion for vainglory and
familiarity. Likewise, from frequent eating of food I can be drawn into gluttony. And
so, do you not consider that, for a preliminary training of myself, I should be first in
a lower obedience, and then, when it will be easier for me, I should again enter
upon that service?
A: Listen, O brother, and be convinced in the Lord, that when we entrusted this
matter to you, our hand and our heart are with you, or to be more precise, the hand
of God, entreated by our prayers for the salvation of your soul, and that He has
strengthened you in this matter and given you success and covered you in it. You
can be saved in no other way than through this (obedience). And so, do not become
discouraged, falling and rising up, crawling and reproaching yourself, until the Lord
will show you the mercy which you desire. Only do not be negligent. Fear not, for the
Lord, Who has placed you in this work, will put it in order, and we will share the
concern with you.
-- Q: If one of the brethren or one of the sick should sin, and I, desiring to correct
him, tell him something with disturbance: should I later bow down to him (asking for
forgiveness)? If it should happen that he leaves the infirmary being angry at me,
what should I do? And in general, for what faults should one make a prostration (to
the other)? For pride and self-justification darken the mind. And when one makes a
prostration, vainglory again finds an occasion for itself.
A: Do nothing with disturbance, because evil does not give rise to good. But endure
until your thought should become calm, and then speak in peace. And if the brother
should listen to you – well and good; but if not, tell him: "Would you not like me to
reveal this to the Abba, and we will do as he judges," and you will be at peace. But
if he goes away angry, tell the Abba, and he will enlighten him: but make no bow to
him (that is, do not beg forgiveness), for through this you will give him occasion to
think that you are actually guilty before him, and he will arm himself against you
even more. But from other people be careful to ask forgiveness, corresponding to the
sin: as soon as you see that your sin is great, bow down; but when it is not great,
say with your lips, with a feeling of heartfelt repentance: "Forgive me, brother."
Beware of pride and self-justification, for they hinder repentance; and it also
happens that a man gives a bow out of vainglory. Despite these three passions
(pride, self-justification, and vainglory); where necessary, make a bow with humility,
fear of God, and understanding. According to your strength, strive to remain in these
virtues, and God will help you, by the prayers of the Saints.
[1] Kadloubovsky, E., and Palmer, G.E.H., trans., "Writings from the Philokalia on
Prayer of the Heart," (London: Faber and Faber, 1983, pp. 346 - 350.
[2] Kadloubovsky, E., and Palmer, G.E.H., trans., "Writings from the Philokalia on
Prayer of the Heart," (London: Faber and Faber, 1983, pp. 371 - 376.
[3] from “Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life,” trans. by
Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp.
47 - 73 (selections).
[4] from "Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life," trans. by
Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp.
47 - 80 (selections).
[5] from "Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life," trans. by
Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp.
94 - 96 (selections).
[6] from "Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life," trans. by
Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp.
98 - 106 (selections).
[7] from "Saints Barsanuphius and John: Guidance Toward Spiritual Life," trans. by
Fr. Seraphim Rose, (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1990), pp.
82 - 91 (selections).
Lives of the Saints