Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ. ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
Blessed are the poor in spirit: for theirs is the Kingdom of Heaven
by St. Macarius, Starets of Optino [source: Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction 1834-1860]
What I write to you, I write for you alone, and I must ask you to refrain from passing any of it on the others as a general rule of conduct for all. It is nothing of the kind. My advice to you is fashioned according to your inner and outer circumstances. Hence, it can be right only for you.
Yes! There can be no doubt that under these circumstances a man requires special help from God, and the guidance of a wise man experienced in the fight.
It is certainly a great consolation, and a great help on the way, to find a director under whose wise guidance our will is cured of self-will, our mind of self-regard. But in these days, it is most difficult to find one.
You say that I have helped your aunt. That cannot be. Only the mistakes are mine. All good advice is the advice of the Spirit of God; His advice, that I happen to have heard rightly and to have passed on without distorting it...
I shall try to answer you as best as I can, but you must pray. Pray that God may grant me the ability to say the right words which will bring you help. Pray too, that He may grant you the right faith: faith in our Lord as the lord of all wisdom. No good can come of this letter without His special help.
I have told you nothing that is an invention of my own. All of what I say comes from the writings of the holy Fathers. Mine is only the humble work of choosing passages suitable to your particular case.
And this humble work has been of the greatest profit to me, since it has freshened up much that was growing dim in my constantly weakening memory. So you must see that there is no occasion at all of you to thank me so extravagantly: "Not unto us, O Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy Name give the praise" (Psalm 115:1). May we all constantly sustain each other by counsel and through prayer.
Do not limit yourself to striving for the right outward order: fasting and prayer. Strive also for greater inward order, only to be attained through intensified love and deep humility.
You say that the longing for obedience has pierced your heart, and you ask, "How can I attain to it?" Shall I tell you?
In the world you live in, Princess, you must have seen how long it takes an artist to train for his art, and how much effort he must devote to it. Is it not natural that the art of arts should exact even more time and even greater effort?
Pray that you may be granted the grace to read the Holy Fathers with the right understanding, the grace to live up to the standards they put before you, and the grace clearly to see your own frailty. You will not long be left wanting and waiting. God will give you help.
In the meanwhile carefully examine the movements of your heart, the pattern of your thoughts, the intention of all your words and actions. In your case, it may even be good to do this in writing. It may help to make more clear to you your utter poverty; it may humble your pride of mind.
It is excellent that you should have found work as tutor to the sons of so influential a family. Passing on to others the knowledge of God has permitted you to acquire, you double your talent.
Have recourse to God in all your difficulties: in discipline, ordinary teaching, and the teaching of divinity. Your clumsiness in society and your inability to gain the love of your charges, provide lessons in the art of living, and are good for you as a counterweight to your preoccupation with theories. You are still very young and only beginning to try your wings in the great flight. Life itself must teach you, in one way and another, what is wrong, and what is right. Use your mistakes to encourage and develop your humility, and to increase your perspicacity and discrimination. Employ most of your spare time in reading the Greek and our own Fathers. No art is acquired easily or without much diligent study and practice. Could it be otherwise with the greatest art of all--the art of arts--the spiritual life, the soul's salvation?
It almost sounds as though you had thought you could scale the ladder with giant strides! But take it from me, you have faith, you have indeed. If you had not, could you have seen through the enemy's machinations? But, on the other hand, you aspire after the higher and more consoling forms of faith, and this shows your lack of humility. Rest content with what has been given you; all faith is a grace, and God will give more when, and if, He finds fit.
When you fail, no matter in what, do not be trapped into agitation but, humbling your mind and heart, make penance and strive to keep our Lord's Commandments.
Every reverse is a pointer to some spiritual truth that we were in danger of forgetting. You should therefore strive calmly to settle down and examine, from this point of view, the reverse that has so deeply shocked you.
You are distressed to find that whenever you now examine your conscience, you see yourself as bad; whereas formerly, when you were young, such examination showed you to be, on the whole, good rather than bad. What an extraordinary reason for distress!
It is infinitely better for us to see ourselves as bad than good. In the first case, we acquire humility, and find the door to forgiveness, the door to grace; in the second, we grow proud; and pride blocks the way to grace.
As for the real value of our deeds and actions, of that God alone is judge; He, Who knows the most secret impulses of every human heart.
Let us allude no more to the past but rather keep to what may be profitable in the future.
According to the teaching of the holy Fathers, any impression which, touching the heart, fills it with a great agitation, must come from the region of passions. Therefore impulses which spring from the heart should not be followed at once, but only after careful examination and fervent prayer. God preserves us from a blind heart! It is well known that passions do blind the heart and screen the shining sun of the mind that we should all strive to gaze at.
And so at last, the long period of eclipse is over; in your heart the sun shines bright, and in your mind the air is sweet and clean. Sweeter and cleaner than ever before. Praised be the Lord! This is a direct grace; though it is also, in a sense, the fruit of your own bitter sufferings.
But this new ability to pray is also a test; and so, beware! If you permit yourself to relish the delight of your new ability, an even denser cloud of darkness than before will descend and envelop you. This is inevitable on the path we tread: delight in a spiritual attainment imperceptibly, surely, quickly draws us into the meshes of that great snare--spiritual pride. Then we are mightily humbled! And rightly; for we have proved incapable of accepting with pure gratitude a grace generously bestowed upon us.
Until humiliations have swept away all pride, any virtues we may laboriously acquire rest on a foundation of sand. It takes much time and requires great effort to build a foundation of rock, on which the art of prayer can securely thrive.
Our quest for spiritual advancement cannot lead our soul only on the meadows of joy and consolation, and leave it there. Sooner or later it is inevitably led on to the way of the Cross. Carrying our spiritual cross we learn patience and docility.
You should definitely know that spiritual joys are always followed by s spiritual calvary.
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God