Two Letters from Elder Moses of Optina
To His Brother Living in the World
July 17, 1814 Hermitage
little brother, Alexander Ivanovich, Save yourself in the Lord!
delighted to receive your letter proceeding from unforgettable brotherly love.
I rejoiced in my heart that you are alive and well. I would be glad to help you
with books, but it is a pity that we are so far away from each other now and
there are no opportunities for me to do so. But to satisfy your request, which
indeed is pleasing to me, along with this letter I am sending you at least a
few readings I have copied out. And yet they contain much, and one might say
everything necessary for guidance unto salvation. Let your soul make good use
of them; nourish it daily with the words of life, with prayer, and with every
good workjust as we nourish the body with various kinds of food and drink, by
means of which our exhausted strength is renewed and our life is preserved.
If the spirit
of piety is growing weaker in you, that is not surprising, because you are
found in a social circle where you both see and hear everything that is in
opposition to this spirit, and your heart participates in these things either
willingly or unwillingly. That is why I feel sorry for you. But, my little brother,
you must not entirely neglect your soul. You must somehow
kindle that spirit of piety; by a little spiritual reading, or by prayer even
though it may be brief, or by
remembrance of eternity and by fulfilling the rest of Christ's commandments,
you must nurture yourself and mature unto a perfect man, unto the measure of
the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13). Remember the publican of the
Gospel, who was pursuing such a shameful and pernicious career, but did not
leave off going to the temple even though his way of life was completely
opposed to that which is pleasing to God. And once upon a time it so turned out that he pleased God much by just a few words of repentance and
left the temple justified rather than the Pharisee, that zealous keeper of the
entire law. My dear one, do not entirely quench the spirit and do not enfeeble
yourself by carelessness and by overindulging the body and dissipating the mind
in obsessive imaginings, lest you afterwards suffer the lot of the slothful
servant of the Gospel, who hid the talent of grace received at baptism, which
absolutely must not remain barren and fruitless in the soul of a Christian.
So as to
arouse our heedlessness, here is another consideration that we must always
bring to mind: that we are mortal. Our life is fleeting and most perilous on
account of the uncertainty of the hour of death. For although we know well that
we shall die, what we do not know is when we shall dietoday or tomorrow,
sooner or later, during the day or during the night? This lot of each person is
completely unknownwhen the sickle of death will overtake whom, and what
condition it will find him in, made
ready by good works, or unprepared and full of evil ones. For in whatever it
finds a person, that is how it will deliver him over to judgment before God,
and by his deeds everyone shall be either glorified or put to shame. And no one
will help us in that hour of death, only good works accomplished in God. Here
we must discuss both good works and evil works, and the results of each. We
know from the Holy Scriptures that we are not created just to eat and drink
pleasurably, have a good time and enjoy ourselves heedlessly. We are created
for good works, through which in this brief life we attain the eternal and
blessed life to which we are all called by the grace of God.
And so our life here is a time of ceaseless bodily and spiritual labors, and
the future life of recompense according to our works. But we must find out for
certain what kind of works will yield a blessed eternity and what kind will
yield a bitter one, so as to shun the one and always hold to the other. Man is
twofold, body and soul; his works are also twofold. One is called the outer man, the other is called the inner man. These two, united in
the single hypostasis of the man, are as far removed from one another as the
heaven is from the earth, and they are so opposed to each other that one who is
not enlightened by the grace of Christ cannot come to know himself and cannot
steer clear of disaster. For the outer man is a corruptible body, fashioned by
God to serve the soul, and it demands
its own gratification; the inner man is an immortal soul, created in the image
and likeness of God for good works, and it demands its own kind of cultivation
Our works are
called sowing, and this too is twofoldsome unto the inner man and some unto
the outer man; and the differing fruits of the two are evident. "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap corruption; but
he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap
life everlasting" (Galatians 6:8). The sowing and reaping unto the outer man in
this life has three aspectsthe lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the
pride of life (I John 2:16). Unless
the inner man meditates upon the law of God and is nourished thereby, unless he
is strengthened by reading and by prayer, he is conquered by the outer man, and
he serves his master. Hence there are manifested works pleasing to the flesh
but hateful to God, such as pride, avarice, gluttony, the fulfillment of all
kinds of lusts, idle talk, laughter, amusements, drunkenness, malice,
duplicity, lying, envy slothfulness and others. These are the fruits of the
sowing unto the flesh, and that is why flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God
(I Corinthians 15:50). But when the soul meditates
upon the law of God and the body is subjected to the wisdom of the soul, then
the following works are seen: love for God and neighbor, peaceableness,
meekness, simplicity, kindliness, mercifulness toward all, modesty, temperance,
chastity, guilelessness, and the rest, and these works are the fruits of the
Holy Spirit and are called the sowing unto the Spirit.
Our works in
this life are the sowing, and the future life is the harvest of what we have
sown. Whatever one sows here, that is what he shall reap there. If one hastens
to cultivate the field of his heart, to fertilize it and to sow in it the seeds
of immortal grain, he can confidently expect to see a corresponding harvest
unto eternal rest and delight. He that sows with tears of repentance shall reap
with rejoicing and "shall be filled," says the Prophet (Psalms 16:16 and 125:6), for sweet rest follows upon
the labors of piety. But rest and refreshment are denied to him who has not
labored in the work of pietyhe that is idle should not eat, it is said (cf. II Thessalonians 3:10).
always depict this truth to yourself, that what a man sows in this life he
shall reap a hundredfold in the future life. And check yourself daily on the
basis of this truthwhat have you sown for the future life, wheat or thorns?
And having examined yourself, resolve to do better the next day, and live your
whole life in this manner. If you have spent the day poorly, without praying to
God as you should, without even once feeling contrition of heart, without
humbling yourself mentally, without showing kindness or giving alms to anyone,
without forgiving someone at fault, without patiently enduring an offenseif instead
you have given way to anger and showed no restraint in your speech or in eating
and drinking, or if you have immersed your mind in impure thoughtswhen you
have reviewed all this in your mind, condemn yourself according to your
conscience and resolve on the following day to be more attentive to that which
is good and to guard more against that which is evil.
And so ever
watch over your field, my dear one, and clear it of thorns, and take heed as a
true Christian to labor not merely for the food which perisheth,
but for that which endureth unto everlasting life
(John 6:27). For what good does
it do us if we fully gratify ourselves in this life with honor, glory, wealth
and all kinds of pleasures, but empty our soul of the fruits of the Holy
Spirit, and then appear before God barren as a fruitless tree which is hewn
down and cast into the fire (Matthew 3:10)? With your outer man render to
Caesar the things that are Caesar's (Mark 12:17), but with your inner man always gaze toward God and
meditate upon His law, and God will be with you.
anything else, I fear lest you be harmed by keeping bad company. A companion
who always has women and good times on his mind is a bad companion for sure. For wine and women have destroyed many, the Scriptures say (cf. Sirach 19:2,
34:25). Keep away
from such people, for loose and passionate habits take root in us quickly and
easily, and it is very difficult to get rid of them. Few are they who have
entirely freed themselves from evil habitsmost have ended their lives in these
passions unto their eternal condemnation, from which may the most merciful Lord
spare you and me. I trust that you have the spirit of the fear of God by which
you can guard yourself from sin and be guided toward virtue. These readings I
am sending you can also aid you in this. Keep these precepts as well as you
can, and surely "thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle's"
As for me, I
am living in the same solitary place as before. Glory be
to God! I am in good health and protected by the grace of God.
Ever wishing you well, I remain your devoted brother,
I bow most deeply before you.
October 6, 1815
My dearest little brother, Alexander Ivanovich,
Be strong in the grace of Christ!
your most welcome letter full of brotherly love with heartfelt delight and
sincerely rejoiced that you are all alive and well, and I thanked God for your
good and God- pleasing intention of freeing yourself from the passionate and
sin-occasioning burden of the world, which is so heavy for a Christ-loving
soul. For truly "the whole world lieth in wickedness"
(I John 5:19), and its activity
is directed toward nothing else but the satisfaction of the lust of the flesh,
the lust of the eyes, and God-opposing pride (cf. I John 2:16). With this
motive the world's devotees both miserably cheat themselves and deceive others
with smooth promises. I am referring to your dealers who are nice to you
because they are looking for profit and power. On their tongue is pure honey,
but in their heart is the poison of accursed avarice, and with this motive
their mouths drip sweetness and they secretly tickle the throats of guileless
souls. But afterwards the exact opposite of sweetness results,
and it turns out that all that remains is bitter grief and aching pain. The
world promises many good things but in reality not only does it not wish to
give anything, but it even has an eye to depriving you of everything you have.
Anyone who objectively examines worldly society will come to the inescapable
conclusion that most of its activity is not only at variance with the Gospel of
Christ, but also simply inhuman. The Prophet says, "I have seen iniquity and
gainsaying in the city. Day and night they go round about her upon her walls;
iniquity and toil and unrighteousness are in the midst of her. And usury and
deceit have not departed from her streets" (Psalm 54:9-11).
How hard it
is for one who loves God and His holy law to be found in such an alien society!
If on the one hand one lives in the world without conforming to it, one
necessarily loses all of its favor and friendship and is scorned and derided.
On the other hand, if one conforms to the world and becomes its faithful
friend, one necessarily becomes an opponent of God, "for a friend of this world
is the enemy of God" (cf. James 4:4).
So what can
one do when faced with such opposite alternatives? One can only choose one or
the other. Either one must spurn the love of God and His law for the sake of
conformity to the world, or else one must scorn the world for the sake of the
love of God. Christ our God Himself has said, "Ye cannot serve God and mammon"
(Luke 16:13). That is why, as we
can see from history, those who loved God would in various ways choose a
straitened and afflicted life for themselves after the example of the life of
Christ. Some, like the martyrs, being found in the society of the world,
endured all kinds of oppression and torture and finally ended their lives by
the shedding of their blood. Others, like the monastics,
detached themselves from harmful worldly concerns and of their own free will
mortified all their carnal desires, spending their lives in voluntary poverty,
and thus they became well-pleasing to God. Others endured hardships in other
ways for the love of Christ and attained to eternal rest after selflessly
walking their own narrow way during their lives. And so you too, my dear little
brother, as you look into yourself and on the world, must choose a way of life
that is suitable for youbut be sure to follow your inner inclination and the
yearning of your spirit. With faith follow after Christ Who is calling you, if
so be that you have heard His voice in your conscience and in your heart,
taking with you that "lamp unto your feet" (Psalm 118:105), the law of God.
brother, do not fear to be deprived of worldly honor and pleasurable comfort.
If you desire to be honored by God and refreshed with eternal, blessed, and
all-sweetest rest, you must come to love humility and endurance of hardships
for the sake of Christ, Who humbled Himself and endured a shameful death for
you. Bow your neck under His yoke, "for it is good to bear the yoke of the Lord
from one's youth" (cf. Lamentations 3:27).
The Son of
God has said, "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me;
and where I am, there shall also My servant be" (John 12:2 6). And so we look, and where is He found after His
incarnation? First He is set at nought by the proud
world, reviled, spat upon, smitten and nailed to the Cross. But where is He
afterwardswhere is He now? In the glory of His Father, in
the festival of the eternal Kingdom. And so notice, dear little brother,
that one who wishes to be where the most glorious and ineffable Kingdom of Christ is, can only reach it through
sufferings, both voluntary and involuntary. "For thus ought Christ to have
suffered, and to enter into His glory" (cf. Luke 24:26, 46). The same awaits us, too. "My son, if thou comest to serve the Lord thy God, prepare thy soul for
temptation" (cf. Sirach 2:1), and so on. Yet just as one should not be deceived upon
seeing the ready comfort of this world and its sweetness, so also one should
not fear straitness and affliction for the sake of
Christ's cornmandments, since the affliction is
brief, but the rest, joy and glory afterwards are eternal. And why not apprehend the future
unspeakable, eternal bliss by enduring want and toil here, when it is clear
that even if someone here should "gain the whole world, and lose his own soul"
(Matthew 16:26), estranging it from that eternal blessedness with Christ, then
what good does it do him? Today he reigns and is exalted by everyone, but
tomorrow he hears the verdict, "Take the unprofitable servant, bind him hand
and foot, and cast him into the gehenna
of fire" (cf. Matthew 25:30, 22:13).
brother, as you behold the inexpediency of life in the world and how
incompatible it is with your good conscience, do not hesitate to lay aside
every care, and commit yourself to the will of God. Resolve to take up whatever
high-principled way of life His providence indicates for you. When I did
not receive an answer from you I was wondering whether you had received my
letter, but now I am glad that you did receive it without its being delayed. I
thank you with all my heart
both for your letter and for the moneybe sure to let
me know where you decide to go, and when. I receive your letters faithfully
through Father Hierodeacon Smaragd. Of all the
elders I am closest to him; so write without any misgivings. It is difficult
for me to pick up letters personallythe town is more than twenty-five miles
letter is getting long, I still want to add something about myself in answer to
your question about how I am doing. Thanks be to God,
I am in good health, and as for my life, the best way I can think of to
describe it is as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem,
for a human life is precisely a journey. And that journey is to the Jerusalem
on high. "For here have no abiding city, but we seek one to come" (Hebrews 13:14).
Now imagine a journeywhat is
it like? It is not monotonous, but varied. One meets up with mountains and
forests, hunger and cold, bad weather and storms, afflictions and illnesses,
tempests at sea and attacks of robbers, hardship and fear. I will not enumerate
the pleasant things which are also encountered even amid all the obstacles;
above all, the hope of reaching the longed-for city is an especial consolation.
brother, what a journey is like. It is that way not only in the physical, but
also in the spiritual life. Beginning in spring I took care of the garden,
digging, sowing and planting. In summer I built myself a new solitary little
cell; now I am also planting around it. During the coming winter, if the Lord
grants me the energy and health, I hope to take a rest from all this, or rather
to undertake some more spiritual labors. I can honestly state, though, that I
do not regret my present way of life or desire life in the world. I cannot
thank the Lord God enough for His great mercy to me in leading me forth from
the bondage of Egypt and making me to dwell in this hermitage, where I wish you
well and remain your devoted brother,
Sinful T., monk
I bow most deeply before all of you.
From Appendix v of The Elder Moses of Optina, pp. 303-313.
Translated from the Russian by the Holy Nativity Convent, Boston, MA (1996).
Widely available from Orthodox