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How Should We Conduct Ourselves in the Morning?

Chapter 1 from How to Live a Holy Life

by Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg (1784-1860)

In the morning, conduct yourself in the following manner:

1. Upon awakening, try first of all to direct your thoughts to the Lord God. Directing our thoughts to the Lord God should be our most natural activity at every other time of the day as well, because there is absolutely no one who could be so necessary for us, so dear and precious for us as God. For absolutely everything that we have now and that we have ever had, including even our very being—absolutely everything is a gift of God. The person who is the most needed, the most precious, the dearest of all for us is the one who usually first comes to our minds in the morning. As soon as we wake up in the morning, the thought of whoever or whatever is the most needed and dear to us wakes up as well. This always happens in the natural course of things. Therefore, it is always natural for our thoughts to turn first of all to the Lord God with some heartfelt appeal, such as “Glory to Thee, O Lord! Glory to Thee, O All-Merciful One!” We would be unworthy of the name of Christian if, waking from sleep, we were to open only our physical eyes, and not our spiritual ones, and were to think first of the earth and of earthly things, and not of the Lord God.

2. If the time at which you woke is the time at which or near which you should get up, then without any delay say, “In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit,” while making the sign of the cross. And then, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”

3. Right after this, or at the same time, get out of bed. Getting out of bed quickly is often very unpleasant for our flesh, because our flesh, like a lazy servant, always likes to lie and sleep or to luxuriate and remain idle. Every single morning act against the base desires of your flesh. Let this opposition to the flesh be your first sacrifice to the Lord God. Among other reasons, quickly getting up in the morning is very beneficial for the soul because (as all those who fervently strive for salvation have long observed) when we lie in bed for a long time after waking, impure tendencies very easily arise in our bodies, and impure thoughts and desires in our souls. Later in the day these easily cause the careless to fall into serious sins and into great danger of losing their salvation. But whoever bravely opposes the wishes of his flesh in the morning will resist temptations besetting him during the day and evening, even very serious ones. But if you have been watching after yourself to any degree, you already know this.

4. Having risen from bed, wash immediately, and having washed, dress immediately in a way that befits a respectable person. It is necessary to get dressed immediately like this in the morning, although there may be no one with us, because:

First, we never are completely alone; always and everywhere our Guardian Angel and the Lord God are with us. Our Guardian Angel, if we ourselves do not drive him away from us, is always with us, and the Lord God unquestionably is always with us by His very essence, because He is an omnipresent God. For in him we live, and move, and have our being, says the holy apostle (Acts 17:28).

Second, after having woken and washed, we should immediately stand before the Lord God with our morning prayers. And we would never dare to appear before even any of our lower-ranking earthly bosses without having dressed properly.

And finally, if you have dressed decently immediately after sleep, you will guard yourself from two dangers to which unfortunately very many people are subjected in our times, namely: from the danger of causing temptation for others and from the danger of becoming infected with the spirit of shamelessness. My friend, what can we expect in midday and evening from one who is shameless even in the morning?

5. After having washed and dressed, stand before the holy icons and say those morning prayers as specified and in the order specified by the Holy Church, the interpreter and guardian of the path to salvation. So that you may pray unimpeded, especially if you do not know how to read, learn by heart at least the beginning morning prayers. Is this difficult? And how could you not know by heart even the Lord’s Prayer, that is, the prayer “Our Father, Who art in the heavens.” Learn it! Th is is the most important prayer and most salvific for all occasions.

6. Because of our long familiarity with them, prayers learned by heart or read from a book are sometimes said without due attention to their contents, and we therefore are actually not praying, but just dreaming that we are praying. For this reason we may pray at times using words other than those of the prayers that are prepared and designated by the Holy Church. But when you pray this way, always carefully observe the following:

a.) Thank the Lord God that He preserved your life during the past night and is again giving you time for repentance and amendment of your life, for each new day is for us a new and not in the least bit deserved favor from God, because no new day automatically follows after night. Very many people, having quietly gone to sleep in the evening, have awakened not in this life, but in another one: eternity. Is it really that difficult for a person to lose his life? Sometimes even a mild fright can cause us to die. Not one night passes without many people dying during it. What preeminence do we have over those who have died in the past night? Could we not also die? Yes, we could, very easily. But who has preserved us from death, if not the All-good and All-merciful God, Who continuously awaits our repentance and amendment of our lives? He preserved us and has granted us a new day, that we might save our souls. So, can we not give thanks to the Lord God? Each morning thank Him with all your soul, like this, for example: “My Lord God and King! I thank Thee that during the the past night Thou hast preserved my life and that Thou hast again granted me time for repentance and amendment of my life. Many, many people have been deprived of their earthly lives in the past night. The day that is beginning is not an inevitable day in my life. It is beginning only because Thou art giving it to me because of Thine unspeakable mercy. I could easily have died in the past night. But Thou, O All-good One, hast saved me and hast given me a new day, that I might save my soul. I thank Thee with all my heart, O All-merciful One.”

b.) Thank God for the other benefactions that you have received from Him. Thank Him that He created you, preserves you, redeemed you, brought you to the true faith, and in the true faith has provided you and continues to provide you with all means for salvation. All these benefactions are exceedingly great and deserving of unceasing and profound gratitude. Would you have felt the joy of life if the Lord God had not created you? Would you be alive now, if He had not preserved your life? What would happen to us if He had not redeemed us? How miserable we would be if He had not brought us into the true faith and in this way provided us with all the means for salvation! Even now, having the true faith and all the means for salvation, we are very miserable. How miserable, then, we would be without the true faith. Thank the Lord God incessantly and with all your soul, like this for example: “Lord God, My Father and King, I thank You that You have created me, have preserved me, have called me to the true faith, and in the true faith have provided and continue to provide me with all means for salvation. Would I feel the joy of life if You had not created me? Would I be alive now, if You had not preserved my life? What would have happened to me if You had not redeemed me? How miserable I would be if You had not brought me into the true faith and not provided me thus with all the means for salvation! I thank You with all my soul, All-Good and All-Merciful One.”

c.) Thank the Lord God that, having provided you with all the means for salvation, He also unceasingly disposes you to use those means, and in spite of your frequent recalcitrance, in spite of the frequent grief that you cause Him, in spite of all your stubbornness, He does not punish you by depriving you of His great gift—life, but continues to call you and by various means disposes you to salvation. Oh, how long our bodies and souls would already be burning in the eternal fire of hell if the Lord God had not been so very merciful and longsuffering towards us. Thank the Lord with all your soul.

d.) Thank the Lord God that during the past night He deigned to strengthen your bodily powers and granted you the possibility to engage again in necessary and useful secular affairs. How many people because of various infirmities cannot acquire their daily subsistance. How many because of various illnesses cannot make the most necessary movements and constantly serve as a burden to others and to themselves. Thank the Lord God from all your heart for strengthening your bodily powers.

e.) After this pray with all your soul that the Lord God may forgive your innumerable sins, whether they were done in deed, intention, desire, or even only in thought. Never omit this prayer: you are always very sinful in the sight of the Lord God. In this regard not a single person should deceive himself. For in many things we off end all, the holy apostle says in the Spirit of God (James 3:2). And if we say that we have no sin, we deceive ourselves, and the truth is not in us, another holy apostle says in the same Spirit (I John 1:8).

f.) Pray that the Lord God may give you a firm, unalterable will to belong always and completely to Him, our constant Benefactor, from this day forward. This means to always consider the fulfilment of His will as our most important priority and to constantly try to live in complete accord with His holy will and therefore to try most zealously and above all else to discern His holy will, which in relation to us is basically always the same: our holiness (I Thess. 4:3), and the salvation of our souls (I Thess. 5:9; 2 Thess. 2:13).

7. That you may be able to keep yourself from sin more surely in the course of the coming day, try while it is still morning to think over everything that may happen to you during the day.

Try to examine what you are going to do and with whom you will spend time. What occasions of sin might you encounter? When and where? What opportunities for good might you encounter? When and where? Might you not have certain temptations, for example from your vainglory, from your pride, from your anger, and so on? Having examined everything this way, try at once to think over thoroughly how you can most easily and surely pass the whole day without sin, how to deal irreproachably with such and such a person, how to make good use of whatever opportunities for good we may encounter, how to avoid whatever occasions and temptations to sin or, if there is no possibility of avoiding them, how to handle oneself without harm in these occasions and temptations. For example, if you see that you will have to spend time with and work on something with a hot-tempered person, then you should try in advance to think of how to conduct yourself in his presence so meekly and politely that you will in no way provoke his anger, but remain at peace with him. Without such a forearming of ourselves against sin it is impossible, or at least extremely difficult, to protect oneself from sin and to follow the Lord’s teaching without faltering. Whoever does not make a firm resolution and effort each morning to preserve himself from sin during the coming day never diligently keeps himself from sin and little by little may finally abandon not only diligence, but the very desire and even the thought of obligation to preserve himself from sin. If the wick of a lampada is not adjusted and oil poured into the lampada every day, the lampada cannot burn constantly and soon will go out. My friend, do not forget this forearming against sin, which is very necessary every morning. When you really try to preserve yourself from every sin and keep to a God-pleasing and holy life, then you will soon see for yourself the great need and salutary effects of this forearming.

8. So that you may even more easily and securely lead a holy life, pray to the Lord God that He may bless to grant you constant consciousness and zeal to avoid the occasions of sin, and especially of that sin to which you are most inclined by nature or habit. Because such a sin strongly induces each of us to satisfy its demand, and all of us who are still not fully devoted to God usually satisfy it so willingly that when we encounter obstacles to fulfilling it, we try with all our strength to eliminate those obstacles and to clear the way to satisfy that sin unhindered and, as much as possible, without delay. It is very difficult for a person to protect himself from such a sin, and our age-old enemy attacks us from nowhere so often, so insolently, and so confidently as from the direction of our favorite, habitual sin. Pray with all your soul.

9. Having thus examined and thought over everything necessary for protecting yourself from sin and anchoring yourself in a God-pleasing life, again pray in your heart to the Lord God that He may strengthen your will and your powers and not allow you to weaken, as you have so often weakened before. Without such a prayer expressed in these or other words, do not on any day engage in any matter for any reason, except perhaps a reason completely out of your control. How can we set about any matter without the blessing of God? Without God’s blessing all our labors are in vain. But God’s blessing, like every gift of God, is obtained only by prayer (James 1:17). True, the Lord God in His infinite goodness often gives success in their affairs also to people who do not pray or even are impious. Do not take mind of this. When this thought comes to mind, think immediately about the fearsome fate of the rich man mentioned in the Gospel, who loved to make merry sumptuously every day (Luke 16:19-32). In his life he had success in everything, never felt the slightest need, and had all the means for satisfying his sensual passions and always satisfied them fully. But this way of life, after his death, plunged him into the torments of hell. And when he, being horribly tormented in the fl ames, wretchedly implored Abraham for relief of his torments, he was refused, and the refusal consisted of words that the fortunate of this world should all remember keenly every minute. The refusal was as follows: Son, remember that thou in thy lifetime receivedst thy good things ... but now ... thou art tormented (Luke 16:25).

10. One should pray like this especially in the morning, and one should make such a resolution and take such prudent measures in the morning. No other time is so appropriate for prayer and for all good undertakings as the morning, because at no other time is a person so capable of prayer, or of undertaking business, or of reflection as in the morning. In the morning, his thoughts are much less constricted, his heart is purer, and he can contain himself much more easily than at any another time. In the morning the necessities of life are not yet bothering us, the passions are still sleeping, and the very nature surrounding us disposes us to a serious and reflective state. With the passing of morning the passions awaken, everyday needs appear and stir up cares, a person begins work and toils like a slave who must always eat bread in the sweat of [his] face. My friend, spend the morning in prayer and in the holy guidance of your life. Put a high value on the morning of every day. Be wise, for the Spirit of God portrays the behavior of a wise man thus: He will give his heart to resort early to the Lord that made him, and will pray before the most High (Ecclesiasticus 39:5).

11. After praying thus, sit down and in reverence towards the Lord God unhurriedly and thoroughly consider how you should conduct yourself during the coming day in relation to the Lord God, to your neighbors, and to your particular position in the world. And if on some mornings something hinders you from engaging in such reflection, then in any case always do it every Sunday and holy day morning: on these days nothing can and should be a hindrance for you. Our flesh, injured by the ancestral sin, is in close touch with our age-old enemy, the devil, and together with him continually tries to erase our Christian duties from our memory and to revive in their place various rules of the world and, at the same time or even before, to revive various means of satisfying its passions. To our misfortune, they succeed very often and very easily. Do not listen to these pernicious teachers, and by all means possible try each morning to remind yourself of your spiritual obligations, as they are laid on you by the Lord God, and again make the firm resolution to fulfil them more exactly and diligently.

From How to Live a Holy Life, by Metropolitan Gregory of St. Petersburg (1784-1860), pp. 9-20. Published by the Printshop of St. Job of Pochaev, Holy Trinity Monastery, 2005. Excerpt posted with permission. Posted on 10 Mar, 2006 (n.s.).

Other chapter topics include: How Should We Conduct Ourselves in Relation to the Lord God? In relationship to other people? In Some of the Most Common Situations of Life?: Happiness, Misfortune, Wealth, Poverty, When People Praise Us, When People Speak Evil of Us, In Illness, etc. How to Protect Ourselves from the Harmful Effect of Bad Example. How Should We Conduct Ourselves in Our Daily Work? During Meals? During Rest After Lunch? In the Evening? Before Sleep? During Sleeplessness at Night? The Most Important Thing Concerning Prayer. How Should We Spend Sundays?