by St. Theophan the Recluse
One who sets out on the path of true life after Repentance and
Communion should instill peace within himself. Rules for
dispersing inner disturbance: unceasing remembrance of God, a
resolve to act according to one's conscience in every matter
great or small and patient expectation of success.
I would like to add a few more instructions for you on what you must do now as
you enter your new path.
Anyone who has undertaken a careful observation of what goes on inside himself
just during the course of a single day will acknowledge as very
obvious the fact that the spirit is fallen. I told you about this
a very long time ago. You will recall that we have this confusion
within us, that the confusion came about wrongfully, and must
therefore be stopped. You yourself also wrote that you could not
cope with the unrestrained inner motion. I will briefly review
the description of this condition.
The mind's thoughts are all directed toward the earth, and there is no way to
raise them to Heaven. Their object is vain, sensual, sinful. You
have seen how fog drifts along the valley. This is a precise
picture of our thoughts. They all crawl and drift along the
earth. In addition to this downward drifting, they constantly
seethe, not standing still in a single place; they jostle each
other, like a swarm of mosquitoes in the summer. In addition,
they are always in motion.
Beneath these there lies the heart. It is from the thoughts that blows
are continually struck in the heart and corresponding actions are
produced. Whatever the thought, there is a corresponding action
of the heart. From this is joy, anger, envy, fear, hope, pride,
despairthey arise in the heart one after the other . There
is no stopping them; just as with the thoughts, there is no order
whatsoever. The heart continually trembles from the emotions like
an aspen leaf.
It does not end
here. Thought with emotion always engenders desire that is
more or less powerful. Beneath the confused thoughts and emotions
are desires that are also randomly confused. One person is
acquisitive, another squanders everything; one is well-wishing,
another vengeful; one runs away from everyone, another goes out
into the middle of the crowd; a person obeys in one thing, but in
another he acts on his own; and so on and so forth. It is not
that all of these things take place like this, but
uncertaintiesfirst one thing, then anotherdo
continually swarm about in the soul. (Watch yourself, for
example, when you are sitting at work; you will see all of this
going on inside of yourself as if it were on a stage.)
Thus is our inner
disorder and confusion. From this also comes the disorder in our
lives, and the sort of gloom that lingers about us. Do not expect
an orderly life until you have destroyed this inner disorder. In
and of itself, it is the cause of much evil, but it is especially
bad because the demons settle themselves in it and whip up things
even more, directing everything for the worse and toward our
when you examined yourself and set out to remove one thing or
add another, then of course you could not help but turn the
attention toward your inner confusion and arm yourself with the
necessary zeal against it. Allow me once again to place stress on
the internal enemy.
You established a
firm intention to work for the Lord and belong to Him Alone from
this point on. The Mystery of Repentance gave you forgiveness in
everything, and you appeared pure before the face of God. Holy
Communion brought you into the closest communion, or renewed your
communion, with the Lord Jesus Christ, and filled you with every
beneficial power. Here you are then, prepared for the job.
If only it were
sufficient for the correction of our inner life to make a wish
and have everything appear in the best way, or to say a word and
have everything suddenly come true; then there would be no more
reason for you to go to such trouble. Everything would happen for
the best, and you would not have to desire it. However, such is
the law of moral, free-willed life, all the more in its damaged
essence, that there be steadfast perseverance. Beneficial help is
available, but you still have to exert yourself and struggle, and
struggle with yourself above all.
Our inner lives
never get put into the proper order all of a sudden. What is
always required and what lies ahead is intensified labor over
oneself, over one's inner self, by the assimilation of good
intention and by the enabling of grace through the Mysteries.
This labor and effort is directed toward destroying the disorder
that reigns inside, in its place it establishes order and
harmony, after which follows inner peace and a continual joyful
mood of the heart.
That is what lies
ahead of you now! Do not think, however, that for this you must
re-do everything, or bind yourself to a lot of rules. Absolutely
not. Two or three little rules, two or three precautions, is all
There is disorder
within; this you know from experience. You must destroy it; this
is what you want, and you have decided to do this. Begin by
directly removing the cause of all this disorder. The cause of
the disorder is that our spirit has lost its original foundation.
Its foundation is in God. The spirit gets back to it again
through remembrance of God. Thus, the first thing
is this: It is necessary to get in the habit of unceasing
remembrance of God, along with fear and reverence.**
I wrote you about
this last time, and you agreed to it. You know what method is
required for this. and you have already begun Lord give the
blessing! And allow the continuation of this labor unhindered. Be
with the Lord, no matter what you do; and turn to Him with your
whole mind, trying to conduct yourself as you would in front of a
king. You will soon get in the habit, just do not give up or break off. If you
carry out this little rule conscientiously, it will reduce inner
confusion and, although there will be disruptions, sometimes in
the form of idle and unnecessary thoughts, or at other times in
the form of emotions and inappropriate desires, you will
immediately notice this error and drive out these uninvited
guests, rushing each time to renew the oneness of mind concerning
the One Lord.
May you be
inspired! Set about this a little more enthusiastically, continue
without interruption, and you will soon attain what you are
seeking. Reverential attention in the one God will be
established, and inner peace will come with Him. I say that it
will be soon; however, this will take more than a day or two.
These things require maybe a few months. Sometimes it takes
years! Ask the Lord and He Himself will help you.
As an aid, add the
following rule to this: Do not do anything that your
conscience prohibits, and do not omit anything that it says
to do, whether great or small. The conscience is always our
moral guide. The cherished thoughts, emotions, and desires that
are within us give us over to improper whims; this is caused,
incidentally, by the fact that our conscience has lost its force.
Restore its force, and express full obedience to it. You have now
educated it by finding out all that you must and must not do.
Follow it undeviatingly, and with such perseverance that you
would not allow yourself to do anything against it even if you
were to die. The more decisively you act, then, the more powerful
your conscience will become. The more powerful your conscience
becomes, the more completely and forcefully it will inspire you
with what is necessary and steer you away from what is
unnecessary in words, deeds, and thoughts, and the more quickly
your inner being will be put in order. A conscience with
reverential remembrance of God is the wellspring of true
spiritual life. Recall how we talked about the spirit in the
beginning of our correspondence.
Nothing more is
required besides these two rules. Just supplement them with patience.
Success will not come suddenly; you must wait, toiling
persistently. You must toil and, most importantly, do not give in
to pleasing yourself or the world. There will be constant
opposition to what you have begun. You must overcome this;
therefore, you must exert more force and, consequently, be
patient. Clothe yourself in this all-powerful armor and never
allow your spirits to fall when you encounter misfortune.
Everything will come with time. Be encouraged in your patience through
this hope. That this is what happens is borne out by the
experiences of all people who have sought and accomplished
That, then, is
all! Remember God with reverence, obey your conscience, and arm
yourself with hope through patience. May the Lord bless you to be
so inclined and to be in this frame of mind.
this is a Slavonic term that is difficult to translate into
English. It basically means the ascetic struggles associated with
a period of fasting, especially at the start of Great Lent
** In a later
letter (Ch. 46) St. Theophan says the following: "May the
fear of death and of the judgment at death never leave you. From
morning, at the same time you are renewing the memory of the Lord
in your heart, take care to add to this the memory of these final
things. Then you will have this thought continually the
entire day, just as you have the thought of the Lord; and as you
are falling asleep, say, The grave is before me! Death awaits me!
You will see what safeguards these are."
This excerpt is from The Spiritual Life and How to Be
Attuned to It (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska
Brotherhood, 1996), Ch. 43, pp. 189-193. This is the best book on
the spiritual life I have ever read. If I could only have two
books, it would be this one and the Bible. I hope you will read
it. Available from St.
John of Kronstadt Press.