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On the Will of God

by Staretz Silouan of Mt. Athos

It is a great good to give oneself up to th will of God. Then the Lord alone is in the soul. No other thought can enter in, and the soul feels God's love, even though the body be suffering.

When the soul is entirely given over to the will of God, the Lord Himself takes her in hand and the soul learns directly from God. Whereas, before, she turned to teachers and to the Scriptures for instruction. But it rarely happens that the soul's teacher is the Lord Himself through the grace of the Holy Spirit, and few there are that know of this, save only those who live according to God's will.

The proud man does not want to live according to God's will: he likes to be his own master and does not see that man has not wisdom enough to guide himself without God. And I, when I lived in the world, knew not the Lord and His Holy Spirit, nor how the Lord loves us—I relied on my own understanding; but when by the Holy Spirit I came to know our Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, my soul submitted to God, and now I accept every affliction that befalls me, and say: "The Lord looks down on me. What is there to fear?" But before, I could not live in this manner.

Life is much easier for the man who is given over to the will of God, since in illness, in poverty, in persecution he reflects thus: "Such is God's pleasure, and I must endure on account of my sins."

Thus for many years have I suffered violent headaches, which are hard to bear but salutary because the soul is humbled through sickness. My soul longs to pray and keep vigil, but sickness hinders me because of my body's demand for rest and quiet; and I besought the Lord to heal me, and the Lord hearkened not unto me. So, therefore, it would not have been salutary for me to have been cured.*

Here is another case which happened to me, wherein the Lord made haste to hearken unto me and save me. We were given fish one feast—day in the refectory, and, while I was eating, a fish—bone found its way deep down my throat and stuck in my chest. I called to the holy martyr St. Panteleimon, begging him to help me, as the doctor could not extract the bone. And when I spoke the word 'heal,' my soul received this answer: 'Leave the refectory, take a deep breath, fill out your cheeks with air, and then cough; and you will bring the bone up together with some blood.' This I did. I went out, exhaled, coughed, and a big bone came up with some blood. And I understood that if the Lord does not cure me of my headaches it is because they are good for my soul.

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The most precious thing in the world is to know God and understand His will, even if only in part.

The soul that has come to know God should in all things submit to His will, and live before Him in awe and love: in love, because the Lord is love; in awe, because we must go in fear of grieving God by some evil thought.

O Lord, by the power of the grace of the Holy Spirit, vouchsafe that we may live according to Thy holy will.

When grace is with us we are strong in spirit; but when we lose grace we see our infirmity—we see that without God we cannot even think a good thing.

O God of Mercy, Thou knowest our infirmity. I beseech Thee, grant me a humble spirit, for in Thy mercy Thou dost enable the humble soul to live according to Thy will. Thou dost reveal Thy mysteries to her. Thou givest her to know Thee and the infirmity of Thy love for us.

How are you to know if you are living according to the will of God?

Here is a sign: if you are distressed over anything it means that you have not fully surrendered to God's will, although it may seem to you that you live according to His will.

He who lives according to God's will has no cares. If he has need of something, he offers himself and the thing he wants to God, and if he does not receive it, he remains as tranquil as if he had got what he wanted.

The soul that is given over to the will of God fears nothing, neither thunder nor thieves nor any other thing. Whatever may come, 'Such is God's pleasure,' she says. If she falls sick she thinks, 'This means that I need sickness, or God would not have sent it.'

And in this wise is peace preserved in soul and body."**

The man who takes thought for his own welfare is unable to give himself up to God's will, that his soul may have peace in God. But the humble soul is devoted to God's will, and lives before Him in awe and love; in awe, lest she grieve God in any way; in love, because the soul has come to know how the Lord loves us.

The best thing of all is to surrender to God's will and bear affliction having confidence in God. The Lord, seeing our affliction, will never give us too much to bear. If we seem to ourselves to be greatly afflicted, it means that we have not surrendered to the will of God.

The soul that is in all things devoted to the will of God rests quiet in Him, for she knows of experience and from the Holy Scriptures that the Lord loves us much and watches over our souls, quickening all things by His grace in peace and love.

Nothing troubles the man who is given over to the will of God, be it illness, poverty or persecution. He knows that the Lord in His mercy is solicitous for us. The Holy Spirit, whom the soul knows, is witness therefore. But the proud and the self-willed do not want to surrender to God's will because they like their own way, and that is harmful for the soul.

Abba Pimen said: 'Our own will is like a wall of brass between us and God, preventing us from coming near to Him or contemplating His mercy.'

We must always pray the Lord for peace of soul that we may the more easily fulfil the Lord's commandments; for the Lord loves those who strive to do His will, and thus they attain profound peace in God.

He who does the Lord's will is content with all things, though he be poor or sick and suffering, because the grace of God gladdens his heart. But the man who is discontent with his lot and murmurs against his fate, or against those who cause him offence, should realize that his spirit is in a state of pride, which has taken from him his sense of gratitude towards God.

But if it be so with you, do not lose heart but try to trust firmly in the Lord and ask Him for a humble spirit; and, when the lowly spirit of God comes to you, you will then love Him and be at rest in spite of all tribulations.

The soul that has acquired humility is always mindful of God, and thinks to herself: 'God has created me. He suffered for me. He forgives me my sins and comforts me. He feeds me and cares for me. Why then should I take thought for myself, and what is there to fear, even if death threaten me?'

The Lord enlightens every soul that has surrendered to the will of God, for He said: Call upon me in the day of trouble: I will deliver thee, and thou shalt glorify me.

A soul that is troubled about anything should inquire of the Lord and the Lord will give understanding, but this primarily in times of calamity and bewilderment. As a general rule we should be advised by our spiritual father, for this is a humbler way.

It is good to learn to live according to the will of God. The soul then dwells unceasingly in God, and is serene and tranquil; and from the fulness of joy man prays that every soul may know the Lord, know His great love for us and how richly He gives us of the Holy Spirit, who rejoices the soul in God.

And all things are then dear to the soul, for all things are of God.

The Lord in His mercy gives man to understand that he must suffer affliction with a grateful heart. My whole life long I never once rebelled against affliction but accepted all things as physic from the hand of God, and I ever offered up thanks to God, wherefore the Lord enabled me to bear all affliction lightly.

No one on this earth can avoid affliction; and although the afflictions which the Lord sends are not great, men imagine them beyond their strength and are crushed by them. This is because they will not humble their souls and commit themselves to the will of God. But the Lord Himself guides with His grace those who are given over to God's will, and they bear all things with fortitude for the sake of God Whom they have so loved and with Whom they are glorified for ever.

It is impossible to escape tribulation in this world but the man who is given over to the will of God bears tribulation easily, seeing it but putting his trust in the Lord, and so his tribulations pass.

When the Mother of God stood at the foot of the Cross, the depth of her grief was inconceivable, for she loved her Son more than any one can realize. And we know that the greater the love the greater the suffering. By the laws of human nature, the Mother of God could not possibly have borne her affliction; but she had submitted herself to the will of God, and the Holy Spirit sustained her and gave her the strength to bear this affliction.

And later, after the Ascension of the Lord, she became a great comfort to all God's people in their distress.

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The Lord gave us the Holy Spirit, and the man in whom the Holy Spirit lives feels that he has paradise within him.

Perhaps you will say, 'Why is it I have not grace like that?' It is because you have not surrendered yourself to the will of God but live in your own way.

Look at the man who likes to have his own way. His soul is never at peace and he is always discontented: this is not right and that is not as it should be. But the man who is entirely given over to the will of God can pray with a pure mind, his soul loves the Lord, and he finds everything pleasant and agreeable.

Thus did the Most Holy Virgin submit herself to God: 'Behold, the handmaid of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word.' And were we to say likewise—'Behold the servant of the Lord; be it unto me according to Thy word'—then the Lord's words written in the Gospels by the Holy Spirit would live in our souls, and the whole world would be filled with the love of God, and how beautiful would life be on earth! And although the words of God have been heard the length and breadth of the universe for so many centuries, people do not understand and will not accept them. But the man who lives according to the will of God will be glorified in heaven and on earth.

The man who is given over to the will of God is occupied only with God. The grace of God helps him to continue in prayer. Though he may be working or talking, his soul is absorbed in God because he has given himself over to God's will, wherefore the Lord has him in His care.

There is a legend that a robber met the Holy Family when they were journeying into Egypt, but did them no harm; and when he saw the Child he said that were God to become flesh He would not be more beautiful than this Child. And he left them to go in peace.

What an astonishing thing that a robber, who like a savage beast spares no one, should neither annoy nor hurt the Holy Family! At the sight of the Child and His lowly Mother the robber's heart softened and was touched by the grace of God.

Thus it was with the wild beasts who grew gentle when they saw martyrs and holy men, and did them no harm. And even devils fear the meek and humble soul who vanquishes them by obedience, soberness and prayer.

Another thing to marvel at: the robber had pity on the Infant Lord, but the high priests and elders delivered Him to Pilate to be crucified. And this was because they did not pray and seek enlightenment of the Lord as to what they should do, and how.

So it often happens that leaders and their people desire good but are ignorant where it is to be found. They do not know that it is in God, and comes from God.

We must always pray to the Lord to tell us what to do, and the Lord will not let us go astray.

Adam was not wise enough to ask the Lord about the fruit which Eve gave him, and so he lost paradise.

David did not ask the Lord whether it would be a good thing if he took Bathsheba to wife, and so he fell into the sins of murder and adultery.

So with all the saints who sinned: they sinned because they had not called upon God to enlighten and help them. St Seraphim of Sarov said, 'When I spoke of myself I was often in error.'

But there are also sinless mistakes of imperfection: we can observe such even in the Mother of God. St Luke tells us that when she and Joseph were returning from Jerusalem she did not know where her Son was, supposing Him to be journeying with their kinsfolk and acquaintances, and it was only after they had searched three days that they found Him in the Temple at Jerusalem, conversing with the elders.

Thus the Lord alone is omniscient, and each one of us, whoever he may be, must pray to God for understanding, and consult his spiritual father, that we may avoid mistakes.

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The Holy Spirit sets us all on different paths: one man lives a life of silent solitude in the desert; another prays for mankind; still another is called to minister to Christ's flock; to a fourth it is given to comfort or preach to the suffering; while yet another serves his neighbour by his goods or by the fruits of his labour—and all these are gifts of the Holy Spirit given in varying degrees: to one man thirtyfold, to another sixty and to some an hundred.

If we loved one another in simplicity of heart the Lord through the Holy Spirit would show us many miracles and reveal great mysteries.

God is love insatiable.

My mind is arrested in God, and I leave writing....

How clear it is to me that the Lord steers us. Without Him we cannot even think a good thing. Therefore we must humbly surrender ourselves to the will of God, that the Lord may guide us.

Endnotes (Added by the Webmaster)

* In his book My Life in Christ St. John of Kronstadt wrote:

It is never so difficult to say from the heart, "Thy Will be done, Father," as when we are in sore affliction or grievous sickness, and especially when we are subjected to the injustice of men, or the assaults and wiles of the enemy. It is also difficult to say from the heart "Thy Will be done" when we ourselves were the cause of some misfortune, for then we think that it is not God's Will, but our own will, that has placed us in such a position, although nothing can happen without the Will of God. In general, it is difficult to sincerely believe that it is the Will of God that we should suffer, when the heart knows both by faith and experience that God is our blessedness; and therefore it is difficult to say in misfortune, "Thy Will be done." We think, "Is it possible that this is the Will of God? Why does God torment us? Why are others quiet and happy? What have we done? Will there be an end to our torments?" And so on. But when it is difficult for our corrupt nature to acknowledge the Will of God over us, that Will of God without which nothing happens, and to humbly submit to it, then is the very time for us to humbly submit to this Will, and to offer to the Lord our most precious sacrifice—that is, heartfelt devotion to Him, not only in the time of ease and happiness, but also in suffering and misfortune; it is then that we must submit our vain erring wisdom to the perfect Wisdom of God, for our thoughts are as far from the thoughts of God "as the heavens are higher than the earth...

"Thy will be done." For instance, when you wish and by every means endeavour to be well and healthy, and yet remain ill, then say : "Thy will be done." When you undertake something and your undertaking does not succeed, say: "Thy will be done." When you do good to others, and they repay you by evil, say: "Thy will be done." Or when you would like to sleep and are overtaken by sleeplessness, say: "Thy will be done." In general, do not become irritated when anything is not done in accordance with your will, but learn to submit in everything to the Will of the Heavenly Father. You would like not to experience any temptations, and yet the enemy daily harasses you by them; provokes and annoys you by every means. Do not become irritated and angered, but say: "Thy will be done." (pp. 136-7, 540)

** Cf. Phil. 4:6-7 (KJV): "Be careful for nothing; but in every thing by prayer and supplication with thanksgiving let your requests be made known unto God. And the peace of God, which passeth all understanding, shall keep your hearts and minds through Christ Jesus."

An excerpt from "On the Will of God and on Freedom", a chapter from The Wisdom of Mount Athos, published by St. Vladimir's Seminary Press. They have also published its companion volume, The Monk of Mount Athos, by Archimandrite Sophrony.