Saturday, September 17, 2016


Saint Silouan the Athonite.

   In my childhood I used to like thinking of how the Lord ascended into heaven on the clouds, and how the Mother of God and the holy Apostles witnessed His Ascension. But when I lost God's grace (as a young man), my soul fell into wild ways and became captive to sin, and then I seldom thought about the Lord's Ascension. Later, however, I came to perceive my sins and sorrowed exceedingly for having grieved the Lord. I had lost my path to God and His Mother, sin was odious to me and I decided to enter a monastery, and I set my soul to implore God and obtain of the Merciful Lord forgiveness for my sins.
   I entered the monastery at the end of my military service, and shortly afterwards I was tempted to return to the world and marry; but I told my soul firmly, 'I am going to stay and die here for my sins'. And I began to pray fervently to the Lord to forgive me the multitude of my transgressions.
   At one time the spirit of despair laid hold of me - it seemed to me that God had finally rejected me, and there was no salvation for me, that, on the contrary, my soul bore evidence of everlasting damnation. And I felt in my soul that God was merciless and deaf to entreaty. This lasted an hour or a little over. A humour of this kind is so oppressive, so harrowing, that even to recall it terrifies. The soul cannot bear it for long. In moments such as these, man may well be lost for all eternity. Such was the battle which the Merciful Lord allowed the spirit of evil to wage with my soul.
   A short time elapsed, I went into church, to Vespers, and looking at the icon of the Saviour, I cried:
   'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me, a sinner.' .
   And as I uttered these words I saw the living Lord in the place where the icon was, and the grace of the Holy Spirit flooded my soul and my whole body. And so it was I came to know through the Holy Spirit that Jesus Christ is God; and I was filled with a sweet longing to endure suffering for His sake.
   Since that day when I came to know the Lord, my soul is drawn to Him, and the earth holds no delight for me. God is my only gladness. He is my joy and my strength, my wisdom and my treasure.
   O God, enlighten us by Thy Holy Spirit, that we may all apprehend Thy love.
   In the good thief and the prodigal son the Lord showed us how lovingly He comes to meet the repenting sinner. We read how "when he was yet a great way off, his father saw him, and had compassion, and ran, and fell on his neck, and kissed him", and he in no wise rebuked him but ordered the fatted calf to be killed and that all should be merry. Such is God's mercy and love. But to the sinful man the Lord seems pitiless, because there is no grace in his soul.
   The Lord gave the soul of man a sufficiency of knowledge of Himself, and the soul came to love her Creator, and was exceeding glad. 'Merciful is our Lord.' And her thought goes no further.
   The soul is content in the Master. He gives her rest, and the earth is forgotten in God - he who abides in God is not mindful of the earth. The soul is enamoured of the One Lord only, and in nought finds rest save in her Creator, but ever and anon sheds scalding tears - 'Wherefore have I grieved so Merciful a God?'.
   The Lord called the sinful soul to repentance, and she turned to the Lord, and He met her, with mercy, and revealed Himself to her.
   And the soul of man knew God - God merciful, loving­ kind, most fair - and loved Him utterly, and from the abun­dance of love's ardour she reaches out toward Him, insatiable, and cannot forget Him, for the ardour of this love toward God will not let the soul forget Him neither by day nor by night, not for a single instant.
   And should the waters of grace recede in the soul - to what shall I liken her grief? O how she entreats God to return the grace whereof she had tasted!.
   To me it is a wondrous thing that the Lord did not overlook me, His fallen creature. There are some who despair, think­ing that the Lord will not forgive them their sins. Such thoughts are from the enemy. The Lord is so exceeding merciful that it passes our understanding. The man whose soul is filled with the love of God in the Holy Spirit knows how the Lord loveth mankind. But when the soul loses this love, she grieves and laments, and the mind has no wish to dwell on any other thing, but only seeks God.
   A certain deacon once told me that Satan had appeared to him and said, 'I like proud men, and they belong to me. Thou art proud, and I shall take thee to myself.' But he answered Satan and said: 'I am the worst of men;' and Satan straightway vanished.
   I, too, had a like experience when devils appeared to me. I was somewhat frightened but I said: 'Lord, Thou seest that devils prevent me from praying. Tell me what I must do that the devils go from me.'
   And the Lord said in my soul: 'Souls that are puffed up always suffer from devils.' And I said:
   'Lord, show me what I must think on that my soul may be humbled.' And in my soul came the answer:
   'Keep thy mind in hell, and despair not.'
   Thenceforth I began to do this, and my soul found rest in God.
   My soul doth learn humility of the Lord. The Lord revealed Himself to me in a manner which passes understanding, and delighted my soul with love; but afterwards He hid Himself, and now my soul stretcheth out with longing toward Him day and night. He, the Good and Merciful Shepherd, sought me out, His sheep already wounded by the wolves, and He drove them off.
   My soul knows the mercy of the Lord towards sinful man, and very truth do I write before the face of God when I tell you that all we sinners shall be saved, and not a single soul perish provided we repent, for the nature of the Lord is goodness that no words can describe.
   In my own life there has been both good and evil, and in the course of my sixty years I have come to recognise how great is the force of habit. Both soul and mind can acquire habits, and a man will act according to the habits he has formed. If he makes sin a habit, he will constantly be drawn towards sin, and in this, devils will further him; but if he acquires good habits, God will help him by His grace.
   If, then, you make it your custom to pray continually, to love your neighbour and to weep in prayer for the whole world, you will find your soul drawn to prayer, to tears and love. And if you make a habit of giving alms, of being obedient and frank in confession to your spiritual father, you will continue thus always, and therein find rest in God. 
   The soul that enjoys criticising people, or being disobedient or unrestrained, or has abandoned repentance, cannot escape the snares of the devil, cannot free herself from bad thoughts; but if she will weep over her sins, and love her fellows, the Lord will give her tears for the whole world.
   O Lord, give me tears, that my soul may weep for the love of my brother day and night.
   Father Lazarus, who had been a captain in the army, used to tell the story of how a certain peasant went to fetch wood for the furnace. Exhausted by his labours, he lay down to rest under a giant oak-tree, and looking up at the branches of the oak and seeing the masses of fat acorns growing on them, thought to himself: "It would have been better had pumpkins grown on the oak-tree". With this thought he shut his eyes, and suddenly an acorn fell and hit him hard on the lip. Whereupon the peasant said: "I was wrong: God is cleverer than I am, and did well to make acorns and not pumpkins grow on oak-trees. If that had been a pumpkin, it could have killed me with its weight".
   We all of us criticise God's work like this, instead of trusting Him. The man who has committed himself to His Holy Will is at peace, whereas the one who strives to appre­hend everything with his mind is unskilled in the spiritual life. One must submit to God's will in order to find out what God's will is, and the Lord by His grace will then give understanding, and life will be easy. And though such a man be ill, or impoverished, there will be joy in his soul, because both his soul and his understanding are sound, and with his mind he sees the Lord, and in lowliness of spirit loves Him, and from his love forgets the world; but should he think of the world, the love of God will constrain him to pray for the world, even unto tears.
   So agreeable is the way of the Lord for our spirit.

Edmonds R. (1991), Saint Silouan the Athonite by Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), Stavropegic Monastery of Saint John the Baptist, Essex, U.K.