1.  “When on a clear autumn night I gaze at the dear sky, sown with numberless stars, so diverse in size yet shedding a single light, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the Fathers! When on a summer day I gaze at the vast sea, covered with a multitude of diverse vessels with their unfurled sails like white swans’ wings, vessels racing under a single wind to a single goal, to a single harbor, I say to myself: such are the writings of the Fathers! When I hear a harmonious, many-voiced choir, in which diverse voices in elegant harmony sing a single Divine song, then I say to myself: such are the writings of the Fathers!

2.  “the easiest way of practicing unceasing prayer is to pray the Jesus Prayer, a beginner should apply himself to the Jesus Prayer as often as possible. Do you happen to have a moment free? Do not waste it in idleness! Do not waste it by using it for some impracticable and fatuous castle-building, or for some vain and trivial employment! Use it for the practice of the Jesus Prayer.”

3.  Experience will teach everyone who practices prayer that the saying aloud of a few prayers of Jesus and all prayers in general is a great help in preventing the mind from being robbed by distraction. In the vent of a violent attack of the enemy, when a weakening of the will and darkening of the mind is felt, vocal prayer is indispensable. Attentive vocal prayer is at the same both mental and cordial.

4. ICON OF ALL SAINTS:  Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Mt. 32–33). The Lord said this to His disciples who stood before Him then; the All-Seeing Lord, Who sees the distant future as the present, said it to all of His disciples, without exception, of all times and countries; the Lord said it also to you who stand here, in His holy temple, who have numbered yourselves amongst His disciples through holy Baptism. As lightening that flashes from one edge of the skies to the other without losing any of its brilliance, so has the Lord’s sentence reached to us through eighteen centuries, proclaimed in the Gospels in all power and clarity. The Lord’s disciples are not only those who call themselves Christians in His name, not only those who took vows of service to Him—His disciples are those who truly confess Him as their Lord, confess Him as their fully empowered Master and eternal King, following His teachings as the teachings of the Lord, fulfilling His commandments as the commandment of the Lord. Their confession must be made with mind, heart, word, deed, and their entire lives. Shame, timidity, and wavering are not tolerated in this confession.

Confession requires decisive self-denial. It must be triumphant. It must be made as if in the open arena, before all mankind, before angels, saints, and fallen angels, before the gaze of earth and heaven. For we are made a spectacle unto the world, and to angels, and to men (1 Cor. 4:9), as the Apostle Paul says of himself and the rest of the Holy Apostles. The Apostles were not ashamed or afraid to confess the God-man Who was punished with a shameful execution, sentenced by judges ecclesiastical and civil; they were not ashamed or afraid to confess before ecclesiastical and civil judges, before the powerful and wise of the earth, before tyrants and torturers, faced with torments and execution, with violent death. The holy martyrs bore such confession to the Lord; they gave the entire space of the earth their blood to drink, proclaiming to the all the earth their holy testimony of the truth of the knowledge of God and worship of God. Monastic saints confessed the Lord with unseen martyrdom and constant self-denial throughout the course of their lives: they served as a point of union between earth and heaven, between angels and men, belonging to heaven during their time on the earth, entering into communion with angels and their hosts while yet in their earthly habitations. The pleasers of God who labored in the world confessed the Lord by their disdain and complete disregard for worldly principles, and to these people the Gospel words could be justly applied: These are in the world, yet they are not of the world (Jn. 17:11, 16). Confession of the Lord joined with resolute and total denial of the world and of themselves was the sign of all the saints.

Whoever confesses the Lord during his earthly sojourn as the Lord taught, whoever proves through his own life that he precisely confesses the Lord as his Lord and God—him will the Lord confess as His disciple; He will confess His true disciples not only before the whole universe, but before God the Father. God the Son’s confession of a person before God the Father leads that person into a most intimate unity with God (cf. Jn 14:20).

When a person confesses God in a way that is pleasing to Him and as prescribed by Him, it is a sign that God has chosen that person. The fruit of a good human will is inclusion amongst the ranks of the chosen.

Weak, ambiguous confession is not accepted, it is refused as something unneeded, as something unworthy of God. It is not enough to confess secretly within the soul; it is necessary to confess with the lips and by words. Confession with words is not enough—it is necessary to confess with deeds and by life. The Lord said, Whosoever therefore shall be ashamed of me and of my words in this adulterous and sinful generation; of him also shall the Son of man be ashamed, when he cometh in the glory of his Father with the holy angels (Mk. 8:38). He must not only confess the Lord, not only acknowledge His Divinity and sovereignty; he must confess His teaching, His commandments. His commandments are confessed by fulfilling them. Fulfilling them contrary to the generally accepted customs of human society is the confession of The Lord and His words before men. Human society is called sinful and adulterous because it has mostly inclined towards sinful life; it has betrayed and traded love of God for love of sin. The customs that reign in the world, having the weight of law higher than all laws, is contrary to, at enmity with, a life that is pleasing to God. A life that is pleasing to God is an object of hatred and mockery for the proud world. In order to escape the world’s hatred, persecution, and darts, a heart that is weak and unconfirmed in faith leans toward man-pleasing, betrays the Lord’s teachings, and excludes itself from the ranks of the chosen.

The Lord confirms His disciples in faithfulness to Him and His teachings; He confirms them with threatening words and sentences, timely pronounced. Whosoever therefore shall confess me before men, him will I confess also before my Father which is in heaven. But whosoever shall deny me before men, him will I also deny before my Father which is in heaven (Mt. 10:32-33).

Dependency upon human society is not as strong as dependency upon family. It is easier to refuse to submit to the demands of society than to refuse to submit to the demands of family. Family demands are aided by the laws of nature, and when these demands are in concord with the law of God, then that very law of God aids them. The servant of Christ often finds himself perplexed by conflicting demands, not knowing which of them should be met as pleasing to God. The Lord in His foresight resolves this perplexity to complete satisfaction. He completed the above words with the following: He that loveth father or mother more than me is not worthy of me: and he that loveth son or daughter more than me is not worthy of me (Mt. 10:37). “He who prefers the will of his parents or any other relatives according to the flesh over My will, he who prefers their way of thinking and philosophy over My teaching, he who prefers to please them rather than please Me, is not worthy of Me.”

Difficulties and hindrances to confession of Christ that work against a Christian from the outside are insignificant when compared with the difficulties and hindrances that are within us. Sin which lives in the mind, heart, and body directly opposes confession of Christ, confession by fulfilling His commandments; sin stubbornly opposes this fulfillment. The most natural goodness, when damaged by sin, makes confession difficult by endeavoring to introduce and mix the confession of fallen nature into it. The confession of Christ is ruined by this mixture; it ascribes an incomplete fallenness to fallen nature, and detracts from the significance of Christ—a significance which is all-perfect, and therefore cannot tolerate such impurity. It demands firm recognition of the corruption of fallen nature.[1]

It is possible to draw back from human society, or from relatives; but where do you go to get away from yourself? Where can you hide from your own nature? How do you escape it? In order to be freed from slavery to fallen nature, the Lord commands us to crucify our nature; that is, to deny its reason and will, to nail the mind’s activity and the heart’s attractions to the commandments of the Gospels. Thus, They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts (Gal. 5:24): they have crucified their carnal mind and their fallen nature’s will, upon which the soul’s and body’s sinful attractions, and sinful life, are founded and built. Thus was the world crucified to the Apostle and the Apostle to the world (cf. Gal. 6:14). The holy prophet David prayed to God to be granted the strength and ability to so crucify himself: Nail down my flesh with the fear of Thee (Ps. 118:120); that is, my carnal mind and my will, so that they would remain immobilized! Establish for Thy servant Thine oracle [word] unto fear of Thee (Ps. 118:38), so that I might be steadily guided in my seen and unseen activity by Thy word. He who mortifies his fallen nature with the sword of Christ’s teaching—whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, says the Lord, the same shall save it (Mk. 8:35; Mt. 10:39). On the contrary, whoever acts according to the reasoning and attractions of his fallen nature, mistakenly accepting them as good—He that findeth his life shall lose it. (Mt. 10:38–39).

The Holy Church, intending to explain most satisfactorily the fate of God’s chosen ones in both time and eternity, has determined that after hearing the terrible, impartial, and resolute sentence from the mouth of God, we should read today the Lord’s answer to the Apostle Peter’s question: Then answered Peter and said unto him, Behold, we have forsaken all, and followed thee; what shall we have therefore? (Mt. 19:27). The Lord promised great honor to the twelve Apostles. As the God-man is the only eternal King of Israel, that is, of all Christians, the spiritual Israel—which must consist of all nations of the earth and finally inhabit the promised land, heaven—it is natural that the God-man’s Apostles, through whom all the nations came to submit to Him, should be made the leaders and judges of this new Israel, this eternal, heavenly nation. Having informed the Apostles of their significance in the state of human eternity (cf. Mt. 19:28), the Lord adds, And every one that hath forsaken houses, or brethren, or sisters, or father, or mother, or wife, or children, or lands, (Mt. 19:29) for my sake, and the gospel’s … shall receive an hundredfold now in this time, houses, and brethren, and sisters, and mothers, and children, and lands, with persecutions; and in the world to come eternal life (Mk. 10:29–30; cf. Mt. 19:29). Persecution is what earthly life is called. It is persecution[2] because humans were cast down to the earth and subjected to a sojourn of suffering upon it for transgressing God’s commandments. It is a place and time of persecution for the followers of Christ, because the prince of this world reigns there, the reign of sin is most widespread there, sin being the enemy of Christ’s followers, cruelly persecuting and oppressing them without interruption. They are subjected to the many different torments of sin both within them and from the outside. The fallen spirits who thirst for their destruction, work against them with frenzied hatred and incredible craftiness; working against them also are the majority of people, who have willingly enslaved themselves to the fallen spirits, and who serve them as blind, unhappy instruments; working against them also are their own passions and weaknesses.

The followers of Christ receive even in this temporary exile a hundred fold more than what they have forsaken for Christ’s sake and for the sake of His commandments. They tangibly receive the grace of the All-Holy Spirit. Before Divine grace brings consolation, all the joys and consolations of the world are destroyed; before spiritual riches, before spiritual glory, all the riches and glory of the world are destroyed; in the eyes of the saints, sinful and fleshly pleasures are disgusting filth, filled with deathly bitterness; the state of the rich and glorious of the world is like a whited sepulcher that is shiny on the outside, but inside full of stink and decay—those qualities inseparable from every corpse. A soul corrupted by eternal death—alienation from Christ—can be justly called a corpse.

All earthly good things and advantages abandon a person and remain on the earth, when, according to the inescapable and inexorable law of death, he leaves the earth and settles irrevocably into eternity. Divine grace, however, follows a different rule: it accompanies to regions beyond the grave that person who acquired it here. As soon as he casts his body, like chains, away from himself, the grace that was hitherto bound by flesh extends itself broadly and magnificently. It serves as a pledge and testimony for the chosen one of God. When he appears before the judgment that awaits every human being after death, and presents his testimony and pledge, grace fittingly brings him spiritual, eternal, indescribable, and boundless riches, splendor, and delight in heaven as the logical outcome. In the world to come (Mk. 10:30) he shall inherit everlasting life (Mt. 19:29), said the Lord—life so superabundant and refined, that fleshly man, who bases his thoughts about the unknown upon his knowledge of the known, cannot construct any understanding of it. May we also be vouchsafed, for precise confession of the Lord, to inherit this life prepared for all of us by the unfathomable, boundless mercy of the Lord, Who has redeemed us through Himself. Amen.

5.  “He who does not experience the Kingdom of God within him will not be capable of recognizing the Antichrist when he comes.”

6.  “It is only necessary to seek one thing: to be with Jesus. The man who remains with Jesus is rich, even if he is poor with regard to material things. Who ever desires the earthly more than the heavenly loses both the earthly and the heavenly. But whoever seeks the heavenly is Lord of the whole world. “(Patericon)

7. . ON CARRYING YOUR CROSS                                                                                                                       HOMILY ON THE THIRD SUNDAY OF GREAT LENT     Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me (Mk. 8:34), said the Lord to his disciples, calling them unto Him, as we heard today in the Gospels.Dear brothers and sisters! We too are disciples of our Lord Jesus Christ, because we are Christians. We too are called unto the Lord, to this holy temple, to hear His teaching. We stand before the face of the Lord. His gaze is directed at us. Our souls are laid bare before Him; our secret thoughts and hidden feelings are open to Him. He sees all of our intentions; He sees the truth, and the sins we have committed from our youth; He sees our whole life, past and future; even what we have not yet done is already written in His book.[1] He knows the hour of our passing into immeasurable eternity, and gives us His all-holy commandment for our salvation: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me.

Through living faith, let us lift up the eyes of our mind to the Lord Who is present here with us! Let us open our hearts, rolling back the heavy stone of hardness from its entrance; let us hear, ponder, accept, and assimilate the teaching of our Lord.

What does it mean to deny ourselves? It means leaving our sinful life. Sin, through which our fall occurred, has so encompassed our nature that it has become as if natural; thus, denial of sin has become denial of nature, and denying nature is denying ourselves. The eternal death that has struck our souls has become like life for us. It demands food: sin; it demands to be pleased—with sin. By means of such food and pleasure, eternal death upholds and preserves its dominion over man. But fallen man accepts the growth of the dominion of death in himself as growth and success in life. Thus, he who is infected with a fatal disease is overcome by the forceful demands of this disease and looks for foods that would strengthen him. He seeks them as the most essential foods, as the most needed and pleasant delights. The Lord pronounced His sentence against this eternal death, which mankind, sick with terrible fallenness, imagines to be life: For whosoever will save his life, cultivating in it the life of fallenness or eternal death, shall lose it; but whosoever shall lose his life for my sake and the gospel’s, the same shall save it (Mk. 8:35). Placing before our eyes the whole world with all its beauty and charm, the Lord says, For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? What good is it for man, what has he really acquired if he should come to possess not only some minor thing, but even the entire visible world? This visible world is no more than man’s temporary guesthouse! There is no item on the earth, not a single acquirable good that we could call our own. Everything will be taken from us by merciless and inevitable death; and unforeseen circumstances and changes often take them away even before our death. Even our own bodies are cast aside at that sacred step into eternity. Our possession and treasure is our soul, and our soul alone. What shall a man give in exchange for his soul? (Mk. 8:37), sayeth the word of God. There is nothing that can recompense the loss of the soul when it is killed by eternal death, which deceitfully calls itself life.

What does it mean to take up our cross? The cross was an instrument of shameful execution of commoners and captives deprived of a citizen’s rights. The proud world, a world at enmity with Christ, deprives Christ’s disciples of the rights enjoyed by the sons of this world. If ye were of the world, the world would love his own: but because ye are not of the world, but I have chosen you out of the world, therefore the world hateth you. Whosoever killeth you will think that he doeth God service. And these things will they do unto you, because they have not known the Father, nor me (Jn. 15:19; 16:2–3). Taking up our cross means magnanimously enduring the mocking and derision that the world pours out upon followers of Christ—those sorrows and persecutions with which the sin-loving and blind world persecutes those who follow Christ. For this is thankworthy, says the Apostle Peter, if a man for conscience toward God endure grief, suffering wrongfully. For even hereunto were ye called (1 Pet. 2:19, 21). We were called by the Lord, Who said to his beloved ones, In the world ye shall have tribulation: but be of good cheer; I have overcome the world (Jn. 16:33).

Taking up our cross means courageously enduring difficult unseen labor, agony, and torment for the sake of the Gospels as we war with our own passions, with the sin that lives in us, with the spirits of evil who vehemently make war against us and franticly attack us when we resolve to cast off the yoke of sin, and submit ourselves to the yoke of Christ. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, says the holy Apostle Paul, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12). (For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strong holds;) Casting down imaginations, and every high thing that exalteth itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ (2 Cor. 10:4–5). After gaining victory in this unseen but laborious warfare, the Apostle exclaimed, But God forbid that I should glory, save in the cross of our Lord Jesus Christ, by whom the world is crucified unto me, and I unto the world (Gal. 6:14).

Taking up our cross means obediently and humbly submitting ourselves to those temporary sorrows and afflictions that Divine Providence sees fit to allow against us for the cleansing away of our sins. Then the cross will serve us as a ladder from earth to heaven. The thief in the Gospels who ascended this ladder ascended from out of terrible crimes into most radiant heavenly habitations. From his cross he pronounced words filled with humility of wisdom; in humility of wisdom he entered into the knowledge of God, and through the knowledge of God, he acquired heaven. We receive the due reward of our deeds, he said. Lord, remember me when thou comest into thy kingdom (Lk. 23:41–42). When sorrows encompass us, let us also, beloved brothers and sisters, repeat the words of the good thief—words that can purchase paradise! Or like Job, let us bless the Lord who punishes us, Who is just yet merciful. Shall we receive good at the hand of God, said this sufferer, and shall we not receive evil? As it hath pleased the Lord so is it done; blessed be the name of the Lord (Job 2:10; 1:21). May God’s promise, which is true, be fulfilled in us: Blessed is the man that endureth temptation: for when he is tried, he shall receive the crown of life, which the Lord hath promised to them that love him. (Js. 1:12).

Taking up our cross means willingly and eagerly submitting ourselves to deprivations and ascetic labors, by which the irrational strivings of our flesh are held in check. The Apostle Paul had recourse to such a crucifixion of his flesh. He says, But I keep under [in Slavonic: “deaden,” or “mortify”] my body, and bring it into subjection: lest that by any means, when I have preached to others, I myself should be a castaway (1 Cor. 9:27). They that are in the flesh, that is, those who do not restrain their flesh, but allow it to overcome the spirit, cannot please God (Rom. 8:8). Therefore, though we live in the flesh, we should not live for the flesh! For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die (Rom. 8:12) an eternal death; but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live (Rom. 8:13) an eternal, blessed life. The flesh is essentially restrained by the spirit; but the spirit can only take control of the flesh and rule it when it is prepared to submit to its crucifixion. The flesh is crucified by fasting, vigil, kneeling in prayer, and other bodily labors placed upon it wisely and within measure. A bodily labor that is wise and within measure frees the body from heaviness and corpulence, refines its strength, keeps it ever light and capable of activity. They that are Christ’s, says the Apostle, have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts(Gal. 5:24).

What does it mean to take up our cross, and take up specifically our own cross? It means that every Christian should patiently bear those very insults and persecutions from the world that come to him, and not any others. This means that every Christian should manfully and constantly war with those very passions and sinful thoughts that arise in him. It means that every Christian should with obedience and dedication to God’s will, with confession of God’s justice and mercy, with thankfulness to God, endure those very sorrows and deprivations that Divine Providence allows to come upon him, and not some other things painted and presented to him by his proud dreams. This means being satisfied with those bodily labors that correspond to our physical strength, the ones that our flesh require in order to keep it in order, and not to seek after increased fasting and vigil, or all other ascetic feats beyond our measure, which destroy our physical health and direct our spirit towards high self-opinion and self deceit, as St. John Climacus describes.[2] All mankind labors and suffers upon the earth, but these sufferings differ; the passions differ that war against us, the sorrows and temptations differ that God sends us for our healing, for the cleansing away of our sins. What differences there are in people’s physical strength, in their very health! Precisely: every person has his own cross. And each Christian is commanded to accept this cross of his ownwith self-denial, and to follow Christ. He who has denied himself and taken up his own cross has made peace with himself and with his own circumstances, with his own position both internal and external; and only he can reasonably and correctly follow Christ.

What does it mean to follow Christ? It means studying the Gospels, having the Gospels as the only guide of the activity of our mind, heart, and body. It means adapting our thoughts to the Gospels, tuning the feelings of our heart to the Gospels, and serving as an expression of the Gospels by all our deeds and movements, both secret and open. As we said before, only the person who has escaped deceit through voluntary humility (Col. 2:18), who has desired to obtain true humility of wisdom where it abides—in obedience and submission to God—is capable of following Christ. He who has entered into submission to God, into obedience combined with complete self-denial, has taken up his own cross, and accepted and confessed this cross to be his own.

Beloved brothers and sisters! Bowing down bodily to worship the precious Cross of the Lord today according to the rule of the Holy Church, we bow down also in spirit! We venerate the precious Cross of Christ—our weapon of victory and banner of Christ’s glory—each confessing from his own cross, “I have received the due reward of my deeds! Remember me, O Lord, when Thou comest into Thy Kingdom!” By recognizing our sinfulness with thankfulness to God and submission to His will, we make our cross—that instrument of execution and mark of dishonor—an instrument of victory and sign of glory, like unto the Cross of the Lord. Through the cross we open paradise to ourselves. Let us not allow ourselves any evil murmuring, and especially not any soul-destroying blasphemy, which is often heard from the lips of the blind and hardened sinner, who writhes and thrashes upon his cross, vainly endeavoring to escape from it. With murmuring and blasphemy the cross becomes unbearably heavy, dragging to hell the one crucified upon it. “What have I done?” cries the sinner in denial of his sinfulness, accusing the just and merciful God of injustice and mercilessness, blaming and rejecting God’s Providence. The one who saw the Son of God crucified, mockingly and evilly demanded of him, If thou be Christ, save thyself and us(Lk. 23:39),—let him now come down from the cross (Mt. 27:42). But our Lord Jesus Christ was pleased to ascend the Cross in the flesh and to endure death[3] in order by the cross to make peace between God and man, and to save mankind by death from eternal death. Having prepared the holy Apostles for this great event—the incarnate God-man’s sufferings and shameful death, potent to redeem the human race—the Lord informed the Apostles in good time that He must be given over into the hands of sinners, must suffer much, be killed, and resurrected. This forewarning seemed strange and unlikely to certain of the holy Apostles. Then the Lord called unto Him his disciples and said to them: Whosoever will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. Amen.

St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
Translated by Nun Cornelia (Rees)

17 / 03 / 2012

[1] St. Symeon the New Theologian, according to the book written in verse, homily 55.

[2]The Ladder of Divine Ascent, homily 26.

[3] Troparion to the Resurrection, tone 5.

8.  ON THE REMEMBRANCE OF DEATH                                                                                                     A monk should remember every day, and several times a day, that he is faced with inevitable death, and eventually he should even attain to the unceasing remembrance of death.

Our mind is so darkened by the fall that unless we force ourselves to remember death we can completely forget about it. When we forget about death, then we begin to live on earth as if we were immortal, and we sacrifice all our activity to the world without concerning ourselves in the least either about the fearful transition to eternity or about our fate in eternity. Then we boldly and peremptorily override the commandments of Christ; then we commit all the vilest sins; then we abandon not only unceasing prayer but even the prayers appointed for definite times—we begin to scorn this essential and indispensable occupation as if it were an activity of little importance and little needed. Forgetful of physical death, we die a spiritual death.

On the other hand, he who often remembers the death of the body rises from the dead in soul. [1] He lives on earth like a stranger in an inn or like a prisoner in gaol, constantly expecting to be called out for trial or execution. Before his eyes the gates into eternity are always open. He continually looks in that direction with spiritual anxiety, with deep sorrow and reflection. He is constantly occupied with wondering what justify him at Christ’s terrible Judgment and what his sentence will be. This sentence decides a person’s fate for the whole of eternity. No earthly beauty, no earthly pleasure draws his attention or his love. He condemns no one, for he remembers that at the judgment of God such judgment will be passed on as he passed here on his neighbours. He forgives everyone everything, that he may himself obtain forgiveness and inherit salvation. He is indulgent with all, he is merciful in that indulgence and mercy may be shown to him. He welcomes and embraces with joy every trouble or trial that comes to him as a toll for his sins in time which frees him from toll in eternity. If the thought comes to him to be proud of virtue, at once the remembrance of death rushes against this thought, puts it to shame, exposes the nonsense and drives it away.

What significance can our virtue have in the judgment of God? What value can our virtue have in the eyes of God to Whom even Heaven is impure? [2] Remind and remind yourself: “I shall die, I shall die for certain! My fathers and forefathers died; no human being has remained forever on earth. And the fate that has overtaken everyone awaits me too!” Do not fritter away the time given you for repentance. Do not rivet your eyes to the earth on which you are a momentary actor, on which you are an exile, on which by the mercy of God you are given a chance to change your mind and offer repentance for the avoidance of hell’s eternal prisons and the eternal torment in them. Use the short spell of your pilgrimage on earth to acquire a haven of peace, a blessed refuge in eternity. Plead for the eternal possession by renouncing every temporal possession, by renouncing everything carnal and natural in the realm of our fallen nature. Plead by the fulfillment of Christ’s commandments. Plead by sincere repentance for the sins you have committed. Plead by thanking and praising God for all the trials and troubles sent you. Plead by an abundance of prayer and psalmody. Plead by means of the Jesus Prayer and combine with it the remembrance of death.

These two activities—the Jesus Prayer and the remembrance of death—easily merge into one activity. From the prayer comes a vivid remembrance of death, as if it were a foretaste of it: and from this foretaste of death the prayer itself flares up more vigorously.

It is essential for the ascetic to remember death. This remembrance is essential for his spiritual life. It protects the spiritual life of the monk from harm and corruption by self-confidence, [3] to which the ascetic and attentive life can lead unless it is guarded by the remembrance of death and God’s Judgment. It is a great disaster for the soul to set any value on one’s own effort or struggle, and to regard it as a merit in the sight of God. Admit that you deserve all earthly punishment as well as the eternal torments. Such an appraisal of yourself will be the truest, the most salutary for your soul, and the most pleasing to God.

Frequently enumerate the eternal woes that await sinners. By frequently docketing these miseries make them stand vividly before your eyes. Acquire a foretaste of the torments of hell so that at the graphic remembrance of them your soul may shudder, may tear itself away from sin, and may have recourse to God with humble prayer for mercy, putting all your hope in His infinite goodness and despairing of yourself. Recall and represent to yourself the terrible measureless subterranean gulf and prison which constitute hell. The gulf or pit is called bottomless. [4] Precisely! That is just what it is in relation to men. The vast prison of hell has many sections and many different kinds of torment and torture by which every man is repaid according to the deeds he has done in the course of his earthly life. In all sections imprisonment is eternal, the torments eternal. There insufferable, impenetrable darkness reigns, and at the same time the unquenchable fire burns there, with an ever equal strength. There is no day there. There it is always eternal night. The stench there is insupportable, and it cannot be compared with the foulest earthly fetor. The terrible worm of hell never slumbers or sleeps. It gnaws and gnaws, and devours the prisoners of hell without impairing their wholeness or destroying their existence, and without ever being glutted itself. Such is the nature of all the torments of hell; they are worse than any death, but they do not produce death. Death is desired in hell much as life is desired on earth. Death would be a comfort all the prisoners of hell. It is not for them. Their fate is unending life for unending suffering. Lost souls in hell are tormented by the insufferable executions with which the eternal on of those rejected by God abounds; they are tormented by the unendurable grief; they are tormented there by most ghastly disease of the soul: despair.

Acknowledge that you are sentenced to hell for eternal torment, from that acknowledgment there will be born in your heart irresistible and mighty cries of prayer that they will incline God to have mercy on you, and He will lead into Paradise instead of hell.

You who consider yourselves deserving of earthly and heavenly rewards! For you hell is more dangerous than for flagrant sinners because the gravest sin among all the sins is self-opinion, self-confidence—a sin of the spirit invisible mortal eyes and which is often covered with a mask of humility.

The remembrance and consideration of death was practised the greatest of the holy Fathers. Of Pachomius the Great the author of his life says that he ‘maintained himself constantly in fear of God with the remembrance of the eternal torments pains which have no end—that is, with the remembrance of unquenchable fire and the undying worm. By this means Pachomius kept himself from evil and roused to the better.’ [5]


1. Ephes. 2:1-6; Col. 3: 1; Rom. 8:11, 36; Heb: 11: 13-16; 2 Cor. 4: 10.

2. Job. 15:15.

3. Lit. self-opinion: it includes conceit and confidence in one’s own efforts.

4. Rev. 20: 1-3.

5. Vita sancti Pachomii, abbatis Tabennensis. Patrologia, Tom. XXIII.

From The Arena:  An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism, by Bishop Ignaty (Brianchaninov), translated from the Russian by Archimandrite Lazarus (Jordanville, NY:  Holy Trinity Monastery, 1991), pp. 66-78.  This is one of the most important books for our times on the spiritual life.  Do not let the title fool you.  Though written primarily as an “offering to contemporary [late 19th century] monasticism,” it contains much wisdom for laypeople as well.  The Arena represents a portion of the works written late in his life, reflecting his extensive experience,  balance, and patristic wisdom.  This book cannot be too highly recommended for all serious Orthodox Christians.

9. ON FASTING (5. writing of Saint Ignatius )

(apostles Peter and Paul’s fast.)

( IGNATIUS BRIANCHANINOV: bishop and theologian of the Russian Orthodox Church )


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