Precepts of Saint Seraphim of Sarov
God is fire, warming and igniting hearts and bodies. Thus, if we feel coldness in our hearts, which comes from the devil, since the devil is cold, then let us appeal to the Lord: He, upon coming to us, will warm our hearts with absolute love not only for Himself, but for those around us. And the coldness of the fiend will flee from the face of such warmth.
The Holy Fathers said upon being asked: Seek God, but do not ask where He is. Where there is God, there is no evil. Everything that comes from God is serene and beneficial, and leads man to self-condemnation and humility.
God shows us His loving-kindness not only when we do good, but also when we do bad and ire Him with our sins. How patiently He puts up with our iniquities! And when He chastises us, how mercifully He chastises!
“Do not call God just, — says St. Isaac, — for His justice cannot be seen in your doings. In truth, David called Him both just and right, but His Son showed us that He is rather benevolent and merciful. Where is His justice? We were sinners, and yet Christ died for us.”
To the extent that man perfects himself here, so will he follow in the wake of God, while in the next age God will reveal Himself to him. The righteous, contemplating God here on earth, see His image as in a mirror, while there they will be rewarded with the vision of reality.
If you do not know God, then it is impossible for love for Him to be revealed in you. You cannot love God if you do not see Him. However, the vision of God comes from the knowledge of Him, for knowledge precedes contemplation.
Do not discuss God on a sated stomach: what kind of vision of God’s mysteries can there be on a full stomach?
On love for God
Whoever attains supreme love for God, exists in this life as though he does not exist, for he feels himself alien to all visible things, patiently awaiting the invisible. He has turned entirely into love for God and has left off all other ties.
Whoever loves himself cannot love God. The one who truly loves God feels himself a stranger and wanderer in this world, because in his striving for God with his soul and mind he sees Him alone.
A soul that is filled with love for God will not fear the prince of the air even when it leaves its body, but will fly up with the angels as though returning from a foreign country to its homeland.
Caring for the soul
Man’s body is like a lighted candle. The candle must burn down and man must die. But his soul is immortal; therefore, our concern should be more with the soul than with the body: For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? (Matt. 16:26), which, as we well know, nothing in the world can redeem. If a single soul by itself is more precious that the entire world and the worldly kingdom, then the Heavenly Kingdom is incomparably more precious. We consider the soul to be more precious than all else for the very reason, says St. Macarius the Great, “that God deigned to join His spiritual essence to no other visible creation, to none other than man, Whom He loves more than all His other creations.”
Sts. Basil the Great, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostome, Cyril of Alexandria, Ambrose of Milan and others were virginal from youth to the end of their lives; their entire life was directed towards caring for the soul and not the body. Thus we too should care primarily for the soul, and fortify our bodies only in order to have them promote the strengthening of the spirit. However, if we emaciate our bodies to the point where our spirit becomes emaciated, such suppression will be unreasonable, even if it is done for the sake of virtue.
If the Lord God wills man to suffer illness, He will also grant him patience. Thus let our illnesses be from God rather than from ourselves.
How the soul should be furnished
If you wish to furnish the domicile of your soul, says St. Barsonuphius, you must first prepare all the necessary items, in order for the decorator to just come and arrange them. For such an edifice you need firm faith for putting up the walls, and windows to let in the sunlight that will illuminate the house and make sure no darkness is left within it. The windows are the five senses, supported by Christ’s precious cross, which let in the light of the spiritual Sun of truth and do not allow even a smallest iota of your adversary’s darkness to remain in the house. And then you will also need a roof, so that the sun shall not smite thee by day, nor the moon by night (Psalm 121:6).
The roof is thatched with love for God, which covers the house and never caves in, making sure that the sun does not set in your wrath, so that it could not accuse you on Judgment Day and burn you in the fire of gehenna, nor could the moon bear witness to your despair and laziness during the night.
And, finally, you need a door to provide entry into the home and to protect the one who is living in it. A spiritual door is meant here, and that is the Son of God, Who said: I am the door.
If you furnish your soul’s domicile in such a manner, and there will not be anything unseemly or displeasing to God in it, He will come together with the blessed Father and the Holy Spirit and will reside in it, and will teach you what peace of soul means, illuminating your heart with inexpressible joy.
The soul should be furnished with the word of God, for according to St. Gregory the Theologian, the word of God is angelic bread which nourishes the souls of those who thirst for God. Most of all we must exercise ourselves in the reading of the New Testament and the Psalter; the Gospel and Epistles are to be read standing before the icons, while the psalms can be read while sitting down. The reading of the Holy Scriptures enlightens the mind, which then undergoes a divine transformation.
One must train one’s mind to swim in God’s law so-to-speak, and to set up one’s life under its guidance.
It is very beneficial to read the word of God in solitude and to read the entire Scriptures with understanding. Just for that one effort, besides the doing of good deeds, the Lord will not leave a man without His charity, but will fill him with the gift of comprehension. When a man succeeds in furnishing his soul with the word of God, then it will be filled with the understanding of what is good and what is evil.
The reading of the word of God should be done in solitude, in order for the mind of the reader to sink into the truths of the Holy Scriptures and become permeated with the warmth of God which in solitude produces tears. From these tears a man becomes entirely enveloped in warmth and is filled with spiritual gifts that delight the mind and the heart beyond all words.
Physical labor and the reading of the divine Scriptures, — teaches St. Isaac the Syrian, — protect one’s purity, while labor is strengthened by hope and the fear of God. The hope and the fear of God are produced in the mind by separation from people and by constant prayer. Until a man receives the Comforter (the Holy Spirit) within himself, he has need of the divine Scriptures, in order to have the memory of God’s blessings recorded in his mind, and that through constant reading the striving towards good be renewed in him and guard his soul from the sophisticated paths of sin. He has the need, because he has not yet acquired the power of the Spirit which eliminates errors, for when the power of the Spirit descends upon the spiritual force acting within man, then the commandments of the Holy Spirit become established in the heart in lieu of the Scriptural law, and he continues to be mysteriously instructed by the Spirit and no longer has need of assistance from anything sensual. As long as the heart is being instructed through material things, the instruction is followed by error and forgetfulness, but when the instruction comes from the Spirit, then memory is kept inviolate.
On inner peace
Inner peace is attained through affliction. The Scriptures say: We went through fire and through water, but Thou broughtest us out into a tranquil place (Psalm 66:12). Those who wish to please God must follow a path of many sorrows. How do we dare venerate the holy martyrs for the tortures they suffered for God’s sake, when we ourselves cannot endure even a single spark?
Nothing promotes the attainment of inner peace as much as silence and a continuous discourse with oneself, and rarely with others. Nothing is more excellent than peace in Christ, as it entirely destroys the warfare of the evil spirits of the air and the earth. For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against the evil spirits in high places (Eph. 6:12).
The mark of spiritual life is one’s immersion into oneself and the hidden struggle within one’s heart. The grace of God envelops such a person, and at first he remains in a state of peace, and then by means of it he transitions to an other-worldly state, i.e. he is at peace by being of good conscience, and he is in an other-worldly state when his mind contemplates the grace of the Holy Spirit within himself.
Do we not rejoice upon seeing the sun with our physical eyes? Even more joyous is the sight of the Sun of truth – Christ the Lord – in the mind’s eye! In such a case we rejoice with the joy of angels. The Holy Fathers, being in a state of peace and enveloped by the grace of God, lived for a long time.
When a man attains a state of peace, he can radiate from himself the light of illumination of the mind unto others. This peace the Lord Jesus Christ left to His disciples before His death as some priceless treasure, saying: Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you (John 14:27). Thus we must focus all our thoughts, wishes, and actions upon the attainment of the peace of God, and to always exclaim with the Church: O Lord our God, grant peace unto us (Isaiah 26:12)
On preserving inner peace
One must try hard to preserve this inner peace and not be offended by insults from others; to this end we shall restrain ourselves from anger and by means of attention shall guard our mind and heart from wavering unnecessarily.
Insults from others should be borne with complete indifference, and we should place ourselves in such a mood as though these insults have nothing to do with us whatsoever. Such an exercise can bring tranquility to our heart and make it the residence of God Himself.
We see an example of such meekness in the life of St. Gregory the Wonderworker, from whom a certain fallen woman publicly demanded payment for the sin he had supposedly committed with her, while he, in no way angered at her, humbly said to a friend of his: quickly give her the price she asks. As soon as the woman took the unlawful payment, she became possessed by a demon; the saint then exorcized the demon from her by prayer.
If it is impossible not to be upset, then we must at least curb our tongue, as King David says: I was agitated and spoke not.
In this case we can use the examples of St. Spyridon of Tremithon and St. Ephraim the Syrian. The first bore an insult in the following manner: as he once entered the palace at the behest of his king, one of the servants, believing St. Gregory to be a beggar, laughed at him, did not allow him to enter the palace, and even slapped his cheek. St. Spyridon, being of a mild nature, turned the other cheek to him in accordance with the words of the Lord.
St. Ephraim, while fasting in the desert, was once deprived of food in the following manner: his disciple, while carrying the food to him, unexpectedly broke the vessel along the way. Seeing his disciple greatly saddened, the saint said to him: “Do not sorrow, brother; if the food did not wish to come to us, we shall go to it.” And then the venerable saint went, sat down near the broken vessel, and picking up the food, proceeded to eat it. In this manner he showed himself to be totally without anger.
As far as anger management is concerned, we can learn from the life of St. Paisius Velichkovsky, who prayed to the Lord Jesus Christ to free him from wrath. The Lord said to him: “If you want to overcome anger and fury, do not wish for anything, do not hate anyone, do not humiliate anyone.”
To preserve inner peace, we must chase away dejection and sustain a joyous spirit. To preserve inner peace, we must completely avoid judging others. Inner peace is preserved through compassion towards others and through silence. A person who remains in such a state receives divine revelations.
To avoid judging others, we must pay attention to ourselves, we must refuse to hear bad things about others, and we must be indifferent to all that surrounds us.
To preserve inner peace, we must draw into ourselves more frequently, and ask ourselves: at what point am I? At the same time we should make sure to have our physical senses, especially sight, serve our inner man and not distract our soul with sensual objects, for gifts of grace are given only to those who labor internally and guard their souls.
On spiritual labors
We should never undertake spiritual labors beyond our means, but should make sure that our friend, i.e. our body, is faithful and capable of doing good. We should follow the middle road, without veering either right or left; we should give spiritual things to our spirit and bodily things to our body, whatever is needed for sustaining our temporal life. We must also not refuse our social life that which it lawfully demands from us, according to the Scriptures: Render therefore unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21).
We must be lenient towards our soul’s frailties and imperfections, and we must bear our failings just as we bear the failings of others; however, we should never fall into idleness, but should constantly spur ourselves to do better.
Whether you overindulged in food or did something else that stems from human frailty, — do not add harm to injury, but bravely spurring yourself to correction, try to preserve your inner peace.
Our bodies, becoming exhausted from work and illness, should be moderately fortified by sleep, food, and drink, irrespective of time. Immediately upon resurrecting the daughter of Jairus, our Lord Jesus Christ commanded that she be given food.
We must credit the Lord with all our successes and say together with the prophet: Not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory (Psalm 113:9).
It is a great feat for man to keep himself chaste until the age of 35, i.e. the middle of his earthly life, and many are unable to remain virtuous during those years, but are deflected from the path of virtue into passion and desire; on the other hand, many others amassed numerous virtues in their youth, but being at mid-life and subjected to temptations from the evil spirits, are unable to withstand the torment and lose all their virtue. In order to avoid such transformations, we must place ourselves as though on a scale and watch ourselves attentively throughout our entire life.
Despair, according to the teaching of St. John of the Ladder, is born either out of a realization of the multitude of one’s sins, the burdening of one’s conscience, and unbearable sadness, when the soul, covered with a multitude of sores, from their unbearable pain sinks into the abyss of despair, or out of pride and arrogance, when one regards oneself as undeserving of the sin into which one has fallen.
The first type of despair drags man into all vices indiscriminately, while under the second type of despair man continues to keep to his spiritual endeavors, which, according to St. John of the Ladder, is incompatible with reason. The first type is healed by abstinence and good hope, and the second by humility and non-judging of others.
The Lord takes care of our salvation. But the murderous devil tries to lead man into despair. A lofty and firm soul does not despair in the face of misfortunes, whatever they may be.
Judas the betrayer was fainthearted and untrained in spiritual warfare, and thus the enemy, seeing his despair, attacked him and seduced him into hanging himself. But when Peter, the solid rock, fell into sin, being geared for warfare he did not despair and did not lose heart, but shed bitter tears from an ardent heart, and seeing them the enemy, as though being burned in the eyes, ran away from him with a painful cry.
Thus, brethren, teaches us the venerable Antioch, when despair falls upon us, let us not succumb to it, but being fortified and protected by the light of faith, let us with great courage say to the evil spirit:
“What is it to us and thee, thou stranger to God, thou fugitive from heaven, thou evil servant? Thou dost not dare do anything to us. Christ, the Son of God, has power over us and over everything. It is before Him that we have sinned, and it is before Him that we will justify ourselves. And thou, pernicious one, depart from us. Strengthened by His precious cross, we trample upon thine serpentine head.”
On attention to oneself
Whoever has taken upon himself the endeavor of attention should not trust only to his heart, but should check the actions of his heart and his very life against the law of God and the active life of the righteous ones who had gone through the same endeavor. By this means one can easily get rid of the evil one and see truth more clearly.
The mind of an attentive person is like a guard or a vigilant protector of his soul. Standing at the height of spiritual contemplation, it watches with the eye of purity all the enemy forces that surround the soul or are trying to attach themselves to it.
According to the teaching of the Holy Fathers, each person is accompanied by two angels, one good and one evil. The good angel is quiet, meek, and silent. When he enters man’s heart, he speaks with him of truth, purity, honesty, tranquility, of all good things, and of all virtues. When you feel this in your heart, it is obviously the angel of truth within it.
And the evil spirit is acrimonious, cruel, and insane. When he enters your heart, you will know it from his actions. And in such a case the Christian, following the teaching of the divine Paul, “takes on the whole armor of God, that he may be able to withstand in the evil day” (Eph. 6:19), and with these weapons, and with the aid of God’s grace, he repels the visible attacks and vanquishes the invisible warriors. We see an example of such vigilance in Job the Long-suffering, of whom the Church hymns thus: “Seeing the richness of Job’s virtues, the enemy of the righteous set up snares in order to steal them, but having destroyed the pillar of the body, could not steal the treasure of the spirit: for he found the chaste one’s soul well-armed” (Troparion for May 6th).
Whoever is undergoing the path of attention should not listen to outside rumors, from which the head may become filled with idle and trivial thoughts and memories, but should be attentive to oneself. Along this path one should particularly make sure not to look at the affairs of others, not to think or speak of them, but to entreat God to save us from secret criticism of our brethren. Also, in order to guard one’s attention, one must seclude oneself and not engage in conversations needlessly, except if someone wishes to hear something spiritually beneficial from us.
As much as man perfects himself here for God, so does he walk after Him; and in eternity God will reveal His face to him. Thus the righteous, while contemplating Him here on earth, see His image as in a mirror, while over there they will be worthy of seeing His true manifestation. If you do not know God, then it is impossible for you to love Him. You cannot love God if you do not see Him. However, the sight of God comes from knowing Him, for contemplation does not precede knowledge of God.
Do not discuss divine affairs after sating your belly; what knowledge of God’s mysteries can there be on a full stomach?
The one who attains perfect love for God lives in this world as though he were not living here, for he feels himself alien to all visible things. He has transformed himself into love for God and has abandoned all other attachments. The soul that is filled with love for God will not fear the aerial prince even during its departure from its body, but will fly up with the Angels as though from a foreign land back to its homeland.
On the fear of God
“Fear God, – says the wise Solomon, – and keep His commandments” (Eccles. 12:13), and in keeping the commandments you shall be strong in all affairs, and your affairs will go well, for in fearing God, out of love for Him you will do everything well. Do not fear the devil; whoever fears God will overcome the devil, since the devil is powerless before him.
There are two types of fear: if you do not wish to do evil, fear God and do not do it, while if you wish to do good, fear God and do it.
No one can acquire the fear of God until he becomes freed of all earthly concerns. When the mind is unconcerned, then the fear of God stimulates it and urges it towards God’s love and kindness.
Fear of God is acquired when a person rejects all worldly things, concentrates his thoughts and feelings, and totally immerses himself into a contemplation of God and the feeling of bliss that has been promised to the saints.
On spiritual labors
One should not undertake labors beyond one’s capability, but should ensure that one’s friend – the body – be loyal and able to engage in virtue. One should travel the middle road, neither veering right, nor left; provide the spirit with spiritual things and the body with the bodily things necessary for supporting temporary life. One should likewise not refuse to give to our social life that which it lawfully demands from us, as it is written in the Scriptures: render what is Caesar’s unto Caesar, and what is God’s unto God. One must be patient with the frailties and imperfections of one’s soul, and endure one’s shortcomings just as we endure the shortcomings of others, but we must not become indolent and must continually spur ourselves towards doing better. If you overindulged in food or did something else on the basis of human weakness, – do not become upset, do not add insult to injury, but bravely encourage yourself towards rectification and try to preserve inner peace. A body overtaxed by work or illness should be strengthened with moderate sleep, food, and drink without regard for time. Jesus Christ, immediately upon raising the daughter of Jairus from the dead, ordered that she be given food. All our successes we must ascribe to the Lord and say together with the prophet: not to us, Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory (Psalm 114:9). Until the age of 35, i.e. until the middle of one’s earthly life, a person performs a great spiritual labor in keeping himself chaste, and many at this age are unable to stand firm in virtue, but are tempted from the right path and fall prey to their own desires, as St. Basil the Great testifies: many gathered much in their youth, but upon reaching middle age, were unable to withstand the temptations sent upon them by the evil spirits, and were deprived of everything. In order for us not to experience such transformation, we must attentively monitor ourselves throughout our entire lives.
The body is a slave to the soul, the soul is the queen, and for this reason it is a mercy from God when our body is taxed by illness, for this leads to a weakening of passions, and man comes to himself; moreover, the illness of the body is sometimes engendered by the passions themselves.
Take away sin, and there will be no more illnesses, for they arise within us from our sins, according to St. Basil the Great. Where do illnesses come from? Where do bodily injuries come from? The Lord created the body and not the illness; the soul and not sin. What is most useful and needful? Unity with God and communion with Him through love. By losing this love we fall away from God, and in falling away we are subjected to various and many illnesses. Whoever endures his illness with patience and gratitude, such a one is rewarded for the illness even more than for spiritual labors.
Saint Maxim the Confessor on love for God and neighbor
Let us love each other, and we shall be loved by God. Let us suffer each other, and He shall suffer our sins. Let us not respond to evil with evil, and He will not give retribution for our sins. We shall acquire forgiveness of our sins in forgiving our brothers and sisters, for God’s mercy to us is hidden in our mercy to our neighbors. For this reason the Lord said: Forgive and ye shall be forgiven (Luke 6:37). For if ye forgive men their trespasses, your Heavenly Father will also forgive you (Matt. 6:14).
If a temptation occurs, or a disappointment leads you to hate, – do not be overcome by hate, but conquer hate with love. You can conquer it thus: pray sincerely to God for your neighbor, accepting his apology, or heal yourself by apologizing to your neighbor, regarding your own self as the guilty party…
The sign of the Cross
The teaching on the sign of the Cross is a tradition “received mysteriously.”
By an unwritten apostolic decree the Cross has become the cornerstone of liturgical life and all the sacraments that are performed. Blessed Augustine wrote that if the sign of the Cross is not made, then all the sacraments are in vain. The sign of the Cross opens the doors through which comes an outpouring of the grace of the Holy Spirit upon the faithful, the grace that transforms the earthly into the heavenly and destroys all the barriers that divide us from God and life in heaven. And the sign of the Cross would never have had such importance, if it were not truly effective. In many prayers we see a linking up of the sign of the Cross with the Saviour Himself and the Mother of God: the world and all creation in it is protected and sanctified through the sign of the Cross, which is a seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.