On May 21st (the 8th by the old calendar) the Church commemorates the memory of the venerable Arsenius the Great.
St. Arsenius was born in Rome, received a good upbringing and an excellent education, but left off his studies and dedicated himself to God, becoming a deacon. Against his will he was taken by Emperor Theodosius to Constantinople as a worthy instructor of the emperor’s sons. However, the saint’s soul yearned for solitude, and he was greatly burdened by his position. The Lord acceded to his appeals, and one day he heard a voice saying: “Arsenius, run away from people and you shall be saved.” Leaving the palace in secret, he went off and entered one of the Egyptian monasteries. Once, while praying, the saint again heard a voice saying: “Arsenius, run away from people and remain silent – that is the root of sinlessness.” After that the saint went into seclusion, coming to church only on Sundays and major holidays. He spent 55 years in great spiritual feats and reposed at the age of 95. St. Arsenius taught: “Many times I have repented of my words, but never of my silence.” In response to the question of why he hid from people, the ascetic replied: “God sees that I love everyone, but I cannot simultaneously be with God and with people. The heavenly powers have a single will and glorify God in unison, while on earth each person has his own will, and people’s thoughts are different. I cannot leave God and live with people.”
On inner purity
(An instruction by St. Arsenius the Great)
Many people, in order to cleanse themselves of the iniquities of the flesh and sin, spend a very strict life. Yet they do not think at all or very little of mental purity and of absolute cleansing of oneself. Many try to avoid fornication and other vices of the flesh, but few take care to suppress within themselves their innermost passions, such as envy, vanity, egoism, avarice, and – worst of all – pride. For this reason they are not only half-pure, but the greater and more important part of themselves remains impure. They are like statues which glitter with gold externally, but internally are full of all kinds of foul things.
Above all we must try to cleanse ourselves of our secret passions. We must know that our enemy the devil tries to tempt us with various cunning approaches, and tries to throw us into the abyss of vice even by means of good deeds. For example, by enticing us to offer hospitality, he lures us into partaking of forbidden food and drink together with our guests. Hospitality in itself is a wonderful virtue – that of love. However, by means of it he secretly and gradually makes us slaves to our bellies and nourishes incontinence and lust within us. Others he disposes towards the giving of charity, towards generosity, but through this he incites within them love of money and avarice. And so on.