Monday, October 24, 2016

More from the Optina Fathers

More from the Optina Fathers: the Teachings of St. Nikon of Optina

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Dan Everiss

Fri, Oct 21, 2016 at 11:29 AM

Teachings of St. Nikon of Optina

Counsel to those living in the world

"If you are a layperson, live among laypeople and do their works…” This should be understood like this: Every form of Christian life has its own virtues and occupations. The works of those whose manner of life differs from ours are inaccessible to us. For example, a mother with nursing infants cannot go to church every day to all the services or read long prayers at home. Doing so would only cause confusion, and even sin, if for example while the mother is gone the child is left to itself and injures itself or makes mischief as it grows.

She cannot completely divest herself of personal property for the sake of her own podvig, [spiritual struggle],  because she is obligated to support and feed the children. She has a duty to please God by the deeds that are natural to her: patient endurance of the burdens of family life, prayer and almsgiving according to her strength, teaching and raising her children, keeping the fasts, going to church on feast days, abstaining from murmuring, gossip, etc.

On talents and abilities

By talents we mean not only wealth, education, or fame. Talents are good conditions for salvation of the soul. Each of us has his own given talents. Poverty, sickness, various sorrows—these are all talents.

From the worldly point of view, talents mean scholarly, musical, or artistic abilities. They are not sinful; it is good when such abilities are combined with a Christian life, and when they are dedicated to God.

If an ability prevents us from living in a godly manner and saving our souls, then it should be abandoned. It is better to be a little stupider and simpler, but to be saved. What benefit is it to you if you gain the whole world but destroy your soul?

On sorrows

A life without sorrows is a sign of God’s disapproval. We should not envy those who live without sorrows, for the end of their sorrowlessness is grievious.

We must not boldly throw ourselves into the abyss of sorrows; this would be prideful self-reliance. But when sorrows come of their own accord do not be afraid of them; do not think that they came by accident or circumstance. No, they are allowed by God’s unfathomable Providence.

The fruit of sorrows is in the purification of the soul and its spiritual state. It must be preserved.

There is not, never has been, nor ever will be a place on the earth without sorrows. A place without sorrows can only be in the heart, when the Lord is in within it.

On vainglory

We shouldn’t be vainglorious about health, or beauty, or any other gifts of God… All that is earthly is inconstant—both beauty and health. We have to thank the Lord—thank Him with humility, recognizing our unworthiness, and not be vainglorious about anything.

When you feel an aversion for someone

When you feel an aversion for people, or anger, or irritation against them, you have to pray for them, regardless of whether they are guilty or not. Pray in the simplicity of your heart, as the holy fathers council:“Save O Lord and have mercy on Thy servant (name), and help me, a sinner, through his/ holy prayers!" The heart will become peaceful from this prayer, although not always right away.

On prayer

On our own, without Divine help, we are not even capable of praying. We can not pray as needed, and we do not know how to pray or what to pray for.

All the time, no matter what you do, whether you are sitting, walking, or working, say with your heart, “Lord have mercy!"

Everything is gained by prayer. You are only approaching the first step, you haven’t yet ascended it, only approach it and you still have to enter the door, but you can’t go in by any effort if God’s mercy is not there. That is why you first of all need to ask, “Open unto me the doors of Thy compassion, O Lord!"

When you are in sorrows or despondency and heavy temptation has found you, keep repeating this: “O Lord spare, save, and have mercy on Thy servant!” and the sorrow will be eased.

Try not to skip your prayer rule, morning or evening. But if you skip it sometime for some reason, especially if it is due to circumstances beyond your control, do not be upset, but humbly reproach yourself for your weakness; for self-reproach is an unseen ascent, while getting upset, in the words of Elder Ambrose, is not listed anywhere in the virtues.

On passions

Victory over the passions is accomplished through God’s power. Our feeble powers are not enough for this. We need to be humbly aware of this and with humility attract God’s mercy and help to ourselves.

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