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  Counsels for a Spiritual Life - Priest Alexey Mechev's counsels to a young woman

    How can one attain humility? Turn inward more often; consider yourself worse than others.

    No matter what sin you've fallen into, repent; the Lord is ready with open arms to receive you.

    Be like a child in everything--in questions of faith and in questions pertaining to life.

    Watch over yourself. You want to live a spiritual life--watch over yourself. Every night examine what you did during the day. Thank God for the good and repent for the bad.

    Because the "Lord's Prayer" is a short form of the Gospel, it should be approached with due preparation.

    Work on the upbringing of your younger brothers and sisters; influence them by way of example; remember that they will pick up your short-comings. And the Lord will hold you responsible for this.

     When you see something bad in those around you, immediately look at yourself-are you perhaps the causeof this? When bad thoughts attack you, especially in church, think Who it is you are standing before, or open your heart and say, "O Mistress, help me."

     If you are struck by doubting thoughts, especially before receiving Holy Communion, straightway say, "Lord, I believe, help Thou mine unbelief!"

     You shouldn't judge others; in a strange house, if they serve non-lenten food on a fast day, there's no need to be disdainful and refuse it. At home you can make up for this slip by intensifying either your physical fasting or, more importantly, your spiritual fasting, i.e., curbing irritation, not judging, etc.

     In everything one should act as follows: something needs to be done; think at once of how Jesus Christ would act in this case. And let this thought always guide you. In this way everything had and sinful will gradually leave you.

     I don't bless you to say anything about anyone which might start bad rumors circulating; what is edifying, however, or beneficial-it is our duty to speak about this.

     If it were easy to be saved, we should all have become saints long ago.

    Bad thoughts attacked you--very likely you weren't praying enough. You must chase them away. As soon as you detect bad thoughts-if there's only one, start praying; but if there are more, take a serious book or begin some kind of work.

    In church stand further away from those who like to talk.

    It's time to cast away frivolous thoughts; you must adopt a serious attitude towards everything.

    It's not worth becoming irritated, it's not worth it... Desire happiness for everyone, and you yourself will be happy (counsel against envy).

    You don't obey your spiritual father; this means you have no devotion to God. I beg you, for God's sake, watch yourself, for God's sake, be attentive... The Kingdom of Heaven demands violence (Matt. 11:12), and only those who force themselves will delight in it. But you barely lift a finger.

     Establish a strict discipline in your life, in all its aspects: such a time for study, such a time for reading, etc. If you have to go somewhere--go ahead, to read something-why not; but in all of this maintain order.

    Batiushka considered this to be something necessary, indispensable. Living at home, although no one hindered me, I couldn't get myself into any kind of framework, I couldn't establish any schedule; basically, I personally didn't see the need for such discipline. At the same time I wanted Batiushka to give me something to do as a kind of (external) podvig, and I asked him about this. At first he didn't answer, but when he asked if I had developed a regimen, I replied that it simply didn't work out. He listened in silence and never reproached me, but in answer to my request that he give me a podvig, he commented with a smile: "I've told you: establish a fixed schedule [in your life], and you're always telling me that you can't.' Only then did my eyes open and I saw in my trifling attitude towards Batiushka's counsel--disobedience and a lack of seriousness. I had not attributed much significance to ~he simple and seemingly "odd" exhortation to discipline my life, but Batiushka, it appeared, looked at this as its own kind of 'podvig,'for my character. Later he again reminded me about this very seriously: "Discipline your life, without fail..."

    Prayer demands tranquility, and you don't possess that now, You are pulled in different directions. Also, you get very tired physically. Under such circumstances your prayer will not go well. First of all it needs tranquility; you can't be pulled about. I am always able to pray now, but you can't expect this of yourself. When life proceeds as yours does now, one must pray with the mind and not pay attention to the fact that the heart does not answer. Penetrate into the words of your prayer, and don't worry, let it be just with the mind, pray somehow, but pray, pray. Don't demand of yourself that which you cannot give at present. Don't fall into despondency. Your life will calm down and then it will be possible, but not now; now you cannot.

    The Jesus Prayer--this is serious business. You must constantly have the Lord before you, as though you are standing before some very important personage, and boas though in constant conversation with Him. Then you will experience an uplifted disposition. 

(Translated from Otets Aleksei Mechev, YMCA-Press; Paris, 1970)

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