Orthodox America


  On the Christian Life - Letters by Bishop Theophan the Recluse


      "Does true Christian life begin for everyone with such a painful rupture as portrayed in the war against sin? And is it really so, that whoever has not experienced such a rupture hasn’t yet begun to live as a Christian?" 

      No, this is not the case with everyone. Those who preserved the grace of baptism in all its purity do not experience such a rupture. For them too, however, there must come a time when they consciously begin to consider essential for themselves that way of life which – through their parents’ choosing, through imitation and through habit – they have known since childhood. In such cases there cannot be any painful rupture because, in arriving at the conviction that for their own good it is necessary for them to be Christians, and having made this decision, they already find prepared--both within themselves and with-out--all that is required in order to lead a Christian life: i.e., their perceptions, feelings, disposition, and likewise their outward order of life, morals and all rules--all have been cultivated after the spirit of Christ. Nothing new in this case is added. Now they simply begin with a conscious awareness of their Christian duty to do all that up to that point they were doing by habit and imitation. Blessed are those souls!

     But how rare they are! The majority of those who come to understand that they need to be saved, discover within themselves and in their ray of life a great deal that leads not to salvation but to perdition, i.e., either wrong perceptions, or unkind feelings and dispositions, or passionate habits, or unclean relationships, etc., etc. When such people make the decision to embrace the Christian life, they cannot avoid a painful rupture because they cannot but sense God's anger at their having willfully offended His greatness, and because they must tear themselves away from what until now gave them enjoyment and incline their hearts towards that which seems to them unpleasant. The more passionate habits and feelings one has, and the longer one has lived with them, the more pains and difficulties the soul encounters in the process of turning to God. The term "warfare against sin" aptly defines the conversion of a great sinner.

    There is yet a third class of people: those who outwardly appear to be model Christians: within, however, it's altogether another story. Such people have no thought of any need for changing themselves, and they remain as they are. Meanwhile, they are in a terrible state. These are foolish' virgins!

   Outwardly they, too, have lamps, just as they should; but the lamps are empty—no oil, no wicks. God preserve us from such a state' And these people--who have not experienced a painful rupture--consider themselves to be among the ranks of God-pleasing Christians ! But there's a great difference between them and the first group. Those had and remember the time when they consciously laid upon themselves Christ's blessed yoke, or considered indispensable for themselves that which previously they had maintained through habit; they cannot forget the significance of that time. But the others did not have this experience and don't remember; they simply live as they have been accustomed, by habit. And this might not be so bad; what' s tragic is that they do not go beyond the outward forms of the soul-saving Christian life; they do not go within to see what is in their mind and heart, and they allow all kinds of impurities and dissoluteness to develop there; they stiffen, as it were, on the outside. What is most serious, in considering themselves to be righteous, they place everyone else in the ranks of sinners, especial]y those who do not give due respect to their "holiness." and the consequent suspicion and gossip, liberally strewn by self-adulation, comprise their principal malady. God preserve us from falling into this rut!

      It's good that you find pleasure in staying at home--the more the better. Extenal pleasures, even if they are innocent, rarely lead to any good: rather, they are the first door leading to evil. They weaken the soul. drawing it out of its inner sanctum. After experiencing these pleasures a person is not himself: he's like a broken man. When someone accidentally falls and injures himself, people feel sorry for him; but ,when someone willingly crashes to the ground without taking any precautions and breaks all his bones, no one pities him; on the contrary, everyone scolds him. Why must we bring harm upon ourselves? Eating the apple--so beautiful and delicious--was no great feat. Afterwards, however, the Son of God had to be crucified in order to set things aright.

     What kind of music are you planning to listen to? For the most part, our musical theatricals are rubbish: they tickle the ear and have nothing to offer. I'm not tying you down, but it'll be a pity if you go; you'll only lose your concentration and feel dispirited. listening to outward [i.e. worldly] music will temporarily spoil your inner music. 'Love not the world, neither the things of the world.' Can you be with the Lord there? Hardly, for what kind of communion will you find there? The world of art is sensual, carnal even. It's difficult to say 'no'. I believe that. But being with the Lord requires self crucifixion that is real. not metaphysical. When is this effected? Be zealous for it, because then your heart will overflow with such consolations as will quench all thirst for any other kind of consolation.

    Glory to God! so you have calmed down. May the Lord help you never to ruin yourself.

    But may God's will be done. The rotten breath of the spirit of flattery, active in the sons of lawlessness, is capable of spoiling the most innocent person.

    Your laziness as far as spiritual pursuits are concerned stems from your being overly involved with your work. Don't get so carried away with it, otherwise your head will grow foggy, and then your heart will suffer the same effect.

(Translated from Pisma o Khristianskoi  Zhizni, Moscow, 1908)


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