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15 Quotes of Guidance from St. Ambrose of Optina



1. You should always be meek with everybody. You shouldn’t annoy anyone or be envious. You shouldn’t satisfy the lust of flesh that seduces one with gluttony and then leads to other passions.

2. There is no greater virtue than love; and there is no worse vice and passion than hatred, which appears to be insignificant in the eyes of those who are careless but in fact, it is similar to murder in the spiritual sense (cf. 1 John 3:15).

3. Mercy, condescension, and forgiveness of your neighbour’s shortcomings is the shortest route to salvation.

4. There is no other virtue as pleasing unto God as humility. Humility is more easily achievable for an imperfect ascetic than a strict and perfect ascetic, which is clear from the parable of the Pharisee and the Publican.

5. Envy, rage, and hatred originate from pride and lack of love of one’s neighbours. Here is a remedy against all those: First, a humble and honest acknowledgement of your inadequacy in front of God and your spiritual father; secondly, the Gospel-driven motivation not to act according to those passions but to do the opposite of what they urge you to do; thirdly, seeking God’s glory and the praise from God; fourthly, asking for God’s help humbly, using these words from the Psalms: O Lord! Who can understand his errors? cleanse Thou me from secret faults. Let them not have dominion over me. (Cf. Ps. 19: 12-13). The fifth remedy is self-reproach.

6. What should those who cannot live according to the law of Heaven yet and who still live according to the law of the earth, with the various weaknesses and attachments that it entails, do? That is what we, the weak and sinful ones, can do: we should repent of our weaknesses and infirmities honestly, humble ourselves down before God and people with all sincerity, and endure various sorrows and illnesses, which are caused by our sins, quietly and patiently. This is how we can obtain God’s mercy without any doubt.

7. All Christians are willing to inherit the blissful fate in the afterlife. In order to achieve it, we will inevitably have to endure some troubles and illnesses, according to the Word of God, “[W]e must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God.” (Acts 14: 22)

8. The All-Loving Lord bestows various sorrows and afflictions upon the righteous ones, primarily to prevent them from diminishing their pious efforts and from becoming lazy, going astray, and dying. Secondly, He wants them to be completely free from passions and sins and to receive an enormous reward in the age to come, for it is written, As gold in the furnace He hath proved them, and as a victim of a holocaust He hath received them (Wisdom 3:6). On the contrary, the Lord sends various troubles and illnesses to the sinful ones so as to make them repent.

9. Given that every virtue isn’t acquired in just a day and it takes a lot of effort and hard work to finally master it, it is even more rightfully said of love, which is the beginning and the end of all virtues. It calls for a lot of time, effort, hard work, and prayer but first of all, learning to love requires deep humility before God and people.

10. Repentance and humility are more necessary and greater than all other virtues. They do not stop until you die. Saint John Climacus paraphrases King David when he writes “I didn’t fast, nor did I stay awake, nor did I sleep on the ground, but I humbled myself, and the Lord saved me.”

11. Some people are affected by the sin of judgement out of habit, others out of rancour, but most frequently, we are affected by this sin due to our arrogance and conceit; in spite of our irreparable sinfulness, we still believe that we are better than many others. If we wish to get rid of the sin of judgement, we must coerce ourselves to be humble before God and people as much as we can, and ask God for help, remembering the Gospel words, [T]he kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force. (Matthew 11: 12), and the exhortation of the Lord who rose from the dead three days after he was buried, Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light. (Matthew 11: 29-30).

12. Those who deserve it receive the Kingdom of Heaven in the afterlife after they die. However, those who firmly believe and are watchful, receive the Kingdom of God in this current life within them, as promised in the Gospel: [T]he kingdom of God is within you. (Luke 17: 21).

13. How exactly do we acquire the Kingdom of God that should be within us? Apostles say that it is acquired, first of all, thanks to righteousness that consists of observing God’s commandments and dealing with our neighbours mercifully and compassionately; secondly, it is achieved by maintaining peace with our neighbours and staying away from passions, being in harmony with our conscience, and remaining loyal to God through repentance and humility.

14. The primary way to lead a pious and holy life consists of the fear of God and the fear of the future judgement and the eternal suffering. Only with help of this fear and with God’s help do people follow the commandments, according to the Psalms: Blessed is the man that feareth the Lord, that delighteth greatly in his commandments. (Ps. 112: 1).

15. The love of God is proven by love and mercy towards one’s neighbour. Mercy and kind-hearted attitude towards one’s neighbour and forgiveness of his wrongdoings is achieved through humility and self-reproach, when we blame ourselves and not someone else in all distressing and unpleasant occasions; when we find faults with ourselves because we didn’t know how to act the right way, which led to the trouble that we have to face now. If we look at things this way, we will be less upset and angry, for anger does not do what is right before God.

Prepared by The Catalog of Good Deeds
October 23, 2018


Source: Selected Letters of Holy Optina Elder Schema-Hieromonk Ambrose to Monastics.

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