People ask me, “How should I live? Where should I go? What sacred object should I kiss? What should I read?” Of course, people need all those things. They are in search of spiritual help. However, I have to answer all those questions with, “Listen, you’ve got everything you need to change the situation you’re in and to get answers to all of your questions. The Lord is near: But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Matthew 6: 33). And: behold, the kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21).
However, in order to accomplish that, you’ve got to be humble because it is easy to comfort yourself by thinking, “If only I had a different environment, different people, and a different situation, I’d be a hero. Right now, everyone prevents me from doing what I can do.” What it leads to is justification of one’s sin and unwillingness to work, to seek God, and to fight for Christ. People like those are looking for the outward things. We have to discover that the path of an Orthodox Christian is to get inside the cell of his or her own heart and to remain there face to face with God. That’s an important point for each one of us. We can test ourselves with the following question, “Can I honestly say that I’ve got everything I need? Am I satisfied with everything? Don’t I want anything other than being with God?” Do I have any ifs and buts to be followed by big requests, big petitions, and sometimes even attack God? “Why? What for? I don’t want it. I don’t deserve it…” Sin leads people to insanity and isolation. People become bitter, desperate, disappointed, and don’t believe anyone. He stops believing that God and his neighbour needs him. When the person hides into his shell, he dies slowly and painfully.
Our way leads us to the unity that we spend so much time talking about at our monastic meetings. It is hard for those people who have various skills and various backgrounds, various personality traits and experiences to come to the Convent and to merge into a unified body of the holy Convent. It is even less possible to talk about unity in our Sisterhood because it occupies merely a part of a lay sister’s life. A sister has to be able to feel her unity with other sisters all the time. It isn’t always possible because we find ourselves in various situations and we lack the skills of staying in the presence of God. We are incapable of retaining the memory of God through inner prayer at all times, thus remaining with God in all circumstances. That is why we experience quite a few losses, i.e., moments when we lose God’s presence and fall. They occur whenever we criticize, grumble, or become depressed. Unfortunately, we destroy what the Lord builds inside our hearts, i.e., the Kingdom of Heaven. Father Sophrony said remarkable words, “The person who diminishes God’s Plan (God’s plan for us is holiness, i.e., we all must be holy) commits a grave sin because the only things that we must be asking the Great God for are great things.” It means that we shouldn’t be asking God to cure our legs, ears, or teeth (even if it hurts too much!) Instead, we should say, “Lord save my immortal soul.” Of course, we can intercede before the Lord for our friends and family using simple words, e.g., “Lord you see that person. There’s something wrong with him. Help him, O Lord! He is drunk again. Help him to catch that serpent and throw it away! Most importantly, Lord, save his immortal soul.” Alcoholism is not the problem: the problem is to make sure that the person’s soul is ready for eternal life and humble enough to get there. Even failures may be beneficial for the person to realise his condition and not to go away from God.
Nun Nymphodora once admitted during a monastic meeting that she had had some sins that had helped her to stay with God. If one is diligent and well-organised, one may achieve certain results and say, “Now I’m a real nun. I can do all things, I’m worthy; I don’t spare myself. I work twenty hours a day. I almost never sleep and don’t eat almost anything…” Does it really mean anything? If you remind yourself of your sins, you get closer to God. I saw that God loved Nun Nymphodora and showed to her that she wasn’t worth anything without him. I found trouble and sorrow. Then called I upon the name of the LORD (Ps. 116:3-4). And: But where sin abounded, grace did much more abound (cf. Rom. 5: 20). Certainly, it is extremely hard for us not to boast after having invested a lot of effort into something and achieving some results. Nevertheless, we have to realise that everything we do comes from God. If we attribute the act of God to ourselves, it damages us because it feeds our pride: “See, I’m prepared! I’m capable!” Just imagine: the holier the person is – the closer to God the person is – the more acutely he feels guilty before God and neighbour. The prayers, which we read before Communion, were written by great saints and contain the following words, “I have done all sins, I have planted all kinds of filth into my heart. I have become unseemly for Thee, my God, and for all men.”
We don’t have any reason to be depressed and grumbling. We have no reason to claim that we haven’t received anything in this life. We have everything we need for our salvation and more. If we say that we don’t have this or that, we have to double-check if we aren’t in a sinful state, that is, if we aren’t under the influence of the enemy of our salvation – the devil – and whether we don’t condone our sins. Where did we make the mistake? Have we become too proud and arrogant? Have we judged anyone? If the answer is yes, we’ve got to go back and correct our mistakes, for otherwise we will inevitably drift away from the route to the Heavenly Kingdom.