1. Eternal torment and eternal bliss are not things that only come from the outside. They are primarily found within man himself. The Kingdom of God is within you (Luke 17:21). The feelings a person plants in his soul during his or her lifetime will go into eternity with him.
2. Do not stop at merely being good on the outside. Although it is indispensable, the main thing is to eradicate passions, especially malice, from your heart…
3. We must fight against passions, and if they win, we must repent and confess all our sins. There will be no repentance at the Last Judgment, but only the God’s Truth.
4. The Sacrament of Reconciliation, or Confession, tears up the promissory notes. It destroys the record of our sins. The Communion of the true Body and Blood of Christ gives us the power to be born again spiritually. Although this does not occur immediately, and is perhaps imperceptible to us: the kingdom of God cometh not with observation (Luke 17:20); yet there is no doubt that this rebirth will happen sooner or later, and we will begin a new life, a life in Christ.
5. We know the power of fasting and its significance at least from the fact that it is somehow particularly hated by our enemy the devil.
6. Prayer begins with an effort of the soul. The mind listens to the words of prayer. Then the meaning of prayer touches the human spirit, and the spirit rejoices, driven by the divine power of prayer.
7. Prayer is difficult because it is opposed by our old self. It is also difficult because the evil one resists a praying man with all his might. To the devil, prayer is the foretaste of death, though of course he is already dead spiritually. However, prayer strikes him again, and that is why he resists it in every way. Even saints find prayer difficult at times, even though you’d think that they would only be comforted by it. Indeed, prayer brings with it a great comfort, not only to a righteous person, but also to a sinner.
8. There are two kinds of fasting: inner and outward fasting. The first is the safeguarding of our vision, hearing and all our feelings from all bad and impure things; the second is the abstinence from certain kinds of food. Both of them are inseparable from one another. Some people pay attention only to the outward fasting and do not comprehend the inner fasting at all.
9. Monks and all our brothers are also human beings. Since they are human beings, it is natural that they also have some passions and vices: one person is proud, the other is evil, the third is a fornicator, and so on. All these people came here, to the “hospital” (the Optina Pustyn) to be healed of whatever it is that they suffer from. When you notice the vices of the monastics, you should try not to judge – this is our motto. All people are weak, all have passions, and we must forgive each other.
10. Monasticism is not solely about the undercassock and porridge. There is a man who puts on an undercassock, starts eating porridge and thinks that he’s become a monk now. No. Appearances alone won’t do any good. Sure, you do have to wear monastic clothes and keep the fast, but that’s not all. A lamp that doesn’t shine does not justify its purpose, that is, to shine. What’s missing, then? Fire. You need a wick and kerosene, but if there’s no fire, if you don’t light up the lamp, it doesn’t do anybody any good. Once you light it up, the light comes right out. The same is true of monasticism: appearance alone is of no use. You need the inner light.
11. The more we read the Gospel, the clearer the difference between it and the best works of the greatest human minds. No matter how beautiful and insightful any famous work, scientific or artistic, might be, one can understand any of them to the end. They are deep, but they have a bottom nevertheless. The Gospel has no bottom. The more you look at it, the wider its meaning, infinite for any brilliant mind, unfolds.
12. Our whole life goes on in a bustle. The mind is in the midst of worldly thoughts and temptations. Little by little it will be able to remember God in such a way that it will think about Him without thinking and remember Him without remembering. So long as your mind keeps moving. As long as you have this drive that pushes you forward, do not be afraid, your boat is still traversing the sea of life under the shadow of the Cross. Don’t be afraid of possible storms. No voyage can be accomplished without bad weather, the least so the journey of life.
13. Where people are, there is vanity. Vanity silences the voice of the human soul.
14. Great gifts in the hands of an inexperienced person can not only do damage but also destroy him completely. That man can become proud; and pride is worse than any vice: God opposes the proud. One must suffer to receive any gift.
15. Our whole life is the great mystery of God. All circumstances of life, however small and insignificant they may seem, are of great importance. We will understand the meaning of the present life only in the age to come! We should be very careful, and yet we flip through our lives as if they were books, sheet by sheet, not knowing what they contain.
Source: Gifts of God. Selected sayings from the works of St. Barsanuphius of Optina