No one can say that the passion for smoking is innately present in the human body. Everyone knows that this passion is extrinsic. But nevertheless every smoker, current or former, knows well how much of a pernicious desire our hearts develop for it; it becomes completely impossible to live without it.
The priest that was my spiritual guide at the beginning stages of my Christian life had previously been a long-time smoker. And he, in turn, had traveled many times to the Pskov-Caves monastery. There, one of the Pskov-Caves monks, a well-known spiritual father, Archimandrite Adrian, told him: “You will learn how to fight with this passion and as a result will get a lesson on how to fight with every other passion”. And he told him to rely mainly on prayer; to lament over this passion, repent, confess and ask God to deliver him from it.
Later on this priest would say: “I really did learn a good deal here, because no matter how hard I tried, no matter how many different methods of abstinence I tried to apply, everything ended up being vain. I had come to an understanding of my infirmity: when it seemed that I was just about to attain victory, then suddenly, like a little kid, I would again fall captive to this passion. I gained an understanding of how feeble our own strength is, how powerless it is without God. I understood the danger of smoking when I would say: ‘there, I’ve quit’’; and then a day or two later would again fall captive to this passion with the same intensity as before. And then, finally, I gained an understanding of the power of patient prayer and the all-powerful help of God. I tried unsuccessfully to fight on my own, but sooner or later this always ended in me being defeated. However, I did not give up repenting and praying. And then, in the end, the passion suddenly left me on its own, as if I had never had it, as if I had never been a heavy smoker”. For this reason from the very outset he guided me in a similar fashion.
The advice he gave me at the time pleased me immensely. He said, “Don’t do anything, but before you smoke, always say ‘Lord, have mercy!’ forty times”. Usually it’s advised that each day you smoke less than the previous day, while smoking the first cigarette later and later each time. But this agonizing struggle, when you want to smoke, but abstain, is very hard. But here, with all cruelty set aside, I was told: “If you want to smoke, then smoke. Just abstain on the day before Communion”. A day?! I couldn’t abstain for a whole day! “More precisely, don’t smoke in the morning before you go to church”, he said. “And before smoking, say, ‘Lord, have mercy!’ forty times”. I learned how to say that really fast. The time it took to get the match ready was just enough to say it forty times.
But, in my case, things went differently… Things happen differently with everyone. The Lord gave him much to learn through this example, but that was not the case with me. I wasn’t expecting to have quick success with this task; I thought this would go on for a long time. I understood perfectly that I was not making any effort myself. This bothered me. Moreover, I did not even get enough time to acquire hate towards this passion. I was told that this is a bad thing, and I accepted that with faith—if it’s bad, then, well, it’s bad. Inside though I did not understand what was bad about it. I also perfectly understood that my prayer could in no wise be called attentive. I just wanted to smoke; there was no time for attentiveness.
And then suddenly, on one fine day, literally only a few months later, the passion receded from me, and it was as if I had never had it. I stopped smoking and do not smoke to this day. I didn’t go through the torments that I was told about by those who quit smoking—how awful it is, how every single day you want to smoke. I don’t want to say that it always happens this way, but this was an edifying example. In this case the Lord dealt mercifully with me. Now the only thing left for me to do is to guard this with attentiveness in order not to be taken by assaults and from conversation with them enter into a state of captivity by the passion and end up back in the pit that the Lord had brought me out of.