I. A BRIEF EXPOSITION OF THOUGHTS WHICH DISPOSE TO REPENTANCE
Remember, O my soul, the terrible and frightful wonder: that your Creator for your sake became Man, and deigned to suffer for the sake of you salvation. His angels tremble, the Cherubim are terrified, the Seraphim are in fear, and all the heavenly powers ceaselessly give praise; and you, unfortunate soul, remain in laziness.
At least from this time forth arise and do not put off, my beloved soul, holy repentance, contrition of heart and penance for your sins. Putting them off year after year, month after month, day after day, you will not at all desire with your whole heart to repent, and you will not find one to have compassion on you.
O with what torture you will then begin to repent without success. Having the opportunity today to do some good deed, do not put off until tomorrow, my beloved soul, holy repentance, because you do not know what today will bring forth or what misfortune might happen to you this night. For you do not know what the day or night will bring, whether a long life stands before you or not, or if you will suddenly and unexpectedly receive a miserable and speedy death.
Now, my beloved soul, is the time of patience; now is the time to endure sorrow; now is the time to keep the commandments and fulfill the virtues; now is the time of sweet lamentation and tearful mourning. If you truly wish to be saved, my soul, be in love with sorrow and groaning, as previously you loved repose. Live as if you were daily dying; soon your life will pass by like the shadow of clouds before the sun, and you will be forgotten. The days of our life, as it were, are shed forth into the air; and so, do not hesitate even before the most difficult sorrow.
With regard to men: let us not speak of senseless sorrow, but even in reasonable sorrow, do not give yourself over to grief, do not be disturbed, do not run away; but consider yourself as dust before the feet of others. Without this you cannot be saved or escape eternal torment; for our life ends soon, and passes away in a single day. If a man will not crush himself piously through virtues, or will not sacrifice his own life for the fulfilling of God's commandments and the traditions of the Fathers, he cannot be saved.
And thus, my beloved soul, remember all the Saints: the Prophets, Apostles, Martyrs, Hierarchs, Holy Monks and Righteous ones, Fools-for-Christ and all who from the ages have pleased God. Where have you found Saints who did not subdue the flesh to the spirit or who did not suffer in difficult misfortunes, likewise suffered hunger and thirst, kept vigil and prayed day and night, had humility and contrition of heart, a childlike lack of malice, every mercy, an aid in every sorrow and need, various gifts and alms-giving, as much as possible? In a word, they had all the virtues, together with unhypocritical love. What they themselves did not wish and hated they did not do to others. And they did it with obedience, like bought slaves, working not as for a man, but as for God, with wise simplicity, but not appearing wise, as being insignificant, but only paying heed to their own salvation. O man! Death stands before you. If you labor, you will be revered with eternal life in the future age.
Virtue is acquired by every kind of forcing oneself.
Therefore, if you wish to conquer the passions, cut off the love of pleasure; but if you are pursuing food, you will spend a life in passions; the soul will not be humbled if the flesh is not deprived of bread. It is not possible to deliver the soul from perdition while protecting the body from unpleasantness. Therefore let us return to what is primary.
If you wish to be saved, O my soul, to go first on the most sorrowful path which has been indicated here, to enter into the Heavenly Kingdom and receive eternal life - then refine your flesh, taste voluntary bitterness, and endure difficult sorrows, as all the Saints tasted and endured. And when a man is preparing himself and gives himself the command to endure for the sake of God all sorrows and pain which come upon him, then light and painless seem for him all sorrows, unpleasantnesses and attacks of devils and men. He does not fear death, and nothing can separate such a one from the love of Christ.
Have you heard, my beloved soul, how the Holy Fathers spent their lives? O my soul! Imitate them at least a little.
Did they not have tears? O woe, my soul.
Were they not sorrowful, thin and worn out in body? O woe, my soul.
Did they not have bodily illnesses, great wounds and lamentation of soul with tears? O woe, my soul.
Were they not clothed in the same infirm body that we have? O woe, my soul!
Did they not have the desire for splendid, sweet and light repose in this world and every bodily repose?
Yes, they desired these things, and their bodies in truth were afflicted, but they exchanged their desires for patience and their grief for future joy. They cut off everything once and for all. They considered themselves as dead men, and tormented themselves mercilessly in spiritual labors. Do you see, my soul, how the Holy Fathers labored, having no repose and suffering every kind of evil? They subjected the flesh to the spirit and fulfilled all the other commandments of God, and were saved.
But you, O pitiful soul, do not at all wish to force yourself, and you grow faint from small labors, grow despondent and do not at all remember the hour of death and weep over your sins; but you have become accustomed, my wretched soul, to eat to the fill, to drink to the fill and to be slothful. Do you not know that you are called voluntarily to torment? And yet you endure nothing. How then do you wish to be saved?
At least from this time forth, then: Arise, my beloved soul, and do what I shall tell you.
If you cannot labor as the Holy Fathers did, then at least begin according to your strength.
Serve everyone with humility and simplicity of heart; acknowledging your infirmity and belittling yourself, say: "Woe to thee, my wretched soul; woe to thee, vile one; woe to thee, O all-defiled one, slothful, careless, sleepy, cruel; woe to thee, who hast perished!" And so, little by little it will come to tender-feeling, will shed tears, will come to itself and repent.
Translated by Fr. Seraphim Rose and Olga Oleinikov, Little Russian Philokalia, vol. IV
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