Friday, July 29, 2011

Advice for the Married Life

Fr. Ambrose gave the following advice to a couple about to be married and begin family life: "You must always remember that our lives will only pass peacefully and happily if we do not forget ourselves or God, our Creator and Redeemer, the Giver of everything good—temporal and eternal. Not forgetting Him means trying to live according to His divine and life-giving commandments; and when we break them because of our infirmity, to sincerely repent and to set about straightway to correct our mistakes and departures from those commandments."

"If spouses always shared equally in a Christian manner the burden of their lives," the Elder wrote in another letter, "then life would be good for people even on earth. But since spouses are often slack, one or both of them, our earthly happiness is not enduring."

- Fr. Ambrose of Optina


Thursday, July 28, 2011

Expect Temptation

"This is the great work of a person: always to take the blame for one's own sins before God and expect temptation to one's last breath."

- Abba Antony

Reference: Chryssavgis, John, and Kallistos Ware. In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. World Wisdom Books, 2008. Print. 

Wednesday, July 27, 2011

Atheism and Rebelliousness

To a mother who grieved over her son's atheism and rebelliousness, Fr. Ambrose wrote: "You wrote that you were disturbed when the beggar to whom you gave alms, asking him to pray for your son, prayed for the repose of his soul. Do not be disturbed at this. Nothing could have happened or is happening to your son because of a beggar's mistake and misunderstanding. And there is nothing greater or better to wish for someone than that they be made worthy in their time of the heavenly kingdom. If in your sorrow over your son you have sometimes thought that it would be better that he were dead than living as he does, then you should reproach yourself for it and give yourself and your son over in complete faith to the will of the all-good and all-wise God. If the Lord extends one's days, then He is bestowing benefactions; if He should cut short one's days, then He bestows just the same. In general, according to the sayings of the holy Church, the Lord in the depths of His wisdom dost provide all things out of love for mankind, and grantest unto all that which is profitable.[1] Therefore, there is nothing better or more profitable for mankind than devotion to God's will, and the ways of God are unfathomable. You know that we ourselves are in many ways guilty in that we did not know how to raise our son as we should have. Self-reproach is profitable, but you must be aware of your guilt, humble yourself and repent, and not be distressed and in despair. Neither should you be over-troubled by the thought that you exclusively are the involuntary cause of your son's present condition. This is not altogether true—every person is endowed with free will and must answer for himself before God.

"You ask if you should not write to your son in Moscow, and how you should write to him in order to touch his heart. Write briefly to him at first just to find out where he is. When you find him, you can write him in more detail. Then you can tell him that now he has learned through his own experience what atheism and rebellion leads to; that, in craving unbridled freedom he forgot that from sin, especially in defiance of one's parents, came slavery itself, which had not existed before on earth, and so on. Having prayed to God, write as the Lord puts it in your heart to do.... In general you should not be concerned now so much with enlightening him as with praying for him, so that the Lord Himself, through ways known only to Him, would enlighten him. Great is the power of a mother's prayer. Remember how Blessed Augustine's pious mother's prayers drew her son out of such a depth of evil. And as you pray for your son pray also for yourself, that the Lord would forgive you for whatever sins you may have unknowingly committed."

[1]From the Pannikhida, or Requiem service.-Ed.

- Elder Ambrose of Optina


Tuesday, July 26, 2011

The Serpent

"...there is a serpent by the wayside watching those who pass by:  beware lest he bite thee with unbelief.  He sees so many receiving salvation, and is seeking whom he may devour."

- Saint Cyril of Jerusalem

Monday, July 25, 2011

Sorrows and Torments

"I know that you have many sorrows and much domestic unpleasantness. But tell yourself, enlighten yourself with the remembrance that in hell it is much worse, more wearying and doleful, and there is no hope of deliverance from it. If a person endures sorrows with submission to God's will, confessing his sins, then he will, through this, be delivered from eternal torments. Therefore we had better endure troubles here, no matter how difficult they are, turning our grief over to God and praying to Him with humility that He deliver us from faintheartedness and despair, which are the worst of all sins."
- Elder Ambrose of Optina

Friday, July 22, 2011

The Storm

“This present age is a storm; and it is only through many trials and temptations that we can obtain an inheritance in the kingdom of heaven.”   

- Amma Theodora

Reference: Chryssavgis, John, and Kallistos Ware. In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. World Wisdom Books, 2008. Print. 

Thursday, July 21, 2011


To another mother who grieved over her daughter's illness, the Elder wrote: "I have heard that you are grieving beyond measure, seeing your sick daughter's suffering. Truly, it is humanly impossible for a mother not to grieve when she sees her little one in such pain and suffering day and night. In spite of that, you should remember that you are a Christian who believes in the future life and the future blessed reward not only for labors, but also for voluntary and involuntary suffering. Therefore, you must not become unreasonably faint­hearted and sorrowful beyond measure, like the pagans or unbelievers who believe in neither eternal blessedness nor eternal punishment. No matter how great are the involuntary sufferings of your little child S., they cannot after all be compared to the voluntary sufferings of the martyrs; and if they do compare, then she is equal to them and will receive a blessed state in the paradisal abodes. By the way, you must not forget also about our twisted times, in which even little children's souls are damaged by what they see and hear, and therefore require cleansing, which cannot occur without suffering. The cleansing of the soul happens most often through physical suffering. Let us suppose that there was no damage to the soul. Even so, you must know that paradisal blessedness is not given to anyone who has not first suffered. Do even the tiniest infants pass into the future life without sickness or suffering? By the way, I do not write this way because I wish that the suffering child S. would die, but I write particularly for your consolation, enlightenment, and true persuasion, not to grieve unreasonably and beyond measure. No matter how much you love your daughter, you must know that our all-good God, Who uses any means for our salvation, loves her more than you do. He Himself bears witness in the Holy Scripture as to His love for every believer, saying: Can a woman forget her suckling child, that she should not have compassion on the son of her womb? Yea, they may forget, yet will I not forget thee (Is. 49:15). Therefore try to calm your sorrowing over your sick daughter, turning this sorrow over to God: Having made known unto us the mystery of his will, according to his good pleasure which he hath purposed in himself(Eph. 1:9). I advise you to commune your daughter following a confession. Ask the confessor to question her wisely and carefully during the confession."

- Elder Ambrose of Optina


Wednesday, July 20, 2011

The Holy Spirit is so Good...

“The Holy Spirit is so good that He reveals to those who have consoled the Lord, in this life, the beauty of the future age.”  
 - Father Proclus (Niceu)

Tuesday, July 19, 2011

Protection with the Sign of the Cross

"The experience of the ages shows that the sign of the cross has great power over all a person's actions during the entire course of his life. Therefore it is necessary to strive to root in children the habit of protecting themselves with the sign of the cross often, especially when receiving food and drink, going to bed and waking up, before departing some­where in a vehicle, before leaving and entering any place; and they should not make the sign carelessly or according to fashion, but precisely, beginning with the forehead to the solar plexus, then to both shoulders, so that a proper cross is produced.... The sign of the cross has saved many from great dangers and afflictions."

- Elder Ambrose of Optina


Monday, July 18, 2011

Earthly Problems

"I received two despairing little letters from you. You write to me: 'I have perished, for my horses have been stolen from my homestead.' Come to your senses—what are you saying? That your horses have been stolen is not some sort of mortal sin for which you must perish. Furthermore, you would not be able to take those horses with you to the other world. We take there only our deeds—good or evil. If we do not possess any virtues, then we will try at any rate to be delivered from our sins through repentance and endurance of the sorrows that God's Providence has sent us to cleanse our souls from sins, vices, and all impure dross. I know that you have many sorrows and much domestic unpleasantness. But tell yourself, enlighten yourself with the remembrance that in hell it is much worse, more wearying and doleful, and there is no hope of deliverance from it. If a person endures sorrows with submission to God's will, confessing his sins, then he will, through this, be delivered from eternal torments. Therefore we had better endure troubles here, no matter how difficult they are, turning our grief over to God and praying to Him with humility that He deliver us from faintheartedness and despair, which are the worst of all sins."

- Elder Ambrose of Optina


Friday, July 15, 2011

Prayer from Way of the Pilgrim

“Most merciful God, Thy will be done, which will have all men to be saved and to come unto knowledge of the truth, save and help Thy servant N. Take this desire of mine as a cry of love which Thou hast commanded.” 

Reference: French, R.M. The way of a pilgrim ; and, The pilgrim continues his way. Hope Pub House, 1991. p. 206

Thursday, July 14, 2011

Arguing in Front of Children

"You write—'I would like that my husband and I could escape the destructive disagreement in matters of upbringing that I seem to observe in almost all marriages.' Yes, this is truly a subtle thing! But it is not good to argue about this in front of the children, as you yourself noticed. Therefore, in cases of dispute, either turn away from it and leave, or pretend not to have heard it—but never argue about your differing views in front of the children. Counsel and discussion about this should be in private and as dispassionate as possible, so that it will be more real. Incidentally, if you succeed in implanting the fear of God into your children's hearts, then various human foibles cannot have such a corrupting effect on them."

- Elder Ambrose of Optina


Wednesday, July 13, 2011


"Complaining will not rescue you from misfortune, but only make it heavier; whereas humble submission to God’s Providence and good humour relieve the burden of misfortunes."

- St. Theophan the Recluse


Monday, July 11, 2011

Upbringing of Children

In another letter, Fr. Ambrose wrote about the upbringing of children: "You write that you have noticed a dryness, insensitivity and other inadequacies in your son. But there are not many children who have real and true feelings; they usually come forth at a riper age, when a person begins to understand and to experience life. Besides, an abundance of inner feelings inadvertently becomes a reason for secret self-exaltation and judging others; while a dearth of feelings and dryness involuntarily humbles one when one begins to understand this. Therefore, do not be overly concerned that you notice this inadequacy in your son; in time, inescapable trials in life will inevitably awaken necessary feelings in him. But just try as much as you can to impart to him a healthy understanding that is in accordance with the teachings of the Orthodox Church.

"You write that up till now you have studied with him yourself and have gone over the sacred history of the Old Testament; and you ask, how and what should you teach, and whom should you choose to teach him? Having gone through the Old Testament with him, you yourself should finish this with him, that is, you should proceed to the New Testament. Then you should begin the catechism. You are afraid that the dryness of the catechism will not make him any warmer. The catechism does not make anyone warmer—it is sufficient that children should have a correct understanding of the dogmas and other subjects of the Orthodox Church. If you wish that the Orthodox teaching would also influence your son's heart, then read the Orthodox Confession and the School of Piety with him. Then let the teacher of religion instruct him in the catechism as is acceptable in learning institutions….

You should put more care into finding him a confessor. So as not to upset your own confessor, you should explain to him beforehand that you are seeking what is necessary and profitable for your son. Ask him in addition for permission to arrange this, for in your understanding a holy atmosphere is needed for a child during confession, although for one who has an understanding of confession this does not have any special significance. Before confession you yourself must work with your son to prepare him for this Mystery as well as you are able. Have him read the commandments before confession and explain them to him. Concerning the correction of his shortcomings in general, you can talk to him in a half-joking tone: 'You are a young prince after all, don't muddy your face with a fall.' You write that you are deeply convinced that there is no other source of goodness on earth nor of blessedness in Heaven than the Church of Christ, and that anything outside of this is worthless; and you wish to transmit this conviction to your children, so that it would become, as it were, the treasure of their life. But it seems to you that you are not endowed with a teaching vocation, and cannot speak with the strength of conviction required for this great subject. As a loving mother, you yourself must witness to these subjects to your children as best you can. No one can take your place in this, because to another you would first have to explain your own understanding and desires. Besides, no one else can know your children's souls, emotional structures and needs. Furthermore, a mother's words will have a greater effect on them than those of an outsider. An outsider's words affect the mind, while a mother's words affect the heart. If it seems to you that your son knows a great deal, understands a great deal, but feels little, then I repeat: do not be distressed over this. But pray to God about it, that He would arrange what is profitable for him as He knows best. You write that he has an excellent memory—use this as well. Besides your instructions, tell him soul-profiting stories, asking him at times to repeat them to you as he heard and understood them. Everything he hears from you will be preserved in his memory and mind, and then, with God's help, when he experiences life these things will pass from mind to feeling."

- Elder Ambrose of Optina


Friday, July 8, 2011

Sinful Poison

"Our nature is so injured by sinful poison that the abundance of God's grace itself in a person can serve as the cause of his pride and destruction."

 - Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov)

Thursday, July 7, 2011

Earthly Magnificence

"Because no man is able to abide at the heights of earthly magnificence and well-being without harm to his soul. Even one who is equal to the angels in his morality would be shaken."

- Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov) St. Isaac the Syrian, Homily 1

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

The Distorted Mind of Heresy

”The distorted mind of heresy is incapable of knowing and confessing the One true God; the sound faith and reason necessary for such confession is incompatible with unbelief. We must confess Father and Son before we can apprehend God as One awl true. When we have known the mysteries of man’s salvation, accomplished in us through the power of regeneration unto life in the Father and the Son, then we may hope to penetrate the mysteries of the Law and the Prophets. Godless ignorance of the teaching of Evangelists and Apostles cannot frame the thought of One true God."

- Saint Basil the Great

Tuesday, July 5, 2011

...Better To Be Totally Ignorant

"It would be better to be totally ignorant, but save your soul with fear of God, than, having attained the title of an enlightened person, to perish unto the ages, never thinking your entire life about what will happen after death."

- St. Theophan the Recluse


Monday, July 4, 2011

The Quality of Balance

“So how are we to distinguish between the divine or royal asceticism and the demonic tyranny? Clearly, it is through the quality of balance.” 

- Amma Syncletica

Reference: Chryssavgis, John, and Kallistos Ware. In the Heart of the Desert: The Spirituality of the Desert Fathers and Mothers. World Wisdom Books, 2008. Print. 

Friday, July 1, 2011

He Who Was Seen

“Thus the Only-begotten Son, Who is in the bosom of the Father, has told us of God, Whom no man has seen. Either disprove the fact that the Son has thus informed us, or else believe Him Who has been seen, Who appeared to them who knew Him not, and became the God of the Gentiles who called not upon Him and spread out His bands before a gainsaying people. And believe this also concerning Him, that they who serve Him are called by a new name, and that on earth men bless Him and swear by Him as true God. Prophecy tells, the Gospel confirms, the Apostle explains, the Church confesses, that He Who was seen is true God…

 -Saint Basil the Great