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Spiritual Counsels - I

Sts. Barsanuphius and John.

Concerning the measure of continence in food and drink the Fathers say that one should use both the one and the other a little less than necessary, that is, one should not fill the stomach completely. And everyone should determine for himself his measure both of cooked food and of wine. During wintertime no one drinks much; however, even then one should drink a little less than necessary, and he should act likewise with regard to food. In addition, the measure of continence is not limited only to food and drink, but extends also to conversations, to seep, to clothing, and to all the feelings; in all of this there should be a measure of continence.

During a time of disturbance and warfare of thoughts, one should lessen a little even the ordinary quantity of food and drink.

To act “according to one’s strength” means to use a little less than necessary both of food, and drink, and sleep . . . . As for food, restrain yourself when you wish to eat a little more, and in this way you will always make use of it moderately.

Let us always accuse ourselves: for victory consists precisely of this. As for the resolve to go away into the desert, as the Fathers said, there are three conditions, which if anyone observes, he can live both among people and in the deserts, and wherever he might go, namely: to reproach oneself, to leave one’s own will behind him, and to consider oneself lower than all creatures. And let it be known to your love, that all the efforts of the devil are directed towards separating us from each other; for he clearly sees that the word of Scripture is fulfilled upon us: “brother being helped by brother, as a city firm and well-defended” (Proverbs 18:19). May the Lord not permit him to fulfill his will in us, but may He crush him, according to the unlying word of Scripture, “swiftly under our feet” (Romans 16:20).

Q: How can one be saved in the present times?
A: In every time, if a man can cut off his own will in everything, and have a humble heart, and death always before his eyes – he can be saved, by God’s grace; and wherever he might be, fear does not take possession of him, for such a one “forgetteth the things that are behind, and stretcheth forth to those that are before (Philemon 3:13). Act thus, and you will be saved by God without sorrow.

Q: Pray that I might place a beginning to salvation.
A: The beginning is humility and the fear of God: “The fear of God is the beginning of wisdom” (Proverbs 1:7). And what is the beginning of wisdom, if it is not to remove oneself from everything hateful to God? And how does one remove oneself from this? Do nothing without questioning and counsel; likewise, say nothing unfitting, and at the same time acknowledge oneself to be senseless, unsalted, and degraded, and in general insignificant.

Q: Having many sins, I wish to repent, but because of bodily infirmity I cannot labor like the Fathers: I beg you, tell me: how can I make a beginning?
A: Brother! They are poor whom the Lord glorifies because they have renounced all their possessions, that is, all their passions, and have become stripped of them for the sake of His Name, such ones are poor in truth, and to them belongs blessedness. And there are other poor who have acquired nothing good, whom the Lord threatens, saying: “Depart from Me, ye cursed” (Matthew 25:41). He who has such possessions and is burdened by them, let him renounce them, so that he may remain without care. And so, if you desire to make a beginning of repentance, look at what the harlot did: with her tears she washed the feet of the Master (Luke 7:38). Lamentation will wash anyone of sins; but a man attains lamentation with difficulty, by means of much instruction in the Scriptures, of patience, of reflection on the terrible Judgment and eternal shame, and through self-renunciation, as the Lord has said: “He who would come after Me, let him renounce himself and take up his cross and follow after Me” (Matthew 16:24). And to renounce oneself and take up one’s cross means: to cut off one’s own will in everything and consider oneself to be nothing. Since you have said that you are infirm in body and can do nothing – therefore, do according to your strength, taking bread and drink a little less than ordinarily, for God accepted the two mites of the widow and rejoiced over them more than over all the rest. Instruct yourself not to be free in your relations with others, and you will be saved.