"FOREWORD: WHEN A MAN STARTS ON THE WAY
True conversion, repentance, and rejection of evil are the very substance of the Christian life. One who pronounces monastic vows seems to do no more than renew the vows of baptism; yet there is more to it. He undertakes to live the rest of his life as though he had already died, being a stranger not only to sin but also to compromise. 'Carrying in his body the death of Christ' means renouncing himself radically and ruthlessly, so that only the will of God as expressed in the Holy Gospel and revealed to him in holy obedience may mould and re-create him 'after the image of Him who created him'. He is to cling to the Truth, walk along the path of the commandments and be yoked together with Christ not only to the extent of taking up his own cross, but also, like Simon of Gyrene, of participating in the carrying of Christ's own Cross. He wants to know no other way but Christ. He seeks to cling to all that is good and to turn away from all that is evil.
At the end and summit of the monastic life, however, there is another step which few are allowed to take: to let go of the very notions of good and evil; to let go even of
doing good; and to know nothing but God in a final,ultimatete surrender, in the wisdom of holy ignorance, in simplicity of a return to the spirit of childhood which aims at nothing, plans nothing, but responds at once without reservation to all Divine promptings. St Seraphim was asked how it was that he knew what to say to every person at first sight. He replied that he knew nothing but said what came to his mind, unquestioningly, as coming from the deep serenity of God's own presence. When the staretz Silouan was asked: 'How do the saints speak?' he answered: 'By the Spirit of God', 'by the Holy Spirit'. All this seems baffling: it is so offensively simple and direct. Yet th is is 'mere Christianity' - so alien and strange to the modern sophisticated mind which has lost touch with the heart, the core of man's being, the depth where he can find God's holy dwelling-place.
The writings of Staretz John will strike many a reader as being 'too simple', 'too primitive', naive, perhaps even trivial. Many of his letters refer to the most ordinary things of life, such as receiving a damaged parcel or getting news. However, from all the circumstances of life he draws lessons that connect them with Life. With the wisdom of a heart open to God he discerns in all of them a depth, a significance, a dimension of eternity. An old Russian priest once said in a sermon: 'Only the Holy Spirit can make us see the eternal significance of things too trivial for us'.
Read these letters as though they were written to you personally. When you are on the point of saying, 'But he has already said that several times', ask yourself, 'And what have I done about it?' If it seems to you that something is really too small to be put into the context of God, remember Christ's own saying that not a hair falls from your head without the Father being aware of it. If you feel too worldly wise to have anything to learn from such a simpleton, ask yourself how much you know of the deep things of God experientially — not in your intellect, but in your deepest self, at the core of your being - and what use it is to you to know so many things, while you do so little.
St Arsenius of Egypt, who had been the preceptor of the children of a Roman emperor and a man celebrated for his learning, left the court, retired to the desert and became the disciple of an illiterate ascetic. 'How can you submit to the guidance of such an ignoramus?' exclaimed some of his former acquaintances. 'He can already read a book the letters of which I cannot yet spell', was the reply.
May God bless you with humble wisdom, with a silent and receptive heart, and may the prayers of Father John bring you to that simplicity which allows one to see.
Metropolitan Anthony of Sourozh London, 14 May 1979"