6 February 1954
Letter to a nun
Christ is in our midst!
I received your esteemed letter, read it with love, and rejoiced that you are zealous in prayer. God bless you - be diligent, for prayer is the main thing in the spiritual life. However, realize that the measure of its height and benefit is also the measure of its high price, i.e. great efforts. St Agathon said: 'Nothing is more difficult than to pray to God, and prayer requires a struggle to the last moment of life'. And in order that it may succeed better, try as far as you can to fulfil three conditions: have a pure conscience in relation to God, people, and things. Towards God, try to fulfil the Gospel commandments; towards people, try not to condemn or to be hostile; towards things, try to use them without attachment. These are the preparatory conditions.
Practise prayer this way: Do not represent God and the Mother of God or the saints in your mind. Contain your mind in the words of the prayer and focus your attention on the upper part of your chest, for attentiveness is the soul of prayer. You should not press attention upon the heart. If there is attention on the chest, the heart's feeling will join in. You should not aspire to tender feeling and tears, but when they come, of themselves, and warmth of heart, stop and wait until they pass. You must not think you have received something great. It comes naturally from concentration. However, it is not an illusion either.
I want to say this too, just in case, although it happens seldom and to few people: tears stream down, people all look like saints, enemies do not exist, warmth invades the whole body - not warmth of the blood, but a special warmth of grace such that you cannot stand on your feet and you have to sit or lie down. This is the visit of a heavenly guest, and only a person who experiences it himself can know it; for outsiders it is incomprehensible. In prayer imitate the widow in the Gospel [Luke 18:2-9].
Sometimes you will get dryness, laziness, an influx of thoughts, sorrows, slander from people and much else, but this all will pass with God's help, if only you do not get discouraged. Do not trust yourself this side of the grave. Have humility and never condemn anyone for anything. There have been ascetics who saw the glory of the saints and had such grace from God that they performed miracles, healing the sick by laying on of hands. People glorified them and they began to form a high opinion of themselves through demonic pride. Then grace left them. They took up a dissolute life and became a laughing-stock to people. Do not be surprised that there are passions in you. They remind us that we are human beings and they humble us. Beware of conceit and demonic pride. Know too that stability in virtue depends not on us but on the grace of God, and the protection of grace is given for humility. St Isaac the Syrian says: 'If you labour at some virtue and do not see fruits and success, do not be surprised, for the Lord gives his gifts not for labour, but for humility'.
Without humility there can be no virtue. In my spiritual blindness I do not know men of prayer and cannot point them out to you. Pray yourself, for the Lord gives prayer to those who pray. If you get somewhat into the habit of prayer, then the ticking of a clock will not disturb you; but you cannot determine the time; years may go by. One voung man named George mentioned in the Philokalia21 had a special way of practising prayer. As for you, practise the general rules which I briefly explained to you. Do not aspire to the schema; it will not increase your spiritual progress, or are you interested in putting on a garment that has crosses on it? Strive for the one thing needful, and all the rest will be added.
In Kiev this happened: a schema-monk and a novice had been buried at the same time. When their graves were opened, the novice was wearing the habit and the schema-monk was wearing the novice's dress. There's a schema-monk for you! Poor fellow, you wore a schema and it served not for your salvation but for your condemnation. I blush as I write these lines, for I am a schema-monk too. Oh, that it may not be for my condemnation too! Yet I do not despair. The Lord is merciful; He knows our weakness and has given repentance to schema-monks too. Glory, O Lord, to thy holy mercy!
I ask your holy prayers for my need.
21. Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart, p. 145."
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