Letter to a Spiritual Daughter (Continued) by Igumen Nikon (Vorobiev)
We continue this week with another letter written by Igumen Nikon (Vorobiev), a Russian spiritual father, to a spiritual daughter in the last century. His words are bright gems for all of us who struggle with physical, psychological and spiritual pain.
Today, on the Day of the Beheading of St. John, your letter, so sad and grievous, so low in spirit, as if you were imprisoned, has reached me. Even if imprisoned, you needn’t be so fainthearted. Just as the weather is changing, so also all people are given to inner changes. Do we need to fall into despair because of bad weather in autumn, when it is wet and dirty, though sometimes we may feel it difficult to cope with it? We bear this unpleasant weather, because we know for sure that spring and summer will come again. You, too, should believe that your yearning will pass to be replaced by rejoicing. Novices, like you, usually experience two different conditions: 1) there are some who will one day feel as if they were in paradise … but the next day - cool off and begin suffer from a burdensome boredom and yearn for something different; they will not listen to advice, cease being obedient to their supervisors; and feel what you are feeling now – and as a result, they (a) either leave, or (b) bear their depression, become humble and acquire - through the knowledge of themselves – repentance, humbleness and the lost paradise and begin feeling incessant gratitude to God and to all who helped them to settle down; and 2)there are others, like you, who at first will feel yearning, depression, faintheartedness, who will be defiant and ready to leave and go anywhere, feel disgust to all spiritual things, be rude to people around them, will make plans for leaving, and so on and so forth.
These are attacks of the enemy of our salvation assaulting the newcomers with a big army of evil forces - to hinder the access to the Kingdom of God that is within us. Judging by your present difficult state, which is but a weak foretaste of what hellish torments might be, you can imagine the opposite: if there are hellish sufferings, there must be an ineffable joy and blissfulness, that no eye has seen, that no ear has heard, and what has not entered into heart of man, what is concealed within us and what is the Kingdom of God. This is what we are commanded to seek above all: “seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness…”
How to seek it? Just like all other people did before you – by faith, obedience, prayer, by enduring inner and outer sorrows, but watching and restraining yourself, by rebuking yourself and permanent repentance and by refraining from rebuking other people, in short - by undertaking every effort, that brings forth humbleness. Humbleness will be followed by the joy in the Holy Spirit and by the Kingdom of God. You have started with sorrow and faintheartedness. This is good. With the time, you will feel better and better, and the convictions acquired by you will grow stronger and stronger. Be assured, that now, from time to time, you will feel comforted by God, as he wishes that every man be saved and come into the comprehension of the truth. God does not send to man more temptations than he is able to withstand.
Remembering that the enemy attacked you in order to prevent you at your very start from going along the road towards salvation, fight him with a brief prayer – better, the Jesus Prayer – as well as by tolerance, labor and obedience. Also, what is most important, do not connive at thinking about how good your life was before, that you could have sought salvation at home as well, that you could have settled your life like other people, etc. Reject such thoughts, because such thoughts bring one into a dispiriting mood. If you cannot do away with these thoughts, just think that you might have been imprisoned for five or ten years. Try to draw as vivid a picture as possible of your life then, and your present conditions would look as paradise to you. Indeed, it is very easy in your situation to make a mistake and be convicted under the existing harsh law.
The Lord has shown His mercy to you, and now you should thank Him for this and for all other occasions, and especially for that He has chosen you to be among His friends. Take your time, dear, to calm down when you are able to see yourself and all who are around you in the right light. Now you see all things in the wrong light, as they are presented to you by the enemy. Do not find fault with anyone. Listen to what the senior people tell you to do and do as told without objection and grumbling. If you have free time, read prayerfully the Psalms or the Gospel. At least these books are available. Try always with full attention and heartily to say the Jesus Prayer. One trick of the enemy, in your depressive condition, leads to another one, inducing you to heed to them and waste away your time.
Take an effort to overcome such mood by endurance, prayer, humbleness, and gratitude to God. The Lord is near at hand. He is watching your heart. If you had some love for Him, you would be happy for a possibility to devote your life to Him and would be ready to endure anything. Remember the life stories of St. John the Forerunner, of the Savior, of the Mother of God, of the martyrs and of the righteous people. What not had they to endure! Does your life come into any comparison with their deeds and sufferings? Read life stories of the saints (they must be there to find) and compare their life with yours. Write to me about everything in detail, and I will try to respond as far as I am able to. Be of good cheer, dear. May the Lord be with you and may He not leave you without His help and comfort.