The book that has convicted me more than any other is What God Has Done For Our Salvation by St. Nikodim of the Holy Mountain, more commonly known as St. Nicodemus the Hagiorite, a prolific saint who produced many written works. His words made a direct impact on the many odorous parts remaining in my soul, igniting a desire to serve God more faithfully and obediently. Below are my favorite quotes from this slim book, starting with a list of items to check your love for God.
8 signs that you love God
There are eight signs by which you may learn whether or not you love God as you should. You truly love God if…
1) you love Him freely, and not because you are compelled to;
2) you keep His commandments;
3) you love Him from your whole heart, loving nothing so much as you love God;
4) you frequently recall His name, as says Gregory the Theologian: “Those who greatly love someone remember even the name of their beloved with pleasures;”
5) you shed abundant tears when you remember the name of God, as says St. Isaac: “The custom of love is to shed tears at the remembrance of the beloved;”
6) during prayer your mind easily leaves all the cares of the world and cleaves only to remembrance of God and to love for Him, feeling internal sweetness and peace surpassing all sweetness and all peace, and the more time you spend in prayer standing before God, the greater your love is for Him;
7) you rejoice when you endure reviling for the love for God and for the fulfillment of His commandments; and
8) your love for God is not defeated by anything else…
The dangers of pride
Pride is a mindless lust which, when it has possessed a man, suggests to him the idea that he is better than he actually is, and that other people think the same of him as he does. Thus, one who is proud thinks of no one but himself. As a spider sits in the center of its web, so he also puts himself at the center of everything. And as a spider spins the web out of itself, so also one who is proud, whenever he thinks or does anything, considers himself the source of everything.
Pride and Christ cannot be present simultaneously in the heart of a Christian: where the one is the Other will not be, and vice versa. It is for this reason that the Lord said to the Pharisees that they, in seeking the glory of men from one another, became unworthy of believing in Him: “How can ye believe, which receive honor one of another, and seek not the honor that cometh from God only?” (John 5:44) From these words you may understand that as soon as glory enters into the soul of a man, faith immediately disappears. How terrible a thing it is that the man who despises the law of God and loves temporal glory instead will be eternally tormented!
If we think that we can heal ourselves of pride, this is itself the utmost pride. The only way to be healed of pride is to turn to the Lord, and say together with the prophet David: “Let not the foot of pride come against me” (Ps. 35:12). That is to say: O Lord, do not allow accursed pride to set foot on the ground of my soul.
If you are proud, you will be punished as a thief who has stolen the glory of God, for He Himself said these words: “I will not give My glory to another” (Isa. 42:8). How destitute you are, O prideful man! Try to find something good that you have done by your own powers. Try, and you will shame yourself, for everything good that you have, you received from God.
Come to your senses, therefore: examine your inner world, and if you find traces of pride in your heart, strive to wipe them out. Do not condemn a single sinner who is proud of himself, for you yourself know that one who is wicked now can change in a moment, like the thief in the Gospel, and you yourself, though good now, can suddenly turn evil, as occurred with Judas. Indeed, condemnation itself is already a manifestation of pride.
The ease at which we fall into sin
There is no evil that we have not committed. We have only not done that which we could not, or for which there was not opportune time: the evil that we were able to do, we did. Our whole will, given to us by God that we might strive toward Him, the fullness of all good things, we have used to house within ourselves all the loathsome things of the world. With what incredible ease we have turned from God—as though neither divine nor natural law meant anything to us!
Even for the evils we cannot do, we imagine committing them in our minds to nonetheless receive pleasure from the possibility of one day committing the evil.
God created us out of nothing, yet we neglect Him as though He were nothing. In place of God we give preference to our bodies, which are in no way different from rotting stumps. God gave us His life that we might give Him ours also, crucifying our passions and not aggravating His wounds by our sins, as the Apostle Paul also says: “They crucify to themselves the Son of God afresh, and put Him to an open shame” (Heb. 6:6).
Do not laugh too much
How can we say that our inappropriate laughter is not contrary to the will of God, when our Lord, who became man, not only never laughed, but, in addition to the fact that He wept four times, in His teaching said: “Woe unto you that laugh now! For ye shall mourn and weep” (Luke 6:25). Basil the Great, in his canons for monks, prescribed a week of excommunication for laughter, inappropriate conversations, or joking words: “If anyone should make jokes or laugh inappropriately, let him be excommunicated for one week.”
Westerners are addicted to humor and making jokes. If you want an American to strike you, simply state that Lord Jesus Christ didn’t make any jokes and that it is not an essential human activity that we need to do or should be vigorously participating in. They will then go on to justify their incessant irreverence and man-pleasing so that their “humor” is rewarded with laughter, dopamine, and social value. I make jokes, more than I should, not because I see value in them, but because I require the temporal rewards of attention and validation due to my human weakness.
There is no such thing as a “little” sin
Let us likewise think about the multitude of evils that “little” sins introduce into our souls. As illness weakens the body, so little sins remove every good work from our soul and weaken it, destroying the virtues that vouchsafe a man the fragrance of holiness. Every sin, even if it seems little, separates us from the fruits of the spiritual life, sets us apart from the Holy Mysteries, and hinders our unification with the Master Christ, as the prophet Isaiah also says: “Your iniquities separate between you and God” (Isaiah 59:2). Every little, forgivable sin makes our soul grow cold in love, kills piety, dries up tears of compunction, extinguishes repentance, and prevents the grace of Christ from coming to dwell within us. However, there is still greater evil: when, due to little sins, we easily move onto grave, mortal sins, which completely destroy the unhappy man. These sins make powerless the good habits of the soul, and hinder one from receiving help from God.
I see my “small” sins as an early warning system. If suddenly I’m having negative thoughts against my neighbor, or judging my mother, I know that a demon is not far, and he’s “priming the pump” to pave the way for me to commit a bigger sin. Stop his evil scheme right then and there by turning away from the little transgressions.
Are you engaged in spiritual warfare?
O glorious code of war! In earthly wars the soldiers do battle, while the king remains in a safe place; in spiritual warfare the first to enter the battle is the King, the soldiers following after Him.
What, now, must you do when you are called to this war? You see that the war is short, and the victory and rest following it—eternal. You see that the foes whom Jesus desires to overcome are more your foes than His, since Him they are unable to depose from His kingdom, but you they can, if you do not overcome them. Thus, arise and resolve firmly to unswervingly follow after the Lord, to imitate Him in everything, and to undergo everything necessary to please Him. When you become close to Him you will find great happiness therein.
Two deadly traps of Satan
The devil sets many different traps to catch human souls and urge them on to their destruction. Two of these are idleness and preoccupation. Both idleness, in which a man sits and rots from laziness, and preoccupation, in which a man is constantly occupied with a hundred different things, are obstacles to salvation. Many Christian sit in idleness for days at a time—they walk the streets of the city, tell each other various bits of news, and discuss the people walking by. If they do go to church, it is only because they have nothing else to do. Thus they spend day after day without any benefit to themselves.
Working with one’s hands strengthens the body and makes it sound, while laziness and idleness make it weak, sluggish, and sickly. The most-wise Sirach rightly wrote: “Much evil is learned from idleness.” This we see in actual fact: There are fewer passions and less slyness in one who works, while one who remains idle is often possessed by ferocious passions.
The humbling labors of Lord Jesus Christ
What a wondrous thing! The Master of all, to Whom all things heavenly and earthly submit, Who created all His creations free, humbled Himself to the point of serving men and working whole days for them. The Wisdom that established heaven and earth, and enlightened the human intellect that it might create various arts and trades, humbled Himself to the point of doing rude and difficult work. The Wisdom that with astonishing artistry created heaven and earth, and inspired human thought for the creation of different arts, humbled Himself to the point of engaging in the most humble of these.
It was truly amazing to see Him Who holds the whole world in the palm of His hand rising early in the morning, taking a basket of tools, and going from one task to the next, covered with sweat in the summer and freezing with cold in the winter, and returning home in the evening, weary from work. He Who by His Spirit feeds all that lives, not only animals but even the plants, and fills them with every blessing (“[Thou] fillest every living thing with Thy favor”—Ps. 144:16), worked from morning until night for the wages He needs. The human mind is incapable of comprehending this! No tongue can describe it! At the sight of this the blood runs cold from amazement. Thus, the words which the Lord said were justified: “The Son of man came not to be ministered unto, but to minister” (Matt. 20:28).
Do you truly love God?
Your heart is so hardened that not only do you not weep when you hear the sweetest and most beloved name of God—you do not soften even a little when you see God nailed to the Cross and shedding His blood. When you stand in prayer your mind cleaves to every vain and worldly thing; it is here, there, anywhere but on the words of the prayer. If you do stand for a little while in prayer, you quickly become weary and despondent. Behold how little you love God: no sooner do you feel the slightest discomfort than you turn back and forget your former high ideas.
How hardhearted you are, preferring creation to the Creator! The easy yoke of the Lord (“My yoke is easy, and my burden is light”—Matt. 11:30) seems burdensome to you, and you consider your captivity freedom. Remove the heavy cloak of darkness and deception from your mind, and learn that there is no freedom other than that which comes from submitting yourself to God and committing yourself to the will of the Heavenly Father…
You praise others in vain
Those who [give you praise and glory] likewise give it in vain. These do not know that you are sinful and wretched inside; they see only your exterior. What glory can they give you other than the glory that one might give to a beautiful coffin, which is decorated on the outside with inscriptions and epitaphs, but inside is filled with stench and decay, as the Lord said: “Woe unto you, scribes and Pharisees, hypocrites! For ye are like unto whited sepulchers, which indeed appear beautiful outward, but are within full of dead men’s bones, and of all uncleanness” (Matt. 23:27). The glory of the world is also vain because it can never compare with heavenly glory. The existence of this whole vulgar world is a mere instant in comparison with eternity. Its glory is vain because it quickly disappears. In comparison with eternity our whole life is less than a heartbeat, less than the blink of an eye, less than an instant.
People praise you for your beauty, but your true charms are hidden beneath your exterior—just as manure is hidden by snow in the winter. Your beauty is short-lived, like snow, and in the end, “when a man is dead, he shall inherit creeping things, beasts, and worms” (Eccl. 10:11). If you open any tomb you will be amazed at the falseness of the glory of this world, and that such glory, despite the fact that it is nothing, is so greatly desired in the eyes of foolish people!
I’ve said it many times before and I’ll say it again: if you give me a compliment, it is processed by my ears and then I forcefully eject it from my mind and soul. I may thank you for your compliment to be polite, but I immediately brace my soul to be on guard of any prideful thoughts that may follow. If someone were to compliment me incessantly, I have no choice but to turn away from them. If I’ve done a good thing that you’ve received spiritual value from, thank God because he was its sole originator.
“I’ll be a Christian later”
In all the world there is no tradesman mindless enough to throw all his good into the sea and hope that they will return to him. There are Christians, however, who are quite ready to lose their purity of soul and the grace of God—the greatest gifts He has given them—and hope to receive these heavenly gifts back again; i.e., that their former purity will return to them as soon as they make confession. These unhappy ones, though bound by the chains of hell, think that they can cast them off at any time they choose. They walk before the Morning Star, who holds in His hand the keys to their souls, and think that they can freely leave him at any time. I will not describe this delusion further, for it is not new to man.
Great is the harm that sinners inflict upon themselves, expecting to repent in the future, since they sin without shame or fear, and thereby sink still deeper and deeper into the filthy, polluted mire of sin, in the muck of which not even pigs would wallow. They bring harm upon themselves in that they become indifferent to their salvation and begin to despise the commandments of God, as Solomon said: “When the wicked cometh, then cometh also contempt” (Prov. 18:3). When they reach the final degree of wickedness, their mind becomes darkened, their hearts harden, and they never again think of their sins. Some of these not only treat their sins with indifference, but even boast of them as though they were great deeds: as Solomon says, they “rejoice in evils, and delight in wicked perverseness” (Prov. 2:14).
A similar delusion is when a man says, “I’m going to focus on work and get rich so that I can donate it to God later in life.” What the man is really saying is: “I will worship Mammon with all my heart and soul, become attached to worldly things, tightly grip my hands around money until they become arthritic claws, and then I will foolishly attempt to time my repentance upon old age by giving away a tiny fraction of the wealth I accumulated.”
Idle thoughts and chatter
The thoughts of idle people are an unbroken chain of gossip and condemnation. The more a lazy person neglects his own affairs, the more zealous and industrious he is in discussing the affairs of others. The less he likes to work, the more he enjoys talking with people, which, after all, requires no effort. He can spend whole days in condemnation—even if he is quiet for a short time he soon resumes his foul conversations.
If you do not like it when you are talking with a friend and he does not listen to you, but instead keeps asking unrelated questions, how can you wish for God to speak to your heart when there is nothing in it but hundreds of empty thoughts?
Repent before it’s too late
…the time that God has given us in which to acquire Paradise is as precious as Paradise itself.
Do you now understand the value of the time that the Lord has given us in which to transform our lives? When death suddenly overtake you, you will search for yet a moment more, but will find none.
The love God has for us
How much the Lord has done for us, enduring for the sake of our salvation a multitude of torments and offenses! Upon seeing this every mind is amazed and every tongue is silenced. The Son of Man had only to say a single word to His Heavenly Father, and help would immediately have come to Him. Instead, however, He desired to free us from the power of darkness, shedding His precious and divine Blood. How can we thank Him for having sacrificed Himself so that we might live forever? Could God have given us anything more than the sacrifice on the Cross, offered by the incarnate Word of God? Has God really required much of us by instructing us to keep His commandments? Of course not. Let us repent, therefore, of our ingratitude toward the God of love. Let us commit ourselves to Him, since He has created us and saved us at such cost. With humility let us ask Him that He burn up the whole of our ingratitude with the fire of His love, so that His love might shine in us and so that we might love nothing in this world so much as Him. Let us no longer offend Him with our sins, but rather let us serve Him with our whole heart, saying with David: “O Lord, I am Thy servant!” (Ps. 15:7).
I did not share the harder sayings from this book because I know that there are many non-Orthodox who read me and I don’t want to expose them to teachings they are not spiritually prepared for, but perhaps no one is ready to be told that their love of God is quite pathetic and that they are attached to the world more than they realize, but for some of us, including me, these are the words one must read. What God Has Done For Our Salvation is less than 100 pages, and can be read in only a few hours, but its potency may be unsurpassed out of all other Orthodox texts I’ve encountered. As if taking a cold shower, it has invigorated me and opened up my heart to know how much more I could be doing to serve the Lord God.
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