Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov is a Russian saint who lived in the 19th century, close enough to our times to see the beginnings of society’s great apostasy from Christ. His birth may remind you of many barren-mother stories of the Old Testament: his mother was unable to conceive and only had Saint Ignatius, her lone child, after praying fervently to God. Born into a family of nobles, he was intellectually gifted, excelling as a teenager at the military academy, enough to be recognized by Tsar Nicholas I. He decided, however, to dedicate his life to the Lord through a life of monasticism, eventually becoming an abbot and then bishop. He is seen by ROCOR as a pillar of faith for his time, alongside his contemporary Saint Theophan the Recluse. The Field is the first in a series of his collected works.

Dealing with tribulation and suffering

Grumbling and anger during sorrows and difficulties is a rejection of the cross. Only he who has taken his cross can follow after Christ—he is submissive to God’s will, humbly acknowledging himself to be worthy of every judgment and punishment.

Do not get attached to this world

When a pilgrim stops on his way in a house for pilgrims, he does not pay any attention to the state of the house. Why would he, when he is staying there only for a short time? He is content with only the basic necessities; he tries not to waste the money that he needs to continue his journey and to find housing in that great city to which he travels. He bears privation and lack of comfort with patience, knowing that they are only accidents to which every traveler is subject, and that undisturbed calm awaits him in the place to which he travels… Let us develop the same indifference to the world. Let us not foolishly waste our abilities of soul and body; let us not bring them as a sacrifice to the vain and fading world. Let us defend ourselves from attachment to the short-lived and material, so that the world will not prevent us from finding the eternal and heavenly. Let us defend ourselves from the indulgence of our insatiable and unquenchable desires, which only hastens a fall of monstrous proportions. Let us defend ourselves from excesses, being content only with what is necessary. Let us direct all our attention to the life after death, which will have no end.

For many years I lived in Poznan, Poland, a lovely city that I fondly remember for its beauty, architecture, and comfort, the latter of which I greatly treasured at the time. One intersection that usually served as a meeting point for friends was Podgórna and Wroclawska, right in the center of the city. There was a tram stop at that intersection, and while waiting for my companions, I’d often watch trams come, drop people off, pick other people up, and then depart. Many times I had the thought that this intersection was a “waystation,” a place of movement, either for the sake of transport or to meet friends, and then I had the thought that Poznan itself, the city I lived in for five years, was also a waystation, a place I temporarily resided in before I moved to my true home, perhaps to another city in Poland, or to another country. What I didn’t know at the time, due to my spiritual blindness, was that my very life in this body is a waystation to an eternal home, either hell if I do not serve God’s will, or Paradise if I do.

I did not get too attached to living in Poznan—I had very few possessions and always had my eye open for a city that could be better. This is how I now approach living in my fallen body. Why get too attached when soon I will be underneath the ground, food for worms? Any worldly fixation or hobby should ultimately be harnessed to serve the Lord, for otherwise it will be done in vain and cause me to neglect my duties before God, making me an exile from the only permanent home worth living in.

Do not self-interpret Scripture

Do not dare to interpret the Gospels and the other books of the Holy Scriptures on your own. The scriptures were uttered by holy prophets and apostles, uttered not arbitrarily but according to the inspiration of the Holy Spirit. How utterly mad, then, to interpret it arbitrarily!

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For him who loves his fallen soul, for him who does not want to deny himself, the Gospel is shut. He reads only words, but the Word of life and the Spirit remain for him under an opaque veil.

When the Lord was on this earth with His most-holy body, many saw Him and yet saw Him not. What profit does a man receive when he sees only with the eyes of his flesh, which he shares with the beasts, but sees nothing with the eyes of his soul—his mind and heart? And today, many read the Gospels daily but at the same time never read it at all; they know it not at all.

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The mind that has yet to be purified by repentance, still wanders in the darkness of the fall, and is not enlightened and led by the Holy Spirit. The man who dares to reason about God with his own sickly mind and from the darkness of his own pride, always falls into error.

Self-interpretation is a disease of the soul. I’ve had fornicators, men whose minds were blended into mush due to the intoxication of their fornication and incessant feeding of lust, tell me that the scriptural interpretation of an Orthodox saint, who purified his body and soul for decades through asceticism, and who was granted visitations by the Holy Spirit due to his purity to teach the scriptures, is wrong. I’ve had women in their twenties, who don’t even read the Bible, and are steep in New Age “research,” tell me the ways of the Lord. What, therefore, am I worthy to share with you concerning God? I surely can’t interpret scripture, and I wouldn’t dare offer spiritual food like the saints. Perhaps I’m worthy only to read books from men who have been exalted by God, such as Saint Ignatius, and feebly attempt to share my opinions and faith in response to their holy guidance.

Read books according to your spiritual level

Let everyone choose for himself the Fathers whose writings most correspond to his way of life. Let the hermit read the Fathers who wrote about hesychasm; let the cenobitic monk read the Fathers who wrote instructions for those who live in monastic communities; let the Christian in the world read those Fathers who wrote for the benefit of all Christians. Let each person, no matter what his calling, glean a fruitful harvest from the Fathers’ writings.

The Philokalia is an advanced book but it’s not uncommon for those who aren’t even baptized in the Church to have read it. An advanced book I did end up reading is The Ladder of Divine Ascent. I understood the words from a definitional standpoint, but could I transmit the deep meaning of the book to you? No. Did I implement its teachings into my own faith? Not to my knowledge. Some people, however, get the wrong idea from difficult texts, and begin to be led astray by the evil one, thinking that the bulk of their faith should be about prostrations and hesychasm.

Difference between the Old Testament and the New

The importance of the Old Testament for a person can be compared to a will, which usually has all kinds of detailed explanations about an inheritance, including facts, figures, and plans for buildings. The New Testament is the inheritance itself. Previously, everything was described on paper; now everything is given in actual fact.

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What is the difference between the Gospel commandments and the Ten Commandments of the Old Testament? The latter did not allow fallen man to fall further into an unnatural state, but at the same time it did not have the power to raise man to the state of sinlessness in which he was created. The Ten Commandments preserved in the person the ability to later accept the Gospel commandments. The Gospel commandments raise us up to a sinlessness even higher than the one in which we were created—they make a person into the temple of the Living God. Having made him the temple of God, they keep him in this grace-filled, supernatural state.

We are fallen

Our fall is so profound, so frightening, that the word of God assumed human nature so that all people could be converted from disciples of the devil to disciples of God and the Truth; so that they could be freed from slavery to sin by the mediation of the Word and the spirit of truth and be taught all truth.

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I was born fallen, and began life already as a dead man: “I was conceived in wickedness,” and in the death of sin “did my mother bear me.” Life and death together were the beginning of my existence. I did not know or fully understand that I lived or that I was already dead in life, deceased in existence.

What a mystery is the birth of man in sin! How is he already dead, though he lives? How has he already fallen if he has not yet learned to walk? How has he sinned if he has not yet done anything? How are children, separated from the forefather Adam by thousands of years, partakers of his sin? My mind reverently gazes at the judgments of God, but I do not understand them. I dare not ask Him about them, but I see and marvel at them. I praise the unattainable, unknowable God.

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My birth in sin was a calamity worse than nonexistence itself! How can it not be a calamity to be born for the sorrows of a short earthly life, and then to eternally exist in the darkness and sufferings of hell? There are no intercessors for me; I myself have no strength to pull myself out of the abyss of perdition. May the right hand of God rescue me from there! After giving birth to me through my parents for existence, He gives birth to me through Himself into salvation. He washes from me the stain of sin, he renews me with the Spirit in the waters of baptism, he accepts the vows of loyalty through my godfather, he gives me His name, He stamps me with His seal, he makes me a communicant of His divinity and an inheritor of His kingdom.

I was dead when I was born, and lived as if I were dead for most of my life. I reeked of death. I appeared as a rotting corpse to those with spiritual eyes. And then God resurrected me before the Resurrection, lifted me up from the bath of my rot, and gave me a chance at real life.

The importance of self-denial

Without self-denial a person is not capable of faith; his fallen reason fights against faith, demanding an answer of God in all His actions and proof of His revealed truths. The fallen heart wants to live the life of the fallen, which faith strives to mortify. Flesh and blood, ignoring the constant presence of death all around it, wants to live its own life—the life of death and sin.

This is why the Lord told all who desire to follow Him with living faith: “If any one desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me. For whoever desires to save his life will lose it, but whoever loses his life for My sake will find it.”

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[Christianity] became the faith of the Empire, at first tolerated and then adopted by the emperors. Christianity soon became universal, but it did not preserve its previous character of extreme self-denial. Christians in the cities and towns began to spend more time in worldly pursuits, allowing themselves luxuries, physical pleasures, participation in civil holidays, and other weaknesses that would have horrified the first confessors, since they would have seen such things as rejection in essence, of Christ. The desert became a natural refuge far away from the temptations of the world for Christians who wished to preserve and develop Christianity to its fullest degree.

If your flesh wants to do it, don’t do it! It wants a second helping of dessert… stop! You’re already full! It wants to soak in a hot tub for an hour and forget about God… stop! Turn on the ice-cold water and punish your flesh for its desire to separate you from God. It came up with a good joke at a party that will make fun of others… stop! You are no better than those whom you wish to mock, you prideful wretch! If you feed the greedy desires and lusts of your flesh, your soul starves. Do the opposite: feed your soul and starve your fallen flesh.

Good deeds are not enough

If good deeds according to the feelings of the heart would give salvation, then the incarnation of Christ would have been a pointless act. The redemption of mankind through the passion and the cross would have been unnecessary, and the gospel commandments would be meaningless. Thus, obviously, those who believe that good deeds done in our fallen nature are enough for salvation destroy the meaning of Christ and reject Christ Himself.

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These apparently good deeds inspired by fallen nature grow the person’s ego, destroy faith in Christ, and are antagonistic to God.

My understanding is that good deeds will reduce your punishment in the next life, but are not sufficient on their own for salvation. If you see someone who has rejected the Church that Christ gave us, but they are a “good” or “nice” person with a vaguely spiritual outlook, you should pray fervently for their salvation.

We are weaker than men of the past

In the beginning of this nineteenth century, many virgins entered monasteries, people who never tasted wine, who never took part in any worldly gatherings, who never read secular books, who were educated only be reading the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers, who developed a habit of constant attendance of church services, and who were filled with other pious habits. They brought to the monastery a complete, already-formed morality, untainted by bad habits. They brought to the monastery their complete health, undamaged by any ill-use, which made them capable of bearing ascetic labors, hardships, and privations. The strict piety of the world itself educated and trained strict and strong monks, both in body and in spirit. Today’s weakened Christianity prepares and delivers correspondingly weakened representatives for monasticism. In our time, people who enter monasteries are rarely virgins. Nowadays, a postulant who has not gathered scores of bad habits is a rarity! A prospective monk who has kept his body in full health, undamaged by drinking or other bad habits, capable of true monastic asceticism, is a rarity! Most often, new postulants are weak, damaged in body and soul.

He wrote these words around the middle of the 19th century. Can you imagine what he would say about us today?

Stop judging others for their sins

When you see the shortcoming of your neighbor, have compassion for him—that is your duty! The weakness you see in him may become your weakness tomorrow. You are only tempted because you are proud and blind! You fulfill only some of the eternal rules of the law and become so impressed with yourself! You despise and judge your neighbor, who breaks the law in some trifling way, yet you do not notice them doing great, secret virtues that are pleasing to God, because such secret virtues are foreign to your proud, cruel heart. You have not searched your own heart enough. You have not seen yourself, and so do not consider yourself a sinner. Because of this your heart is not broken; it has not been filled with repentance and humility.

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You must forcefully distract yourself from judging others, guarding yourself with fear of God and humility. In order to weaken and (with God’s help) completely root out this temptation from your heart, you must descend into yourself with the light of the Gospels, search out your own failings, and scrutinize your own sinful inclinations, movements, and states. When our own sin becomes the object of our search, then we still have no time to watch after the sins of others and notice them. Then all our neighbors will truly seem wonderful and saintly; then every one of us will admit himself to be the greatest sinner in the world, the only sinner in the world; and only then will the wide gates of true and effective repentance open for us.

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No righteousness gives one a right to judge a sinning brother, because God can give that brother true righteousness that is far more established and real than anything that we are capable of on our own. We can only be righteous in the Truth of God, but when we judge our neighbor, we reject the Truth of God, replacing it with our own, which is the definition of Phariseeism. The one who judges another usurps the role of God, who alone has the right to judge His creation and to judge the living and the dead on the last day.

It’s okay to make judgment calls, where you use discernment to decide on the course of your life and faith while aiding those close to you, but it is not okay to judge others from a position of pride or superiority. This is perhaps the hardest commandment to follow. One thing that helps me is to pray for people when I see them, whether friend, foe, or stranger. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on this person.” It’s much harder to judge someone when you’ve just prayed for them.

Reject the praise of men

[The Pharisee] does everything for the praise of men—others would witness his love for fasting, his almsgiving, and his prayer. He cannot be the disciple of the Lord Jesus, who orders his followers to reject the praise of men, to go the way of humiliation, want, and suffering. The Cross of Jesus is a stumbling block for the Pharisee. He needs a messiah who looks more like Alexander the Great or Napoleon, with the triumphant glory of the conqueror, with trophies and booty! The mere thought of heavenly, spiritual glory, of the glory of God, of eternity—all these are impossible or his soul, which slithers along the earth in the dirt and corruption.

The world will hate you

[Lord Jesus Christ], the incarnate God, was not treated fairly by the world. Why should we expect otherwise for ourselves? Let us reject the fairness of the world for the Cross of Christ!

Our God is a God of suffering, not a God of comfort. We will be hated by the world and attacked and persecuted. If you are not hated by the world then you are part of the world.

Helping others

St Isaac the Syrian: “If you wish to heal others, then understand that the sick need attentive patience more than strictness.”

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St Isaac the Syrian: “The beginning of divine wisdom is silence and meekness, qualities of a great and strong soul that appear in the soul only when one bears the burdens of others.”

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Our good deeds not only must be hidden from people but from our own selves, so that their praises may not wither our soul, and that our heart itself may not praise us, becoming an adulterer with vanity instead of a faithful spouse of humility.

Almsgiving is so difficult for the modern man because of his selfishness, avarice, and self-centeredness that one must pray to God for an extended period of time to learn how to give the most paltry of alms, to give two mites when we have a treasure chest of two million.

Spiritual warfare

The more we are purified, the less frequent our sinful desires torment us, but at the same time, they become more subtle, less obvious, and sometimes they seduce and fool even men filled with the grace of God. Such falls into sin actually protect one from becoming arrogant; they become a reason for humility by keeping the ascetic constantly on the salvific path of repentance.

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The passions will not stop appearing in us and attacking us until the grave! Let us prepare ourselves for a lifelong battle against them, firmly convinced that we cannot always achieve victory against them, but that because of the frailty of our nature we will sometimes be defeated. Nevertheless these defeats themselves can serve to help our spiritual progress by supporting and strengthening repentance and its consequent humility in us.

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Let us not trust our victories over passions, let us not be proud of such victories. The passions, like the demons that wield them as weapons, are cunning. They sometimes pretend to be defeated in order to give us a chance to become proud, because then their victory over us will be the more convenient and definite.

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Do not think it is a small matter to give in to your sinful desires, even if they seem insignificant. Every time you give in to such a desire, you will leave an indelible stamp on your soul. This impression can sometimes be very strong, leading to the formation of a sinful habit.

Did the gambler know, when he touched his cards for the first time, that the game would become his passion? Did the alcoholic know, when he drank his first shot, that he was starting on the path to suicide? For suicide is exactly what this terrible habit is, since it destroys both the body and the soul.

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Only one sinful habit is enough to destroy a person because it will constantly open the door of the soul to all other sins and all passions.

We must endure until the end. What a fatal mistake to believe that you are “saved” while still alive. If I had a divine wand, I would wipe this absurd belief from the face of the earth, because it is sending millions of souls into hell who need a convenient excuse to pursue a spirituality of comfort without having their conscience tugged. By declaring yourself saved before you were tested by the demonic spirits of the air upon your death, you don’t even participate in the battle for your soul, but instead wave the white flag and make your attempted ascent to heaven frantically short.

Self-awareness

Sometimes God lets us see ourselves as we really are so that we can know through our own experience how weak we are in our abandonment.

This happened to me one afternoon when I perceived the complete absence of God’s grace. If the frightening state had continued, I would have been easily capable of sins that far exceeded the worst times in my life.

Natural love vs divine love

Fiery, natural love easily turns to disgust, to irreconcilable hatred. Natural love has even been expressed with a dagger.

Our natural love is covered in open wounds! What a terrible wound is passionate attachment! The heart possessed by passionate attachment is capable of any injustice, of any crime, if only to satisfy the cravings of its disease, so-called love.

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When your heart is not free, this is a sign of passionate attachment. When your heart is enslaved, this is a sign of insane, sinful passions. Holy love is pure, free, entirely in God.

Natural love reaches its apogee with mothers and their children, but even this natural love is not enough to prevent abuse and even murder of children by those mothers. Secular married couples have natural love, but this is based on physical and emotional attraction, which changes like the seasons. Friends may have some natural love, but I can’t be the only man who experienced the disappearance of a “best friend” when he got a girlfriend. Natural love is a start, but it is not divine love, and often resembles the investing of stocks (i.e. “I will put effort into you now to receive continual benefits later”). The Orthodox Christian who is lucky enough to feel the love of God during a spiritual experience will immediately come to realize that natural love cannot even begin to compare, and the love of a wife or mother, while pleasant and joyful at times, hardly feels like love when compared to the eternal love of God.

Eating properly

…whether you eat often or rarely, eating until you are full is strictly forbidden. This only makes a person incapable of spiritual labors and opens the doors to other carnal passions.

I have been repeatedly taught by the Church not to eat until I’m full or completely satisfied, to stop just before that moment, but do I not break this commandment regularly? How much aid am I giving to the demons by saddling my body with excess food, of fixating on how I will fill my belly instead of my soul with the Holy Spirit?

Prayer

…He fulfills our petitions after some delay. He sees that we need some time to be confirmed in our humility, that we need to become tired and to see our sickness, which always reveals itself very unexpectedly when we are faced with ourselves.

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God does not grant petitions whose accomplishment would be accompanied by negative consequences. He does not grant those requests that are against His holy will or contrary to his all-wise, unaccountable purposes.

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Do not pay any attention to thoughts that come to you during prayer, no matter how important, brilliant, or necessary they may seem to be. Give to God the things that are God’s, while the things necessary for the temporal life can be done in their own time. It is impossible to simultaneously work for God in prayer and clutter the mind with wayward thoughts and care.

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Do not search for exalted experiences in prayer—they are not proper to a sinner. Even the desire of a sinner to feel exalted is already delusion. Seek instead the resurrection of your dead, petrified heart, that it may become open to the knowledge of its own sinfulness and the depth of its fall and its insignificance, to see it and to admit it with self-denial. Then you will find within yourself the true fruit of prayer—sincere repentance. You will stand before God and will cry out to Him with prayer from this suddenly revealed state of spiritual helplessness. You will cry out as if from a prison, from the grave, from hell itself.

There should be a moment during one of your long prayers, where you look up to your icon of the Mother of God and think, “I hope this prayer can continue forever,” and yet how much more likely is it for us to think, “I can’t wait for this prayer to end so I can check my phone.” But I must ask you, what do you think you will do in Paradise for eternity? Watch interesting YouTube videos? Eat delicious food? Make googly eyes with an attractive mate? No, you will give glory to God, like the angels do, spending eternity beholding the beauty of His countenance. We might as well get used to that now with joyous prayer, training our wayward soul to love the Lord God instead of things of this world.

Humility

The humble man is not capable of anger or hatred because he has no enemies. If any person hurts him in any way, he sees that person as a tool of God’s justice or His providence. The humble man gives himself completely to the will of God. The humble man lives not his own life, but the life of God. The humble man trusts not in himself, and so he constantly seeks the help of God, and constantly remains in his prayer.

Humility is no longer taught in a culture that encourages self-esteem, self-confidence, assertiveness, and you-go-girlism. The more secular the culture, such as in the United States, the more Satan can invert the society with teachings opposed to God’s commandments. Anger at “injustice” and “inequality” is seen as a virtue, and if you ask someone when was the last time they were angry, they would probably answer you “in the last hour.” So many sins of pride and wrath go unconfessed and unremitted, leading the soul to a difficult judgment.

You deserve punishment in this world for your bad deeds

Abba Dorotheos: “…perhaps someone will say, if a brother insults me, and I find that I have given him no reason for this, then how can I accuse myself? Truly, if someone examines himself with the fear of God, he will find that he gave all kinds of reasons, whether they be in action or word or any other way. If he sees, as he says, that this particular insult was given without reason, then he must have previously offended him or another brother, and must then suffer either than sin or some other sin, which happens often. Thus, if someone examines himself, as I said, with the fear of God and scrutinizes his conscience, he will always find himself at fault.”

You were unjustly attacked or persecuted, and feel a bitterness rise up inside you as you proclaim your innocence, but you’ve sinned in innumerable other ways, and so amply deserve the attack.

Fornication is the fastest way to hell

Enjoyment of carnal thoughts and emotions is fornication of the heart and defilement of the person, making him incapable of communion with God, while fornication of the body is a fundamental change of the entire person’s nature due to his mixing with another body. Fornication of the body is complete isolation from God, death, and perdition. In order to come out of the first state, one must become restrained, but in order to leave the second state, one must be resurrected; one must be born again through repentance.

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O you virgins, you who have never tasted of spiritual death through actual bodily sins of fornication! Preserve your virginity as the most precious of treasures.

Fornication isn’t called a “mortal sin” for no reason. If you commit only one act of fornication, and do not repent, you are in great danger. When we go through the toll-houses upon death, our good deeds will help us remit unconfessed sins, but I speculate the full balance sheet of your life’s good deeds will be needed to remit only one unconfessed act of fornication. Why would I take chances with my soul by willingly going against the commandment of God against fornication because I want to feel physical pleasure for a moment? Surely, I must not care about my soul if I give in to such a temptation, but in the case that I slip, the Orthodox Church provides a means for me to confess and remit that sin. How about the Muslims, Protestants, and Jews? How do they remit sin in this life? I do not know or claim to know, but may the Muslim who dies be the most pious of Muslims, and may the Protestant who dies be the most pious of Protestants.

Why the demons are so persistent

Our enemy has no shame; he will never stop aiming his arrows against the greatest of God’s saints, because experience has shown him that sometimes his doggedness pays dividends, and even the vessels of the Spirit are sometimes brought to great sins, as was David when he took an evening walk on his roof and saw Bathsheba bathing. Our flesh is a false friend, because it craves another body not only by its own inclination but also because of the attacks of the fallen spirits, who feel pleasure in the defilement of bodies not their own. Often unexpected is the awakening of the impure, insistent, unrelenting desire! For this reason, St Pimen the Great said, “The bodyguard of the king is always next to him, prepared. Exactly in the same way must the soul be constantly on guard against the demon for fornication.”

The demons have nothing else to do but attack your soul. They don’t sleep or eat. They don’t lounge around scrolling through Instagram. The whole point of their existence is to attack God, and they do that through human beings, who are made in the image of God. Therefore even if you are holy and destined to sainthood, it’s still worth it for the demons to attack you in the case your pride gets to the point that they can deceive you with one of their many tricks, perfected from thousands of years of human observation and spiritual warfare.

Enduring tribulations

When you are suffering, do not seek human help. Do not waste precious time; do not squander your spiritual strength on searching for that powerless help. Await help from God. According to His will, people will come and help you at the proper time.

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If a person can easily find out how much weight oxen or other chattel can bear, then how much more does the endless wisdom of God know about the limits of suffering of each individual soul? A potter knows how long he has to keep his clay vessels in the fire. If he keeps them there too long, they burn up, but if he removes them early, they will be weak and useless for daily tasks. How much more, then, does God know how strong the fire of temptations should be for the spiritual vessel of God—the Christian—in order for him to become capable of inheriting the kingdom of heaven.

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Our sorrows seem heavy to us only because we do not wish to die for Christ, because we do not want to confine our desires, all our hopes, all our wisdom, all our riches, all our being in Him alone.

Many men spend hours each week at a gym, armed with a notepad or app to track their bodybuilding progress. They increase the weights methodically so that they gradually get bigger and stronger. How devoted are these men to their physical bodies! If only they would put that effort into building their spiritual strength by increasing their trust and faith in God with every tribulation they face in life. How much more beneficial would it be to their souls if they accepted the pain of God’s loving admonishment as much as they welcomed the muscular pain and soreness from their workouts. But instead they run away from the pain God delivers and look for quick fixes, medicines, or needless pleasures that make them feel better in the moment, ultimately deriving no benefit to their soul.

Should you live in the world or become a monk?

The Saviour of the world indicated two paths, two ways of life for those who believe in Him—the path or the life that leads to salvation, and the path or life that leads to perfection. The second way of life the Lord called “following Me,” since it is the most exact expression of the Lord’s teaching and a forcible emulation of the way of life that Christ led during His earthly life. Those who wish to follow the first path need the following: faith in Christ, life according to God’s commandments, and the healing, through repentance, of a deficiency in the fulfillment of the commandments. Consequently, salvation is attainable and given to all, as long as a person works and lives in a way not contrary to the Law of God.

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“How can a Christian know if he is capable or incapable of the unmarried life? … He who desires it, is capable of it.

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Those who enter a monastery after their prime of life often cannot bear the monastic life and return into the world, not even having gained an understanding of what monastic life is.

Right now I’m in limbo. I’m not married, I have no active wifely prospects, and I don’t want to become a monk. I believe in such a state I can be saved if I maintain the faith.

Building strong faith

Let us follow Christ! Let us humble ourselves as He did! Like Him, let us be called liars and madmen, let us not spare our honor, let us not turn our face away from the spitting and our cheeks from blows, let us not seek honor or beauty or pleasures, let us complete our earthly travels as though we were wanders with no place to lay our heads. Let us accept the insults, condescension, and hatred of others as an inevitable component of our chosen path. Let us openly and secretly fight against proud thoughts, let us with all our strength cast down the thoughts of our old man, who is eager to revive his ego under various apparently good guises.

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This vision of God’s providence inspires profound meekness and unchangeable love for one’s neighbor, which cannot be disturbed or distressed by winds of temptation. For such a soul, insults, slander, and the evil acts of others simply do not exist. All creation acts according to the direction or the permission of the Creator. The creation is merely a blind instrument. In such a soul, the voice of humility becomes more pronounced, accusing the soul of countless sins, justifying one’s neighbor as the tools of the just providence of God. This voice cries out joyfully in the midst of suffering, and brings calm and consolation. It quietly says: “I accept all this as fair because of my sins. It is better for me to suffer in this short life, rather than to suffer eternally in hell. My sins cannot go unpunished—this is required by God’s justice. The fact that my sins are punished now, in this short earthly life, is proof of God’s unutterable compassion. Glory to God!”

Saint John of Kronstadt stated that all illnesses are due to our sins. In that case, I’m extremely thankful that I was severely sick late last year with a flu-like illness that gave me breathing difficulties. How many small sins did it remit that I have forgotten, neglected to confess, or didn’t even know were sins? Thanks be to God for giving us a way to erase sins we neglected to confess properly before the Day of Judgment.

The gift of tears

The gift of sorrow and tears is one of the greatest gifts of God. It is a gift that is fundamentally essential for our salvation. The gifts of prophecy, prescience, and miracle working are sign that a person has especially pleased God and God has rewarded him, but the gift of compunction and tears is the sign of accepted or acceptable repentance.

A multitude of saints and holy elders advise the flock to open up their hearts to shed tears of repentance for how they have lived a wicked life away from God. There is one man I know at church, who half the time I look at him during the Liturgy, is crying, and how jealous am I of his tears, because I know they are purifying his soul. With hardened hearts, which most of us have, the eyes are stingy to discharge. In that case, you must attempt to cry inwardly, to feel genuinely sorrowful for all the sins you have committed, and beg God for forgiveness, and pray to Him that He may give you purifying tears.

While there are a variety of states of grace, if you experience one of prolonged and uncaused tears, it’s safe to assume that you are on the right track. On the other hand, if you’ve been in a Church for many years, and don’t remember the last time you shed tears of repentance, something may be wrong, and it’s best to seek spiritual counsel.

Conclusion

This book is so dense with teachings that I wonder if I picked up even 10% of it, but thankfully I picked up on something. Its power, however, will be useless on a Christian who is not actively struggling with zeal on the path of theosis. I can only recommend The Field for those who are ignited with God’s grace and want to become like God to the fullest of their ability within the Orthodox Church. Otherwise, I suspect the book will only serve as spiritual entertainment. I gained enough value from The Field that I plan on reading the next book in the series.

Learn More: The Field on Amazon

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"but in the case that I slip, the Orthodox Church provides a means for me to confess and remit that sin. How about the Muslims, Protestants, and Jews? How do they remit sin in this life? I do not know or claim to know..."

Me neither. For the first 30 years of my life I was Protestant. Had a "born again" experience at age 21 and was on fire for God, a fanatic. But eventually the world, my flesh and the devil chipped away at my soul. I committed more and more sin and eventually renounced the Christian Church.

In reality, I was only renouncing Protestantism. I knew nothing of Orthodoxy or Catholicism.

Now that I am Catholic, I see that reconcilliation and the Eucharist are quite litetrally Godsends. Countless times I have fallen, but I can always confess and be restored to communion with God.

And as for the Eucharist, every time I sin I get frustrated and saddened in the short term. But when I reflect on where I was a few months ago, or even right after confirmation in April 2021, I realize the Eucharist has been spiritual food conveying God's grace. It has been sustaining me on the spiritual battlefield. Solely by the grace of God, conveyed to me in the sacred host, I am growing in virtue. Not by my effort, but through Christ who strengthens me.

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Self-interpretation is a disease of the soul. I’ve had fornicators, men whose minds were blended into mush due to the intoxication of their fornication and incessant feeding of lust, tell me that the scriptural interpretation of an Orthodox saint, who purified his body and soul for decades through asceticism, and who was granted visitations by the Holy Spirit due to his purity to teach the scriptures, is wrong. I’ve had women in their twenties, who don’t even read the Bible, and are steep in New Age “research,” tell me the ways of the Lord. What, therefore, am I worthy to share with you concerning God? I surely can’t interpret scripture, and I wouldn’t dare offer spiritual food like the saints. Perhaps I’m worthy only to read books from men who have been exalted by God, such as Saint Ignatius, and feebly attempt to share my opinions and faith in response to their holy guidance.

Jesus' disciples couldn't interpret scripture either, and yet they ended up writing some of it. While you are still young in your faith, that does not mean that your faith is any more nor less than someone who has had theirs for 20 years. The Lord works through those He sees fits, in the ways He choses, in the situations He does, and at the time He appoints. Of all the supernatural miracles I have been humbled to be a part of and see His work, most of them occurred when I was just a teenager. When we decide what we think we deserve or have the authority to do based on our own actions or faith, we become god, not Him. You are just as important to Him and His Kingdom as am I and every other believer on this forum -- right now, right where you are in your walk with Him.

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" As newborn babes, desire the sincere milk of the word, that ye may grow thereby:" 1Pet 2:2

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Fantastic article, exactly what I needed. So much profound wisdom here. Especially the trusting God in all of our sufferings is such a key thing to understand. I personally have the tendency to look for worldly solutions when hit with suffering, but I realized just before this article that I have to trust God completely as suffering is just a test whether I trust God or not. What does the suffering itself matter if God always paves the path and the next steps on it, when suffering brings me closer to Him and when eternity is all that matters. To see St. Ignatius reiterating exactly that thought is very comforting to me, meaning I'm on the right track with my thought processes. Also the ideas of two paths within Christianity is very appealing, the regular path through family life/life in the Christian community, or the more alternative path following Christ in his footsteps, abandoning the regular path and being more on the ''adventurous'' path that you don't know where the next step will lead you to, I guess that many of us who've come to Christ in an irregular fashion which is probably a majority on this forum are put on this path. With all the insight and knowledge I have and how my life has turned out it's hard for me to imagine myself living a ''normal'' family life, but who knows what'll happen.

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Thanks for sharing your insights on spiritual warfare. There are deep truths to be learned in the teaching of these holy saints

I surely can’t interpret scripture, and I wouldn’t dare offer spiritual food like the saints. Perhaps I’m worthy only to read books from men who have been exalted by God, such as Saint Ignatius, and feebly attempt to share my opinions and faith in response to their holy guidance.

I would caution you to be wary of this attitude. Sometimes pride can hide in humility. It is a great thing to mistrust our interpretation of scripture — as it says in Jeremiah 17:9 “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately sick; who can understand it?” But it is a mistake to believe that we are so far depraved that it is impossible to learn from scripture ourselves.

Hebrews 4: 12 "For the word of God is living and active, sharper than any two-edged sword, piercing to the division of soul and of spirit, of joints and of marrow, and discerning the thoughts and intentions of the heart."

2 Timothy 3:16 "All Scripture is breathed out by God and profitable for teaching, for reproof, for correction, and for training in righteousness”

If you fear misinterpreting scripture, be diligent to seek the correct meaning of it, whether from Orthodox patristic commentaries, or even studying the original greek and Hebrew texts. Above all, take to heart the scripture’s command to read and learn from its teachings!

I have followed your journey to the faith for many years brother. May God’s blessing & peace be upon you.

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How about the Muslims, Protestants, and Jews? How do they remit sin in this life? I do not know or claim to know, but may the Muslim who dies be the most pious of Muslims, and may the Protestant who dies be the most pious of Protestants.

That's insulting fellow Christians.

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Fornication is the fastest way to hell​

Fornication isn’t called a “mortal sin” for no reason. If you commit only one act of fornication, and do not repent, you are in great danger. When we go through the toll-houses upon death, our good deeds will help us remit unconfessed sins, but I speculate the full balance sheet of your life’s good deeds will be needed to remit only one unconfessed act of fornication. Why would I take chances with my soul by willingly going against the commandment of God against fornication because I want to feel physical pleasure for a moment? Surely, I must not care about my soul if I give in to such a temptation, but in the case that I slip, the Orthodox Church provides a means for me to confess and remit that sin. How about the Muslims, Protestants, and Jews? How do they remit sin in this life? I do not know or claim to know, but may the Muslim who dies be the most pious of Muslims, and may the Protestant who dies be the most pious of Protestants.

While fornication is a mortal sin, doesn't this also apply to murder, masturbation, lusting, theft, extreme anger, swearing, lying?

I suppose murder is extreme in that vast majority don't do it, but the vast majority do the others. But with fornication, you can potentially propose, get into matrimony, then as long as you stay faithful make love to your heart's content.

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While fornication is a mortal sin, doesn't this also apply to murder, masturbation, lusting, theft, extreme anger, swearing, lying?

I suppose murder is extreme in that vast majority don't do it, but the vast majority do the others. But with fornication, you can potentially propose, get into matrimony, then as long as you stay faithful make love to your heart's content.

This is easily the stickiest topic since it affects the greatest number of people and they sadly all reinforce it (we all do). This is not an excuse but in the days of old, it was actually quite hard to go out of your way to be a "fornicator" and you could actually be married by age 20 in most cases. Dating? As Roosh said, it's nonsense, and he is correct - but it's been the societal norm for 60 years now. I don't know what to think but "Lord Have Mercy" - modern living with men getting starved out from sex for decades isn't exactly the paradigm St. Paul was talking about when he said, "if you burn, get married." As if a man can just get married to a woman these days, with the snap of his fingers.

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