Saint John Of Kronstadt is a highly esteemed Russian saint and miracle worker who died in the early 20th century. He was a chosen vessel that healed scores of people while foretelling the intense tribulation of the Russian Revolution. His spiritual diary, My Life In Christ, is among the top three Orthodox books I’ve read. Every page is full of dense spiritual wisdom that beautifully harmonizes with what the Orthodox Church teaches. This is the first of four articles highlighting the best of Saint John’s lessons, starting with a description of spiritual warfare and why it’s so important to engage as a soldier of Christ.
Those who are trying to lead a spiritual life have to wage a most subtle and difficult warfare in their thoughts every moment of their life. This is spiritual warfare. They must be entirely awake, every moment, ready to notice every evil thought entering their souls from the evil one and to repel them. Such people must have hearts always burning with faith, humility, and love; otherwise, the cunning devil will quickly invade them, leading to lessening of faith or complete loss of faith. Then every possible evil will inhabit their hearts, evil that will not easily wash away even with tears. Do not, therefore, allow your heart to become cold, especially during prayer, and avoid stony insensibility in every way possible.
…the devil and his evil spirits, as simple beings—though far from perfect in their simplicity, and very limited—act on the soul quickly, instantaneously, as suddenly as lightning or thought. A momentary feeling of attachment to earthly things, or a momentary inclination of the heart to sin, a momentary doubt in the truth, and Satan penetrates into the heart, producing in a moment a violent passion in it. Afterward, according to the measure of our sympathy with the passion, he takes possession of us and drags us where he pleases as his prisoners, bound hand and foot. If we resist him, he strives to foil our efforts to strive for heartfelt faith and pious thoughts and feelings by darkening our mind and heart. In order to vanquish and drive him from your heart, you must produce perfect faith in the Lord Jesus Christ in your heart and remember that the enemy is active within you, that your thoughts or the inclinations of your heart and will are sinful, ungodly.
[The devil] destroys us using our own mind, which should lead us to the eternal, living God! With our own ladles he draws for us the deadly water of worldly, vain wisdom, and gives us and other men to drink of it, instead of the living water of the Word of God! And we drink and drink, never suspecting that is it the water of death.
You can see that [Satan] is in you, but often you cannot rid yourself of him, because he usually takes care to close all the exits from your heart through unbelief, hard-heartedness, and other passions of his inspiration. “Your labor is in vain, fallen angel, I am the servant of my Lord Jesus Christ. You, who exalt yourself in your arrogance, lower yourself by thus violently struggling with me, weak as I am.” Speak thus inwardly to the evil spirit, who lies like a heavy load on your heart and compels you to all kinds of evil. These words are like fiery whips to the proud spirit, and he, shamed by your firmness and spiritual wisdom, will flee from you.
However slothful and weak your flesh may be, however inclined to sleep you may be, conquer yourself. Do not spare yourself for God’s sake; renounce yourself; let your gift to God be perfect. Give God your heart.
Why is it so hard to engage in spiritual life?
Many people find it pleasing to go to the theater, but find it oppressive and dull to go to church. Why? Because in the theater everything is well suited to please the sensual man, and when we are there, we do not provoke the devil, but please him; while he, in turn, allows us our pleasure and does not bother us. Make merry, my friends, he thinks, laugh, only do not remember God. On the other hand, in the church everything is intended to arouse faith, the fear of God, pious feelings, the sense of our sinfulness and corruption. Therefore, the devil sows doubt, weariness, despondency, evil, impure, and blasphemous thoughts in our heart, so that the man is not content with himself and cannot stand for even an hour, and he gets away as quickly as possible. The theater and the church are polar opposites. The first is the temple of the world, the second the temple of God; the former is the temple of the devil, the latter the temple of the Lord.
Those who have not found Christ live in this life without heartfelt faith; they think and care more about worldly things—how to enjoy themselves, how to eat and drink pleasurably, how to dress exquisitely, how to satisfy their carnal desires, how to kill time, because they do not know what to do with it, even though time seeks them and, not finding them, quickly flies away before their eyes. Day after day speeds ahead, night after night, month after month, year after year, until finally, the last terrible hour strikes, and they hear a voice, “Stop, the course is finished; your time has been lost; your sins and iniquities have preceded you; they will fall upon you with all their power, and will crush you with their weight eternally.”
You must force yourself
People say that if you feel no inclination to pray, it is better not to pray, but this is the cunning of a carnal mind-set. If you only pray when you feel the inclination, you will completely cease praying—this is what the flesh desires. “The kingdom of heaven suffers violence” (Matt 11:12). You will not be able to work out your salvation without forcing yourself to be virtuous.
Do not pity your body
Never pity yourself in anything. Instead, crucify yourself and your old man, who hides chiefly in the flesh, and you will strike at the root of all your passions. Bear patiently all that is unpleasant to your flesh. Do not spare your flesh, antagonize it, and you will become a true follower of Christ.
Secular people are in the firm clutches of the devil
To fight, for the love of God, against our own flesh and the devil, that crafty, mighty, and evil enemy—not for a few hours, day, or months, but for many years, sometimes sixty or seventy—is not this worthy of crowns? And what, in comparison with these ascetics, are people living in the world, falling so often into sin even without begin assaulted, and defeated by their own flesh without even being attacked? What in comparison to these ascetics are worldly people, living according to their own will, in luxury, in pleasures of every kind, gorgeously appareled in soft raiment (Luke 7:25), given over to pride, ambition, envy, hatred, avarice, irritability, wrath, revenge, amusement, fornication, drunkenness—all possible vices, although not all in the same person? They are caught alive, without any resistance, in the power of the devil, and therefore he does not attack them, but leaves them long entangled in his nets, in the calm and self-forgetfulness that precede death.
Most Christians today, even many in the Orthodox Church, seem to accept the belief that their flesh must be coddled. I’m sometimes confused when I see a great difference between what the Saints of the Church taught versus what is accepted today. The typical argument I hear is that us moderners are “weak” and shouldn’t have to exert ourselves too strenuously, but to that I respond: how will we ever get strong if we don’t do things that require strength? If you want big muscles, you have to lift heavy weights, or else you will always be weak, so maybe it’s worth adding a little more weight to the bar with your spiritual father as a “spotter.”
To reach the ideal that Saint John teaches in My Life In Christ, we must push ourselves harder, because if his life is any indication, spiritual warfare should not be easy. If you’re satisfied with the bare minimum then Saint John’s teachings will not be for you, but if you’re ready to push yourself, allow him to lead the way.
Learn More: My Life In Christ on Amazon