April 21

Our sufferings for the most part are extremely trifling, so that at first sight it seems impossible to regard them as sufferings at all. But that is only the cunning of our enemy who has acquired in the struggle with feeble man uncommon skill and experience, thanks to long practice. The fallen spirit saw that cruel, coarse, obvious temptations (sufferings) provoke in people flaming zeal and courage to bear them. He saw this, and changed his tactics. He changed his coarse temptations to weak but subtle ones which act very powerfully. They do not evoke zeal from our heart, they do not cause it to struggle, but they keep it in a kind of irresolute state and fill the mind with doubt.

They weary and gradually exhaust the powers of a man’s soul, they throw him into despondency and inaction, and they ruin him by making him an abode of passions on account of his weakness, despondency, and inertia….

We must not give way to listlessness, despondency, and inertia. On the contrary, let us direct all our attention and all our energy to carrying out the commandments of the Gospel. This obedience will reveal to us the countless snares of the enemy, and that cunning forethought with which his traps are planned and set. We shall see that the outwardly slight troubles and trials of today are directed, like the grim troubles and trials of old, to draw men away from Christ and to destroy true Christianity on earth, only leaving the shell to deceive people more easily. We shall see that temptations that are slight but are planned and carried out with hellish wickedness act much more successfully in the eyes of Satan than grave but obvious and direct attacks.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

April 20

Life according to the will of God is becoming very difficult. That is because, when you live in the midst of temptations and have them constantly before your eyes, it is impossible not to be influenced by them. Just as ice in the presence of warmth loses its firmness and is converted into the softest water, so even a heart overflowing with goodwill, if exposed to the constant influence of temptations, is weakened and changed. Life according to the laws of God is becoming very difficult on account of the widespread, general apostasy.

The increasing apostates, by calling themselves and appearing outwardly to be Christians, will all the more easily be able to persecute the true followers of Christ. The increasing apostates surround true Christians with countless snares, and put countless obstacles in the way of their salvation and their good intention to serve God…the Savior of the world could scarcely find refuge in insignificant and remote Nazareth in order to hide from Herod and from…[those] who so hated Him. So too, in the last times a true [Christian] will hardly be able to find some remote and unknown refuge in which to serve God with some degree of freedom, and not be drawn by the violence of apostasy and the apostates into the service of Satan.

O disastrous time!…O moral disaster, unnoticeable for people who live only the life of the senses, yet incomparably greater than all material, glaring disasters! O disaster that begins in time and does not end in time, but passes into eternity! O disaster of disasters, realized only by certain true Christians and true monks, but unknown to those whom it seizes and destroys!

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

April 19

The crown of every good endeavor and the highest of achievements is diligence in prayer. Through it, God guiding us and lending a helping hand, we come to acquire the other virtues. It is in prayer that the saints experience communion in the hidden energy of God’s holiness and inner union with it, and their intellect itself is brought through unutterable love into the presence of the Lord.

…Just as the work of prayer is greater than other work, so it demands greater effort and attention from the person ardently devoted to it, lest without him being aware the devil deprives him of it….he must keep strict watch, so that fruits of love and humility, simplicity and goodness–and, along with them, fruits of discrimination–may grow daily from the constancy of his prayer. These will make evident his progress and increase in holiness, thus encouraging others to make similar efforts.

~St Makarios of Egypt (paraphrased by St Symeon Metaphrastis)

April 18

Moses indicates figuratively that the soul should not be divided in will between good and evil, but should pursue the good alone; and that it must cultivate not the dual fruits of virtue and vice but those of virtue only. For he says: “Do not yoke together on your threshing floor animals of a different species, such as ox and ass; but yoke together animals of the same species and so thresh your corn” (Deuteronomy 22:10). This is to say, do not let virtue and vice work together on the threshing floor of your heart, but let virtue alone work there.

Again he says: “Do not weave flax into a woolen garment, or wool into a linen garment” (Deut. 22:11); and: “Do not cultivate two kinds of fruit together on the same patch of your land” (Deut. 22:9)….All this is a concealed way of saying that you must not cultivate virtue and vice together in yourself, but you must devote yourself singlemindedly to producing the fruits of virtue; and you must not share your soul with two spirits–the Spirit of God and the spirit of the world–but you must give it solely to the Spirit of God and must reap only the fruits of the Spirit.

~St Makarios of Egypt (paraphrased by St Symeon Metaphrastis)

April 17

You must make it your endeavor, if you wish to attain to true knowledge of the Scriptures, that first of all you acquire steadfast humility of heart to lead you to that knowledge which does not puff up, but enlightens, being made perfect in love. For it is impossible that an impure mind should acquire the gift of spiritual knowledge…

Next in every way must you strive to drive out every distraction and all earthly thoughts, and give yourself assiduously or rather constantly to sacred study until constant meditation imbues your mind and, so to say, forms you after its own likeness….wherefore the Scripture Lessons should be carefully committed to memory, and frequently repeated.

…those passages which we have run through with speedy repetition while trying to fix them in our memory, though at that time we cannot give proper attention to their meaning, afterwards when we are free from distractions of sight and of work, and especially in the quiet of our nocturnal meditations–we can see, as we think them over, their meaning more clearly, with the result that the sense of the most mysterious texts which when awake we cannot in any way understand, is revealed to us in the quiet of rest, and when we are, so to say, plunged into the depths of sleep.

And as our minds are strengthened by this kind of study, the Scriptures will present to us a new aspect, and the depth of their inner meaning will more and more be revealed to us.

~St John Cassian (Conference with Abbot Nesteros)

April 16

The Prophet David says in the person of the ascetic whose carnal mind is still shaking: “I was envious of the wicked, seeing the peace of sinners, for there is no fear in their death;” that is, no affliction rouses them from their spiritual torpor, from their deadly sleep, from spiritual death. “They are not in the labor of other folk, neither are they plagued like other men.”

By men here is meant servants of the true God who have preserved their human dignity. They exercise themselves in pious voluntary labors and are subjected to the Lord’s involuntary discipline. Rejected sinners, living in carelessness, share neither labors nor sufferings. And what is the result? “Therefore hath their pride mastered them utterly; they have clothed themselves in their unrighteousness and impiety.”

All consciousness of their sinfulness is destroyed in them. An immense, incurable conceit makes its appearance. A sinful life becomes their inseparable property, just as if it were their constant garment or clothing, which in turn becomes their disgrace and consists in ignorance of God, in false conceptions of God and of every doctrine revealed by God.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

April 15

…he who has not been able to understand the things in his own heart, will be much less able to grasp what is outside him.

We must know however, that we are to toil with a twofold end in view, in casting out our faults and in acquiring virtue. And this we hold, not by any guess of our own, but are instructed by the word of Him Who alone knows what His handiwork is, and can do. “Behold,” He says, “I have set thee this day over the nations, and over kingdoms, to root up and to pull down, and to waste, and to destroy, and to build, and to plant” (Jeremiah 1:10). For, in casting out hurtful things He shows us four necessities–rooting out, pulling down, dispersing, and destroying; but in the practice of virtue and the attainment of what has to do with righteousness, we need only build and plant.

Hence it is very clear that it is more difficult for passions of body and soul which have become inveterate, to be torn up and rooted out, than for spiritual virtues to be reared and planted.

~St John Cassian (Conference with Abbot Nesteros)