June 30

Insensibility or deadening of the soul consists in the deprival and loss of a sense of repentance and mourning from our spirit, and a loss of that salutary pain called contrition from our heart. Painlessness of heart or illusory peace is a true sign of a wrong outlook, wrong struggle, self-deception. “However great may be the life we lead,” says St John of the Ladder, “it we have not acquired a suffering and painful heart, we may count it stale and spurious.” Painlessness comes from an inattentive life…from gluttony…from vainglorious thoughts, from presumption and pride. “If you are without compunction,” says the Fathers, “know that you have vainglory; for it does not allow the soul to come to compunction.”

The way to attain compunction is an attentive life. “The beginning of repentance comes from the fear of God and attention,” as the holy martyr Boniface says. “The fear of God is the father of attention, and attention is the mother of inner peace, which gives birth to a conscience which enables the soul to see its deformity as in a kind of clear and still water, and so are born the beginnings and roots of repentance.”

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

June 29

The greatest of the holy Fathers admitted that repentance was their sole occupation. Having given themselves up to this activity, they more and more widened its scope for themselves, since repentance not only cleanses a person from sins but also sharpens his sight so that he sees himself more clearly.

When some spots of sin are removed by repentance from the garment of the soul, then suddenly the existence of other spots is discovered, less coarse but no less important, which have remained unnoticed till now on account of the dullness of our sight.

Finally repentance leads a person who practices it to the most profound spiritual visions; there is disclosed to him his own fall and the fall of all mankind, his suffering and the suffering of mankind under the yoke of the prince of this world, the wonderful work of redemption and the other mysteries, with which the reader must become acquainted by experience, for human speech is quite inadequate to tell of them.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

June 28

In order to approach Christ and enter into union with Him by means of holy baptism, it is essential first of all to repent. And after holy baptism, we are given freedom either to stay in union with the Lord or to break this union by intercourse with sin. Not only that, but in our fallen nature holy baptism does not destroy our aptitude for producing evil mixed with good, so that our will and pleasure may be constantly tested, so that our choice of divine good and our preference of it to evil and our corrupted good may be free, proved positively by our submission to all the sorrows and sufferings of the way of the cross.

By holy baptism, original sin is expunged, as are also sins committed before baptism. It also eliminates the violent power sin has over us till our rebirth; it gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit by which we are united with God in Christ, and we receive power to subdue and conquer sin. For the simple reason that we are not delivered from the struggle with sin, we cannot be entirely free from sin during the whole of our earthly life, and even “a righteous man may fall seven times and rise again” by repentance, says scripture….

Repentance becomes his secure possession, his constant weapon, his invaluable treasure. By repentance, the righteous man maintains his fellowship with Christ. He is healed by repentance from the wounds caused by sin.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

June 27

The Savior of the world has said, “The lamp of the body is the eye.” By lamp the Savior meant the spiritual power of the human soul, the spirit of man; by body the Savior meant all man’s activity and the quality of his life that is formed by and depends on this activity….

“When your eye is good,” that is, when the spiritual power is unconfused by sin or fellowship with Satan, then “your whole body also is full of light,” that is, your activity will be right and will be holy in quality. “But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.” See to it that your spirit, which is your natural light and the source of light for  your life, does not become dark and a source of darkness.

This eye becomes evil through accepting falsehood. A result of this acceptance is wrong activity, while the quality of life becomes a state of sinfulness and self-deception. By accepting false thoughts the mind is corrupted, the conscience loses its reliability, and all the spiritual feelings of the heart are likewise infected with abnormality and sinfulness. Man becomes useless, an enemy of his own salvation, a murderer of his own soul, an enemy of God.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

June 26

The Savior of the world has said, “The lamp of the body is the eye.” By lamp the Savior meant the spiritual power of the human soul, the spirit of man; by body the Savior meant all man’s activity and the quality of his life that is formed by and depends on this activity….

“When your eye is good,” that is, when the spiritual power is unconfused by sin or fellowship with Satan, then “your whole body also is full of light,” that is, your activity will be right and will be holy in quality. “But when your eye is bad, your body also is full of darkness.” See to it that your spirit, which is your natural light and the source of light for  your life, does not become dark and a source of darkness.

This eye becomes evil through accepting falsehood. A result of this acceptance is wrong activity, while the quality of life becomes a state of sinfulness and self-deception. By accepting false thoughts the mind is corrupted, the conscience loses its reliability, and all the spiritual feelings of the heart are likewise infected with abnormality and sinfulness. Man becomes useless, an enemy of his own salvation, a murderer of his own soul, an enemy of God.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov

The Arena

I would like to recommend reading, The Arena: Guidelines for Spiritual and Monastic Life written by Ignatius Brianchaninov. Though the title seems to imply that it is written for monastics this isn’t entirely the case, but rather, it is written also for lay people who are interested in deepening their relationship with our Savior.

It is an extremely clear and concisely written guidebook in the spiritual life and the inner spiritual struggle, written by a Russian bishop as a summary of all that he had learned in his forty years of study in the holy Fathers, and through serving the church as a monk, priest, archimandrite, abbot and eventually as a recluse.

The majority of the text falls under his heading, ‘Counsels for the Spiritual Life…’ and consists of a comprehensive series of topics which each of us will face in our own spiritual life. Each chapter is quite short and can be read in a space of anywhere from a few minutes up to a half hour, so the book could be used as a devotional if one wanted to approach it in that way.

Here are the titles of some of the chapters to give you a brief idea of the scope and breadth of his instruction: On the Study of the Commandments of the Gospel…The [Spiritual] Life is Life According to the Commandments of the Gospel…Love for Our Neighbor Is a Means of Attaining to Love for God…On Prayer…On Divine Meditation…On the Remembrance of Death…Sources of Temptations…On the Necessity for Courage in Temptations…Concerning Human Glory…Concerning Resentment of Remembrance of Wrongs…Concerning the Fallen Angels…Struggling with the Fallen Angels…On the Close Affinity Between Virtues and Vices…Concerning Repentance and Mourning.

Most of us in today’s world lack a spiritual father, or someone who acts in our lives directly as a spiritual director. In absence of this we can find direction from the church Fathers and others who have written and been approved by the Church. As each of us strive to deepen our relationship with The Divine, we need guidance and direction, and thankfully the Orthodox Church has many who have gone before us and can show us the way. Bishop Ignatius has provided in this relatively brief volume just such direction for us, and I hope many will make use of his hard-fought wisdom.

June 25

The devil employs all his efforts to hinder prayer or to make it powerless and ineffective. For this spirit–cast down from heaven for pride and rebellion against God, infected with incurable envy and hatred for the human race, burning with thirst for the destruction of men, sleeplessly engaged day and night in man’s ruin–it is intolerable to see weak and sinful man detach himself by prayer from everything earthly, and enter into conversation with God Himself and go out from this conversation sealed with the mercy of God, in hope of inheriting heaven and seeing even his frail body transformed into a spiritual body.

This spectacle is unbearable for a spirit who is forever condemned to creep and crawl, as in mud and stench, in thoughts and feelings exclusively carnal, material, sinful, and who must finally be cast down and confined for all eternity in the prisons of hell.

~Ignatius Brianchaninov