St. John's spiritual diary, published under the title "My Life in Christ", consists of a great number of brief entries on a variety of subjects, in no particular order; the theological headings under which the excerpts of these selections —from "A Treasury of Russian Spirituality"— are classified; are those of the English editors Bickersteth and Illingworth, who abridged the first English translation, by E. E. Gulaeff.
What a great personage a priest is! He is in constant converse with God, and God constantly replies to his speech, as whatever the ceremonies of the Church may be, whatever his prayers, he is speaking to God, and whatever the ceremonies of the Church may be and whatever his prayers, the Lord answers him. How, under these circumstances, when assaulted by passions, can the priest forget that such passions are base, impure, especially for him, and that it is impossible to let them enter into his heart, which Jesus Christ alone ought to fill entirely? A priest is an angel and not a man; everything worldly ought to be left far away behind him. O Lord, "let Thy priests be clothed with justice"; let them always remember the greatness of their calling and do not let them be entangled in the nets of the world and the Devil; let them be saved from "the cares of this world, and the deceitfulness of riches, and the lusts after other things" entering into their hearts.
As light and heat are inseparable from the sun, so holiness, instruction, love and compassion for all ought to be inseparable from the person of a priest; for Whose dignity does he bear? -Christ’s. Of Whom does he so often communicate? Christ -God Himself, of His Body and Blood. Therefore a priest should be the same in the spiritual world, in the midst of his flock, as the sun is in nature: a light for all, life-giving warmth, the soul of all.
A priest ought to endeavour by every means to maintain within himself courage, boldness, daring, in spite of the bodiless enemy, who continually sows in him his illusive fear, his foolish dread; otherwise he cannot be a reprover of human vices, nor a true celebrant of the sacraments. Daring is a great gift of God and a great treasure of the soul! Courage or boldness plays an important part in earthly warfare, for it simply works wonders; but in the spiritual warfare it does far more.
The celebration of the Divine Liturgy requires an elevated soul, or a man with an elevated soul, not bound by any worldly passions, desires, and attachments to earthly delights; whose heart is wholly embraced by the flame of the Holy Ghost, by ardent love for God and mankind, for every human soul, and, above all, for the Christian soul, so that with a sincere heart he may ever rise to God in prayer: I am come to cast fire on the earth: and what will I, but that it be kindled?" This fire was sent down from heaven upon the Apostles in the form of tongues of fire. This fire is also necessary for us, for our frozen hearts, in order to warm, soften, to melt them again and again, continually to cleanse them, in order to enlighten and renew them. Where is there to be found such a worthy priest who, like the Seraphim, would burn before the Lord with love, praise, and gratitude for His marvels of mercy and wisdom manifested unto us and within us? I am the greatest of sinners in unworthily celebrating this most heavenly Sacrament, for I have ever an impure heart, bound by desires and attachments to earthly delights. Lord, Thou seest the depths of our hearts; but "Thou shalt sprinkle me with hyssop, and I shall be made whiter than snow." "It is not wonderful if Thou hast mercy upon the pure; and it is not a great thing if Thou savest the righteous, but show the wonders of Thy mercy upon me, a sinner!"
During the oblation, the whole Church, in heaven and upon earth — the Church of the first-born, inscribed in the heavens, and the Church militant, fighting against the enemies of salvation upon earth — is typically represented assembled around the Lamb, who took upon Himself the sins of the world. What a great spectacle, enrapturing and moving the soul! Is it possible that I too am the joint-heir with the saints, if I remain faithful to the Lamb until death? Are not all my brethren too members of this heavenly holy assemblage, and joint-heirs of the future kingdom? Oh, how widely my heart should expand in order to contain all within itself, to love all, to care for all, to care for the salvation of all as for mine own! This is wisdom and the highest wisdom. Let us be simple; let us walk in simplicity of heart with all. Let us remember our high calling and election and let us continually aspire to the honour of God’s heavenly calling through Christ Jesus. "We are the children of God … heirs of God, and joint-heirs with Christ."
Lord, how shall I glorify Thee? How shall I praise Thee for Thy power, for the miracles of healing by means of Thy Holy Mysteries, manifested upon me and many of Thy servants, to whom I, an unworthy one, have administered these Thy holy, heavenly, life-giving Mysteries after the sacrament of penitence? They confess before me Thy power, Thy goodness, loudly proclaiming to all that Thou hast stretched out Thy wonder-working hand over them and raised them up from the bed of sickness, from their death-bed, when no one expected that they would live; and then, after the communion of Thy life-giving Body and Blood they soon revived, were healed, and felt upon them at the very same hour and day Thy life-giving Hand. And I, Lord, the witness of Thy deeds, have not hitherto praised Thee in the hearing of all for the strengthening of the faith of Thy servants, and even do not know how and when to praise Thee, for every day I am occupied with some kind of work. Create Thyself a name, Lord, as Thou hast done; glorify Thyself, Thy name, Thy Mysteries.
I love to pray in God’s temple, especially within the holy altar, before the Holy Table or the Prothesis, for by God’s grace I become wonderfully changed in the temple. During the prayer of repentance and devotion, the thorns, the bonds of the passions, fall from my soul and I feel so light; all the spell, all the enticement of the passions vanish, and I seem to die to the world, and the world, with all its joys, dies for me. I live in God and for God, for God alone. I am wholly penetrated by Him, and am one spirit with Him. I become like a child soothed on its mother’s knee. Then my heart is full of most heavenly, sweet peace. My soul is enlightened by the light of heaven. At such times we see everything clearly; we look upon everything rightly; we feel friendship and love towards everyone, even towards our enemies, readily excusing and forgiving everyone. Oh, how blessed is the soul when it is with God! Truly the Church is an earthly paradise.
Take me captive, Lord, in the sweet captivity of Thy Holy Ghost, so that my words may flow "as a stream in the south" to Thy glory and to the salvation of Thy people! Grant me this sweet and powerful inward impulse to set down upon parchment the fulness of spiritual visions and feelings! Let "my tongue (be) the pen of a ready writer" — of the All-Holy Spirit!
In ministering the sacrament of penitence one feels one’s own most miserable sinfulness before God, and all the misery, ignorance, and sinfulness of human nature. Confession is a cross, truly a cross! Oh, what a debtor before his spiritual children a priest feels himself to be during confession! He truly feels himself to be an insolvent debtor, a debtor guilty before the heavenly truth, and deserving of Thousands of the fires of Gehenna! One sees and feels at people’s deep ignorance, at their ignorance of the truths of religion, and of their sins, at their stony insensibility, that a confessor must pray for them most fervently, and teach them day and night, early and late! Oh, what ignorance! Some do not even know the Holy Trinity; they do not know Who Christ is; they do not know why they live upon earth! And what a multitude of sins! Yet meanwhile we seek enrichment, rest; we dislike labour, we become irritated when there are more of them than usual! We seek spacious abodes, rich clothing! Let us not love earthly rest, let us not become slothful, let us not be negligent in the performance of our spiritual duties, and let us not deprive ourselves of heavenly blessings and rest, for having tasted the worldly rest in abundance here, what rest can we look for there?
What can be firmer, more unchangeable and mightier than the word? By the word the world was created and exists; "upholding all things by the word of His power"; and yet we sinners treat words so lightly, so negligently. For what do we show less respect than for the word? What is more changeable in us than the word? Oh, how accursed are we men! How inattentive we are to such precious things! We do not remember that by means of the word proceeding from a believing and loving heart, we may perform life-giving miracles for our own souls and for the souls of others; for instance, in prayer at Divine service; in sermons, at the celebration of the sacrament! Christian! Value every word; be attentive to every word; be firm in the word; trust in every word of God and of the saints, as in the words of life. Remember that the word is the beginning of life.
To My Pupils: You are my children, for I have begotten you through the Gospel in Jesus Christ, my spiritual blood, for my teaching flows in your veins. I have given and give you to drink of the milk of the Word, as a mother from her breast. You are my children, and therefore you are ever in my heart, and I pray for you. You are my children because you are my spiritual children. You are my children because, as a priest, I am truly a father, and you yourselves call me father. "My children!" This word is very displeasing to the Devil, who is the cause of dislike, malice, and hypocrisy; but I, God helping me, will not even for a moment obey Him, and will not call you otherwise than my children; for you are my children by faith, by the Church of God, and by the instruction and fatherly guidance you receive from me. One can only truly call others’ children "my children" by the Holy Spirit, by the Spirit of truth and love.
I sometimes pray in church for God’s people thus: Here, Lord, many of these who are standing in Thy temple stand before Thee with their souls idle, like empty vessels, and "know not what to pray for as they ought"; fill Thou their hearts now at this favourable time for them, in this day of salvation, by the grace of Thine All-holy Spirit, and give them to me at my prayer, to my love, filled with the knowledge of Thy goodness, and with heartfelt contrition and devotion, as full vessels; give to them Thy Holy Ghost, that "maketh intercession for us with unspeakable groanings." I myself, their pastor, am sinful and impure above all men, but do not consider my sins, Lord, despise them according to Thy great mercy, and hear my prayer at this hour, for the sake of the grace of the priesthood resting on me and dwelling in me. Grant, Lord, that this grace may not be idle in me, but that it may ever burn in me with faith, hope, love, and son-like boldness in prayer for Thy people!
When your heart is struck by the enemy nestling within you, and causing in you disturbance, straitness, and depression of spirit, do not then preach a sermon, lest, instead of profit, it should give rise to temptation; lest, instead of spiritual nourishment, it should cause spiritual dizziness and sickness. Neither administer any reproofs at such times: these would only irritate, and not correct. In general, when the enemy nestles in your soul, it is better to be more silent; we are then unworthy of the word, which is the gift of the Hypostatic Word. First drive out the enemy, bring peace to dwell in your heart, and then speak.
Priests of God! learn how to turn the bed of sorrow of the Christian sufferer into one of joy by the consolation of faith; learn how to make him, instead of-in his opinion-the most unfortunate, the happiest of men; assure him that having been "a little chastised" he "shall be greatly rewarded" afterwards, and you will be the friends of mankind, angels of consolation, instruments or ministers of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter.
The sign of the cross as a blessing from a priest or a bishop is an expression of the blessing or of the favour of God to a man in Christ and for Christ’s sake. What a joyful, significative, and precious ceremony this is! Blessed are all who receive such a blessing with faith! How attentive should the priests themselves be in bestowing their blessing upon the faithful! "And they shall invoke My name upon the children of Israel, and I will bless them."
A true shepherd and father of his flock will live in their grateful memory even after his death. They will extol him; and the less he cares to be extolled here on earth on account of his zealous labours for their salvation, the more his glory shall shine after his death: even when he is dead he will make them speak of him. Such is the glory of those who labour for the common good.
My sweetest Saviour! having come down from heaven for the service of mankind, Thou didst not only preach the Word of Heavenly Truth in the temple, but Thou wentest through the towns and villages; Thou didst not shun any one; Thou visitedst the houses of all, especially of those whose fervent repentance Thou didst foresee with Thy Divine gaze. Thus Thou didst not remain sitting at home, but wert in loving intercourse with all. Grant to us, too, to be in such loving intercourse with Thy people, so that we pastors shall not shut ourselves up in our houses away from Thy sheep as if in castles or prisons, only coming out of them for services in the church or to officiate in the houses of others, only out of duty, only with prayers learned by heart. May our lips be freely opened to discourse with our parishioners in the spirit of faith and love. May our Christian love for our spiritual children be opened and strengthened by animated, free, and fatherly conversation with them. Oh what sweetness, what bliss Thou hast concealed, Lord, our boundless Love, in the spiritual converse warmed by love of a spiritual father with his spiritual children! And how is it possible not to strive upon earth with all our might after such bliss? Yet it is only a faint beginning, only a faint likeness of the heavenly bliss of love! Especially love the communion of good works, both material and spiritual. "And do not forget to do good and to impart."
Priest of God! believe with your whole heart, believe always in the grace given to you from God, to pray for God’s people. Let not this gift of God be in vain in you, for by it you can save many souls. The Lord speedily hears your heartfelt prayer for His people, and is easily inclined to have mercy upon them, as He had at Moses’, Aaron’s Samuel’s, and the Apostles’ prayers. Avail yourself of every opportunity for prayer-in church, when you celebrate Divine service or a sacrament, in private houses, at the ministering of the sacraments, during prayers and thanksgivings; everywhere and at all times think of the salvation of God’s people, and you shall also obtain great grace of God for yourself.
When you pray with tears and love for the Lord’s sheep, and your Thoughts praise you to yourself, then say to them: It is not I who prayed for God’s people, but the "Spirit itself" within me "maketh intercession" for them "with unspeakable groanings"; and the Spirit bound me, too, at* that time, in the sweet bonds of His love and of heartfelt devotion. That this is true is evident from the fact that the sweetness of prayer and love can very soon forsake me.
A certain person who was sick unto death from inflammation of the bowels for nine days, without having obtained the slightest relief from medical aid, as soon as he had communicated of the Holy Sacrament, upon the morning of the ninth day, regained his health, and rose from his bed of sickness on the evening of the same day. He received the Holy Communion with firm faith. I prayed to the Lord to cure him. "Lord," said I, "heal Thy servant of his sickness. He is worthy, therefore grant him this. He loves Thy priests, and sends them his gifts." I also prayed for him in church before the altar of the Lord, at the Liturgy, during the prayer: "Thou Who hast given us grace at this time, with one accord to make our common supplication unto Thee," and before the most Holy Mysteries themselves, I prayed in the following words: "Lord, our life! It is as easy for Thee to cure every malady as it is for me to think of healing. It is as easy for Thee to raise every man from the dead as it is for me to think of the possibility of the resurrection from the dead. Cure, then, Thy servant Basil of his cruel malady, and do not let him die; do not let his wife and children be given up to weeping." And the Lord graciously heard, and had mercy upon him, although he was within a hair’s-breadth of death. Glory to Thine omnipotence and mercy, that Thou, Lord, hast vouchsafed to bear me!
The children Paul and Olga, by the infinite mercy of the Lord, in accordance with mine unworthy prayer, have been cured of the spirit of infirmity by which they were attacked. In the case of the child Paul, his malady passed away through sleep, and the child Olga became quiet in spirit, and her little face grew bright instead of dark and troubled. Nine times I went to pray with bold trust, hoping my trust might not be shamed; that to him that knocketh it would be opened; that even on account of my importunity, God would fulfil my requests; that if the unjust judge at last satisfied the woman who troubled him, then still more the Judge of all, the most righteous Judge, would satisfy my sinful prayer for the innocent children; that He would consider my labour, my intercession, my prayerful words, my kneeling, my boldness, my trust in Him. And the Lord did so; He did not cover me, a sinner, with shame. I came for the tenth time to their home, and the children were well. I gave thanks unto the Lord and to our most speedy Mediatrix.