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.
The enemy daily and violently persecutes my faith, hope and love. Thou art persecuted, my faith! Thou art persecuted, my hope! Thou art persecuted, my love! Endure, faith; endure, hope; endure, love! Take courage, faith; take courage, hope; take courage, love! God is your Defender! Do not grow weak, faith; do not grow weak, hope; do not grow weak, love!
The Devil generally enters into us through one single lying imagination, or through a single false thought and sinful desire of the flesh, and afterwards he works in us and disturbs us, so incomplex is he. Cannot, therefore, the Lord of all spirits enter into us through one single thought and through true and holy love, and abide with us, and be everything to us? And therefore pray undoubtingly; that is, simply, in the simplicity of your heart, without a doubt: it ought to be as easy to pray as to think.
When you are very young, or leading the life of the sinful world, then you only know by name both Christ the Saviour and the enemy of God and mankind, the most evil Satan, and you think that Christ is very far away from you in heaven, and that there is a Devil somewhere, but not in any way near and around you, and though you hear that he is evil, you think his wickedness does not concern you; but when you grow older and enter upon the devout life, when you serve God with a pure conscience, then you will experience in your heart the difference between the easy yoke of the Saviour and the heavy burden of Satan, who pitilessly injures us.
Our life is children’s play, only not innocent, but sinful, because, with a strong mind, and with the knowledge of the purpose of our life, we neglect this purpose and occupy ourselves with frivolous, purposeless matters. And thus our life is childish, unpardonable play. We amuse ourselves with food and drink, gratifying ourselves by them, instead of only using them for the necessary nourishment of our body and the support of our bodily life. We amuse ourselves with our mental gifts, with our intellect, imagination, using them only to serve sin and the vanity of this world — that is, only to serve earthly and corruptible things — instead of using them before all and above all to serve God, to learn to know Him, the all-wise Creator of every creature, for prayer, supplication, petitions, thanksgiving and praise to Him, and to show mutual love and respect, and only partly to serve this world, which will some day entirely pass away. We amuse ourselves with our knowledge of worldly vanity, and to acquire this knowledge we waste most precious time, which was given to us for our preparation for eternity. We frequently amuse ourselves with our affairs and business, with our duties, fulfilling them heedlessly, carelessly, and wrongfully, and using them for our own covetous, earthly purposes. We amuse ourselves with beautiful human faces, or the fair, weaker sex, and often use them for the sport of our passions. We amuse ourselves with time, which ought to be wisely utilised for redeeming eternity, and not for games and various pleasures. Finally, we amuse ourselves with our own selves, making idols out of ourselves, before which we bow down, and before which we expect others to bow down. Woe to us who love the present fleeting, deceptive life, and neglect the inheritance of the life that follows after the death of our corruptible body beyond this carnal veil!
When the flesh flourishes, the soul fades; when the flesh has full liberty, the soul is straitened; when the flesh is satiated, the soul hungers; when the flesh is adorned, the soul is deformed; when the flesh overflows with laughter, the soul is surrounded by misfortune; when the flesh is in the light, the soul is in darkness-in the darkness of hell.
Afflictions are a great teacher; afflictions show us our weaknesses, passions, and the need of repentance; afflictions cleanse the soul, they make it sober, as from drunkenness, they bring down grace into the soul, they soften the heart, they inspire us with a loathing for sin, and strengthen us in faith, hope, and virtue.
You are ill, and your illness is very painful; you have become low-spirited and despondent; you are troubled and tossed with thoughts, each darker than the other; your heart and your lips are ready to murmur, to blaspheme Godl! My brother! listen to my sincere advice. Bear your illness bravely, and do not merely not despond, but on the contrary, rejoice, if you can, in your illness. You would ask me what there is for you to rejoice at when you are racked all over with pain? Rejoice that the Lord has sent you this temporary chastisement in order to cleanse your soul from sins. "For whom the Lord loveth, He chastiseth." Rejoice in the fact that now you are not gratifying those passions which you would have gratified had you been in good health; rejoice that you are bearing the cross of sickness, and that therefore you are treading the narrow and sorrowful way leading to the kingdom of heaven. Maladies in our eyes only appear painful, unpleasant, and terrible. It is seldom that any one of us during the time of sickness represents to himself the profit which his illness brings to his soul; but in God’s all-wise and most merciful Providence, not a single malady remains without some profit to our soul. Sicknesses in the hands of Providence are the same as bitter medicines for our soul, curing its passions, its bad habits and inclinations. Not a single malady sent to us shall return void. Therefore, we must keep in view the utility of sicknesses, in order that we may bear them more easily and more calmly. "He that hath suffered in the flesh hath ceased from sins," says the Holy Scripture.
In sickness and, in general, during bodily infirmity, as well as in affliction, a man cannot in the beginning burn with faith and love for God, because in affliction and sickness the heart aches, whilst faith and love require a sound heart, a calm heart. This is why we must not very much grieve if during sickness and affliction we cannot believe in God, love Him, and pray to Him fervently as we ought to. Everything has its proper time. There may be an unfavourable time, even for praying.
It is never so difficult to say from the heart, "Thy will be done, Father," as when we are in sore affliction or grievous sickness, and especially when we are subjected to the injustice of men, or the assaults and wiles of the enemy. It is also difficult to say from the heart, "Thy will be done," when we ourselves were the cause of some misfortune, for then we think that it is not God’s will, but our own will, that has placed us in such a position, although nothing can happen without the will of God. In general, it is difficult sincerely to believe that it is the will of God that we should suffer, when the heart knows both by faith and experience that God is our blessedness; and therefore it is difficult to say in misfortune, "Thy will be done." We think "Is it possible that this is the will of God? Why does God torment us? Why are others quiet and happy? What have we done? Will there be an end to our torments?" And so on. But when it is difficult for our corrupt nature to acknowledge the will of God over us, that will of God without which nothing happens, and humbly to submit to it, that is the very time for us humbly to submit to this will and to offer to the Lord our most precious sacrifice — that is, heartfelt devotion to Him, not only in the time of ease and happiness, but also in suffering and misfortune; it is then that we must submit our vain, erring wisdom to the perfect wisdom of God, for our thoughts are as far from the thoughts of God "as the heavens are higher than the earth."
It is impossible not to wonder at the simple-heartedness and indifference to earthly blessings of the Galilean fishermen, and at their absolute obedience to the voice of the Lord. A few words of the Saviour were enough; they left their nets, their sole wealth, their greatest treasure, and followed Him, without reasoning why and wherefore they went. What simplicity of heart! What detachment from earthly blessings! What childlike obedience! How easy is the access of the word of the Divine Messiah to simple hearts! It is spoken, and done! There are many such simple people living in labour and low estate, but there are no such men amongst the rich. What do we see in one of them when the Lord told him to sell his possessions and follow Him? He followed not the Lord, but his riches. "He went away," it is said, "sorrowful."
Sometimes in the lives of pious Christians there are hours when God seems to have entirely abandoned them — hours of the power of darkness; and then the man from the depth of his heart cries unto God: "Why hast Thou turned Thy face from me, Thou everlasting Light? For a strange darkness has covered me, the darkness of the accursed evil Satan, and has obscured all my soul. It is very grievous for the soul to be in this torturing darkness, which gives a presentiment of the torments and darkness of hell. Turn me, O Saviour, to the light of Thy commandments, and make straight my spiritual way, I fervently pray Thee."
Unite your soul to God by means of hearty faith and you will be able to accomplish everything. Do powerful, invisible, everwatchful enemies wage war against you? You will conquer them. Are these enemies visible, outward? You will conquer them also. Do passions rend you? You will overcome them. Are you crushed with sorrows? You will get over them. Have you fallen into despondency? You will obtain courage. With faith you will be able to conquer everything, and even the Kingdom of Heaven will be yours. Faith is the greatest blessing of the earthly life; it unites the man to God, and makes him strong and victorious through Him. "He who is joined to the Lord is one spirit."
If you do not yourself experience the action of the wiles of the evil spirit, you will not know, and will not appreciate and value as you ought, the benefits bestowed upon you by the Holy Spirit: not knowing the spirit that destroys, you will not know the Spirit that gives life. Only by means of direct contrasts of good and evil, of life and death, can we clearly know the one and the other. If you are not subjected to distresses, and danger of bodily or spiritual death, you will not truly know the Saviour, the Life-giver, Who delivers us from these distresses and from spiritual death. Jesus Christ is the consolation, the joy, the life, the peace, and the breadth of our hearts! Glory to God, the most wise and most gracious, that He allows the spirit of evil and death to tempt and torment us! Otherwise we should not have sufficiently appreciated and valued the comfort of grace, the comfort of the Holy Ghost the Comforter, the Life-giver!
Never despair of God’s mercy, by whatever sins you may have been bound by the temptation of the Devil, but pray with your whole heart, with the hope of forgiveness; knock at the door of God’s mercy and it shall be opened unto you. I, a simple priest, am an example for you: however, I may sometimes sin by the action of the Devil, for instance, by enmity towards a brother, whatever the cause may be, even though it may be a right cause, and I myself become thoroughly disturbed and set my brother against me, and unworthily celebrate the Holy Sacrament, not from wilful neglect, but by being myself unprepared, and by the action of the Devil; yet, after repentance, the Lord forgives all and everything, especially after the worthy communion of the Holy Sacrament: I become as snow, or as a wave of the sea, by the blood of Christ; the most heavenly peace dwells in my heart; it becomes light, so light, and I feel beatified. Then, indeed, I forget all troubles, anxieties, and the oppression of the enemy, I become entirely renewed, and as though risen from the dead. Do not then despair, brethren, whatever sins you may have committed, only repent and confess them with a contrite heart and humble spirit. Glory, O Lord, to Thy mercy! Glory, O Lord, to Thy long-suffering and forbearance!
What spiritual storms, hurricanes, fearful, fiery, sudden whirlwinds, often occur in the life of man, in the life of those who endeavor to lead a Christian life, and to serve God by prayer, interceding for themselves and others before His unspeakable mercy! It is only by God’s mercy that the bark in which our soul travels over life’s sea towards the eternity awaiting it, is not entirely wrecked and lost!