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.
To be humble means to consider ourselves deserving, for our sins, of every humiliation, injury, persecution, and even blows; and to be meek means patiently to endure injustice, abuse, et cetera, and to pray for our enemies.
If you wish to be truly humble, then consider yourself lower than all, worthy of being trampled on by all; for you yourself daily, hourly trample upon the law of the Lord, and therefore upon the Lord Himself.
When any one, out of kindness, praises you to others, and they transmit these praises to you, do not consider them as a just tribute of esteem really due to you, but ascribe them solely to the kindness of heart of the person who thus spoke of you, and pray to God for him, that God may strengthen him in his kindness of heart and in every virtue; but acknowledge yourself to be the greatest of sinners, not out of humility, but truthfully, actually, knowing as you do your evil deeds.
A deep feeling of spiritual poverty, a lamentation at the existence of evil, a thirst after salvation, are to be found in every straightforward and humble soul.
Receive every one who comes to you, especially with a spiritual purpose, with a kind and cheerful aspect, although he or she may be a beggar, and humble yourself inwardly before everybody, counting yourself lower than he or she, for you are placed by Christ Himself to be the servant of all, and all are His members, although like you they bear the wounds of sin.
There is absolutely nothing for a Christian to be proud of in accomplishing works of righteousness, for he is saved, and is being constantly saved, from every evil through faith alone, in the same manner as he accomplishes works of righteousness also by the same faith. "For by grace you are saved through faith, and that (faith itself) not of yourselves, for it is the gift of God; not of works, that no man may glory." So that no one can be proud of anything.
Spiritual poverty consists in esteeming oneself as though not existing, and God alone as existing; in honouring His words above everything in the world, and in not sparing anything to fulfil them, even one’s own life; in considering God’s Will in everything, both for ourselves and others, entirely renouncing our own will. The man who is poor in spirit desires and says with his whole heart: "Hallowed be Thy name, Thy kingdom come, Thy will be done in earth as it is in heaven." It is as though he himself disappears; everywhere and in everything he wishes to see God — in himself and in others. "Let every thing be Thine, not mine." He wishes to contemplate God’s holiness in himself and in all His kingdom, also His will; also to see Him alone entirely filling the human heart, as it should be, because He alone is all-merciful and all-perfect, all-creating; whilst the enemy -the Devil and his instruments, and those who oppose God — are thieves in the kingdom of God, and adversaries of God. To him who is poor in spirit the whole world is as nothing. Everywhere he sees God alone giving life to everything, and ruling everything; for him there is no place without God, no moment without God; everywhere and at every minute he is with God, and as though with Him alone. He who is poor in spirit does not dare and does not think of trying to comprehend the incomprehensible, to discover God’s mysteries, to philosophise on the highest; he believes in the single word of the Lord, the Life-giver, knowing that every word of His is truth, spirit, and eternal life; and in the words of His Church, ever instructed in all truth by the Holy Ghost, he believes as a child believes his father or mother, not requiring proofs, but perfectly relying upon them. He who is poor in spirit considers himself the very last and the most sinful of all, reckons himself worthy of being trampled under foot by every one.
When I look more closely upon some of the poor, and talk with them, then I see how meek, lovable, humble, simplehearted, truly kind, poor in body, but rich in spirit they are. They make me — I who am rough, proud, evil, scornful, irritable, crafty, cold towards God and men, envious and avaricious — ashamed of myself. These are the true friends of God. And the enemy, being aware of their spiritual treasures, awakens in his servants -that is, in proud, rich men-contempt and ill-feeling towards them, and would like to wipe them off the face of the earth, as if they had no right to live and walk upon it. O friends of my God, my poor brethren! It is you who are the truly rich in spirit, whilst I am the real beggar, accursed and poor! You are worthy of sincere respect from us, who possess the blessings of this world in abundance, but who are poor and needy in virtues-abstinence, meekness, humility, kindness, sincerity, fervour, and warmth towards God and our neighbour. Lordl! teach me to despise outward things, to turn my mental vision inward, and to value inward, and despise outward, things. Grant that I may observe this in my relations towards the rich and powerful of this world!
The purer the heart is, the larger it is, and the more able it is to find room within it for a greater number of beloved ones; whilst the more sinful it is, the more contracted it becomes, and the smaller number of beloved can it find room for, because it is limited by self-love, and that love is a false one. We love ourselves in objects unworthy of the immortal soul-in silver and gold, in adultery, in drunkenness, and such like.
Love does not reflect. Love is simple. Love never mistakes. Likewise believe and trust without reflection, for faith and trust are also simple; or better: God, in Whom we believe and in Whom we trust, is an incomplex Being, as He is also simply love.
Our life is love — yes, love. And where there is love, there is God; and where God is, there is every good. "Seek ye first the kingdom of God and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you." And therefore joyfully feed and delight all, joyfully gratify all and trust in the Heavenly Father for everything, in the Father of bounties, and the God of every consolation. Offer that which is dear to you as a sacrifice of love for your neighbour. Bring your Isaac, your heart, with its many passions, as a sacrifice to God, stab it of your own free will, crucify the flesh with its passions and lusts. As you have received everything from God, be ready to give back everything to God, so that having been faithful in small things you may afterwards be made ruler over many things. Look upon all passions as upon illusions, as I have found out a thousand times.
When your brother sins against you in any way — for instance, if he speaks ill of you, or transmits with an evil intention your words in a perverted form to another, or calumniates you — do not be angered against him, but seek to find in him those good qualities which undoubtedly exist in every man, and dwell lovingly on them, despising his evil calumnies concerning you as dross, not worth attention, as an illusion of the Devil. The golddiggers do not pay attention to the quantity of sand and dirt in the gold-dust, but only look for the grains of gold; and though they are but few, they value this small quantity, and wash it out of heaps of useless sand. God acts in a like manner with us, cleansing us with great and long forbearance.
Every person that does any evil, that gratifies any passion, is sufficiently punished by the evil he has committed, by the passions he serves, but chiefly by the fact that he withdraws himself from God, and, God withdraws Himself from him: it would therefore be insane and most inhuman to nourish anger against such a man; it would be the same as to drown a sinking man, or push into the fire a person who is already being devoured by the flame. To such a man, as to one in danger of perishing, we must show double love, and pray fervently to God for him; not judging him, not rejoicing at his misfortune.
Do not pay attention to the words of an arrogant man, but rather to their power. It often happens that words that appear harsh at first sight, do not proceed from any harshness of the heart, but only from habit. How would it be if every one paid strict critical attention to our words, without Christian love, indulgent, sheltering, kindly, and patient? We must have died long ago.
How good Thou art, Lord, and how near art Thou to us -so near that we may always converse with Thee, be comforted by Thee, breathe through Thee, be enlightened by Thee, find peace in Thee, obtain spiritual breadth in Thee. Lord! teach me simplicity of love for Thee and my neighbour, so that I may ever be with Thee, that I may ever find peace in Thee. Lord! grant that I may not for a single moment have fellowship with the most abominable, most evil enemy the Devil, neither by malice, nor pride, nor envy, nor avarice, nor by love of gain, nor gluttony, nor impure thoughts, nor blasphemy, nor despondency, nor falsehood, nor by anything sinful. Grant that I may ever be wholly Thine!
"Thou shalt love Thy neighbour as thyself." We ought to have all things in common. As the sun, the air, fire, water, and earth are common to us all, so ought also (in part) food and drink, money, books, and (in general) all the Lord’s gifts to be shared in common; for they are given in common to all, and yet are easily divisible for distribution amongst many. For we have nothing of our own, but everything belongs to God. And it is not just for the rich to keep their superfluity in their treasuries when there are so many poor people in need of the means of existence, of necessary clothing and dwellings. However, it is just that the laborious should enjoy abundance, and that the idle should endure poverty and misery. Therefore, if we know that some are poor only through their own idleness and laziness, with such we are not obliged to share the abundance earned by our labour. "If any man will not work," says the Apostle Paul, "neither let him eat." But the crying poverty arising from old age, exhaustion, from sickness, from fruitless and badly paid labour, from really difficult conditions of life, from a numerous family, from bad harvests, we must always hasten to help, especially those of us who are rich. We must be guided by the history of the times of the Apostles, by the example of the early Church.
Concerning modern works of charity. If you enjoy earthly blessings in full measure, and if you give to the needy, but indulge yourself still more, it means that you do good works without the least self-denial. Your works of charity are not great. But what else do we find? What are so-called works of charity? People arrange different entertainments with a charitable object-that is, they intentionally wish before all to serve their sinful flesh, and the Devil, and only afterwards their neighbour and God. But this is no charity at all! Such works only bear the name of charity. "Let us do evil, that there may come good." "Woe to you that are filled, for you shall hunger! Woe to you that laugh, for you shall mourn and weep!"
That man is of a noble and elevated spirit who mercifully and generously scatters his gifts upon all, and rejoices when he has an opportunity of doing good and giving pleasure to everybody without thinking of being rewarded for it. That man is of noble and elevated spirit who never grows conceited and haughty towards those who frequent him and avail themselves of his bounties, does not neglect them in any respect, does not underrate them in any degree in his Thoughts, but esteems them as he esteemed them at their first meeting with him, or much higher than at that time. As it is, it often happens that we grow conceited and proud towards those who have become ours, and, having become accustomed to them, speedily grow tired of them, and reckon them as nothing: we often place a man lower than a beloved animal or a beloved object.
Bear in your heart continually the words, " Christ is Love," and endeavour to love all, sacrificing for the sake of love, not only your possessions, but even yourself.
Lord! teach me to bestow charity willingly, kindly, joyfully, and to believe that by bestowing it I do not lose, but gain, infinitely more than that which I give. Turn my eyes away from hard-hearted people who do not sympathise with the poor, who meet poverty with indifference, who judge, reproach, brand it with shameful names, and weaken my heart, so that I may not do good, so that I, too, may harden my heart against poverty. O my Lord, how many such people we meet with! Lord, amend works of charity! Lord, grant that every charity I bestow may be profitable, and may not do harm! Lord, accept Thyself charity in the person of Thy poor. Lord, deign to help me to build a house for the poor in this town, concerning which I have already many times prayed to Thee, the all-merciful, almighty, most wise, wonderful!*
*Father John speaks here of the almsbouse which he built in Kronstadt.
Let that which tranquillises my thoughts and my heart be committed to writing as a memorial to me of the constant peace of my heart amidst the cares and vanities of life. What is it? It is the Christian saying, full of living trust and wonderful soothing power: "The Lord is everything to me." This is the priceless treasure! This is the precious jewel, possessing which we can be calm in every condition, rich in poverty, generous and kind to other people in the time of our wealth, and not losing hope even after having sinned. "The Lord is everything to me." He is my faith, my trust, my love, my strength, my power, my peace, my joy, my riches, my food, my drink, my raiment, my life-in a word, mine all. Thus, man, the Lord is everything to you; and you must be everything to the Lord. And, as all your treasure is contained in your heart and in your will, and God requires from you your heart, having said: "My son, give Me thy heart," therefore, in order to fulfil God’s gracious and perfect will, renounce your own corrupt, passionate, seductive will; do not know your own will, know only God’s will. "Not my will, but Thy will be done."
There is nothing impossible unto those who believe; lively and unshaken faith can accomplish great miracles in the twinkling of an eye. Besides, even without our sincere and firm faith, miracles are accomplished, such as the miracles of the sacraments; for God’s mystery is always accomplished, even though we were incredulous or unbelieving at the time of its celebration. "Shall their unbelief make the faith of God without effect?" Our wickedness shall not overpower the unspeakable goodness and mercy of God; our dullness shall not overpower God’s wisdom, nor our infirmity God’s omnipotence.
Faith gives rest and joy; unbelief, troubles and wounds.
The means for confirming and strengthening Christian hope in us are — prayer, especially frequent sincere prayer, the confession of our sins, the frequent reading of the Word of God, and, above all, the frequent communion of the holy, life-giving mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ.