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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.



Fellow-citizens with the Saints

"Hail, Thou that art full of grace, the Lord is with Thee!" Thus does the holy Church invoke the most holy Virgin, the mother of God. But the Lord is also with every pious soul that believes in Him. The Lord’s abiding with the Virgin Mary before she conceived the Saviour is not a particularity proper to the most pure Virgin alone. The Lord is with every believing soul: "The Lord is with thee." These words may be said to every one who keeps the Lord’s commandments. And the Lord is near unto all, only men themselves are far from Him by their hearts, by their thoughts, their intentions, and the inclinations of their hearts, as well as by their words and deeds, which are contrary to the law of God. "Behold, I am with you all days," says our Lord, Who was born of the most holy Virgin, "even to the consummation of the world"; that is, with every one of us, at every time, throughout all generations, all ages, upon the whole space of the earth, unto the end of the world.

You constantly notice that God does not tolerate the slightest momentary impurity in you, and that peace and God Himself leave you immediately after the admittance of any impure thought into your heart. And you become the abode of the Devil if you do not immediately renounce the sin. So that at every sinful thought, and still more at every sinful word and deed, we must say, "This is the Devil." Whilst at every holy and good thought, word, and deed, we should say, "This is God"; or, "This comes from God." Imagine, therefore, now what a resplendently adorned, pure, and immovable palace of the Almighty must have been the most holy soul and the most pure body of the mother of God, in whose womb God the Word came to dwell, and abode in her by His Godhead with His most pure soul and body! Imagine what eternal, infinite, unchangeable holiness she is! Imagine of what reverence and glorification she is worthy! Imagine what we are: "A reed shaken with (the Devil’s) wind." The Devil breathes his blasphemy into our hearts, and we are immediately shaken with it. We are disturbed, depressed, when we ought to despise all his blasphemies, or not pay any attention to them, looking upon them as an illusion.

We have icons in our houses, and venerate them, in order to show amongst other things, that the eyes of God and of all the heavenly dwellers are constantly fixed upon us, and see not only all our acts, but also our words, thoughts, and desires.

There is a spiritual world; there is a communion of souls with those at a distance, and with the departed; they see and hear us, and here is an evident proof of this: — A woman, whose husband was ill and was lying in a room — at a distance of some four hundred miles from her, and who afterwards died — saw one evening the people who came to him, what he was doing, and heard the words that he spoke. Do not the saints see us in the same manner? Do not they hear our prayers in the same manner?

You do not understand how the saints in Heaven can hear us when we pray to them. But how do the rays of the sun bend down from Heaven to us, lighting everything throughout the earth? The saints in the spiritual world are like the rays of the sun in the material world. God is the eternal, life-giving Sun, and the saints are the rays of this wise Sun. As the eyes of the Lord are constantly looking upon the earth and upon terrestrial beings, so also the eyes of the saints cannot but turn towards the same direction as the provident gaze of the Lord of all creatures towards where their treasures (their bodies, their works, the holy places, and the persons devoted to them) are to be found.

"For where thy treasure is, there is thy heart also." You know how quickly, how far, and how clearly the heart can see (especially the objects of the spiritual world); you notice this in all the sciences, especially in the spiritual ones, where a great deal is adopted by faith only (the vision of the heart). The heart is the eye of the human being. The purer it is, the quicker, farther and clearer it can see. But with God’s Saints this spiritual eye is refined, even during their lifetime, to the highest degree of purity possible for man, and after their death, when they have become united to God, through God’s grace it becomes still clearer and wider in the limits of its vision. Therefore the saints see very clearly, widely, and far: they see our spiritual wants; they see and hear all those who call upon them with their whole hearts — that is, those whose mental eyes are fixed straight upon them, and are not darkened or dimmed when so fixed by unbelief and doubt; in other words, when the eyes of the heart of those who pray, so to say, meet the eyes of those they call upon. This is a mysterious vision. He who is experienced will understand what is meant. Therefore, how easy it is to communicate with the saints! It is only necessary to purify the eye of the heart, to fix it firmly upon a saint known to you, to pray to him for what you want, and you will obtain it. And what is God in reference to sight? He is all sight, all light, and all knowledge. He everlastingly fills both Heaven and earth, and sees everything in every place. "The eyes of the Lord in every place behold the good and the evil."

We have within us a spiritual eye, with which we see a million times more than we are able to by means of our bodily sight, which is merely an instrument of our spiritual eye; a conductor through which the soul either thinks or recognises all things visible. What are the objects of contemplation for this spiritual world? Besides the visible world, there is God, an infinite Spirit, an infinite Mind, Who has created and creates all things in the material world, which is the realisation of His thoughts (ideas), and there is a spiritual world, angelic, innumerable, living in constant contemplation of the Godhead, and of all the works of His omnipotence and great wisdom. Our spiritual eye relates above all to the Lord, and in this case its functions are called contemplation and meditation on God: this contemplation and meditation on God can extend unto infinity, as God Himself is infinite, and have the property of cleansing the soul from sin, of perfecting it, and bringing it nearer and nearer to God, the source of our light, or of our thought and life. After this we contemplate the angelic orders according to the measure of God’s revelation and their spiritual, light-bearing nature, their spiritual goodness, their love for God, for each other, and for mankind, their guarding actions in relation to our earth, to its elements, to human communities, to holy and other places, and especially to every Christian. Besides this, the spiritual eye turns within to the man himself, and then its function is called self-examination, self-knowledge, self-introspection, spiritual watchfulness over our own thoughts and desires.


Imitation of the Saints

How vividly God’s saints represented God to themselves! the saints who through the Holy Ghost compiled prayers for their own and our guidance. In what fear and trembling they stood before God in prayer but also with what love and hope! Every word of their prayers says: "God is with us; and God within us hears each of our words, sees every thought, every wish, every tear."

The Lord is so holy, so simple in His holiness, that one single evil or impure thought deprives us of Him, of the sweet and most sweet, of the pure and most pure, peace and light of our souls. Hence it follows that the saints are all light; they are all one fragrance, like the light of the sun, like the purest air. Lord, grant this simple holiness to me also!

The holy angels and other heavenly powers are full of pure, holy life, of unbroken peace, of unchangeable vigour, of eternal courage and strength, of indescribable beauty, light, and wisdom, of the purest love for God and men, of mutual friendship, of Divine light and enlightenment: such are also our holy guardian angels. What a wonderful nature the angels have! But Christians who become worthy of attaining to the future life and to the resurrection from the dead will be equal to the angels, according to the word of the Lord Himself. Let us, then, zealously strive after that endless, unchangeable, undisturbed life.

When your faith in the Lord, either during your life and prosperity, or in the time of sickness and at the moment of quitting this life, grows weak, grows dim from worldly vanity or through illness, and from the terrors and darkness of death, then look with the mental eyes of your heart upon the companies of our forefathers, the patriarchs, prophets, and righteous ones — St. Simeon, who took the Lord up in his arms, Job, Anna the prophetess, and others; the apostles, prelates, venerable fathers, martyrs, the disinterested, the righteous,* and all the saints. See how, both during their earthly life and at the time of their departure from this life, they unceasingly looked to God and died in the hope of the resurrection and of the life eternal, and strive to imitate them. These living examples, which are so numerous, are capable of strengthening the wavering faith of every Christian in the Lord and in the future life. Those Christian communities who do not venerate the saints and do not call upon them in prayer lose much in piety and in Christian hope. They deprive themselves of the great strengthening of their faith by the examples of men like unto themselves.

Thou alone knowest the cares, labours, and sweat of Thy saints, in order to purify themselves to please Thee, the Father of all. Thou alone knowest Thy saints. Teach us to imitate them in our lives so that we too may be in union with all, through love.


*These are the orders of the saints officially established in the Orthodox Church. "Disinterested physicians" has reference to some of the martyrs, for the most part named in pairs, who, according to the legends concerning them, practised medicine during their lives, e.g., Cosmas and Damianus. "The righteous" is the official designation of lay saints who were, not martyrs.


Death and Eternity

A terrible truth. Impenitent sinners after their death lose every possibility of changing for good, and therefore remain unalterably given up to everlasting torments (for sin cannot but torment). How is this proved? It is plainly proved by the actual state of some sinners and by the nature of sin itself — to keep the man its prisoner and to close every outlet to him. Who does not know how difficult it is, without God’s special grace, for a sinner to turn from the way of sin, that is so dear to him, into the path of virtue? How deeply sin takes root in the heart of the sinner, and in all his being; how it gives the sinner its own way of looking at things, by means of which he sees them quite differently to what they are in reality, and shows him everything in a kind of alluring light. It is for this reason that we see that sinners very often do not even think of their conversion, and do not consider themselves to be great sinners, because their eyes are blinded by their self-love and pride. And if they consider themselves sinners, then they give themselves up to the most terrible despair, which overwhelms their minds with thick darkness and greatly hardens their heart. But for the grace of God, what sinner would have returned to God? For it is the nature of sin to darken our souls, to bind us hand and foot. But the time and place for the action of grace is here alone: after death there remain only the prayers of the Church, and these prayers can be efficacious for penitent sinners alone — that is, only for those who have developed in their souls the capability of receiving God’s mercy or of benefiting by the prayers of the Church that is, the light of the good works which they have taken with them out of this life. Impenitent sinners are undoubtedly sons of perdition. What does my experience tell me when I am the prisoner of sin? I am tormented sometimes the whole day, and cannot turn to God with my whole heart, because sin hardens my heart, making God’s mercy inaccessible to me. I burn in the fire, and willingly remain in it, because sin has bound my powers, and I — like one inwardly chained — am unable to turn to God until He, seeing my helplessness, my humility, and my tears, takes pity on me and bestows His grace upon me. It is not without reason that a man given over to sin is spoken of as "delivered into chains of darkness."

What is most terrible to man? Death? Yes, death. None of us can imagine, without terror, how he will have to die and breathe his last sigh. And how parents grieve when their beloved children die, when they lie breathless before their eyes! But, brethren, do not fear, and do not grieve beyond measure. By His death Jesus Christ our Saviour has conquered our death, and by His resurrection He has laid the foundation for our resurrection, and every week, every Sunday, we solemnise in the risen Christ our common future resurrection from the dead, and begin beforehand the life eternal, to which our present temporal life is but a short, narrow, and most sorrowful way. For a true Christian death is merely like a sleep until the day of resurrection, or like birth into a new life. And thus in solemnising every week the resurrection of Christ and our own resurrection from the dead, let us learn to die continually to sin, and to rise with our souls from dead works, to enrich ourselves with virtues, and not sorrow inconsolably for the dead. Let us learn to meet death without dread, as the decree of the Heavenly Father, which, through the resurrection of Christ from the dead, has lost its terror.

God grant that, even after death, our brotherly union with our departed relatives, and those whom we knew in this life, may not be broken off, that our love may not be extinguished, but may burn with a bright flame, and that constant true remembrance of those at rest may ever remain with us until our death. "With what measure you mete, it shall be measured to you again."

Ought not the Christian, who looks for eternal peace and joy in heaven, to courageously and joyfully bear all sorrows, labours, sicknesses, and injustices, all sufferings, all unpleasantnesses? In truth he ought. Otherwise, what would be the meaning of future rest and peace? What peace and rest shall there be for him who has already had peace and rest here, without enduring anything? Where would God’s justice be? "We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God."

All present things are but a shadow of the future. The present light is a shadow of the future ineffable light. Earthly bliss is a faint shadow of future unspeakable, eternal bliss; fire a faint shadow of the fire of Gehenna, which will burn sinners unto ages of ages; pure earthly joy a shadow of unspeakable future joys; the magnificent royal palaces a faint shadow of the resplendent mansions of Paradise prepared for those who love God and fulfil his commandments. The glorious attire of the sons and daughters of men cannot be compared with that glorious garment with which the elect shall be clothed, for they will put on Christ. "Then shall the just shine as the sun, in the kingdom of their Father," according to the Saviour’s sure promise.

What blessings Thy chosen ones will enjoy in heaven with Thee, O Lord! How wearisome to the heart are all earthly delights! How destructive to the heart is even a momentary attachment to anything earthly! And what peace, what freedom, what width, what light, what joy is to be found in Thee!


Union with God

The problem of our life is union with God, and sin completely prevents this; therefore flee from sin as from a terrible enemy, as from the destroyer of the soul, because to be without God is death and not life. Let us therefore understand our destination; let us always remember that our common Master calls us to union with Himself.

Be so sure of the Lord’s nearness to you that you may feel when praying to God that you touch Him, not only with your thought and heart, but also with your mouth and tongue. "The Word is nigh thee, even in thy mouth, and in thy heart"; that is, God.

That our union with God in the future world will come to pass, and that it will be for us the source of light, peace, joy, and beatitude, this we partly recognise by experience even in the present life. During prayer, when our soul is wholly turned towards God, and is united to Him, we feel happy, calm, easy, and joyful, like children resting on their mother’s breast; or, I would rather say, we experience a sensation of inexpressible well-being. "It is good for us to be here." Therefore struggle unremittingly to obtain future everlasting bliss, the beginning of which you know by experience even in the present life; but bear in mind that these beginnings are only earthly, imperfect, which we see now only in part, as "through a glass darkly." How will it be with us then, when we shall indeed be most truly united to God, when the images and shadows shall pass away, and the kingdom of truth and vision will come? Oh! we must labour unceasingly all our life, until death, for future blessedness, for our future union with God.

Remember that you are always walking in the presence of of the sweetest Lord Jesus. Say to yourself oftener: "I wish so to live that my life may gladden my Beloved, crucified for my sake on the Cross. Above all, I will take for the companion and friend of my life my Holy Beloved, Who instils everything into my heart, making me thirst for the salvation of all, "rejoicing with those who rejoice, and weeping with those who weep." This will especially comfort my Comforter, Christ.

In order that you should have steadfast assurance during prayer, of receiving every spiritual blessing from the Lord, believe that by uniting yourself unto the Lord during your prayer you become one spirit with Him, and that God is most gracious, almighty, and most wise. He is all-perfect perfection, therefore you, too, according to your receptivity, according to your faith and love, will become a partaker of His Divine perfections. In the union of your soul with God, do not consider anything impossible or difficult of fulfilment, "for with God all things are possible" — not only the things which you can think of, or are thinking of, but also those which you cannot think of, or which you think of as impossible, for God is an infinite Being, and all His perfections are infinite.

The invisible, all-pervading God often and sensibly touches my invisible soul, which, from this touch, enjoys wonderful rest and heavenly joy. It is not the eyes which give me tidings of my God (ordinary feelings are destined for the lower objects of creation), not the bearing by means of words or sounds of the voice that carries to me the message of the Incomprehensible, but the soul itself becomes, so to say, dissolved in God.

You have felt in your heart during prayer, or during the reading of the Word of God and other holy books (and sometimes even during the reading of worldly ones of well-intentioned contents, in which, for instance, some event representing the action of God’s Providence upon men is described), or during edifying conversation, "a still small voice," as though a current of electricity was passing through your body. It is the Lord visiting you. "A still small voice" — and the Lord is in it.

As your thought is near to you, as your faith is near to you, so near is God to you, and the more lively and steadfast is your thought about God, the more lively your faith, and the recognition of your infirmity and nothingness, and the feeling of your need of God, the nearer will God be to you: Or, as air is near to your body, so near is God to you. For God is, so to say, the mental air, by means of which breathe all the angels, the souls of the saints and of living men, especially of pious ones. You cannot live for a single moment without God, and you actually live each moment in Him: "For in Him we live, and move, and are."

If you have Christian love for your neighbour, then all heaven will love you; if you have union of spirit with your fellow-creatures, then you shall have union with God and all the dwellers of heaven; if you are merciful to your neighbour, then God and all the angels and saints will be merciful to you; if you pray for others, then all heaven will intercede for you. The Lord our God is holy; be so yourself also.

Nothing is nearer to us than God. He is the God of hearts, of the very hearts, and the heart, in its turn, is nearer than anything to us. It is the whole man, "the hidden man of the heart," as the Apostle says.

My God! how the love and sincere sympathy of our neighbour towards us rejoices our hearts! Who shall describe this blessedness of the heart, penetrated with the feeling of others’ love towards me, and my love to others? It is indescribable! If here on earth mutual love so rejoices us, then with what sweetness of love shall we be filled in heaven, when we shall dwell with God, with the mother of God, with the heavenly powers, with God’s saints? Who can imagine and describe such bliss, and what earthly temporal things should we not sacrifice in order to obtain the unutterable bliss of heavenly love? God, Thy name is Love! — Teach me true love, strong as death. I have most plenteously tasted its sweetness from my communion in the spirit of faith, in Thee, with Thy faithful servants, and have obtained plenteousness of peace and life through it. Strengthen, O God, that which Thou hast created in me. Oh, had it ever been thus all the days of my life! Grant that I may oftener be in the communion of faith and love with Thy faithful servants, with Thy temples, with Thy Church, with Thy members!

Ignatius for the reason that this representative of the Patristic ascetical doctrine is a true modern of broad and refined culture, who has passed through the fiery revolutionary atmosphere of the Russian symbolist movement.

Father Alexander Yelchaninov was our contemporary. He died an exile in Paris in 1934. Born in 1881, the son of a traditionally military family, he was graduated from the University of St. Petersburg as a student in history and philology. He gave up the offer of a career of scholarly research and for some years lived in the centers of religious-philosophical activity, which during that decade (1900-10) was at its zenith in the circles of the progressive and artistic intelligentsia. Yelchaninov was associated with the writers S. Merezhkovsky, V. Rozanov and V. Ivanov, the poet. Having moved to Moscow, where he encountered Bulgakov and Berdiaev, he became associated in particular with two remarkable men, his friends and schoolmates from boyhood days. One was Vladimir Ern, the philosopher, the other, Paul Florensky, a mathematician and later a theologian, undoubtedly a man of genius. Both placed a heavy impress upon modern Orthodox thought. At the time of the first revolution in Russian (1905-6), these friends, together with Yelchaninov and a very few others, tried to enter politics as an underground group called the "Christian. Brotherhood of Struggle," with revolutionary and anarchical tendencies.

Soon after the repression of the revolutionary movement, the members of this group became conservative or national spirited, as did most of the religious intelligentsia at that time. Yelchaninov spent the last years of the old regime as a teacher and headmaster in a progressive high school in Tiflis (now Tfilisi), the capital of Georgia in the Caucasus. Education was his true calling, and when he left Russia after the Communist Revolution and established residence in Nice (France) in 1922, he returned to the teaching profession. Even after his ordination as a parish priest (he was a married man), Father Alexander was, first of all, a spiritual guide to boys and girls, one of the leaders of the Russian Christian Student Movement in Exile. His gifts as a spiritual guide were remarkable. Even as a boy he was the intellectual leader of his younger schoolmates. For him it was both a need and a joy to assist in the discovery of the dormant powers of souls. He had somewhat the Socratic method, applied to nature in such a way that he might be described as a "spiritual midwife." Far from the spirit of proselytism, and with a distaste for the use of any force whatsoever, he simply opened to those under his guidance the way to self-examination. And he himself was a master of the technique of self-examination. Perhaps this is his real vocation in the spiritual life: he is not a struggler or a mystic but a serene and kind counselor, meek but interiorly austere, a stranger to any kind of opportunism.

The harrowing experience of the Revolution and the destruction of all hope for the peaceful cultural development of Russia produced in Yelchaninov, as in so many others, a profound reaction. People who kept free of political counter-revolutionary activities and were sufficiently thoughtful to develop their spiritual lives, turned their backs upon their social and historical environment. Theirs was the apocalyptic attitude of mind which characterized the early Church and the Fathers of the Desert. Yelchaninov discovered in the Patristic writings a correspondence with his personal experience, and it is this that makes his diary of such great interest. It is an intimate disclosure of his life. Father Alexander did not publish it himself, nor is it known whether he had considered its publication, but his wife had it printed after his death.

There is no attempt made at systematization in the diary, nor is it free of the contradictions naturally contained in unstudied writing of this kind. For the attentive reader there is one special attraction: from time to time, in the course of an austere ascetic world-denial, another trend of thought reveals itself: the humanistic appreciation of freedom, the hope of Christian culture, the positive evaluation of beauty, love, and friendship. This is the residue of the great spiritual movement of the early twentieth century. Its generous dreams are dissipated; yet certain positive elements are alive under the ground of ascetic reaction, awaiting their resurrection, when they will be incorporated with the traditional ascetic-mystical doctrine of the Church.


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