Two Letters from Elder Moses of Optina......
- Two Letters from Elder Moses of Optina To His Brother Living in the World
July 17, 1814 Hermitage
My dearest little brother, Alexander Ivanovich, Save yourself in the Lord!
I was delighted to receive your letter proceeding from unforgettable
brotherly love. I rejoiced in my heart that you are alive and well. I would
be glad to help you with books, but it is a pity that we are so far away
from each other now and there are no opportunities for me to do so. But to
satisfy your request, which indeed is pleasing to me, along with this
letter I am sending you at least a few readings I have copied out. And yet
they contain much, and one might say everything necessary for guidance unto
salvation. Let your soul make good use of them; nourish it daily with the
words of life, with prayer, and with every good work—just as we nourish the
body with various kinds of food and drink, by means of which our exhausted
strength is renewed and our life is preserved.
If the spirit of piety is growing weaker in you, that is not surprising,
because you are found in a social circle where you both see and hear
everything that is in opposition to this spirit, and your heart
participates in these things either willingly or unwillingly. That is why I
feel sorry for you. But, my little brother, you must not entirely neglect
your soul. You must somehow kindle that spirit of piety; by a little
spiritual reading, or by prayer even though it may be brief, or by
remembrance of eternity and by fulfilling the rest of Christ’s
commandments, you must nurture yourself and mature unto a perfect man, unto
the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ (Ephesians 4:13).
Remember the publican of the Gospel, who was pursuing such a shameful and
pernicious career, but did not leave off going to the temple even though
his way of life was completely opposed to that which is pleasing to God.
And once upon a time it so turned out that he pleased God much by just a
few words of repentance and left the temple justified rather than the
Pharisee, that zealous keeper of the entire law. My dear one, do not
entirely quench the spirit and do not enfeeble yourself by carelessness and
by overindulging the body and dissipating the mind in obsessive imaginings,
lest you afterwards suffer the lot of the slothful servant of the Gospel,
who hid the talent of grace received at baptism, which absolutely must not
remain barren and fruitless in the soul of a Christian.
So as to arouse our heedlessness, here is another consideration that we
must always bring to mind: that we are mortal. Our life is fleeting and
most perilous on account of the uncertainty of the hour of death. For
although we know well that we shall die, what we do not know is when we
shall die—today or tomorrow, sooner or later, during the day or during the
night? This lot of each person is completely unknown—when the sickle of
death will overtake whom, and what condition it will find him in, made
ready by good works, or unprepared and full of evil ones. For in whatever
it finds a person, that is how it will deliver him over to judgment before
God, and by his deeds everyone shall be either glorified or put to shame.
And no one will help us in that hour of death, only good works accomplished
in God. Here we must discuss both good works and evil works, and the
results of each. We know from the Holy Scriptures that we are not created
just to eat and drink pleasurably, have a good time and enjoy ourselves
heedlessly. We are created for good works, through which in this brief life
we attain the eternal and blessed life to which we are all called by the
grace of God.
And so our life here is a time of ceaseless bodily and spiritual labors,
and the future life of recompense according to our works. But we must find
out for certain what kind of works will yield a blessed eternity and what
kind will yield a bitter one, so as to shun the one and always hold to the
other. Man is twofold, body and soul; his works are also twofold. One is
called the outer man, the other is called the inner man. These two, united
in the single hypostasis of the man, are as far removed from one another as
the heaven is from the earth, and they are so opposed to each other that
one who is not enlightened by the grace of Christ cannot come to know
himself and cannot steer clear of disaster. For the outer man is a
corruptible body, fashioned by God to serve the soul, and it demands its
own gratification; the inner man is an immortal soul, created in the image
and likeness of God for good works, and it demands its own kind of
cultivation and gratification.
Our works are called sowing, and this too is twofold—some unto the inner
man and some unto the outer man; and the differing fruits of the two are
evident. "For he that soweth to his flesh shall of the flesh reap
corruption; but he that soweth to the Spirit shall of the Spirit reap life
everlasting" (Galatians 6:8). The sowing and reaping unto the outer man in
this life has three aspects—the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and
the pride of life (I John 2:16). Unless the inner man meditates upon the
law of God and is nourished thereby, unless he is strengthened by reading
and by prayer, he is conquered by the outer man, and he serves his master.
Hence there are manifested works pleasing to the flesh but hateful to God,
such as pride, avarice, gluttony, the fulfillment of all kinds of lusts,
idle talk, laughter, amusements, drunkenness, malice, duplicity, lying,
envy slothfulness and others. These are the fruits of the sowing unto the
flesh, and that is why flesh and blood cannot inherit the Kingdom of God (I
Corinthians 15:50). But when the soul meditates upon the law of God and the
body is subjected to the wisdom of the soul, then the following works are
seen: love for God and neighbor, peaceableness, meekness, simplicity,
kindliness, mercifulness toward all, modesty, temperance, chastity,
guilelessness, and the rest, and these works are the fruits of the Holy
Spirit and are called the sowing unto the Spirit.
Our works in this life are the sowing, and the future life is the harvest
of what we have sown. Whatever one sows here, that is what he shall reap
there. If one hastens to cultivate the field of his heart, to fertilize it
and to sow in it the seeds of immortal grain, he can confidently expect to
see a corresponding harvest unto eternal rest and delight. He that sows
with tears of repentance shall reap with rejoicing and "shall be filled,"
says the Prophet (Psalms 16:16 and 125:6), for sweet rest follows upon the
labors of piety. But rest and refreshment are denied to him who has not
labored in the work of piety—he that is idle should not eat, it is said
(cf. II Thessalonians 3:10).
Dear brother, always depict this truth to yourself, that what a man sows in
this life he shall reap a hundredfold in the future life. And check
yourself daily on the basis of this truth—what have you sown for the future
life, wheat or thorns? And having examined yourself, resolve to do better
the next day, and live your whole life in this manner. If you have spent
the day poorly, without praying to God as you should, without even once
feeling contrition of heart, without humbling yourself mentally, without
showing kindness or giving alms to anyone, without forgiving someone at
fault, without patiently enduring an offense—if instead you have given way
to anger and showed no restraint in your speech or in eating and drinking,
or if you have immersed your mind in impure thoughts—when you have reviewed
all this in your mind, condemn yourself according to your conscience and
resolve on the following day to be more attentive to that which is good and
to guard more against that which is evil.
And so ever watch over your field, my dear one, and clear it of thorns, and
take heed as a true Christian to labor not merely for the food which
perisheth, but for that which endureth unto everlasting life (John 6:27).
For what good does it do us if we fully gratify ourselves in this life with
honor, glory, wealth and all kinds of pleasures, but empty our soul of the
fruits of the Holy Spirit, and then appear before God barren as a fruitless
tree which is hewn down and cast into the fire (Matthew 3:10)? With your
outer man render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s (Mark 12:17), but
with your inner man always gaze toward God and meditate upon His law, and
God will be with you.
More than anything else, I fear lest you be harmed by keeping bad company.
A companion who always has women and good times on his mind is a bad
companion for sure. For wine and women have destroyed many, the Scriptures
say (cf. Sirach 19:2, 34:25). Keep away from such people, for loose and
passionate habits take root in us quickly and easily, and it is very
difficult to get rid of them. Few are they who have entirely freed
themselves from evil habits—most have ended their lives in these passions
unto their eternal condemnation, from which may the most merciful Lord
spare you and me. I trust that you have the spirit of the fear of God by
which you can guard yourself from sin and be guided toward virtue. These
readings I am sending you can also aid you in this. Keep these precepts as
well as you can, and surely "thy youth shall be renewed as the eagle’s"
As for me, I am living in the same solitary place as before. Glory be to
God! I am in good health and protected by the grace of God.
Ever wishing you well, I remain your devoted brother,
I bow most deeply before you.
October 6, 1815
My dearest little brother, Alexander Ivanovich,
Be strong in the grace of Christ!
I received your most welcome letter full of brotherly love with heartfelt
delight and sincerely rejoiced that you are all alive and well, and I
thanked God for your good and God- pleasing intention of freeing yourself
from the passionate and sin-occasioning burden of the world, which is so
heavy for a Christ-loving soul. For truly "the whole world lieth in
wickedness" (I John 5:19), and its activity is directed toward nothing else
but the satisfaction of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and
God-opposing pride (cf. I John 2:16). With this motive the world’s devotees
both miserably cheat themselves and deceive others with smooth promises. I
am referring to your dealers who are nice to you because they are looking
for profit and power. On their tongue is pure honey, but in their heart is
the poison of accursed avarice, and with this motive their mouths drip
sweetness and they secretly tickle the throats of guileless souls. But
afterwards the exact opposite of sweetness results, and it turns out that
all that remains is bitter grief and aching pain. The world promises many
good things but in reality not only does it not wish to give anything, but
it even has an eye to depriving you of everything you have. Anyone who
objectively examines worldly society will come to the inescapable
conclusion that most of its activity is not only at variance with the
Gospel of Christ, but also simply inhuman. The Prophet says, "I have seen
iniquity and gainsaying in the city. Day and night they go round about her
upon her walls; iniquity and toil and unrighteousness are in the midst of
her. And usury and deceit have not departed from her streets" (Psalm
How hard it is for one who loves God and His holy law to be found in such
an alien society! If on the one hand one lives in the world without
conforming to it, one necessarily loses all of its favor and friendship and
is scorned and derided. On the other hand, if one conforms to the world and
becomes its faithful friend, one necessarily becomes an opponent of God,
"for a friend of this world is the enemy of God" (cf. James 4:4).
So what can one do when faced with such opposite alternatives? One can only
choose one or the other. Either one must spurn the love of God and His law
for the sake of conformity to the world, or else one must scorn the world
for the sake of the love of God. Christ our God Himself has said, "Ye
cannot serve God and mammon" (Luke 16:13). That is why, as we can see from
history, those who loved God would in various ways choose a straitened and
afflicted life for themselves after the example of the life of Christ.
Some, like the martyrs, being found in the society of the world, endured
all kinds of oppression and torture and finally ended their lives by the
shedding of their blood. Others, like the monastics, detached themselves
from harmful worldly concerns and of their own free will mortified all
their carnal desires, spending their lives in voluntary poverty, and thus
they became well-pleasing to God. Others endured hardships in other ways
for the love of Christ and attained to eternal rest after selflessly
walking their own narrow way during their lives. And so you too, my dear
little brother, as you look into yourself and on the world, must choose a
way of life that is suitable for you—but be sure to follow your inner
inclination and the yearning of your spirit. With faith follow after Christ
Who is calling you, if so be that you have heard His voice in your
conscience and in your heart, taking with you that "lamp unto your feet"
(Psalm 118:105), the law of God.
Little brother, do not fear to be deprived of worldly honor and pleasurable
comfort. If you desire to be honored by God and refreshed with eternal,
blessed, and all-sweetest rest, you must come to love humility and
endurance of hardships for the sake of Christ, Who humbled Himself and
endured a shameful death for you. Bow your neck under His yoke, "for it is
good to bear the yoke of the Lord from one’s youth" (cf. Lamentations
The Son of God has said, "If any man serve Me, let him follow Me; and where
I am, there shall also My servant be" (John 12:2 6). And so we look, and
where is He found after His incarnation? First He is set at nought by the
proud world, reviled, spat upon, smitten and nailed to the Cross. But where
is He afterwards—where is He now? In the glory of His Father, in the
festival of the eternal Kingdom. And so notice, dear little brother, that
one who wishes to be where the most glorious and ineffable Kingdom of
Christ is, can only reach it through sufferings, both voluntary and
involuntary. "For thus ought Christ to have suffered, and to enter into His
glory" (cf. Luke 24:26, 46). The same awaits us, too. "My son, if thou
comest to serve the Lord thy God, prepare thy soul for temptation" (cf.
Sirach 2:1), and so on. Yet just as one should not be deceived upon seeing
the ready comfort of this world and its sweetness, so also one should not
fear straitness and affliction for the sake of Christ’s cornmandments,
since the affliction is brief, but the rest, joy and glory afterwards are
eternal. And why not apprehend the future unspeakable, eternal bliss by
enduring want and toil here, when it is clear that even if someone here
should "gain the whole world, and lose his own soul" (Matthew 16:26),
estranging it from that eternal blessedness with Christ, then what good
does it do him? Today he reigns and is exalted by everyone, but tomorrow he
hears the verdict, "Take the unprofitable servant, bind him hand and foot,
and cast him into the gehenna of fire" (cf. Matthew 25:30, 22:13).
Dear little brother, as you behold the inexpediency of life in the world
and how incompatible it is with your good conscience, do not hesitate to
lay aside every care, and commit yourself to the will of God. Resolve to
take up whatever high-principled way of life His providence indicates for
you. When I did not receive an answer from you I was wondering whether you
had received my letter, but now I am glad that you did receive it without
its being delayed. I thank you with all my heart both for your letter and
for the money—be sure to let me know where you decide to go, and when. I
receive your letters faithfully through Father Hierodeacon Smaragd. Of all
the elders I am closest to him; so write without any misgivings. It is
difficult for me to pick up letters personally—the town is more than
twenty-five miles away.
Though my letter is getting long, I still want to add something about
myself in answer to your question about how I am doing. Thanks be to God, I
am in good health, and as for my life, the best way I can think of to
describe it is as a pilgrimage to Jerusalem, for a human life is precisely
a journey. And that journey is to the Jerusalem on high. "For here have no
abiding city, but we seek one to come" (Hebrews 13:14). Now imagine a
journey—what is it like? It is not monotonous, but varied. One meets up
with mountains and forests, hunger and cold, bad weather and storms,
afflictions and illnesses, tempests at sea and attacks of robbers, hardship
and fear. I will not enumerate the pleasant things which are also
encountered even amid all the obstacles; above all, the hope of reaching
the longed-for city is an especial consolation.
See, little brother, what a journey is like. It is that way not only in the
physical, but also in the spiritual life. Beginning in spring I took care
of the garden, digging, sowing and planting. In summer I built myself a new
solitary little cell; now I am also planting around it. During the coming
winter, if the Lord grants me the energy and health, I hope to take a rest
from all this, or rather to undertake some more spiritual labors. I can
honestly state, though, that I do not regret my present way of life or
desire life in the world. I cannot thank the Lord God enough for His great
mercy to me in leading me forth from the bondage of Egypt and making me to
dwell in this hermitage, where I wish you well and remain your devoted
Sinful T., monk
I bow most deeply before all of you.
From Appendix v of The Elder Moses of Optina, pp. 303-313. Translated from
the Russian by the Holy Nativity Convent, Boston, MA (1996). Widely
available from Orthodox bookstores.