Saint Silouan of AthosThe venerable Silouan the Athonite (also known as Silouan of Mount Athos) was born Simeon Ivanovich Antonov. At the age of twenty-seven he left his native Russia and came to the monastic state of Mt. Athos (an autonomous peninsula in Greece) where he became a monk at the Monastery of St. Panteleimon. He was glorified by the Ecumenical Patriarchate in 1987. The Church venerates saint Silouan the Athonite on September 24.
An ardent ascetic, St. Silouan received the grace of unceasing prayer and saw Christ in a vision. After long years of spiritual trial, he acquired great humility and inner stillness. He prayed and wept for the whole world as for himself, and he put the highest value on love for enemies.Though barely literate, he was sought out by pilgrims for his wise counsel. His writings were edited by his disciple and pupil, Archimandrite Sophrony. Father Sophrony has written the life of the saint along with a record of St. Silouan's teachings in the book «Saint Silouan the Athonite».
"Keep your mind in hell, and do not despair"
The most precious thing on earth is to know God and at least in part understand His will. The soul that has felt God must submit to his will in everything and live before Him in fear and love. In love, because the Lord is love. In fear, because it must be afraid to insult God by some evil thought.
How do you know whether you are living according to the will of God? Here is a sign: if you long for some thing, then you have not submitted to the will of God, even though you may think that you live according to His will. Whoever lives according to the will of God does not concern himself with anything. And if he needs some thing, then he submits himself and that thing to God; and if he does not receive it, then he remains content as though he had received it. The soul which has submitted to the will of God, fears nothing: neither storm nor bandits; nothing. And whatever should happen, it says, "It is God’s will." If the body is ill, the soul thinks, "Then I am in need of this illness, otherwise God would not have given it to me." And so the body and the soul remain at peace.
We must always pray, so that the Lord will tell us what we must do, and the Lord will not leave us in confusion. Adam was unwise not to ask the Lord about the fruit brought to him by Eve, and so lost Eden. David did not ask the Lord, "will it be good if I take for myself the wife of Uriah?" and so fell into the sins of murder and adultery. And so all the saints who have sinned, sinned because they did not call upon God for help and spiritual guidance. Saint Serafim of Sarov once said, "When I spoke of my own mind, I made mistakes."
If your mind wishes to pray in your heart and cannot, then read the prayer aloud and keep your mind on the words of the prayer, as the "Ladder" recommends. In time, the Lord will give you prayer of the heart without interfering thoughts, and prayer will become easy. Some have damaged their hearts by forcing their minds to pray in their hearts and have even reached a point where their mouths could not say the words. Know the order of religious life: gifts are given to a simple, humble, attentive soul. Whoever is obedient is sparing in everything: food, words, acts; to these the Lord gives prayer, and it repeats easily in the heart.
Unceasing prayer derives from love and is lost through passing judgment, idle talk and intemperance. Whoever loves God might think about Him day and night, because no activities can stand in the way of loving God. The Apostles loved God and the world did not stand in their way, though they understood the world, and prayed for it, and preached.
If we were humble, the Lord in His kindness would show us everything, reveal all secrets, but we are not humble, we are proud and vain over all details, and in this we suffer ourselves and torment others.
The Lord does not reveal Himself to proud souls. The proud soul, even if it has read all the books, will never understand the Lord, for in its pride it does not allow any room for the grace of the Holy Spirit, and God is only experienced through the Holy Spirit. Pride does not allow the soul to enter on the path of faith. I give this advice to the unbeliever: let him say, "Lord, if You exist, then enlighten me, and I will serve You with all my heart and soul." For this humble thought and preparedness to serve God, the Lord will certainly enlighten him.
The Lord has taught me to hold my mind in hell, and not to despair. And this is how my soul becomes humble, but this is not yet real humility, which is indescribable. As the soul moves toward the Lord, it becomes fearful, but when it sees the Lord, then it becomes immensely joyous from the beauty of His glory, and it forgets everything earthly in the face of the love of God and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit. This is the Lord’s Heaven. Love will surround everyone, and from the humility of Christ they will be glad to see others above them. The humility of Christ exists in the lowly: they are happy in their lowliness. This was given to me to understand by the Lord.
The Lord said, "Learn from Me to be meek and humble of heart." There are many types of humility. You can be obedient and reproach yourself in everything — this is a form of humility. Another can repent his sins and count himself the lowest before Christ — this is also a form of humility. But when a soul sees the Lord through the Holy Spirit in all His meekness and humility, then it also becomes humbled to its limits. This is a special sort of humility which cannot be described, it can only be experienced through the Holy Spirit. And if people could experience the Lord through the Holy Spirit, they would all change — the wealthy would despise their wealth, the learned their studies, the powerful their glory and authority, and all would be humbled and would live in great peace and love, and the earth would be filled with great joy. He who has experienced God through the Holy Spirit has a different understanding and taste.
Previously I thought that the Lord performed miracles only in response to the prayers of saints. But now I know that the Lord will perform a miracle even for a sinner as soon as his soul is humbled, for when a person learns humility, then the Lord shall hear his prayers.
Whoever has not felt grace cannot know what it is to desire it. Most people have become attached to the worldly, and they cannot understand that nothing worldly could ever take the place of the Holy Spirit. The Lord takes His grace from the soul and in this manner mercifully and wisely teaches it to be humble, for it was for the soul that He spread His arms on the Cross with such great suffering. He gives the soul the ability to struggle against our enemies, but the soul by itself is powerless to achieve victory; for this reason it is said, "Ask, and ye shall receive." And if we do not ask, then we but torment and rob ourselves of the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which the soul remains confused, because it cannot see the will of God.
Any soul which has lost its peace must repent, and the Lord will forgive its sins, and then peace and joy will visit the soul. There need be no witnesses, for the Holy Spirit is the witness of the remission of sins. Here is a sign of forgiveness: if you have come to hate sin, then the Lord has forgiven your sin.
In order to experience the Lord it is not necessary to have wealth, or learning, but it is necessary to be obedient and abstemious, to have a humble spirit and love your neighbor; the Lord will love such a soul and reveal Himself to it, and will more often teach it love and humility, and will give it all it needs in order that it may find peace in God.
And I learned that love is different in strength. Whoever fears God in order not to insult Him: this is the first kind of love. Whoever has a mind clear of unnecessary thought — this is the second form of love, greater than the first. Whoever feels the presence of grace in his soul — this is the third form of love, even greater.
The fourth, absolute, love for God is to have grace in your body as well as your soul. Such a body will become holy and leave relics. This happens with great martyrs, prophets and saints. Whoever has reached this level is untouched by bodily love.
Whoever wishes to love the Lord must love his enemies and be without spite; then the Lord will give you to glorify Him day and night, and your mind will forget the world; and if it should return and remember, then it will pray diligently for the world.
This is how the saints lived, for the Spirit of God taught their souls to pray for others.
Know that if your thought leads you to look at how others live, this is a sign of pride. Watch after yourself and you will see that as soon as your soul rises above your brother, this is followed by evil thoughts.
Our enemies (demons) fell because of their pride, and call us to follow them, and bring us feelings of praise. And if your soul accepts that praise, then grace will depart, until the soul becomes humble again. And so all your life you must learn the humility of Christ.
We fall into vainglory when we think we are smarter and more experienced than others, even our confessor.
If you see a light within you, or about you, do not believe it, if together with the light you do not feel tender emotion to God and love for your neighbor. But do not be afraid, and be humble, and the light will disappear.
If you see a vision, or an image, or a dream, do not believe it, for if it is from the Lord, the Lord will teach you. The soul that has not experienced the Holy Spirit cannot comprehend visions nor where they are from. The enemy gives the soul a sweetness mixed with vanity, and this is how to recognize vainglory. If a vision is from the enemy the soul will feel confusion and fear; but this is only a humble soul that feels itself unworthy of a vision; a vain person may not feel fear or even confusion, because he seeks visions and feels himself worthy, and as a result the enemy easily fools him.
The heavenly is experienced through the Holy Spirit, and the earthly through the mind: whoever wants to experience God with his mind through learning is in vainglory, for God can only be experienced through the Holy Spirit.
Whoever carries in him even a small amount of grace will submit to leadership with great joy. He knows that the Lord controls heaven and earth and the netherworld, and his own self, and his affairs and all that exists in the world, and for this reason he is always at peace.
Obedience prevents pride. In return for obedience you receive the ability to pray, along with the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is why obedience is greater than fasting and prayer.
Bishop Alexander (Mileant) and Natalia Bufius,
Teachings and admonitions of Elder Siluan