Long ago, Macarius the Great described this bustle of life with its futile pursuit . . . It expresses the essence of the matter, and, once you have accepted it with conviction, it will serve for you as a restraint from the charm of worldly life. In order to be able to think about this more and to get more familiar with this manner of thought, try to read the entire Fifth Homily of St. Macarius.Note: The numbering of St. Macarius's homilies in his citations doesn't seem to agree with what I've found in current English sources.
I take up my pen, and am still just beginning to explain the very same thing to you, that is, the attractiveness of the condition of being filled with grace, in order to set you on the path to attaining it, learning it and being established in it. But this time, I will not offer you my own words, but those of that wise man of God, Macarius the Great, namely from his eighteenth homily.
Get a notebook, and in it write down the thoughts that come to you as you read the Gospel and other books in this manner: "The Lord says such and such in the Gospel; from this it is obvious that we must act in such and such a way; for me this is feasible in such and such instances; I will act thus; Lord help me!" This does not require much effort, but how much benefit comes from it! Act in this way. Your thought will come into focus and become inspired. The Spirit, moving in the Scriptures, will enter into your heart and heal it.
After prayer, do some reading with meditation. You need to read, not in order to pack your mind with diverse information and ideas, but to receive edification and to understand how best to accomplish those things which are necessary for us during these days of govenie. For this one must read a little, but each item that is read must be brought to conscious feeling by devoting lengthy attention to it.He is referring, of course, to St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, for whom St. Tikhon's Monastery is named, not the later Metropolitan of America and Patriarch of All Russia. The only book-length collection of his works that to my knowledge has been translated into English is Journey to Heaven: Counsels on the Particular Duties of Every Christian. This is an anthology of his works, published in Russian under the subtitle of the English and then in Greek under the main English title. Part III, on "Spiritual Struggles," addresses self-examination, sin, and repentance.
What should be read? Just spiritual books, of course. Of these, I cannot recommend anything to you more than the writings of Bishop Tikhon. There is the little book Arise and Conquer, a selection of articles by him that are conducive to repentance. There is another book about repentance and Communion, sermons on Great Lent and the preparatory week preceding it.
. . . Instead of conversation, it would be better to set aside an hour for reading together. This would be very suitable in the evening. Nothing would be better, if one of you could give edifying accounts that manifest the power of repentance and Communion. For your readings together, you should select something from the Lives of the Saints.Letter #36:
Take the Lives of the Saints for the month of March and read the story of how blessed Theodora endured the toll-houses. This story is included in the life of St. Basil the Younger for March 26. The life itself of that starets is great. Begin immediately with the story of Theodora . . .There is a rather heated controversy surrounding this particular story. It seems to me that the purpose for which he is recommending it circumvents a lot of the debate, since he's not making a point primarily about the afterlife but about self-examination.
Do not desire to be worldly-wise, but take this story to heart, and undertake to correct all your imperfections in accordance with its teaching.
I am sending you a little book about this subject entitled Letters on the Spiritual Life. (One could also add the small anthology called The Holy Fathers on Watchfulness and Prayer.) It is directed toward the consolidation of the mind in the heart with attentiveness toward the Lord and prayerful disposition. For the labor of prayer, you need to select and read such books or articles that discuss everything about prayer and prayerful frames of mind.The first book he mentions here appears to be one of his own volumes in Russian, which as far as I know has not been translated into English. I can't find anything on the second book, but my best guess is that it's his own compilation from the Philokalia, perhaps similar to the book by Archimandrite Ioannikios Kotsonis--Watchfulness and Prayer.
I have already written that steadfastness and continuity of labor over oneself is an essential condition for success in the spiritual life. . . . You have St. Macarius the Great's Homilies. Try to read the nineteenth homily, which tells how the Christian must force himself in every good thing.
For you to meditate on the Divine attributes and activities on your own may be a little difficult. It seems, however, that you have the writings of Bishop Tikhon. You will find his Letters from the Cell to be a most helpful aid. Bishop Tikhon clearly contemplates each Divine attribute and activity, and writes of each one with such warmth and conviction that, if you read attentively, they will permeate your heart.As noted above (#33), I know of only one book available in English with any of St. Tikhon's writings. There doesn't seem to be a section comparable to the contemplation he mentions here.
It is necessary for you to reinterpret everything that comes before your eyes in a spiritual sense. This reinterpretation must fill your mind to such an extent that when you look at something, your eyes see something sensual, but your mind contemplates a spiritual truth. . . .As noted above (#33), I know of only one book available in English with any of St. Tikhon's writings. There doesn't seem to be a section comparable to the reinterpretations he mentions here.
As an aid to yourself, take up Bishop Tikhon once again. He has four entire books of such reinterpretations called Spiritual Treasure Gathered from the World. Get it and read through it. After you have read it and seen how he does it, you will become skilled at doing it on your own. Or you may directly adopt his reinterpretations for yourself. If, perhaps, reading these books seems to be too lengthy an undertaking, there is an abridged version of all the reinterpretations entitled Situation and Spiritual Discourse (Volume II). Here Bishop Tikhon gives a brief reinterpretation of 176 situations. It would be worth a little trouble for you to look over these with attention; besides, they encompass everything that you will need to reinterpret.
One must appeal to the Lord, going down with the attention of the mind into the heart and calling out to Him from there. . . . This same John the Dwarf told the following parable on this subject . . . Resolve to learn this story by heart and always act according to its meaning. You will see how quickly inner peace that has been disturbed by the appearance of the passions is restored within you.A footnote indicates that "this story may be found in The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, trans. by Benedicta Ward, SLG (Oxford: Mowbray & Co. Ltd., 1981), pp. 88-89."
You have been told almost everything about spiritual warfare now. . . . Do as you have been told, and you will successfully drive out every passion, no matter how forcefully it has arisen within you.This text is translated in the English Philokalia (vol. 1) as "On Watchfulness and Holiness," by St. Hesychios the Priest.
So that you may better remember all this and be persuaded that you must act in no other way, I am providing an excerpt from St. Hesychius the Priest of Jerusalem, whose book, you will recall, I sent to you. . . . Resolve to look over the little book in its entirety.
The best remedy for boredom, however, is to acquire a taste for serious reading and the study of subjects that you are unfamiliar with. It is not so much the reading that drives away boredom as the study. . . .
I would note for you that the study Count Speransky is referring to is the study of entire sciences, or certain parts of them. By this, it is obvious that one avoids any reading of frivolous books. . . . Read more the spiritual books (than scientific ones). This is the sphere of the most serious subjects, and, most importantly, the most necessary. In this sphere everything is new and never becomes obsolete. The more you learn, the more you will discover subjects that are as yet unfamiliar.
Who got you interested in St. Poemen so that you want to know more about him? No matter who it was, I am very glad of it. You will find who St. Poemen was and how he lived in the Menaion under August 27, and also in the book Sayings Concerning the Ascetic Deeds of the Saints and Blessed Fathers. You will find a number of his sayings in these places.The standard English edition of The Sayings of the Desert Fathers, cited above (#58), translates the sayings of St. Poemen on pp. 163-95.
I wanted to write you something previously concerning tears, but I forgot. I will write something now. You get books to read from the library. Get Zhukovsky and read "The Peri and the Angel." This is in the fifth volume, it seems. It is morally edifying and long.Zhukovsky actually translated this ballad from part four of Thomas Moore's Lalla Rookh.
I am sending you the writings of St. Anthony by your request. Read and be absorbed. You will be surprised. He was not educated and did not read books of learned men; he only sang the Psalter and read the Gospel along with the Epistle. The grace of God revealed contemplation in his mind, and you see how wise his words are. . . . Books are only for guidance in the spiritual life. Knowledge itself is acquired through deeds. . . .There is a text included in the Philokalia that is attributed to St. Anthony: "On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life." In the English edition, it is relegated to an appendix of the first volume. The editors explain that they do not consider Anthony to be the true author, nor do they even consider its contents to be legitimately Christian. I don't know of any other significant English translation of his writings.
You write, "I read a lot; is this bad?" It can be bad and it can be good, depending on what you read and how you read it. Read with discrimination and verify what is being read through the genuine truth of our faith. . . .
The question still remains unresolved as to whether one may read anything besides spiritual things. I would tell you with reservation, in a low voice: You may if you like, but just a little and not indiscriminately. . . .
Even books containing human wisdom may nourish the spirit. These are the books that indicate to us the vestiges of wisdom, benevolence, truth and solicitous Divine industry in nature and history. . . .
What about stories and novels? There are good ones among these. To find out whether they are good, however, you must read them, and after you have finished, you will have acquired such tales and images that--God have mercy! You will soil your clean little mind. Afterward, go get cleaned up. Why would you want to bring such labor upon yourself? Therefore, I think it is better not to read them. When a benevolently-minded person who has read some story recommends it, you may read it.