Saint Theophan the Recluse on Discernment

Selected psalms interpreted by Saint Theophan the Recluse.

St. Theophan the Recluse (1815-1894)

The truth of God is the commandments: the decisions of the truth of God are God's judgments and determinations of what, when and how things should be done in order to serve the cause of salvation and pleasing God, and not ruin it. This is determined by the well-known "reasoning" of the holy fathers. This is the second requirement for success in the work of God.

This reasoning, or the ability to determine how best to act in which case, is not acquired suddenly, but gradually. At first, he who approaches the way of God usually does not reason himself, but asks everything from those who know how to reason, as it happens in all worldly affairs and undertakings. But then, with strict attention, which was suggested in the previous verse, and with experiments in leadership, deeds after deeds, successfully completed, give the soul the habit of determining something by itself. This skill grows along with the progress of life and is finally established; internal rightness is acquired, which directly and correctly determines what and how to do; the right spirit is renewed in the womb, that is, in a purified heart.

This reasoning has two functions: one distinguishes thoughts, the other guesses the indications of God's providence, that is, what God wants from us in this or that case and situation, for everything is from Him, and everything is arranged for our good, for our salvation.

Whoever wants to know more precisely what discernment of thoughts is, let him read the book of answers by Barsanuphius and John, the clairvoyant recluses. Concerning any deed, thoughts can double and triple - which should we follow? If a passionate thought appeared as it is in comparison with a non-passionate one, then it would be easy to determine; but as a rule, in one who has begun to pay attention to himself, passionate thoughts do not appear in their own form, but always under a plausible cover. That is why there is always a danger of acting as though it were good, but meanwhile it will be out of passion. In the aforementioned book, all kinds of cases are discussed by the God-enlightened mind of the perspicacious elders; there is presented a detailed teaching of how to discern the judgments of the truth of God in this respect.

The second subject of reasoning - the vision of providential indications in everything that concerns us, from small to great, from events in life that influence our fate to petty meetings - is based on that undoubtedly true conviction that everything that happens to us happens according to God's will. By placing us in certain circumstances, the Lord expects us to act worthy of His care for us. He is everywhere, therefore with us; and being with us, he looks to see if we can do as He wishes. Being thus under the examining and watching eye of God, we cannot act at random, but must discuss what exactly God wants from us in this or that case, and act accordingly. Strict attention to one's own occasions and always acting in the spirit of self-sacrificing devotion to the will of God finally gives us the ability to correctly determine God's intentions for us. Worldly wisdom calls such an action prudence, but spiritual reasoning often goes against all considerations of human prudence; from that it sometimes seems to be madness (simplicity, ignorance), being, in essence, wiser than any wisdom.