Hegumen Ambrose (Yurasov). "Faith and Salvation".
(English translation from Serafim Gascoigne. "Living Theology: Russian Spirituality in the 20th Century").
Know how cunning the devil is and learn how he catches people in his nets! In 1978 I baptized a woman and gave her a prayer rule and recommended some spiritual reading etc.. I told her: "Every day say the Jesus Prayer 500 times and make 50 prostrations." (This woman had been attending church for a long time, but had never been baptized). After a time she came to me and said: "Bless me to do more prostrations". "Ok, do 100". "And may I say 1000 Jesus prayers?" "You may, God bless youl"
After a while she came and asked me to bless her to say 3000 prayers. "Do you have the strength", I asked her. "Yes", she replied. Over the course of a year she came and went, we met twice a year. One day we had gathered to celebrate a parishioner's namesday. There were 8 seated at the table. This woman came in and was the first to sit down, sitting down in the place of honor. I told her to move and sit somewhere else. She immediately got up and left the room. She was deeply offended. I caught up with her later and asked her why she was offended by being asked to move. "You chastised me in front of everybody!" I explained that it was not her namesday and that the seat that she had taken, under the icons, was always given to the person who was celebrating that day. But more importantly I asked her how she prayed these days. She told me that she made 1000 prostrations a day, doing these without a blessing. When she traveled she prayed 2000 prayers with tears. She slept two to three hours per day. On Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, she neither ate nor drank. On the other days she only ate once a day. If you had seen her she would have been amazed how fit and strong she was. When she came to visit (another time) she carried a heavy rucksack, approximately weighing 10 kilograms. There was not a drop of perspiration on her face. When she sat at table, she simply glowed with love for those around her.
She was prepared to embrace and kiss all. She was exuberant as she sat and listed to the conversation. But I said to myself, what is so special about her? And when I had asked her to vacate her place at the table, she revealed her true character. Beneath the appearance of sanctity burned a deep anger. "But you disgraced me in front of all!"
I replied: "Our Lord tells us not to sit in the first place, lest a more honorable man than thou be bidden of him. (Luke 14: 8). Also we read in the psalms how the humble will be saved. It is not prostrations, vigils and fasting that will save us. These are only means to salvation. If we lack humility then we must pray to God that He will bestow humility upon us. We must become like children, without malice, calm and trusting in His mercy. She undertook her spiritual rule without a blessing. It was based not on obedience and humility but on pride. Such people serve not God but the devil. Such a path can even lead to suicide. Fortunately she came to her senses and after receiving a blessing to do 50 prostrations and 500 prayers once more, she could do neither! "I can't do anything, neither prostrations nor prayers -absolutely nothing. And I can't say my morning and evening prayers."
Also she had a suddenly developed a ravenous appetite for food. I told her how the energy and zeal she had previously experienced was the work of the devil. She no longer talked about her amazing podvig and began to see herself as a sinner, worse than those around her. To be saved is not difficult but requires wisdom. In Church, in a monastery, everywhere obedience should take the first place. We should do everything through obedience.