Saint Ignatius (Brianchaninov). "On Prelest". On Living According to the Advice.
The previous chapter compares spiritual life, provided by the Divine Providence to our time, with grains. Such life is based on the guidance to salvation by the Holy Scripture and the works of the Holy Fathers, with advice and edification borrowed from modern fathers and brethren. In the proper sense, this is the obedience of the ancient monks, just in a different form adapted to our weakness, mainly spiritual. Spiritual guides announced the will of God to the ancient novices immediately and directly; currently, the monks themselves must seek the will of God in the Scriptures, and therefore they must face frequent and prolonged perplexities and errors. Previously, success was achieved quickly according to the properties of the activity: now it is inert, again according to the properties of the activity. Such is the favor of our God for us: we must obey Him, and worship Him with thanksgiving.
Our modern monastic life according to the Scripture and the advice of fathers and brethren is consecrated by the example of the head of monasticism, the Venerable Anthony the Great. He was not in obedience to the elder, but being novice, he lived separately, and borrowed the guidance from the Scripture and from different fathers and brothers. He obtained temperance from one person; meekness, patience, humility were gained from the other, from one more person he got strict vigilance over himself, in silence, trying to embrace the virtue of every virtuous monk, obeying everyone as much as possible, humbling himself before everyone and praying to God unceasingly (Menaion Reader, January, 17th).
Act in the same way, novice! Provide the abbot and other monastic authorities with sincere and non-men-pleaser obedience, obedience alien to flattery and affection, obedience for God's sake. Show obedience to all fathers and brethren following their directions that are not contrary to the Law of God, the charter and the order of the monastery, as well as the instructions of the monastery authorities. However, do not obey in evil, even if it would make you suffer some grief for your reluctance to be men-pleaser and firmness. Consult with virtuous and intelligent fathers and brothers, but follow their advice with extreme caution and discretion.
Do not be fascinated with advice judging by the initial impact of it on you! Because of your passion and blindness, you may like other passionate and evil advice only because of your ignorance and inexperience, or because it pleases some secret passion, unknown to you, but living in you. With heartfelt crying, implore God not to allow you to deviate from His all-holy will and to prevent you from following the fallen human will, yours or your neighbor, your adviser. Consult the Gospel regarding both your thoughts and thoughts of your neighbor, about one’s advice.
Vanity and conceit love to teach and instruct. They do not care about the worthiness of their advice! They don’t think that they can inflict an incurable ulcer on their neighbor with ridiculous advice, which is accepted by the inexperienced novice with implicit confidence, with heated flesh and blood! They need success, no matter what quality this success is, no matter what its origin is! They need to impress the newbie and morally subjugate him to themselves! They need human praise! They need to be known as saints, wise, clairvoyant elders, teachers! They need to nourish their insatiable vanity, their pride. The prayer of the Prophet has always been true; it is especially true today: Help, Lord; for the godly man ceaseth; for the faithful fail from among the children of men. They speak vanity every one with his neighbour: with flattering lips and with a double heart do they speak. (Psalm XI, 2, 3, KJV: Ps 12:1-2).
A false and hypocritical word cannot but be an evil and harmful word. Against this mood, caution is necessary. “Study the Divine Scripture,” says Symeon the New Theologian, “and the works of the Holy Fathers, especially practical ones, so that you can compare the teachings and behavior of your teacher and the elder with their doctrine; you could see them (this teaching and behavior) as if in a mirror and learn to embrace the teaching that is consonant with the Scripture, and to recognize and reject the false and the bad, so as not to be deceived. Know that in our days there are many deceivers and false teachers "(Chapter 33, Philokalia. Part 1.).
Venerable Symeon lived in the tenth century after Christ, nine centuries before our time. And that time already heard the voice of the righteous about the lack of true, Spiritual leaders, and the multitude of false teachers in the Holy Church of Christ. Over time, there have become fewer and fewer satisfactory mentors of monasticism. Then, the elders began to more and more recommend to be guided by the Holy Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers.
Venerable Nilus of Sora, referring to the Fathers who wrote before him, says: “It is not a small feat, they said, to find a non-deceitful teacher of this wonderful work (true monastic heartfelt and mental prayer). They called the person who showed the work and wisdom taught by the Divine Scriptures and got spiritual discernment to be a non-deceitful one. And the Holy Fathers said that even at those times it was hardly possible to find a non-deceitful teacher in such subjects, now, when there have become fewer and fewer of them to the extreme level, one should seek for them with the utmost care. If not having found, the Fathers commanded to learn from the Divine Scripture, listening to the Lord Himself, saying: Search the scriptures; for in them ye think ye have eternal life (John V, 39.). For whatsoever things were written aforetime were written for our learning” (Romans XV. 4. Foreword to the Charter or Tradition.).
Venerable Nilus lived in the 15th century; he founded a skete near Beloe Ozero (White Lake), where he engaged in prayer in deep solitude. It is useful to listen to the elders of modern times, with what humility and selflessness the venerable Nilus refers to the instructions given by him to the brethren. “No one should conceal the words of God out of negligence, but confess their weakness and not hide the truth of God at the same time, so as not to make us guilty of the transgression of the commandment of God. We will not conceal the words of God, but we will make them known.
The Divine Scriptures and the words of the Holy Fathers are as numerous as the sand of the sea: we study them hardly, teaching to those who come to us and need them (demanding, questioning). To say more accurately, it is not we who teach, because we are unworthy of this, but the blessed holy Fathers teach from the Divine Scripture” (Tradition of the venerable Nilus of Sora. It will be worth to note here that the venerable Nilus of Sora, though having the grace of God, did not dare to explain the Scriptures on his own, but followed the explanation made by the Fathers. The path of humble wisdom is the only sure way to salvation.).
Here is an excellent example for modern instruction! It is quite useful for the mentor and for the instructed one, it is the correct expression of moderate prosperity, it is combined with the rejection of self-conceit, insane arrogance and insolence, which imitate the appearance of Barsanuphius the Great and other flag-bearing Fathers, without the grace of the Fathers. What was the sign of the abundant presence of the Holy Spirit in them, serves now as an expression of profuse ignorance, self-delusion, pride, and insolence in reckless, hypocritical imitators.
Beloved Fathers! Let us teach the word of God to our brethren with all kinds of humility and reverence, recognizing ourselves to be unworthy of this ministry and protecting ourselves from the vanity, which greatly interferes with passionate people when they teach the brethren. Think that we must give an account for every idle word (Matt. XII, 36.), and the account for the word of God pronounced with vanity and on the urge of vanity will be more painful.
The Lord shall cut off all flattering lips, and the tongue that speaketh proud things: who have said, with our tongue will we prevail; our lips are our own: who is lord over us? (Psalm XI, 4. 5. KJV: Ps 12). The Lord will destroy those who seek their own glory, not God's one. Will we be afraid of the forgiveness of the Lord? Let us pronounce the word of edification upon the demand of essential necessity, not as mentors, but as needing instruction and trying to become partakers of the instruction taught by God in His all-holy Word. The holy Apostle Peter says: As every man hath received the gift, even so minister the same one to another, as good stewards of the manifold grace of God. If any man speak, let him speak as the oracles of God; if any man minister, let him do it as of the ability which God giveth: that God in all things may be glorified through Jesus Christ (1 Peter IV, 10. 11.).
One acting on his own acts out of vanity, sacrifices himself and those who listen to him to Satan; one acting from the Lord acts for the glory of the Lord, ensures his salvation and the salvation of his neighbors by the Lord, the only Savior of men. Let us fear to give to a novice some thoughtless instruction not based on the word of God and on the spiritual understanding of the word of God. It is better to confess ignorance than to show dangerous knowledge. Let us protect ourselves from the great calamity - to turn the gullible novice from the servant of God into the servant of man (1 Cor. VII, 23.), teaching him to follow the fallen will of man instead of the all-blessed will of God. (This is not about external obedience in the monastery, labor and monastic activities, appointed by the monastic authorities, but about moral obedience, intimate, performed in the soul). The modest attitude of the counselor to the person being instructed is completely different from the elders’ attitude to the unconditional obedient novice, a slave to the Lord.
A piece of advice does not contain the condition of its obligatory fulfillment; it can be followed or not. The adviser does not bear any responsibility for his advice if he gave it with the fear of God and humble wisdom, not on his own, but when he was asked and forced. Likewise, he who receives advice is not bound by it; at his own discretion and judgment, he may follow the received advice or not. It is obvious that the way of counseling and following the scriptures is consistent with our weak time.
Note that the Fathers forbid giving advice to neighbors of one's own accord, without request from the neighbor; giving advice wilfully is a sign of considering oneself as having spiritual knowledge and worthiness; pride and self-deception are obvious here (Opinion of the hieromartyr Peter, Metropolitan of Damascus and other Fathers. Philokalia, part 3.). This does not apply to hegumens and superiors, who are obliged at all times, in case of any need encountered, and without being asked, to instruct the brethren entrusted to them (2 Timothy. IV, 2.). However, when visiting other monasteries, they should be guided by the advice of the venerable Macarius of Alexandria to the venerable Pachomius the Great. Pachomius asked Macarius on instructing the brethren and judging them. Abba Macarius replied: “Teach and judge your subordinates, and do not judge anyone outside” (Alphabetical Patericon and the Memorable Tales of Abba Macarius of the City, chapter 2.). This rule has been followed by all the superiors wishing to please God.