On When One Can’t Find a Spiritual Father

St. Nil of Sora 1443-1508

Gregory of Sinai and other saints concur. They insist that it is not an easy task to find a skilled and trustworthy guide in this wonderful discipline. For, they explain, such a trustworthy instructor must have much personal experience and be grounded in the wisdom of the holy Writings.

He must also have acquired the gift of spiritual discernment. Even in the time of those saints we are told that such a teacher was not easily found. In our present time of such evil, all the more diligence must be had in seeking such a guide. But if such a teacher cannot be found, they, the saintly Fathers, order us to study the Sacred Scriptures and hear our Lord Himself speaking: “Search the Scriptures and in them you will find eternal life.” For St. Paul the Apostle says that all that was written in the Sacred Scriptures was written for our instruction (cf. Rom 15:4). Thus the saints, who underwent great discipline to control their feelings and labored in mental prayer in the vineyard of their own heart and purified their mind of all passions, have discovered the Lord and attained spiritual wisdom. We, too, who are so enflamed by the fires of our passions, are enjoined to draw the living water from the fountain of the Sacred Scriptures, which have the power to extinguish the fires of our passion and instruct us in the understanding of the truth.

For this reason, even though I am a great sinner and not endowed with wisdom, I also assiduously have applied myself to the holy Writings according to the inspired Fathers’ teachings. Like a slave I was imprisoned by unbecoming passions, which are the basic roots of evil in all things. Thus it is not because I have overcome the passions in a healthy, benevolent silence, but because of my sickness of the passions that I have collected together a little out of what I found from the holy Writings. Like a dog picking up crumbs that fall from the table, so I have gathered together the words of those blessed Fathers and have written all this to be a reminder to us to imitate them, even if it be only in an insignificant way. (The Monastic Rule [Ustav], Introduction)

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