Dangerous discipleship: Quotations from the Fathers
Avoid making idols either of things or of practices.
— Starets Macarius of Optina, Russian Letters of Direction, 1834-1860 (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1975), 108.
He who exercises zeal in lesser matters should not regard lightly the more important ones; but he ought to observe the greater precepts in a preeminent manner and accomplish the lesser ones as well.
— St. Basil the Great, Morals, 46.3, in Saint Basil: Ascetical Works, trans. M. Monica Wagner. The Fathers of the Church, 9 (NY: Fathers of the Church, 1950), 124.
Prayer, fasting, vigil, and all other Christian practices, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end.
— St. Seraphim of Sarov, “The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit,” in Little Russian Philokalia, vol. 1, St. Seraphim (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1991), p. 86.
Note particularly that the practice must proceed step by step, slowly and with great restraint. Unless this way of life be adopted gradually it may lose its essential character and turn into nothing but an outward observance of rules… physical activity… is easier and therefore attractive; inner activity is difficult and so it repels us. …Not that we should abandon exterior work, which is, on the contrary, the support of that which goes on within: they should both be done together. Priority must go to inner worship, because one must serve God in spirit, must worship Him in spirit and truth.
— St. Theophan the Recluse, in The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, trans. E. Kadlubovsky & E. M. Palmer, ed. Timothy Ware (London: Faber & Faber, 1966), 78-79.
Self-denial, which is so often mentioned in connection with the practice of Christianity, is conceived by some as an end in itself; they look upon it as the essential point of every Christian’s life. But it is only a way and a means for achieving our end — the putting on of Christ. Neither must we think, as others do — going to the opposite extreme — that self-denial means renouncing one’s personality, one’s own path, a sort of spiritual suicide. Quite the contrary: self-denial is liberation from the slavery of sin (without self-denial we are prisoners), and the free manifestation of our true essence as originally designed for us by God. — Fr. Alexander Elchaninov, The Diary of a Russian Priest, trans. Helen Iswolsky (Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1982), 65-66.
People concern themselves with Christian upbringing but leave it incomplete: they neglect the most essential and most difficult side of the Christian life, and dwell on what is easiest, the visible and external. This imperfect or misdirected upbringing produces people who observe with the utmost correctness all the formal and outward rules for devout conduct, but who pay little or no attention to the inward movements of the heart and to true improvement of the inner spiritual life. They are strangers to mortal sins, but they do not heed the play of thoughts in the heart. Accordingly, they sometimes pass judgments, give way to boastfulness or pride, sometimes get angry (as if this feeling were justified by the rightness of their cause), are sometimes distracted by beauty and pleasure, sometimes even offend others in fits of irritation, are sometimes too lazy to pray, or lose themselves in useless thoughts while at prayer. They are not upset about doing these things, but regard them as without significance. They have been to church, or prayed at home according to the established rule, and carried out their usual business, and so they are quite content and at peace. But they have little concern for what is happening in the heart. In the meantime it may be forging evil, thereby taking away the whole value of their correct and pious life.