St. Seraphim of Sarov Orthodox Church
872 N. 29th St. Boise, ID
an American parish of the Russian Orthodox Church
Elder Varsanufi on Prayer Rules

Without a guide it's difficult to be saved. As they say, you can do it, but you've got to be careful. Many have embarked upon the path to salvation zealously and then, being unable to hold out, renounced it. For example, Tolstoy started well, but ended badly. Lermontov also sought God, but wanted to find Him immediately and expected only delights. He did not want to endure the slowness of the path and the difficulties of the steps, and he snapped and perished forever.

Everyone knows the story about the young man in the Gospels.

He approaches Christ and asks how he can inherit eternal life. The Lord replies, do thus and thus. "All this I have fulfilled," says the young man. "Then if you wish to be perfect," says Christ, "sell your possessions and give everything to the poor."; This commandment of Christ has a profound meaning. The possessions which it is necessary for us to give away are those things which we have received from the world. We must take them out of our heart and give them away, so that there will be nothing worldly there, so that Christ alone will be there. I earnestly entreat you – preserve your heart; let it belong entirely to the Lord. Don't let anyone within it besides your spiritual father, and perhaps also a friend in the Lord.

There are possessions which one need not give away. The well-known and comprehensively educated physician, Professor Prigorov, was possessed of great erudition, and made use of it to the glory of God. When he was asked how he could combine the fulfillment of all the rites and dictates of the Orthodox Church with his enormous practice, he replied, "The Lord helps me, since I use my knowledge to the glory of my Lord Jesus Christ." Such riches, that is, such knowledge, one need not renounce.

One needs great caution in podvigs. One young man came to us in the Skete, thirsting for salvation. He came to see Elder Ambrose, and asked him to give him a prayer rule.

"Make thirty prostrations a day, and that will be enough for you," said the Elder.

"If you weren't Batiushka Ambrose, I would think that you were laughing at me," the man said. "I made a thousand prostrations in the world."

"I thought you came here to learn, not to teach," the Elder remarked sternly. "Make thirty prostrations as an obedience, and I think that’s enough.

When he left Fr. Ambrose, the man began to tell everyone what a small rule the Elder had given him. Several days passed and the young man again presented himself to Fr. Ambrose.

"Well, what have you got to say?" asked the Elder.

"I'd like to have a word with you regarding the rule you gave me – I can't do it."

"What rule did I give you?" asked Fr. Ambrose. (As a result of (he large number of his visitors, he would sometimes forget.)

"To make thirty prostrations a day, Batiushka."

"Ah, yes - I remember. Too few for you?"

"No, Batiushka, I've come to ask you to lighten it, since I can't make thirty prostrations. Such a depression and laziness has attacked me that I simply have no strength. I'm amazed at how previously I made a thousand prostrations with ease, and now I can't do thirty."

"That's because the enemy was helping you."

"What?! The enemy was helping me pray?"

"Yes, because in performing a large prayer rule you exalted yourself in soul and judged everyone else. You considered everyone to be lost and only yourself to be saved."

"Yes, Batiushka, it did seem to me that the majority of people would perish, and I thanked God for my salvation."

"Well then, you see? You had pride, exaltation, and condemnation of others, and the enemy needs nothing more." Thus, how careful we must be, even in prayers and podvigs that seem salvific to us.

The grace of God knocks at our hearts, pardoning and saving sinners, if only we do not turn away from the Lord, but come at His grace-filled summons. You must respond to this call of the Lord, not in a carnal way, but with the whole structure of your life. Fulfill the commandments of Christ, and they are not grievous: My yoke is easy, and My burden is light (Matt. 11 :30) says the Lord.