On The Church by St. John of Kronstadt

Woe unto those who have withdrawn themselves from the Church: they will become completely possessed by the spirit of the world, by the spirit of evil.

Excerpts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt on
The Church

Many people find it pleasant to go to the theatre, and oppressive and dull to go to church. Wherefore? Because in the theatre everything is well suited to please the sensual man, and when we are there we do not provoke the Devil, but please him, and he, on his side, affords us pleasure, and does not touch us. Make merry, my friends, thinks he — laugh, only do not remember God. Whilst in the church everything is adapted to arouse faith and the fear of God, pious feelings, the feeling of our sinfulness and corruption; and the Devil sows in our hearts doubt, weariness, despondency, evil, impure and blasphemous thoughts — so that the man is not glad in himself, and cannot stand for even an hour, and he gets away as quickly as possible. The theatre and the church — are opposite contrasts. The one is the temple of the world, and the other the temple of God; the one is the temple of the Devil, and the other — the temple of the Lord.

Both learned and unlearned young men seldom go to church, and in general do not attend to their spiritual education, looking upon it as unnecessary and giving themselves up to worldly vanity. Attention must be paid to this. It is the fruit of pride, of want of spiritual development. They consider attendance at church and Divine service as the business of the common people and women, forgetting that, in the temple, Angels officiate with trembling, together with men, and regard this as their highest bliss.

The Lord said of His Church: "I will build My Church, and the gates of hell shall not prevail against it."[699] This is said of the pastors of the Church, or the Church hierarchy, and of all true believers, as well as of all the sacraments, all the dogmas and commandments of the Holy Orthodox Faith, and of all the offices of the sacraments; for instance, the Liturgy, Holy Orders, Matrimony, Baptism, Chrism, Holy Oil, which have been established unto all the ages, and have already been in existence unchanged during many centuries. See how firm is the Church, founded by the Lord! Remember these words of the Lord, and do not waver in the slightest degree when celebrating any of the sacraments. Be firm as adamant.

So do not let us stand in church in a state of spiritual prostration, but let the spirit of each one of us on such occasions burn in its working towards God. Even men do not much value the services which we render to them coldly, out of habit. And God requires our hearts. "My son, give Me thine heart."[7] Because the heart is the principal part of the man — his life. More than this, the heart is the man himself. Thus he who does not pray or does not serve God with his heart, does not pray at all, because in that case his body only prays, and the body without the mind is nothing more than earth.

In the Church especially is accomplished the mystery of the cleansing from sins. Reverence, therefore, the place where your soul is cleansed from all impurities, where you are reconciled to God, where you receive the true life of the spirit. How many times the Lord has here granted me the cleansing from my sins, without which I could not have enjoyed God's gifts — the greatest of life's gifts, the gifts of peace and joy, and earthly blessings besides! Glory to Thee, Jesus Christ, the Son of God. "He is the propitiation for our sins; and not for ours only, but also for the sins of the whole world."[105]

We notice in ourselves the struggle between faith and unbelief, between the good power and the evil one; and in the world, between the spirit of the Church and the spirit of the world. There, through the spirit, you will distinguish two clearly antagonistic sides: the side of light and the side of darkness; of good and evil; the spirit of the Church and of religion, and the spirit of worldliness and unbelief. Do you know why it is so? It is owing to the struggle of two antagonistic forces: of the power of God and the power of the Devil. The Lord works in the sons who are obedient to Him, and the Devil in the sons of disobedience (" the spirit that now worketh in the children of disobedience"[119]). And I, too, often feel within me the struggle of the same two antagonistic forces. When I stand up to pray, the evil force sometimes painfully oppresses and weighs down my heart, so that it cannot raise itself to God.

Some men of progress look upon the Church as their enemy. But is there anyone more full of love, more desirous of our welfare, and wiser in his love to men (after God Himself) than the Church? Everything that is most conformable to our nature and most necessary for its good, all this is contained in the Church, as in a treasury, as the words of life are contained in the Gospel. The Church is the true mother of all those who rightly believe in Christ, the truest friend of Christians. She sympathises and answers to all the essential requirements of the soul and body of the Christian by active relief, or by affording help through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, in Whom every soul lives.

In church there are everywhere symbols of love: crosses, the sign of the cross, the saints who were pleasing to God by their love to Him and to their neighbour, and Incarnate Love Itself.

You cannot have failed to notice that all our strength lies in the heart. When the heart is light, the whole man feels at ease and happy; whilst when the heart is heavy, he feels wretched. But this relief you can only find in faith, and therefore especially in the Church, as the place where faith predominates; here God touches your hearts through His cleansing grace, and gives you His easy yoke to bear. This is a great mystery, which is worth everyone's knowing. When the heart is light, the man is ready to run and leap. This is why David "danced when he played before the ark."[130]

You hear in church oftener than anything the voices of the priests, deacons, readers, and singers praying God to have mercy upon us. What does this signify? It signifies that all of us who are in God's Temple are deserving, by our sins, of God's punishment, and that before everything — on our coming into the church — we must remember that we are sinners, and have come to the Lord of Heaven and Earth, to our Creator and Benefactor, Whom we have daily and hourly angered by our iniquities, to ask for mercy, each one for himself, and also, in accordance with Christian love, for others. The prayers asking for mercy are called in the Russian orthodox Church "great," "small," and "redoubled." As there is not a single superfluous word in the church service, it is especially necessary at the time of the singing of the redoubled litany to pray to God most fervently, from the very depths of a most contrite heart, as we are reminded at the very beginning of the litany by the words: "Let us say with our whole souls and with our whole understanding." At this time we must lay aside even the slightest coldness, the slightest inattention of heart, and, burning with the spirit of humility, becoming all attention, offer up to the Creator our most fervent prayers to have mercy upon us sinners. But what do we see at the time of the exclamations of the priest and the singing by the singers of the great and redoubled litany? For the greater part, the usual inattention and indifference on the part of those praying.

But the time and place for the action of grace is here alone: after death there remain only the prayers of the Church, and these prayers can be efficacious for penitent sinners alone — that is, only for those who have developed in their souls the capability of receiving God's mercy or of benefiting by the prayers of the Church — that is, the light of the good works which they have taken with them out of this life.

Some men of progress look upon the Church as their enemy. But is there anyone more full of love, more desirous of our welfare, and wiser in his love to men (after God Himself) than the Church? Everything that is most conformable to our nature and most necessary for its good, all this is contained in the Church, as in a treasury, as the words of life are contained in the Gospel. The Church is the true mother of all those who rightly believe in Christ, the truest friend of Christians. She sympathises and answers to all the essential requirements of the soul and body of the Christian by active relief, or by affording help through the power of Jesus Christ and the Holy Spirit, in Whom every soul lives.

In the temple of God the simple, believing souls are as in the house of the Heavenly Father: they feel so free, so happy and light. Here true Christians have a foretaste of the future kingdom, prepared for them from the foundation of the world,[1172] of future freedom from every sin and from death, of future peace and blessedness. When do they especially have a foretaste of this? When they turn sincerely with all their soul to God, praying fervently to God, taking the firm resolution to devote their lives to God, and when doing deeds of virtue outside the temple.

Lord! grant that Thy temple may communicate to all who enter into it with faith, piety and fear of God, the enlightenment of their souls, the cleansing from their sins, sanctification, peace, health, tranquillity of soul — that it may strengthen their faith, hope and love; that it may further the amendment of their lives, success in all their good beginnings and works, mutual love, pure Christian life, the softening of their hearts, and the cessation of self-love, hard-hearted ness, covetousness, greediness, envy, malice, gluttony, drunkenness, dissoluteness — of these vices, which are so prejudicial to social life, sapping its very foundations. Grant this, grant it, Lord, to all those who love to frequent Thy temple, and incline those also who do not love it, to love it, and to amend their lives and works: for the time is near and the judgment is at the door for all, of every calling and position, of either sex and every age, and a work of infinite importance stands before all — to give an answer at the terrible Judgment of Christ.

Worthy, sincere, and reverent service to the Lord in the temple, accompanied by lively faith, is a source of peace, joy, and blessedness to our souls. Thus a reverent priest celebrating the services, the sacraments, and the reading of the prayers, in his very duty itself finds the highest delight and blessedness for himself.

A Christian is — the vessel of God, the temple of God, the house of God. O, how worthy of honour is the true Christian, how zealously he ought to shun every sin, and how greatly Christians ought to respect one another!

Truly, the temple is heaven upon earth; for where the throne of God is, where the terrible mysteries are celebrated, where the angels serve together with men, where the Almighty is unceasingly glorified, there is truly heaven, and the heaven of heavens. And thus let us enter into the temple of God, and above all, into the Holy of Holies, with the fear of God, with a pure heart, laying aside all passions and every worldly care, and let us stand in it with faith and reverence, with understanding attention, with love and peace in our hearts, so that we may come away renewed, as though made heavenly j so that we may live in the holiness natural to heaven, not binding ourselves by worldly desires and pleasures.

Our faith and Church is like a most honoured, holy, godly, firm, venerable woman, who never grows old, and in whom ever dwells a young, living spirit, giving life to her true children. As we always behave with great respect to old people, honouring their grey hair and wisdom — the fruits of experience — and highly value each of their words, and apply them to our own life, so ought we especially to honour the Church, venerate her holiness, antiquity, her unshaken firmness, her divinely enlightened wisdom and spiritual experience, her soul-saving commandments and ordinances, her divine services, sacraments and rites. How can we do otherwise than respect her, even if only for having saved in her bosom an innumerable multitude of people, transplanting them into the abode of eternal peace and joy, not forgetting them even after their death, but remembering them until now upon earth, eternally praising and glorifying their virtues as her true children? Where will you find a more grateful friend, a more tender mother? And therefore, may Christians attach themselves wholly and with all their hearts to the Church of Christ, that they may be firmly established unto the end of their temporal life! May they all be zealous of the fulfilment of all her commandments and ordinances, and may they obtain in her eternal salvation through Christ Jesus our Lord!

Sometimes we stand praying in church or at home, in a state of spiritual and bodily prostration; then powerless, cold, unfruitful is our soul, like some heathen, unfruitful temple; but as soon as we make an effort, and force our heart to sincere prayer to God, turn our thoughts and heart towards Him with living faith, our soul immediately becomes vivified, warm, and fruitful. What sudden tranquillity, what lightness, what emotion, what inward holy fire, what tears for our sins, what a sincere feeling of sorrow that by them we have displeased the Most-merciful Master; what light in the heart and mind, what an abundant stream of living water is diffused in the heart, flowing freely from the tongue, or from the pen and pencil, if we are writing, upon the paper! The wilderness of the soul blossoms like a lily at the coming of the Lord into the heart. O, why do we not turn our hearts oftener towards the Lord? How much peace and comfort ever lie concealed in Him for us! "Oh how great is Thy goodness, which Thou hast laid up for them that fear Thee!"[233]

"We sing the angelic hymn to Thee, O Mighty One! Holy, holy, holy art Thou, O God! Through the Mother of God have mercy upon us."[349] You thus praise God together with the angels. [350] You are one assembly, one church, one family of God's with them by the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ.

If, being in an assemblage of men, you call a person known to you, and he comes to you; if you ask one or many men subservient to you to do anything for you within the limit of his or their capability, and they fulfil your request, satisfying it according to your desire, and even beyond your desire, then be assured that, likewise, in God's Church, in that great house of God divided into two halves — the heavenly and the earthly — any of the members of the Church in Heaven whom you call upon will come to your spiritual help conformably to his grace and the abundance of his love. Ask him to do anything for you that you please, especially anything relating to the Kingdom and righteousness of God, and he will do it through his close association with God, the Source of grace and power. God's saints also hear you — as, for instance, the whole congregation hears you when you pray or speak the Word — for they are in the Holy Spirit, and the Spirit is everywhere present, and fills all things.

"After their own lusts shall they heap to themselves teachers, having itching ears."[479] Is not this what men of the world, and even many of the clergy are now doing? Do they not choose for themselves teachers that flatter their hearing? They do not learn of the one Teacher - Christ, from His Gospel and His Church; but they learn of worldly journalists, novelists, poets, actors, and exclaim: " Ah, how interesting all this is — how instructive it all is! " and say, if not in words, then by their deeds: "We have no need of either the Gospel or the Church, with its services, its sacraments, and preaching of God's Word. We have such good, such most moral teachers." Lord Jesus! To what have we come! They have cast Thy words behind them. [480]

The Liturgy is the supper, the table of God's love to mankind. Around the Lamb of God upon the holy disc all are at this time assembled — the living and the dead, saints and sinners, the Church triumphant and the Church militant.

The Church is the eternal truth, because she is united with the truth, with Christ, and is animated by the spirit of truth: "I am with you alway, even unto the end of the world."[503] "His Body... which is the Church,"[504] says the Apostle.

O, how carefully do the Devil and the world sow their tares in Christ's cornfield, which is the Church of God. Instead of the Word of God, the word of the world, the word of vanity, is sown. Instead of the temple of God, the world has invented its own temples — the temples of the world's vanities — theatres, circuses, assemblies. Instead of holy icons, which worldly people do not accept, in the world there are painted and photographic portraits, illustrations, and various other pictures. Instead of God and the Saints, the world honours unto adoration its own celebrities — writers, actors, singers, painters, who command general confidence and respect up to reverence. Poor Christians! they have completely fallen away from Christ! Instead of spiritual raiment, every attention is paid in the world to perishable clothing, to fashionable dresses, and various exquisite ornaments, both splendid and costly.

"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."[554] I reverence even two or three praying together, for in accordance with the Lord's promise He Himself is in the midst of them. I reverence still more a numerous congregation. Collective prayer is speedily fulfilled, and bears much fruit when it is united, unanimous ("gathered together in My name"). The assiduous prayer of the Church for the Apostle Peter immediately ascended before the throne of the Lord, and the Lord sent his angel to miraculously deliver Peter from the prison, whom Herod wished to destroy. The unanimous prayer of the Apostles Paul and Silas brought down upon them wonderful heavenly help from the Holy Spirit. [555]

"Christ is all and in all"[578] (in the holy angels, in holy men, and in Christians living, or endeavouring to live holily upon earth), "and gave Him to be the Head over all things to the Church, which is His body."[579] Thus, the Church — God's saints, the Mother of God, the angels, the prelates, the martyrs, the holy fathers, the righteous, and all holy persons — are the Saviour's body, and He Himself is — their Head. Our Lady, the Mother of God, is — the Sovereign of mental edification — that is, Our Lady and all the Saints are — one spirit with the Lord: so pure and holy are they, and they have the same relation to Him, or the same union with Him, as the members of a body to the head, and there is one spirit in them, the Spirit of God; as the soul is in one body, so is the one God and Father in them. And we — as the members of the earthly Church are also — one body.

What does the holy Church instil in us by putting in our mouths, both during prayer at home and in church, prayers addressed, not by a single person, but by all? She instils in us constant, mutual love, in order that we should always and in everything, during prayer and during worldly intercourse, love one another as our own selves — in order that we, imitating God in three Persons, constituting the highest Unity, should ourselves be one formed of many. " That they all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me, and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us."[590]

We ought to have the most lively spiritual union with the heavenly inhabitants, with all the saints, apostles, prophets, martyrs, prelates, venerable and righteous men, as they are all members of one single body, the Church of Christ, to which we sinners also belong, and the living Head of which is the Lord Jesus Christ Himself. This is why we call upon them in prayer, converse with them, thank and praise them. It is urgently necessary for all Christians to be in union with them if they desire to make Christian progress; for the saints are our friends, our guides to salvation, who pray and intercede for us.

We are all one through unanimity and love, and through spiritual regeneration, and the heavenly Father is everything to all of us. "Our Father, Which art in heaven." We are one brotherhood, with one spirit. "Now, if any man have not the spirit of Christ, he is none of His."[601] Let us understand this. We are the Church of Christ, of which the Head is Christ Himself, Who is meek and humble, inexhaustible in His mercies to us, if only we live in mutual love. We are the flock; He is the Shepherd. We are the members; He is the Head. How can the members be proud of anything, when they receive everything from the Head?

"The great Litany." In accordance with it, we are all — one. In the litany are enumerated all the members of the Church — the body of Christ — first the earthly members, and then the heavenly ones. Such is the character of all the Divine services of the Russian Orthodox Church: of the vespers, matins, Liturgy. With what a spirit, with what elevation of the thoughts, with what love, must the priest pray to God "in behalf of all, and for all."[632]

Throughout the prayers and hymns of the Church moves the Spirit of Truth. Everything contradictory and blasphemous that comes into the head, from without, proceeds from the Devil, the father of lies, the calumniator; the prayers and psalms are the breathing of the Holy Spirit.

"All ye are brethren."[636] "Love one another."[637] The Church is like a great, holy family of God, in which God Himself is — the Father; the Most Holy Virgin, the Mother of the Lord Jesus Christ — our Mother; the Angels and Saints — elder brothers; and all of us — younger brothers, born of the same mother and begotten of the Church in the baptismal font by the Holy Spirit. The younger brothers are naturally obliged to respect the elder, are naturally subordinate to them, and, being not yet perfect, ask the elder ones to pray to God for them, as they are God's friends, whose intercession is favourably received by the Lord. The children of the Heavenly Father have the prayer previously given to them by His Son: "Our Father.... "

Why do the children of this world often scoff at that which is truth, light, sweetness, our life — I mean at the Divine service of the Church, the Church-reading and singing, or at Thy saints glorified by Thee? "These speak evil of those things which they know not."[654] "Father, forgive them, for they know not what they do,"[655] and enlighten them!

I love to pray in God's temple, especially within the holy altar, before the Holy Table or the Prothesis, for by God's grace I become wonderfully changed in the temple. During the prayer of repentance and devotion the thorns, the bonds of the passions, fall from my soul, and I feel so light; all the spell, all the enticement of the passions vanish, and I seem to die to the world, and the world, with all its blessings, dies for me. I live in God and for God, for God alone. I am wholly penetrated by Him, and am one spirit with Him. I become like a child soothed on its mother's knee. Then my heart is full of most heavenly, sweet peace. My soul is enlightened by the light of heaven. At such times we see everything clearly; we look upon everything rightly; we feel friendship and love towards everyone, even towards our enemies, readily excusing and forgiving everyone. O, how blessed is the soul when it is with God! Truly the Church is earthly paradise.

When you are in the temple, remember that you are in the living presence of the Lord God, that you stand before His face, before His eyes, in the living presence of the Mother of God, of the holy angels, and of the first-born of the Church — that is, our forefathers, the prophets, Apostles, hierarchs, martyrs, reverend Fathers, the righteous, and all the saints. Always have the remembrance and consciousness of this when you are in the temple, and stand with devotion, taking part willingly and with all your heart in the Divine service.

By what name are you called according to the faith? By the name of Christian. What does it mean? It means that I am a member of the body of Christ, which is the Church of Christ, that I am a servant of Christ. To what does the name of Christian oblige you? It obliges me to always have Christ in my thoughts and heart, always to have His spirit, throughout all my life, imitating His life, fulfilling His holy commandments, and to "seek those things which are above, where Christ sitteth on the right hand of God."[717]

We must not doubt in the truth of the Gospel and of the Church-readings. Everything that is in the Gospel and in the Church is the breathing of the Spirit of truth, "the silver, which from the earth is tried, and purified seven times in the fire,"[719] life, peace and spiritual sweetness. Woe unto him who doubts: the lying spirit shall darken, oppress, and plunge him into despondency and affliction. This is from experience.

Everything that the Church puts into our mouths and hearing is truth, the breathing or teaching of the Holy Spirit. Reverence every thought, every word of the Church. Remember that the domain of thought and word belongs to God as well as the whole visible and invisible world. You have nothing of your own, not even any thought or word. Everything is our Father's, everything is God's. Mingle with the common order of things, as gold melts into various forms, or as nature forms one harmonious whole. Do not lead a self-loving, separate life.

We all live in a kind of seductive darkness of the heart and intellect, but the Lord Jesus Christ is our enlightenment. The saints always see us by the grace of God, because they are in God, and God is in them. They are one spirit with the Lord [734] , and the Lord sees everything, hears everything. Therefore when, for instance, in church you look upon the images of God's saints, believe that they see you, and, above all, that they see your heart.

The great litany daily said in the Orthodox Church is the most wise litany, the litany of love; in it both living Christians and the saints are represented as fellow members of the Body of Jesus Christ. It finishes most beautifully with the following exclamation: "Commemorating our most holy, most pure, most blessed, glorious Lady, the Mother of God and Ever Virgin Mary, together with all the saints, let us commend ourselves and one another and all our life to Christ our God." The redoubled and supplicatory litanies are also beautiful. We have grown accustomed to them, but let us imagine that we hear them for the first time: let us put ourselves in the position of foreigners.

"For where two or three are gathered together in My name, there am I in the midst of them."[761] Why is the Lord's presence pre-eminently promised to two or three? Because there, where two or three are gathered in the name of Christ, is the Church, the union of faith and love; there is mutual love. " By this shall all men know that ye are My disciples, if ye have love one to another."[762]

Your soul seeks true life and its natural food. Food for the mind is truth; food for the heart is peace and blessedness; food for the will is normal direction or lawfulness. Go to the Church; she will give you all this in plenteousness; she possesses all this in superabundance; she is "the pillar and ground of the truth,"[768] because in her is the Word of God, showing the origin of all things — the origin of the human race, the creation of man after the image and likeness of God, his fall, his restoration through the Saviour of men, the means of salvation, faith, hope and love. She affords us peace and blessedness through her Divine service, and especially through the sacraments. She calls us: "Come unto Me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest."[769] She teaches us the true way, which our will ought undeviatingly to follow, and which will lead us to eternal life — that is, the way of God's commandments.

When you look at the candles and lamps burning in church, rise in thought from the material fire to the immaterial fire of the Holy Spirit, "for our God is a consuming fire."[772] When you see and smell the fragrant incense, rise in thought to the spiritual fragrance of the Holy Spirit, " for we are unto God a sweet savour of Christ."[773]

The voice of the readings in church, the hymns, prayers, and supplications, is the voice of our own souls pouring forth from the acknowledgment and feeling of our spiritual needs and requirements; it is the voice of all mankind acknowledging and feeling its poverty, its accursedness, its sinfulness, the necessity of a Saviour, the necessity of gratitude and praise for the innumerable benefits and the infinite perfections of God. Wonderfully beautiful are these prayers and hymns; they are the breathing of the Holy Spirit!

All the words of the Church prayers and praises are great words, but these words, "For Thou art the resurrection and the life, and the repose," which afford such great consolation to our mortal race and constitute the hope of the Christian, are especially great. Therefore they must be pronounced with special power, with special emphasis.

I thank my all holy, all merciful, and most wise Mother, the Church of God, for salutarily guiding me during this temporal life, and for educating me for the heavenly citizenship; I thank her for all the offices of prayers, for the Divine services, for the sacraments and rites; I thank her for the fasts so beneficial to me both in spiritual and bodily respects (for through them I am healthy both in spirit and body, calm, vigilant, and light; without the fasts I should feel extreme heaviness, which I indeed experienced when not fasting); I thank my spotless Mother the Church of God for enrapturing me with her heavenly services, transporting my spirit to heaven, enlightening my intellect with heavenly truth, showing me the way to eternal life; for delivering me from the violence and ignominy of the passions, and making my life blessed.

In church I am truly as if in heaven upon earth; here I see the images of the Lord, of the Most Pure Mother of God, of the holy Angels; here is God's throne, here is the life-giving cross, here is the eternal Gospel, that word of God, by which all things were created; here are the images of the Saints; I feel myself in the visible presence of God, of His Mother, of the heavenly powers, and of all the Saints. This is truly heaven on earth: here I know that I am, and feel myself indeed a member of Christ and of His Church, especially during the celebration of the most heavenly Liturgy, and the Communion of the Holy Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ. O, how I ought to live, think, feel, speak, in order to worthily be in this heaven on earth! I ought to live worthily of the high calling to which I am called by the grace of the much-endowing God. How I ought to live, in what meekness, humility, purity, abstinence, in order to worthily name my Lady, the Most Pure Mother of God, my Master, the Lord of glory! Lord, make me worthy of such an abode! I desire to live worthily of the Christian calling, but I find no power in myself to attain this; sin unceasingly tempts and wars against my soul.

If all pastors or priests of God, and their flocks, prayed sincerely and unanimously, with one accord, by means of those prayers, which the Church utters aloud to us or says secretly, then what should we not entreat of God? What blessings should we not obtain, from what sins and passions, evil, misfortunes and disasters should we not be saved? These prayers are the most wise, expedient, most pleasing to God, the most powerful and capable of inclining the Lord to every mercy. May the Lord grant to us all to pray to Him unanimously, sincerely, powerfully, undistractedly!

Those who attend the Divine service of the Orthodox Church, and study the science of Divine service, must bear in mind that the service here on earth is a preparation for all-rejoicing service to God in heaven; that in serving God with the body, it is still more necessary to serve God with the soul and with a pure heart; that in hearing the Divine service, they must learn to serve God as those Saints served Him, whose lives and works of faith, hope, and love we hear of during the Divine service; that God should be above all served by deed and truth, and not only by words and the tongue. We are called to serve God by our very being: we are given an upright stature in order that we may continually look upon God, thank and glorify Him; our understanding, heart, will, and all feelings are given to us for the same purpose.

In the Church are all our sweetest hopes and expectations, our peace, our joy, together with cleansing and sanctification. It is there that the truth of the future resurrection, of the victory over death, is so often announced. Who that loves life would not love the Church with all his heart! Everything that is best, most exalted, most precious, holy and wise, is found in the Church. In the Church — is the ideal of mankind; the Church is — heaven upon earth.

In the Church we are freed from worldly enchantment, and from the intoxication of worldly passions and desires; we become enlightened, sanctified, cleansed in our souls; we draw near to God, we are united with God (" Who, by Thy glorious Childbirth, hast united God the Word with men").[799] How worthily reverenced and loved should the temple of God be! How God's Saints loved it!

Free-thinkers and atheists say that religion, the Church, the Divine service, the sacraments and rites, were invented by men in order to keep people in fear and submission, and to maintain morality, and, perhaps, also in order to collect revenues from them. This is how God's mercy and His wonderful ordering for our salvation, the very incarnation, sufferings and death of the Son of God for our sakes, are blasphemed by the ignorant and free-thinkers who have lost the fear of God. But look upon their life; how do they live, and do they live long? Having lost their strength and health in dissipation and drunkenness, they become prematurely aged, decrepit, dull, fall ill and die.

The source of every true joy, of all true tranquillity and peace of conscience, of cleansing, of spiritual and bodily healing, the source of spiritual power and boldness, flows in the temple, whilst theatres and various worldly distractions and consolations can never replace that which a true Christian receives in the temple, where God Himself comforts the souls of believers and those whose hearts are turned to Him, as a mother comforts her child. It is from the temple, too, that our departed ones receive consolation and solace, with the cleansing from their sins and forgiveness. How ardently we should love the temple, how we should adorn it! And so do all those who recognise its value; and the Church prays for them, saying: Let us pray for them that, with faith, piety, and fear of God, enter in; and further: Let us pray for them that bring forth fruit and do good deeds in this holy and all-venerable temple; or, Hallow those that love the beauty of Thine house. Glorify them in return by Thy Divine might.

Being occupied with vanity and vain pleasures, you have neither the time nor the desire to penetrate into the spirit of the Christian religion, of the Christian Divine Service, and to know the rules of the Church, the purpose of the festivals of the Orthodox Church, of the fasts, and, in particular, the signification of every week of the great Lent, or of the historical reminiscences connected with each week. You sometimes know by heart a play that is given at a theatre, of how many acts or scenes it consists, what are its contents in general and in particular; yet you do not know the essence of the sacraments, although they give eternal life, and the unspeakable blessings of that life to those who receive them worthily. You do not know the essence of the Divine Service of the holy Orthodox Church — your Mother, who nourishes, warms, purifies, sanctifies, and strengthens you upon her holy, maternal bosom. You do not know the nature and signification of the Evening and Morning Services, nor the Liturgy, the usual psalm-singing, the readings and rites of the Church. Some people justify play-acting, and call it instructive and moral, or harmless, or at least a lesser evil in comparison with drunkenness and profligacy; and with this object they endeavour to organise theatrical performances everywhere. It is wonderful that Christians have not found any better way of spending their precious time than the theatre, which both by its origin and meaning preserves, even up to now, a heathenish, idolatrous character; a character of vanity, frivolity — a character showing in itself, in general, the fullest reflection of all the passions and deformities of this world: of the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes, and of the pride of life; and only seldom, very seldom, represents the valour of the sons of their country, and even then, of course, of an earthly country, and not of the heavenly one. Everything heavenly, holy, bearing the stamp of Christianity, is foreign to the theatre; and if it does sometimes appear on the stage, then it is made the subject of ridicule. The very name of God, terrible to every creature, is only pronounced there heedlessly, with derision and scoffingly; the sacred calling — for instance, the monastic calling, the angelic calling — is turned into ridicule; the respect for authorities, for parents, and the clergy is prejudiced when any reprehensible actions of such persons are publicly turned into ridicule, and this before the whole of society, before thoughtless young people, even before children, to whom the names of their parents and superiors ought to be sacred. One disrespectful or unbecoming word concerning their elders is sometimes sufficient to prejudice the respect due to them. Have Christians become so thoughtless that they can find no better means of spending their precious time than in the theatres, for which they leave even the God's temple, the Divine Service? And the precious festival time, given by God for instruction in the Holy Scriptures, in salutary reflections, and in virtuous actions, they fritter away in laughter and stupid applause in the theatres. No; say what you like, theatres are an ungodly institution. Only penetrate into their spirit and you will agree that they are schools of incredulity, mockery, of the insolent ridicule of everything, and that they are depravity. Woe unto that society in which there are many theatres, and which loves to frequent them! Occasionally, it is true, the theatre is the lesser evil for those who love evil. Lend an ear to popular opinion, to the opinion of those who have visited the theatre many times; they do not hesitate to say that theatres lead to depravity. Only the blind, "In whom the god of this world hath blinded the minds of them which believe not,"[811] say that a theatre is moral. No; Christians ought to perseveringly study their religion; they ought to read the Gospel more frequently, to study the Divine Service, to fulfil the commandments and the rules of the Church; to read the writings of the Holy Fathers, religious publications, in order to become imbued with the spirit of Christianity, and to live in a Christian manner. Such should be your occupations and recreations.
By means of its Divine service, the Orthodox Church educates us for heavenly citizenship, by teaching us every virtue, exemplified by the lives of the Mother of God, and of all the Saints, by purifying, sanctifying, and making us godly through the sacraments, and by giving "unto us all things that pertain unto life and godliness."[820] Therefore, it is urgently necessary for us to frequent intelligently, reverently, and willingly the Divine services especially on the festivals, and to take part in the sacraments of penitence and Holy Communion. But those who withdraw themselves from the Church and the Divine services become the victims of their passions and are lost.

With what maternal, or rather Divine love the Church as though daily carries us in her arms, unceasingly raising to the Lord prayers for us all — in the evening, at midnight, in the morning, and about mid-day. She teaches us, cleanses us, sanctifies us, heals and strengthens us through the sacraments, guides us by every means in the tenderest and gentlest manner to salvation and eternal life. Blessed are those priests and ministers who understand this love and this care of the Church for the salvation of her children, and endeavour to appropriate unto themselves her spirit, to live by this spirit, to breathe by this spirit, both within and without the Church, and to offer prayers and praises, and celebrate the Divine services of the Church with heartfelt attention and reverence, remembering that through all this they save both themselves and their flock!

During the oblation, the whole Church, in Heaven and upon earth — the Church of the first-born, inscribed in the heavens, and the Church militant, fighting against the enemies of salvation upon earth — is typically represented assembled around the Lamb, who took upon Himself the sins of the world. What a great spectacle, enrapturing and moving the soul! Is it possible that I too am among this assembly of saints; that I too am redeemed by the Lamb of God; that I too am the joint heir with the saints, if I remain faithful to the Lamb until death? Are not all my brethren too members of this heavenly holy assemblage, and joint heirs of the future kingdom? O, how widely my heart should expand in order to contain all within itself, to love all, to care for all, to care for the salvation of all as for mine own! This is wisdom and the highest wisdom. Let us be simple; let us walk in simplicity of heart with all. Let us remember our high calling and election, and let us continually aspire to the honour of God's heavenly calling through Christ Jesus. "We are the children of God, heirs of God, and joint heirs with Christ."[822]

You live in God's house — in this beautiful world — and enjoy all the gifts of God's goodness and bountifulness freely given through nature. You live in God's house — in the Church, or in the company of the saved, and you enjoy all the gifts of grace for your salvation; also freely therefore you trust unhesitatingly and freely do good to your brethren, as far as lies in your power. Do good even to those who are unthankful and evil, that you may be the child of the Highest. [965] Receive all willingly in your house, knowing that you yourself live freely in the house of God, in the universe, and in the spiritual house of God — the Church, which prepares you for the life eternal. Give joyfully, and let others partake freely at your table, remembering that you, too, freely daily partake at the Lord's table of His most pure Body and Blood (16th April, 1862).

The Church is the sure way to the life eternal; walk in it undeviatingly, hold fast to it, and you will gain the kingdom of heaven; but if you turn aside at the crossways of your own sophistry and unbelief, then you have only yourself to blame, you will go astray and be lost. "I am the way, the truth, and the life."[968]

I thank my mother Church, for having shown me in the litanies what to pray for — "For we know not what we should pray for as we ought: but the Spirit Itself maketh intercession for us," in the litanies, " with groanings which cannot be uttered."[978] Glory to the grace of the Holy Spirit, the Comforter! I believe, that in accordance with the Saviour's promise, He will dwell with us for ever, and will guide us into all truth, and will not allow those to err who seek God's truth zealously and humbly. Why do we begin our prayers by the prayer to the Heavenly King — the Spirit of truth? Because He is the Teacher and the Giver of prayer, because He dwells with us for ever, and works in the world. We thank Thee, Lord Jesus, that for Thy sake the Holy Spirit also came down from heaven into the world!

"I believe in one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church." Do you believe that all Orthodox Christians are members of one and the same body, and that therefore we must all "keep the unity of the Spirit in the bond of peace,"[982] must care for one another, help one another? Do you believe that the saints are likewise members of the one body of Christ — that is, of the Church, and are our brethren, interceding for us before God in heaven? Do you respect every Christian, as a member of Christ, as His brother according to human nature? Do you love everybody, as yourself, as your own flesh and blood? Do you generously forgive offences? Do you help others in need, if you yourself have means? Do you teach the ignorant? Do you turn the sinner from the error of his ways? Do you comfort those who are in affliction? Faith in the Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church inspires, obliges you to do all this; and for all this you are promised a great reward from the Head of the Church — our Lord Jesus Christ.

In the temple, in its arrangements and parts, in the icons, in the Divine service, with the reading of the Holy Scriptures, the singing, the rites, the entire Old Testament, New Testament, and Church history, the whole Divine ordering of the salvation of mankind is emblematically traced, as upon a chart, in figures and in general outlines. Grand is the spectacle of the Divine service of our Orthodox Church for those who understand it, who penetrate into its essence, its spirit, its signification, its sense!

The Church, through the temple and Divine service, acts upon the entire man, educates him wholly; acts upon his sight, hearing, smelling, feeling, taste, imagination, mind, and will, by the splendour of the icons and of the whole temple, by the ringing of bells, by the singing of the choir, by the fragrance of the incense, the kissing of the Gospel, of the cross and the holy icons, by the prosphoras, the singing, and sweet sound of the readings of the Scriptures.

I thank the Lord and my holy mother the Church, the spotless and incorruptible bride of Christ, for having shown, made even and smooth for me, the true path to salvation, cutting off at the (Ecumenical and Provincial Councils all heresies and schisms which might have served as great obstacles and hindrances to our salvation in God, for having valiantly, gloriously, and victoriously overcome all the persecutors of the faith, and stood in defence for me of the royal path of the holy truth, that leads into the life eternal. I thank her for having preserved all the sacraments instituted by the Lord, leading me by a sure path unto salvation. I thank her for having instituted for me the splendid Divine service — that angelic service upon earth; for yearly solemnising all the most important events of the earthly life of my Lord and of His most pure Mother; for the due and grateful remembrance of the unspeakable benefits of God to us, manifested in our redemption by the Son of God from sin, the curse and death; and for daily representing in the Divine Liturgy to my reverent attention all the earthly life of my Lord. I thank her for glorifying in the daily Divine service the exploits of God's saints, and for pointing them out to me as living examples of faith, hope, and love to God, and of the various ways leading to eternal life. I thank her, my holy mother, for the writings of the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church, for their sweet and soul-saving words, left as an inheritance to us. I thank her for the divinely-instituted priesthood, accomplishing in Christ and by Christ my salvation, reconciling me with God, sanctifying, comforting, strengthening me, pasturing me, and leading me into the heavenly fold.

How do we maintain connection with the spiritual world, with the heavenly Church? By calling upon them in prayer; by keeping the festivals instituted in their honour; and by the Church services. For the Church is one, under one Head — Christ How do we maintain connection with the departed? By means of prayers for them, especially when united with the offering of the bloodless sacrifice. How do we maintain union with living Christians and with all men? Again, by means of prayers for them all in God's temple and even at home. Thus we maintain connection with those in heaven, upon earth, and in hades. Great is the Christian faith!

What a close connection there is between the Church in heaven and the Church upon earth! What love the Church has! See: she unceasingly remembers, calls upon in prayer, and glorifies the Church in heaven for the great deeds accomplished on earth for God's sake; she unceasingly prays for the Church upon earth, and intercedes for the departed, in the hope of the resurrection, of the life eternal, and of union with God and the Saints. Her love is immense, grand, divine! Let us enter into the spirit of this love of our Mother, the orthodox Church, and let us be penetrated with the spirit of this love. Let us look upon all our brethren as our own members, upon ourselves and them as members of the one body of the Church, and let us love them actively, as ourselves; then we ourselves shall be living members of the Church in heaven, and she will be our active and speedy helper and intercessor.

"I am the vine," says the Lord, "ye are the branches,"[1039] that is the one Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. Therefore, as the Lord is holy, so also the Church is holy; as the Lord "is the way, the truth, and the life,"[1040] so also is the Church, because the Church is one and the same with the Lord, "His body, of His flesh, and of His bones,"[1041] or His "branches," rooted in Him — the living vine, and nourished by Him and growing in Him. Never represent the Church apart from the Lord Jesus Christ, from the father and the Holy Spirit.

Know, once for all, that in the Church, in all her services, sacraments and prayers, breathes the spirit of holiness, the spirit of peace, the spirit of life and salvation; and that all these properties belong to the Holy Spirit alone. Holy thoughts, or words of life and truth, can be easily distinguished from thoughts and words of falsehood and death; the latter are anguish, disturbance, spiritual death. " For to be carnally-minded is death; but to be spiritually-minded is life and peace."[1053]

Remember that by believing heartily and steadfastly in Christ we are saved unto the life eternal. Remember, that the holy Church has not allowed a single one of her true followers to perish, but, by the grace of God, has saved them all. The works of the Saviour and those of the Church upon believers speak for themselves. The action of doubt and unbelief in a man's soul, killing his soul and body, also speaks for itself.

As the Spirit of God is a terrible power, the fear and torment of demons, therefore the demons, with all their infernal wiles, resist the Spirit of God and blaspheme Him. As the Spirit of God is a saving spirit, a spirit of union, love, and peace, therefore by every means they oppose the union, love, and salvation of mankind. It was through them that the separation of the Churches into the Eastern and Western arose. Observe: this separation arose from the dogma concerning the Holy Spirit. By their efforts, again, arose the further separation of the Roman West, Lutherism, Calvinism and Anglicanism; through them arose dissent in our Orthodox Church.

We must be guided by the history of the times of the Apostles, by the example of the early Church.

If you wish to contemplate Christian hope in all its grandeur, read the Church prayers, follow closely the Christian Divine services, especially the Sunday and festival ones. There you will find the infinite riches of blessings promised to believers.

In this world be one with others in mutual love and service; then not only the angels and saints will be one with you, but even God Himself, here, and still more there in the future world, when God shall "be all in all."[1353] Strive, man, by every means to attain to such union, avoiding any spiritual separation through self-love, pride, envy, covetousness, doubt, and little faith — that they "all may be one, as Thou, Father, art in Me and I in Thee, that they also may be one in Us."[1354] Union is God; separation is the Devil. The separation of the Churches was the work of the Devil; heresies, dissent, are the work of the Devil.

Remember that "the Church of the living God is the pillar and ground of the truth."[1392]

Great and worthy of honour is the body of the Holy Church, Whose Head is Jesus Christ Himself. Remember that in this great and worthily honoured body you are an infirm, worthless member, and that you receive everything from the Head of the body of the Church, Christ, and are animated by His Spirit. Remember that in the Church there are millions of powerful members, who have received great and manifold spiritual gifts from the Holy Spirit, each in accordance with his special merit and receptivity. Respect every Christian as a member of the Church of Christ and the temple of the Holy Spirit; do not in your pride consider anyone as ignorant of the truths of the faith, deprived of the gifts of the Spirit: "For Christ is all, and in all,"[1428] and the Lord inwardly reveals Himself to all, enlightens all, according to the measure of the receptivity of each one, and apportions His gifts to all, without respect of persons. And therefore, say to yourself: "I am a small member of the great and worthily honoured body of the Church, I must regard all the other members with love and respect, as dear and beloved members of my Christ."

But the adornment of holy objects raises our souls to God, and is therefore not only sinless, but holy and edifying, as also sacred singing, the fragrance of incense, the magnificence and splendour of the ornaments of the temple and all its vessels. All these, being destined to serve to the glory of God and to arouse pious feelings, are not sinful, but holy.

[7] Proverbs xxiii. 26.
[105] 1 John ii. 2.
[119] 1 Ephesians ii. 2.
[130] 1 Chronicles xiii. 8; 2 Samuel vi. 14.
[233] Psalm xxxi. 19.
[349] From the Troparia to the Holy Trinity in the Morning Prayers.
[350] Speaking of a Priest.
[479] 2 Timothy iv. 3.
[480] Psalms 1. 17.
[503] St. Matthew xxviii. 20.
[504] Colossians i. 24.
[554] St. Matthew xviii. 20.
[555] Acts xii. 5-11; xvi. 24-6.
[578] Colossians iii. 11.
[579] Ephesians i. 22,23.
[590] St. John xvii. 21.
[601] Romans viii. 9.
[632] Prayer at the Liturgy during the Oblation.
[636] Matthew xxiii. 8
[637] St. John xv. 17.
[654] Jude i. 10.
[655] St. Luke xxiii. 34.
[699] St. Matthew xvi. 18.
[717] Colossians iii. 1, 2.
[719] Psalm xii. 7.
[734] 1 Corinthians vi. 17.
[761] St. Matthew xviii. 20.
[762] St. John xiii. 35.
[768] 1 Timothy iii. 15.
[769] Matthew xi. 28.
[772] Hebrews xii. 29.
[773] 2 Corinthians ii. 15.
[799] Prayer to the Holy Mother of God at Compline.
[811] 2 Corinthians iv. 4.
[820] 2 Peter i. 3.
[822] Romans viii. 16, 17.
[965] St. Luke vi. 35.
[968] St. John xiv. 6
[978] Romans viii. 26.
[982] Ephesians iv. 3.
[1039] St. John xv. 5.
[1040] St. John xiv. 6.
[1041] Ephesians v. 30.
[1053] Romans viii. 6.
[1172] St. Matthew xxv. 34.
[1248] This was written before the Russian translation of the Holy Scriptures was published by the Holy Synod.
[1353] 1 Corinthians xv. 28.
[1354] St. John xvii. 21.
[1392] 1 Timothy iii. 15.
[1428] Colossians iii. 11.

Excerpts compiled from: My Life in Christ or Moments of Spiritual Serenity and Contemplation, of Reverent Feeling, of Earnest Self-Amendment, and of Peace in God, St. John of Kronstadt.