On Good Works by St. John of Kronstadt

Rejoice at every opportunity of showing kindness to your neighbour as a true Christian who strives to store up as many good works as possible, especially the treasures of love.

Excerpts from the diary of St. John of Kronstadt onGood Works

Our soul, as a spiritual, active being, cannot remain idle; it either does good or evil, one of the two; either wheat grows in it or tares. But as every good comes from God, and as the means of obtaining every good from God is prayer, those who pray fervently, sincerely, from the depths of their hearts, obtain from the Lord grace to do good, and, before all, the grace of faith; whilst, those who do not pray, naturally remain without these spiritual gifts, voluntarily depriving themselves of them by their own negligence and spiritual coldness; and as the wheat of good thoughts, inclinations, intentions, and works grows in the hearts of those who labour and pray fervently to the Lord, so in the hearts of those who do not pray, the tares of every evil grow, smothering the small amount of good that has remained in them from the grace of baptism, chrism, and subsequent penitence and communion.

Therefore, we must most carefully look after the field of our heart, lest the tares of evil, slothfulness, luxuriousness, self-indulgence, unbelief, avarice, envy, hatred, and others, should grow within it; we must daily weed the field of our heart — at least, at morning and evening prayers, and refresh it by salutary sighs, as by healthful winds, and water it with abundant tears, as by early and late rain. Besides this, we must by every means implant in the field of our heart the seeds of the virtues, faith, hope in God, and love for God and our neighbour, fertilise it by prayer, patience, good works, and not for a single hour remain in complete idleness and inactivity, for in times of idleness and inactivity the enemy zealously sows his tares. "While men slept, the enemy came and sowed tares among the wheat and went his way."[304] We must also remember that it is impossible to do good works without efforts. Since our voluntary falling into sin the kingdom of God cannot be taken otherwise than by "violence, and the violent take it by force."[305] Why is it that only the narrow way and narrow gate lead to life? Who makes the way of the chosen narrow? The world oppresses the chosen, the devil oppresses them, the flesh oppresses them; it is these that make our way to the kingdom of heaven narrow.

There is no need to ask anyone whether we ought to spread or propagate the Glory of God, either by writing, or by word, or by good works. This we are obliged to do according to our power and possibility. We must make use of our talents. If you think much about such a simple matter, then, perhaps, the Devil may suggest to you such foolishness as that you need only be inwardly active.

O, if we turned our attention to the consequences of our sins or of our good works! How careful we should then be to shun sin, and how zealous in all that is good! For we should then clearly see that every sin not eradicated in time becomes strengthened by habit, becomes deeply rooted in a man's heart, and sometimes troubles, torments, and wounds him until death, becoming, so to say, awakened and revived in him upon every occasion, reminding him of the sin formerly committed, and thus defiling his thoughts, feelings, and conscience. Streams of tears are necessary to wash away the inveterate filthiness of sin. How tenacious and malignant it is! Whilst, on the contrary, every good action done at any time sincerely, disinterestedly, or having become a habit by repetition, rejoices our hearts and forms the joy and comfort of our life by the consciousness that we have not spent our life entirely in vain, full of sins though it is; that we are like men and not beasts; that we, too, are created after the image of God, and that there is a spark of the Divine light and love in us; that, although they are but few, our good works will form a counterpoise for our evil ones in the balance of God's incorruptible righteousness.

How and when are we to care for the imperishable raiment of the soul: meekness, righteousness, chastity, patience, mercy, when all our cares, attention, and means are directed to perishable raiment and the adornment of our body? We cannot serve two masters: for the soul is simple and single. How and when are we to care for the spiritual riches of good works, when we are only greedy after perishable riches and strive to amass it with all our might and means, when our heart clings to money, to the world, and not to God? How and when are we to care for the incorruptible spiritual food and for the blessed drink — for prayer, the reading of God's word, the writings and lives of the Holy Fathers, the Communion of the Body and Blood of the Lord, when we hardly let food and drink out of our mouths, and this stupefying lit-up poisonous smoke which many consider so pleasant? How can our soul rejoice in the Holy Spirit, when we are continually occupied by earthly, vain pastimes and pleasures? O, ruinous service to corruption, drawing us away from the life incorruptible, true and eternal!

... Therefore the Holy Spirit is absolutely necessary to us all in all our good works. He is our power, strength, light, peace, and comfort.

... continually force yourself to be kind when others exasperate and offend you, to pray for your enemies, for meekness, humility, gentleness, truer benevolence, generosity, disinterestedness, abstinence, chastity, alms-giving, truth and righteousness, industry, obedience, and others. It is difficult to conquer the passions, which become as though our natural members ("Mortify therefore your members which are upon the earth"[553]), but by being continually watchful over yourself, by constant fervent prayer and abstinence, with the help of God you will be able to conquer and eradicate them.

We must never forget that we are all one body, and that we should stimulate each other to love and good works; we pastors should especially remember and do this... This is why the Lord said: "Let your light so shine before men that they may see your good works, and glorify your Father Which is in heaven."[1029] "If, therefore, the light that is in thee be darkness, how great is that darkness!"[1030]

Concerning modern works of charity. If you enjoy earthly blessings in full measure, and if you give to the needy, but indulge yourself still more, it means that you do good works without the least self-denial. Your works of charity are not great. But what else do we find? What are so-called works of charity? People arrange different entertainments with a charitable object — that is, they intentionally wish before all to serve their sinful flesh, the Devil, and only afterwards their neighbour and God. But this is no charity at all! Such works only bear the name of charity. "Let us do evil, that good may come."[835] "Woe unto you that are full, for ye shall hunger! Woe unto you that laugh now, for ye shall mourn and weep!"[836]

Why, after every six days, is a day of rest observed? In order that we may continually remember that after the labours of this present life, the day of eternal rest will come; for in accordance with the apostle, "there remaineth therefore a rest to the people of God."[786] And Sunday betokens the day of the general resurrection, after which a day of rest shall come for all those who have done good work in this present life, in Christ Jesus.

You cannot conquer any passion, any sin without gracious help; therefore, always ask the help of Christ, your Saviour. It was for this that He came into the world, for this that He suffered, died, and rose from the dead, in order to help us in everything, to save us from sin, and from the violence of the passions, to cleanse us from our sins, to bestow upon us power in Holy Spirit to do good works, to enlighten us, to strengthen us, to give us peace. You ask how you can save yourself when sin stands at every step, and you sin at every moment? There is a simple answer to this: at every step, at every moment, call upon the Saviour, remember the Saviour, and you will save yourself and others.

I am morally nothing without the Lord. I have really not one true thought or good feeling, and can do no good works; without Him I cannot drive away from me any sinful thought, any passionate feeling such as malice, envy, fornication, pride, and so forth. The Lord is the accomplishment of everything good that I think, feel, and do. O, how boundlessly wide is the Lord's grace acting in me! The Lord is everything to me, and so clearly, so constantly. Mine — is only my sinfulness; mine — are only mine infirmities. O, how we ought to love our Lord, Who was pleased to call us into existence from non-existence, to honour us by His image and likeness, to establish us in a paradise of delights, to subdue all the earth unto us, and Who — when we did not keep His commandments, but were allured by the enticement of the Devil, and immeasurably offended our Creator by our ingratitude, and assimilated unto ourselves all the qualities of the tempter (pride, malice, envy, ingratitude) and all his evil arts, which he taught us as his prisoners — did not reject us for ever, but deigned to redeem us from sin, from the curse and death into which we had fallen through sin, and Himself appeared upon earth, having taken our nature upon Him; He Himself became my Teacher, my Healer, my Worker of miracles, my Saviour; He Himself bore the punishment for us, died for us in order that we should not be eternally lost. He rose from the dead, in order to raise us too after death. He ascended into heaven, in order that we, too, should ascend, we who had fallen so low through sin; and He became everything to us — food, drink, light, purification, sanctification, health — and the power that protects, saves, preserves, and has mercy upon us.

Do you pay sufficient attention to the state of your soul? whether it is in good health, and, seeing that it lives, is its life vigorous? And, if its present temporal life is happy, then is its eternal life, its eternal happiness, ensured by anything — for instance, by faith — is there in your soul a lively faith in God, in the Saviour, in the Church, — by good works, meekness, humility, gentleness, love of truth and honesty, abstinence, chastity, mercy, patience, obedience, industry, and others? If the reverse is the case, then all your labour is in vain. The soul, perhaps, does many things worthy of wonder, but it will be itself lost. "For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?"[686]

It is a remarkable phenomenon in nature that, if you put a plant into a large, wide pot or tub, it grows very much at the roots; they thicken, they give out many ramifications, but the tree itself does not grow much in height, and only yields few and small leaves and flowers. But if it is planted in a small pot, then the roots are small, but the plant itself grows rapidly in height and yields beautiful leaves and flowers (if it is the nature of the plant to produce flowers). Is it not the same with man? When he lives in full liberty, in abundance and prosperity, then he grows in body and does not grow in spirit, does not bring forth fruits — good works; whilst when he lives in straightness, in poverty, sickness, misfortune, and afflictions, in a word, when his animal nature is crushed, then he grows spiritually, bears flowers of virtue, ripens and brings forth rich fruits. This is why the path of those who love God is a narrow one.

How corrupt I am become through sin! Anything bad, evil, impure immediately enters into my thoughts and is felt in my heart, whilst anything good, right, pure, holy — is often only thought and spoken of, and not felt. Woe unto me! for as yet evil is nearer to my heart than good. Besides this, we are at once ready to do evil as soon as it is thought of or felt, and we do it quickly and easily if we have no fear of God, whilst "how to perform that which is good I find not"[641] the power within me, and the intended good work is often put off indefinitely.

Our self-love and pride would like everything to be as we wish, that we should be surrounded by every honour and comfort of this temporal life; would like all men, and even — how far is pride carried! — all nature itself, to speedily and silently obey a sign from us; whilst, alas! we ourselves are very slow to faith and to every good work — slow to please the one Master of all. Christian! you must absolutely be humble, meek, and long-suffering, remembering that you are clay, dust, nothingness; that you are impure; that everything good that you have is from God; that your life, your breath and everything you possess are God's gifts;

Man! the Creator's omnipotence, wisdom, and mercy, which were poured out upon the visible and invisible world, are ready to be bestowed, in all their infinity, upon you also, if you endeavour to be a true child of the Heavenly Father, if you fulfil His commandments to love God and your neighbour. Give yourself up, then, untiringly, and with all your might, to good works and deeds.

Do not only do your work when you wish to, but do it especially then, when you do not wish to. Understand that this applies to every ordinary worldly matter, as likewise, and especially, to the work of the salvation of your soul — to prayer, to reading God's word and other salutary books, to attending Divine service, to doing good works, whatever they may be, to preaching God's word. Do not obey the slothful, deceitful, and most sinful flesh; it is eternally ready to rest and lead us into everlasting destruction through temporal tranquillity and enjoyment. "In the sweat of thy face," it is said, " shalt thou eat bread."[334] O miserable soul, "carefully cultivate the talent granted unto thee," sings the Church. [335] "The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force,"[336] says our Lord and Saviour.

"Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."[701] How are we to seek first the kingdom of God? In the following manner: let us suppose that you wish to walk, or drive, or else go in a boat somewhere on any worldly, temporal business; before doing so, first pray to the Lord that He may correct the ways of your heart, and then also your present bodily way, or that He may direct the way of your life in accordance with His commandments; desire this with all your heart, and often renew your prayer concerning this. The Lord, seeing your sincere desire and endeavour to walk in accordance with His commandments, will, by degrees, correct all your ways.

The way to succeed in any good work. When you are praying at home, at evening, or at morning prayer, or in the church during Divine service, be solicitous in your heart to accomplish this particular good work, and heartily desire to fulfil it to the glory of God. The Lord and His Most-pure Mother will unfailingly teach you, will instil in your heart some bright idea how to accomplish it.

In all your works, either at home or at the place of your service, do not forget that all your strength, your light and your success are in Christ and His Cross; therefore, do not fail to call upon the Lord before beginning any work, saying: Jesus, help me! Jesus, enlighten me! Thus your heart will be supported and warmed by lively faith and hope in Christ, for His is the power and glory unto ages of ages.

If you have Christian love for your neighbour, then all heaven will love you; if you have union of spirit with your fellow-creatures, then you shall have union with God and all the dwellers of heaven; if you are merciful to your neighbour, then God and all the Angels and Saints will be merciful to you; if you pray for others, then all heaven will intercede for you. The Lord our God is holy, be so yourself also.

When the foolish thought of counting up any of your good works enters into your head, immediately correct your fault and rather count up your sins, your continual and innumerable offences against the All-merciful and Righteous Master, and you will find that their number is as the sand of the sea, whilst your virtues in comparison with them are as nothing.

Whilst the soul, changeable in its relation to God, suffers changes in itself, thus it unavoidably expands and obtains peace of heart when it draws nearer to God by faith and good works, and unavoidably contracts, becomes restless and wearied, when it withdraws itself from God by unlawful acts, want of faith, and unbelief in God's Truth.

In trees there is organic earthly life; in the Christian race the life of Christ, heavenly, spiritual; and we must look upon the spiritual capabilities and powers of true Christians as upon the powers of Jesus Christ Himself. "We have the mind of Christ,"[203] said the Apostle of true Christians; we must also look upon good works as upon the fruits of the grace of Christ.

It is a strange phenomenon in our nature, perverted by sin, to hate those to whom we do good, and to make them pay for our benefits by disliking them! Oh, how narrow and poor in love and grace is our heart! How selfish it is! The enemy may well mock at us; he wishes to destroy the fruits of our good works. But the more good you do to others, the more you must love them, knowing that those who receive your benefits serve as a pledge to you of your receiving forgiveness from God.

"Worship God in spirit and in truth." In truth, for instance, when you say, "Hallowed be Thy Name." Do you really desire that God's name should be hallowed by the good works of others and by your own?

"How can I prepare for death in a Christian manner?" By means of faith, by means of good works, and by bravely bearing the miseries and sorrows that happen to you, so as to be able to meet death fearlessly, peacefully, and without shame, not as a rigorous law of nature, but as a fatherly call of the eternal, heavenly, holy, and blessed Father unto the everlasting Kingdom.

Deny yourself sensual delights in the hope that, instead of them, you will obtain higher spiritual, heavenly delights. Do good to all in the hope that, in accordance with God's justice, "with what measure ye mete, it shall be measured to you again";[343] that the good you have done to your neighbour shall be sooner or later returned into your bosom, just as the evil you have done him shall sooner or later be returned into your bosom. Remember that we are one body. "We being many are one bread."[344] Remember that God is just to the highest degree, to an iota.

When the Devil is in our heart, then we feel an unusual, overwhelming load and fire in the breast and in the heart. The soul contracts extremely and darkens, everything irritates it, it feels an aversion to every good work; the words and acts of other persons in reference to ourselves we interpret falsely and see in them ill-will and designs against our honour, and therefore we feel a deep, deadly hatred towards them; we are infuriated and long for vengeance. "By their fruits ye shall know them."[51] There are days when the spirit of evil disturbs me.

Both the spiritual and bodily powers of a man increase and become perfected and strengthened by their exercise. By exercising your hand in writing, sewing or knitting, you will accustom it to such work; by frequently exercising yourself in composition you will learn to write easily and well; by exercising yourself in doing good works or in conquering your passions and temptations, you will in time learn to do good works easily and with delight; and with the help of God's all-active grace you will easily learn to conquer your passions. But if you cease writing, sewing, knitting, or if you only do so seldom, you will write, sew, and knit badly. If you do not exercise yourself in composition, or do so very seldom, if you live in the material cares of life only, it will probably become difficult for you to connect a few words together, especially upon spiritual subjects: the work set you will seem to you like an Egyptian labour, if you cease praying, or pray seldom; prayer will be oppressive to you. If you do not fight against your passions, or only do so seldom and feebly, you will find it very difficult to fight against them, you will often be conquered by them; they will give you no rest, and your life will be poisoned by them, if you do not learn how to conquer these evil, inward enemies, that settle in your heart. Therefore labour and activity are indispensable for all. Life without activity is not life, but something monstrous — a sort of phantom of life. This is why it is the duty of every man to fight continually and persistently against the slothfulness of the flesh. God preserve every Christian from indulging it! "They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts."[264] "Unto everyone that hath shall be given, and he shall have abundance; but from him that hath not, shall be taken away even that which he hath."[265]

With the words in your heart "All things are possible to him that believeth,"[1328] strive after everything good and praiseworthy. Whatever good work you have the intention of doing, always have faith. Preserve by every means simplicity of heart, simplicity of faith, hope and love, of meekness, humility and gentleness. Every good comes from God, and God is every good for us. This is the simplicity of faith, hope, and love.

Be bold, resolute in every good work, be especially generous in words of kindness, tenderness, sympathy, and still more so in works of compassion and mutual help. Consider despondency, despair in any good work, as an illusion. Say: "I can do all things through Christ Which strengtheneth me,"[1330] though indeed I am the greatest of sinners. " All things are possible to him that believeth."[1331]

"Christ came upon earth in order to raise us up to heaven"[1393]; that it is not right to attach ourselves to anything earthly; and that we must value time in order to win eternity; to cleanse our hearts from every impurity, and to do as many good works as possible: "My meat is to do the will of Him That sent Me, and to finish His work."[1394]

"He that gathereth not with Me scattereth."[1417] It is necessary to advance in the spiritual life, and ascend higher and higher; to increase more and more the stores of our good works. If we remain stationary at one point of moral perfection, upon one step of the Christian ascent, it is equal to our going back; if we do not gather, it is equal to scattering.

[51] St. Matthew vii. 20.
[203] 1 Corinthians ii. 16.
[264] Galatians v. 24.
[265] St. Matthew xxv. 29.
[304] St. Matthew xiii. 25.
[305] St. Matthew xi. 12.
[334] Genesis iii. 19.
[335] Condakiou at Matins on Holy Tuesday.
[336] St. Matthew xi.12.
[343] St. Matthew vii. 2.
[344] 1 Corinthians x. 17.
[553] Colossians iii. 5.
[641] Romans vii. 18.
[686] St. Matthew xvi. 26.
[701] St. Matthew vi. 33.
[786] Hebrews iv. 9.
[835] Romans iii. 8.
[836] St. Luke vi. 25.
[1029] St. Matthew v. 16.
[1030] St. Matthew vi. 23.
[1328] St. Mark ix. 23.
[1330] Philippians iv. 13.
[1331] St. Mark ix. 23.
[1394] St. John iv. 34.
[1417] St. Luke xi. 23.

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.