On Relations with One’s Neighbors

St. Ambrose, Elder of Optina

1. The Lord nowhere wishes to compel man against his will, but everywhere makes use of our good will; it is through their own will that people are either good or evil. Therefore it is in vain that we accuse those living with us and surrounding us of hindering and impeding, as it were, our salvation or our spiritual perfection.

2. We receive profit from people only when we do not condemn them.

3. You complain about people’s unfairness in relation to you. But if you are striving to reign with Christ the Lord, then have a look at Him, how He acted towards the enemies surrounding Him who were demanding His death. It appears that He never complained about how His enemies behaved unfairly towards Him but, in all the horrible afflictions brought upon Him by His enemies, He saw only the will of His Heavenly Father.

4. You are upset that everyone is trying to humiliate you. If they are trying to humiliate you, that means they want to humble you; and you yourself are asking God for humility. Then why, after all this, do you let people upset?

5. Instruction and edification for one’s own life should be taken more from the example of Christ the Savior than from the example of people, in whom it is not possible to find full perfection, due to human weakness. Therefore we should not be upset, under a seemingly good pretext, when certain people do not give us the edifying example that we would have liked. 

6. The Lord has the power to protect and defend those forcing themselves to live according to His holy commandments, if only they are not being careless in striving for mutual peace. Then the fruit of righteousness is sown in peace, and joy in life is found in mutual harmony, and every good success is achieved through peace according to God. 

7. Seeing someone’s unfair action, rather than become irritated out of resentment, you must use wisdom to attain your purpose – if not in everything, then at least in that which is most important, or in whatever is possible.

8. Denunciations should take the middle way: one should neither wholly trust them nor entirely reject them, but await how the matter turns out. 

9. We should not think that we can make somebody happy or successful. This belongs only to God and a person’s own will, if he abides prudently before his Creator.

10. Just as one pot bumps up against another pot, how much more does it happen that people living together bump up against one another. This comes about especially when people have different viewpoints about things: one thinks about one thing one way, while another thinks another way; one is convinced in his own ideas, which seem solid and fundamental to him, while another believes in his own understandings.  

11. People look at the visible, but the Lord sees the inner arrangement of man and the actions of his conscience, both in relation to others and in relation to himself. When we cannot bring benefit to others for some reason, then let us at least work for our own spiritual benefit.  

12. Although it is difficult and very insulting to suffer unfair opposition from people who should be defending the truth – not little people, but great and elevated ones – we will take comfort in the unprejudiced judgment of the One Judge of the living and the dead.

13. He who gives way receives three ounces and a half , but he who insists on his rights receives only one ounce, and sometimes not even one, when he gets upset and upsets another.

14. In the spiritual life it is an altogether good thing to explain oneself punctually and prudently, and to ask forgiveness punctually, so as to bring peace to one’s soul and give occasion for others to do the same.

15. Each of us ought to work more on himself, on his own soul, and for his own spiritual benefit, because, according to the words of the Apostle, each of us will give account of ourselves to God. We are confused by the fact that we are more inclined to chastise others, striving not only to convince but also to dissuade, and to make a demonstration by many different arguments. 

16. When we are reproached and blamed for that of which we are entirely innocent, then we must turn our thoughts to those occasions when we were guilty before God or before people, and for the attainment of forgiveness of our sins we must forgive the unfairness and offences inflicted on us by our neighbors. 

17. I will say this briefly. Contrive to acquire life and avoid death, living with those with whom one is living, and trying to have that which the Apostle commands: i.e., goodness, mercy, compassion, and love, which is the fulfillment of the law. How? Listen to the same Apostle: Bear ye one another’s burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ (Galatians 6:2).  

 

Translated from Optinskii Tsvetnik: Izrecheniia prepodobnykh starttsev Optinskikh (Moscow: St. Tikhon’s Orthodox University, 2008), 221-228.

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