How to Set Your Heart on Spiritual Life? Advice from New Martyrs

The last words of the Apostle Peter to his beloved wife before her martyrdom were: "dear wife, remember the Lord Jesus."
Fr. Andrei Gavrilenko | 14 August 2021

Oh, what a great wish!

The memory of God is what will set your heart on spiritual life. Awareness of the Father’s presence makes His children happy.

However, vanity and corruption surround us. If you go outside, you will see that the world, in its essence, does not remember God. Everywhere there is advertising of the material, everywhere there is a consumer attitude towards life and propaganda of self-love. The world does not share the ideals of spiritual life, and the flesh is not submissive to the spirit. To put it even more bluntly, quoting the great Book: “the whole world lies in wickedness” (1 John 5:19) and “the flesh lusts against the Spirit, and the Spirit against the flesh: and these are contrary the one to the other” (Gal. 5:17).

So how do we choose the spiritual when the material shouts over it? How do we strengthen our spirit when our flesh is struggling with it?

Let’s take a look at the advice from new martyrs.

It takes courage and righteous anger to set oneself on spiritual life. The first commandment of life according to the Gospel is the following: “Whosoever will come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me.” (Mark 8:34).

Do you want to be with God? Do you want to lead a spiritual life? Have the courage to cut off evil passions, sins and addictions. Give them up with anger and contempt. This is your former life, which is in dirt, sores and pus. Give up all of this with contempt. Then you will be able to follow the Lord and receive a white robe. This commandment must be remembered daily, constantly renewing your determination to lead a spiritual life. As the Holy Martyr Gregory (Lebedev) said, “keep undeniable values deep in your soul”.

Spiritual values ​​are so excitingly bright that if you hold on to them, the whole world will become dull and unnecessary. According to the word of the saint, it is essential to “be infected with the brightness” of this value: “What do you need for this? You need to straighten your determination every day, at the right time. At these moments, our determination is straightened, our living ideology is brightly restored in our consciousness, everything evil is thrown out (with disdain) from our head, the superfluous fog of unnecessary, and often harmful things, is cleared in our soul, and the purified feeling (after the cleansing of our consciousness) lights up again with a bright light of the enticing idea”.

Thus we will begin to look deep into ourselves and set our hearts on spiritual things. This is the way in which the convictions of the faith become the source of truth for us in word and deed. After all, it is essential to rely precisely on faith in everything in our life. This is how the work begins on “transferring these values ​​from the head, from theory into life, into one’s heart, so that these values are not fruitless, but illuminate and guide our life, easily eliminating the flashings of other, ghostly truths and other, alluring, but empty goals of life.” Such striving for the best should be constant: “It is essential to keep one’s determination in pursuing one’s goal. “A man with hesitating thoughts is unsteady in all his ways.”‘Limping on both knees’ has never led to anything good.”

This instruction is worth considering. This is how it is important to preserve the fire of “God’s good life” in oneself. It is no coincidence that the solemn part of the Liturgy begins with the psalm “Bless the LORD, O my soul, and forget not all his benefits” (Psalm 103: 2).

Spiritual life is a struggle. This struggle is not only with sin in oneself, but also against the spirits of evil. That is why everything is so serious here and everything is so difficult. That is why it is necessary to rely on God who has mercy, and not on yourself. That is why it is necessary to declare war on the evil in oneself.

This war, like any war, must have strategy and tactics, with reasoning and gradual approach. One should not hurry to ‘disconnect’ from one’s old self. According to the advice of the Holy Martyr Gregory, it is essential first to “establish, or choose one unnecessary and harmful thing, and give it up with contempt… And thoroughly gain a foothold in this contempt and liberation from the unnecessary, so that it would seem a pitiful slavery. And the soul would be rooted in the new [virtue], replacing the abandoned [sin/addiction]. And live with this new [virtue] for half a year, or a year, so that it becomes a part of the soul, without which one cannot live. This will be thorough. And then add the second to the first. And it will join easier. What is alike grows more easily. And the soul will form a new springboard for life, when the threads connecting [the new self] with the old [self] will break.”

In this struggle, let us remember that the Lord will give the one who overcomes a taste of the tree of life (Revelations 2:7). Hieromartyr Methodius (Krasnoperov) twenty years before his martyrdom said: “If we want to lead a spiritual life, to follow Christ, then we will have to constantly fight for the ideals of spiritual life, in this struggle we will constantly experience sorrow and suffering. But on the other hand, this struggle, this sorrow and suffering cleanse us from sin, uplift the spirit and lead us to victory, to glory, to incorruption, and to immortality. Behind our cross or at the end of our way of the cross, we will see the bright Face of the Lord, His bright hand, which will support with a touch of grace. The Paradise of Christ is achieved through great efforts, feats… in great patience.”

Again, the memory of God will help in this struggle. The Holy Martyr Seraphim (Zvezdinsky) wrote about the memory of God as a weapon against sin: “The Lord does not stop caring for souls, He uses everything to free the soul from the power of the devil, to whiten the soul, to bring it into His Heavenly Kingdom… When we constantly remember that the Lord is near and watches over us, sees our every deed, hears our every word, knows our every thought, even when we sleep, only then will we stop sinning, since the saving fear of God will dwell in our hearts.”

It is necessary to help the Lord in our salvation. This can be done through a good confession, not sparing yourself according to the advice of the same Holy Martyr Seraphim: “Thoroughly cleanse your mirror — your heart — with Confession, then the Lord, the Most Pure Virgin, angels, the souls of the saints, heavens will look into it; but if you do not clean this mirror, if you pollute it, if you neglect it, the devil, hell, evil and every abomination will look into it and reflect in it.

The human heart is never empty: either the Lord or the devil lives in it. There can be no emptiness. A person works either for the Lord or for the devil.”

A spiritual diary can be an aid in setting our hearts on spiritual things. Spiritual children of the new martyrs received a blessing for keeping a spiritual diary. In the parish of the Holy Confessor Roman Medved, his children who had given a vow of obedience “made daily confession of their thoughts and deeds through diaries, which were passed on to the priest once a week, after which they received instructions on all issues… There was a deep spiritual work of each person on his own soul.”

Let’s remember that St. Roman worked tirelessly on himself and his daily spiritual condition. We find a mention of this in his letters: “I reassure myself that we must live in such a way that each new day is considered the last in our life (awaiting death) or the first (in the movement towards perfection). I remind myself that we are strangers here, in this life, … and our fatherland is in heaven.”

Our wonderful saints! Our wise saints! I would like to end their instructions with the appeal of the holy martyr: “We must develop determination, inner courage with all our strength and give up a relaxing lethargy, softness, lack of resistance and perseverance, with disdain… Don’t just talk about life – you have to live it. There is no need to make plans, but do the deeds. And even better [let there be] fewer plans, and more necessary deeds.”

Translated by

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