The first passion… is egotism. How does it manifest itself in practice? What does it mean? The word itself gives us the answer—“egotism,” that is, everything revolving around our “ego”: “Only me, and no one else! That’s what I think, that’s what I want, that’s how I like it. I want it to be that way!” All this, which naturally stems from the egotistical attitude of man, doesn’t allow the egotistical man to love strongly, it doesn’t allow him to fall in love. It’s because he can’t overcome himself; he’s closed up in his egotism, in his individualism. The egotistical man can neither love nor humble himself. And how could he humble himself when he’s an egotist? He can’t even he acknowledge his own mistakes, because he always justifies himself in everything.
When we notice anger and irritation within ourselves, it means there’s egotism within us, and no humility. A malicious, angry, irritable, nervous man who loses his temper, whose teeth grind from a nervous disorder, hasn’t even a grain of humility. Such a man needs a spiritual doctor, and sometimes a physical one too. Humility can never settle in the midst of anger and malice. If you see anger and malice within yourself, you can immediately understand that you have egotism, pride, and a lack of humility.
As God is Life, and diseases and maladies are a deviation from life, therefore the touch alone of the first Source of Life cures us of them. This is why the Saviour, Who is the Life of all, cured and still cures men by His touch alone. The same may be said of the change in any contagious objects - at a single sign or single word of the Creator and Founder of everything, they become harmless (air, water, plants and animals).
As we remember and celebrate Saint Seraphim today, I want to offer seven lessons from his teachings for us to carry into the New Year.
- “Acquire inner peace and thousands around you will be saved.” This may be his most famous saying. He explains how there “is nothing better than peace in Christ, for such peace brings victory over all the evil spirits. When peace dwells in a person’s heart it enables them to contemplate the grace of the Holy Spirit from within. He who dwells in peace collects spiritual gifts as it were with a scoop, and he sheds the light of knowledge on others. All our thoughts, all our desires, all our efforts, and all our actions should make us say constantly with the Church: “O Lord, give us peace!” When a man lives in peace, God reveals mysteries to him.” As we begin the New Year, can we take the time daily to open our hearts to receive the “peace that passes all understanding,” as the Apostle Paul described it.
- Of course, the peace of God is a fruit of the Holy Spirit and Saint Seraphim reminds us that the ultimate goal in our life is acquisition of the Holy Spirit. All the spiritual disciples we practice through our prayers, fasting, almsgiving, and other good deeds are simply ways to open our hearts to receive the Holy Spirit. We want God living in us and His Spirit inspiring, directing and empowering us. “Everything good that we do is given to us by the Holy Spirit.” This is why our Lord Jesus, after His Resurrection from the dead, promised His followers that they would “receive power when the Holy Spirit comes upon you and you will become my witnesses in Jerusalem, Judea, Samaria and to the ends of the world.” Thus, we begin every day with a prayer asking the Holy Spirit to come and dwell in us – “O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, who are present everywhere and fill all things, Treasurer of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and abide in us and save our souls O Good One.”
- Keep your eyes on Paradise. Saint Seraphim explains “If you only knew what joy, what sweetness awaits a righteous soul in heaven, you would decide in this mortal life to bear whatever sorrows, struggles, persecutions and slander with gratitude.” Our life on earth is but a brief journey, and it may be filled with challenges and difficulties. We must always remember Saint Paul’s words that “our citizenship is in heaven.” Of course, this doesn’t mean that we only live for the future. Christ said “The kingdom of heaven is within” and we begin tasting the delight of God’s Presence here and now. What is important, though, is to remember how transitory and brief this life on earth is. Keep your eyes on Paradise.
- Nourish your soul with the Word of God. Saint Seraphim would read the entire New Testament every week. EVERY WEEK! He emphasized nourishing one’s mind and heart daily on the New Testament and the Psalms. “The reading of the Word of God should be performed in solitude so that the whole mind of the reader might be plunged into the truths of Holy Scripture. The Word of God is angelic bread which nourishes our soul. From this he will receive the warmth of the Spirit which will produce in each person tears of repentance.”
- As we keep our eyes on paradise, seek to acquire the Holy Spirit, allow God’s peace to dwell in our hearts, and read the Word of God, we will face whatever life brings with courage, never giving in to despair. “Where God is, there is no evil. Everything coming from God is peaceful and healthy, and leads a person to see clearly see his own imperfections with humility… the devil strives to lead a person into despair. A lofty and sound soul never gives in to despair over misfortunes, no matter what sort they may be. Our life is as it were a house of temptations and trials; but during our temptations we never turn away from the Lord for we know these temptations are teaching us patience and helping us overcome our passions! Judas the betrayer was fainthearted and unskilled in spiritual battle, and so the enemy, seeing his despair, attacked him and forced him to hang himself. The Apostle Peter, a firm rock, did not despair or lose heart when he fell into great sin, but repented and turned back to God.”
- These spiritual disciplines will help us stay vigilant against unclean and unholy thoughts. “The devil is like a lion, hiding in ambush (Psalm 10:19; I Pet 5:8). He secretly sets out nets of unclean and unholy thoughts. We must stop these as soon as we notice them, and the best means to do this is through prayer and pious reflection. ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ Repeat these words again and again. Don’t give in to despondency but with great courage say “Get behind me Satan! Who are you who have been cut off from God, a fugitive of heaven. You have no power over me because we have been made steadfast by the Holy Cross… Remember, the Lord sometimes allows people who are devoted to Him to fall into dreadful vices; and this is in order to prevent them from falling into a still greater sin – pride. Your temptation will pass and you will spend the remaining days of your life in humility. Only do not forget your sin.”
- Finally, treat others with kindness and not with judgement. “You can never be too gentle or too kind with others. Never treat others in a harsh manner. Allow radiant joy to shine forth from you, and as you radiate joy you will kindle joy in the other. All condemnation is from the devil. Don’t even condemn those whom you catch committing an evil deed. We condemn others only because we don’t know ourselves. When we gaze at our own failings, we see such a morass of filth that nothing in another can equal it. That is why we mistakenly make much of the faults of others. Instead of condemning others, pray for them and strive to maintain inner peace. Keep silent and refrain from any judgement. This will raise you above the deadly arrows of evil that the devil shoots at you.”
When Saint Stephan the New was brought before the emperor Constantine Copronymus and ordered to trample an icon [of Christ], he produced a coin bearing the image of the emperor.
"What would happen to a person who spat upon and trampled upon your image?" the saint inquired.
"He would be executed!" the iconoclast replied.
"What punishment then do you merit, you who have trampled the image of Christ, the King of kings?!" Stephan cried out, and trampled the image of the ungodly ruler underfoot. At the emperor's orders the saint was dragged through the streets of Constantinople and beaten to death.