Pravoslavie.ru (English edition) is therefore pleased to present each week day excerpts from the forthcoming book May God Give You Wisdom! The Letters of Fr. John Krestiankin (published by Sretensky Monastery and St. Xenia Skete). May our readers find in them answers to perplexities, sober instruction, and deep Christian wisdom, coming from a true elder and confessor of the Faith.
Letter to a beginner
Everything will be very simple and easy if you decide to do it unto God, for God’s sake, and to the glory of God. Everything in life and in the soul will immediately come together.
Do not leave your job, live on your salary from the museum, and work at home for your soul. Do not accept gifts, and do not count on getting your only profit from payment for icons.
Work in the museum for now, and the time will come when you will only work in the church, even better, in a monastery. But now you should gain experience and knowledge, and raise your level of qualification, study where you can. If they find out about your domestic practice at work, then you can explain it easily by saying, “I am doing it to get practice in restoration work and increase my experience, but I do not take money.” After all, your work is knowingly and consciously serving God, and not mammon. Do you understand?
You must also learn that no matter where you work, especially if it’s in the Church, there will always be many disappointments and disenchantments, because people are people everywhere, with each one’s “plusses” and “minuses.”
You need to learn to be condescending to people’s infirmities, and to always remember that God’s Providence teaches a lesson in spiritual life in every situation. So we learn from the moment we become aware of ourselves to the moment of our death.
In taking on anyone’s new order, be careful, and do not agree to take it right away.
When you have made sense of what has been asked of you and learned that there is a true need, only fulfill it, and do not even deliver it yourself, but ask your mother or some other trusted person to do it.
Then all will be well and your despondency will depart. Despondency itself is born of self-love and pride, and there will be no “end” to these causes. What “end” can there be when we ourselves are only at the very beginning? Life is wonderful, and God arranges all for the better, for our salvation.
My child, learn one very important lesson, and learn it for your whole life. Do not rush forward into tomorrow, but live in the present day, learn today to see God’s will for yourself in the present moment, and not only to see it, but to have the unwavering resolve to fulfill it.
Thus will you live guided by God. You need to forget your likes and dislikes, and accept God’s will.
With time and experience you will understand that our complete good lies only in what is done according to God’s will. Read spiritual books, the lives of saints, and until you have developed a taste for such reading, begin with Feodor Dostoevsky. Read it and try to understand what it is saying. But thinking about the “end” is a great sin. You must repent immediately and not think about this, drive away with prayer this thought from the enemy. Sign yourself with the sign of the cross with the words, “In the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit. Amen.”
Read the Creed more often, as well as the “Our Father…” Call for help to the Heavenly Queen, the fervent Intercessor, and your Protectress [patron saint] from the time you were an infant.
Learn the fiftieth Psalm by heart “Have mercy on me, O God…”, the twenty-four short evening prayers of St. John Chrysostom, and at the very moment of the enemy’s attack, call upon the Holy Spirit—“O Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of truth.…” All of your “ends” will fly away. Do not converse with the enemy’s thoughts, do not develop this thought, but immediately cut it off by prayer. Even if this prayer is mechanical at first, the Name of the Lord will do its work—not you, but the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ.
Your job is only to ask, cry out, and knock at the door of God’s mercy. Thus it should be to the final hour: “Lord, help me. Lord, save me.” Your guardian angel will help you.
The Lord and the Mother of God will strengthen you in faith, hope, and love for God, your neighbor, and for yourself. Never, not even to yourself, count where, what and how you have done good. My dear, it is all from God and for God. Remember this. He only needs your heart—loving and faithful to Him, our Lord, Creator, and Redeemer.
Labor in peace to the glory of His Holy Name.
Also, in order to paint well, you should make as many copies as possible and have good examples; if you have the opportunity, get them from Maria Nikolaevna Sokolova. Copy them and save them, and do not give them out to anyone, so that you will always have these copies as examples.
If you enter into this work, everything will come together in its time.
During your work do not let your mind run around from “end to end.” Our life is endless—a ring or circle in God and with God. We can do nothing without Him. Accept it as your main work in life to ask for help from the Almighty, All-good God for everything and always, and do not flounder. Where there is “I,” there is a proud demon.
Remember this! Our work is only: “Lord help me, for I am weak! Lord save me! Lord help me to carry my cross without murmuring.”
My child, do not give the Lord cause to wrath and do not defile yourself with thoughts from the enemy.
May the Lord help you in all things, dear N.
We pray for you and remember you.
This came to pass twelve years after this letter, in 1981.