The following teachings of St. Ambrose were taken from Living Without Hypocrisy: Spiritual Counsels of the Holy Elders of Optina, Holy Trinity Publications, 2005
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Help of God
The Lord begins to reveal His power when a person sees that all human means for providing help to the person in need are feeble.
Do not be greatly disturbed by the arrangement of your fate. Have only the unwavering desire for salvation and, standing before God, await His help until the time comes.
The Lord will deliver you from all improper thoughts; just humble yourself.
During prayer you must strive to reject all thoughts and, not paying them any attention, continue the prayer. If the attack of thoughts greatly increases, again you must implore God’s help against them.
Especially do not be disturbed by blasphemous thoughts which clearly come from the envy of the enemy. They occur in a person either because of proud self-opinion or the condemnation of others.
If the work of redemption of mankind was performed by the obedience unto death of the incarnate Son of God to the Father, then every appointed position is nothing other than obedience to God, because the various kinds of offices are allocated by the Holy Spirit, as the Apostle Paul testifies (1 Cor. 12:28).
Go where they send you, look at what they show you, and say at all times: “Thy will be done!”
It is better to be a disciple of a disciple than to live according to your own will. In the writings of the holy fathers they talk about this. It is not shameful to obey the advice of your spiritual father, but rather salvific and indispensable; and he who does not listen to good advice will be punished.
Strive in all things to live according to the Divine commandments, and remember that the Lord is present and sees the disposition of your heart. While fulfilling an obedience, consider that it has been given by the Lord through a person, and that your salvation depends on your zeal in fulfilling it.
Fasting is praiseworthy and necessary in its time and place: it is better to keep to a moderate use of good and drink, avoiding satiety, indicated by a slight heaviness, and on the other hand, avoiding excessive and inappropriate abstinence. Moderation, the middle path, makes a person more capable of spiritual activity.
Whoever reproaches us, gives us a gift, but whoever praises us, steals from us.
If they will praise you, you must remain silent—do not say anything.
A true monk does not reproach and does not praise.
After communion you should ask the Lord that you preserve the Gift worthily and that the Lord help you so that you do not turn backward, i.e., to your former sins.
If we partake of the Mysteries of the Body and Blood of Christ with faith and not condemnation, then all of the snares of our spiritual enemies who harass us will become ineffectual and useless. We partake without condemnation, firstly, when we approach the Mysteries with sincere and humble repentance and confession of our sins, with the firm resolve not to return to them, and secondly, when we approach without the remembrance of wrongs, having become reconciled in our heart with all those who have grieved us.
The work of our salvation depends upon our volition, on God’s help, and on cooperation. But the latter will not follow if the first does not precede it.
The Lord abides in simple hearts. Gold is everywhere and everywhere it shines through, no matter from what angle; but something else, no matter how much you work with it, it still is not gold.
Everything simple is closer to God, but the wise and exalted separate us from God.
Let us live more simply and God will have mercy on us.
In the spiritual life something that is very good is explained wisely at the proper time. Ask for forgiveness at the proper time in order to reconcile your own soul and to give this opportunity to others as well. It is not in vain written in the psalms: Seek peace and pursue it (Ps. 33:15).
The Path to Salvation
Our salvation, according to St. Peter Damascene, is located between fear and hope, so that we do not have self-confidence and do not despair, but with blessed hope in the mercy and help of God, we strive to conduct a life in fulfillment of the Divine commandments.
According to human reasoning, the path of salvation, it would seem, should be a smooth path, quiet and peaceful; but according to the words of the Gospel, this path is sorrowful, difficult, and narrow. The Lord said, I came not to send peace on earth, but a sword (Matt. 10:34).
What does a person need in order to learn the ways of the Lord? A person needs to be meek and humble, and then the Lord Himself will teach him how to walk the way of the Lord.
The beginning of salvation consists in rejecting your own will and understanding and doing the will of God.
From now on let us strive firmly to not divide the path of Christ into various branches, but to combine them into one main one: to love the Lord with our whole soul and to maintain peace and holiness with everyone, not thinking foolishly or suspiciously about anyone.
The mistake on our part is that we do not want to submit our will to the all-good Divine Providence, which indicates to us through circumstances the path beneficial to our soul. Instead we look for some sort of peaceful way for ourselves which exists only in dreams, and in reality is nowhere on earth. There will be rest not for everyone, but only for a few, when they sing: “With the saints give rest …”
We are all confused: can’t we arrange our retirement in such a way? And in retirement we often think: if it weren’t for this inconvenience, if not for these circumstances, it not for that contrary person, then perhaps it would be easier and more peaceful for me; but we forget that discomforts often come from within us, like evil thoughts. Where the passions lie, from there proceeds all of our discomforts, disagreements, squabbling, and disorder. But may He Who came to save sinners overcome all of these, if we desire to repent, and become humbled and submissive.
The Godly-wise fathers teach us that it is always better to reproach ourselves and in every unpleasant situation to lay the blame on ourselves, and not on others. Then we will find rest and spiritual peace, and we will hold fast to the true path to salvation.
We must begin with thanksgiving for everything. The beginning of joy is to be content with your situation.
Especially beware of complaining, no matter who it is against. Complaining is worse and more harmful than anything else. It is more beneficial and peaceful to blame yourself at all times for everything, and not others. You must especially beware of complaining against Divine Providence which arranges everything good and beneficial for our souls through the Mother of God. But due to our faintheartedness, we often are foolishly disturbed and we grieve senselessly over something arranged for our spiritual benefit.
Our self-love interferes and opposes every good deed of ours, spoils it and corrupts it, and it especially hinders the offering of pure prayer to God.
From egoism and self-love come all misfortunes. They do not like when others touch us and they get so stirred up that you can’t protect yourself from their thoughts. They produce disgusting thoughts, like locusts, that devour not only spiritual fruit, but the leaves and the root itself.
The root of all evil: selfishness and stubbornness, mixed with envy and seasoned with delusion of the enemy. Therefore one must in every way strive to extract this evil root: with humility and obedience, imitating the Lord Himself, Who humbled Himself to the form of a servant, and was obedient unto crucifixion and death on the cross.
For whatever you are guilty of before God and man, offer repentance and humble yourself, do not dare to condemn or judge anyone, but in every unpleasant situation strive to lay the blame on yourself and not others, either for your sins or that you caused this sorrow—through carelessness and inexperience.
Consider everyone to be better than yourself, and reproach and scold yourself in every way, and do not be ashamed to bow down and ask forgiveness from your neighbor for your weakness when you have something against him. Consider every day as possibly your last and, in your thoughts, place yourself more often at the judgement of God. In your heart unceasingly say the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, through the Theotokos have mercy on me a sinner.”
Error and delusion in man come from the fact that we do not properly understand the purpose and will of God concerning ourselves. According to His goodness and mercy, the Lord wants to give us eternal blessedness in heaven, in the Heavenly Kingdom, but we, in our blindness seek and are more desirous of temporal happiness and well-being on earth. So the Lord, in His goodness and love for the human race, instructs us with various sorrows, sicknesses, and other misfortunes.
If the sun shines all the time, then everything in the field withers; therefore rain is needed. If it rains all the time, then everything rots, because wind is needed to aerate everything. And if there is insufficient wind, then a storm is needed to wash everything away. In a person, everything happens beneficially at its proper time, because he is changeable.
A continuously happy life produces extremely unhappy consequences. In nature we see that there are not always pleasant springs and fruitful summers, and sometimes autumn is rainy and winter cold and snowy, and there is flooding and wind and storms, and moreover the crops fail and there are famine, troubles, sicknesses and many other misfortunes. All of this is beneficial so that man might learn through prudence, patience and humility. For the most part, in times of plenty he forgets himself, but in times of various sorrows he becomes more attentive to his salvation.
If a person endures sorrows with submission to the will of God, while confessing his sins, through this he will be delivered from the threat of eternal torments. Therefore, it is better to endure troubles here, no matter how difficult they may be, casting your sorrow upon the Lord and praying to Him with humility, that He deliver us from faintheartedness and despair, which are worse than any other sins.
When you see that you are depressed, do not forget to reproach yourself. Recall how much you are guilty of before the Lord and before yourself, and admit that you are not deserving of anything better—and you will immediately feel relief.
Boredom is the grandfather of despondency, and laziness is the daughter. In order to drive it away, exert yourself at work, do not be lazy at prayer; then boredom will pass and zeal will come. And if you add patience and humility to this, you will spare yourself from much evil.
Giving Thanks to God
Gratitude in a Christian is such a great thing that, along with love, it accompanies him into the future life, where he will celebrate the eternal Pascha with the righteous.
It is foolish to think that wealth or abundance, or even moderate means would be advantageous or possibly reassuring. The rich worry even more than the poor and impoverished. Poverty and being in want are closer to humility and to salvation if only one who is poor does not become fainthearted, but with faith and hope relies on the all-good Providence of God. Until this day the Lord has fed us, and He has the power to do so in the future.
Abundance and plenty can spoil people. As they say, even animals can become crazy from being too fat.