—Your Beatitude, what is the main spiritual advice you would give our readers on your name’s day, from the perspective of your spiritual experience?
—Learn to live in your spiritual desert. We can learn this from saints like St. Onuphrius the Great.
Teaching us to pray, the Lord said: But thou, when thou prayest, enter into thy closet (that is, into your soul, your heart, within yourself) … and pray to thy Father Which is in secret; and thy Father Which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly (Mt. 6:6).
Man must make his soul a desert, in which the mind of man, if not constantly, then at least from time to time, must live, that is, enter there and pray, contemplating and repenting of his sins.
A spiritual desert is not the desolation of the soul. In the desert of the soul there are no beasts of pride, beasts of envy and licentiousness, beasts of the malice of misanthropy; that is, the passions and vices that are spiritual beasts within our souls and which do not allow us to enter there and quietly pray to God in peace.
In order to make our souls such a blessed desert, we must labor and struggle with ourselves, with our infirmities, sins, and vices.
Man, forcing himself to go against sin, sometimes overcomes sin, and sometimes falls, but with God’s help, his attempts will necessarily be crowned with success. Sin is overcome by force. Man makes his effort, and the Lord, seeing his intentions, gives him grace and strength to help overcome sin.
Let us labor, dear brothers and sisters, to vanquish our passions and vices. May our souls become blessed deserts where we will go to pray. They are so necessary for our salvation and for the salvation of this world. Then we will be at least somewhat akin to St. Onuphrius, whose memory the Church celebrates today. He stands together with all the saints today before the throne of God and prays for us.
—Your Beatitude, what was the main podvig of St. Onuphrius the Great, your Heavenly patron?
—St. Onuphrius departed to the Lord at about seventy-nine years of age, but no one saw him during his life, except for St. Paphnutius and one other elder who taught him the eremitic life before his departure into the desert. However, his memory is preserved to this day in human hearts. In human history, there have been many rulers, philosophers, and sages who were always on the square of public service, who exposed themselves to the world every day, declaring their visions, thoughts, and desires, but the world has already forgotten them long ago, and their portraits are covered with dust and cobwebs. But as for the saints who lived in the deserts and loved God, praying for everyone, the world remembers them and will remember them forever, because the memory of the just is with praise.
When we hear about such a life, we often ask ourselves: “What can we learn from such a saint?”
Of course, a hermit can’t be a role model for us in the literal sense. Such saints are given to us to marvel at the grace of God. We won’t be able to live like St. Onuphrius the Great, but we should entreat the help of the saint in order to acquire the grace of God, which fortifies man for those podvigs that are within his strength.