Elder Justin (Parvu; 1919-2013) was one of the most famous Romanian spiritual fathers. He enjoyed great love and respect from the faithful. Orthodox Christians not only from Romania, but also from other countries, would come to him at the Petru Voda Monastery he founded and for which he served as spiritual father until the end of his earthly life.
We present here several of his spiritual counsels, gathered from various publications.
—Father, are people today smarter than those who lived fifty or sixty years ago? Are they wiser? Have historical trials made them wiser, or dulled them? The shelves are loaded with publications in the bookstores, but customers are rare. But the bars are full…
—Yes, people have become more informed, but even with this information you don’t know what to do, and it often clouds your mind. People have exchanged books for the television, and the television weans a man from thinking and he imbibes ready-made information, no longer using his brain. Is that what they said on television? That means it must be so; it means it’s the truth! Reading a book is like walking a path on foot, getting where you need to go. There’s time to examine everything all around you, step by step!
Young people need to be saved from the influence of television, which seems to flush out young minds. This is the fault of both parents and teachers! The devil is more likely to win an ignoramus over to his side than a man who can ask questions, who is familiar with the parables of Christ, who knows prayers, who can introduce wise sayings from the Patericon into a conversation.
—Is the Biblical talent an image of human talent? How guilty is someone who doesn’t use his received talent for good, who doesn’t multiply it?
—Of course, God credits an intellectual, a man with grace, and moreso a genius, with the choicest gifts. But there will come a time when God will ask him: What did you do with these gifts; did you multiply them; did you beautify the lives of others with them? Great is the responsibility of talented people, of intellectuals before their nations: They are responsible for their delusions, for their falls.
—Is there a contradiction between science and faith?
—Faith helps science and science helps faith. But where there is much science, there arises much pride.
—How serious is the sin of pride?
—It is serious, it is serious! In an instant, pride squanders everything the soul has accumulated during an entire lifetime spent in prayer. When we are proud of our good deeds, it negates all our merits before God. The wife of a rich man was once asked why she dressed simply, without a lot of jewelry, while many other women dress up in whatever style they fancy when going out, bedecking themselves with jewelry? The woman answered: “Because for my husband, my virtue is precious enough.” All the horrors in this world occur because of excessive pride. People don’t realize their limitations until their final hour.
—Why do Romanians lie?
—Because no one has convinced them that lying is ugly, that it makes a man start hating those around him.
A simple man also lies because the politicians at the top lie. And thus a closed chain of lies is built, and no one believes anyone! Lying is severely punished by God and should be severely punished by the law.
—What is modesty? Why is it good to be modest?
—Modesty is an adornment for a Christian.
—We’ve learned how to handle horsepower in our own car, the TV remote, which allows us to see what’s happening in the world at any moment, and the most sophisticated types of weapons; atomic energy—it seems man is already ready to declare that he doesn’t fear God. What is the fear of God?
—The fear of God? It is love for God. It is to love God with the fear that you could lose Him, that without Him you have no path in this world, or in the next. A man without God is like a wayfarer lost in the desert—the desert will swallow him up. Without God, man is like empty armor… “Since I began to fear God, I no longer fear anything,” said one of the holy fathers, referring to one of the ancient kings.
—What helped you survive most when you were in prison?
—Everything helped there, you know: youth, and impulse, and prayer, and love for companions, and love for God. I had time to contemplate all of this. Here there is no longer time to think, it’s like being caught in a millstone. Everything stopped beginning in 1948—even prayer books were strictly forbidden. But those who wound up in prison in 1948 knew the prayers by heart, even the Philokalia; there were five translated handwritten copies of the Philokalia that the prisoners passed around to one another. How much good was done by these books preserved in our memory! Incredibly, these books have never had such value, such significance, as in those most difficult of conditions.
—And was there anyone who wanted to end it all, who desired death, if only not to live in that nightmare?
—No one! No one even had such thoughts. Death was like a wedding for us.
—Batiushka, from what you have said, the trials your reverence has endured seem more like a blessing than a burden, and it seem the false freedom that we now have is more burdensome than the state of persecution. What, in fact, is true freedom? What does freedom in the spirit mean?
—Freedom in the spirit is to live beyond sin. A man who is free from the passions is free.
Freedom in the spirit is beyond institutions, because even the Church is subject to corruption in the end, its purity being obtained through the grace that the Lord gives. But what happens with those who are living in the flesh when the end of the world comes? They will change in an instant.
—I believe the prisons served as the basis for the restoration of our Christianity. In fact, we had everything there that we should voluntarily strive for: to give ourselves over to fasting, to devote ourselves to vigil, to go deep into prayer and to live in the name of the Lord, so His presence would be felt wherever we are. And as for the rest: We had food every day, you did obediences if you could, you yielded to your brother, and so on.
—What is the reason why some people can’t get their spiritual life in order?
—Because the love between brothers has weakened and people can no longer understand one another. And without unity, what can you create?
—What should we do to preserve love and unity between us?
—We have to pray a lot, because prayer supports mutual understanding. But we, alas, are more concerned with material problems than spiritual. The powers of evil used to be bound by the prayers of great men of prayer; their prayers possessed great power. And God has not yet loosened the power of Satan, for the world is unprepared. The power of the devil lies in our passions and misdeeds.
—Elder Paisios the Athonite said that the foundation of the spiritual life is thinking about others: First think about your neighbor, and then about yourself. In a society that has fallen morally, in a time of crisis and poverty, how can we maintain this foundation?
—You know, Christians must learn to give, to be able to share what little they have with their brother. Only therein lies the method of our resistance in difficult times. The closer you get to your neighbor, the closer to God. Because the real person you should love is not the one driving in a car, in a limousine, but he who is walking, sick, with an empty bag. Our neighbor is he who is in need. This is where the Gospel is revealed, not in quotes at conferences. This is our practical applicability: to be able to alleviate hardships and pain, and not only material, but also spiritual.
How many of us Christians are currently ready to accept sufferings, ready to be patient, ready to bear a cross? Very few. But this is always the case: It’s not the majority that feels the burden and weight of the cross, but the few, the chosen.
May God help us to endure with all bravery and with all love the temptations and trials that come, for they will bring us joy in Heaven: Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Amen.
—Father, what do you think, which virtue or deed can save us from falling in the present or future times?
—Self-denial. We have nothing else but to take up the yoke of Christ, to take on His rags, all His torments. And then the good God will reward us with the gift of prayer. There are people among us who can fall, fail, but there are also people who preserve their dignity, and through their worthy prayers, which are accepted by God, this race will be saved. But let us not remain negligent. Let not all the so-called joys of this earthly life tempt us. We must educate our children in advance, shape ourselves, learn to fast and pray, and keep ourselves in a state of nearness to God. When the state of nearness to God leaves us, we fall into despair. It’s a very important work to preserve ourselves from despair. We must be aware that a man is always, at any moment, on this stage of ascent. Despair is not for a Christian. Despair is only for a man who is attached to the material.
—I once heard from a priest that it is a sin to give alms to those like yourself, who are fully able to work, but who have become accustomed to begging and no longer think of any other life for themselves. Children grow up with them and are forced to beg from childhood, and then they’re busy with this “work” their whole lives, having learned it from their own people. What do you think about that? Is it a sin to encourage idleness?
—As one of the fathers said, “My dear, if you consider someone good, then you will find him good, and if you consider him bad, then you will find him bad.” The same father cites a case from the Patericon, when a rich man gave a poor man his coat, and the poor man took and sold this coat, and drank the money. Then the rich man hesitated: “What? I gave him my coat to wear, but he sold it and went drinking!” and he was displeased. That night the Lord Christ appeared to him in a dream, wearing the coat he gave to the poor man, and asked the benefactor: “Do you recognize these clothes?” And he replied: “Yes, Lord, I recognize them; it’s my coat!” To which the Lord Christ said: “Do not be grieved. I wear it.”
And there is an example to the contrary. It will be greater help to a poor man if you teach him how to fish, so he would have the chance to feed himself for the rest of his life, than to let him eat his fill of fish one time, and then put him back on the street.
—What is temptation? How can a Christian not succumb to the temptations that test his strength at any time, day or night?
—Temptation is the attempt of the devil to capture the soul of a Christian. Where the protective wall is weak, there is temptation. Temptations want to awaken the passions in a man, to weaken him in faith, and in his ability to defend himself [from the devil]. Sometimes an attack from the evil side is so strong that a man, it seems to him, loses control over the situation and says that the “evil hour” has come. That’s when a man should fortify himself, not fall. By the bread and water of prayer, a man can be strengthened before the face of temptations on his path in life.
—What should a man do if grief seizes him? Some begin to drink to drown the sorrow; others curse everything. How should a Christian behave when he is in grief?
—What does a sailor do when the storm begins? He rolls up his sleeves and tries to cope with the misfortune and starts helping others. If grief has come to you, be the most sober-minded and know what you must do. One who is weak begins to drink, but in fact he just needs an excuse. They shouldn’t be pitied, but pulled out of this state. Sorrows are the same temptations—if you don’t overcome them with the help of prayer, understanding, and faith, then it was in vain that you lived such a beautiful Christian life in times of peace.
—Father, one observant man remarked that the prisons are all bolted and strongly guarded, but they are nevertheless chock full of people, while the churches keep their doors wide open day and night, and they’re almost always empty. Why is it easier for the people to wind up in jail than in church?
—In this world, the devil is always at work. Do not think that salvation, harmony, and inner peace are attained without any effort. The more you try to save yourself, the more temptations assail you, the deeper your sense of satisfaction as a true Christian.
—Death—is it the end or the beginning?
—Death denotes a transition. It’s no coincidence that everything that is mortal is also called transitory; that is, something that must be subordinate to the eternal.
There is a story in the Patericon about two Christians who were laboring in the forest, cutting down a tree. One of them said, “This is the life of a man: We live for ourselves, we flutter, and in the end, death comes and we are felled like this tree, and nothing remains of us.” The second objected: “It’s not like that, brother. Only after we knock down this tree do we find out whether it is good for building a house, or good for furniture in a house, or, perhaps it is even suitable for a musical instrument, or whether this wood is only suitable to be burned in the fire. So it is with man: At the appointed hour, God puts him on the scales and either determines a good lot for him, or throws him into the eternal fire. Man spends his entire mortal life preparing for eternal life. Without passing through death, it is impossible to attain immortality.”