How can we change ourselves, when we repeat the same sin again and again? How can a good thought help in the battle with sin? Fr. Andrei Lemeshonok answers these and other questions in a talk with the monastics of St. Elisabeth Convent in Minsk.
At some points, you start to see everyone and everything differently.
We have to understand that we are negligent disciples, that we are lazy, but the Lord came to save us. Only love, the love of the Cross can make man able not only to touch love, but to make room for it within himself, to bear it in his heart. Today we look at ourselves and we understand that we’re not a finished product yet; we’re only half-finished. The product still needs to be made fit for usage. Therefore, everything that happens to us is our preparation.
Is it so hard to imagine what will happen then, how it will be there—in the Kingdom of Heaven? What will my proud soul do there? All of this is a great mystery for us. Nevertheless, the Church leads us into a new life. And all this happens through our neighbor.
How can we condemn someone, or evaluate anyone? It’s crazy. Man is unpredictable: Today he’s holy and tomorrow he’s different.
We don’t want to look at ourselves; we look all around. What difference does it make to us—who, how, what?
I see that when someone looks at his life in an earthly way and doesn’t include God in this look, when he hopes in himself, then everything goes wrong. Therefore, we have to be very careful. Nothing happens without the will of God. Does something hurt? There’s a reason. Find the reason. Work on your mistakes, otherwise it will hurt even more. That’s how it is with everything.
It’s kind of depressing to depend on human moods, on the weather, on something someone says. It’s so unserious. We have to have a different attitude. What can we do without God? Nothing. God takes care for all of us; He hears us.
Here’s something that happened once. I spent the night at Batiushka Nikolai Guryanov’s place. A woman came to see him. I heard him asking her: “And what do you want?” She said: “I want to join a monastery.” He blessed her very kindly. But in the morning she got up and said: “I decided I need to have a family. Bless me.” Batiushka asked her: “And what do you really want?”
We have no contact, no mutual understanding. We look at everything from our bell tower; we know to whom we should give what advice. But this is self-deception. This has already happened many times. You have to look; you have to understand the man. But it’s hard; sometimes you want to say: “Go your own way…” But you have to help him figure out what God wants to say. But that takes time and effort…
Of course, we’re of different spiritual weight classes, and what was good for one man may be bad for another. This requires discernment. It’s wisdom when a man labors over finding a word from God for someone . And when these words are found, they make their way into his heart and help him. But more often, our words seem to be correct in form, but in content they don’t fit. The person doesn’t hear them. It seems you said one thing and they heard another. This happened with the sisters recently—a complete misunderstanding. Not deception, but a distorted understanding—they don’t hear. Sometimes there’s blasphemy against our priests, against the monastery precisely because of a misunderstanding, because someone doesn’t hear.
Here’s something that happened at Sts. Peter and Paul Cathedral. Many sisters and brothers were coming for Confession then. I was getting a lot of attention. And then when I left for the monastery, many turned away. This was my experience. Today they give you attention, and tomorrow they turn their backs on you. It’s okay. That’s why it’s so important to hear God! And God can speak through anyone.
When we change internally and become different people, then much around us changes as well. We shouldn’t be static; we have to be on the move. I have bodily infirmities. They’re serious, especially considering that I have to serve. But it helps me look at myself and at serving differently. And we have to experience all this to the end. We have to humble ourselves.
So temporary is temporary. It’s important to look for the present. And the soul wants this present. Here’s a man who’s out of sorts, he’s in trouble. Well, bear with this man. Don’t take offense, don’t get into a fight, don’t try to prove anything. Be quiet. Pray. Try to have a peaceful dialogue. Don’t ruin your peace and that of your neighbor…
Our question today is: “Please share your experience of how to change yourself. The same sin keeps repeating itself.”
Oh, it’s on repeat. This is nonsense. But when it gets stronger, that’s where the trouble is.
Mother Fevronia: I have the sin of irritation and anger. When I’m going to Liturgy, I tell myself: “Okay, I’m going to pray, ask God’s help, and I’m going to endure.” The Liturgy ends, I go to my cell, I head out for my obedience, and then—the phone rings. And I get so angry from something so simple! And that’s it—I lose. What do I say to myself? Reproaches. Previously I would have become despondent, but now I think: “I have to move on. Lord, have mercy and help me.” I have to keep going. Batiushka used to always tell us we have to maintain a good thought. I wondered how to do this. I just walk out of my cell, and nothing’s going my way. I remembered about this good thought, went to my obedience, and it let me go.
Fr. Andrei: Where’s your mistake? In that you said, “I will!” What can you do yourself? Had you said: “Lord, I want to, and I entreat Thine aid,” that would have been humble.
Mother Platonida (Shpakova): It’s hard for me to talk about it, because all of my skills were worldly. I came to God as an adult, and with what narcissistic and vain baggage! It’s probably impossible to battle with sin without God’s help. You keep stepping on the same rake. Sin repeats. You fall, get up, go on, the saints say. That’s what I try to do. I have good examples around me—the nuns who really are good examples. But I can’t share such experience; I haven’t managed the monastic life yet; for me, to be a good nun is a world away.
Fr. Andrei: I would put the question differently: Not how to change, but do you truly want to change?
If a man truly wants something, he will certainly achieve it. As Fr. Nikolai Guryanov said, “Want you want, you’ll receive.” But do you really want this, and what are you prepared to do to get it?
When does the path to repentance begin? When the soul begins to hurt from sin and can no longer live sinfully. Don’t justify yourself. The touch of God’s grace allows a man to see his sin and suffer from it.
Everything is very, very difficult. But if you make an effort, then certainly everything will change. And the person won’t even notice it. And if he starts saying: “That’s it, I’ve already seen the light; I’ve resigned myself,” then it’s game over.
It’s very difficult for all of us. But God is near, and He doesn’t demand anything unrealistic. He gives us what we can handle—the trials we have to go through in order to come to some conclusions.
Sister Svetlana: I’ve been remembering the Parable of the Talents a lot lately, in the context that if you fail to take an opportunity given to you by the Lord, then He’ll give it to another. And the Lord gives many opportunities, not just spiritual. But our laziness, our enervation doesn’t allow us to use these opportunities in time.
I’ll tell you about one experience. I was standing in church, struggling internally. Then one sister “added some spice to my soup.” She asked me to do something, and I reacted as if I’d been set on fire. I stood there thinking to myself that she definitely did it out of love for someone, and that’s how I reacted. Then I suddenly recalled the saying, “God is accepted in the heart by the one who yields.” But I didn’t want to yield. It’s hard for me, and then there’s this too. I gradually joined in the common prayer, and I should have thanked this sister for helping me get closer to God, but I complained instead…
And another thing: We often try to give someone something, to give something away, to yield, but there’s also the skill of accepting something. And there are many who haven’t developed this skill. And it often happens with me that I want to give something away, but the person doesn’t accept it. And the refusal is painful for me. And I think to myself: You need to learn the skill of accepting.
Fr. Andrei: This is called spiritual culture. You can go to church your whole life but remain insensitive. You have to always think about what state the person is in whom you’re talking to before you say or do something to him, so your words and actions would be edifying, not destructive.
Br. Sergei Kudlach: I had to go to the hospital. I was on the gurney waiting for surgery, and I was praying so hard because I knew that it was very, very serious. Then I was lying in my room after the surgery, and I had a prayer rope in my pocket that someone had given me. I started praying to the icons we have in the monastery church. I remembered all of them. That went on for two days. I couldn’t sleep for two days and I just prayed. It was a real school of prayer for me. And it’s so important.
Probably, if a sin becomes deeper, the person should get sick from it. Not always physically. Otherwise, you won’t be delivered from it. I love to eat excessively. But after I ended up in the hospital, this habit diminished. That’s the fight against sin for you. It seemed like a sickness, but I experienced a lot of joy during that time.
Any misfortune in our life can be transformed into a plus. God is waiting for us everywhere. We shouldn’t grumble.