By diligently looking into myself and examining the disposition of my soul, I became convinced that I do not love God, that I have no love for my neighbour, that I have no faith in spiritual realities, and that I am filled with pride and ambition. By thoroughly studying my feelings and actions, I actually found all the following in myself:
1. I do not love God. For if I did love Him, then I would ceaselessly think of Him with genuine pleasure, and each thought of God would bring me joyous delight. On the contrary, I far more frequently and far more willingly think about earthly matters, while thoughts of God are difficult for me and give rise to inner aridity. If I loved Him, then conversing with Him through prayer would nourish me; it would delight me and would draw me into unceasing communion with Him. Yet it’s quite the reverse – not only do I take no delight in prayer, but I find it difficult to pray. I struggle with reluctance, I am weakened by laziness, and I am ready to be distracted by any insignificant matter,Â just to shorten my prayers or even to stop praying altogether. When I am occupied with empty activities, time flies unnoticeably; but when I turn my thoughts to God, when I place myself in His presence, each hour seems like a year.
If someone loves another, his thoughts are always with the other, throughout the day – he pictures the other in his mind and is concerned for the other. No matter what he is occupied with, the beloved friend is ever in his thoughts. While I barely set aside even an hour during the day to immerse myself in deep meditation about God and to surrender myself to His burning love. Yet I eagerly spend twenty-three hours offering zealous sacrifices to my impassioned idols! Discussions of vain, worldly matters, ignoble subjects for the soul, stimulate and give me pleasure, while thoughts of God leave me arid, bored, and lazy. Even if others unwittingly draw me into discussions about divine matters, I quickly strive to change the subject to matters that flatter my passions. I am tirelessly curious for news, about civil appointments, about political events. I greedily strive to gratify my inquisitive nature about the secular sciences, the arts, acquisition of material things, while religious instruction, learning about God and religion, make no impression on me, they do not nourish my soul. And I consider this not only a nonessential activity for a Christian, but almost a foreign subject, one of secondary consequence, which I must study only at my leisure, in my spare time. In short, if one’s love of God is proved by fulfilling His commandments – “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word” (John 14:23), says the Lord Jesus Christ – and not only do I not observe His commandments, I hardly exert myself at all – then in all truth, the only possible conclusion is that I do not love God. . . . Saint Basil the Great also confirms this when he says, “The proof that man does not love God and His Christ lies in not keeping His commandments.”
2. I have no for my neighbour. For not only am I unable to decide to lay down my soul for the good of my neighbour (according to the Gospel), but I won’t even sacrifice my honour, happiness and peace for the good of my neighbour. Â If I loved him as myself, according to the Gospel, then his misfortune would distress me too, and his good fortune would delight me. Yet on the contrary, I am more curious to hear unfortunate accounts about my neighbour, and instead of distress, I feel Indifference – or, worse yet, I seem to take pleasure in this.Â And I do not bear my brother’s bad actions in silent love, but am judgmental and publicize them. His well-being, honour, and happiness do not delight me as if they were my own. Instead, they are alien to me and not only do they bring me no joy whatsoever, but in a subtle way, they even generate a kind of envy or contempt.
3. I have no faith in any spiritual realities. Not in eternal life.Â Not in the Gospel. If I were firmly convinced and believed steadfastly in an eternal life beyond death, with recompense for how one’s life was lived, then I would continuously reflect on this. The very thought of immortality would overawe me, and I would pass through this life as a stranger preparing to return to his homeland.Â Yet, on the contrary, I do not even think about eternity, and I see the end of this life as the limit of my existence.Â A secret thought nestles within me: Who knows what happens after death? If I even do say that I believe in eternal life, I do so only in my mind, but my heart is far from being convinced of this, and my actions and endless worries about satisfying my sentient needs clearly prove this.Â Â If my heart believed that the Holy Gospel contains the words of God, I would continually study it. I would delight in it and would look upon it with deep reverence.Â The wisdom, the goodness, and the love concealed therein would bring me great joy. I would delight in studying it day and night, and it would nourish me as if it were my only source of food.Â And I would genuinely strive to fulfill its commandments, while nothing in this world could ever make me abandon it.
Yet it is quite the reverse. If sometimes I happen to read or to listen to readings from the Scriptures, both of which happen either by necessity or out of curiosity, without even any deep concentration, I experience aridity and boredom. And, as from ordinary reading materials, I gain nothing and feel eager to read something secular instead, which satisfies me more and offers newer and more enticing subjects.
4. I am filled with pride and sensual self-love. All my actions confirm this: If I see any good in me, I want to display it, or else I brag about it to others, or I admire my own self. Although I am outwardly humble, inside I give myself all the credit for everything and consider myself either superior to others or, at the very least, not any worse than they. If I detect a vice within me, I try to make excuses for it, to justify it as an unavoidable or ingenuous action. I become angry with those who show me no respect and consider them incapable of assessing the worth of others. I am vain about my talents and view any failure as a personal insult. I murmur about and rejoice over the misfortunes of my enemies. If I even strive to do any good, I do so either for praise or for my personal spiritual advantage or social standing. In a word – I constantly create a personal idol of myself, whom I serve unceasingly, as everywhere I seek sensual satisfaction and nourishment for my wanton passions and lusts.
From all the above, I see myself as proud and lustful, lacking in faith, having no love for God, and despising my neighbour. What state could be more sinful? The spirits of darkness are in better shape than I am: Even though they do not love God, despise man, thrive on and are nourished by pride, at least they believe and tremble in the face of that faith. And I? Is there any fate worse than mine?, What could possibly be judged and punished more severely than a careless and foolish life, such as I realize I have lived?
After reading this confession given to me by the priest, I was horrified, and I reflected, “My God! What hideous sins lurk inside me, and I had never even been aware of them!”Â Now that I knew the cause of all these evils, a desire to cleanse myself of them compelled me to seek guidance from this great spiritual Father about how to find a way to heal myself. And he began to explain it all to me.
“You see, dear brother, the reason for not loving God is a lack of faith, and the reason for lacking faith is a lack of conviction. And the reasons for lacking conviction are a failure to seek pure and true knowledge and an indifference toward spiritual enlightenment. In a word: Without faith, it is impossible to love; without conviction, it is impossible to believe. And to acquire conviction, it is necessary to obtain complete knowledge of a given subject. Then, through reflection, studying the Scriptures, and learning to observe, one must rouse in the soul a thirst and a desire or, as others call it, an ‘awe’ which gives birth to an insatiable desire to know things more intimately, more deeply, and to penetrate the essence of their nature.
“One spiritual writer explains it this way, â€˜love,’ he says, ‘usually grows from knowledge; the deeper and more profound the knowledge, the greater the love, and the more easily a soul opens itself and becomes disposed to divine love, as it diligently contemplates the exceedingly perfect and exceedingly gracious essence of God and His boundless love for man.’
“Now you can see that the sins on the list you read are rooted in a laziness for reflecting on spiritual matters, which extinguishes the very need for such reflection. If you also want to know how to overcome this evil, then you must always strive for spiritual illumination. Acquire it by diligently studying the Scriptures and the Holy Fathers, and through reflection and spiritual guidance or discussions with those who possess wisdom about Christ. Ah, dear brother, how many calamities us because we are lazy about illuminating our soul with the words of truth;Â because we do not study, day and night, the law of the Lord, and do not pray about this diligently and persistently!Â This is why our inner man is hungry, and cold, and exhausted, and he lacks the strength to pursue vigilantly the way of truth that leads to salvation.
â€œSo as to derive profit from these methods, beloved one, let us resolve as often as possible to occupy our minds with reflection on heavenly matters, and the love that is poured into our hearts from on high will grow and will become a burning fire within us.Â Along with this, let us pray more often, as much as this is possible, for prayer is the primary and the most powerful means for our renewal and for advancing in the spiritual life. Let us pray with the supplication that the Holy Church teaches us, â€œLord: grant me to love you now, as I once loved sin itself!”Â Â After listening attentively to all this, I fervently asked this Holy Father to hear my confession and to give me Holy Communion.