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Elder Sophronios teaching on

Discovering the Will of God


It is good at all times and in all things to ask God for understanding of what to do or say, and in what manner. Saint Silouan Ways of acquiring knowledge of the Will of God: 1. Through the Word of God, through the commandments of God.
a. These express the will of God in its over-all, ultimate sense, whereas man in his everyday life is confronted with an endless complexity of situations, and very often does not see what to do to comply with Gods will b. We also need God to show us how to give effect to these commandments in our life. Even more strength from on high is vitalThe man who loves God never ceases to beseech Him for understanding, and keeps a constant ear for the sound of His voice in him

2. Through direct invocation in prayer: Every Christianwhen faced with the necessity of finding a solution consonant with the will of God, makes an inner rejection of all his own knowledge, his preconceived ideas, desires, plans. Freed of everything of his own, he then turns his heart to God in prayer and attention, and the first thought born in his soul after such prayer he accepts as a sign from on high. a. Such a search for the knowledge of Gods will through direct invocation in prayer leads man
to hear God answering him in his heartand he learns to interpret Gods guidance. Thus must we all of us learn to discern the Divine Will. And if we fail, we shall never find the way. b. In its more perfected form, this process is preceded by the practice of constant prayer with the mind in the heart. In order to hear the voice of God more surely, he must cast off his own will and be prepared for every sacrifice, like Abraham, like Christ Himself, Who became obedient unto death, even the death of the cross. c. To succeed, however, he must have learned by experience how the Grace of the Holy Spirit operates; and when fierce self-denial has taken root in the heart that is, if he has resolutely determined to deny his own petty individual will in order to acquire and fulfill the divine will. Then the real significance of Saint Silouans query of Father Stratonicos, How do the perfect speak? will be disclosed to him. i. Man is created in Gods image and likeness, and is called to fullness of direct communion with God. All men, therefore, without exception, should be treading this way, but in fact experience shows that such is by no means a path for everyone. This is because most people neither hear nor understand God speaking in their hearts; the listen to the urging of passion, which inhabits the soul and with its clamour drowns the still small voice of God.

3. Through the counsel of a spiritual father: In the Church another course lies open to us: to seek out and obey the counsels of a spiritual father. . . The Staretz did this and firmly believed that because of the faith of the one who turned to him, the spiritual fathers counsel would also be right, beneficial, pleasing to God.
a. On the psychological plane, too, he thought that it was not difficult to see the advantage of obedience to a spiritual father. He used to say that when a father-confessor answers a question in the performance of his ministry he is at that moment untouched by the passion influencing his inquirer, and so he can see more clearly, and is more easily accessible to the action of Gods grace. b. Notwithstanding the (human) inadequacy of the spiritual instruction, if accepted with faith and effectively heeded, it will always lead to an increase of good. i. This process is often subverted because the inquirer, seeing before him an ordinary man, hesitates, loses his faith a little, and do does not accept the first word of his spiritual father and raises objections, putting forward his own opinions and doubts. c. How can a monk find out the Divine Will? -- He must accept the first word (of the spiritual father) as the will of God. Divine grace rests on him who does so but if he resists me, then I, as a mere mortal, will back down. i. When Staretz Silouan would meet with resistance, he would fall silent. Why is this so? On the one hand, because the Spirit of God suffers neither violence nor argument. On the other, because the will of God is too great a matter to be contained or receive

perfect expression in the words of a spiritual father. Only the man who accepts these words of his spiritual father with faith as being pleasing to God, who does not submit them to his own judgment, or argue about them, has found the true path, for he genuinely believes that with God all things are possible. This is the way of faith, discerned and confirmed in the millennial experience of the Church.

4. When someone lacking experience sets out on the path (of seeking for the Divine Will through prayer), who cannot by the taste distinguish with any certainty between the action of grace and the manifestation of the passions (of pride, in particular), then it is absolutely vital to have recourse to a spiritual father, and when confronted with each and any spiritual phenomenon or insinuation to adhere strictly to the ascetic precept, neither accept nor reject, until ones spiritual father pronounces his ruling. 5. In its more perfect form, knowledge through prayer of the Divine Will is a rare phenomenon conceivable only after much effort, prolonged experience of struggle against the passions, frequent and painful tempting from demons, on the one hand, and Divine intervention on the other. But, ardent prayer for help is a good thing, and essential for all superiors and subordinates, the old and the young, teachers and learners, fathers and children. The Staretz insisted that everyone without exception, independently of his position, his circumstances or his age, should always and in all things pray God, each in so far as he knew how, for enlightenment, so that he might gradually conform his path to Gods holy will, until he attains perfection. 6. OBEDIENCE: The Staretz would pay quite exceptional attention to inner spiritual obedience to his Igoumen and spiritual father, considering this like a Church Mystery, like a gift of grace. When he turned to his spiritual father he would pray that the Lord through his servant might have mercy on him, reveal to him His will and the way to salvation. Knowing that the first thought that comes to the soul after prayer is a sign from on high, he would seize on his confessors first words, his first intimation, and go no further. In this lies wisdom and the secret of true obedience, the purpose of which is to know and fulfill Gods will, and not mans. Spiritual obedience of this kind, with no objections, no resistance, expressed or unexpressed, is the sin qua non for receiving the living tradition.
a. Many people make the mistake of looking upon a spiritual guide as just an ordinary man like themselves, having like failings. (They think they must explain all the circumstances to him, otherwise he wont understand). But those who contradict and correct their spiritual father place themselves above him and are no longer disciples. True nobody is perfect, and there is no man alive who would venture to teach like Christ, as one having authority... but the potters clay encompasses the priceless treasure of the gifts of the Holy Spirit not only priceless but by their very nature not to be made known, and only he who pursues the path of true and absolute obedience can penetrate into this secret storehouse. b. The prudent novice or penitent approaches his confessor in this wise: briefly he mentions the thoughts that trouble him, or explains the essentials of his condition, and then leaves the confessor free. The latter, in prayer from the very outset, awaits enlightenment from God, and then if he feels inspired pronounces his judgment, which must be the end of the matter, because if the confessors first word is let slip, the efficacy of the mystery is sapped and confession can become an ordinary exchange of opinions. . .If the penitent encumbers him with his own interpretations, he thereby uncovers the poverty of his faith and understanding, and yields to a secret desire to influence the confessor to his own way of thinking. This is the start of a psychological combat which St. Paul termed unprofitable (Heb. 13:17). Obey them that have the
rule over you, and submit yourselves: for they watch for your souls, as they that must give account, that they may do it with joy, and not with grief: for that is unprofitable for you.

c. The Staretz would say: It is one thing to believe in God, another to know Him. d. In the vast sea which is the life of the Church the true tradition of the Spirit flows like a thin
pure stream, and he who would be in this stream must renounce argument. When anything of self is introduced, the waters no longer run clear, for Gods supreme wisdom and truth are the opposite of human wisdom and truth. Such renunciation appears intolerable, insane even, to the self-willed, but the man who is not afraid to become a fool (I Cor. 3:18-19) has found true life and true wisdom.