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Saint-Seraphim-of-Sarov-with-Nicholas-Alexandrovich-MotovilovIt was Thursday. The day was gloomy. The snow lay eight inches deep on the ground; and dry, crisp snowflakes were falling thickly from the sky when Father Seraphim began his conversation with me in a field adjoining his near hermitage, opposite the River Sarovka, at the foot of the hill which slopes down to the river bank. He sat me on the stump of a tree which he had just felled, and he himself squatted opposite me.

“The Lord has revealed to me,” said the great Elder, “that in your childhood you had a great desire to know the aim of our Christian life, and that you continually asked many great spiritual persons about it.”

I must say here that from the age of twelve this thought had constantly troubled me. I had, in fact, approached many clergy about it; but their answers had not satisfied me. This was not known to the Elder.

“But no one,” continued Father Seraphim, “has given you a precise answer. They have said to you: ‘Go to Church, pray to God, do the commandments of God, do good—that is the aim of the Christian life.’ Some were even indignant with you for being occupied with profane curiosity and said to you: ‘Do not seek things that are beyond you.’ But they did not speak as they should. And now poor Seraphim will explain to you in what this aim really consists.

“Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my son, only the good deed done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said:He who gathers not with Me scatters (Luke 11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, since even though it is not done for Christ’s sake, yet it is good. Scripture says: In every nation he who fears God and works righteousness is acceptable to Him (Acts 10:35). [1]

“As we see from the sacred narrative, the man who works righteousness is so pleasing to God that the Angel of the Lord appeared at the hour of prayer to Cornelius, the God-fearing and righteous centurion, and said: ‘Send to Joppa to Simon the Tanner; there shalt thou find Peter and he will tell thee the words of eternal life, whereby thou shalt be saved and all thy house.’ Thus the Lord uses all His divine means to give such a man in return for his good works the opportunity not to lose his reward in the future life. But to this end we must begin here with a right faith in our Lord Jesus Christ, the Son of God, Who came into the world to save sinners and Who, through our acquiring for ourselves the grace of the Holy Spirit, brings into our hearts the Kingdom of God and opens the way for us to win the blessings of the future life. But the acceptability to God of good deeds not done for Christ’s sake is limited to this: the Creator gives the means to make them living (cp Heb. 6:1). It rests with man to make them living or not. That is why the Lord said to the Jews: If you had been blind, you would have no sin. But now you say, We see, and your sin remains on you (Jn. 9:41). If a man like Cornelius enjoys the favour of God for his deeds, though not done for Christ’s sake, and then believes in His Son, such deeds will be imputed to him as done for Christ’s sake merely for faith in Him. But in the opposite event a man has no right to complain that his good has been no use. It never is, except when it is done for Christ’s sake, since good done for Him not only merits a crown of righteousness in the world to come, but also in this present life fills us with the grace of the Holy Spirit. Moreover, as it is said: God gives not the Spirit by measure. The Father loves the Son, and has given all things into His hand. (Jn. 3:34-35).

“That’s it, your Godliness [2]. In acquiring this Spirit of God consists the true aim of our Christian life, while prayer, vigil, fasting, almsgiving and other good works [3] done for Christ’s sake are merely means for acquiring the Spirit of God.”

…continue reading here.

Notes:

1. St. Seraphim is giving the sense of Acts 10:5ff. and not quoting literally.

2. Lit. “Your God-lovingness,” corresponding to the English idioms “Your Worship”, “Your Excellency”, etc.

3. “Good works.” It is one compound word in Russian, and may also be translated “virtue”.