Life Advice from a Famous Contemporary Russian Elder, Abbot Nikon Vorobiev (1894-1963)

He survived arrest, imprisonment, and exile to Siberian camps. He lived as an ascetic, relating to himself with utmost strictness, and to others with love.... His advice on the spiritual life was based on personal experience and full of the light of God’s grace.

Originally appeared at: Orthodox Christianity

September 7 we remember Igumen Nikon (1894-1963). Fr. Nikon (in the world Nikolai Nikolaevich Vorobiev) was born in Tsarist Russia and became witness to all the tragic and great events of the twentieth century: the revolution, several wars, repression, social upheaval and scientific discoveries.

The son of a peasant, intelligent and talented, he was distinguished among six brothers in seriousness, especial honesty, meekness and a kind-hearted disposition. He always wanted to get to the essence, to discover the meaning of life. He was never a shallow person, always searching for the depths. Fr. Nikon maintained these characteristics his entire life.

It was foretold already in his childhood that he would be a monk, and having become a monk in the years of the closing of monasteries and destruction of churches, he struggled ascetically until the end of his days in the world, in a parish.

He survived arrest, imprisonment, and exile to Siberian camps. He lived as an ascetic, relating to himself with utmost strictness, and to others with love. He acquired the unceasing Jesus Prayer and the gift of spiritual discernment. His advice on the spiritual life was based on personal experience and full of the light of God’s grace.

Peace of soul and with others

Don’t retreat from the Lord until He has forgiven you and granted you peace of soul. Peace of soul is a sign of forgiveness from the Lord.

Preserve peace with yourself, and then with others.

It’s better to ruin business but keep peace with others. Don’t forget it.

Try to live with everyone so that they depart from you comforted and thanking the Lord for you.

Sins against our neighbors weigh very heavily on our conscience. The Lord forgives such sins only when we have ourselves made peace with our neighbors.

In my opinion, we should relate to people as a doctor to the sick. We are all sick with every illness—it’s just that one is more obvious in one man, and another in another.

There, that is in a hospital, they don’t berate someone who is sick in his lungs, heart, or stomach. They don’t say: “Oh, you blind scoundrel, sick in your eyes!” And similarly we must not abuse one another for spiritual illnesses, but endure and pity one another: Bear ye one another's burdens, and so fulfil the law of Christ—says the apostle.

The flame of the true “I”

People are in essence, in their depths better than the manifestations we see in their lives.

We are all covered over with garbage, but nonetheless the flame of the true “I” glimmers out from under it.

Enmity renders useless all our deeds

I held onto enmity for so long that it rendered useless all my deeds. The Lord receives neither prayer nor repentance nor charity from a man who has enmity with others.

There’s no earthly truth which can justify enmity. I say “earthly” because heavenly truth gives both internal and external peace. If someone whom you consider your enemy dies, you will suffer, because sooner or later you will feel your guilt. Usually it comes during prayer. If you die in enmity (may it not be so), then know that all of your good works and all your hope for salvation will perish. You will go into the hands of your sown hatred. The Heavenly Kingdom is a kingdom of love and peace. Enmity cannot enter therein.

If we want someone to overcome himself and alter his attitude towards us, then we ourselves should first completely banish from our hearts any dislike towards him. Then the Lord will inform his heart.

Don’t judge anyone

Never speak badly or ironically about anyone… Your words can be transmitted even not out of spite or ill-will, but simply from inattentiveness or as a joke—and now you have gained an enemy.

The path to salvation is by repentance for your sins, not in judging others. If a person judges others then it means he doesn’t feel his own sins and has no repentance. And conversely—non-judgment of others is a sign of consciousness of our sins and repentance. Take care of your business with which you have been entrusted; don’t bother with others’ business; keep quiet as much as possible; never burden others; as a rock in the sea, let all the words that you hear drown within yourself; pity all, and bid farewell to all in your soul, and in reality if you have such a chance.

Close your eyes to others’ sins, but if it’s impossible not to see, then pray for these sinners, as for yourself, that the Lord would forgive them, and you will receive grace from the Lord.

Those who offend us are our best teachers

It’s also needful that someone should offend us, but not without any basis, and to reveal, although exaggeratedly, our deficiencies. I speak not from theory, but have myself experienced more than once this benefit, and I say with complete conviction that those who offend us are our best teachers.

Read good books more

I advise you again: read good books more. There are few people you can benefit from, and they’re always busy or sick, but you can always read a book.

Don’t fear anything

Don’t fear anything. Embed into yourself the thought that in the whole world not even the slightest movement occurs without the knowledge and permission of God.

The Lord guides and arranges circumstances such that it’s easier for a man to be saved.

Sometimes a man finds himself in such circumstances that in a given city, in a given place he cannot find salvation. Then the Lord arranges it so that there arises a need for him or his family to relocate to another place. There he meets believers who become his friends and facilitate the strengthening of his faith. There, perhaps, there will turn out to be a nearby church or some faithful people who help his family find salvation.

Here’s a man suffering from alcoholism and depravity. All his free time is wasted searching for pleasure in drunkenness and debauchery. The merciful Lord sees it, pities his family, and pities this man. What to do with him? The Lord sends him such an illness that he can’t dream about vodka or debauchery. On the contrary, he begins to consider his former life, its meaninglessness, and begins to repent of his transgressions, confessing them, and in this way is saved.

If a man cannot, for example, conquer gluttony, or alcoholism, or fornication, the Lord sends him an illness. A proud and pompous man the Lord will demean before all so that he becomes the least of men in the eyes of all. If this man—a Christian, is bound to the earth and all his strength, all his desires, all his dreams are aimed towards it, whether by truth or falsehood, thievery, deception—by any means—to acquire earthly prosperity, then the Lord will take away all that he has. Thus to all our labors in our own battle with sin, the Lord sends involuntary grief as an aid in our battle.

The Lord attends to the needs of those who trust Him

Seek the Kingdom of God and its righteousness, and, according to the immutable word of the Lord Himself, a word more sure than heaven and earth, all your material needs will be added to you. The Lord tests all of His servants, and looks after them, after their spiritual and bodily needs and provides everything at the necessary time to those who trust in Him, and not in their abilities, strengths, skills, and so on.

He who seeks to please God will not be abandoned by God, as long as he doesn't abandon Him.

The only path—patient suffering

There remains for our times only one path: patient suffering.

There will be no personal podvigs for those seeking the Kingdom of God. Finding salvation will come only through patience in sickness and sorrow. And why not podvigs? Because people won’t have humility, and without humility podvigs bring more harm than good, and can even kill a man, because they involuntarily cause a high opinion of oneself for the one who has labored, and they bring forth prelest.

Only with the guidance of very spiritual experienced people should this or that podvig be permitted, but we don’t have such now—they can’t be found. Now the Lord Himself is our guide and partially books for those who have and can understand them. How does the Lord lead? He permits persecution, abuse, sicknesses, and prolonged old age with its burdens and infirmities.

The sorrows necessary for a man’s salvation can be received either more difficultly or more easily depending on his constitution. If a man accepts on faith the word of God about the necessity and inevitability of sorrows for salvation, if he acknowledges his innumerable sins in word, deed, and thought, and considers himself fully deserving of not only those sorrows sent, but even of much more, humbling himself before God and man, then his sorrow will become easier.

If a man murmurs about his sorrows and illnesses and looks for the perpetrator of these sorrows in people, demons and circumstances, using all means to try to avoid them, then the enemy will help him in this, showing him the alleged perpetrator (supervisors, orders, neighbors, and so on), and arousing enmity and hatred and the desire for revenge, and to abuse him, and so on.

People and circumstances are merely God’s instruments, often not understanding what they do.

The wise and believing man uses sorrow for great success in the spiritual life, but the unwise and grumbling man loses the opportunity to acquire it, hurting himself, unnerving both his body and soul.

If you don’t want afflictions then don’t sin

If you don’t want afflictions then don’t sin, and sincerely repent of your sins and unrighteousness, and do no evil to your neighbors neither in deed nor word nor even in thought. Attend church more often, pray, and treat others with mercy, and then the Lord will have mercy upon you, and if it’s useful, He will free you from your afflictions.

Cure for sadness and grief

The cure for sadness and grief is prayer or psalmody and thanksgiving to the Lord. If you compel yourself to read the Psalter with attention and intersperse it often with the Jesus Prayer and prayers to the Mother of God and all the saints, then your grief will subside and you will receive great spiritual benefit.

When you battle with despondency or sadness then compel yourself to mentally say: “Glory to Thee, O God, glory to Thee, O God! I thank Thee, O Lord, that Thou hast sent me this illness for the salvation of my soul. Glory to Thee, O Lord, glory to Thee.” Say these dozen words a hundred times, with conviction, from your whole heart, and in a short time you will feel relief in your heart, peace and tranquility, strength and patience. It is a sign of the visitation of the grace of God.

The best path is the middle path

If we get too upset over external difficulties, it’s a sign of little faith; if too upset over those internal, it’s a sign of pride.

Don’t demand from yourself more than you’re capable of. Hope on the mercy of God and not on your own virtues.

Don’t overload your body with labors. The best path is the middle path. A body too healthy and a body too weak are equally obstructive.

Not works, but humility inclines the Lord to mercy

Success in the spiritual life is not measured by spiritual consolations, which could come from the evil one, but by the depth of humility.

Not works, but humility inclines the Lord to mercy.

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