Tidbits of wisdom from a hugely popular and influential Russian church leader, administrator, author and monk
Editor's note: Bishop Tikhon Shevkunov is a hugely popular and influential church leader, famous, among other things, for his hugely successful 2011 bestseller Everyday Saints, documentary film called the Byzantine Lesson and the colossal church he built in Moscow recently.
This conservative bishop has been the abbot of an ancient monastery in Moscow, Sretensky monastery (which also has one of the best choirs of Russia), but has recently been appointed as metropolitan of large region (Pskov and Porkhov). A Christian publication recently published a large compilation of his sayings. Here are some of our favorites:
Don’t live life in vain!
If a man has not come to terms with eternity in his own life, it means that he will not come to terms with it at all. And then his life will have been lived in vain. If a man has not asked himself these “cursed” questions, according to Dostoevsky’s famous expression, and has not tried with all his strength to answer them honestly, then that man has done absolutely nothing in his life. Even if he has planted a thousand trees, built entire cities and given birth to dozens of children. Christ leaves us these words: For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?(Matt. 16:26).
From a sermon on Pascha
Man’s soul is alive as long as it seeks God
Man’s soul is alive when it seeks God. Even if you are an archimandrite, a bishop or metropolitan, if your search for God stops, the soul begins to die.
On priests’ divorces, soviet songs, and the crash of education.
How to enliven the soul
In the Holy Scripture it is stated very clearly how to enliven the soul, how to make the soul young and alive again. Seek God and your soul shall live. Seek God no matter what! Seek Him stubbornly and insistently. And then the promise of our Lord Jesus Christ will be fulfilled: Seek and ye shall find.
But if the search for God, the thirst for God, the desire to comprehend His goes away, this is the cause for very serious concern. We have to labor with all possible means to renew this desire in our souls. Without this, nothing good will come. Or, in the best case, we will have to wait, like the parched earth waits for saving rain, for trials that shake up the soul, sickness, serious wounds and temptations.
The truth stays in man’s memory forever.
Perhaps the fearless truth that he had spoken to them, no matter how incomprehensible and bitter it had seemed at first hearing, had taken seed and remained in their memories. And that see would remain until such time as the person either accepted it or rejected I forever. Either choice was completely up to each person.
“Remember your first love”
The most joyful thing in spiritual life is to discover something new. Remember what joy you felt when you woke up on Sunday morning for Liturgy, how you voraciously read the holy fathers and ever discovered something new. If the Gospel doesn’t reveal anything to us it only means that we have closed ourselves to the discovery of something new. Remember the words of Christ to the Church of Philadelphia, Remember your first love.
“Cynicism is an illness of the professional Orthodox”
The Lord doesn’t like cowardice
The Lord does not like cowardice. This spiritual law was once revealed to me by Father Raphael, but in turn that law had been passed to him by Father Alipius. In one of his sermons Father Alipius had preached: “During the war I was a witness to how certain soldiers were so worried they might die of hunger that they would carry little bags of crumbs on their back. So worried were some about their little bags of bread crumbs, so eager were they to prolong their life rather than fight the enemy, that these people were invariably the first to be cut down by enemy fire. They perished along with their bread crumbs. But those who were willing to strip their backs if need be, and to die to fight the enemy—those were the ones who survived.”
Never lack of resolve
Once Fr. Seraphim (Rosenberg) started talking about monasticism. He said that the greatest problem with modern monasticism is the lack of resolve. Probably this can be said not only of monastics but also of many of our modern Christians. Resolve, courage, and the spiritual gratitude that is connected with them are noticeably waning. But if people would understand throughout their lives that the most important thing is to, regardless of any obstacles or temptations, go to God, to be faithful to Him, then they would not waiver in their faith to the point of losing it.
“Cynicism is an illness of the professional Orthodox”
Cynicism is unbelief
Cynicism and Christianity are not compatible. At the basis of cynicism, no matter how it tries to justify itself, is only one thing: unbelief.
The ancient evil will always persecute us
After all, upon taking monastic vows and becoming a priest, many things change in our lives, but not everything. The ancient evil that always dwells within us will always haunt us, and will never quit trying to steal in upon us in order to accomplish the Devil’s main goal—to steal our soul. Only ceaseless courageous battle with evil, solely for the remarkable goal that is incomprehensible to many—the purity of our soul—will justify us before God. But if Christ does not see this struggle within us, He turns away from us, from that priest, monk, or layperson who has turned from Him, leaving him alone with what he has chosen for himself. And that choice is the same as it always was—insatiable pride and desire for the pleasures of this world. As time passes, sooner or later these passions will subvert or even pervert someone who has forgotten about God. Then these passions reveal their true horrible dangers Then the Sea of Galilee will rise up, and from its abyss the enrage swine who were drowned long ago will race ashore and hurl themselves on the unfortunate who thought there could be any compromise between them and God.
Give your children time and creativity
The upbringing of children is a great and daily creative process. It is the parents’ hard work and constant, wise attention to their children. I have many times had to confess people on their deathbeds. Their confessions are not about not having earned a million dollars, built a luxurious home, or been successful in business. People in their final hours are first of all full of regret for not having done some good, not having helped or supported their family, friends, or even incidental acquaintances. The second thing that torments almost everyone before death is that they gave so little time to their children.
The Lord is waiting for our faithfulness
Our Lord expects faithfulness from us… Faithfulness to your commitment to love above all else in this world our Savior and Lord Jesus Christ, and to prefer nothing and no one else in this world to Him.
How to act toward those who offend us
Some say, “I am ready to forgive that person, but only if he comes to me himself and asks for forgiveness.” This is absolutely unchristian. No matter what we might encounter—insults, slander, or some kind of physical attack—we have an answer. And this answer was given to us by the Lord. He said, “If you are my disciples, do as I do. And the Lord ascends the cross and forgives His crucifiers. That is what Christ’s disciples do.
Interview on “Parsuna”, a television program by Vladimir Legoida
Hatred for another person is murder
The Orthodox Christian should in every way oppose not only hatred for his ill-wishers and enemies, but even any feelings of dislike. Because hatred for another person is murder. Thus does Christ teach us. Therefore I will perfectly sincerely love my benefactors and pray for them.
If Serebrennikov asked to meet with my I would not turn him down.
The everyday cross of non-judgment
We are called everyday to carry our cross of non-judgment. He who can understand this, take it in and fulfill it with faith in Christ will be holy. “Judge not and you shall not be judged,” says our Lord Jesus Christ. That is all. If you don’t want to be judged by the Fearful Judge about Whom we know, about Whom we are speaking, then don’t judge other people.
The Cross of Non-Judgment
From humility even the simplest of sinners comes closer to God.
If a man does not humble himself, he will never become a monk. God will not reveal himself to him, as the Lord, as He Who Is what He Is, and not as in books and stories of other people, but through personal revelation and experience. Without humility, years and decades will be wasted, and all of the highest ecclesiastical ranks will bring him only condemnation: the priesthood, an abbacy, a bishropric . . .
It is only in that way, through mysterious humility incomprehensible to the world, that a true Christian comes to one of the two greatest revelations in life. The first of these revelations is that one must discover the truth about oneself, and se oneself as one truly is. You must meet your own self. And believe me it’ the most important acquaintance. A vast number of people live their live never even bothering to discover themselves at all. Sometimes we onl have the vaguest notions or fantasies of who we are, and so dependin upon our own vanity, pride, resentments, and ambitions we see nothing. But the truth, however bitter it might seem to us, is that we are ‘wretched, and miserable, and poor, and blind, and naked.
True ascetics are everywhere
I myself see remarkable podvizhniks, simple laypeople, who teach and save me by humbling me, and showing me how it is possible to live in our time in a truly ascetic way, as Christians. These are ordinary people—women, youths, girls, and grown men. Not to mention the grandmothers, who read such prayer rules that when a monk hears about them—I tell you honestly—he feels uncomfortable. Moreover, they have been fulfilling these rules regularly for decades, with the absolute conviction that they are doing nothing special! A babushka reads so many kathismas for her eldest son, so many for the second, and so many for her youngest daughter. Then she says 1,500 Jesus prayers, just to get a feeling, if only a little, of her own sinfulness. Then the particular prayers of her prayer group, and an Akathist—how could she do without an Akathist?! I am telling you about the real prayer rule of a real parishioner. And such ascetics are innumerable! Besides this, they also work, go to the store, wash and iron clothes, and raise their children and grandchildren. But they are not proud or vain, they consider themselves to be nothing, and are ready at any moment to serve their neighbor. Just associating with such people is amazingly helpful for the faithless to find hope and resolve.