by St. Barsanuphius of Optina 1845-1913
St. John Climacus was asked if there are reliable signs by which it’s possible to know whether a soul is drawing near to God or moving away from Him. After all, regarding ordinary things there are clear signs as to whether they’re good or not.
When, for instance, cabbage, meat or fish begins to rot, it’s easy to notice it, since the rotting object begins to give off a foul odor, the color and taste change, and its external appearance witnesses to its deterioration. Well, and what about the soul? After all, it’s bodiless and can’t give off a bad smell or change its appearance. To this question the Holy Father replies,
“A sure sign of the deadening of the soul is the avoidance of church services.”
A man who is growing cold towards God begins first of all to flee attending church. At first he tries to come to services later, and then he ceases altogether to visit God’s temple. Therefore it’s mandatory for monks to attend church services. True, it’s sometimes permitted, due to urgent matters, not to go to all the services, but when possible, it’s regarded as a necessary duty. Here in the Skete we even make the rounds of the cells on feast days, so that no one evades church services.