by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
Conversation and association with neighbors has a great influence on man. Conversation and contacts with a learned person impart much knowledge; with a poet-many lofty thoughts and feelings; with a traveler-much information about the countries, morals, and manners of people. It is obvious: conversation and acquaintance with the Saints imparts saintliness.
“With the merciful Thou wilt show Thyself merciful; with an upright man Thou wilt show Thyself upright; with the pure Thou wilt show Thyself pure” (Psalm 17:26-27).
From now on, during this brief life on earth, which Holy Scripture did not even call life, but wandering, become acquainted with the Saints. You want to belong to their company in heaven; you want to be a partaker of their blessedness? From now on come into contact with them. When you leave the temple of the body, they will bring you unto themselves as their acquaintance, as their friend (St. Luke 16:9).
There is no closer familiarity, no closer bond, than the bond of oneness of thoughts, oneness of feeling, oneness of goal (I Corinthians 1:10).
Wherever there is oneness in opinion, unfailingly there is oneness of soul as well, and unfailingly there is one goal and identical success in attainment of the goal.
Make the thoughts and spirit of the Holy Fathers your own by reading their writings. The Holy Fathers attained the goal: salvation. And you will attain this goal in the natural course of events. As one united thought and soul with the Holy Fathers you will be saved.
Heaven received the Holy Fathers into its blessed bosom. By this it gave witness that it was well-pleased by their thoughts, feelings, and deeds. The Holy Fathers set forth their thoughts, their heart, their mode of action, in their writings. Therefore, what a faithful guide to heaven, as witnessed to by heaven itself, are the writings of the Holy Fathers.
The writings of the Holy Fathers were all set down by the inspiration or rather under the influence of the Holy Spirit. There is a wonderful harmony in them, a wonderful anointment! He who is guided them, without any doubt, is guided by the Holy Spirit.
All the waters of the earth flow into the ocean, and, perhaps, the ocean serves as a source for all the earth’s waters. The writings of the Holy Fathers are all united in the Gospel; they are all directed towards teaching us the exact fulfillment of the Commandments of our Lord Jesus Christ; the source and end of them all is the Holy Gospel.
The Holy Fathers teach how to approach the Gospel, how to read it, how to understand it properly, what contributes to and what hinders comprehending it. Therefore, at the beginning concern yourself more with reading the Holy Fathers. When they have taught you how to read the Gospel, then, in preference, read the Gospel.
Do not imagine that reading of the Gospel alone is sufficient for you, without reading the Holy Fathers. This is a proud and dangerous thought. It is better to let the Holy Fathers lead you to the Gospel as their beloved child, receiving your preliminary upbringing and education through their writings.
A great many, all rejecting the Holy Fathers in foolishness and conceit and starting the Gospel spontaneously, with blind daring, with impure mind and heart, fell into disastrous errors. The Gospel rejected them; it admits only the humble.
Reading of the Fathers’ writings is the parent and king of all virtues. From reading of the Fathers’ writings we learn the true understanding of Holy Scriptures, the true faith, living according to the Gospel commandments, the deep reverence, which we must have for the Gospel commandments-in short, salvation and Christian perfection.
Reading the writings of the Holy Fathers, with the decrease of Spirit-bearing teachers, becomes the principal guide for those wishing to be saved and even to attain to Christian perfection. The books of the Holy Fathers, as one of them expressed it, are like a mirror; looking into them attentively and frequently, the soul can see all its deficiencies. Again, these books are like a rich collection of means of healing; in them the soul can seek out a saving cure for each of its diseases.
Saint Epiphanius of Cyprus said,
“One look at sacred books rouses one to a pious life.”
Reading of the Holy Fathers must be careful, attentive and constant; our invisible enemy (Satan), hating the voice of surety (Proverbs 11:15), is especially hateful when this voice comes from the Holy Fathers. This voice exposes the schemes of our enemy, his slyness; it reveals his webs, his mode of action. Therefore the enemy arms himself against reading of the Fathers with various proud and blasphemous thoughts; he seeks to plunge the struggler for salvation into vain cares, so as to divert him from salutary reading; he attacks him with despair, boredom, and forgetfulness. From this warfare against the reading of the Holy Fathers, we ought to conclude how salutary a weapon it is for us, being so hated by the enemy. The enemy strives mightily to throw it out of our hands.
Let each one choose reading of the Holy Fathers for himself in accordance with his way of life. Let the recluse read the Fathers who wrote on hesychasm; the monk living in a community-Fathers writing the directions for monastic communities; the Christian living amid the world-the Holy Fathers who pronounce their teachings in general for all Christendom. Let each one, whatever his calling, draw abundant admonition (advice) from the writings of the Fathers.
Without fail reading must be in accordance with your way of life. Otherwise, you will find yourself with thoughts, which, even though holy, cannot be carried out in actual action, inciting fruitless activity only in your imagination and wishes; acts of piety, which are not in accordance with you way of life, will slip from your hands. It is not enough that you will become a fruitless daydreamer; your thoughts, being in constant contradiction to your round of activity, will unfailingly give birth to unceasing confusion in your heart, uncertainty in your behavior, which are burdensome and harmful for yourself and for your neighbor. With improper reading of the Holy Scriptures and Holy Fathers, you can easily wander from the way of salvation into impassable thickets and deep pits, which, indeed, has happened to many.