February 6, 2015

How Can One Be Saved in the Present Times?

This is a question a certain Christian asked St. Barsanuphios the Great in the 6th century, to which he responded:

In every time, if a man can cut off his own will in everything, and have a humble heart, and death always before his eyes – he can be saved, by God’s grace; and wherever he might be, fear does not take possession of him, for such a one "forgets the things that are behind, and stretches forth to that which is ahead" (Philemon 3:13). Act thus, and you will be saved by God without sorrow.

Elsewhere he writes to a certain monk:

Brother, let him who wants to be saved and longs to be a child of God acquire great humility, obedience, submission and modesty. You ask: "Tell me what I must do". This is what I answer, and I guarantee that you will not be burned by the passions of the enemy. For they will be burnt away by humility as by a fire, and the heart enlightened by Christ will rejoice in his own peace.

In 1911, Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, following in the footsteps of his patron, wrote the following in a letter dated January 2nd:

Who will be saved? He that endures to the end shall be saved (Matt. 10:22).

Also, in the biography of Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, the following is written by Nun Elena (Shamonina) in her “Recollections of the Elder”:

On that trip, during one of our talks, the Elder took off the cap he wore in his cell and put it on me: “Let me see how my little child will look as a nun.”

I took this as a joke, because I had had no thoughts about monasticism. Even more – at the beginning of my acquaintance with the Elder I had asked him if, in his opinion, I could be saved in the world, because “I cannot and will not” enter a monastery, as I declared directly to him. I would like to present the Elder’s reply.

“It’s possible to be saved living in the world, only be careful! Imagine an abyss, at the bottom of which there bubbles a turbulent stream. From the water, every so often, horrible monsters thrust their heads out and open their jaws wide to swallow whoever falls into the water. You know that you have to cross over this abyss, and a narrow, thin pole is thrown across it. What a horror! The pole could suddenly break under you or your head could start spinning, and you would fall right into the jaws of the terrible monsters. How frightful! Might you cross it carefully? With God’s help, of course, everything is possible, but it’s frightful all the same. Suddenly someone tells you: ‘Look, over there on the right, two or three steps away there’s a bridge built on firm piers, with iron handrails – why tempt God, why risk your life? Isn’t it simpler to go across by that safe path?’ Have you understood me? The abyss is the sea of life, which we all have to get across. The pole is the path of the layman, and the bridge, protected on all sides, firm and stable, is the monastery.”

I answered then, that if that bridge was inaccessible to me, then with God’s help I would cross by way of the pole. And the Elder had agreed with me. With that the conversation about monasticism had ended for the time being, and therefore the Elder’s joke now with the cap surprised me. And it must be said that a whole four and a half years went by after this joke before it was fulfilled in reality.

Elder Barsanuphius of Optina, by Victor Afanasiev, Platina: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2000. 543-4.