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The Spiritual Counsels of Starets Parfeny
Hiero-schemamonk Parfeny was born on August 24, 1790, to poor parents who lived in a village in the province of Tula. From an early age, he was disposed towards the spiritual life and with the blessing of his bishop, he left the seminary where he was studying, to become a novice, in 1819, at the Kiev-Caves Lavra.
He occupied his mind with prayer day and night and labored assiduously to fulfill his obedience in the monastery bakery. He was noted for his meekness, gentleness and purity.
The abbot tonsured him on September 20, 1824, with the name Paphnuty, and thereafter his prayers intensified. Soon he was ordained deacon and then hieromonk, on December 26, 1830.
For some years, Fr. Paphnuty fulfilled the duty of a spiritual father of the monastery. He suffered much from such an acquaintance with the evil workings of the enemy of our salvation and drew closer to God as a result. In 1838, Metropolitan Philaret (Amphiteatrov) of Kiev invested him with the great schema, which he had requested, and named him Parfeny.
Fr. Parfeny had a special devotion to the Mother of God and he was granted the grace of many visions, not only of the Blessed Virgin, but of Christ and the saints.
His life now was spent in a narrow little cell; in spring and summer he lived in a dense thicket of the orchard and devoted himself completely to silence, solitude and prayer. His solitude, however, was constantly interrupted by the continual stream of worshippers and spiritual children.
In the later years of his life, he celebrated the liturgy daily and continued his daily reading of the Psalter, which he had long known by heart. He was a true hesychast and always awoke with prayer on his lips.
Finally, he became so enfeebled physically that it was difficult for him to move around, and so a chapel was set up in his cell where he received Communion daily. He was beset by a violent coughing which gradually worsened and breathing became difficult for him. On Great Thursday, 1856, he spoke with his closest spiritual children and gave spiritual advice and instruction. He reposed on Great Friday and was buried in the grounds of the hermitage whose solitude he had formerly loved so much.
Father Parfeny has given us the following spiritual counsels:
Circumspection is the loftiest of all virtues; through it the soul opposes the passions and thoughts that assail it.
Circumspection is above all; patience is the most needed of all; silence is the best of all; much talking is the worst of all.
The loss of grace is the most fearsome loss of all; there is no more woeful state than the state of a man who has lost grace. There are only a few who, having lost it, have received it back, and then only by the greatest struggles. One must have unceasing vigilance in order to preserve it. It is granted to us freely, by the compassion of God alone; but for its preservation we must add our own diligence.
The enemy wars against us without sleeping. First he attacks us from the left side; that is, he tempts us with our passions and desires; and when he can attain nothing from the left side, he attacks from the right side, that is, in our own good deeds he lays his traps for a fall.
The more you draw near to God, the more mightily the enemy pursues you. Therefore, if you come to work for the Lord, prepare your soul for temptation.
The enemy sows his tares in all our good deeds.
One must never quickly follow his own thought, even though it may appear to be good, but must test it for a time.
In order to attain patience in sorrows and temptations, believe that all that happens to us is by the will of God.
In order to attain patience in sorrows and temptations, believe that all that happens to us is by the will of God.
It is extremely dangerous to follow one's own thoughts and judgment in the work of salvation. Our mind is the limited eye of the flesh, which can only see and discern external and material matter; but we must trust the loftier ways of God Himself through our father and director, and in all things follow his judgments.
Our wishes and intentions continually change and scatter like dust. Thus, we must endlessly mortify our will and trust the will of our guide.
Beware of judging another, and so as not to fall into this temptation of the tongue, do not look at what others do.
Love of the poor and non-possessiveness prepare great treasures for the soul.
An indescribable benefit flows from solitude, but prayer must be inseparable from it.
Solitude and prayer are above every good thing.
He has attained prayer does not have time even to think of anything earthly; conversations, the sight of people and all that distracts him from God weigh upon him.
It is indescribably difficult to attain true prayer. Often the soul, because of this struggle, is brought to the very gates of death. But for him who is granted to attain it, it is like a pain that grows in the heart and nothing can take it away.
Love for God can be kindled in the heart only by ceaseless prayer.
External solitude must be accompanied by internal solitude. Only the complete separation from men, in body and thought, can grant peace to the soul.
The enemy brings despair to every soul that wishes to be saved.
The fear of God, being more than fasting and all ascetic struggles, wears out the body. For him who has attained it, there exists neither earthly sorrow nor joy.
Man with all his efforts, but without the cooperation of God, cannot arrange either his external life or the state of his soul. Without God, he does not even reach the threshold.
Our human will is only to desire the good and to seek out means for the good, but God is He Who perfects and does every good. Evil comes from us.
To lead a good life, to do good, to think good -- this is not a sacrifice to God, but man's duty to Him.
In order to escape from distress and maintain the spirit of prayer, avoid every kind of conversation and visiting, count solitude above all, and frequently contemplate death.
Death is desirable for those who love God, but fearsome for those who are not prepared.
The preservation of physical purity must be accompanied by the preservation of purity of thoughts.
Purity of body and thoughts can be attained only by unceasing prayer and the striving of the mind towards God; the coming of the Holy Spirit consumes and destroys all passions.
Anger, vainglory or high-mindedness and judging of one's neighbor drive away the grace of the Holy Spirit.
Honor that comes from men must be hateful for the soul that seeks salvation and knows its own infirmity.
Over-indulgence in food brings more harm to the soul than to the body, and excess sleep is a result of excess food.
The slightest attachment, not only to a person but to a thing, arouses the anger of God and prepares the way for corruption.
For the attainment of perfect purity, do not have any attachment, even spiritual, either to man or to things; love everyone with perfect love, as yourself, but without attachment, that is, do not desire the sight or presence of the person you love and do not take pleasure in the thought of him.
Silence is a great virtue; the slave of the tongue shall not be corrected on earth.
Much talking drives away grace and destroys warmth of soul.
Non-possessiveness and prayer are essential for salvation. Prayer gives birth to non-possessiveness, non-possessiveness to prayer.
He who himself has not attained to a measure of perfection and begins to instruct others destroys even what he had.
Employ every means for the attaining of peace of soul, but you will not find it by any other means than prayer and solitude.
We fall into conflict with others because we do not wish to deny ourselves, in accordance with the word of God.
A person who has been touched by grace cannot be other than peaceful, nor can he be offended by his neighbor over anything.
One must be peaceful and indifferent when our neighbor is angry with us: do not be wounded by words, or disturbed by threats; for they cannot have the slightest influence on our future; there will only be what God decrees.
The Kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force (Matt. 11:12). This force is not limited only by abstinence from the passions and food, but extends also to all our internal and external actions and movements. Do everything in opposition to the desire of the flesh; it wants to lie down in rest, force yourself to the opposite; it wants to lean back while sitting, abstain -- and so in everything.
One must force oneself, even against one's will, to prayer and to every good.
Perfect poverty for Christ is a great treasure for the soul, but it can be contained in a man only with the firm and unshakeable hope in the Providence of God. Have this hope without any doubt, and the Lord will not permit you to die from hunger, or to have any need; but doubt only for a moment, or seek the help of man, or hope on yourself and the Providence of God will abandon you. Peter, while yet in the body, could walk on the water, until he doubted in thought.
God's help withdraws when human help arrives. A certain desert-dweller was served by the angels, but when men came and began to minister to him, the angels withdrew from him.
There is no limit to God's providence for us. He invisibly leads us. Nothing occurs without the will of God; for everything, there is ordained a day and hour. Put all your hope in God, and he will provide for you, but if you take care only of yourself, He will help you, but His all-acting Providence will withdraw from you.
For the reception of the Holy Spirit, it is essential to humble the flesh; give up the flesh and receive the Spirit.
The Holy Spirit does not dwell in a fattened body, even though it be virtuous. In order to be the temple of God, the soul and the body must be pure and holy.
The Holy Spirit dwells in simple hearts. Internal simplicity must be poured out on all our externals -- simplicity in everything: in speech, in appearance. Do not appear reverent, do not look down, do not speak cleverly in a loud voice. Even though you compose your external appearance with good intention, grace will abandon you.
Every blessed soul is simple, just, merciful, loving, without pride, without guile, without pretensions, without suspicion, abstinent and fearful of God.
Guilelessness and simplicity, above all other virtues, call down upon us the grace and mercy of God.
God turns away from him who remembers wrongs. With the one who prays while nurturing hurt against his neighbor, the demons instead of angels are present and his prayer is sinful.
Do not play tricks in the matter of salvation. Do not seek out special paths. Do not take special struggles upon yourself; but as things come along, the Lord will send you strength. Only unceasingly and mercilessly force yourself to every good.
Evil attaches itself to us like a contagious disease. If you will frequently be with a person who loves to talk, with a gossip, with a lover of the world, you yourself, imperceptively, will begin to fall into those same faults. And the opposite is true: turn frequently to a spiritual person and a man of prayer, and those same virtues will be poured into you also.
For an impure and passionate person, even his possessions are tainted with his passions. Do not touch them, do not use them.
One cannot tell another of his struggles and rule of prayer. Even if this is not from vainglory, still the gift you expose will be taken from you.
Poverty and non-possessiveness are the essential property of a monk.
He who would be a true monk must have extreme non-possessiveness and seek out how to do without even the essentials.
True prayer is that which grew in the soul and is accomplished by the spirit. For its attainment, a great struggle of mind and body is necessary.
A monk must serve his own self in everything and nourish himself by the work of his hands.
A monk must live alone, and the other one with him must be the Lord.
For a true monk, nothing and no one exist on earth. His joy and delight is in unceasing prayer. He loves all people, but is lonely among them because they separate him from God.
For a monk, the most faithful way to salvation is solitude and unceasing prayer therein. Without prayer, one cannot bear solitude. Without prayer, on can never be united with God, and without this union, salvation is doubtful.
The adornment of a monk is his cell, that is, dwelling in it without going out. No one returns to his cell the same as he left it.
Derision, beatings and insults are God's gift for a person leading the monastic life and they are grace from on high; the saints are perfected by sorrows.
It is good to be with God everywhere, and without Him it is extremely lonely both in paradise and in hell; for there is a paradise on earth like the heavenly one, and there is also a hell, only they are invisible, just as God is in heaven and also on the earth; only here everything is invisible, but there everything is visible -- God and paradise and hell.
If God is with us invisibly on earth, this is a sign that He will be with us in heaven. If we do not see God on earth with the heart, we will not see Him in heaven.
A monk who is careless over his salvation is a mocker of God. It would be better for that monk to have rotted in his mother's belly since he has not taken care of his calling.
The reading of the Psalter calms the passions, and the reading of the Gospel consumes the tares of our sins; for the word of God is consuming fire. Once for forty days I read the Gospel for the salvation of a benefactor of mine and I saw in my sleep a field, covered by tares. Suddenly there fell down fire from the heavens, consumed the tares that covered the field, and the field remained clean. Puzzling over this vision, I heard a voice: the tares covering the field are the sins of the soul that benefited you; the fire that consumed them is the Word of God which you read for it.
Having as his rule to read the Gospel daily and to read it through frequently, the elder gave this rule to his disciples also, to his spiritual children. He gave them Gospels with dedications, such as:
"Here I transfer grace to you -- the holy Gospel. Read all four Gospels every week, that you may attain grace and knowledge of the true God and receive a good end, and not be deprived of eternal rejoicing, by beholding the three Hypostases shining in the Godhead in one essence."
"Here for you, children of God, are the Gospels of the Passion. Read them through, whenever you have the opportunity, and especially in times of sorrow, that the Lord may console you. All things work for good for him who loves the Lord, and it is good to be with God, and it is lonely without Him, and then all is evil for us."
"I give this book, the Gospel, to my spiritual child for his obedience to me ... Receive this commandment from me, the unworthy one; read through all four Gospels every two weeks. This book is the mother of all books; just as it is the prayers of prayers and is the guide to the kingdom of heaven, and brings men on earth to true knowledge, and grants them to behold God with the heart while still in the flesh, and makes them worthy to delight in the future age, face to face in the vision of the Holy Trinity."
"Here for you, my spiritual child, is my Gospel. Pray for me and remember my love for you; and above all pray by an honorable and simple life. Patience is needed above all, preserve virginity, seek out silence: for in a talkative monk salvation is dubious; silence gathers and talking scatters. Pray ardently; do not spare yourself. Insult, beatings and abuse are God's gift for a monk and grace from on high."
"May the blessing of God be upon you, my spiritual child, the protection of our undoubted hope, the Theotokos, and the assistance of the Wonder-workers of the Caves. Here for you is the commanded rule of monastics: having risen from sleep, read the akathist to the Savior, and before going to sleep, the akathist to the Mother of God and five kathismas each day; the whole Gospel every two weeks, and leave the canons for church. Do not be given over to various reading, and do the inter-hours with the Jesus prayer, adding to it also the Rejoicings to the Theotokos. You know that human salvation is vain, but in God we perfect strength and He lays low our enemies. Pray also for me and remember my love, and I entrust you to the grace of the All-Holy Spirit. Amen."