Letters of Elder Macarius of Optina

St. Macarius
  of Optina

II. Blessed are they that mourn:
for they shall be comforted

1. Sorrow

I thank you for having unveiled to me the sadness of your grief-stricken heart; a great radiance comes over me when I share with others their sorrow. Complete, perfect, detailed compassion is the only answer I can give to your tender love of me that has led you, at such a time, to seek me out in my distant, silent, humble hermitage....

Christ says, as it were: I accepted the cross for the salvation of mankind; and whomsoever I specially long to draw unto myself, on him do I first shower sorrows; his heart do I first pierce with arrows dipped in the wormwood of grief. This I do so that he may die to the extreme fascination, to the sweetness, of transitory joys and powers. The scourge of sorrows is the banner of my love. Thus did I wound the heart of my servant David; but when the stream of tribulations had separated him from the world, then did a dread meditation, an unwonted, blessed trend of thought well up in his mind and take full possession of his whole being....

In the ground of the Christian’s heart, sorrow for the dead soon melts, illumined by the light of true wisdom. Then, in place of the vanished grief, there shoots up a new knowledge made of hope and faith. This knowledge does not only wash the soul of all sadness; it makes it glad.

Fanaticism shackles the mind; faith gives it the wings of freedom. This freedom is apparent in a quiet firmness, unruffled by any circumstances, fortunate or unfortunate. The sword that cuts us free of shackles is the purified mind; the mind that has learned to discern the true, the secret, the mysterious cause and purpose of every occurrence. Purification of the mind is gained through frequently pondering on our utter insignificance; but this pondering should always be veiled in a throbbing, living prayer: for God’s protection and His help. [47]

2. Failure

And so your good intentions have been frustrated by forces entirely outside your control. In the hard days to come, keep constantly in mind that God knows well how firm was your resolution, how keen your eagerness to act; and He may record your intention as having the value of an accomplished fact. He is particularly likely to do so if your humility remains quick, if it does not wither under the winds of adversity. Remember, too, that your careful tending of your humility can alone bring you consolation and peace.

And mind you do not let your faith grow dull. For even these great servants of God, the prophets, could do nought for them who lacked in faith. [83]

3. Poverty

Accept all hardships without grumbling. Be certain that they are your due. You yourself say that when you were young, rich, and in good health, your heart was callous and your mind empty. Since grown old, sick, and poor, you are kinder and more thoughtful, you have good reason to rejoice; none to despair.

But see to it that your poverty is not only a surface thing; see to it that you are poor in spirit too. Our Lord loves none better than the totally poor. [191]

The inexpressible and unaccountable melancholy that oppresses you and prevents you from enjoying anything may be a test, intended to prove the firmness of your decision and the purity of your love of God.

It is not joy of the spirit alone that manifests our love of God; unflinching courage, staunchly maintained through long periods of darkness and anguish, proves this love even more definitely. [393]

4. Bereavement

St. Paul does not forbid us to be sorry after a godly manner (II Cor. 7:9) but wishes us to grow in courage. Try to do as he says. [414]

5. Illness

When you see F. Y. give him my warmest greetings and best wishes for a speedy recovery. Tell him too, that even if his hope and faith are strong he should not despise the help of a physician. God is the creator of all men and all things: not of the patient only, but also of the physician, the physician’s wisdom, medicinal plants and their curative power. [317]

With this letter Father X. will hand you a sugar basin that 1 have turned for you. If you should not like it, do not extend your dislike of it to me!

Being as weak in health as you are yourself, I cannot fail to feel much sympathy for your plight. But kind Providence is not only more wise than we; it is also wise in a different way. This thought must sustain us both in all our trials. And it is consoling, as no other. [223]

I am sorry indeed that your wife should be suffering from insomnia. This comes of her worrying so much about everything. Having myself been at one time subject to sleeplessness, I know how thoroughly exhausted it leaves you. The only certain remedy is to thrust away the whole lot of harassing thoughts and consciously to put everything in the hand of God, accepting His will in all.

But since this is more easily said than done, some simple devices may prove helpful: let her drink a glass of water before getting into bed, and put some bread near the bedstead-the smell of rye is very soothing. A good prayer to recite at such times is the prayer of the Seven Sleepers of Ephesus! [435]

I was glad to hear that, strengthened by prayer, you underwent your frightful and most dangerous operation bravely, and without feeling-as had been feared-discomfort or pain. I rejoice to hear that, as your health improves, the capacity of your soul deepens. It is good that you seek, and find, help and consolation in frequent communion. (1161)

I was much pleased to hear from your relation how bravely you are bearing the cruel scourge of your heavy sickness. Verily, as the man of flesh perishes so is the spiritual man renewed. May God bless you and your family, and grant you peace and joy. [2291

Praised be the Lord that you accept your illness so meekly! The bearing of sickness with patience and gratitude is reckoned highly by Him who often rewards sufferers with His imperishable gifts.

Ponder these words: Though our outward man perish, yet the inward man is renewed; and: If our earthly house of this tabernacle were dissolved, we have a building of God, an house not made with hands, eternal in the heavens (11 Cor. 4:16, 5:1). [113, 1141]

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From Russian Letters of Direction 1834-1860 Macarius Starets of Optino, by Iulia De Beausobre. Originally published March 1944 by Dacre Press, Westminster. Copyright 1975 St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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