Archpriest John Mironov is one of the most senior and respected clergymen serving in St Petersburg today. Born to a believing peasant family in 1926, his family was exiled in 1932 for ten years. In 1944, at the age of 17, he was sent to the front as a simple soldier. In 1948, with the blessing of St Seraphim of Vyritsa – who foretold Fr John’s entire future ministry – he entered the Leningrad Theological Seminary. After his ordination he was moved from one city to another fifteen or sixteen times – the usual manner in which the communist authorities dealt with popular and active priests at the time. He has been the rector of his current parish in St Petersburg since 1998, where he has a special ministry for recovering alcoholics. He is well known for his warmth and loving simplicity. What follows is my translation of a brief but characteristic word of his on the theme of simplicty of soul:
Beloved brothers and sisters, how we fear catching a cold in our body: we muffle it up, warming it up with warm socks, blouses, and sweaters. But do we protect our soul in the same way from the drafts, from the falls, from the delusions that we bear? In the words of the Prophet David: “Wash me and I shall be made whiter than snow.” We need to undergo constant repentance. In the evening prayers we ask: “Lord, grant me the thought of confessing my sins.”
Everyone sins a great deal in his life. Even the holy God-pleasers fell into deception [prelest] and Satanic temptation. Call to mind St Isaaky [of the Kiev Caves], how living in reclusion he shone in asceticism. Once a light shone on him and an angel appeared to him, saying: “Isaaky, you have reached a great height and soon Christ will visit you, so you can bow down before Him.” When the time came he heard singing and [saw] light, and seeing one like the King of Glory in a beautiful diadem, he bowed down before him. Suddenly he saw that the feet were those of a goat! He began to repent and implore God, while the demons began to trample on him and torture him. After this he lay ill for a long time and repented. You see, my beloved, how dreadful it is to fall into deception! I read the life of St Leo of Optina; there it was related how once he went to a certain hermitage. A recluse lived there, one Hieromonk Theodosius, famous for his clairvoyance. The Elder [Leo] asked him: “From where do you have such a gift?” “From the Holy Spirit. The Spirit descends on me in the form of a dove…” “Father, come to your senses, aren’t you in deception?” “I thought that you had come to me to be edified by me, but you are upsetting me.” After this the Elder Leo went to the superior and said: “Watch out, that you not have trouble in your monastery.” He did not even make to Orol before he received word that this “clairvoyant” hieromonk had laid hands on himself. Therefore the enemy often uses deception to destroy us. The Lord said: “Be not deceived!” That is because many will be deceived before the Second Coming. The most important thing is to live in simplicity, as the Elder Ambrose of Optina said: “Where things are simple, there are one hundred angels; and where there is complication, not a one.”
Some people say: “Batiushka, no matter how much I pray, I have thoughts, and more thoughts…” Here again we can find an example from the Elder Ambrose: “A man goes to the market with his pots. He needs to get to the middle, where there are more people and business will be better. There is fuss and bustle all around him but, snag by snag, he arrived at his destination. In the same way we need to gradually progress in prayer, and you’ll make it to the Heavenly Kingdom.” You see how simply the Elder Ambrose was able to explain everything! Bear in mind that he was a learned man; he translated The Ladder by St John Climacus from Greek. Yet he had a child’s heart and left wonderful instructions, writen down for us so we would benefit from them.
Simplicity is given for not judging sinners. If you see a certain brother full of wine or in other sins, then pray: “Lord, help this brother to get himself out of this swampy quagmire; strengthen him.” Only don’t judge anyone, or you’ll fall into even greater sin. Don’t expect anything extraordinary. As the Fathers say: “If you see a young novice quickly ascending into heaven, pull him down to earth.” First one needs to learn to live in peace and harmony with everyone, and then one can think of the Kingdom of God. Here we are, we don’t like this thing, and we don’t like the other – but who are we? In one and the same family there are good children and bad ones. One is a joy, the other is a sorrow. The same is true in our Christian family: everyone has his own difficulties. It’s better to pray, and not judge. It’s like what's related in a story: a certain brother in a monastery was always reading something written on a charter. The brothers went to the abbot: “This brother is a sorcerer.” The abbot called him to himself and asked: “What are you doing?” “Every time I fear falling into sin I read what’s written on my charter: ‘Keep thy tongue from evil, and thy lips from speaking guile, and judge not thy neighbor.’” You see how dangerous it is to judge!
Our first sin, then, is judging. At the Dread Judgment, after all, we will not be answering for others, but for ourselves. On earth we might seem good, kind, and friendly – but there, at the Judgment, what we are actually like will become clear. As we say: “O Seer of hearts, spare our souls!