Tuesday, April 6, 2010

St Ambrose of Optina's 1881 Paschal Epistle

Sisters in the Lord and mothers! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! Christ is Risen! I congratulate you all with the bright Feast of the Resurrection of Christ and fervently wish that you all may greet and pass this all-joyous Christian triumph in peace, rejoicing, and spiritual consolation, whoever is not hindered by the inimical infirmity. You ask, what kind of infirmity is this? Perhaps you think that by this I mean not keeping the Great Lenten fast. But St. John Chrysostom condescends to us and says: "Those who fasted and those who have not fasted rejoice today, the continent and the lazy, revere the day! (Paschal Homily of St. John Chrysostom). Perhaps you also think that this relates to the memory of previous sins, which hinders rejoicing. But he says also about this: "Let no one weep over his sins, for forgiveness has shown forth from the grave." Then what, you ask, is this infirmity? That inimical infirmity that inspired Cain to kill the guileless Abel and that inspired the Jews to crucify Christ the Savior and Redeemer of the world.

You yourselves can understand that I am speaking of the passion on envy, which according to the Scriptures prefers not that which is profitable. The passion of envy does not allow anyone who is possessed by it to rejoice completely at any joyous feast or in any joyous circumstances. Like a worm, it always gnaws at the soul and heart with its turbid sorrow, because the envious considers his neighbor's happiness and success to be his own happiness, and the preference given to others he considers his own unmerited offense.

One Greek emperor desired to know who is worse, the miser or the envious, for they both desire misfortune for the other. With this goal in mind he called two men in, a miser and an envier, and said to them: each of you ask of me whatever you wish; only know that the second one will receive twice as much as the first. The envious man and the miser argued a long time, each one not wanting to ask first, so that he might receive twofold. Finally the emperor asked the envious man to ask first. The envious man, full of ill-will toward his neighbor, instead of receiving something resorted to evil plotting and said the the emperor: "Your Highness! Order me to pluck out my eye!" The amazed emperor asked him why he expressed such a desire. The envier replied: "So that you, your Highness, would then order my comrade to pluck out both his eyes."

Behold, how harmful and soul-destroying is envy, ever wishing harm to others. The envious is ready to harm himself, if only his neighbor might be harmed twice as much. We have presented an advanced degree of envy. But it, too, like other passions, has varying degrees and sizes; and therefore we should strive to squash and expel it at the first sensation, praying to God, the all-powerful Seer of Hearts, with the Psalmist's words: from my secret sins cleanse me, and from those of others spare Thy servant (Ps. 18:12). Also, with humility we must confess this infirmity to our spiritual father. The third means [to overcome envy] is to try in every way never to say anything bad about any person that we envy. Using these means we can, with God's help, be healed of the infirmity of envy, though it may not be right away.

Envy comes from pride and also from carelessness in fulfilling what we should. Cain was careless in bringing a chosen sacrifice to God. When God disdained his sacrifice because of this carelessness, but accepted the fervent and chosen sacrifice of Abel, then Cain, possessed by envy, decided to kill and actually did kill righteous Abel. It is always better, as I have staid above, to strive to expel envy from the very start through humble prayer, humble confession and reasonable silence. Whoever with God's help is able to expel the passion of envy from within himself can hope to triumph over other passions as well, and then he can rejoice with unutterable rejoicing not only on the bright Feast of the Resurrection of Christ and all other Christian feasts, but even on simple days will he always be in a good spiritual state an disposition. Amen.

But forgive me for this unfestive greeting. I wanted to say something to you that was somewhat profitable, and the profitable rarely corresponds to the pleasant. Whoever does not like this greeting may read it on Thomas Sunday and notice that envy in at first revealed in irrational jealousy and rivalry, then in zealous attacking and criticizing the one whom we envy. So let us be wise and careful at the first signs of the envious feelings, striving to reject them, asking for the all-powerful help for the sake of Christ the Lord, Crucified and Risen on the third day. Amen! Amen!!!

Taken from Fr. Sergius Chetverikov, Elder Ambrose of Optina (Platina, CA: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1997), 193-195.


johnr said...

Thanks be to God! You're back, yes!!! A much anticipated and prayed for event especially to let us know thay you are feeling better. Our prayers are still with and for you!

Fr. John C. Routos

margaret said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
margaret said...

It's nice to see you back even if I shouldn't have asked for a blessing :)