Instructions for inner peace by Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica
1. We must give ourselves over to the Lord. We must commit ourselves and all that we have to Him, for He is ever present. He wants us to be quiet and at peace, with no thoughts at all. This means that the heart must keep silence. The Holy Fathers tell us that our nous must descend into the heart. That is where our nous should be, without any thoughts or imaginings. The Holy Fathers further say that we must occupy the nous with the Jesus Prayer. Let our minds always be saying the Jesus Prayer, for He is always present, and let us always be in communion with Him.
2. We know that the Lord, while in the flesh, was kind to all people, even those who persecuted Him—Him, the Almighty God. He showed us how to avoid evil and not oppose it. He said so Himself (cf. Matt. 5:39). Not opposing evil means preserving one’s inner peace. Opposing evil is evil; it involves a desire to return evil for evil, which is what the fallen spirits thrive on. However, when they attack us and find that we do not oppose them, then our peacefulness disarms them and they are defeated. Therefore we must try to always pray like this: “Lord, help me to preserve my inner peace, teach me how to be calm and peaceful and kind, just like Thine angels.” In order to be able to do this, we must be with the Lord constantly in our thoughts. You see, we direct all our thoughts and all our attention to those whom we love. This is exactly how we should be toward God, for as our Parent, He rightfully asks that we give back to Him what He has given us. This is for our own good, in order that we may participate in Divine joy, peace, and life. Let us, therefore, learn to turn to God and seek Him ceaselessly through prayer.
3. The Holy Fathers tell us that we must preserve our inner peace at all costs and always be joyful, always in a good mood. But even St. John of Kronstadt says, “We are like the weather: now the wind is blowing, a storm is raging, there is thunder and lightning and rain—but then the sun comes out and we feel well. Then another storm comes, and so on.” He goes on to say that since we are in the body, the atmospheric conditions influence us a lot. When the conditions are good, when the atmospheric pressure is not too high or too low, and when the weather is fine, we also feel well. But when the skies are gray and cloudy, we become depressed. We must learn how to preserve our spiritual balance, and when the weather is cloudy and stormy we must be at peace and be joyful. We must try to always be in good spirits, always joyful, because the spirits of evil want us to be sad all the time.
4. You must strive to have peace in your homes. Peace starts with each one of us. When we have peace in us, we spread it around to others. You can see for yourself that there are very few humble and meek souls on the earth—but also that they are truly blessed. They will not be offended if you insult them in any way. Whatever way you treat them, they are quiet and peaceful and they are truly sorrowed because you are in such spiritual torment.
5. We are always breaking God’s law. We know that the worldly authorities punish transgressions of civil law and that breaking the civil law can have even lifelong consequences. Spiritual transgressions also have consequences, even greater ones. There can be no peace in the world unless there is inner peace in each one of us.
6. As St. Seraphim of Sarov says, in order for us to have inner peace and save our souls, we must often look deep into ourselves and ask, “Where am I?” While doing so we must be careful to guard our senses, especially our eyes, so that they may be to our spiritual benefit. Gifts of Grace are given only to those who work for them by constantly guarding their souls.
7. How will we know whether we are living according to the will of God or not? If you are sad for whatever reason, this means that you have not given yourself over to God, although from the outside it may seem that you have. He who lives according to God’s will has no worries. When he needs something, he simply prays for it. If he does not receive that which he asked for, he is joyful as though he had received it. A soul that has given itself over to God has no fear of anything, not even robbers, sickness, or death. Whatever happens, such a soul always cries, “It was the will of God.”
8. Here on earth we are given the chance to conquer all evil with peace and stillness. We can have peace when we live in surroundings that are peaceful and quiet, but that peace is not as stable and as permanent as the peace we acquire while living in chaotic conditions. When you move from quiet surroundings to chaotic ones, your mood changes instantly and you become irritable—all of a sudden evil thoughts assail you, and your mind is in hell. That is the end of our peace. This is why the Lord guides us through sufferings and sorrows—so that we may, through them, acquire real peace. Without Him we would not have the strength to overcome these things. There is the example of the holy martyr Catherine, who suffered for Christ when she was very young, only eighteen years old. Her tormentors threw her into a dungeon all tortured and broken, and the Lord appeared to her. When she asked Him, “Lord, where have You been all this time?” He answered, “I was here all the time, in your heart.” “How can that be, O Lord, when my heart is impure, and full of evil and pride?” “Yes,” said the Lord, “but you have left room in it for Me. Had I not been with you, you would not have been able to bear all these tortures. I will give you strength so that you can endure until the end.” The Holy Fathers say, “We know that God loves us when He takes us through many sufferings and misfortunes.” Peace I leave with you, My peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, give I unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, neither let it be afraid (John 14:27), says the Lord, Who is the Way, the Truth, and the Life (cf. John 14:6).
9. You should learn to love little things. Always try to be modest and simple in everything. When the soul is mature, God will give it peace. The Lord looks upon us and is pleased when we yearn after His peace. Until such time as the soul is mature enough to receive the Lord, He will only sometimes allow it to see and sense that He is present everywhere and fills all things. These are moments of indescribable joy. But after that, the Lord hides Himself from us once again in order that we might yearn for Him and seek Him with all our heart.
10. Our spirit is saddened, everything is sorrow and suffering. You have seen for yourself: when you are in a state of peace, all is well, but here in this life, such peace does not last for long. It is disturbed very easily. For this reason we must always be in contact with the Source of life, with God—always, without ceasing. As soon as our inner peace is troubled, we must immediately ask for His help—just like a little child who, when separated from his mother, immediately cries and calls out to her. He is afraid to be alone. So it is with our soul: when it finds itself alone (separated from the Lord) it suffers a great deal, but when it is united with the Lord, no matter what misfortunes come upon it, all is well. The soul surmounts all difficulties because it is joyful to be with the Lord; it feels Divine joy and peace. The soul knows that it must pass through the fire and water of this world in order to rise above the little things of this world that torment us. What torments us most are our thoughts. Thoughts make us do all kinds of things, then we lose our peace and are tormented by our conscience. These pangs of conscience are nothing but the judgment of God within us. And so, we must make peace with our Heavenly Father and turn to Him from our heart, asking Him to forgive us and give us of His Grace and His Divine strength in order that we may always remain in peace and joy, like the angels and the saints. Amen.
11. We have been endowed with many gifts from God, but we do not know how to live as we should, and we create hades in us and around us. Bishop Nikolai [Velimirovich] once told the story of a priest who kept asking to be transferred to another parish. After a while Bishop Nikolai answered his plea, saying, “Father, I would be glad to grant your wish for a transfer if only you were not going to take your self there!” 36
12. When a person is in the power of the evil spirits, a false sense of peace reigns in him all the time. The devil does not tempt him with anything. We all have our periods of peace and quiet but also periods of war. The Lord permits this so that we may become well-versed in spiritual warfare and may learn how to conquer evil. Much time must pass before we attain the ability to conquer a bad trait that has been part of our personality for years, since our childhood. For this we need a spiritually experienced advisor who has himself passed through all of these phases of the spiritual life. A spiritual father or guide can teach us how to overcome such traits and how to win and preserve inner peace. St. Isaac the Syrian says, “Preserve your inner peace at any cost. Do not trade your inner peace for anything in the world. Make peace with yourself, and heaven and earth will make peace with you.”
13. We must always be vigilant. Vigilance and discernment are the things we need. The Lord said to Joshua, son of Nun, “Whatever you do, think it over well” (cf. Joshua 1:8). If we at first believe that what we are about to say will be to someone’s benefit, but then, after we use our discernment, we decide that our words will only hurt the other person, then it is better to remain silent. Everything should be done with discernment. When one uses one’s discernment, then one is also vigilant. Vigilance is also needed in prayer. Our attention must precede our prayer. We must know what we are asking for in prayer. You see, when we ask a favor of someone, we say, “I know you can help me if you apply yourself to it.” That means our attention is on the words we are saying when asking for help. If this is the case when we are turning to a person for help, how much more should our attention be focused when we are praying to the Lord, Who is our life! But we have found ways to shorten our prayer rule: we recite our prayers by rote or read them from a book. Our hearts and our feelings have no part in such prayer, and in the end we often do not even know what we have read.
14. We can go wherever we want and do whatever we want, but that is not freedom. Freedom belongs to God. When a person is free from the tyranny of thoughts, that is freedom. When he lives in peace, that is freedom. He is always in prayer, he is always expecting help from the Lord—he listens to his conscience and does his best. We must pray with our whole being, work with our whole being, do everything with our whole being. We must also not be at war with anyone and never take any offense to heart. Let it be. Today we are offended by one person—who knows who will offend us tomorrow? We are constantly thinking about these insults, but we should just let them be in peace. We should never take them to heart. When we do, the adversary will try to do it again, but if we just let the insult bounce off us, and remain peaceful, then people will give up trying to offend us. And people will ask you, “How come you are always at peace? Everyone else is nervous and easily offended, while you don’t seem to be interested in this life at all. How did you become like that? How can you stay so calm?” Well, that is how the Lord keeps us from harm.