St Gregory the Theologian in Spiritual Warfare


Gregory the Theologian, 1408 – Andrei Rublev

Flee swiftly from my heart, all-crafty one.
Flee from my members and from my life.
Deceiver, serpent, and fire, Belial, sin,
death, abyss, dragon, night, snare, and frenzy,
chaos, manslayer, and ferocious beast!
Thou didst entice into perdition those
first-formed folk, my foreparents, offering them
at the same time the taste of sin and death.
Christ, the Ruler of all commandeth thee to
flee into the billows, to fall upon the rocks,
or to enter the herd of swine, O baleful one,
as once He bade that presumptuous Legion.
Nay, yield forthwith, lest I smite thee with the Cross,
whereat all things tremble;
Oh, flee!
I bear the Cross upon me, in all my members.
I bear the Cross whene’er I journey, whene’er I sleep.
I hold the Cross in my heart. The Cross is my glory.
O mischievous one, wilt thou never cease from
dogging me with traps and laying snares for me?
Wilt thou not dash thyself upon the precipices?
Seest thou not Sodom? Oh, wilt thou not speedily
assail the shameless herds of ungodly heretics,
who, having so recklessly sundered the Almighty
Godhead, have witlessly destroyed and abolished It?
But comest thou against my hoariness? Comest thou
against my lowly heart? Thou ever blackenest me,
O foe, with darksome thoughts, pernicious thoughts.
Thou hast no fear of God, nor of His Priests.
This mind of mine, most evil one, was verily
a mighty and loud-voiced herald of the Trinity.
And now it beholdeth its end, whither it goeth in haste.
Confuse me not, O slimy one, that I might, as pristine,
meet the pure lights of Heaven, that they might
shine like lightning flashes upon my life.
Lo, receive me; lo, I stretch forth my hands.
Farewell, O world! Farewell, thou who bringest woes upon me!
Pity be shown to all that shall live after me.




The Cross


Fourth in her ‘series’ of Cross-related visions, Abbess Thaisia sees a Cross. This is not a dream like the others before, but a vision while awake. Always these visions take place in the midst of heavy trials and tribulations, when she begins to lose heart and starts to languish:


“Once, during the period of labours and sorrows when I was beginning to put the community in good order, I was sitting in my study, all alone. All the doors were closed. Everyone had gone to bed, and I was preparing to do the same–yet I continued to sit there–I don’t know why. I was putting off going to sleep. I was not praying, nor was I thinking of anything special. There was something heavy on my heart, something very heavy, and there was silence in my heart and soul. Suddenly, in the middle of my cell, I saw a large wooden cross standing on the floor, so large that it almost reached the ceiling. (Evidently this was not a dream, for I was awake–I was just sitting, conscious of everything around me.) At the place where the horizontal and vertical beams met, there was something like a bloody, red, oblong fastening. seeing the cross, I did not become afraid; I crossed myself, and involuntarily thought, ‘How large it is! How will I be able to carry it?’ Then I heard these words, as if coming from the cross itself: ‘You will lift it and carry it, for My strength is made perfect in weakness!’ 

I considered that this was sent either to strengthen me in my sorrowful life, or to warn me of still greater sorrows to come. Although I felt some sadness, I accepted this with equanimity. I was ready to endure any suffering for the good of the community, and, through it, for the glorifying of the Name of God.”


For Abbess Thaisia’ first vision, go to The Cross-Baptism

For her second vision, go to The Fool-For-Christ and the Cross

Finally, for her third vision, go to Martyrdom Before the Crucifix

Christ’s Light in Tolstoy’s Prison



the prisoner

A Vision granted to Nun Maria concerning her brother Leo Tolstoy. Also, his apostasy, his excommunication by the Russian Orthodox Church, his tragic final days, the torturous struggle that went on in his soul at his last breath, and St. John’s of Kronstadt and St. Theophan’s the Recluse ‘examination’ of his spiritual condition


“I have renounced the Church that calls itself Orthodox… I renounce all the sacraments… I have truly renounced the Church, I have stopped fulfilling its rites, and I have written in my will to my close ones that they should not allow any clergymen from the Church near me when I will be dying…” (Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy). Yet, in his final days, Tolstoy sought the most famous Russian monastery, Optina Hermitage, where ascetic elders were living. He wanted to meet with them, but at the last minute he lost his resolve, about which he regretfully told his sister, a nun of Shamordino Convent near Optina. When at Ostapovo station he felt his approaching death, he asked that a telegram be sent to Optina Hermitage with the request that they send him Elder Joseph. However, when two priests arrived in Astapovo, the writer’s followers would not allow them to meet…”



“Throughout the history of Russian literature there has never been a more tragic personality than Lev Nicholaevich Tolstoy, the “great writer of the Russian land,” in the words of Ivan Turgenev. His literary works reach the heights not only of Russian, but world literature. Therefore, the pain and perplexity of many people who respect his works are understandable; these include Orthodox Christians, for whom the reason for the decision on February 20, 1901 by the Holy Governing Synod to excommunicate him may still be unclear.

The Holy Synod simply cited by its decision a fact that had already taken place—Count Leo Tolstoy excommunicated himself from the Church and completely broke off ties with it. This is something that he not only did not deny, but even resolutely emphasized at every convenient opportunity: “It is perfectly justifiable that I have renounced the Church that calls itself Orthodox… I renounce all the sacraments… I have truly renounced the Church, I have stopped fulfilling its rites, and I have written in my will to my close ones that they should not allow any clergymen from the Church near me when I will be dying…” These are just a few of the great writer’s numerous proclamations in this regard.

Furthermore, when Leo Tolstoy was twenty-seven years old, he nurtured the idea of creating a new faith, which his diary entries of the time witness. In his old age, when he felt that his aim was nearly accomplished, the writer created a small sect of his fans and wrote “The Gospel according to Tolstoy.” The main object of Tolstoy’s attacks became the Orthodox Church. His words and actions directed against the Church were horrifying to the Orthodox consciousness. Furthermore, Leo Tolstoy’s activities during the final ten years of his life were, unfortunately, truly destructive for Russia, which he loved. They brought misfortune to the people whom he so badly wanted to serve. It is no accident that the leader of the Bolsheviks extremely valued the aim of Leo’ Tolstoy’s activity, and called the writer “the mirror of the Russian revolution.”

Great ascetics of the Russian Orthodox Church—St. John of Kronstadt, St. Theophan the Recluse, and many others, admitted with regret that Count Tolstoy purposefully used his great talent to destroy Russia’s traditional spiritual and social order.

The writer’s final days speak to us about the torturous struggle that went on in his soul. He fled his family nest, Yasnaya Polyana—not to his like-minded friends, the “Tolstoyans,” but to the most famous Russian monastery, Optina Hermitage, where ascetic elders were living. He wanted to meet with them, but at the last minute he lost his resolve, about which he regretfully told his sister, a nun of Shamordino Convent near Optina. When at Ostapovo station he felt his approaching death, he asked that a telegram be sent to Optina Hermitage with the request that they send him Elder Joseph. However, when two priests arrived in Astapovo, the writer’s followers would not allow them to meet…

Nevertheless, because the writer himself never made peace with the Church (Leo Tolstoy never publicly renounced his tragic spiritual error), the excommunication by which he separated himself from the Church cannot be removed. This means that canonically he cannot be commemorated in the Church. But the compassionate heart of any Christian who holds the literary works of this great writer in high regard cannot be closed to sincere, humble prayer for his soul. (Archimandrite Tikhon, Shevkunov) Source: OrthoChristian



Martyrdom Before the Crucifix


Third in her ‘series’ of Cross-related visions, Abbess Thaisia sees a Crucifix. Always these visions take place in the midst of heavy trials and tribulations, when she begins to lose heart and starts to languish… Here, the Holy Hierach St. Nicholas visits her to sternly admonish her. Below follows another except from her Autobiography:

“Then once I had a dream. I was walking along a road in an open field. I had to turn right, but there was no path in that direction; there were only beds of planting vegetables, very long ones. They looked as they do in autumn after the vegetables have been harvested, and the furrows between the beds were dirty and wet. I stopped and considered how to turn right. To go along the furrows would mean getting dirty and wet, but to walk across the beds would be a muddy, sticky business. Suddenly, I saw an old bishop coming in my direction with a staff in his hand. I thought, ‘I’ll wait and see, and whichever way he goes I will go too.’ Coming close to me, he said: ‘Come with me, I will show you the way.’ Leaning on his staff with his left hand, he took me with his right hand and led me along a bed, saying: ‘Although it’s muddy and you will often get stuck, the path is high; look how much dirt and water there is along the low path.’ We walked together for a long time. He continued preaching, and I talked to him without fear, although I recognised him as St. Nicholas. Finally we came to some church or chapel (I don’t remember which), and went in. Inside was a large Crucifix, and on the right, hanging on the wall, was an icon of St. Parasceva. I began to prostrate myself before the Crucifix. As soon as I touched the floor with my head, the holy man struck me on the neck with such force that I thought he would chop my head off. I had hardly recovered when another blow followed, and then another, and so on to five. ‘Why is he beating me?’ I asked myself. ‘Does he really want to chop my head off? But why would he want to do that?’ ‘Don’t argue, don’t act wise,’ he answered my thought. ‘If I struck you, it was because I had to. You have forgotten that one must obey without arguing. You don’t have to show off your  knowledge.’ I stood up, and the holy hierarch looked at me, smiling kindly. He pointed at the icon of martyr Parasceva, saying: ‘Here she is, the bride of Christ. She allowed her head to be cut off as an offering to her Bridegroom; whereas you are unable to suffer even a little, and you keep on philosophising while you still don’t possess spiritual wisdom. Humble yourself; endure, and you will be saved.’ “


For her first Vision-Encounter with our Lord’s Cross, go to The Cross-Baptism

For her second Vision-Encounter with our Lord’s Cross, go to The Fool-for-Christ and the Cross


The Miracle of the True Cross


holy cross

Holy Cross, Romanos III, with the hole of a nail from the Crucifixion

The miracle displayed in the video below is the traditional mark of authenticity of any splinter of wood which people might claim to be a segment of the true Holy Wood. The video shows a monk from Mount Athos placing the splinter of the Holy Wood in a glass of water. Initially, the splinter naturally floats, but after the monk says the Trisagion prayer, Psalms 50 and 142 , and makes the sign of the Cross three times with this splinter on the water, when he places it in the water again, the splinter sinks to the bottom. 

The monk also displays a fragrant relic of St. Haralambos towards the end for veneration.





The Fool-for-Christ and the Cross

St symeon full for Christ

This is the second of many such visions Abbess Thaisia had. Predominantly with the Cross. Another excerpt from her Autobiography:

“I dreamt that I was walking along a road together with some other sisters. We were in an open place, passing by many fields, and we were walking two by two, in full monastic dress. All of a sudden, I saw two men crossing the field and coming towards us from the side. One of them looked like a monk; he was clad in a mantia and had a kamilavka on his head, the veil of which covered his face. He was holding a cross in his hands, like one who has just made his vows. The other one who was walking alongside the monk looked like a beggar. He wore a ripped shirt, and his hair was all disheveled. He was like a Fool-for-Christ; he kept leaping and jumping, and at the same time he was eating a piece of white bread that he was holding. Coming near to us, he seemed to tease us with his piece of bread, and he kept on leaping, looking at us with a smile. The monk was walking with his eyes lowered, and seemed to be completely immersed in his inner thoughts. I fixed my attention on them. When I looked around, my companions had all disappeared somewhere. I was standing alone in the middle of the road. Meanwhile, the two men came near and began walking by my side. The Fool-for-Christ looked at me intently, at first in silence, and then he said: “‘What are you thinking about? Crry your cross, like brother John is doing. Look at me, how I am leaping, carefree and gay, while I eat my piece of bread. You leap, too! Keep leaping along your way! Do people laugh at you? So what? Keep leaping, like Symeon the Fool-for-Christ! Keep leaping! Here is the church now, quite near!’ With these words, he indeed went leaping through the doors of a church we had inadvertently drawn near to. John followed him silently. I woke up. This is how I came to explain this dream: there is no need to seek salvation through complicated and tortuous ways. Instead, with a simple heart, one must walk along the path shown by Divine providence, not paying any attention to other people’s jeers and gossip, just carrying one’s monastic cross.”

For her first vision of our Saviour’s Cross, go to The Cross-Baptism. In my opinion, both of her visions are quite relevant for non-monastics too. Don’t you think so?




Bearing our Three Crosses


Jesus told his disciples, “Whoever wants to be my disciple must deny themselves and take up their cross daily and follow me.” (Luke 9:23) What does it mean to take up our cross daily? This is a question that St. Theophan the Recluse addressed in a series of homilies in 1885.

First, let’s examine what is meant by the Cross. St. Theophan says the following:

The Lord accomplished our salvation by His death on the Cross; on the Cross He tore up the handwriting of our sins; through the Cross He brought upon us grace-filled gifts and all heavenly blessings.”

But there is more, as the above is Christ’s Cross, and we must take up our personal cross. St. Theophan says:

When the personal cross of each of us is united with Christ’s Cross, the power and effect of the latter is transferred to us and becomes, as it were, a conduit through which “every good gift and every perfect gift” (James 1:17)  is poured forth upon us from the Cross of Christ.

The message is clear that there is more to our salvation than just believing in Christ, His Incarnation, His Crucifixion and Resurrection. In addition to His Cross, our personal cross is equally essential for our salvation.  

But, what is our personal cross? Saint Theophan outlines three kinds.  One is outward, another is inward and a third is spiritual.

1. The outward cross involves the trials and tribulations of our life. St. Theophan describes them as follows:

These are sorrows, misfortunes, the loss of loved ones, failures at work, every sort of deprivation and loss, family troubles, adversities related to outward circumstances, insults, offenses, wrongful accusations, and, in general, our earthly lot… Neither eminence, nor riches, nor glory, not any kind of earthly greatness will deliver one from them.

He makes the important point that we must make use of these difficulties in life in accordance with God’s intention for our salvation. So, why does God allow us these difficulties in life? Saint Theophan says he gave them to us “so that we would live on earth, not as someone in his own land, but as a stranger and a foreigner in a foreign land.” As foreigners, we are to seek our return to His kingdom. To understand this we must refresh our understanding of the story of Adam and Eve told in Genesis, and how they were originally living in Paradise in union with God. But they disobeyed Him and suffered the consequences of death and sorrow and sickness, and were ousted and banned from Paradise. This is our outward cross to bear, the difficulties of a mortal life outside of Paradise. And how are we to bear them?  St. Theophan tells us to “endure them and don’t be annoyed…bear your lot with equanimity.”

Remember, these difficulties encountered in life are similar for all of us. We are all subject to misfortune and sorrow. God allows them for our benefit.  St. Theophan tells us,

The Lord wants to wash away some sin, or to lead us away from a sinful deed, or to cover up a greater sorrow with a smaller one, or to give us an occasion for patience and for demonstrating faithfulness to the Lord, so as to show forth the glory of His mercy on us later… If you don’t clearly see precisely what God wanted to give you through sorrow that has overwhelmed you, raise up in your heart  the general, non-speculative belief that everything that comes from the Lord is for our good, and give a shove to your disturbed soul: this is what is pleasing to God. Endure! He whom punishes is like a son to Him!

Enduring your sorrows with faith are what it means to bear your personal cross. Enduring with the love of God, giving thanks for all He gives us, you are bearing your cross in a way that will bring salvation.  Saint Theophan says,

“Arouse gratitude within yourself, humble yourself under the mighty hand of God, repent, and correct your life.” 

2. The second kind of cross is inward. This is the struggle against the passions. Saint Paul says, “They that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with the affections and lusts” (Gal 5:14). Saint Theophan says,

There is a cross upon which these passions and lusts are crucified. To crucify the passions means to weaken them, suppress them, and uproot them… When someone is fighting against the passions, sometimes it seems as if his hands were nailed, as if he is wearing a crown of thorns on his head, as if his living heart is pierced.

The culprit is self love, advises Saint Theophan. He writes,

Anger burns, envy dries one up, lust enfeebles one, miserliness does not let one eat or sleep, and offended pride murderously eats away at one’s heart… Everyone has them. As soon as there is self love, there are all the passions, for this is the mother of the passions…

So what is one to do?  Saint Theophan says,

One has only to turn the knife around and, instead of satisfying the passions, to strike oneself with it, to strike the passions with it, beginning the fight against them and contradicting them in everything… One must say to every passionate person: “You’re perishing on the cross of passions. Destroy that cross and set up another: the cross of the fight against it. And you’ll be crucified on it unto salvation!”…. go courageously to the cross of self-crucifixion, through the crucifixion and uprooting of the passions and lusts. Let us turn away from self-pity and become inflamed with zeal for self-accusation… the Cross is the tree of life.

3. The third cross is the devotion to the will of God. It is not enough to crucify the passions. This is only preparatory for this step which involves our obedience to God’s will. We are now ready to offer ourselves up as a sacrifice to God. We follow Christ’s example in the Garden of Gethsemane before His Crucifixion. Christ prayed that He be spared, but was resolute in saying, “Nonetheless not as I will, but as Thou will” (Mark 26:39). CHrist as fully man bound his will with that of God. It is as Paul says, “I am crucified with Christ: nevertheless I live; yet not I, but Christ lies in me” (Gal 2:20). Saint Theophan says this is the “height of Christian perfection… It is the beginning of he future state after the resurrection, when God will be “all in all” (1 Cor 15:28). Those who are perfect live and act through God alone.”

Saint Theophan further says,

Many have the idea that Christianity is the same as other kinds of life, but this is not so. It begins with repentance, ripens through the fight against passions, and is perfected when  the pure, inner man, immersed in God, is crucified with Christ… If Christians do have pleasures they are purely incidental. The most distinguishing characteristics of their existence are sufferings and sickness––inward and outward, voluntary and involuntary. We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom, and into that which is within it.….If you want good for yourself, get rid of pleasures and enter on the path of the cross of repentance, burn up in the fire of self-crucifixion, be tempered in tears of heartfelt contrition––and you’ll become gold, or sliver, or a precious stone, and in due time you’ll be taken by the Heavenly Householder as an adornment for His most bright and most peaceful mansions.

Reference: Three Homilies of the Bearing of the Cross by Saint Theophan the Recluse in The Orthodox Word, No. 285, 2012, pp 187-202.