Saint Ambrose of Optina’s Advice about the Fear of God

According to St. Ambrose, a Christian seeking salvation should put the fear of God at the heart of his life. The fear of God is the beginning of salvation, because, upon coming to human heart, it awakens it from the sinful sleep, instructs it on the path of invocation, instills in it the desire to be cleansed of passions and live according to the commandments of the Lord, in order to avoid eternal torment and gain salvation. “I advise you,” the saint writes, “to adhere to the fear of God and safekeeping of your conscience, since this helps a Christian to follow the present path.” “Adhere to the fear of God, safekeeping conscience and keeping the commandments of God.” Saint Ambrose bases his instructions on the fear of God in all actions on the teachings of Saint Isaac the Syrian, who writes: “If a person adheres to the fear of God, as it should be, then in a few days he will find himself at the gates of the Kingdom. To adhere to the fear of God, as it should be, means to take up our work diligently and with meekness and safekeeping of conscience, in walking before God and people”. Any Christian can remain at the height of moral perfection only if he constantly has the fear of God within himself. Saint Ambrose also says: “Have the fear of God and keep your conscience in all your deeds and actions, but most of all, humble yourself. Then surely you will receive the great mercy of God”. In order to receive the mercy of God and rejoice with the saints, it is necessary first of all to lead a God-fearing life, imitating the saints in feats and in constant work over the purification of our hearts.

The holy apostles laid the fear of God at the foundation of man’s salvation: “Pass the time of your sojourning here in fear” (1 Peter 1:17). Saint Ambrose points to these words as well. “These words,” he says, “show that the main way to live in piously and holy manner is the way of fear of God and the fear of future judgment and eternal torment. Only with the assistance of this fear, with the help of God can keeping of the commandments happen … and without fear, even if someone lived in heaven, according to the words of St. Peter of Damascus, he would not use (heavenly blessings), having pride, because of which Satan and Adam and many fell. If all the saints in the word of God are ordered to have the fear of God, according to what is said: “O fear the Lord, ye his saints: for there is no want to them that fear him” (Psalm 34:9), then, even more it is necessary for us, sinful and faulty, to have the fear of God, and the fear of death, and the judgment of God, and eternal torment in hell, dissolving this fear with the hope of inheriting the Kingdom of Heaven… The fear of God and the memory of the last four mentioned keep us from falling, according to what is said: “Remember your last days, and you will never sin” (Sirach 7:39).

If a Christian seeks to acquire the fear of God in his soul, he will be like a wise housekeeper, “which built his house upon a rock” (Matthew 7:24). According to St. Ambrose, such a person is given a good spiritual mind. In the absence of the fear of God, “a man becomes clouded and begins to idle with his lips, judge, … curse and humiliate his neighbors, and learn in his heart unclean thoughts”.

After the fall, a person’s soul is more prone to evil than good, and therefore there is only one thing left – to ask God more often to send the fear of God to us, which protects the soul and holds it back from sinful implicit intentions.

In one letter, instructing his spiritual daughter, Saint Ambrose writes: “Let us keep the fear of God at all times, and the fear of God will save us from all evil, both secret and manifest”. The fear of God, according to St. Ambrose, can keep the soul from many sinful implicit intentions and guide it along the path of moral perfection. “We need to adhere firmly to the fear of God and the safekeeping of our conscience,” writes St. Ambrose, “since this most of all helps a Christian to follow the present path”.

A Christian is a warrior fighting, according to the Apostle Paul, against “spiritual wickedness in high places”, therefore, he must constantly warm up in himself the fear of God, stay awake over himself and keep all his feelings from everything that harms his immortal soul and deprives it of eternal communication with God.Saint Ambrose writes about this: “Keep your conscience and eyes safe; have the fear of God; more often think of death, and of the last judgment, and that if now you do not start to live a pious good life, then after that you will be completely weaken to goodness”.

That is why it is appropriate for every Christian to remain always in the fear of God and be constantly awake over himself, to eradicate all kinds of evil passions and vices from his heart. If we do not make efforts to eradicate them in earthly life, then our salvation in eternity will turn out to be doubtful.

The one who has acquired the fear of God and constantly maintains it within himself is already on the path to salvation, but he still needs great work of purifying himself from passions.

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  1. I really needed this article. I have struggled for 5 years now, no desire to read my bible, no desire to pray, struggling with many sins, feelings of being lost & confused. I have t understood this because reading my bible and praying was something I used to spend hours doing. I don’t have a fear of God. But I will now pray for God to bring to my heart, mind & soul, the fear of God. Thank you Sisters for writing this article.. Please, will you pray for me?

  2. what a great article and a timely one , i was reading the rule of St.Benedict and he stressed several great pointers above , he recommended , ” the rule of our holy father basil.” What an aaamammazing day it is to read this article. thank you!

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