Living in God throughout the Great Lent and beyond

The Great Lent a special time when we are called to practise abstinence and prayer and perform acts of charity to become a little bit better for the sake of Jesus Christ. How can we dedicate our whole day to God and not fall behind on our current tasks? Why is almsgiving important, and how can we give spiritual alms? Here are some answers from Archimandrite Ambrose (Yurasov) of blessed memory.  

Dedicating our day to God

It is still early morning, and we are still lying in our beds, but already an angel is standing on our right and a demon on our left. They are waiting to see who we are going to serve this day. Knowing this, the best way to start our day will be this. As soon as you wake up, make the sign of the cross immediately and get out of bed. Leave your sloth under your blanket as you go straight into the icon corner. Once there, make three full earth-low bows to the Lord and say this prayer: “Thank you Lord for this last night, give me your blessing for the coming day, bless me and this day, help me spend it in prayer and doing good works, and protect me from the enemy, visible and invisible.” Start saying Jesus’ prayer immediately. Having washed and clothed yourself, stand in the icon corner to gather your thoughts and concentrate so nothing in the world distracts us from our morning prayer. Finish the morning prayer and read a chapter from the Gospel. Consider what good works we can do for our neighbour. Now we are ready to go to work. But do not leave your house without saying this prayer of John Chrysostom: “I renounce you Satan, and all his works, and all his worship, and I join you, Christ, in the name of the Father, Son and the Holy Spirit. Amen.” When you are ready to go, cross yourself and cross your road discreetly. On your way to work, and in all your tasks, keep saying Jesus’ prayer and chanting, silently the hymn, “Rejoice, O Holy Theotokos”. If you are busy keeping house, and engaged in cooking, drip all the ingredients with holy water, and light the cooker with a candle from a lampion. That way, the food will not be harmful to us but beneficial; it will nourish you spiritually and physically, especially if we accompany the cooking with the incessant reading of Jesus’ prayer.

How can we stay current with our tasks when time is so short? And how do we concentrate on things that are the most important for our spirit and the salvation of our souls?

It is essential to cast aside our worldly concerns. Start your day by saying the morning prayers, reading a chapter from the Gospel, and two chapters from the Apostles, and repeat Jesus’ prayer about 100 times. This should give us the energy to last for the whole day. Always put the salvation of the soul first, and God will take care of all our daily needs. Fear not – with God’s invisible help, you will be on track with all your tasks. Conversely, when we are concerned only with our day-to-day matters of this world, we are not going to have success in the salvation of our spirits or our daily lives. Without God’s blessing, our works and efforts will be fruitless, and everything will be coming apart.

In all your engagements throughout the day, never stop saying Jesus’ prayer. Do not go to sleep before reading your evening prayers. If you feel the need to read something in addition, you may read from the psalter, a canon or an Akathist. Never argue, rebel or quarrel with anyone. Stay calm and even-tempered. You may read the prayer rule on the bus, or during your lunch break. You do not need to cross yourself in public. Keep reading, and the Lord will see what others will not and reward you with His grace.

What should I do when I cannot refrain from sinning and do the right thing?

Criticise yourself. Say, “Lord, I want to do it right but I cannot. Help me, Lord!” Never cease to ask the Lord for His help. Remember His words: “Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and you shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you.” How many times have we asked God, how many times have we sighed and cried pleading with Him! The Lord has not forgotten any of our pleas; we may forget what we had asked Him for, but He will not. There is nothing that the Lord will not do for us. He could make us wallow in wealth, but we are not living for worldly riches; our aim is to open up our hearts for His goodness, and to advance in generosity, purity and sanctity. The Lord expects nothing less than this, and once we deliver, He will fill our soul with His Grace and reward us with joy, peace and calmness. These are the true riches we should aim for, as with them alone can we gain admission to the Kingdom of Heaven.

What are the best ways to fast?

Strict adherence to the fast brings great benefits for the soul. We should nourish ourselves so that our spirits would reign over our bodies, and not the other way round. The Holy Fathers liken the body to the ass that we will ride to Heavenly Jerusalem. If you do not feed it enough, it will stumble and fall on its way. But feed it too much, and it will go berserk. It is thus best to keep to the golden middle or travel along the King’s highway. Remember that if we fast without prayer and humility, we will only harm ourselves. The devil will be delighted and start teasing us, “Fast harder…” In the end, we will fast so much that we will be in no position to pray or work. Instead, we become irritable and ill-natured, sending others a silent message,  “We are fasting. We are almost saints. Do not even try to approach us.” Others begin to ear a lot, lending their ear to the enemy’s whisper: “You work so hard, you need to eat for your health. Eat to your heart’s content. Have the meat and sausage. Keep your energy level high.” Many will eat to excess, fill their bodies with slags and toxins, and suffer high blood pressure and short breath, and have difficulty walking.

The times are hard. Many do not have the resources to give alms…

Let me answer this with the following parable. One man said to his friend: “I need to see the king, will you take me to him?” The friend answered: “I will go with you half of the way.” Then he asked another friend: “Will you go with me to the King?” He replied, “I can go with you only to the palace.” He asked the third friend, “Take me to the King.” He responded, “I will take you to the palace, walk into the palace, tell the king that you have come and leave you with him.”

The Holy Fathers interpret this parable as follows. The first friend is asceticism, which takes you to the beginning of the right way. The second friend is purity, and it takes you to heaven. The third is charity, and it is bold enough to bring you to the very throne of the King, our Lord and Saviour.

Charity is salvific. In one village, there lived a widow. She would give food and shelter to everyone who asked. She had righteous and god-fearing children. All the merchants would stop at her house as they were travelling on their business. It had a lot of space outside, and a large steam house. The children unbridled the horses, fed them and bathed them in the river. They warmed the steam house and made tea. As they left, the merchants thanked the widow with all their hearts. The widow had fields, which she planted for herself and also for the orphans, needy and destitute. God shed His grace generously on that house. He protected it from the enemy, both visible and invisible.

One day, as the merchants were travelling from afar past the widow’s village, they noticed that it was on fire. A lot of houses in the village had caught fire. What could they do? There were too few of them, they could not save every house. So they decided to help the widow who had sheltered them. They saved her house and her farm. This way, the Lord protected her from great grief from her good works.

What are ‘spiritual alms’?

Alms and charity can be of two kinds – material, such as money, food, clothing or help with the housekeeping or caring for the sick, and spiritual. Spiritual alms are our words of reassurance and our prayers for your neighbours. If you know that your neighbour is in difficulty, or is suffering from an illness or anxiety, visit and reassure him, or give him an inspiring book to read. This will constitute your spiritual alms.

How can learn to thank God?

We should thank God with all our lives. You may find a thanksgiving prayer in a prayerbook, but thanking God in your own words is always best. In a certain monastery, there lived a venerable monk named Veniamin. God allowed him a sorrow – he was suffering from dropsy. His body had grown in size so much that it took two hands to put around his little finger. He sat in a large armchair that was custom-made for him. When the brothers came to see him, he always greeted them with joy. “Share my joy, brothers,” he would say. “God has been merciful to me. He has forgiven me.” God sent him a crippling disease, but he was not grumbling or losing hope; instead, he rejoiced at the forgiveness of his sins and he gave thanks to God. However long or short our lives may be, keeping loyal to God is the most important thing. Five years ago, I was doing a difficult obedience at the Laura of St. Trinity and St. Sergius – I was hearing confessions of the faithful by day and by night. Eventually, I became completely exhausted; I could hardly stand upright for ten minutes – my feet had become too weak. Afterwards, God sent me polyarthritis. I was bed-ridden for six months and suffered from acute pain in my joints. When the inflammation was over, I began to walk around my room with a crutch. Then I was fit enough to walk outside. I started with a distance of 100 metres, then I walked for 200 and 500 metres. With time, the distance walked grew. Eventually, I got myself to walk five kilometres and more. I gave up my walking stick. With God’s help, I learned to walk without a limp. God knows what everyone needs. So we should thank him for all things.

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