In his lifetime, Elder Savva (1898 – 1980), Schema-Hegumen of Pskovo-Pechersky Monastery, was a model of dedicated service to God and the people. We remember him as an outstanding confessor, tireless preacher of the word of God, and a religious writer who explained in layman’s language the teachings of the church fathers on salvation. Perhaps he was best known for his vehement and powerful prayer, and his courage to bring to the Lord the needs and requests of the ordinary people.
As Elder Savva wrote in his spiritual will, “To the extent that I find in the Lord the zeal for prayer, I will petition Him on your behalf, especially for those who will remember me in their prayers.” The elder has departed, but the light of his love and his prayer still shines on us from eternity, and his thoughts and teachings remain as relevant and instructive as ever.
Elder Savva’s thoughts on mercy and charity
“No virtues or great feats can bring us greater mercy from the Lord as our good deeds.”
“It is good to do charity for people as if it came from somebody else. When you help someone, try saying, ‘I was asked to give you this.’ Do not let yourself become confused at the thought that this is not true. Doing alms in secret is also good for another reason: someone who helps another in such a manner will be less inclined to judge others or will refrain from judging them at all, by thinking this, ‘Just like I am hiding my goodness from them, they must be hiding theirs from me.'”
“Also remember, my beloved, that enduring in good faith the sorrows and attacks from our enemies, loving and praying for them is also an act of charity.”
“Before undertaking any action, be sure to question yourself, as a good Christian, whether your action will not be displeasing to God, and whether it might offend your neighbour. Where, upon such thorough deliberation, you find your conscience calm, act on your intention with confidence.”
Never expect or demand love in return for your love, praise in return for your humility, or gratitude for your service. Do your best to shun the worldly rewards in anticipation of the rewards in heaven.”
“Avoid all situations in which may force you to see or hear much evil, and the evil that you did not see or hear will not come to your mind.”
“If you have no time to pray, kneel down and say, ‘Lord, accept my zeal in my prayer to You and Your glorification, and hear me, a sinner! Say so with complete devotion to the Lord, like someone who is rushed, but fully prepared to surrender himself to Him this very moment, fully and with no reservation.
For what matters is not the duration of the prayer, but its vehemence; and no-one can stay vehement in prayer for long, not even the most devout believers.”
“Prayer is the ultimate thing. Prayer is everything. Prayer will prevail always. It will answer every question.”
“We have become accustomed to believing that the gifts of the Holy Spirit – such as love of Christ and zealous prayer – are reserved exclusively for elders; in consequence, from our young age we have suppressed in ourselves our most precious ability – the zeal for prayer, the unwavering belief that the Lord will heed to our noble pleas. That way, we start by suppressing in ourselves our faith by not letting it grow, and years later, we lament to God, “I do believe; help me overcome my unbelief!” There is a great deal of falsehood in this situation.
Matching our efforts with our ability
“Never exceed your ability, and you will know no frustration or disdain, or vainglory. You will not fret about the lack of appreciation from others for your good works. Dedicate all your good works to God, and do not expect praise or gratitude from the people.”
“Do not consider yourself to be worthy to fast extensively and sleep little. These feats were for the ascetics of ancient times, but in our age, they are no longer appropriate. Moreover, visible ascetic feats tend to stoke up in people pride and vainglory that are most detrimental. Humility alone is immune to the power of the evil one; so eat as much as you need for your nourishment (but not to excess, by any means); sleep to become refreshed, and that will keep you from thinking highly of yourself while giving your reason to reproach yourself for insufficient zeal. Here is your recipe for humility!”
While visiting the holy sites, take every opportunity to take communion, in every church or monastery, even when you cannot read the complete prayer rule. When travelling, Jesus’ prayer will be your equivalent of the prayer rule, as long as you have a contrite heart and an honest desire for oneness with Christ.”
The blessing of the communion is so great that despite our sinfulness and indignity, the blessing of our Lord will cleanse, brighten us and lead us to salvation, solely by our coming to the Cup of our Redeemer in humble acknowledgement of our sinfulness.
“We know from experience that people who commune often have more dignified spiritual lives than those who refrain from taking communion under the guise of piety. Such kind of piety has nothing in common with humility. It is the devil’s deception. Communion empowers us to fight against sin. If we do not commune often, where will we have the strength to endure in our struggle? Some say that in the early church people communed often. “The standards of spiritual life were higher then,” others would object. But did not the frequent communion have no effect on these standards?”
“It is best to spend the day of the communion in silence and prayer, or reading the Gospel or the church fathers. On this day, our spirits are most sensitive to the goodness and wisdom of these writings, which are most likely to leave a deep imprint in our hearts.”
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds