— Geronda, when I am in difficulty and pray to find a solution, how will I know God’s will?
— You cannot know the will of God by prayer alone. In your predicament, you had better ask others for advice. Do not expect God to send you a message when you can ask another person for advice. Avoid the risk of falling into deception. There was a man who came to church, stood before the iconostasis and said prayerfully to the Mother of God, “O Most Holy Theotokos, may I take some money from the gift box?” He believed he was talking to the Virgin Mary, when in fact he was listening to his evil thoughts. “Of course, you can take it,” he heard. “So you allow me? Thank you!” he replied and put his hand into the gift box. That happened several times before a parish council member noticed that money was disappearing from the church. “I cannot understand what is going on. Is someone stealing from the gift box?” he wondered. He stood and watched the gift box. He saw the man. Standing at the box, he was saying, “O Holy Theotokos, can let me have some more money? Thank you. I will take a few more notes, then.” He caught the thief red-handed.
If there is a righteous person nearby, always ask him for advice. But if you have no one to ask — when walking across a desert, for example — but obedience and humility live in your heart — then the Lord Almighty will be your elder. He will enlighten and guide you. When you cannot find anyone to explain the meaning of a biblical passage, God will give you the wisdom to understand it.
— Geronda, if something happens in my spiritual life, how may I know if it was a temptation from the enemy or my negligence?
— You should ask others.
— Do you mean that I cannot know it myself?
— You may make a guess, but you cannot be sure. Even people with experience need to ask others. I always do it. Deciding for myself, I consider it a great folly to choose entirely by myself, no matter how wise my decision may seem. Still, I would not consult with someone who knows what my preference would be. I would ask someone who does not. Some of the best doctors will consult their colleagues on their most difficult diagnoses. In our spiritual lives, we are all students, and we need this advice even more! No matter how spiritual we are, or how adept we are at reasoning on matters of the spirit that concern ourselves, we cannot find inner peace because God wants us to receive help from others. He wants us to grow by interacting with others. In His ultimate goodness, God wants us to humble ourselves. We should share our thoughts and motives with our confessors. We must seek their advice and not make difficult decisions totally by ourselves. Nor should we go it alone in overcoming difficulties in our spiritual lives. We should be wise enough not to subject ourselves to spiritual experiments and make ourselves vulnerable to the cunning of our enemy who will jump at every opportunity to confuse and ensnare us. Some, for example, even impose penances on themselves. Nothing can be more dangerous.
A Christian who ventures on his spiritual journey without a confessor may quickly become confused, exhausted and demotivated. He will find it very difficult to achieve his spiritual goals. He may be self-sufficient and adept at problem-solving, but self-confidence and pride still dim his reason. But the humble one, who overcomes his pride and asks his confessor for his opinion with trust and humility, will receive help. God will enlighten the confessor, who will give his disciple the best advice. It happens to me all the time. What am I? The lid of a tin can. Yet when someone comes to me seeing me as a saint, I feel some change from within and the words I say to this person are not my own. I know that he has come to me with reverence, and God does justice to him to bring me to the right state of mind. So when that person asks me for my advice on a serious matter, God will endow me with foreknowledge about that person, so I can tell them what will happen, when, and how they should receive it.
Saint Paisios the Athonite
Conversations. Volume 3. The spiritual struggle.
Part Five. The power of a confession.
Chapter one. Need for a spiritual father.