Seeking God in the Desert…

Living in the desert will be a way of focusing our activity in our search for God …

In the IV century A.D., the deserts of Syria were descended upon by people who went „hunting for God“.[1]  Asceticism and monastic life, in solitude, were the ways of faith. These are the years of early Christianity, when faith had to be lived before it could become a philosophical topic.

sant'antonio di tebeSt. Anthony the Great (Coma AD 251 – † AD 356 Mount Colzim), guardian of his sister, swineherd, Abbot and the Father of all Monks, centenarian; He was a religious figure who lived between 251 and 356 A.D., was the first to initiate a solitary desertification and an ascetical lifestyle. The desert being a difficult place to live and filled with many demons. St. Athanasius in his „Life of St. Anthony“ wrote, praising the saint for his great capacity to resist the seductions of demons who hounded him unceasingly. Anthony had been able to confront both the deceptions of demons, when one appeared as an emissary of the faith, and the assaults that the demons reigned upon him at night.[2]

Jesus is tested in the Desert

And Jesus being full of the Holy Ghost, returned from the Jordan, and was led by the Spirit into the desert,  For the space of forty days; and was tempted by the devil. And he ate nothing in those days; and when they were ended, he was hungry.“ Luke 4:1-2

gesu nel deserto

And when Jesus left Jordan, He was filled with the Holy Spirit, which guided Him into the desert, staying for over a month, he was constantly tempted by the devil and his minions, but the angels had taken care of Him. He had had nothing to eat during this period, but when it was over, he was extremely hungry. The devil tempting Him again said: „If thou be the Son of God, say to this stone that it be made bread.“ (Luke 4:3) Jesus replied to him: „It is written, that Man liveth not by bread alone, but by every word of God.“(Luke 4:4).[3]

In this article we used the Gospel according to Luke, yet we will also find these narrations made by both the apostles Matthew and Mark.

The places mentioned in the Bible are not just beautiful and arid landscapes that fill our minds eye, but important intersections that are very significant.

The shades below tremble, the waters and their inhabitants.  Sheol is naked before God, and Abaddon has no covering.  He stretches out Zaphon [Or the North] over the void, and hangs the earth upon nothing.[4]

The words of Job (26:7) are an example of the literature within the Old Testament that reserve unpropitious attributes to the sea. This place, in fact, is believed to be inhabited by dragons, a place of evil and before being „liberated“ by Biblical judgments, the waters are considered as evil by those who, in the Bible, had faith, one such example is Augustine.[5]

I do not intend to discuss the significance of the sites inside the Bible here, because the Old and New Testaments have already been subjected to exegetical and in-depth studies for many centuries, therefore inserting any explanations or afterthoughts at this point and would prove to be purposeless. In fact, what I am focused upon is to make particular observations of the Biblical desert and to the lives that have developed here through the practice of monasticism from the 4th to the 6th century and endeavour to comprehend it on a purely anthropological level.

Savage nature often appears within the Bible, yet among all the diversity that can be visualised, the desert remains the most recondite. To determine the value of this place and its perplexing character as a space where both God and demons intervene.[6]

It is precisely this force which has guided the history of ancient Christianity, groups of faithful interested in discovering and meeting God, yet far from societal life. The monks were the main performers of this trend. Their faith projected clear coordinates in the empty environment of the desert, both good and evil appeared distinctly clear in their characteristics.[7]

To be extraordinary is the will that the faithful have to get away from everything they know to embrace dangerous and unknown ways, escape from the familiar and insert themselves in a new fathomless place, to lose themselves.[8]

It can be said that we know a place when we have established a connection with it; a place is first and foremost a relationship between two actors: that is us and the landscape. When this element disappears, or when we are faced with something that escapes our interconnection, when it apparently either rejects or cannot be integrated into bonds, then we can say that, we are lost.[9]

One of the most natural consequence is to be afraid of that which we do not know, of the relationships we cannot develop. Precisely for this reason that which is unknown is usually confined and the processes that disconnect that which is familiar, our home, from that which is not, the way out, are guarded, just like a surveillance camera or an alarm which protect our exits.[10]

We cannot know whether the monks and hermits were afraid of the unknown or not, but we can be sure of their desire to discover closeness to God. Precisely for this reason they are willing to undergo the difficulties ascended in the desert.

What matters is that, thanks to faith, the desert place could be put in order, it could become familiar. Thanks to faith it is possible to sleep on the stone and to fast becauseil deserto these practices contribute to defining the experience of faith. Scanning religious action, ensuring that this impregnates every aspect of one’s life, is the way to live God and make the desert their own.

The narrow space that becomes a habitable place seems to undergo a direct passage that changes its situation under the desire for sanctity by an individual. In reality, things are more complex as they are based on the idea of transforming the unknown into known through relations and especially intentionality.

The monk who chooses to live in the desert is the one who takes an ambiguous and almost unknown biblical element, to then project his wills and desires into it. Wanting to move to a place to find God is not very different from changing one’s state or to try one’s luck: once inserted into the new environment in which we have already envisaged the success we are hoping for, we will work harder and we will be more careful to see it happen.[11]

It is the same mechanism that underlies a magical ritual, such as for example the blessing of soil before its cultivation. Without speculating on the authenticity or effectiveness of ritual and displacement, the acts, the movements that we are going to carry out will for us cover special meanings and will be catalysts of our intentionality.[12]

Living in the desert will be a way of focusing our activity in our search for God and this activity will allow us to show our purpose as we move upon the landscape.

The ascetic life is the pre-eminent mechanism that is used to make the unfamiliar known by inserting it into the familiar, incorporating it. Faith will be the frame and mechanism that the monk uses to narrate and to give meaning to the unknown.

For this reason the monastic surge which from the 4th to the 6th centuries will invade the narrow places can count on a simple and strong faith and will at the same time be feared by the authority for its independence.[13]

Continue reading “Seeking God in the Desert…”

A Testimony to Eremitical Life

His simple way of speaking did not remember the charismatic fire of the Old Testament prophets or the one that one imagines would have existed in some great saints of history. No, none of that; I had met a man in whom

Translated from Spanish to English CuadMon 10 (1969) pp. 129-140.  

There are some unusual references that seem to be out of place such as the saying by the hermit “Yo soy un Pedro de Alcántara – I’m a Peter of Alcantara” to which we can attribute no reason.  Translations can be difficult at times and on this occasion it was decided to leave the comment unaltered in the hope that someone could shed light on it.  The article was originally entitled “Un testimonio de vida eremítica” in CuadMon 10 (1969) pp. 129-140.




I took a path on the edge of a ravine that led to an abyss in the hill. The sun had recently appeared in the mountains and sometimes shone my way. As I climbed I left behind the sounds of civilisation and only heard the birds singing and the beating of my heart when I stopped. There were natural forests, rocks and sometimes some poplars that indicated a source of water. As I climbed, I said, I hope I finds him in his hermitage before he has gone to work on the fences. When I reached the summit, I saw a little house on the distance slope. It was built on the undulating landscape, overgrown with thorns as though to protect it from intruders, completely distant, solitary and silent. Suddenly I heard the bark of a dog. I said to myself: “I hope I do not get bitten by the hermit’s dog.” But at that moment there was a human ululation that silenced the dog. It was a local muleteer, from the manner of his idiolect, who was leading some animals. At that very moment, I made out another hut, somewhat further away. Leaving me in doubt as to which of the two would be the hermitage; I went to the first one I had seen. When I got there I understood that this was what I had been looking for. It was locked with an old style padlock, a small cross on the roof, painted green, a fireplace, I could smell of recent smoke from burnt logs, it was all in all a very small square house, some dry wood was stacked by the door: and that, was all. After some time, I made my way to the other house I had seen, which was in front of me, 800 meters away I could make out voices, probably from some muleteers. What did they think, who lived no less as little hermits themselves, about their professional neighbour? I wanted to ask them. When I arrived, another dog barked at me.


There were two men rigging mules; One was striking one of them. I greeted and introduced myself. We talked about their work: they sold firewood in the village: six hours of travel each day round trip. The sale of firewood was not very profitable at the moment because it was not cold yet and people did not buy much. What they earned was barely enough to live on, even more so with the cost of things nowadays. “Have you lived here for a long time?” I asked. “About five years, we arrived three years before the father who lives at the hermitage. And we like to live here.”  “You are hermits too,” I told them. But they did not respond, “And what do you think of the father’s life?” “It’s his choice!” = Replied one immediately. “He himself built his hut and works mending fences; He built a very long stone cairn that climbs up there on the hill. Since the owner of the other farm did not want to set the boundary, he did it. Hard work!”  I told him that the drought seemed like God’s punishment “Of course!” He replied. “because now people do no believe in anything! The father has to go around mending fences; Maybe he’ll come to his hut later. If you want, continue on this path and you will find him on the way, if not, wait for him by his hut. Yesterday I saw him with a pole on his shoulder and today I saw his fresh footsteps near the water springhead. I hope the water does not dry out with this drought,” he added. When I said goodbye I asked the name. “Ah!” He answered me. “And you?” I asked the other. But the first one replied: “It’s my brother, P.A.” He immediately asked me: “You. know the player P.A., on the first team of the U? It’s his son!” He finished with a certain amount of pride. I then started to look for the Father. No signs of him. I even lost the orientation of his hermitage. In the distance, the sound of an airplane could be heard. On top of a post I saw the remains of fresh meat and a number of feathers on the ground: perhaps a bird of prey had satiated its previous night’s hunger a few moments ago. Great silence and loneliness. Finally I spotted the hermitage again. I went there and sat down to wait. It was close to noon. Some advancing clouds where rolling down the mountain range which could be the first rain of this year. The drought had cracked the land in some places.  Eremo San PacomioAt about midday of the day, I heard noise behind me; A door was opened. I turned and saw a man I was looking for, he was as thin as a rake and tall his deportment was one of serenity and irreproachability which radiated from his very person.  He wore a blue shirt and trousers; on his face a white sideburns with several days of growth. He looked at me curiously. He left some tools on the floor. I greeted him and identified myself. He invited me to his hermitage and offered me lunch.  “I have rice! want some?”

“The other meal would take about two hours,” he said, showing me some beans that he took out of a package. “ I have a good stomach and I can eat anything,” I replied. “I will make rice then” he concluded. With elongated gestures he began to move and look for what he needed for the meal. From a rock that was part of the interior of the hermitage, he removed a cover that hid a crack in the rock and that was used to store things to eat. “I spend eight dollars a month,” he said, beginning to pull things out of the hole in the rock. “An apple for everyone” he said loudly. “Bread, this bread must be older than a week, because I brought it from the monastery last Sunday and who knows when it was bought to the monastery”. (My visit to the hermit took place on a Friday). “But, if you want, we’ll toast it; so it is better.” “Good”. I answered. I forgot to mention that the upper part of the rock served as an altar. He also took some oil and pepper. I, noted to myself, while I was taking notes — I had told him beforehand why I was doing this — he was not so poorly provisioned; there was not an abundance, but at least he had the essentials; It was a sign, that gave me the impression, that this hermit did not despise his own life, but with all simplicity put himself at the service of God in solitude. He built a fire, always with prolonged movements. Water from a demijohn to a pot, rice and other ingredients. Everything prepared quietly. Then he put some water in a jar for tea. “There are two tea bags here,” he said, putting them on a small table by his wooden pallet bed. He removed another cover in the stone recess and the silverware appeared. There were several books on the table. A copy of the Old Testament in Hebrew.

While the food was being prepared and washed, we started talking. I would like to stay here until the end of my life, unless something particular comes along like communism and I have to leave. Before arriving here, I met with your neighbours, I said. Yes, the A., he answered; Did you know, he continued, that P.A. Is the son of one of the player? When I arrived here, they lived near the water fountain. Every time I went for water, their dogs would bark at me. I did not like their presence, and since the farm did not need them and I needed silence and solitude, I asked them to leave. They moved house, to where they are now. I would definitely like them to leave. So they are not very close friends of yours? I asked. No, he said smiling. At that moment he got up and took the pot out of the fire: Brother X told me that it was necessary to leave the rice ten minutes out of the fire before eating it, he said. The conversation continued. He had been in monastic life for 23 years and a year and a half as a hermit here. I came to this country to be a hermit. In the monastery of my country of origin, there was too much noise and upheaval because they were rebuilding the monastery. But do not think that my reasons for becoming a hermit was because of the noise. I had set my heart on becoming a hermit many years ago. I believe that I am better suited to the eremitic life than to community life. I think my inherent qualities are hermitic by nature. Suddenly he exclaimed, rice is ready! He offered me the pot to serve me on my plate; I took some rice out and I was struck by the wonderful smell of rice. Nice aroma! I said.  Yes, yes, he replied, I am a competent cook.

St. Peter of Alcantara

I’m a Peter of Alcantara; It is enough penance having to eat pure rice almost every day, he concluded calmly. Then he poured hot water into the tea pot. Here is the sugar, he said, passing me a jar. We continued talking after he blessed the food. I celebrate Mass every day and concelebrate every Sunday at the monastery. Visitors? No! You are the first this year, last year I was visited by a Spanish priest. I have asked the monks of the monastery not to mention me to their guests. But as you came, let us give thanks to God. I chose this place because it is very quiet and there is a water supply nearby. There is a lot of work to do here, and I can do it perfectly and better than a salaried worker; You know how it is when you have no one to watch over you! Here I spend my life and there are weeks when I do not see anyone. In the morning I work fences and in the afternoon I read, I pray, I contemplate, I study. My Superior comes every week to see me and has lunch with me. He spends one hour here. It’s up to him. Usually when he makes his weekly retreat day he come here to do a spiritual conference

with me. But lately since he returned from Europe he has not come. Do I like the animals that walk around here? Yes. I think a rabbit used to eat all food scraps that I used leave outside every night. I’ve never seen the rabbit. But one day  because of a hunter, he must have taken flight, as he never came back. On another day I was by the water fountain when suddenly a fox approached me only about two meters away, but then fled hastily. If I had owned a rifle I would have had several foxes hanging from the roof of my house.  – He spoke with total tranquility – But more than animals I like geology and poetry. I like the Jesuit poet Fr. Gerard Manley Hopkins SJ more than Gabriela Mistral. I have tried to read Pablo Neruda, but my Spanish does not enable it. I read “Condorito” [little condor] but I thought it was another comic magazine, and he pointed out one that was on the table … it is far better because the author reveals a great knowledge of the psychology of contemporary man. But of course more than poetry I am interested in Sacred Scripture. I studied it for three years at the Biblical Institute and one year at the Angelicum in Rome. I taught it for four years at the monastery of my country of origin, until I decided to become a hermit. Then, I came, to this country, because my monastery had made a monastic foundation here.

I believe that the eremitical life has great prospects in the future. I think, also, that, relatively, there are many people in monasteries who feel the desire to live as hermits. Sometimes you cannot pray, think and live without some tensions in a monasteries. When one wishes to become a hermit, he often has to ignore the unpropitious opinions of some of the brothers regarding it; As for me, I think they are happy with my choice now. – Are you asking me about the conditions to be a hermit? Good. A great desire to live with God with a greater intensity than in ordinary life. With prayers that are not only implicit but explicit. I would say that it is a specialisation in prayer. For this I believe that the methods of prayer used by the oriental religions can be of use. And, of course, a very healthy psychological life. Look, mankind usually works and sees the fruits of his labours, but the hermit arrives before God with empty hands. It is a life of faith and love. Regarding what most attracts me to the Gospel, I will tell you that it is the Sermon of the Last Supper by Saint John. Where Jesus calls his disciples his friends. Then, smiling, he added: The Council speaks of servants, but Jesus speaks of friends. At that moment of the conversation, he bent down and took a broom from a corner and began to sweep the ashes off the fire. It is necessary that in the Church there are men who apparently do not do anything useful, he continued. Men who are not involved in the activities that the Church runs. You ask me about prayer! I have no secrets in prayer, I pray like every Christian. I really like the book “Spiritual Letters” by Dom John Chapman, an English Benedictine.


It seems to me that the difference in my prayer compared to that of other Christians is that with objectivity I commit more time to prayer, although subjectively a Christian in the world can pray just as I do. – The changes in the Church? The eremitical life is separate from the changes in the Church. It is essentially the same as in the Middle Ages or at its beginnings. I receive a magazines that informs me what is happening in the Church and in the world. There is a great change and many people are confused. I pray that people have light in the midst of current problems. Now, I consider it necessary for every Christian to know what is happening in the Church and in the world; I also consider it a necessity for the hermit, although I do not think it is necessary for him to dedicate himself to finding solutions to the problems. In my prayer I am very aware of the priests, because I know of the problems the current priesthood has and I have also known some difficult cases first hand. It is true that there is a tradition in the Church that considers monastic life as an angelic life, but today it seems necessary for monks to know all about these problems. As for the most important thing in the renewal of religious life, it seems to me, that it has to rediscover the evangelical spirit that encouraged the founder and for that spirit to adapt to the 20th century … of course this is a little vague! I believe that the eremitical life has the possibility of joining God almost in the same manner of angels, without the noises of monasteries and their distractions. Saying this, he got up, took a crude fly swatter that had a piece of rubber tied at the end, homemade, of course, and killed some flies that were on the glass. Who knows from where they entered, since the door and the window were closed. As he sat down again he told me: Flies are the only animals that distract me.

I thought it was time to end the visit and I told him so. Then he apologised if he had been unable to say more. Excuse me, too, if I did not say many things, he added. And finishing his apology, he told me, almost softly: There are other more intelligent hermits, like Father X, and Father Z., who can say things far more profound than I can.

He opened the door of the hermitage, took the pot and we went outside. After a few meters he bent down and began to clean it with water and ash. In Spring this place is very beautiful! It’s all green and parturient cows come here. Every day new calves appear that the cows are giving birth to. When I say goodbye to him, he tells me that he will pray for me and asks me to pray for him. He turned his back on me and returned quietly to his hermitage, as if nothing had happened. I started the return. It was 3 in the afternoon. The clouds had passed by. The sun filled everything again.

ritorna al lavoro

While walking I began to reflect. Evidently he was a very simple man, who loved and liked life; a normal man; neither shy nor extroverted; that loved and sought loneliness. He was not a thinker, he was not an intellectual light, but he was a man who prayed and a man of great common sense and discretion; I remembered that phrase he had told me: I do not have solutions for current problems, nor am I sufficiently informed to issue a categorical answer on problems such as the Vietnam War, the Humanae Vitae, etc. Do your people have an authoritative opinion about Humanae Vitae? I wonder. To make a judgment you must inform yourself first. I know the problems, but before them, I prefer to pray.

His simple way of speaking did not remember the charismatic fire of the Old Testament prophets or the one that one imagines would have existed in some great saints of history. No, none of that; I had met a man in whom the spectacular was not glimpsed. With a man of flesh and bone, with limitations just like every man. With a man whom the Spirit had led to solitude to live peacefully with God praying for his brothers men. The life of faith and love in him was a simple life. To penetrate his life, in the life of the Spirit of Jesus, it had to be done in faith and in love.

A pilgrim.

Theophan, recluse, hermit, bishop and saint.

Throughout Christian history many monks have had to abandon the tranquility of their monasteries and serve the Church as missionaries, bishops and popes. There were also itinerants in withdrawal, when so many ecclesiastics of action took refuge in a cloisters to seek God in prayer, penance and solitude. In many cases, these retreatant’s exercised important apostolate’s as directors of souls or writers of texts on spirituality. Still fresh is the memory of Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger pss, whom Pope Paul VI allowed to leave his episcopal See and enter into seclusion in a distant African mission as chaplain for a leper colony in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  The author of this paper recalls Monsignor Tomás Aspe o.f.m., (Oct. 9, 1885 – † Jan. 22, 1962) bishop of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who as a thanksgiving for being cured of leprosy, dedicated the rest of his life to his ex-companion’s  with this terrible infirmity. The topic of interest now is of Theophan the Recluse (†1894), Russian Orthodox dimissory bishop of Tambov and  a hermit for 24 years.

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Theophan il Recluso
St. Theophan the Recluse

Throughout Christian history many monks have had to abandon the tranquility of their monasteries and serve the Church as missionaries, bishops and popes. There were also itinerants in withdrawal, when so many ecclesiastics of action took refuge in a cloisters to seek God in prayer, penance and solitude. In many cases, these retreatant’s exercised important apostolate’s as directors of souls or writers of texts on spirituality. Still fresh is the memory of Canadian Cardinal Paul-Émile Léger pss, whom Pope Paul VI allowed to leave his episcopal See and enter into seclusion in a distant African mission as chaplain for a leper colony in Yaoundé, Cameroon.  The author of this paper recalls Monsignor Tomás Aspe o.f.m., (Oct. 9, 1885 – † Jan. 22, 1962) bishop of Cochabamba, Bolivia, who as a thanksgiving for being cured of leprosy, dedicated the rest of his life to his ex-companion’s  with this terrible infirmity. The topic of interest now is of Theophan the Recluse (†1894), Russian Orthodox dimissory bishop of Tambov and  a hermit for 24 years.

Theophan is better known in the West through the various translations of his works on spirituality. His writings on prayer are particularly appreciated, probably because they are the fruit of what he himself experienced. His life has never been dramatic, nor full of great pastoral enterprises: from his childhood to his death it was calm and pious, we see that this life developed in a quiet channel of withdrawal – first as a student, then as a priest, teacher, bishop and monk. In his search for Christian perfection in solitude, he has developed a broad and fruitful apostolate as a father and spiritual master.

Georgy Vasilievich Govorov (Георгий Васильевич Говоров), was born in Chernavsk, province and diocese of Oryol, in the former Russian Empire. He was one of the 7 sons of a Russian Orthodox priest and, therefore was reasonably predestined towards an ecclesiastical career, as was common in Russia at the time of Tsar Peter the Great. At the age of 8, he began his studies at the parochial institute. He attended secondary school at the diocesan seminary in Oryol. As a child he showed great intelligence, and a strong tendency towards piousness and seclusion.  Due to his excellent gradings in his studies, he was granted a scholarship to the Ecclesiastical Academy (Faculty of Theology) of Kiev, where, among other things, he studied oriental languages ​​ascribable to his particular interest in Sacred Scriptures. At the age of 26 he made his monastic profession taking the name of Theophan. On 29 June, 1841, he was ordained a Hieromonk. For all these competences he was assigned as a teacher in seminaries for the clergy, and, as a “learned monk,” he was considered a safe candidate for the episcopate. He always retained his reserved character and his love for solitude. He had the opportunity to travel through biblical locations, where he also met various communities of Orthodox Christians, either subjects of the Ottoman or Greek Empire. He was quite unimpressed to say in the least “by the disorder and carelessness of those Christians”. He also traveled through Italy, which also did not leave an indelible impression. One should note that his views on the Roman Catholic Church were no more than ordinary or even vulgar; in fact, he never formed an original distinctive opinion on the topic.

As a teacher, he served in the diocesan seminary of Novgorod and at the St. Petersburg Theological Academy (Санкт-Петербургская духовная академия). He taught various biblical disciplines, patristics and moral theology. He fulfilled his obligations with true dedication and with the highest professionalism. In all likelihood, his notable morality served as the basis for the formation of his religious and theological persona; but this discipline did not conform to the classic code of scholastic moralists, but understood it as loyal adherence to the Gospel. Medieval scholasticism passed from the West to Russian theological schools by the Metropolitan of Kiev and Halych and All Rus’ Exarch of Ukraine, Pyotr Simeonovich Mogila, in the XV century for the Russian theologians.  In the XIX century they began to develop their own theology based on the Holy Scriptures and the Holy Fathers. The divisions of dialectics and Western rationalistic exaggerations were antithetical and totally unbearable to the Russian religious spirit.

As expected, Theophan was consecrated bishop on the 11 June 1859 and appointed to the See of Tambov in the Tambov Oblast of Russia. Here he encountered a wide sphere of labours, but also an immense load to cope with. Russian dioceses were not only geographically extensive – requiring long and exhaustive journeys – but also extremely complex due to the many parishes and varied kinds of institutions. He also had to face arbitrary bureaucracy and frequent clashes with the civil authorities; In addition to the endless pontifical liturgical functions to which a bishop is obligated. For a genuine man of religion, with a reflective spirit who is eager for knowledge, this life must have been extremely mortifying and frustrating.

One fact greatly impacted Theophan and was a catalyst for his final resolve. In 1861 participating in the exhumation of the mortal remains of the holy bishop Tikhon of Zadonsk, former Bishop of Voronezh from 1763 to 1767 and Wonderworker of All Russia. He was a person of great religious, moral and intellectual qualities, an erudite and zealous pastor. But despite his youth – he was in his forties, – he resigned from the Episcopal See due to his nerves which unbalanced his whole body, and secluded himself in the monastery of Zadonsk, his former diocese, where he had spent sixteen years in prayer, study and the apostolate for the direction of souls; he died in fame of sanctity on Sunday, August 13, 1783 aged 59. His uncorrupted remains were exhumed in 1861, with enormous competition from the faithful and devout people. This holy bishop is the protagonist of the chapter “At Tikhon’s” in Dostoevsky’s Demons.  Theophan knew the life and works of the dimissory bishop very well, who had reached sanctity in his retirement in a distant, humble and   disregarded monastery of Zadonsk. Having contemplated a great deal on the matter, Theophan finally decided to imitate Saint Tikhon, although not as an intervention for health reasons in this case. He obtained the desired retreat, and on 28 June, 1866 relinquished his Episcopal See to settle in the hermitage Vyshenskaia Poustinia, in neighbouring Tambov province. Until 1872 the Holy Synod had forced him to serve as Prior of the monastery, but finally obtained permission to remain in his valued seclusion. The hermitage consisted of two rooms and a small garden. He left there only on Easter night, to celebrate the Resurrection of Christ. Rotating only with his assistant, a monk, he lived like this until 6 January, 1894, when his assistant found him lifeless in his bed.

What was the life of the reclusive bishop? It was not like that of the ancient hermits, though it resembled it to some extent. He was, in fact, an intellectual ecclesiastic in solitude. In his private chapel, the canonical Hours were celebrated, which in the Byzantine rite had the form of liturgical celebration, and frequently added the Divine Liturgy, that is the Mass. He had free time and ambience for his personal prayers and study. He read and studied a lot (the library of “Tikhon”, by Dostoyevsky corresponding with the library of Theophan); he wrote and translated several works: he left us the complete version in contemporary Russian of the famous Philocalia. His library consisted of 3400 volumes, with several works on theology, texts of the Fathers, many works of Eastern and Western spirituality (he was well versed in St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Francis de Sales), works of ancient and modern philosophy, various magazines and newspapers. He was interested in various sciences, for example astronomy; painted icons and performed various manual jobs. As director of consciences he received a lot of correspondence that he always answered promptly. His time was encumber with many pursuits.

The works written by Theophan compose a single set of publications: eight volumes of Biblical exegesis (except the letter to the Hebrews); collections of Sermons and Conferences; the complete Philocalia in contemporary Russian; twenty volumes of correspondence; Put’ko Spaseniyu (The Path to Salvation): Nachertanie kristianskogo nravoucheniya (Programming of Christian moral doctrine). This last work exposes the systematic theological, moral and spiritual thought of Theophan. Several authors have characterised it as moralist, which can be admitted if by morality we meant an order of life. However, the work is more than this, since we can take it as a treatise on Christian anthropology and systematic spirituality.

In this work, as in general, Theophan does not formulate any natural theodicy as a starting point: segments like the Three Cappadocians on the dogma of one and triune God, who has created man in his image and likeness. Man has been created with sanctifying grace, which is part of his nature; and the corruption of sin consisting in the loss of grace: so sin is an action against nature. The created man, being an image of God, was divine, and would have naturally sought to unite with God at his end. This would have been realised with the faculties that characterise it, which are consciousness and freedom. But as our nature is now corrupted and redeemed by Christ, morality must contemplate the subject on the real state of his existence, that is, within the economy of Salvation.

With original sin man lost his communion with God, so that the human spirit became a prisoner of his own soul and body. It should be noted that the author understands the human entity as a Platonic trichotomy: the body with life, the soul with feelings and freedom, and the spirit with reasoning. However, this trichotomy is not very clear in Theophan’s works, perhaps because of his past studies in scholastic theology of Aristotelian-Thomism, used in the Russian ecclesiastical schools until the last century. He regards the human spirit as the noblest part of ones being: there the faculties of reasoning, the conscience, the desire and the fear of God, and, and finally, sanctifying grace.

To recompose the character destroyed by sin, a Redeemer God and man was necessary: with God only Redemption would have been something purely imposed, with man alone it would not have been possible to restore grace. Consequently, we achieve salvation by grace, but with our own collaboration. Complete life is only possessed by the integral nature, which includes grace. Therefore, a morally good pagan does not live life completely. On the other hand, the salvation of Christ signifies for man the fulfilment of sins and the possibility of performing true human works according to the will of God.

The Theo-anthropos Christ has freely given himself as the fulfilment for sin. We need his grace to rebuild our destroyed nature. Christ announced to us the will of God: He is the head of humanity. To communicate his grace, he established his Church during Pentecost. We receive grace for Baptism. The laws of the Church are given by God and the bishops administer them. Christ is the only head of the Church: the bishops are his ministers. Theophan interprets the famous and controversial text of Matthew 16 as follows: the “rock” is the unquestioned faith of Peter in Christ incarnate, but the final interpretation of the text refers to the opinions of the Church. The supreme authority of the visible Church is the Council of Bishops, who care for the faith and administer grace; denying both the ecclesial democracy of the Protestants, and the principles of sobornost, -catholicity or communion-  as formulated by the Russians. In the Church there must be unity of thought, of will, of sentiments and of action. Everything prescribed by the Church must be observed, without distinguishing the necessary from the accessory.

Following this dogmatic exposition of redemption and of the Church, we see that Theophan here represents the traditional viewpoint of Russian orthodoxy which maintains its conservatism without distinguishing the value of the various ecclesiastical traditions. It is also remarkable that in his political vision he has not overcome the conservative concepts, so dear to the Russian monarchy, of православие, самодержавие, национальность, (orthodoxy, autocracy, nationality), concepts analogous to the many catholic fundamentalist environments.

According to Theophan, Christian life possesses certain conditions, which enable the necessary good works. These are conscience and conscious action: it is necessary to have the consciousness of being a servant of Christ. The object, purpose and circumstances of good works must be legitimate. God has manifested his precepts in nature: they are the natural laws, or revealed them: they are the positive laws. These positive laws may be divine – revealed directly or indirectly – or human – whether ecclesiastical or civil. The Gospel is the supreme law and therefore must be preferred above all other laws. Virtue consists in a state of mind that works in a Christian way. Sin, in turn, consists of a voluntary transgression and free from a precept.

In the categorisation and classification of sins, Theophan has followed the Catechism of Peter Mogila, who in turn composed it according to the Roman model that he became acquainted with during his studies with the Jesuits. The Christian must live by observing the Gospel, moved by the grace he obtains for the sacraments.

Finally, Theophan propounds the natural desire of man to unite with God and this he does through prayer. Starting from the oriental concept of the heart as the most intimate background of the human being, and of the mind as the cognitive element, formulates its definition of prayer: it is elevation of the heart and mind to God.

Distinguishing four degrees or types of prayer: oral, with formulas composed ex-professed, accompanied by fasting and prostrations; the prayer of the mind, in which feelings accompany every word; the prayer of heart, in which the formulas disappear and the human faculties remain silent, fatigue is not felt and feelings of piety and gratitude toward God emerge; finally, pure prayer of the spirit or contemplative, in which all human sentiments are silent.

Theophan warns with great acuity against various pseudo-charisms, especially against visions and miracles. We could say that he is extremely severe in the caution against spirits.

The illustrious and great Russian spiritual master, appreciated and read by generations of Christians and scholars interested in a systematic and logical spirituality, canonised by his Church years ago along with another great master, the staretz (стáрец)  Ven. Ambrose of Optina (1812-†1891).


  • The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned To It
  • Theofan, The Recluse (Saint), 2017. A Manual of Spiritual Transformation. Excerpts from the “The Path to Salvation”. Available at: [Accessed October 29, 2018].
  • Turning the Heart to God (Partial translation of The Path to Salvation)
  • Kindling the Divine Spark: Teachings on How to Preserve Spiritual Zeal
  • Theophan the Recluse. Four Homilies on Prayer. Retrieved 1 February 2017.
  • Theophan the Recluse. Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse. ISBN 978-1-928920-87-8.}
  • Theophan the Recluse (1992). Amis, Robin; Williams, Esther, eds. The Heart of Salvation: The Life and Teachings of Russia’s Saint Theophan the Recluse. Praxis Institute. ISBN 978-1872292021.


To understand how fundamental it is for the development of Christian life to strive to acquire and preserve peace of heart, the first thing we must be convinced of is that all the good we can do comes from God and from him alone. “for without me you can do nothing”[1], said Jesus.  He did not say: “You cannot do great things”, but “You cannot do anything”.  It is essential for us to be convinced of this truth.  We will often need failures, humiliations and trials – permitted by God – because…

By Father Jacques Philippe translated from Italian to English by Ven. Fr. Dom. Ugo-Maria


To understand how fundamental it is for the development of Christian life to strive to acquire and preserve peace of heart, the first thing we must be convinced of is that all the good we can do comes from God and from him alone. “for without me you can do nothing”[1], said Jesus.  He did not say: “You cannot do great things”, but “You cannot do anything”.  It is essential for us to be convinced of this truth.  We will often need failures, humiliations and trials – permitted by God – because this truth cannot be grasped by our intelligence only, but become experiences for our whole being.  God, if he could, would spare us all these tests, but they are necessary to make us discover our innate impossibility to do good alone.  According to the testimony from the saints, it is indispensable to acquire the knowledge of our limits, because it is the suitable ground in which all the great things that the Lord will do in us with the power of his grace will flourish.  This is why St. Theresa of the Child Jesus said that the greatest thing the Lord had done in her soul was to have shown her, was how small and powerless she really was.  If we earnestly study the words in the Gospel of John, quoted above, then we begin to understand that the fundamental problem of our spiritual life becomes this: How to let Jesus act in us? How can we allow God’s grace to work freely in our lives?

We must not therefore force ourselves to do things according to our plans and our competencies, but we must try to find out what the dispositions of our soul allows us to act in us.   You have not chosen me: but I have chosen you; and have appointed you, that you should go, and should bring forth fruit; and your fruit should remain.[2]  So to the question: “What can we do to allow God’s grace to act freely in our lives?”  There is no single answer, for a recipe that suits everyone.  To answer fully, we should write a treatise on spiritual life in which we speak of prayer, of the sacraments, of purification of the heart, of docility to the Holy Spirit and of all the ways through which God’s grace comes to flood within us.  We do not really intend to do it, we simply want to treat one aspect of spiritual life, today too often forgotten.  It is about this essential truth: to allow God’s grace to act and produce within us – of course with our cooperation – all these “For we are his workmanship, created in Christ Jesus in good works, which God hath prepared that we should walk in them”[3], it is extremely important that we strive to acquire and preserve inner peace, peace of heart.

For a better understanding, we will use an image (not to be taken too literally, like all comparisons). Consider the surface of a lake on which the sun shines: if this is calm and tranquil, the sun will reflect it almost perfectly and the more perfect the lake calmer it will be.  Otherwise, the image of the sun would not be able to perfectly reflected upon it.  The same thing happens with our soul, towards God: the more calm it is, the more God is reflected in it, his image improves in us and his grace acts through us.  If instead our soul is agitated and troubled, the action of grace becomes considerably more difficult to perform.  All the good we can do is a reflection of the higher Good that is God.  The more our soul is calm and surrendered, the more this Good is communicated to us and through us, to others.  “The Lord will give strength to his people: the Lord will bless his people with peace.”[4]

Our God is the God of peace.  He speaks and does not work unless in peace, not in disruption and disconcertment.  Let us therefore recall the experience of the prophet Elijah on Mount Horeb: “the Lord is not in the wind, the Lord is not in the earthquake.  The Lord is not in the fire, and after the fire a whistling of a gentle air.”[5]

We often get agitated, we worry about trying to solve everything by ourselves, while it would be much more effective to remain calm, under the gaze of God, letting him act and work in us with his wisdom and his power, which is immeasurably far superior to ours.  “For thus saith the Lord God the Holy One of Israel: If you return and be quiet, you shall be saved: in silence and in hope shall your strength be. And you would not.”[6]

Of course, ours does not want to be, an invitation to laziness and inactivity; but an exhortation not to act, moved by a spirit of restlessness and excessive haste, but under the mild and peaceful impulse of the Spirit of God.  St. Vincent de Paul, the least suspect of laziness, said: “The good that God works by himself, almost without anyone noticing it.  We must be more passive than active; so that God alone will do, through you, what all men together could not do without him.”


This search for inner peace may seem to some, very selfish: why make this the main objective, while in the world there is so much suffering and so much misery?  To this observation we must first of all respond that the peace in question is that of the Gospel.  It has nothing to do with a sort of impassivity, of the death of sensibility, of cold indifference closed in upon itself, as with certain attitudes in yoga or certain statues of Buddha might suggest to us.  On the contrary, as we shall see later, the peace we are talking about is the essential consequence of the heart of a true openness to the suffering of one’s neighbour and of genuine compassion.  Since only this peace of heart is there for us, it increases our sensitivity to others and makes us available to others.

In addition we will say that only the man who enjoys this inner peace can effectively help a brother. Can you, in fact, give peace to others if you do not first possess it?  Can there be peace in families, in society, among the people, if there is no peace in their hearts to begin with?

“Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved,” said St. Seraphim of Sarov,[7] a great and holy eighteenth-century Russian saint.  To acquire this inner peace, he made an effort to live in ceaseless prayer.  After sixteen years of monastic life and twenty-five of eremitic life, he was attacked by a gang of thieves, he never resisted, they beat him mercilessly with the handle of his own ax, leaving him for dead; leaving Seraphim with a hunched back for the rest of his life.  He spent 5 months recovering and then Seraphim spent 1,000 successive nights on a rock in continuous prayer with his arms raised to the sky, a Herculean feat of asceticism, especially considering the pain from his injuries.  He then remained another sixteen years as a recluse in a cell.  He had begun to radiate in a visible way what had been done within his soul, after only forty-eight years of contemplative life.  But with what fruits! He became immensely sought-after due to his powers of healing and gift of prophecy.  His ability to answer his guests’ questions before they could ask. Thousands of pilgrims went to him and left, comforted, freed from doubts and anxieties, enlightened as to their vocation, healed in body and soul.

The exhortation of Saint Seraphim does nothing but bear witness to his personal experience, identical to that of many other saints.  The attainment and perpetuation of inner peace, impossible without prayer, should be considered a priority, especially for those who claim to want to do good to others.  Otherwise, we would often talk to those who are in difficulty with our own anxieties only.


It is now necessary to dwell on yet another truth, which is no less important: Christian life is a struggle, a war without respite.  Saint Paul invites us, in his letter to the Ephesians, to cover ourselves in the armour of God to fight “Finally, brethren, be strengthened in the Lord, and in the might of his power.  Put you on the armour of God, that you may be able to stand against the deceits of the devil.  For our wrestling is not against flesh and blood; but against principalities and power, against the rulers of the world of this darkness, against the spirits of wickedness in the high places.  Therefore take unto you the armour of God, that you may be able to resist in the evil day, and to stand in all things perfect.  Stand therefore, having your loins girt about with truth, and having on the breastplate of justice, And your feet shod with the preparation of the gospel of peace: In all things taking the shield of faith, wherewith you may be able to extinguish all the fiery darts of the most wicked one.  And take unto you the helmet of salvation, and the sword of the Spirit (which is the word of God).”[8]  He describes the components in detail, all the pieces of armour that we must wear and why.

Every Christian must be convinced that his spiritual life cannot under any circumstances be reduced to a quiet flow of days without history, but has to be in a place of constant struggle (against evil, temptations, discouragement), sometimes it can be painful and which will end only at our death.  This inescapable struggle must be interpreted as an extremely positive actuality.  Since we “make war that we may live in peace,”[9] [10]   there can be no victory without a struggle.  This conflict is precisely the locus of our purification and spiritual growth, with this approach we learn to know ourselves, our weaknesses and God in his infinite mercy.  It is, ultimately, the way chosen by God for our metamorphoses and our glorification.

Notwithstanding the spiritual battle of the Christian, although sometimes tough, it is never the despairing war of those who fight in solitude, blindly, without any certitude regarding the outcome of the confrontation.  It is the struggle of those who fight with absolute certainty, that victory is already assured, because the Lord has risen: “And one of the ancients said to me: Weep not; behold the lion of the tribe of Judah,[11] the root of David, hath prevailed….”[12]  Thus, let us not fight alone with our strength, but with the Lord who tells us: “My grace is sufficient for thee; for power is made perfect in infirmity. Gladly therefore will I glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may dwell in me,”[13] our main weapon is not our habitual firmness of character nor our human abilities, but our faith, this total adhesion to Christ, that permits us, even at our worst moments, to abandon with blind faith to the one who will not abandon. “I can do all these things in him who strengtheneth me.”[14]  And again: “The Lord is my light and my salvation, whom shall I fear? The Lord is the protector of my life: of whom shall I be afraid?”[15]

The Christian therefore battles with energy, called to resist “For you have not yet resisted unto blood, striving against sin.”[16]  But he does so with a calm heart and his struggle is all the more effective the more his heart dwells in peace.  Since it is this inner peace that allows him to fight not with his own strength – which would be less – but with that of God.


We have already said that the believer in all of his battles, whatever the violence, will endeavour to preserve peace of heart to let the God of the host fight in him.  Aptly, he must be cognisant of the fact that: inner peace is not only a condition of spiritual struggle, it is – very often – the end.  It is quite frequent that the spiritual battle consists precisely of this: defending interior peace from our enemies who’s impetus is to steal it away.

If truth be told, one of the usual strategies used by the devil to drive back soul from God and thus, delaying the spiritual process, is to try to make you lose your inner peace, this is what Lorenzo Scupoli,[17] one of the greatest spiritual masters of the sixteenth century says on the subject: “The devil does his utmost to banish peace from one’s heart, because he knows that God abides in peace and it is in peace that He accomplishes great things.”  It will be very useful to remember this because often, in the daily conduct of our Christian life, it happens that we are wrong to fight – if we can say so – that we misguide our efforts. We fight on a terrain where the devil drags us subtly and on which he can win, instead of fighting on the real battlefield where, with God’s grace, we are always sure to win.  This is one of the great secrets of spiritual struggle: not to fight, to discern, despite the cunning of the adversary, against what we must really fight and where to direct our efforts.

It is wrong to believe that in order to restore victory in the spiritual struggle, it is necessary to overcome all our faults, never succumb to temptation, to have no more weaknesses or shortcomings.  On this terrain we will inevitably be defeated!  Which one of us can claim they have never fallen?  This is most certainly not what God requires from us, “For he knoweth our frame. He remembereth that we are dust.”[18]  On the contrary, the real spiritual struggle, more than pursuing an invincibility and an absolute infallibility that is out of our reach, consists mainly in learning not to get upset when we happen to be miserable and to know how to take advantage of our falls so as to rise higher.  Which is always possible, provided you do not lose heart and keep calm.

One could therefore rightly profess this principle: the first objective of the spiritual struggle, to which our efforts must be inclined, is not to always obtain a victory (over our temptations, over our weaknesses, etc.), it is rather, to learn to safeguard one’s own heart in peace under all circumstances, even on the instance of a defeat.  Only by doing so can we reach the other goal which is the gradual eradication of all our imperfections.

We must therefore aim for this complete victory over our faults and desire it, but remaining aware that our own forces are not enough, and not expect to obtain it immediately.  Moreover, only the grace of God who will give us the victory, his action will be all the more powerful and swift if we keep our soul in peace and abandon ourselves with trust into the hands of the Father.


One of the dominant aspects of spiritual struggle is the struggle on the level of thoughts. Often it consists in opposing thoughts that come from our spirit, or from the mentality that surrounds us, or from the enemy that disturb us, frighten us or discourage us, thoughts that can comfort us and restore peace in us.  In anticipation of this struggle, “Blessed is the man that hath filled the desire with them; he shall not be confounded when he shall speak to his enemies in the gate”[19] the weapons, which are good thoughts, namely those solid convictions based on faith, which nourish the intelligence and strengthen the heart at the moment of trial.  Among these weapons in the hero’s hand, one of the statements that must remain close at hand is that, all the reasons that make us stray from peace, are always bad reasons.

This conviction certainly cannot be based on human considerations, but it is a certainty of faith, founded on the word of God.  It does not hinge on global the reasons; Jesus told us quite clearly: “Peace I leave with you, my peace I give unto you: not as the world giveth, do I give unto you. Let not your heart be troubled, nor let it be afraid.”[20]  If we seek peace as the world gives it, that is, if we expect a peace according to the criteria of life that make the inner state depend on the good performance of external things, the absence of contradictions, the realisation of all our desires, etc. ., surely we will never be at peace, or our peace will be extremely fragile and short-lived.

For us believers, the essential reason for which we can always remain in peace does not come from the world: “My kingdom is not of this world. If my kingdom were of this world, my servants would certainly strive that I should not be delivered to the Jews: but now my kingdom is not from hence,”[21] says Jesus; It comes from our trust in the promise of the Lord.  When He proclaims to give us peace, to leave us peace, this is the divine word and has the same creative force as that which began the cycle of the earth to rise from nothing; it is the same power as the one that calmed the tempest or healed the sick, the same that resurrected the dead.  Because Jesus said – twice! – that he gives us His peace and we believe we have His peace and that it is never withdrawn:  “For the gifts and the calling of God are without repentance.”[22]  We are the ones who do not know how to accept and preserve them, because very often, we lack faith.

“These things I have spoken to you, that in me you may have peace. In the world you shall have distress: but have confidence, I have overcome the world.”[23]  In Jesus we can always continue in peace, because he has conquered the world, he has conquered every evil and sin, because he has risen from the dead.  With his death he triumphed over death, he repealed the sentence and conviction that oppressed us and thereby expressing God’s benevolence toward us.  ”What shall we then say to these things? If God be for us, who is against us?”[24] … “Who then shall separate us from the love of Christ?”[25]

From this unshakeable foundation of faith, we will examine further on, some situations in which we often happen to lose more or less peace of heart, trying to overcome the light of the Gospel teaching.  But first we need to understand what it is, on our part, the fundamental condition for being able to receive the peace promised by Jesus.


The inner peace we are dealing with depends fundamentally on our attitude towards God. Inner peace is a gift of God, the man who opposes him, who more or less consciously avoiding or evading his appeals or his needs, cannot enjoy true peace.  Despite that, let us note that: when someone is close to God, loves him and wants to serve him, he will be open to receive the gift of peace; the ordinary strategy, put in place by the devil, will consist in trying to make him lose this peace of heart, while God, on the contrary, comes to his help and renders it to him.  The factors of this covenant are reversed for a person whose heart is far from God and who lives in evil and in indifference: the devil will try to reassure them, to keep them in a false peace; while alternatively the Lord, who’s impulse is to give salvation and convert him, it will disturb and agitate his conscience to try to lead him to repentance.  The peace of a man cannot be absolute and permanent, if he is far from God, if his deepest will is not entirely directed towards him:  “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.”[26]

A necessary condition for inner peace is therefore what we could call goodwill.  It could also be called purity of heart.  It is the constant and stable state of mind of man decided to love God more than anything else, sincerely desirous of placing all circumstances of God ’s will to his.   It may happen – will definitely happen – that in life all the days his behaviour is not in keeping with this purpose.  Many imperfections will add up in the realisation of this desire, but he will suffer, they may ask the Lord for forgiveness and try to correct themselves.  After any loss, we will strive to return to say yes to God in everything, without exception.

Observe what ‘goodwill’ is.  It is not perfect, since it may well coexist with reluctance, imperfections, with mistakes, but it is a way towards it, why is this normal heart available (based on virtues such as faith, hope, charity), which empowers it with the grace of God and will lead us gradually, toward perfection.

This goodwill, this habitual determination to always say yes to God in both large and small things, is a “conditio sine qua non”[27] of inner peace.  Until we have acquired this determination, a certain uneasiness and a certain sadness will continue to remain in us: the restlessness of not loving God as much as he invites us to love him, the sadness of not having yet given him everything.  Because the man who has given his will to God, is secure in the belief that he has already given him everything.  As long as our heart has not found its harmony, we cannot be truly at peace.  It will not be unified in the moment when all our desires will be subordinated to the desire of loving God, to please him and to do his will.  This implies, of course, the determination to detach us from everything that would be contrary to God.


We can also proclaim that this goodwill is enough to keep one’s heart in peace, even if, despite this, we still have many imperfections and shortcomings: “gloria in altissimis Deo et in terra pax in hominibus bonae voluntatis”.[28] In fact, what does God ask us, if not this goodwill?  What more could he expect, he who is a good and compassionate Father, when he sees that his son wants to love him above all things, suffers from not loving him enough and is willing (even if he considers himself unable to do so with his own strength) to break away from everything that would be against it?  Is it not for God to intervene personally so as to bring fruition to these desires which man, left to his own competences, is not able to perceive?

To support of what has just been said – goodwill is enough to make us pleasing to God and therefore to be at peace – here is an episode of the life of Saint Teresa of the Child Jesus, told by her sister Celina: “In a situation in which Sister Teresa had shown me all my faults, I was sad and a little disoriented.”  Here I am so far from virtue – I thought – I really wished to possess it, I would love to be sweet, patient, humble, charitable… Ah, I will never succeed. “However, in the evening, during prayer, I read that to St. Geltrude, who had expressed the same desire, our Lord had replied:”  In all things and above all, have goodwill; this single provision will give your soul the splendour and special merit of all the virtues.  Anyone who has good will, sincere desire to work for my glory, give me thanks, share in my sufferings, love me and serve me as much as creatures together, will undoubtedly receive rewards worthy of my generosity and his desire will sometimes be more beneficial than not for others, their good works. “Very happy for this good word – continues Sister Celina – all to my advantage, I informed our dear little teacher (Teresa) that the dose increased and added: “You read what is written in the life of Father Surin? He performed an exorcism; the demons said to him: “We manage to overwhelm everything, it is not that this bitch of good will to which we can never resist!”  Well, unless you have virtue, at least you have a dog that will save you from all dangers; console yourself, it will take you to heaven! Ah, what is a soul that does not wish to possess virtue! It is the most common route! But how many little are the souls agree to fall and to be weak, who are happy to see each other on the ground and that others will seize the act!”[29]  As evidenced by this text, the concept that Teresa had attained perfection is not perhaps  what we would automatically think.  

Let us see how the believer of goodwill can, in the light of faith, overcome all the circumstances in which he tried to lose this peace.

Nota Bene:  This translation was made for some of the Novices of the Hermits of Saint Bruno and was not intended for external use.  In referencing this article the Ven. Fr. Dom. Ugo-Maria ESB (csr) in translation, he used the Douay-Rheims 1899 version of the Bible in all instances but one when the Biblia Sacra Vulgata was used.  Dom. Ugo-Maria was not sure which version of the Bible Father Jacques Philippe had used and therefore a slight discrepancy appeared in this articles version of Romans 11:29 (Please see reference no. 22 below).  Furthermore, Dom. Ugo-Maria has expanded on some of the referencing which was not present in the original Italian text to enable the reader of the English translation, to have more clarity.  Dom. Ugo-Maria is not a linguist (although his native tongue is Italian and German, his tertiary education was completed in England.   He therefore apologises for any inaccuracies in translation as they are not intentional.


1.  John 15:5.  

2.  John 15:16.  

3.  Ephesians 2:10.

4.  Psalms 28:10.

5.  1 Kings 19:11-12.

6.  Isaiah 30:15.

7.  Saint Seraphim of Sarov (Серафим Саровский) (30 July [O.S. 19 July] 1754 (or 1759) – 14 January [O.S. 2 January] 1833), born Prokhor Moshnin (Прохор Мошнин), is one of the most renowned Russian saints in the Eastern Orthodox Church.

8.  Ephesians 6: 10-17.

9.  Aristotle.  Nicomachean Ethics, Book X, 1177b.4

10.  Translated from the letters of Saint Catherine of Siena; III to the provost of Casole and to Giacomo of Mancio from the said place, she states “e della grande guerra fece la grandissima pace” and the great war made great peace.

11.  The Tribe of Judah (שֵׁבֶטיְהוּדָה, Shevet Yehudah, “Praise”) was one of the twelve Tribes of Israel.

12.  Revelations 5:5.

13.  2 Corinthians 12:9.

14.  Philippians 4:13.

15.  Psalms 26:1.

16.  Hebrews 12:4.

17.  Lorenzo Scupoli (Laurentius Scupulus), c. 1530 – 28 November 1610, author of “Il combattimento spirituale” (The Spiritual Combat), one of the classical works on Catholic spirituality.

18.  Psalms 102:14.

19.  Psalms 126:5.

20.  John 14:27.

21.  John 18:36.

22. Translators explanation of Romans 11:29; N.B. “are without repentance”; that is, they are immutable and unalterable; God never revokes them, or calls them in again, or takes them away from the persons to whom he has made such a previous donation. The Scriptures in Hebrew state “that the holy blessed God, after שנתןהמתנה, “that he hath given a gift”, לאיקחנההמקבל, “never takes it away from the receiver”; and this is the “Gemara”, or doctrine of the Rabbins דמיהביהבימשקללאשקלי, “that giving they give, but taking away they do not take away”; the gloss upon it is,בתרדיהבי, “after it is given.”

23.  John 16:33.

24.  Romans 8:31.

25.  Romans 8:35.

26.  St. Augustine’s Confessions (Lib 1,1-2,2.5,5: CSEL 33, 1-5)

27.  An indispensable and essential action, condition, or ingredient.  Originally a Latin legal term for “[a condition] without which it could not be”, or “but for…” or “without which [there is] nothing”.  Oxford English Dictionary (3rd ed.). Oxford University Press.  September 2005.

28.  Lucas 2:14 Biblia Sacra Vulgata; Translation: “Glory to God in the highest; and on earth peace to men of good will.”

29. Consigli e ricordi” It was composed by Celina, sister of Saint Therese de Lisieux, drawing on her personal diary – partly written when the saint was still alive -, at her own depositions prepared for the Canonical Processes and some memories.  Ideal completion of the “Story of a Soul”, is a collection of anecdotes that portrays Saint Teresa de Lisieux (1873-1897), just twenty years old, in her commitment as a novice teacher, a commitment that will follow until her death.