Instructions of Optina Elders to Monks and Laymen
Venerable Anatoli of Optina
My child; know that in the last days, as the Apostle says, hard times will come (2 Tim. 3: 1-6). And due to the absence of piety, heresies and schisms will happen in the Church. And as the Holy Fathers foretold, on the seats of the Saints and in the monasteries, there will be no people with experience, or such as are familiar with the spiritual warfare. Because of that, heresies will be spreading everywhere and will deceive many. The enemy of the human race will work cunningly, trying to push into heresy even the chosen. He will not crudely renounce the dogmas about the Holy Trinity, about the Divinity of Jesus Christ, about the Mother of God, but will start unnoticeably twisting the teaching of the Church which was given by the Holy Fathers and which is from the Holy Spirit, and [will be twisting] the very spirit and canons. That contriving of the devil will be noticed only by a few – by the most experienced in spiritual life. Heretics will take over the rule of the Church. They will place their servants everywhere, and there will be contempt for piety. But the Lord will not leave His servants unprotected and uninformed. He said, “You will know them by their fruits” (Matt. ). So you also, try to distinguish the heretics from the true shepherds by their deeds. Those are the spiritual thieves who plunder the spiritual flocks. And they will enter the sheep’s court – the Church, entering through the back entrance as the Lord said. That is, they will enter in a lawless way, using violence and trampling down God’s ordinances. The Lord calls them robbers (Jn. 10: 1). Indeed, their first step will be the persecution of true shepherds, their imprisonment, exiles, because without doing so, they wouldn’t be able to plunder the sheep. Therefore my son, when you see the destruction of Divine rite in the Church, of Patristic Tradition, and of God-established order, know that heretics have already come, even if at times they hide their impiety and twist the faith unnoticeably in order to succeed even more in deceiving and dragging the inexperienced into the nets. Persecution will not be only of the pastors but of all servants of God, because the demon which governs heresy does not tolerate piety. Recognize these wolves in sheep’s clothing by their haughty nature, love of pleasures and authority. They will be slanderers and traitors, sowers of enmity and evil. True servants of God are humble, love brethren, and are obedient to the Church. Great pressure will be exerted by the heretics upon monks too.
Monastic life will be under abuse: brotherhoods will diminish, number of monastics will decrease, and those who stay will suffer violence. Likewise, the haters of monastic life, having only an appearance of piety, will try to bring the monks on their side, promising them protection and treasures of this life, threatening the unyielding ones with expulsion. Because of these threats, the feeble hearted will then suffer great despondency. But you my son, if you live until that time, rejoice, because at that time the true believers, without showing any virtues, will receive the wreaths only for perseverance in the Faith, according to the words of the Lord, “Each one who confesses me before men, I will also confess before my Heavenly Father” (Matt. 10: 32, 33). Fear the Lord God, my son. Fear the loss of the prepared wreath. Fear being torn away from Christ and into the utter darkness and eternal torment. Stand boldly in the Orthodox Faith, and if necessary, suffer exile and other sorrows with rejoicing, because the Lord and the holy martyrs and confessors will be with you. They will look upon your struggle with joy. But woe to those monks in those days who will follow treasures and will be willing to submit themselves to the heretics out of love of stillness. They will soothe their conscience saying, “If we preserve and save the brotherhood, the Lord will forgive us.” The unfortunate and blind ones don’t think about how with a heresy, a demon will enter the brotherhood and then there will no longer be a holy brotherhood but simple walls from which grace will depart. But God is mightier than the devil and will never abandon His servants. And true monasteries will exist until the end of time, but they will choose for themselves deserted and desolate places. Fear not the sorrows. Fear the lethal heresy, because it will strip man of grace and separate him from Christ. That is why the Lord commanded that a heretic be considered as a pagan and a publican (Matt. ). And so my son, strengthen yourself in grace by Jesus Christ, rush to the struggle of confessing, and endure the suffering as a good soldier of Jesus Christ (2 Tim. 2: 1,2) who said, “Be faithful unto death and I will give you the wreath of life” (Rev. 2: 10) To Him, with the Father and the Holy Spirit be honor and glory and power unto the ages of ages.