A Conversation of Saint Seraphim of Sarov with Nikolai Motovilov
Prayer, fasting, vigil and all other Christian activities, however good they may be in themselves, do not constitute the aim of our Christian life, although they serve as the indispensable means of reaching this end. The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God.
As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christ’s sake, they are only means of acquiring the Holy Spirit of God. But mark, my son, only the good deed done for Christ’s sake brings us the fruits of the Holy Spirit. All that is not done for Christ’s sake, even though it be good, brings neither reward in the future life nor the grace of God in this. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ said: “Whoever is not with me is against me, and whoever does not gather with me scatters”.(Luke 11:23). Not that a good deed can be called anything but gathering, since even though it is not done for Christ’s sake, yet it is good. Scripture says: “In every nation God does not show favoritism, but accepts from every nation the one who reveres God and does what is right.” (Acts 10:35).
…every good deed done for Christ’s sake gives us the grace of the Holy Spirit, but prayer gives us it most of all, for it is always at hand, so to speak, as an instrument for acquiring the grace of the Spirit. For instance, you would like to go to church, but there is no church or the service is over; you would like to give alms to a beggar, but there isn’t one, or you have nothing to give; you would like to preserve your virginity, but you have not the strength to do so because of your temperament, or because of the violence of the wiles of the enemy which on account of your human weakness you cannot withstand; you would like to do some other good deed for Christ’s sake, but either you have not the strength or the opportunity is lacking. This certainly does not apply to prayer. Prayer is always possible for everyone, rich and poor, noble and humble, strong and weak, healthy and sick, righteous and sinful.
Great is the power of prayer, and it brings most of all the Spirit of God, and is most easily practiced by everyone. We shall be blessed if the Lord God finds us watchful and filled with the gifts of the Holy Spirit. Then we may boldly hope “to be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air” (I Thes. 4:17). The soul speaks and converses during prayer, but at the descent of the Holy Spirit we must remain in complete silence, in order to hear clearly and intelligibly all the words of eternal life which will then be deigned to communicate.
How I wish that you yourself may acquire this inexhaustible source of divine grace, and may always ask yourself: “Am I in the Spirit of God or not?” And if you are in the Spirit, blessed be God!—there is nothing to grieve about. You are ready to appear before the awesome judgment of Christ immediately. For ‘In whatsoever I find you, in that I will judge you.’ But if we are not in the Spirit, we must discover why and for what reason our Lord God the Holy Spirit has willed to abandon us; and we must seek once again, and must go on searching until our Lord God the Holy Spirit has been found and is with us again through God’s goodness. And we must attack the enemies that drive us away from God until even their dust is no more, as has been said by the Prophet David: “I pursued my enemies and overtook them; I did not turn back till they were destroyed. I crushed them so that they could not rise; they fell beneath my feet.” (Psalm 17:37-38).