Editor’s Note: The following are excerpts from letters Abbot Nikon wrote to his spiritual children in the 1940s and ’50s while suffering in exile in a Russian prison camp.
If you sincerely want to follow Jesus Christ, then there is no other way but the one He indicated—the path of external sorrows, physical illness and never-ending battle with the passions which reveal themselves in many different ways. There are obvious passions: hedonism, despondency, anger, vanity, pride, disbelief, jealously, judgment of others, etc. The disciple of Christ must fight against each one of these passions in succession, to be vindicated and to vindicate.
This requires great effort and patience. It is often a real trial, a cross from which one cannot run away. There are only two choices–either a person succumbs to the passions and betrays Christ, preferring the world and the life it offers, or he fights and suffers, and through this process spirit-ually he matures.
The demons, although their minds were darkened by their fall, retained much of the reasoning powers and other capabilities endowed to angels. They have a masterful knowledge of both the physical and psychological aspects of human nature, and they have access to the body, nervous system, and brain of a person; always acting on behalf of evil, they also work upon the characteristics and manifestations of the soul, trying to destroy it.
Since a person is aware of obvious passions, and the harm which can result from them, the devils try to confuse everything, trying to belittle the significance of some passions, and making others seem very attractive. There is no end to their craftiness, malice, lies and countless methods of tricking and subverting a person.
As inexperienced beginners lacking spiritual guides, we must know one thing: we alone are not able to conquer the passions and the demons. We must, however, fight them according to our strength, and cease not to ask for the Lord’s help when they attack us (cf. Psalm 117:11). You cannot overcome them by your own strength; still less can another person do it for you. The Lord alone can provide the help you need.
Consequently, you must pray more with rever-ence, with a contrite heart, confessing before the Lord yours sins, your passions, your weakness, asking for forgiveness and help. By doing this you will quickly feel calm and peace enter your soul, along with a measure of humility and the resolve to endure everything for the sake of the Lord and your salvation.