The Novo-Tikhvin Women's Monastery
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Mother Lyubov's talk about the reading

Mother Lyubov reads out the writings of the holy fathers
Mother Lyubov reads out the writings of the holy fathers

By tradition, all of the sisterhood, with the exception of those sisters who live in metochia, gathered in skete to hear mother Lyubov's talk. The topic of the talk chosen was the correct attitude toward reading. At the very beginning of the talk, mother Lyubov reminded everyone that from of old all the holy fathers occupied themselves with reading extremely diligently and thoroughly. They considered the reading of patristic literature to be a branch of the prayer of the mind, and with all thoroughness taught it to their disciples. Our Russian ascetics also speak at length and in an exalted way about the necessity and importance of reading: St. Nil Sorsky, St. hieromonk Dorofey, St. Ignatius. Distinguished through their love for reading were also the saints of the Ural land: St. Vasilisk of Siberia and Zosima (Verkhovskiy), nun Efrosiniya (Mezenova), abbess Magdalina (Dosmanova). Mother Lyubov with reverence read to us the words of holy hiermonk Dorofey who praises greatly the virtue of reading: "It is impossible, impossible to be saved for the one who does not read frequently the God-inspired Holy Scriptures (see 2 Tim. 16). As a bird without wings cannot fly up high, so the mind without books cannot understand how to be saved. Reading in private together with attentive and diligent listening of the holy books of the Sacred Scripture reigns over all the virtues and places man on the right hand of God."

Having given enough examples of how highly the holy fathers themselves valued the attentive occupation of reading, mother Lyubov pointed out that especially in our times it is practically impossible to be saved without such a serious and assidious task. St. Ignatiy (Bryanchaninov) wrote that "with the general empoverishment in God-inspired teachers, the study of Holy Scripture, especially of the New Testament and of the Patristic writings -- the thorough and steadfast guidance they provide in our life is the only way to spiritual success granted by God to the later monasticism. Only those monks worthily bear the name of monks who are raised up and nourished by sacred reading." Indeed, how can we perceive the state of our soul, see our passions, avoid mistakes and deviations, knowing nothing about the teachings of the holy fathers? How can you discern if you are praying rightly and what you should strive for in prayer, if you are unfamiliar with the prayer experience of Orthodox ascetics? It is absolutely obvious that those sisters are faster and more successful who read a lot and with attention. Even at confession it is easier for a person familiar with the works of the holy fathers to explain his or her state, and thus -- to receive a more true advice. But here another difficulty arises: many read a lot but fruitlessly. Why? Because they choose books which are unfit for them. For example, the neophytes often hurry to familiarize themselves with such lofty compositions as the writings of St. Isaak the Syrian, St. Symeon the New Theologian, St. Macarius of Egypt. Or sometimes it happens the other way around, when people who already have somewhat succeeded in prayer read only the simplest hagiographies, brochures, and because they do not receive the knowledge needed for them at the time, they are unable to correctly examine their state of soul, and they often lose that which, it seems, they had already acquired. Besides, there is one common shortcoming. It is the common practice of reading several books at the same time: say, one serious book and several easy ones. On account of this, the serious books (of dogmatic, theological, exegetical character) are being read long and are poorly digested: it seems, one has read them, but cannot recall anything.

At the talk
At the talk

What is the solution to this situation? First of all, mother Lyubov urged everyone to realize that the reading of patristic literature is labor. As any other labor, it cannot be always only easy and pleasant. Sometimes one has to force oneself to it, remembering that the enemy of human salvation can be opposed to the reading, too: for instance, by introducing boredom, tiredness, weariness.

In addition, the books have to be read very attentively, better if two and sometimes even three times, setting aside daily some time for it, preferably no less than an hour. Neither should one read several books at a time. It is better to take one book and to read it with attention not once but twice. Then everything which is said in it will be both well remembered and bring real benefit.

Finally, it is very important to read those books which are appropriate for you, which correspond to your spiritual age and success. One should start with simpler, "active" compositions and gradually ascend to the more lofty ones. Neither the neophytes, nor those who are already somewhat advanced should be carried away only by the easy reading (hagiographies, simple admonitions), but should necessarily acquaint themselves with the main ascetic and theological works of the holy fathers, which will give one the right understanding of spiritual life and will form sober, mindful attitude to it.

Mother Lyubov ended her talk with a sincere urging to meditate on this issue she has touched upon and to start regarding in all earnestness the carrying out of such virtue as the reading of the works of the holy fathers, remembering that to some degree our salvation itself depends on our success in the passage of this virtue.

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