Precis of Some Elementary Councils of Elder St. Ambrose of Optina

Based on Elder Ambrose of Optina, pp. 248–256
by Sergius Chetverikov, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, ©2009

Of depression is laziness is the daughter,
Boredom is her son.
By diligence at prayer is boredom banished,
So zeal will come.
Add patience and humility,
Then all evil will succumb.

People sin because they do not know what to do or not to do, or because they know and forgot, or because they are depressed.

These are the three giants: depression (despondency), forgetfulness, and ignorance. Joining their company is carelessness. Their followers are the tempters of passions and seducers of sins, who use people as shamelessly.

Shamelessness is the stubbornness that gives rise to hypocrisy in turning to God in times of need, then denying Him before others. This is an abomination because failing to confess Christ to others is a failure to show the true love of God.

Be attentive to self: stay at home, do not busy oneself with external interests, labor at prayer, and do not invite guests.

God sends mercy to the laborer and consolation to those who love Him.

Undisturbed love flows from the heart; travail accompanies acts of love that are born in the mind, for those are accessible to demons.

Love is the highest aim but without the practice of confession of sins one will become lost in the delusions of one's own self-will.

Love is to surrender the self to God, yielding to others is always better than insisting on fairness, as it may cause scandal (1 Cor. 5:12-6:18).

By steadily surrendering to God, not all at once, but little by little, and acquiring the habit of longsuffering one can move the deadweight of the soul along the river of life. First giving up the useless, then sharing the necessary, finally, complete abandonment to the will of Life Giver.

Self-surrender is difficult but necessary if one is to acquire the kingdom of God, and prayer is essential to that effort. Force oneself to pray in order to make progress. Without such force of prayer, one cannot take the Kingdom of God (Matt. 11:12).

Such prayer starts with breath: Lord, have mercy: forgive me. This opens one to delusions of despondency born from doubt and anguish in the soul. Hence, one must also pray: O Sovereign Lady, Theotokos, grace my mind; teach me to step aright in the way of Christ’s Commandments; strengthen me to keep awake in song, and drive away the sleep of despondency."

Prayer cannot be made fruitful, put into action, without careful attention to the impulsive muck that comes to the surface through prayer, and which requires the exercise of self-control. The toil of exercising of self-control and self-observation requires developing the capacity of discernment.

Accurate discernment requires perspective rooted in the humility and love acquired through practicing obedience: doing the will of another for the sake of another. Obedience cultivates patient endurance, quietly waiting on the Lord, who out of his goodness is merciful and faithful, will be attentive. God forgives all who repent as many times, as fall and repent for His ways are no those of evil nor are they our ways, and so Love endures forever.