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A Short Rule of Vigilance for One Living in the World

A Short Rule of Vigilance for one living in the world

By St. Ignatius Brianchaninov


The essence of any striving toward the Lord is attentiveness. Without attentiveness, all our labors become fruitless, dead. He who desires to be saved must strive to maintain attentiveness to himself, not only in solitude but in the midst of distraction, into which circumstances sometimes hurl him against his will. May the fear of God outweigh all other feelings in the scales of his heart—then it will be easy to preserve attentiveness to oneself, both in the silence of the cell and in the midst of the surrounding noise of the world.


Temperance in eating, which lessens the fire in the blood, greatly aids watchfulness over oneself; while the warming of the blood that occurs either from overeating, from excessive physical movement, from the inflammation of anger, from intoxicating vanity, or from other reasons, gives birth to a multitude of thoughts and images, in other words scattered thoughts. The Holy Fathers recommend that he who desires to be watchful over himself must first control his appetite temperately, steadily, and constantly to abstain from excessive eating. (The Philokalia, pt. 2, chapters on St Philotheos of

Sinai.)


When you awake, it is an image of the universal awakening of all people from the dead. Direct your thoughts to God, bring to God a sacrifice of the first thoughts of your mind before it has had an opportunity to accept any worldly impressions. In silence, with extreme care, fulfill any of your bodily needs after rising, then read the usual prayer rule, paying attention not so much to the number of prayers as to the quality of the prayer; that is, take care that your payer is done attentively, and as a result of this attentiveness, may your heart be blessed and enlivened by prayerful compunction and consolation.


After your prayer rule, once again taking great pains to remain attentive, read the New Testament, especially the Gospels. During this reading, carefully notice all the commandments of Christ, so that you can direct your actions (both inner and external) according to them. The amount of reading can depend on the strength of the person as well as external circumstances. In the same way as excessive eating disrupts and weakens the digestion, the intemperate consumption of spiritual food weakens the mind and makes it look on the ascetic life with disgust, leading it to despair.2 (Isaac the Syrian, Homily 71)


The Holy Fathers recommend beginners to pray often, but not for long periods of time. When the mind becomes more spiritually mature and becomes stronger and firmer, then it will be capable of praying unceasingly. The following words of the Apostle Paul refer to those Christians who have already grown in Christ: “I desire therefore that the men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting.”3 (1 Tim 2:8.) Such prayer is without passion or distraction or false exultation, and is appropriate for the grown man, but not yet for the child.


Having been enlightened through prayer and reading by the Sun of Truth, our Lord Jesus Christ, you may begin your daily work, keeping watch over yourself, that in all deeds and words, in your entire being, may the all-holy will of God (as revealed and explained to man in the commandments of the Gospel) rule and act in you. If you have any free minutes during the course of the day, use them to read some chosen prayers with attentiveness, or read selected passages from the Scriptures, and through them once again strengthen your spirit, which has become tired through constant activity in the busy world. If you cannot wrest even a few such moments for yourself, you should mourn for these free moments, as though you have lost a precious treasure. What you have lost today, you must not waste on the next because our heart easily gives in to lassitude (lethargy) and forgetfulness from which we can fall to dark inactivity, which is so disastrous to God’s work, to the work of the salvation of mankind.


If you happen to do or say anything contrary to God’s commandments, immediately treat the sin with repentance, and through genuine confession return to the path of God from which you have veered through the breaking of God’s will. Do not waver from the path of God! Battle every sinful thought, imagination, or emotion with faith and the humility of the Gospel commands, saying together with the Patriarch Joseph: “How then can I do this great wickedness, and sin against God?”4 (Gen 39:9)


He who is watchful over himself must reject all flights of fancy in general, no matter how attractive or seemingly good they may seem. Any flight of fancy is a scattering of the mind outside truth, into the land of insubstantial shadows that flatter the mind and lie to it. Consequences of such distraction are the loss of attentiveness, the scattering of the mind, and hardness of the heart during prayer—that is, spiritual disorder.


In the evening, as you prepare for sleep, which is the death of the day that has passed, examine your actions during the day. For him who leads a watchful, attentive life, such examination of the self is not difficult because as a result of his watchfulness, his forgetfulness (so usual for a scatterbrained person) is destroyed. Thus, having remembered all the sins of the day done in deed, thought, word, or emotion, bring them to God with repentance and a firm intention to correct yourself.


Then, after reading the prayer rule before sleep, finish the day that began with thoughts of God in the same way. Where do the thoughts and emotions of a sleeping person go?

What a mysterious state is sleep, during which the soul and body are alive, and yet not alive; outside the knowledge of their own life, as though they were already dead! Sleep is as unknowable as death. During sleep, the soul rests, forgetting all the worst sorrows and pains of the world, in an image of the eternal rest. But the body! If it rises from sleep every day, then it will doubtlessly rise up from the dead as well! As the great Agathon said: “It is impossible to progress in the virtues without intense watchfulness over yourself.”5 (St Agathon the Great, Skete Paterikon)


Amen.


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