A Letter of Elder Anatoliy of Optina to a Newly Tonsured Nun

March 13, 1876

Greetings, sister in Christ, dear Mother T.! I congratulate you on accepting the holy and angelic image. Do you know that this image is the symbol of betrothal with Jesus, the Heavenly Bridegroom? For it is sung in the troparion to a martyr, “I love You, my Bridegroom”, and for every nun is a martyr, remember, to Whom you are betrothed!

You ask me for guidance and advice on what you should do in order not to deviate from your path? Start with humility. Then do with humility and finish with humility. Thus you will reach holiness. This path, the path of humility, is the safest one. Holy Fathers say, this path just “prevent you from falling down. Where can a humble one fall, when he considers himself worse than anyone?” So, how can we not be humble, when Christ, the God of gods and the Lord of lords, humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Philippians 2:8)? The astonishment of angels, the most beautiful of all sons of the humankind, died a shameful death for us; how dare we, weak and sinful, reject to admit our sins and weaknesses?

What concerns high thoughts: avoid them like the plague. “What is highly esteemed among men is an abomination in the sight of God” (Luke 16:15). “And the heavens are not pure in His sight” (Job 15:15). And Prophet Isaiah said long ago what any our truth is: “all our righteousnesses are like filthy rags” (Isaiah 64:6).

You ask how can one follow his way? Listen not to me, a filthy man, but to the Eternal Truth Itself: “No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God” (Luke 9:62).

It means that anyone who is going to reach the Kingdom of Heaven, must not recall their high virtues – and especially their high thoughts – but must look at the feats and glory of saints. Let us stick to them! But you should look at your own weaknesses and sins and remember about the possible future torments of a soul – then you will not sin.
Peace to you, mother T.

– Sinful Hieromonk Anatoliy