Our Feelings

“Dear Father Andrew, dear brothers and sisters! I would like you to explain to me the relation between the mind and the heart, between thoughts and feelings. How can I evaluate properly which thoughts or feelings I can trust? How can I be sure that my feelings are true? How do I check them out? How can I tell whether my heart feels right or wrong? Which thoughts are fake, and which are true? We often say, I felt that you was feeling bad. And that was real. Or, as Elder Sophrony writes in his letter, I was praying for you last night; my soul was sorrowful because you had a great temptation and were suffering from deep depression.” The person who the Elder prayed for was indeed dealing with that kind of struggle. How can I know that my heart feels the other person properly? I would like brothers and sisters to share their thoughts about it and maybe give some examples from their own lives.”

Nun Juliania (Denisova): It is hard to reply to this question on the spot, one has to get ready for answering it.

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Impromptu. Be always ready, like a pioneer. How can you get ready? You should live like a Christian.

Nun Juliania (Denisova): With real-life examples?

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: You may or you may not use them. How can we not be misled in our feelings or emotional states? Can we trust them or not?
Nun Juliania (Denisova): One's soul experiences various conditions. Now I can tell you this: “Do not trust yourself.” This is the golden thread that runs through everything, this is why I prefer not to trust my feelings. I would rather measure thrice and cut once. I would rather not believe than be fooled. If I need to deal with a certain situation, and I feel that I should do this or that, I prefer not to trust myself and to seek advice instead. When I came to the Convent, I was very surprised at the behavior of Nun Eupraxia. She would approach one sister or another and ask her, Tell me, what should I do: this or that? And the sister would tell her, I think that perhaps you should do this.” Nun Eupraxia would reply, “Well, then it must be from God.”

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Do you do the same?

Nun Juliania (Denisova): I ask my spiritual father and my Abbess for advice.

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Thank you. Nun Maria (Litvinova), please.

Nun Maria (Litvinova): As far as real-life examples are concerned, they are usually related to one's special ones. I do not consider it to be something extraordinary if a certain person reacts to your worries, emotions, and thoughts. It may be a physiology-related phenomenon that everyone may have encountered. I recall how I was anxious when my father drove to his dacha. He was 82 or 83 already by that time, and he was reluctant to admit that it was impossible for him to drive on his own. One day, he was very angry with me for not trusting him. He said, “You don't trust me, but I am able to do everything on my own.” So he left and drove alone in his car, and I was very nervous. I was sitting at home, waiting for him anxiously. He must have come home already but he didn't. I was sick from anxiety. Fifteen minutes later, I suddenly felt at peace. I became absolutely calm. I thought, He must be somewhere near. And voilá the doorbell rang ten minutes thereafter. I experienced such occasions quite often, so I think one can trust this feeling.
Relationships, words, and how we feel others are a different story. Here I agree with Mother Juliania because today you think one thing, and tomorrow you think otherwise. I was always angry with my friends when they admired me. It was hard for me to endure that because I saw that it was wrong. It looks like they love you only because you are good in some situations but if you do anything wrong, you become an enemy, and so you cannot be forgiven or sympathized with… For me, it was terrible.
It is crucial to remember that there is God in every human. I used to love that person, I had a good attitude towards her, which means that this period of adversity is bound to pass, and we must only remember the most important and essential things. Even siblings may quarrel or be offended by one another, but anyway, your brother or sister will forever remain your close relative. Similarly, a friend, a sister in the Convent or in the Sisterhood must also be close and special for you. I believe that this is the only thing you can trust, while everything else is temporary.
Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Thank you. Nun Euphrosinia, please.

Nun Euphrosinia (Nelyubina): Life in the Convent teaches a different attitude, a different experience, and a different angle of perception. More often than not, mind and soul do not agree with one another. An individual is torn apart. When you are in such a state, you should refrain from making any serious decisions. First of all, you have a spiritual father. If he happens to be unavailable at that particular moment, you should pray and ask any sister. I believe that if you ask God to make you wise, He will answer through any person and He will send His help.

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Yes, if only you have faith.

Nun Euphrosinia (Nelyubina): The Lord may act not only through a sister I respect because she possesses certain qualities, be they intellectual or personal, but also through any person. Of course, I have had a lot of occasions to prove that. Right now, I cannot recall any of such occasions but there have been plenty.
Nun Juliania has told us about the method Nun Eupraxia used. I have also found this method useful, and it really helps me. It can be called “consideration with advice”. Generally, the more one lives in the Convent, the more one is able to see what a failure she is. Before coming to the Convent, I was often chasing my own passions and thoughts. I made a lot of mistakes because of that. If I had had an understanding of the spiritual living, I would have avoided many mistakes. Although they say that a negative experience is an experience nevertheless, I think that it is best avoided because it ruins the soul of an individual and may even kill it.
Yulia Kostyukevich: My entire life has been a tumult of feelings that dragged the reason, that is, feelings came first, and then the reason processed them. In this process, I absolutely trusted my feelings, that is, I was ready to follow them. These experiences appeared like real. The contradiction between the real circumstances and the mood I was in due to my feelings, was what, in fact, led me to church. I realized that feelings were unreliable for guidance. My reasoning processed them and convinced me that I was to follow them. In short, I was a full-blown object for my aims and intentions, and they appeared to be so true because “I felt this way.” Even my students often say, “That's how I see it.” We draw a portrait, and there is an evident distortion of proportions but they say, “That's how we see it.” Here, of course, it's something of a self-justification because the reality is one thing, whereas the vision and the way a person responds to this reality are a totally different thing. This is why the fact that I came to church helped me to learn the most important thing that feelings are not fit to rely on for guidance.
St Ignatius (Bryanchaninov) has an essay about feelings and passions… He wrote a remarkable passage saying that all good inside a person is always mixed with the fallen nature and is therefore useless in God's eyes. Feelings are allegedly good but since they have your own ego, your self-love or vainglory as their source, your truth is a lie before God. So my task for today is not to rely on my feelings. I would like to learn how to put up with circumstances that do not fit in with my soul. For example, when I go to the hospital unit, I have a very real feeling that it hurts, and I would rather make a dozen steps back than one step forward: these are the feelings that haunt me on my way to the unit. I know from my experience that this uneasiness will be there every time I do this but also that there is going to be a breakthrough after this initial feeling.
I have had an interview earlier this week, and I recalled the words of St Ignatius (Bryanchaninov) again. He said that Christ could not be anything but the Winner. Therefore, contrary to your feelings, especially if they are related to your obedience, you should bear in mind and in the heart the certainty of the imminent breakthrough, even if your heart trembles. With regard to obedience, you should go or crawl there — maybe someone is even able to fly — whether you want it or not.
As far as the questions of to be or not to be, to do or not to do are concerned, the sisters have already dwelt on them. I might only add that I have grown helpless over the years, and I try to ask for advice. Some people are surprised, “Can't you decide on your own what to do?” I cannot because I know what my feelings are worth. This is why I pray and go on to ask for advice. We have mentioned not once during our meeting that God can give you the answer through any person, we even brought to mind the talking donkey from the Old Testament, but I usually ask the people who love me or care for me… I believe that the Lord can give me the answer through them. When I hear that answer, I do my best to agree with it, although my feelings may not even expect that answer. So today I have the task I have voiced now: not to be guided by my feelings but ask God to make me strong enough to accept the reality that my feelings won't accept.
Now to the worries about our special ones. When it seems to you that there is something happening in a land far, far away, and if you are worried by that (it does not matter if this feeling is true or not), I have to make effort to pray this situation through. This effort invariably reduces the anxiety level. In fact, sometimes when you call the person you were praying for afterwards, you learn that there indeed was something happening with her. However, knowing how little feelings are worth, you should not come to a conclusion that the next time when you feel tense, that is the case again, because your worries may be baseless. You should pray by all means if you are anxious, for there is no such thing as excessive prayer.
I am uneasy when I feel too well because it may lead to relaxation, and relaxation always leads to something bad. I am afraid of being too relaxed, as this may lead me to looking here and there and enjoying the sun, so to say.
So, perhaps, the result of such self-searching might be that you try to ask God to help you trust Him. Given that you can look inside yourself and see how ruined you are, you call upon God's mercy and ask Him, “Lord, you see that filth of mine: shew me a token for good.” That is what I think of feelings.
Nun Maria (Derzhanovich): There are various periods in a person's life. At a certain point, I was eager to feel something. Later, I came to realize that it was 99 per cent fake. Even when you see other people feeling something, and their feelings are from God. As in the case of Tatiana Masalovich: she had a lot of feelings that stemmed from her kindness and love, but she was very exhausted because feelings drain out power. There are plenty of examples of that. Although there is something sinful in these feelings, God still blesses them because the person has good intentions.
Living in a monastery, you learn that the main feeling you should have is mistrust of yourself. Regardless of how good and loving a person might be, if she trusts herself while doing her obedience, all those feelings cannot save her. After ten years in the convent, I see from my own experience, as well as from others' experience, that if you do not have this mistrust, you will not be able to lead the monastic life. Feelings of love will not help you in a monastery, if you do not have a commitment to obey and to humble yourself down.
Novice Yekaterina (Sergeyeva): There must be a unity of souls of some sort, when people can feel one another. It seems to me that this is an aftermath of the unity that was destroyed by sin. As far as my feelings are concerned, they all are distorted so I try not to analyze whether they are right or wrong because often suspicions and sinful thoughts creep in. Whenever you face something you do not understand, you should pray and ask your spiritual father, the abbess or a sister, and this will be the proper way. On the other hand, I have always been interested in how a mother feels her children.

Archpriest Andrew Lemeshonok: Each person passes through various times and emotional states in the course of her life. When a person has just turned to God and is reading books on asceticism extensively, she may have a burning desire to imitate the saints, although she is but a baby, and a capricious and self-centered one; and if she says that she does not want to be guided by her feelings but rather led by the Spirit, it might be a horrible parody of the truth about God.
I would like to speak in defense of feelings: Although, naturally, I agree with the quotation “You should not trust yourself until you die,” we have to live anyway. If someone has got rid of all feelings, this does not make her spiritually advanced. Our Metropolitan Philaret is an emotional person but his emotions are noble. Saint John of Kronstadt also was an emotional man, and some people even suffered from it, but all his emotions were directed towards pleasing God. His sorrow from sin was also a feeling, a feeling that his soul had sinned. He was climbing the Heaven to ask for forgiveness.
What will we become if we are left without feelings? It is frightening to imagine that. Saint Ignatius Bryanchaninov wrote sober and truthful words about feelings but life can be different. Of course, you cannot go far with your feelings. However, when a person is in an emotionless, strained, depressed, or indifferent mood, she is close to death. This is why we have the spirit, the soul, and the body.
Words about the physical life may seem more or less familiar to us. An emotional person needs certain sensations, emotions, moods, she subsists on it. A spiritual person, on the contrary, subsists only on what comes from God, she does not accept anything else because all emotional states carry a fly in the ointment, i.e., the sin. This is why it is important for us to determine what state we are currently in, what our measure of growth is today. Here the circumstances of our lives must also be taken into account, as well as our responsibilities with regard to our special ones, and a whole lot of other factors. Even monasteries are different from each other.
Each individual goes through certain stages. When one's soul grows, she moves on from one stage onto the next with pain. This is typical of us today.
Due to the fact that we are infected by the sin, it is dangerous to rely on our own feelings because, for example, if we feel hurt or distrustful, the enemy will quickly paint such images in our heads that it would be hard to get rid of them, if at all possible. Therefore, seeing that even in this body-centered and emotional condition we still use something that is related to spiritual life, it might be called our partial obedience, a sort of renunciation, rejection of our opinion at a certain moment. We realize that in order to go forward, in order not to make mistakes and not to be on the leash of the sin, we must first of all struggle with ourselves and look for God's truth instead of our own truth. This does not come easily, and we require special grace of God, a lot of patience and discretion, which we do not have today, unfortunately. Of course, Rome was not built in a day, and an individual cannot become spiritual from a flesh-centered one at once. If she has been in Church for just a couple of years and already starts to look down on everyone else, that's a sad joke.
We surely have intuition but we should not trust ourselves, we should not insist on the way we feel, our moods and visions, and we should not be stubborn. If you see that you have made a mistake, you should admit it and humble yourself down, asking for forgiveness.
When someone is in search of goodness, light, purity, and God's truth, and when she sees her infirmity (and as a rule, the more she strives for the good, the more clearly she can see her inability), this is very good. That person considers it to be the way it should be and does not claim anything as her own. This is very beautiful. Unfortunately, today we all are very emotional and spiritually fragile, and we have a lot to do, perhaps, in order to make a step forward and to be able to say, “Now I can clearly assess this or that situation; now I am no longer influenced by these emotional states; the Holy Spirit lives in me, and I want only the things that God wants.”
Take, for instance, the prayer of our Savior in the Garden of Gethsemane. As a human, He prayed, “Lord, may this cup be taken from Me.” What is this prayer like? It is emotional. However, this emotional prayer was overridden by His obedience to the will of the Heavenly Father, “Yet not as I will but as You will.”

                                                               Prayer in Gethsemane

Therefore, it is important to perceive the measure of our maturity, our condition, and not to be terrified by the fact that we see ourselves not as we would like to see ourselves, not as saints with halos around our heads, but rather as weak human beings. The Apostle says, “What can I boast of? My own weaknesses.” Thus, one's own condition, intuition, and feelings are not enough to be able to look for God's will. One needs a confirmation. This confirmation is to be found in the circumstances of one's life, in the words of the people one trusts, and in prayer. I do not think that one should cast lots because the coin may turn the wrong side up, and thinking that our prayer is so strong that it can make the coin turn the side that God wants it to also is a way of testing God, I suppose. Asking, knocking, searching is the right way. By doing so, a person will certainly find what she is looking for.

When we feel our mutual influence on each other, when we feel our mutual responsibility, we come to realize that our sin is more than our own defeat: it inflicts pain on our special ones, too. When a person prays for the entire world, her soul is open to God, and the Love of Christ who came to save sinners — not the people you like or your relatives but actually everyone — dwells in it. This is why monasticism means more than advancing from being an emotional person to a spiritual kind of person. You have to be sorry for each brother or sister. This is a height to climb. We should be talking about it but in fact we are not ready to climb this height nowadays; that is why we need a lot of spiritual food that the Lord feeds us with. We need to experience God's love towards us and trust God in order to have something inside us changed and to really let God into our lives. When a person, especially one who spent many years in suffering and sorrow, with spiritual discretion, fighting the flesh and the blood, she is rewarded with a vision of the eternity. This is a very beautiful and important testimony of the fact that the Lord can truly dwell in a person's heart and direct his life, and not only visit him briefly.