By Saint Philaret of NY
Recently, brothers and sisters, we spoke of how people today often forget the main goal that stands before each person, the task of saving one’s soul for eternity. This concern for salvation must be the main objective for every person of faith. The great teacher of Christian living–indeed in the best sense, the wise man Saint Theofan the Recluse, in his instructions and letters constantly repeated the same thing: that not only a person who assumed vows of a certain way of life–a monastic, a monk, a hermit–can be saved, but he who lives in the world, who lives a temporal life. He has the wherewithal for the salvation of his soul, to save his soul and achieve a lofty level of Christian perfection.
A clear example of this was already shown. Let us remember, for example, the great righteous man who raised the dead–Saint Sisoes the Great. This was a man who in his younger years went into the desert. There he lived until deep old age, truly reaching the highest Christian perfection, so much so, that he was able to raise the dead, and when lay dying, his face shone like the sun, the room where his deathbed stood was filled with a wonderful aroma, and all stood in trepidation. Such a death was also bestowed upon another great righteous man–Saint Philaret the Merciful. He was no ascetic, and did not live in the wilderness. He was a husband to his wife and father to his children, that is, he lived an average life. Still, he achieved such a level of spiritual perfection, that his death was like that of Sisoes the Great, his face shone like the sun and the room was filled with sweetness. Saint Theophan the Recluse showed that the Lord places each person in the best conditions for the salvation of his soul. Of course, this is not to speak of those instances, when a person lives a normal life, and then suddenly a Divine word reaches his heart and his life, his attitude, changes. But in general, when a person travels an average life’s path, as St. Theophan said, he can fully achieve salvation. He must only turn his life completely into serving God, the very life he already leads. The saint said this simply and clearly: “One need only look at each thing one does as an act first of all done for God, before God’s all-seeing eyes. View each action in this way. If you have a visitor, if you meet someone, remember that God sent him to you. Your conscience now bears the obligation to relate to the person in the way dictated by Christian love. And so with every thing we do, every little quotidian trifle should be viewed as an opportunity to do it properly, so that it would be pleasing to God.” Such acts that please God will gradually fill a person’s life, and in the end, he will seem no different from anyone else yet he will be standing before the Face of God and serve the Lord God. Then his eyes will begin to open, and he will become convinced, through experience, that truly, the Lord sends everything for our salvation and no meetings are chance meetings.
Today, the Church, for example, celebrated the Holy Apostle Philip the Deacon, not Philip of the twelve (his holiday is later, before Advent), but Deacon Philip, who also performed the apostolic service. The Lord inspired Philip to walk on a specific road. Philip went. There he met with an Ethiopian dignitary who was just then reading Holy Scripture and could not understand the passage he was reading. Philip approached him, divinely inspired, and asked if he understood what he was reading. He replied, “I cannot, unless someone explain it to me.” Then Philip, at his request, sat with him in his chariot and explained the passage to him. The Ethiopian’s soul began to burn with a mighty, light-filled faith. As they neared a body of water, he asked “Here is water, can I not be baptised here?” Philip responded that if he believed with all his heart, then he can. And Philip baptised him.
From the point of view of our daily, mundane life, it seems that this was a chance meeting: this dignitary was going his own way. Philipp went his way, maybe crossing his path, and it seemed like a chance meeting, yet it turned out not to be the case at all. By Divine Providence, this meeting was destined so that the Church would receive a new believing Christian, who later became a martyr. And so, such examples show us that we must not say that our daily circumstances give us no opportunity to save our souls. Of course, one cannot close one’s eyes to the fact that life today is not the same as it was 70-80 years ago, it has become more complicated, it has also become tainted, to which the Apostle says: “But where sin abounded, there did grace much more abound,” that is, if sin is increased, then for him who desires salvation, assistance from the grace-filled power of the Lord is increased, strengthened, so that the person is not crushed from all sides, so theat his soul remains devoted to God and was saved.
This every Christian must remember. There are, of course, drastic shifts in life, when a person’s soul burns with fervor, he asks for a new way of life, and he embarks on this path, but this does not happen often, as you know. But every person, in the circumstances of his own life, can save his Christian soul if he looks upon his life and his actions as service to the Lord God. Amen.
From the compendium Sermons and Teachings of Metropolitan Philaret, v. II, (Russian Orthodox Youth Committee, New York, 1989).