Many people send letters to Pravoslavie.ru addressed to Professor Alexei Iliych Osipov. After choosing those more frequently asked, these question were posed to Prof. Osipov—on doubts about the faith, about how to discern God’s will, how to give alms, why the Orthodox are patient in deprivations, and whether there is justice on this earth.
Whenever we talk about life, the question of happiness is always on our mind. This question is essential for our whole life and for the solution of all its problems. What kind of problems? Economic? Yes. Social? No doubt. Philosophical? Of course! Scientific? Definitely: why do we need progress in science and technology if there is no happiness?
On the other hand, a correct spiritual life is unthinkable without patristic guidance. Before this seemingly insurmountable impasse, we can see the full significance of the spiritual inheritance of those fathers, most of whom are closer to us in time, who “restated” this earlier patristic experience of spiritual life in a language more accessible to a modern man little acquainted with this life, who usually has neither a capable guide nor sufficient strength. The works of Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov are among the best of these “restatements,” which provide an impeccably reliable “key” to understanding the teachings of great laborers in the science of sciences—the ascetics.
Why is it that I turned to his works in particular? As is well known, the oral and written accounts of him by all the Optina Elders and many other pious Russian ascetics are not simply positive, but rather, I’d say, are filled with admiration.
Then one day in the summer of 1915, in the town of Vyshny Volochok, when he suddenly felt a particular sense of total despair, a thought struck him like lightning about his childhood faith: What if God really does exist—shouldn’t He reveal Himself? But he was not a believer! From the depth of his soul, in his desperate state, he cried, “Lord, if You exist, reveal Yourself to me.
The methodical development of imagination is based in the experience of one of the pillars of Catholic mysticism, the founder of the order of Jesuits and great Catholic saint Ignatius of Loyola (sixteenth century). His book Spiritual Exercises enjoys great authority in Catholicism. Ignatius himself said of his book that if one reads it, it could replace the Gospels. He tells the reader to imagine the crucified Christ, to attempt to penetrate the world of Christ’s feelings and sufferings, to mentally converse with the Crucified One, etc. All this contradicts in principle the basics of spiritual ascetic labor as it has been given to us in the lives of the saints of the Universal Church.
Free will is such an important quality that, when it is lost, the personality becomes completely degraded. But as long as self-awareness is preserved, no one can take authority over this freedom—not another man, nor society, nor laws, nor any regime, nor demons, nor angels, nor even God Himself. Saint Macarius of Egypt (fourth century) said: "You are created in the image and likeness of God; therefore just as God is free and creates what He wants … so are you free. Therefore, our nature is well capable of accepting both good and evil; both God’s grace, and the enemy’s powers. But it cannot be forced."
The concepts of an “unearthly heaven” and an “unspiritual earth” had different fates. The former, viewing the body as something contemptuous and any care for its needs as something approaching sinful, sank into the past. The second, for which material needs are not only the foremost, but in the final analysis, the only needs there are in the world, grew and developed rapidly during the modern era and is now marching triumphantly through the Christian world. The words of Christ—Seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you (Mt 6:33); These ought ye to have done, and not to leave the other undone (Mt 23:23)—are increasingly forgotten.
New from Sretensky Monastery, a classic of Christian apologetics by Professor Alexei I. Osipov: The Search for Truth on the Path of Reason, is now available in English. Alexei Ilych Osipov of the Moscow Theological Academy is possibly the most widely known professor of Theology in Russia today.