Letters of Elder Macarius of Optina

St. Macarius
  of Optina

VII. Blessed are the peacemakers:
for they shall be called the children of God

1. Man and Wife

The most important thing in your letter is one that you never stress, one on which you ask no instructions, one which you never formulate clearly, but which comes out in every line: the growing hostility between you and your wife.

I see little hope of this poison being cast out of your home unless you promptly cease condemning each other. You clearly think you are always in the right; she, of course, thinks she is. You heap on her a multitude of grave or petty accusations. She does the same to you. Where will this end?

Your chief accusations against her are touchiness, conceit, an absurdly exaggerated opinion of self. But, surely, if these were not your own most prominent defects -which they quite obviously are-you would not be so greatly irritated by perceiving them in her. Beware of your own failings!...

All this financial trouble between you comes of your having completely forgotten that yours is a Christian home, or should be. A home is a Christian one, when all the members of the household bear each other’s burdens, and when- each one condemns only himself. You have forgotten this, both of you. And so every word of hers pierces you, like an arrow dipped in poison. And your words, likewise, pierce her.

Ponder the truth of Christian marriage: man and wife are one flesh! Does it not follow that they must share all their possessions? And yet you two haggle over this property! And why? Because of words!

Unless you promptly strive for, and achieve, a loving peace between you, it is hopeless to try to bring tidiness and fairness into your business dealings with one another. Humble yourself, not her. Love her, not yourself. [75]

I need hardly tell you how wrong it is, this frigid attitude of yours to your husband. You describe it as a subtle, hidden revenge for his past indifference to you; and you are, yourself, quite clear about its being a sin. But, surely, having seen this and stated it, you must on no account accept the situation as inevitable, saying, as you do, that although you deeply regret it you can do nothing about it. This cannot be true, and is a very wrong attitude to take.

Remember what marriage is: a sacrament! Remember that the first obligation of man and wife is to love each other and be completely loyal to each other under all circumstances, to the end of their days.

Is it against this man to whom-in God’s sight-you owe the wholeness of your love and loyalty, is it against him that you have nursed for long years-and are still nursingan evil feeling of cruel revenge? Pray that you may be given the strength to forgive all those who have trespassed against you and that your own trespasses may be forgiven you. [124]

It is indeed hard to be forced, as you now are, to choose between two actions both of which are, strictly speaking, wrong, each in its own way. If you give this money to your husband, you will break the commandment of obedience to parents-since your mother expressly forbade you to do so; if, on the other hand, you refuse it him, you will violate the great mystery of matrimony in which a man leaves his father and mother to cleave to his wife; and they two shall be one flesh (Eph. 5.31).

In cases of this kind, when one of two commandments must be broken in order that the other may be kept, the Fathers counsel the breaking of the lesser. No connection on earth is greater than that between man and wife. It is therefore right that you should stand by your husband no matter what happens; and none can forbid you sharing all with him. All, not only your money.

The necessity to keep this gift secret, so that your mother should not vent her anger on your husband and cause even greater complications in the family, is another source of anxiety for you. And yet it is right to bring about and maintain peace!

Give your husband all he wants, and say nothing about it. But be fully conscious of your sins: the act of disobedience and the furtive action. Humble yourself, and pray for pardon. But do not lose hope that it will be granted. God is a reader of hearts, and permits such situations so that we may not lose humility while striving for perfection....

The joint prayer of husband and wife is a great force. That may be one of the reasons why the enemy is trying to get both of you to break this excellent habit. One more temptation which God permits so that you should learn to overcome it, and come out of the testing stronger than before! Remember that, under all circumstances, humility is your surest weapon. [254]

2. Mother and Child

I can only say that, between you, you have bound me hand and foot. How am I to give you advice? If I say that I think this marriage right, I shall hurt your mother’s feelings and shall be inciting you to act against her wishes: this I in no way wish to do, since you most certainly owe her filial obedience. But if I say I think this marriage wrong, I have your assurance that you will die of it!

Besides, I wonder: will my saying this or that be of any use? I doubt it. And I think that, under the circumstances, the only thing any of us can do is to pray that God’s will may be done.

If He intends that you should be this man’s wife all hindrance will be overcome, and marry him you will. But if God does not wish it, no matter how you plan and strive for it, will be of no avail.

And beware you do not blindly insist that things must work out according to what you consider to be right and good. God sometimes does permit such blind insistence to be followed by the fulfilment of our ardent desires. This always leads to misery and disaster (intended to open our eyes on our folly), and happens particularly often when our desires are founded on wild passions.

Pray to our Lord for guidance, and to His Holy Mother for special protection. [122]

It is very wrong that you do not love your mother, and harbor this feeling of suspicion against her. Pray for the strength, the courage, the goodness, to forgive. You must stop these endless recriminations, this reverting tothis endless dwelling on-her mistaken attitude to you in the past. Accept that past as part of God’s pattern for your life, and forget your grudge. Forget it all. In keeping keen within you this hostility to your past and to the tools that shaped it, you are only waging war against the will of God. What folly!

Besides, you cannot honestly consider your fate to be a hard one. There have been bitter moments, I know. But, surely, the right thing to do is to forget them and train yourself to think of no one as their author, of no one as the one person responsible for them. Seen from on high, men are nought but instruments in the hand of God.

But take courage: God will reward you for humbly laying bare the ugly sores of your soul before another sinner. He will grant you the strength to overcome your sins,....

Do not misunderstand me: I am not denigrating your rule of prayer, or your reading of the Fathers and Doctors of the Church. I want to leave you quite free to continue these occupations or to modify them according to your own light. But do try to remember that love of- the neighbor is the first work you must strive for. And you do not even have to leave your house to find that neighbor: your husband is that neighbor; your mother is that neighbor; and so are your children.

And do not let the dryness of your prayers depress you. Only the humble may safely be spared it. [124]

I am very glad to know that you have come to see this hidden pride of yours. You are acquiring humility, and our Lord looks with favor on all who are humble.

But you exclaim in horror, “What must I look like in the eyes of God!” What did you think? Surely not that He sees you as good, pure, and sinless.

And what nonse nse is this about not having child ren? Children are one of the many blessings God has bestowed on man. As for woman, the Apostle says, She shall be saved in childbearing (Tim. 2.15). It is for God to decide whether you do or do not have children. Accept them gladly if He sends them; do not sorrow if He doesn’t; but don’t presume to pick and choose, or interfere.

And strive to combat this jealousy and suspicion. There is probably no ground for any of it. The mind of those who are given to jealousy breeds the most improbable fantasies, because the devil gladly paints convincing pictures which have no foundation outside his imagination and theirs.

P.S. Your letter telling me of your little daughter’s death has just arrived. I have already told you how wrong it was to pray that you should not have children. But it is quite as wrong to suppose that this could in any way lead to her death. No, you certainly are not responsible for it! The Lord has taken her to Him not because of anything you did, but because He wanted her in heaven, by His side. Seek strength and consolation in the faith that she is even nearer to Him now than she was in life, and that she is now entirely in His care. [242]

3. Father and Child

Forgive me for not answering sooner, but my table is covered with unanswered letters, and many of them are as full as yours of descriptions of this new and growing visitation, this enmity between members of one family: parents and children, brothers and sisters, and so on.

I had written to your children before I heard from you, and said all I thought right. But I doubt if my words can have any effect on those whom the word of God leaves cold and unimpressed. It is this growing indifference to His word and our consequent refusal to examine our heartswhere we could find both the peace He bequeathed us and insight into our lack of love of Him and of our neighborwhich brings in its wake this punishment, this disruption of the home. [3751

I know that you are charitable and that many have been royally helped by you. But today Christ the wanderer, Christ the beggar, is knocking at your door hand in hand with your own granddaughter, surrounded by her six little children. Listen: He is begging! Begging that you should provide Him with a roof under which to rest His head! Buy a house for them: a small house, worth three to five thousand rubles. A trifle for you. But Christ will be so grateful for it!

He will be so grateful that His angels will straightway set about building you a mansion in heaven: a golden mansion. Three to five thousand rubles for that!. . .

Think, this is Christmastide. Is it not the season, above all others, in which to exercise fatherly love? Give this great consolation to your child. Give a home to the wandering, to the begging Christ. [138]

4. Brother and Sister

Try to blame yourself, yourself only and not your relations, for all. Be certain that none can offend or hurt us without God’s permission; and whenever God permits it, it is always for our good. Punishments, tests, temptations, are all equally good for us.

You may ask your brother for help; but do it courteously, gently, without insistence. Besides this, pray, have faith, and abandon yourself-and the whole pattern of your life-to God. Pray fervently that peace may be restored in the family. [413]

Although I have not the honor of knowing you personally, I have heard so much from your distressed townsfolk about the exemplary life your family led during your father’s lifetime and of the bitter enmity which now divides you, that I am writing to beg you to come to your senses.

Stop these endless quarrels and bitter insults! Do not provide the enemy with this delight: he enjoys nothing better than the distortion of family life, the mockery of it.

Remember that you are pupils of Christ; of Christ who teaches us to love . not only our friends but even our enemies, and to forgive all who trespass against us. But i f ye forgive not m ere their trespasses, neither will your Father forgive your trespasses (Matt. 6:15). What a frightful prospect!

And so, I beg of you, leaving all recriminations, make peace among you and strive for the greatest boon of all: strive for the inner peace. [210]

5. Children

Have great care of your children. We live at a time when much freedom is given to the expression of thought, but little care is taken that thoughts should be founded on truth. Teach them to love truth. [235]


From Russian Letters of Direction 1834-1860 Macarius Starets of Optino, by Iulia De Beausobre. Originally published March 1944 by Dacre Press, Westminster. Copyright 1975 St. Vladimir's Seminary Press.

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