The Path to Salvation by St Theophan the Recluse
is available from ArchangelsBooks.com
When a brood hen has found some grain, she lets her chicks know
about it, and no matter where they happen to be at the moment, they
come flying over to her and gather beak to beak at that spot where
her beak is. It is just the same when divine grace acts upon the heart
of a man. His spirit delves into it with its consciousness, and after it
follow all the powers of the soul and body. Now comes the law for
being within: hold your consciousness in your heart and forcefully
gather there all the powers of the soul and body.
Being within is the locking of the consciousness in the heart, and the
forceful gathering of the powers of the soul and body is the essential
means or activity of podvig (spiritual or ascetical exercise, Christian
All the powers of the soul-the mind, the will and the senses-should
gather near the consciousness in the heart. The gathering of the mind
in the heart is attention, the gathering of the will is vigilance, and the
gathering of the senses is soberness.
Attention, vigilance and soberness are the three inner activities by
which self-gathering and being within are accomplished. Whoever
has these, that is, all of them, is within; whoever is missing even one
of them is outside. After the activities of the soul, the activities of the
body with their corresponding organs should also be directed there.
Being within is the condition for man's true lordship over himself,
and consequently of true freedom and intelligence, and therefore
also of true spiritual life.
Therefore all spiritual work and all ascetical labors in general should
be performed from this fortress (the heart), otherwise the work is not
spiritual, and neither is asceticism, which should in that case be
cancelled. "The kingdom of God is within you" Luke 17.21, said
the Lord. He then commands concerning spiritual work alone:
"enter into thy closet and ..shut thy door" Matthew 6:6. This is the
cell of the heart, as all the Holy Fathers interpret it. This is what
spiritualizes one who labors for his salvation, and it is called
internal. It is now clear that gathering within is the most effective
means of preserving zeal: 1) He who is gathered should burn, for
he gathers all his powers into one, just as scattered rays gathered
into one point produce a strong heat and kindle a fire. Truly,
gathering is always connected with warmth - the spirit meets with
itself, as St Nicephorus says, like a battalion in formation, or a
fastened bundle of weak sticks. Like girded loins, it signifies
readiness and power to act. One who is scattered is always
weak, and either falls or does not do anything at all. 3) The
gathered one sees everything within himself. (Being within) is
the condition for spiritual life. Its perfection depends upon the
perfection of the three activities of the soul and body that
produce it, namely : attention of the mind with the inward gaze
of the eyes, vigilance of will with tension of the body, and
soberness of heart with the turning away of attachments and
Now it is obvious what the means are for descending within,
or rather the one method : remove anything that might disrupt the
three indicated activities in their joining, or anything that could
distract the inner descent of the soul's powers together with their
corresponding bodily functions - the mind and the feelings, the will
and the muscles, the heart and the flesh. The feelings are
distracted by outer impressions, and the mind by thoughts.
The muscles are weakened by the relaxation of the members, the
will by desires, the flesh by comfort, and the heart by captivation
or by clinging to anything. Consequently, one must keep the mind
free of thoughts, the senses undistracted, the will without desires,
the muscles unrelaxed, the heart uncaptivated, the flesh without
pleasure or comfort. The following are the conditions for and
methods of being within : in the soul - warfare with thoughts,
desires and captivity of heart ; in the body - restraints on it ; and
in order to accomplish these - changing the external order.
Inner life is always placed in unbreakable connection with
ascetical warfare. Gathering is where all spiritual work takes
place - warfare, reading, divine contemplation and prayer.
Whatever the ascetic does, he should always go within and
work from there.
The Three Powers of the soul and Their Curative Exercises
In the soul we find three powers : the intellect, the will, the heart,
or as the Holy Fathers say, the intellectual, desiring and
incensive powers. Each of them is assigned particular curative
exercises by the holy ascetics. These related exercises are both
receptive and conducive to grace. They need not be contrived
according to some theory, but rather chosen from tested ascetic
labors particularly suited to a given power.
For the Mind - The Intellectual Power
1) Reading and hearing the word of God, the writings of the Holy
Fathers and the lives of the God-pleasers.
2) Studying and impressing upon yourself all the God-given truths
in brief statements (the catechesis).
3) Asking questions of those older and more experienced.
4) Mutual informative discourse with friends.
For the Will - The Desiring Power
1) Submission to the whole church rule.
2) Submission to civil order, or to family duty, for they are conduits of
3) Obedience to God's will as manifested in your fate.
4) Obeying your conscience in the doing of good deeds.
5) Subjecting yourself to the spirit that is zealous to fulfill its vows.
For the Heart - The Incensive Power
1) Attending holy Church services.
2) Prayer, as specified by the Church ; home prayer rule
3) Using holy crosses, icons and other sacred substances and
4) Observing holy customs established and promoted by the
1) For the senses: guard the senses altogether, especially the
hearing and vision (nervous system).
2) Guarding the tongue.
3) Abstinence and fasting (the stomach).
4) Moderate sleep and vigilance (the stomach).
5) Physical purity (the stomach).
The Outward Ordering of Life
As the activities of our powers (our inner character) are changed,
our external appearance, which is their expression, will also
inevitably change. The family - its duties and relationships - is the
field of activity.
1) Abandon all evil customs without exception.
2) Purge all relationships and acquaintances, retaining the salvific
and estranging the harmful, and determine your behavior or
conduct with people.
3) Rearrange or re-establish the duties of whatever occupation you
may have, to fit your new way of life.
4) Establish order in your family affairs, or in general adapt your
home to spiritual life.
Forming a Spiritual Atmosphere Through Govenie (the Holy
Church's most salvific institution, given to us for our purification
and illumination through the Mysteries).
1) Completing all the ascetical labors as preparation for receiving
2) Receiving the Sacraments of Confession and Communion of the
Body and Blood of Christ.
This is a practice that embraces the whole person, and nourishes
the spirit, the soul and the body. We will call it the grace-filled means
for educating and strengthening spiritual life.
For a more detailed instruction on the performance of these
exercises please see, The Path to Salvation by St Theophan
the Recluse p.221-274, Translated by Fr Seraphim Rose,
St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998