Brother, you know that God is Love, and that He so loved you that He sent His Son for your salvation, and that His Son died on the Cross for you. Know also that God is leading you not to the restoration of the former Paradise that our first parents lost, but to something altogether new and infinitely greater and more wondrous. Do not turn back to gaze upon that which Adam lost for you, but look ahead to that which God has promised you, where our Lord Jesus and the Holy Spirit are leading you. Yes, together with Adam we lost a great deal: Paradise, joy, and the possibility of immortality: great and wondrous things. But know that in your salvation you will receive immeasurably greater and more wondrous things. Because Paradise, which our first parents enjoyed, and the Kingdom of Heaven are not one and the same. The former was earthly, but the latter is heavenly. Adam lost a beautiful garden, planted by God and called “paradise,” but you are called to live in the Heavenly New Jerusalem, which is not yet built but which is already prepared and able to come into being, whose grandeur is revealed to us in part by the divine Saint John the Theologian (Rev. ch. 21, 22) …
So you see, God is leading you to what is far superior to what you had in Adam, in respect both to your state and your place of habitation. O brother, try to be deserving of this and to attain it! Recognize your inheritance, for the sake of which you were called into this life, and do not be careless, but each minute, every moment of your life try to please God and remember that Christ bid you: Be ye perfect (Matt. 5:48). In one monastery I saw this testament carved in stone over the doors of the monastic cells, and it is, of course, fixed in the hearts of those who are on the road to salvation.
On one hand, you are in a better position in regard to sin than Adam was before the Fall. He did not yet know the bitter fruits of sin, but you know where sin led him. He knew neither infirmity, nor toil, nor death, but you know all this, and you know that your earthly life is burdensome, and at the same time to what degree it is short and insecure and mutable. So that life itself teaches you to seek what is true, eternal and spiritual. You yourself see that here there is nothing in which you can trust, because everything is inconstant, mutable, transitory. Everything says to you: O man, seek what is everlasting, eternal, and trustworthy. And what is eternal and trustworthy can be found only in God. Therefore, brother, I repeat: Do not waste a minute of your life, not an instant, but use it to please your Lord God.
On the other hand, you are in a worse position in regard to sin than Adam before the Fall. He had an easy life; yours is hard. He was free of cares; you are weighed down by many. The earth itself brought forth of itself everything for him, but you must expend much toil and effort to get anything out of life, and even then it is sometimes difficult to preserve that which you have gained. He lived at a time before sin had infected human nature, while you live in what can be called a poisonous atmosphere of sin, when sin has filled and, like the flood of old, has inundated the whole earth, where it has been reigning for thousands of years. Demons entice you to sin, so do people, and within your own self there is hidden an abyss of sinful desires. Everywhere, the world over, life has become one great sigh, and man has so little, so very little time for salvation. But know, for precisely this reason, that your path to salvation lies through tribulations and adversities, through unceasing warfare against universal evil—including that which lies within you; moreover, you are clothed in this mortal, passionate and at the same time much-ailing and short-lived body. And for all this God—truly the Lover of mankind—has prepared for you a glorious salvation and the greatest honors and joys.
As I have already said, the path to salvation you are following is new and glorious and foreknown by God, because God, of course, knew that Adam would fall and lose paradise, and that for man’s salvation there would be a new path, sanctified by the Blood of the Son of God, Who was incarnate for the sake of man’s salvation, a path that is sheltered by the grace of the Holy Spirit, which is why it leads not, as we have seen, to what Adam had and lost, but to something incomparably greater. Yes, Adam had the great joy of living in Paradise. But, I will tell you, his joy was not full, for which reason God created for him a helpmate, a woman—Eve. Furthermore, he did not know God fully; he thought that he could hide from God, that he could escape from Him Who is inescapable; he did not comprehend the love that God had for him, and for this reason he did not want straightway to repent before Him. Moreover, he did not possess the fullness of divine joy that comes with love for God, because if he had had it, he would not have sinned, and if he had sinned he would immediately have repented. But this did not happen, as you know. No, his joy was not full. But for you, in the Kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world (Matt. 25:34), there will be fullness of joy, because the grace of God and His love will surround you, and you yourself will be filled with love for Him, and there you will feel no need of any helpmate or of any other consolation, because there Christ will be for you all and in all (Col. 3:11), so that you will not grieve out of loneliness. Adam had the joy of possessing free will, but he did not understand that this brings fullness of joy when this freedom of will freely and of itself chooses good and becomes firmly and immutably established therein. Our forefathers did not experience this. Adam did not enjoy fullness of joy, and therefore the devil was able to take his joy away from him. But there, in the words of the Lord, your joy will be full, and your joy no one shall take away from you (John 15:11, 16:22). We cannot even imagine this joy because, in the words of the Apostle, Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God has prepared for them that love Him (I Cor. 2:9).
Taken from Archimandrite Ambrose (Pogodin) and Mary Mansur, translators, Reflections of a Humble Heart: A fifteenth-century text on the spiritual life (Richfield Springs, New York: Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society, 2003), pp. 68-73. This excerpt is posted with permission from Nikodemos Orthodox Publication Society.
Let us come to ourselves like the prodigal; let us, like him, speak firm words of resolve to our own souls: “I will arise and go to my Father”; and the Gracious God will perfect our small intention.
He knows that we do not know the way to Him, or the manner in which to traverse it; but, hearing us say: “Ready is my heart, O God, ready is my heart”, and seeing us begin our journey towards Him, He will then rush out to us, falling on us, and kissing our neck: He will send His All-Accomplishing Holy Spirit upon us, and guide us into all truth, not only in our understanding, but in all our deeds, all our life.
Yesterday, Christ was born; today, He is baptized. Yesterday, God immersed Himself in our flesh; today, our flesh is immersed in the Most Holy Trinity. Yesterday, the Timeless Son of the Virgin-Father was begotten in time of the Virgin-Mother; today He gives birth to us as sons of God forever.