[Some indications on the scope and limits of disbelief in oneself and of complete trust in God]

“Since all the strength by which our enemies are overcome is born in us from disbelief in ourselves and from trust in God, it is necessary for you, my brother, to acquire exact knowledge of this, in order always to have this strength and to preserve it with the help of God. Know then, and never forget, that neither all our capacities and good features, whether natural or acquired, nor all the gifts freely given us, nor the knowledge of all the Scriptures, nor the fact that we have for long worked for God and have acquired experience in these labours, nor all this together will enable us to do God’s will rightly, if at every good deed pleasing to God, which we are about to undertake, at every affliction we wish to avoid, at every cross we have to bear according to God’s will, if, I say, on all these and similar occasions a special divine help does not inspire our heart and does not give us strength to accomplish it, as the Lord said: ‘Without me ye can do nothing’ (John xv. 5). So for the duration of our life, every day and at every moment, we must keep unchanged in our heart the feeling, conviction and disposition, that on no occasion can we allow ourselves to think of relying on ourselves and trusting ourselves.

As regards trust in God, I will add the following to what I have said in the third chapter: know that nothing is easier for God than to give you victory over your enemies, whether they be few or many, whether they be old and strong or new and weak. Yet He has His own time and order for everything. Therefore if a soul be overburdened with sins, if it be guilty of all the crimes in the world, if it be defiled beyond imagination;—if, at the same time, to the extent of its desire and strength, it uses every means and endeavour to become free of sin and turn to the path of good, but cannot get stable in anything right, however small, and, on the contrary, sinks ever deeper and deeper into evil; even if it is all that, it must not weaken in its trust of God or fall away from Him. It must not abandon its spiritual weapons and strivings but must fight and fight, struggling with itself and with its enemies with all its courage and untiring efforts. For know and under- stand, that in this unseen war all are losers except a man who never ceases to struggle and keep his trust in God; for God never abandons those who fight in His armies, although at times He/ lets them suffer wounds. So fight, everyone, and do not give ground; for the whole thing is in this unceasing struggle. /God is always ready with remedies for those struck down by the enemies and with help for overcoming them, which He sends to His warriors in due time, if they seek
Him and firmly hope in Him. At some’ hour when they least expect it they will see their proud enemies vanish, as is written: ‘ The mighty men of Babylon have forborn to fight’ (Jer. li. 30).”

Source: St. Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, Chapter 6, p. 10

[“One of the signs of relying on deeds is loss of hope when a misstep occurs.”]

How to recognise whether a man acts without self-reliance and with perfect trust in God:

“It often happens that self-reliant men think that they have no self-reliance whatever, but put all their trust in God and rest confidently in Him alone. But in practice it is not so. They can ascertain it for themselves, if they judge by what is in them and what happens to them if they fall down. If, when they grieve at their downfall, reproaching and abusing themselves for it, they think: ‘I shall do this and that, the consequences of my downfall will be effaced and all will be well once more,’ this is a sure sign that before the downfall they trusted themselves, instead of trusting God. And the more gloomy and disconsolate their grief, the more it shows that they relied too much on themselves and too little on God; and therefore the grief caused by their downfall is not tempered by any comfort. If a man does not rely on himself but puts his trust in God, when he falls he is not greatly surprised and is not overcome with excessive grief, for he knows that it is the result of his own impotence, and, above all, of the weakness of his trust in God. So his downfall increases his distrust of himself and makes him try all the harder to increase and deepen his humble trust in God. And further, hating the vile passions which caused his downfall, he thereupon endures peacefully and calmly the labours of penitence for having offended God; and armed with still more trust in God, he thereupon pursues his enemies with the greatest courage and resoluteness, even unto death.”

On the wrong opinion of those who deem excessive grief a virtue

“It is wrong to regard as a virtue the excessive grief, which men feel after committing a sin, not realising that it is caused by pride and a high opinion of themselves, based on the fact that they rely too much on themselves and their own powers. For by thinking that they are something important they undertake too much, hoping to deal with it by themselves. When the experience of their downfall shows them how weak they are, they are astounded, like people, who meet with something unexpected, and they are cast into turmoil and grow faint-hearted. For they see, fallen and prone on the ground, that graven image which is themselves, upon which they put all their hopes and expectations. This does not happen to a humble man who trusts in God alone, expecting nothing good from himself. Therefore, when he falls into some transgression, he also feels the weight of it and grieves, but is not cast into turmoil and is not perplexed, for he knows that it happened through his own impotence, to experience which in downfall is nothing unexpected or new to him.”

Source: St. Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare, Chapter 4 & 5, pp. 9-10; Title taken from the first aphorism of Ibn ‘Ata’illah’s Book of Wisdoms