Saturday, April 25, 2015

The Sin of Smoking ( Elder Nektary of Optina )

I am continuing my mental battle with the vice of smoking, but it's still completely unsuccessful. I have to quit this filthy and stupid occupation; it is noticeably ruining my health — the gift of God — and that is a sin.

The ever-memorable Elder Ambrose once heard an admission from one of his spiritual daughters:

"Batiushka! I smoke and this is tormenting me!"

"Well," the Elder answered her, "this isn't a great misfortune, if you can quit."

"That's just the problem," she said, "I can't quit!"

"Then it's a sin," said the Elder, "and you've got to repent of it and leave off doing it."

I also have to leave off, but how do I do it? I'm consoled by the words of our Elders, who promised me freedom from this sin "when the time is right."

The late patron of Optina Monastery and spiritual friend of its great Elders, Archbishop Gregory of Kaluga, could not stand this vice among the clergy, but he was condescending towards laymen who smoked, and even towards his seminarians, before they joined the clerical staff. He categorically demanded from candidates who were preparing for ordination that they cease from this filthy habit, and he did not ordain those who smoked.

Our friend Fr. Nektary, to whom I often complained about my weakness, informed me of this. "After all," he consoled me, "you, your honor, are a layman — what's to be expected from you? But here..."

And he related the following to me:

"In the days of Archbishop Gregory, a spirit-bearing and monk-loving man, the following incident happened. A seminarian from Kaluga, who had graduated at the head of his class, and who, because of his exceptional giftedness was personally known to the Archbishop, had to prepare himself for ordination to one of the better positions in the diocese. He appeared before the Archbishop for a blessing and to set a date for the ordination. The hierarch received him with extreme affection, conversed amiably with him and, having shown fatherly kindness towards him, dismissed him, assigning a date for the ordination. However, when dismissing the candidate, he did not fail to ask him, 'Well, then, brother, do you smoke, or not?'

"'No, your Eminence,' replied the candidate, 'I don't go in for that.'

"'Well, good,' the Archbishop exclaimed joyfully, 'see what a fine fellow I've got! Well then, prepare yourself, and may the Lord bless you!'

"According to custom, the candidate bowed to the feet of the Archbishop. His frock coat flew open, and from his breast pocket cigarettes began to fall out onto the floor, one after the other.

"The Archbishop flared up in indignation. 'Who made you lie to me?' he exclaimed with great anger. 'To whom have you lied? When have you lied? When preparing to serve God in holiness and in truth?... Get out of here! There is no position for you, nor will there be one!...'

"And with that he drove the liar out of his sight.... So, your honor," added Fr. Nektary, looking at me with his always laughing, kind and affectionate gaze, "why be dejected that it's not the smell of athonite incense that comes out of your mouth? To whom are you obliged?... And, you know what?" — he exclaimed, and his face lit up with a kind smile. "You won't believe it — I myself barely avoided joining the ranks of smokers. This was back in my childhood, when I still lived at home, together with my mama.... In the whole wide world there were only the two of us, Mama and me, and there was also a cat that lived with us.... We were of a low station, and because of this we were poor: who needed people like us? Well, then, once my mama wasn't keeping an eye on me and I went ahead and borrowed some tobacco from some of my rich peers. They had no shortage of tobacco and they willingly treated everyone who wanted it. They rolled themselves a cigarette, smoked and smoked, and then stuck it in my mouth — 'Here, have a smoke!' Well, following them, I myself began to smoke. The first time I tried it I became dizzy, but I liked it all the same. Cigarette butt after cigarette butt, and I already began to get used to this mischief. I began to beg and then to borrow on credit, hoping somehow to pay it back. But what was I going to pay it back with, when my own mother lived, as they say, from bread to kvass, and there wasn't always plenty of bread.... Then my mama began to notice the smell of tobacco coming from me....

"'What's this, Kolya (my name in the world was Nicholas) — you haven't begun to smoke, have you?'

"'What do you mean, Mommy,' I would say, 'I hardly think so!'

"And I would quickly move aside, as if I were doing something. It went that way once, then another time, and then I got caught. Once I had barely managed to inhale some borrowed tobacco on the sly, when suddenly, there was Mama.

"'Were you just smoking?' she asked.

"Again I said, 'No, Mama.'

"But where did I get 'no' from? I reeked of tobacco from way off. Mama didn't say a word to me then, but she gazed at me with such a sorrowful look that you could say that my whole soul was overturned within me. She went away from me somewhere to do the housework, and I hid in a secluded corner and began to weep inconsolably, that I had grieved Mama. And not only had I grieved her, I had deceived her and lied on top of that. I can't express how painful this was for me! The day passed, night came, and my mind sought for sleep. I lay in my bed and whimpered, lay and whimpered.... Mama heard it.

"'What is it, Kolya — you're not crying, are you?'

"'No, Mama.'

"'Why aren't you sleeping?'

"And with these words, Mama got up, lit the lamp and came over to me. My face was all wet with tears and my pillow was soaked....

"And what happened between us then!... We both had a good cry and were reconciled. Having a good cry with one so dear, how nicely we were reconciled!

"And thus ended my mischief with smoking."

Elder Nektary of Optina