Nourishing the soul

“My soul thirsts for God, the living God; when can I go meet with God.”  These words of Psalm 42, attributed to the Prophet and King David Psalm, although brief, communicate a longing for God that ought to be the desire and longing of each and every Christian soul.

A thirsting soul is to be nourished, else it, like the physical body, will wither and die.  Bishop Nikolai of blessed memory explains: “A soul can become famished to death” when it is not fed spiritual food.  Saint John of Kronstadt in like manner writes: “The body, as it is only the temporal garment of the soul, is perishable, and its life is not the true life of man.  The true life is the spiritual life.  If you destroy man’s garment, he himself yet lives; so also after the death and decaying of the body the soul is yet alive.  Let us then care principally for the soul, that it may be saved.”  This is why we must have great concern for the health and life of the soul.  For as the Elder Paisios of blessed memory has written, “…the value of one soul is infinite!  This is why the salvation of one soul is an extremely important matter!”

Saint John encourages each of us to examine the health of the soul:

Do you pay enough regard to the state of your soul? – Whether it is in good health?  Whether its life is vigorous?  And if its present temporal life is happy, then is its eternal life, its eternal happiness, ensured?  Is it ensured, for instance, by faith? Is there in your soul a lively faith in God, in the Lord Jesus Christ, in the Church?  Do you practice good works, meekness, humility, gentleness, love of truth and honesty, abstinence, chastity, mercy, patience, obedience, industry, and other such virtues?  If you do not, then all your labor is useless.  The soul perhaps, does many things worthy of wonder, but it will itself be lost.  For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul?

Clement of Alexandria therefore reminds the faithful: “Just as our body needs a physician when it is sick, so, too, when we are weak, our soul needs the Educator to cure its ills.  Only then does it need the Teacher to guide it and develop its capacity to know, once it is made pure and capable of retaining the revelation of the Word.”

The Physician of our souls, the Educator, the Teacher is none other than Christ. For this reason, the Elder Paisios has likewise concluded that “Real, genuine joy and delight can only be found in Christ. If you unite with Him through prayer, your soul will find fulfillment.”

Uniting ourselves with Christ in prayer, we are also directed to feed on Him and be nourished by Him as He is the food for our souls. Bishop Nikolai wisely leads us to the chalice to receive Christ.  He writes:  “Let us feed our souls with Christ.  There is no more nourishing bread than He, nor sweeter drink than He in Holy Communion.”

Complementing our frequent Communion, we are also to nourish ourselves with Christ through the reading of the Word.  Saint Seraphim of Sarov explains:

One should nourish the soul with the word of God: for the word of God, as St. Gregory the Theologian says, is angelic bread, by which are nourished souls that hunger for God.  Most of all one should occupy oneself with reading the New Testament and the Psalter, which one should do standing up.  From this there occurs an enlightenment in the mind, which is changed by a Divine change.

One should habituate oneself in this way so that the mind might as it were swim in the Lord’s law; it is under the guidance of this law that one should direct one’s life. 

It is very profitable to occupy oneself with reading the word of God in solitude, and to read the whole Bible intelligently.  For one such occupation alone, apart from good deeds, the Lord will not leave a person without His mercy, but will fill him with the gift of understanding. 

And when a man nourishes his soul with the word of God, there is realized [in him] an understanding of what is good and what is evil. 

The reading of the word of God should be performed in solitude, in order that the whole mind of the reader might be plunged into the truths of the Holy Scripture and that from this he might receive warmth, which in solitude produces tears; from these a man s wholly warmed and is filled with spiritual gifts, which rejoice the mind and heart more than any word. 

One should likewise nourish the soul also with knowledge of Church: how she has been preserved from the beginning up to the present, what she has endured in one or another time; but one should know this not so as to desire to direct people, but in case one should encounter powerful opposition. 

Most of all one should do this strictly for oneself, so as to acquire peace of soul, according to the teaching of the Psalmist: Great peace have those who love Thy law, O Lord. 

We can’t receive the Eucharist too often nor can we read Scripture too frequently.  For this reason, Bishop Nikolai concludes: “Oh teacher of truth, do not be afraid of repeating again and again; of teaching by repetition and reminding.  Truth is good for the soul.  You have eaten bread today and the day before, month by month, and you will go on eating it to strengthen your body.  Feed your soul as well with truth, yesterday, today and tomorrow.” 

As we nourish the soul with none other than Christ Himself, St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain exhorts us to remain vigilant: “Watch yourself with all diligence, lest the enemy steal near and rob you, depriving you of this great treasure, which is inner peace and stillness of soul. The enemy strives to destroy the peace of the soul, because he knows that when the soul is in turmoil it is more easily led to evil. But you must guard your peace.”

Remaining vigilant, we are to also to remain thankful to God who nourishes our souls and bodies through His Word.  I close with a prayer of thanksgiving, attributed to St. Basil the Great:

O Master, Christ our God, King of the Ages, Maker of all things:  I thank You for all the good things You have given me, especially for the communion with Your most pure and life-creating Mysteries.  I pray You, O gracious Lover of Man: preserve me under Your protection, beneath the shadow of your wings.  Enable me, even to my last breath, to partake worthily and with a pure conscience of Your holy things, for the remission of sins and unto life eternal.  For You are the Bread of Life, the Fountain of Holiness, the Giver of all Good; to You we ascribe glory, with the Father and the Holy Spirit, now and forever and to the ages of ages.  Amen.