AN INCIDENT FROM THE LIFE OF ST. AMBROSE OF OPTINA: What is impossible for man is possible for God

In our fear nowadays about illegal drugs we can forget the addictive power of tobacco, but anyone who has tried to stop smoking knows how hard it can be. Here we see the spiritual treatment plan offered to one sufferer by the Optina Elder Ambrose, who is commemorated ths Saturday along with the other elders of that celebrated monastery.

The St. Petersburg resident Alexis Stepanovich Mayorov, excessively addicted to smoking tobacco, sensed the danger to his health from this. He wrote a letter to Elder Ambrose, asking for his advice on how he could be delivered from this passion. In answer to this request, the Elder sent Mayorov a letter on October 12, 1888, in which the following was written:

"You write that you cannot stop smoking tobacco. That which is impossible for man is possible with the help of God. Only stand firm in your decision to quit, realizing the danger from it for soul and body, since tobacco debilitates the soul, increases and strengthens the passions, darkens the mind, and destroys bodily health by a slow death. Irritability and melancholy are the result of the infirmity of soul that comes from tobacco smoking.

"I advise you to make use of spiritual treatment against this passion: confess in detail all the sins of your whole life from the age of seven, receive the Holy Mysteries, and read the Gospel daily while standing, one chapter or more. And when depression attacks, then read it again, until the depression passes. If it attacks again - read the Gospel again. Or, in place of this, when alone make thirty-three full prostrations in memory of the earthly life of the Savior and in honor of the Holy Trinity."

When he received this letter, Alexis Stepanovich read it through and then began to smoke a cigarette, but he suddenly felt a strong pain in his head together with an aversion to tobacco smoke, and that night he did not smoke. The next day, by habit, he attempted four times to smoke a cigarette, but he could not inhale the smoke due to the severe pain in his head. Thus he quit smoking easily, while in the previous two years when he had tried to force himself to cease smoking, he could not. And though it had made him ill, he had smoked seventy-five cigarettes a day all the same.

"Ours must be an orthodoxy of the heart, not just the mind."

-St.Tikhon of Zadonsk