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In the parable of the wise and foolish virgins, when the foolish ones lacked oil, it was said: ‘Go and buy in the market.’ But when they had bought, the door of the bridechamber was already shut and they could not get in. Some say that the lack of oil in the lamps of the foolish virgins means a lack of good deeds in their lifetime. Such an interpretation is not quite correct. Why should they be lacking in good deeds if they are called virgins, even though foolish ones? Virginity is the supreme virtue, an angelic state, and it could take the place of all other good works.
I, the humble one, think that what they were lacking was the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God. These virgins practiced the virtues, but in their spiritual ignorance they supposed that the Christian life consisted merely in doing good works. By doing a good deed they thought they were doing the work of God, but they little cared whether they acquired thereby the grace of God’s Spirit. Such ways of life based merely on doing good without carefully testing whether they bring the grace of the Spirit of God, are mentioned in the patristic books: There is another way which appears as good at the beginning, but it ends at the bottom of hell (Prov. 16:25).
Anthony the Great in his letters to monks says of such virgins: ‘Many monks and virgins have no idea of the different kinds of wills which act in man, and they do not know that we are influenced by three wills: the first is God’s all-perfect and all-saving will; the second is our own human will which, is not destructive, yet neither is it saving; and the third will is the devil’s will—wholly destructive.’ And this third will of the enemy teaches man either not to do any good deeds or to do them out of vainglory, or for some other good, but not for Christ’s sake. The second, our own will, teaches us to do everything to flatter our passions, or else it teaches us to do good for the sake of good an not to care for the grace which is acquired by it. But the first, God’s all-saving will, consists in doing good solely to acquire the Holy Spirit as an eternal, inexhaustible treasure which cannot be rightly valued. The acquisition of the Holy Spirit is, so to say, the oil which the foolish virgins lacked. They were called foolish just because they had forgotten the necessary fruit of virtue, the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which no one is or can be saved, for: ‘Every soul is quickened by the Holy Spirit and exalted by purity and mystically illumined by the Trinal Unity’ (Hymn of Degrees, tone four, first antiphon). The Holy Spirit Himself takes up His abode in our souls, and this very settling into our souls of His Omnipotence and His abiding with our spirit of His Trinal Unity grants to us every possible means of acquiring the Holy Spirit which prepares in our soul and body a throne for God by means of His all-creating indwelling with our spirit, according to the unlying Word of God: I will dwell in them and walk in them; and I will be to them a God and they shall be my people (2 Cor. 6:16).
This is the oil in the lamps of the wise virgins which could burn long and brightly; and these virgins with their burning lamps were able to meet the Bridegroom, Who came at midnight, and could enter the bridechamber of joy with Him. But the foolish ones, though they went to market to buy some oil when they saw their lamps going out, were unable to return in time, for the door was already shut. The market is our life; the door of the bridechamber which was shut and which barred the way to the Bridegroom is human death; the wise and foolish virgins are Christian souls; the oil is not good deeds but the grace of the All-Holy Spirit of God which is obtained through them and which changes souls from one state to another—that is, from corruption to incorruption, from spiritual death to spiritual life, from darkness to light, from the stable of our being (where the passions are tied up like dumb animals and wild beasts) into a temple of the Divinity, into the shining bridechamber of eternal joy in Christ Jesus our Lord, the Creator and Redeemer and eternal Bridegroom of our souls.
St. Seraphim of Sarov