My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.
THE SPIRITUAL LIFE OF AN ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN (Part IV)
(Source: The Spiritual Life and How to be Attuned to it by Saint Theophan the Recluse)
Harmony with the Will of God
[The awakening resolve to amend one's life must be clearly distinguished as a yearning to act in regard to everything in harmony with the will of God. The peace and the joy of the servants of God. A warning about an incomplete resolve to live according to God. One who is neither hot nor cold will be rejected by God.]
I have not heard whether you have begun the fast. Well, when you do begin, it would be useful for you to read everything that I have written to you about fasting. In the meantime, I will add a few words to clarify several points, because the subject is too complex to explain in just a few lines.
Let us suppose that you have placed yourself in a frame of mind for fasting, or are observing at least in the meantime to scrutinize yourself strictly in accordance with the instructions you have been given, so that having examined all these imperfections, you may begin to be diligent in all things.
We need a good definition of the phrase to be diligent. This is the heart of the matter; if a person is not cognizant of it, he can make a gross error, believing in the meantime that he is doing everything correctly.
Let us begin to be diligent. In what way then are we bad now? What is wrong with our behavior? I think that even you have had the experience of not knowing what you are going to say at Confession, because it is not apparent what you are sinful in. How could you have come to think that way? From it being unclear as to what our lives must be like, and whether our deeds and our thoughts are directed toward that end. How could this be unclear when, in looking at your life in general, it strikes you that it, like everyone else's life, is wicked and meaningless? Do we remain calm within ourselves, saying or secretly feeling that there is still something missing?
Everything that has been written thus far has been in opposition to this so that you will not be afflicted by it. If you act in accordance with what has been instructed, then you will not even say, "What is missing?" Pay a little more attention to this.
That is what it is all about, as we have said more than once! Our entire lives, in all their parts and details, must be devoted to God. The general rule is that everything you do should be done according to Divine will and for the sake of pleasing God, in praise of His Most Holy Name. Thus, we should examine each act which occurs to see if it is in compliance with the Divine will and then perform it with the conviction that it is totally in compliance with it and is pleasing to God. A person who always acts with discretion and in the clear conscience of pleasing God with his actions cannot fail at the same time to acknowledge that his life is proceeding truthfully. Although his acts are not brilliant or perfect, he permits nothing consciously in them that would offend God or would not be pleasing to Him. This consciousness fills his heart with peaceful quiet from the tranquility of the conscience, and with that spiritual joy which is borne of the feeling that he is not alien to God. For although he is not great, or distinguished, or famous, he is still His servant who tries in every way possible to please Him, directs all his efforts toward this, and believes that God Himself see him as such.
This is how everyone's moral life should be. How in actual fact is the greater part of it? We live carelessly! Our thoughts do not possess any conscious, independent directing all actions, both great and small, toward pleasing God. Actions occur haphazardly; what happens is for the most part in accordance with procedures established because everyone acts in a particular way, with no thought as t the suitability of these actions to life's main purpose.
Recently I wrote you concerning the spirit of life, how it is either God-fearing or vain or worldly. I forgot to add a fourth possibility: "neither one thing nor the other." Don't the majority of people breathe with this spirit? They seemingly have nothing against God, but they also have no deliberate intention of pleasing God. For example, they happen to drop into church; they drop in, they have no apology. When they pray at home they make a bow or two, and this is it. They are satisfied. That is how they are in everything with respect to God. While they are not obvious egotists, when it comes to the preservation of their own interests, in order to avoid making any self-sacrifice, they can always find a reason to avoid it. They also are not too blatantly vain, but have no objection to amusing themselves with worldly matters. People of this sort are rather common. They are indifferent to the matter of pleasing God and salvation; they are neither hot nor cold. God turns away from them and rejects them.
"...To reach the point of decisiveness, it is necessary to feel the depravity of life, the disregard for what is important--the being neither one thing nor the other--and then to feel the delightful worthiness of the attentive life. And this is little. It is necessary to be contrite, for even if the time one has lived has been short, al the same, a part of that has been lived in vain. A contrite heart concerning one's defects before God is the basis of the decision to be diligent toward Him in the future. You must attend to all of this now. May the Lord help you!
May the Lord Who arranges the salvation of all who are saved through each one's own set of circumstances also teach you how to put things aright, so that your life does not pass in vain, as neither one thing nor the other; instead, may it be God-pleasing and bring salvation to you and serve as the means for receiving the Heavenly Kingdom.
Watch when you remake everything that you pay more attention to the inward things than to the outward. The outward things can be put aside for the time being as they are, with the exception of those things which by their very nature have a harmful action on the heart, making one vain, disturbing the thoughts, filling one with unnecessary desires, and the like. Remaking, of course, must also touch on outward ways, but not so much in the form as in the spirit in which they need to be done. If you do this, then outwardly, everything will remain the same with a few exceptions, but the spirit will be completely different. The advantage of not breaking off outward ways too abruptly is that your changes will not be too obvious to anyone.
How many outer and inner obstacles there are! You are doing the right thing by preparing not to take the easy way, but to do battle. So! Get ready to struggle and ask the Lord for everything, to grant you strength to endure everything hostile and hindering that you will encounter. Do not put your trust in yourself. Place all hope in the Lord, and His help will always be with you.
In preparing for battle, however, do not think that you will always be victorious. Often there will be only hardship that will bring nothing but affliction. You will often see that with each desire to be careful, slips and blunders steal by and creep in. Know ahead of time that this is the way things are. You will encounter them, but do not be afraid. You are seeing all of this now beforehand; do not expect the life ahead to be anything other than one in the midst of all kinds of hostility, worries and misfortunes.
Provide yourself with only one thing, strong courage; no matter what happens, stay with what you have begun. This alone must now be established and set for life by commitment and by steadfast perseverance. No matter how life goes, whatever successes and failures there are, you should give all of this over to God's will.
It is evident from the experiences noted in the Lives of Saints that the Lord leads those who adhere to Him with warm love and who devote their lives to Him toward perfection in different ways. He will even allow the enemy (Satan) to act in a hostile manner, not withholding in this, however, His helpful right hand. Everything from God. But His ways are wondrous, and importantly, they are secret. Even the one who is being led perceives them only when looking back after the fact. How important then is the continual prayer, "Save me by the way Thou knowest!" Committing yourself into God's hands with this prayer, the matter is entire and irrevocable.
The Adversary (Satan) will not sleep. God's Saints noted that he operates on those who are just beginning in two ways. Some he does not disturb at all and does not put up any opposition. Those who do not encounter inward or outward impediments and who see that everything is going smoothly begin to fantasize that this is the way things are, and they suppose they have driven out all adversaries (demons), who are unable to show themselves. As soon as such thoughts have settled in, the adversary (Satan) immediately enters and begins fabricating vainglorious dreams from which are born self-conceit, the falling away from God's help, and the cessation of searching and striving after this help. The result of this deprivation. As soon as matters have reached this point, the adversary (Satan) begins operating tyrannically to stir up evil inside and strong antagonism from outside, and the poor conceited person falls. Such instances are not rare. Allow me to bring this to your attention right now while you are figuring out how to order your life so that when you begin your new life and everything is going smoothly, you do not get a high opinion of yourself, but see instead the devil's ambush, the most dangerous thing, and you will increase your caution and concern in this matter. Perfection, barely perceptible, comes after toil and after many years, not from beginning and during the very first days.
(To be continued)
MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU
The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.
Glory Be To GOD For All Things!
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God