Asceticism

Venerable Sisoes the Great

Venerable Sisoes the Great

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.

ASCETICISM
(Source: "Epistle," by Saint Paisios the Athonite)

I would like to offer a few words of advice to beginners who are usually very enthusiastic--and so they should be--so that they do not harm themselves abruptly from non-discerning asceticism. They are often like a torrent, which abruptly pours out all of its waters all at once and then does not have even one drop for himself or a passerby. Apart from this, whatever plant has sprouted up on its shores will also dry out. It is also possible that the beginner will lose his patience and gripe in the event that his health is undermined. That is why we should always look for the greatest spiritual profit and struggle with discernment.

Because our body is connected to our soul and the purpose of our flesh is to be subdued to our spirit and to prudently offer its services for the rehabilitation of our soul, I will mention a few things which are a kind of "practical medicine" and a diet more for the body, from which we require only some of its strength, and not its disorder. That is why the care of the little donkey (the flesh) must be done with discernment, with the right amount of barley, so we can restrain it with the reins so as to not buck and kick us and even--God forbid--throw us off a precipice. The bad thing is that the flesh can throw our soul into hell, while the worst a donkey can do is throw his rider down a precipice, without, however, harming its master's soul.

Many times the following happens even though our flesh is emaciated; it still bucks (acts disorderly). In order to humble it, we decrease our food and double our struggles; nevertheless, our flesh continues to act like a wild beast. In such cases, we suffer the lot of the foolish villager who, because his donkey kicks constantly, he starves it and overloads it in order to tame it. However, the miserable animal is not to blame, but rather the saddle has wounded his back. For often times it is egotism, pride and judging of others with a lack of love which drives God's Grace away, and the devil draws near and lights a fire even on our dry emaciated bones. Thus, we increase our fasting, spiritual endeavors, our prostrations, etc., in order to humble our flesh, but to no avail, for our flesh is not humbled, and our soul lacks humility and love.

Therefore, when war with the flesh approaches, if we have done a little fasting and vigil with prayer, and the ward does not subside, then we must realize that the problem is elsewhere. We should immediately fall prostrate before Christ and ask for His forgiveness in advance and beg Him, at the same time, to enlighten us so we can realize our fault and who it was that we've hurt or wronged, and to ask his forgiveness. As soon as we humbly ask forgiveness from Christ, immediately the carnal flame departs and we recall the cause, which, in turn, helps us even more to be humble. Then God's grace comes in abundance.

Thus, in this case, we are the cause and not our flesh, that we did not feel compassion for our brother who stumbled and did not put ourselves in his position, so as to sympathize with him even more; rather, we judged him harshly. That is why God withdrew His Grace from us, putting His spiritual laws into operation, and then we also fell into the hands of the evil one who roasted our flesh on his spit and simultaneously sullied our soul. On the contrary, the natural war of the flesh in young people goes away immediately with a little ascesis, since Christ is moved by his struggling children and helps them immediately, not wanting His beloved creatures to be oppressed. He Himself told us in the Holy Gospel that "My yoke is easy, and My burden is light" (St. Matthew 11:29). We should also, however, be "meek and lowly in heart" (St. Matthew 11:30).

Undoubtedly, the question will be born in many young people: "Why does God allow for us to be fought by the demon of fornication when we have other passions inside us (pride, etc.) and when other demons exist as well?"

I have the impression that, since virginity comes before our two other vows, poverty and obedience, and since pride is the greatest of sins and judging of others is tantamount to a lack of love (which we do not yet comprehend), a young man usually observes his spiritual condition in terms of his carnal enticements. If a young man has dispassion (i.e., no carnal enticements), he thinks he is doing well, when, in fact, he may be found in such a state of lethargy so that he will not discern his other passions that lie in hiding. God then allows for the demon of fornication to humble him involuntarily and, thus, through humility God approaches him again. To put it succinctly, the demon of fornication, with the shock that he gives the young man, makes him realize that something has gone wrong. (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

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"The Devil is the enemy, and your soul is the abode that he seeks to defile. The Enemy, therefore, does not cease throwing within the abode of your soul whatever he can come up with--littering it with every sort of filth. But you are responsible if you grow negligent and do not throw out the filth littered in your soul by the Devil. If you do not immediately attend to this work of cleansing, then the inner abode of your soul will be filled with every kind of filth; and no one will be able to enter and abide therein, on account of the unbearable stench. If, however, you straightway resolve to take out the first batch of filth the Devil throws in, then God, rewarding your intention, will preserve--in cleanliness, by His Grace--the inner abode of your soul." (By an Unknown Elder From "The Evergetinos")

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--Saint John Chrysostom

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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George