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.
IMITATION OF CHRIST (Part II)
By His Grace Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
The Lord Jesus Christ Himself followed the difficult path of man's misfortune, leading a hard life and going to His death for our sakes. This path is an example to virtuous seekers struggling to live righteously in an egotistical, sinful and even theomachist society. Yet, He did this to show us the road to salvation and spiritual regeneration. Through His Grace, He helps us on our every step; He encourages us and gives us strength. He takes away our sins, since we cannot escape from sin by ourselves. The obstacle to spiritual regeneration is within us - we are the main obstacle to our own salvation.
Despite sinfulness, one should not despair. All the Saints had their faults and suffered from various temptations; when they fell, they rose again through repentance.
It is wonderful that with God's help, they achieved such advanced spiritual levels, gathering wisdom and experience in order to help others follow them on the road to spiritual regeneration. The Lord Himself proved that they follow the Truth by giving them gifts of miracle-working and the ability to look into the future. Poor, rich, peasants, kings, scholars, and slaves make us this pious multitude of Saints, all having one thing in common: the christian struggle (in Russian: podvig. In Greek: ascesis). All followed the "narrow path" created by Christ, all voluntarily abstaining from the carnal pleasures offered to them, and all "have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24; see also Romans 6:6).
Let us take, for example, the valuable and encouraging life of the holy Apostle Paul.
Autobiographical notes are scattered throughout Saint Paul's writings, giving us an understanding of his inner motivation and struggle. The mission God entrusted to him required complete self-sacrifice. Since the holy Apostle emphasized faith so greatly, it may appear to the unknowing eye that spiritual feats are not necessary. Protestants often use him as scriptural evidence of their teaching that spiritual struggle is unnecessary since, as they erroneously believe, man is saved only by faith. And yet, according to his own words, Saint Paul frequently remained "in weariness and toil, in sleeplessness often, in hunger and thirst, in fasting often, in cold and nakedness..." (2 Corinthians 11:27). To keep within himself a spiritual awareness, he consistently "trained" himself with spiritual exercises, looking on his life as if he were competing in the Olympic Games. "Do you not know," he writes in his First Epistle to the Corinthians, "that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it. And everyone who competes for the prize is temperate in all things. Now they do it to obtain a perishable crown, but we for an imperishable crown. Therefore I run thus: not with uncertainty. Thus I fight not as one who beats the air. But I discipline my body and bring it to subjection, lest when I have preached to others, I myself become disqualified" (1 Corinthians 9:24-27).
Evidently, he lived this way because he considered himself as one not yet having attained the heights of spiritual perfection; yet he knew it was his calling to reach them. "Not that I have already attained, or am already perfected; but I press on, that I may lay hold of that for which Christ Jesus has also laid hold of me. Brethren, I do not count myself to have apprehended; but one thing I do, forgetting those things which are behind and reaching toward those things which are ahead, I press toward the goal for the prized of the upward call of God in Christ Jesus. Therefore, let us, as many are mature, have this in mind; and if in anything you think otherwise, God will reveal this even to you. Nevertheless, to the degree that we have already attained, let us walk by the same rule, let us be of the same mind. Brethren, join in following my example, and note those who so walk, as you have us for a pattern" (Philippians 3:12-17).
Undoubtedly, the holy Apostle Paul understood true Christianity far better than many contemporary leaders of sects do today. If he willingly enslaved himself to voluntary struggle, it is because he knew this was necessary for spiritual growth. "I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that you present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable to God, which is our reasonable service" (Romans 12:1). He wrote often to his Christian contemporaries, calling them to follow his way of life (Phil. 3:17; Thess. 3:7; Hebrews 13:7).
We would be spiritually perfect if we were free from the deficiencies of sin and passion, immune from any temptation, totally to the spiritual way of life, full of real love for God and for our neighbor, completely sinless. In this case, spiritual struggle would no longer be necessary, as it is unnecessary for the Angels and the Saints in the Heavenly Kingdom. In the present situation, it remains our goal to become perfect both with the help of God and personal struggle.
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" - Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God