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 III)
By His Grace Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
The holy Apostle Peter summarizes the content of the Christian life this way, "Therefore, since Christ suffered for us in the flesh, arm yourselves also with the same mind, for he who has suffered in the flesh has ceased from sin, that he no longer should live the rest of his time n the flesh for the lusts of men, but for the will of God" (1 Peter 4:1). Here the conquest of sin is placed directly together with the voluntary crucifixion of the body with all of its passion and self-will (Galatians 5:24).
It all comes down to this elementary truth: due to the sinful, deteriorated state of our nature, the soul and body remain in a constant battle. When the body is satiated, the spiritual power of man declines and becomes dull, weak, and powerless. When a man voluntarily controls and weakens his body, his spiritual strength increases. The greatest ancient thinkers discovered that spiritual reinforcement and the rejection of physical pleasure immediately increases the spiritual richness within us. The more we lose physically, the more we gain spiritually.
This is why the main thrust of the Holy Scripture is an encouragement to struggle. The life of a Christian is to imitate Christ by carrying one's cross and following Him: "And he who does not take up his cross and follow after Me is not worthy of Me" (St. Matthew 10:38). When the holy Disciples asked Christ how many would be saved, the Lord replied, "Strive to enter through the narrow gate, for many, I say to you, will seek to enter and will not be able" (St. Luke 13:24), "...Seek first the kingdom of God, and His righteousness, and all these things shall be added unto you" (St. Matthew 6:33, 6:19-34). And although this is only in instances, it must be our goal in life. "Let your waist be girded and your lamps burning" (St. Luke 12:35; St. Mark 13:33-37); "Be kindly affectionate to one another with brotherly love, in honor giving preference to one another; not lagging in diligence, fervent in spirit, serving the Lord; rejoicing in hope, patient in tribulation, continuing steadfastly in prayer; distributing to the needs of the saints, given to hospitality" (Romans 12:11).
However, when we talk about the necessity of the spiritual struggle, we must remember that in Christianity it is significant that we do not have spiritual life except through the imitation of Christ. Spiritual life may be dull, evil and gloomy - the "spirituality" of demons. Hinduism with its yoga exercise allows growth in "spirituality" and some abilities of the soul; however the results are completely the opposite of the soul's salvation. Roman Catholicism, separated from Apostolic teaching and tradition, has developed its own methods of "scorning the body," but its spiritual feats retain a gloomy rigidity, a life-less discipline, and a legalistic requirement far from the true goal.
Christianity as an imitation of Christ is a religion of joy. Nervousness, austerity, and gloominess contradict the Orthodox Christian understanding of true struggle. In the Sermon on the Mount, Christ calls men to the Kingdom of eternal happiness: "Blessed are the poor in spirit...blessed are they that mourn...blessed are the meek..." (St. Matthew 5). The greatest Orthodox ascetics always reflected in themselves a bright and happy mood. By talking with Saint Seraphim of Sarov, Saint Elder Ambrose of Optina, Saint John of Kronstadt, Saint Herman of Alaska and others, people felt peace of mind, inner comfort, and happiness. All real hermits were very strict with themselves but very lenient and pleasant to others, as we ought to be.
(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