September 3, 2014

Met. Hilarion: Life is given for us to exercise in virtue

Homily on the Sunday of St. John Climacus, author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent.

Source: Department for External Church Relations of the Russian Orthodox Church

This book was written in the 7th century for the monks on Mount Sinai, but it is still relevant today. It presents the entire spiritual life of a Christian as a ladder of ascent to God. There are thirty stairs in it, each representing either rejection of a particular vice or acquisition of a particular virtue. The secret is that in one’s ascent on this ladder it is impossible to get rid of only one vice and to acquire only one virtue. One has to keep repeating one’s steps getting rid of each of one’s passion, sin and sinful habit and acquiring the virtues necessary for one to become a true Christian and to unite with Christ in the next life and to become a heir to the Heavenly Kingdom.

It is not in the same way and in the same order that all people get rid of vices and acquire virtues. And not everyone will be able to follow in the steps of St. John of the Ladder and to step over all the thirty stairs. But there in one thing that we all should know: life is given for us to exercise in virtue and to get rid of vices, sinful habits and inclinations. If the Lord lost hope for our reformation He would put an end to our earthly life to make us move into a different existence. If the Lord has patience for us here, on earth, it means that there is a hope for our reformation.

Therefore, if one has bad habits or inclinations one should use the time of one’s life to get rid of them. How he does it depends on himself. Everyone struggles with one’s passions in one’s own way. But the most terrible thing is one’s reluctance to struggle with them and getting accustomed to them when one says to oneself: I am as I am. I cannot become different because God has made me such. God has created each of us for us to grow in the life of virtue. Every day and many times a day the Lord gives us an opportunity for good works but we refuse it often due to our laziness, negligence, tiredness, faint-heartedness and weakness. Similarly the Lord gives each one a repeated opportunity to avoid evil deeds and thoughts and to get rid of sinful habits but we do not try to improve ourselves because of inertia or faint-heartedness.

The main task for each of us is to work to improve ourselves continually and daily, asking God’s help in this spiritual journey leading up to the Heavenly Kingdom. But how often we begin to try to improve others rather than ourselves! We wish to reform those around us because we think we believe them to be different from what they should be. And how difficult it is to make another person what we hope to see in him! But our aim is not to improve other people. We will be able to improve them only if we improve ourselves. We will be able to teach those around us to live the Christian life if only we live up virtues rather than talk about them.

It is not accidental that St. Seraphim of Sarov said: ‘Seek the spirit of peace and thousands around you will be saved’. Until we have the spirit of peace in our own selves, until we follow firmly the way of virtue leading up to the Heavenly Kingdom, we will not be able to prove anything to anybody or to teach anybody anything. We should live in the way that makes people say: This is a Christian. I would like to follow his example. It will be the most eloquent preaching.

Therefore, let us use the time of our earthly life, especially the Lenten days as a time for double abstention and double feat to exercise in virtues, to eradicate bad habits and to work to improve ourselves thus transforming people and the world around us. Let us pray to St. John Climacus that he may be our helper in this journey. Amen”.

Comments

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    George Patsourakos says:

    A true Christian lives his life on earth by striving to achieve virtue every day, and at the same time, to eliminate his vices. Only when a Christian lives a true virtuous life, then, will he be eligible to enter the Kingdom of Heaven.

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    Eliot Ryan says:

    The Healing Science of The Church Fathers
    The spiritual life is not guesswork. The Orthodox Faith is a science which cures “it is clear that Christianity is principally a science which cures, that is to say, a psychotherapeutic method and treatment. Only those who have been cured and have attained communion with God are theologians, and they alone can show Christians, the true way to reach the ‘place’ of cure.” Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos in Orthodox Psychotherapy p. 30-31.
    In this post, we will examine the life and writings of St Nicholai Velimirovich as a guide and teacher of the way to the heart, the way to cure. Eventually we will also look at the lives of St John the Theologian, St Gregory the Theologian, St Symeon the New Theologian, St Gregory Palamas and Archimandrite Sophrony of Essex who, though not glorified by the Church yet, is most certainly a Saint, as his life and writings demonstrate.

    The Method of Cure
    Metropolitan Hierotheos describes the method by which we can be healed;”The soul is referred to as the spiritual element of man’s existence; the heart , as the essence of the soul, and the nous as the energy of the soul (Nous=mind, intellect or spiritual awareness in the heart, which is to be distinguished from reason or logic which is a function of the brain. In a healthy person the reason is under the control of the nous- emphasis mine). Thus when the nous enters the heart and acts therein, there exists a unity between the nous (energy), the heart (essence), and the soul. All asceticism in the Church aims at man’s divinization, at his communion with God the Trinity. This is acomplished when the energy of the soul (nous) returns to its essence (heart) and ascends to God. The fact is that when a person lives the inner life- when his nous returns within his inner world from its previous dispersion( in sinful thoughts or logismoi, distractions of life and our surroundings, and the appetites of the body- emphasis mine); when he experiences mourning and in the deepest sense, repentance- he is then conscious of the existence of this centre, i.e. the existence of the heart. He feels therein pain and spiritual sorrow; he experiences the grace of God; there also he even hears the voice of God”. Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos, Orthodox Spirituality, p.34-36.
    Note: ” Man has two centers of knowing: the nous which is the appropiate organ for receiving the revelation of God that is later put into words through the reason, and the reason which knows the sensible world around us” Metr. Hierotheos Vlachos, The Person in Orthodox Tradition, p.24

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