Abba Antony told Abba Poemen, “We have one great work to accomplish. Before God, we must accept responsibility for our sins, expecting to be tempted until our last breath.”
For myself, as wells as others that I know, the battle against sin and temptation is, as described by the Fathers, a battle ’til our last breath. Most of the battles we fight are entirely inward – not there for anyone else’s observation. I think of the many things against which an individual struggles – usually the same things day in and day out. And most of what tempts us belongs to what modern self-help schools would call “character defects.” It’s not a bad name – indeed it’s quite descriptive. Something within me that doesn’t work quite right – and placed in my daily situation temptation and struggle are the result (if one is fortunate enough to remember to struggle).
I am also quite sympathetic to larger matters that make the struggle all the more difficult. To struggle against sin when one is beset with depression is close to impossible – the depression itself takes all our energy for the struggle.
There is the setting of our modern life as well. We do not live in an Orthodox village but in the strange world of modernity (or most of us do). Most people are miles removed from extended family, frequently miles removed from their parish church. We have not constructed our world with the uppermost question: “What’s the best way to construct a world?” Economics and other factors have frequently designed our world for us (particularly in America).
In the midst of these things the most natural balms to our beleaguered existence are often far removed. Thus when I make an argument from beauty for the existence and love of God – many are too busy to have encountered beauty that day. It has not been the most important thing in our lives. We have not constructed our communities around such a thing.
For years the undeniable beauty for me everyday has been the constancy of my family. From their earliest years to their present maturity my children have been unrelenting sources of joy in the sheer wonder of God’s goodness – even when they have been less than perfect. My wife has occupied the same place. Many times my parishes have offered such a balm if only I would receive it – and the altar has never betrayed me.
I have a sign beside the door of my office – it is a quote from Philo, the Jewish philosopher:
Be kind. Everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle.
And it seems to me to be true. I assume it was true when Philo wrote it some 2,000 years ago. Thus I need not blame modernity for what seems to have been a perennial human experience.
But I must be kind and pray for the beauty of the world around me that others may see it, and that I may see it. To grasp the hand of God in the midst of prayer is to walk with a steady gait regardless. May God grant us all to see His Kingdom and engage the struggle ’til our last breath.