Archive for July 28th, 2009

With What Little We Know – It Is Enough

July 28, 2009

The question was offered earlier today: What is the place of asceticism in the life of a family? Should we learn to guard the intellect, strive for pure prayer, etc. in a similar way as a monastic would?

I offer here a reprint that speaks to the question. For the truth is, we will know little about the deeper forms of asceticism – even if we read books on the subject (or especially if we read books on the subject). My short list includes “seeking communion with the true and living God.” I understand that this is the purpose of all prayer. I hope this is a useful posting.


candlesI have written and posted at least three times that “I am an ignorant man,” which is to say that I do not consider myself a great source of wisdom and insight and that what knowledge I do have is indeed limited.

It is also true that wisdom and insight are in short supply these days. We do not live in a land that has monasteries everywhere within walking distance (or even a short drive). We do not have centuries of unbroken, living knowledge of the way of Christ in many places.

What we do have is a commercialized Christianity that panders to our culture and its passions at least as much as it considers the gospel. We do not thus produce a profound Christianity, but a passionate Christianity in which the impulse to consume remains unchecked and unnamed.

But to travel towards the Kingdom of God and to make true progress in the Spiritual life is not necessarily dependent upon a holy culture or hordes of holy people. Indeed, it depends upon the grace of God and the very little that we know.

In Christ, in the true light of the gospel, what do we know?

  • We know that God truly loves the world and gave us His only begotten Son that we might have life, true life, communion with the true and living God;
  • We know that this life is marked by love and forgiveness; even including and especially including the forgiveness of our enemies;
  • We know that giving is more blessed than receiving – thus we already have the means of being blessed;
  • We know that the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life and that following Christ on that Way means freely laying down our lives for others.
  • We know that we have been commanded to give thanks for all things, thus affirming God’s goodness as the true ground of our existence;
  • We know we are not alone – that many have walked this way before us and that our success in following Christ is of concern for them;

I certainly could add to this list with some further thought, though I find it is easy to state some things that not many of us know. What I believe is that, even in the absence of great and holy men, we can take the little that we know and live.

  • It is better to live seeking communion with the true and living God than to believe that God is somewhere at a distance;
  • It is better to forgive and to love even if it means we make ourselves victim to the hate and cruelty of others;
  • It is indeed better to give than to receive, even if I can give but little. No one can keep me from giving.
  • It is better to die for others than to die alone.
  • It is better to give thanks for all things than to be eaten alive with regret and bitterness;
  • It is better to have the saints as friends than to be famous or popular with those of this world.

I know that these things are small (though they are truly large). But such small things, lived and acted upon with prayer will make the way for paradise in our heart and write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.

He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much… (Luke 16:10)

To Gain Paradise

July 28, 2009

Picture 183I stumbled across the following quote from St. Cosmos of Aetolia:

The Martyrs earned paradise with their blood; the Monastics, with their ascetic life. Now we, my brethren, who beget children, how shall we earn paradise? With hospitality, by relieving the poor, the blind, the lame, as Joachim (the father of the Theotokos ) did…. Almsgiving, love, and fasting sanctify man, enrich him in both soul and body, and bring him to a good end; the body and the soul become holy.

My thanks to All Saints of North America Russian Orthodox Church in Middlebrook, VA

A note to those who can’t bear to hear the word “earn” without paroxysms of “works/righteousness.” Orthodoxy does not teach salvation by works – but, like St. Paul, believes that we are to obey the commandments of Christ. By God’s grace such obedience is greeted with God’s great mercy and yields the peaceable fruit of righteousness.


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