Therefore, if you died with Christ from the basic principles of the world, why, as though living in the world, do you subject yourselves to regulations – Do not touch, do not taste, do not handle, which all concern things which perish with the using – according to the commandments and doctrines of men? These things indeed have an appearance of wisdom in self-imposed religion, false humility, and neglect of the body, but are of no value against the indulgence of the flesh. If then you were raised with Christ, seek those things which are above, where Christ is, sitting at the right hand of God. Set your mind on things above, not on things on the earth. For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God. (Colossians 2:20-3:3)
One of the behaviors which any religion which has a heavy basis in law and ritual develops is a fastidious attitude toward the minutiae of the law. Adherents develop a scrupulousness towards keeping the rules. This was certainly true in Judaism with its Torah but also true in Orthodox with its traditions. St Paul criticizes this type of religion in the above passage. He sees also this focus on touching, tasting, handling to really make religion’s focus on earthly things rather than on Christ and the Kingdom of Heaven. Asceticism which is meant to help train us in spiritual things can instead become the goal of religion and change the focus to earthly things. Christ commands us to practices self-denial and take up our cross. We do this to learn to focus on heavenly things rather than on our self and our ego. We do ascetical self-denial in order to seek God’s will rather than our own. However, the temptation is to become rule focused and to pay more attention to the self and things of this world, rather than learning to focus on God’s will and way.
While prayer is not itself an ascetical practice, asceticism is the leaven of our contemplation. It gives rise to our prayer by stripping away ego, making our hearts supple and our wills more responsive to the movement of the Spirit. The ability to release the relentless thoughts and impulses of the false self in each moment is an ascesis in its own right. Without asceticism our prayer remains dense, heavy, weighed down by worldly cares and concerns. The leaven of asceticism raises us to that place of interior tranquility, rest, and self-forgetfulness. The Philokalia calls this HESYCHASTIC prayer. As we learn to release our cares and anxieties in surrender to God we gradually become the very embodiment of the Lord’s prayer, “Thy Will be done.” (Vincent Pizzuto, Contemplating Christ: The Gospels and the Interior Life, Kindle Loc 2175-2181)
Interesting concept here: If we practice asceticism and strip away our ego, control our ‘false self’, and learn ‘self-forgetfulness’, we each embody the Lord’s Prayer. We have to empty the self (kenosis) in order to become our true self. See also St Paul’s exhortation to us to imitate Christ who emptied himself in Philippians 2:1-11.