The Mightiest Enemies Against Us

“Without fear of God, beset by passions as we are, we cannot hope to accomplish God’s will and train ourselves to love Him and our neighbor. The fear of the Lord is a fountain of life, to depart from the snares of death (Prov. 14:27)…

The three mightiest warriors in the enemy ranks are the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life (1 John 2:16); when, aided by our self-love, they gain a foothold in our mind and heart, the portcullis of our soul is soon opened to a host of other sins and vices which then beset us on all sides and at all times…”

(Macarius, Starets of Optino, Russian Letters of Spiritual Direction, p. 60)

Do You Really Want to Know God’s Will?

Rejoice always, pray constantly, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is the will of God in Christ Jesus for you.    (1 Thessalonians 5:16-18)

One day I was alone in prayer at the church.  Struggling with knowing what God’s will was for me.  Kneeling before God with a heavy heart, I asked for His guidance.  Then came to me this question:

“Do you really want to know what God’s will is?”

My initial reaction was a joyful “yes! of course!”   My life would be easier if I knew what God’s will was for me.  But then a calmer and wiser word came to mind.  I had to think.   If I knew God’s will and did it, then I wouldn’t disappoint God again by following my own way and not God’s.

But a more compelling thought came to my mind.  “NO!  I don’t want to know.” For if I don’t know God’s will and fail to do it, I can plead ignorance and ask for mercy.  But if I know God’s will and can’t or don’t do it or, even worse, won’t do it, then I have no excuse for not doing it, and little justification for asking for mercy.  Indeed, God’s will really is above and beyond my understanding, and there are simple commandments (like the Thessalonians passage above that I can do).

 O LORD, my heart is not lifted up, my eyes are not raised too high; I do not occupy myself with things too great and too marvelous for me. But I have calmed and quieted my soul, like a child quieted at its mother’s breast; like a child that is quieted is my soul. O Israel, hope in the LORD from this time forth and for evermore.  (Psalm 131)

In the words of St John Climacus:

Looking into what is above us has no good conclusion. The Judgment of the Lord concerning us is incomprehensible. Through his divine providence He usually elects to conceal His will from us, understanding that, if we were to know it, we would disobey it, and on this account we would receive a harsher punishment.  (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Kindle Location 2466-2468)


Prayer: The Flower of Gentleness

“Prayer is the flower of gentleness and of freedom from anger.

Prayer is the fruit of joy and thankfulness.

Prayer is the remedy for gloom and despondency.

Do not pray that your own will may be done, for your will may not accord with the will of God. But pray as you have been taught, saying: Thy will be done in me. Pray to him in this way about everything – that his will be done. For he desires what is good and profitable for your soul, whereas you do not always ask for this. Often in my prayers I have asked for what I thought was good, and persisted in my petition, stupidly trying to force the will of God, instead of leaving it to him to arrange things as he knows best. But afterwards, on obtaining what I asked for, I was very sorry that I did not pray rather for God’s will to be done; because the thing turned out to be different from what I expected.

What is good, except God? Then let us leave all our concerns to him, and all will be well. If you long for prayer, renounce all to gain all. At the time of trials and temptations, use a brief but intense prayer. When you are in the inner temple, pray not as the Pharisee, but as the publican. Strive never to pray against anyone. If when you are praying no other joy can attract you, then truly you have found prayer.”

(Evagrius of Pontus – d. 399AD, The Time of the Spirit: Readings Through the Christian Year, p 102)

Repentance: Movement more than Emotion

Prodigal Son and the Forgiving Father

Repentance must not be mistaken for remorse, it does not consist in feeling terribly sorry that things went wrong in the past; it is an active, positive attitude which consists in moving in the right direction. It is made very clear in the parable of the two sons (Mt 21:28) who were commanded by their father to go to work at his vineyard. The one said, ‘I am going’, but did not go. The other said, ‘I am not going’, and then felt ashamed and went to work. This was real repentance, and we should never lure ourselves into imagining that to lament one’s past is an act of repentance.  It is part of it, of course, but repentance remains unreal and barren as long as it has not led us to doing the will of the Father. We have a tendency to think that it should result in fine emotions and we are quite often satisfied with emotions instead of real, deep changes.”     (Metropolitan Anthony, The Modern Spirituality Series, pg.42)

Great Lent: The Search for True Freedom


“Freedom is not to be confused with ‘free choice,’ which lies at the root of our human sins. Sin results from making the wrong choice, and suffering and death come forth from it. True freedom, therefore, results from submitting ourselves to the will of God. Moses is a symbol of this true freedom of man, for his is a model of the true servant of God.            […]          In other words, ‘freedom’’ for a Christian does not mean ‘do whatever you want.’ Rather it is found in our free and humble submission to the will of God. No-one can be ‘free’ by virtue of his own powers. The Greek Fathers underscored the principle of synergy, or co-operation, with God. It is only through Christ, who has freed us from the power of evil, that one may obtain true freedom in God.”

(Joost van Rossum in St. Vladimir’s Theological Quarterly, Volume 49 Number 3, pgs. 303-305)

The Desire to do God’s Will

“We must learn to treat all other situations in the same manner, not knuckling under to our desires, but keeping a tight rein on them, directing them to the one primary aim: to stay within the will of God and to do His will. If we do that, our desires will turn around, becoming good and righteous. We will stay calm in every storm, finding peace in God’s will. In fact, if we sincerely believe that nothing can happen to us except by His will – and if we have no other desire than to be actively doing that will – it is self-evident that we will always get only what we desire!” (Jack N. Sparks, Victory in the Unseen Warfare, pg. 58)

Ten years ago: 9/11

Ten years ago today time momentarily came to a stop. It was unreal, and then that moment was played over and over again as if we couldn’t get out of it. We couldn’t make ourselves believe what had happened.

Ten years later that moment remains fixed in our minds, and yet time has moved on, and it is time for us to move forward as well – to continue our journey for there is hope in moving on.

“If faith represents the columns on which the temple of spiritual life stands, perseverance represent the stones by which the whole edifice is constructed but to assess the value of the spirit of persistence in prayer, we should first consider the spirit of despondency. Despondency is the folly of pride and stiffness of neck. The desperate man follows his own stubborn counsel and chooses the torment of everlasting hell. He does not wish to yield to God or accept from his hand the sweetness and the bitterness of this life. By doing so, he refuses the crown of eternal life.      

The spirit of persistence springs from an inward conviction that life is but one single way that leads to the kingdom of heaven. Persistence in walking along that way is then the only means of arrival, the only means of overcoming difficulties. Those who stop on the way, for whatever reason, have fallen into Satan’s snare: ‘Walk while you have the lighter, lest the darkness overtake you (John 12:35). That is, so long as you walk the light attends you and leads you, but if you stop, darkness – that is, the enemy – will overtake you at once. Regression is a kind of miscarriage of the soul, a failure, and a fall into its deadly pride and its strange desire for perdition: ‘No one who puts his hand to the plough and looks back is fit for the kingdom of God.’ (Luke 9:62) It is really amazing that for those traveling along the way of prayer and worship, rest lies only in double their pace and increasing their struggle!” (Matthew the Poor, Orthodox Prayer Life, pg. 164)

The Saints: Examples of the Gospel

“Perhaps more than anything else the lives of the Saints (and of the elders in this book) provide an ‘interpretation’ of Christ’s Gospel, ‘written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in table of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart’ (2 Cor. 3:3). That which is of greatest importance in these lives are not so much the details of each llife, but rather the spirit that breathes in them, which shaped them into precious vessels of the Holy Spirt. These lives bear witness to the transformation of man that is possible, when the Christian gives himself wholly over to the will of God. As Elder Sophrony of Essex has written, it is not arbitrary asceticism or the possession of supernatural gifts that constitute genuine Christian spiritual life, but rather obedience to the will of God. Each person has his own capabilities and his own path to tread; the keeping of Christ’s commandments, however, remains a constant.”   (Herman A. Middleton, Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit: The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece, pg.22)

Saints of the 20th Century