Tuesday, February 2, 2010

Is Asceticism Enough?

Accepting the need for ascetic practices is not easy for most people. We are so used to knowing through intellectual pursuits. When I first became committed to my Orthodox faith, I read everything. This was my natural reaction. This was how I thought I would come closer to God. It took a while to understand that I needed to do something more to perfect myself other than just gaining intellectual understanding. My first effort was tied to the practice of the Jesus prayer. From this came an increased participation in the sacraments of Confession and Communion. Then I learned the value of fasting. I was now ready for my first true Lent where I was able follow the Church fasting guidelines and attend the many services. At each step of my adopting an Orthodox Way of Life I learn more and more about my own limitations and weaknesses.

But knowledge of God does not come through our own efforts. It depends on the grace of God. We can only prepare ourselves to receive this grace.  It is a synergistic effort.  God leads and we follow. Often our reliance on our own efforts becomes a stumbling block when we think we are progressing though our own efforts. Actually, this is more likely ALWAYS true. I find this a most seductive trap.

Saint Theophan says,
Just as the spiritual life began through god's grace, so it can only be preserved and ripened through it. 'He that hath done a good work in you will perform it until the day of Jesus Christ (Phil 1:6).... The minute a man wishes to produce something in and of himself is the minute he stifles true, spiritual and grace-filled life.

Jesus clearly tells us that it is He who acts in us.
Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you? (2 Cor 13:5)

We need to act and engage in ascetic practices, but we need to beware that it is not our efforts that will bring us closer to God and remove our passions. It is only through the work of the God's grace that we are healed and brought into union with him. This is why it is important to have a spiritual guide and formal rule for our ascetic life so we do not deceive ourselves. Otherwise, we face the probable danger of the error of vainglory and spiritual deception.

Reference: Path to Salvation p 210-211.

1 comment:

  1. This is fantastic and most helpful. Thank you for this, as I am new in the Orthodox Faith, being Chrismated on Nativity, and so happy to read your post. Thanks for this. God Bless you and give you peace.