Monday, February 1, 2010

Need for Asceticism

Assuming we have chosen to dedicate ourselves to God and made a vow to act according to His will, For His glory and to live a virtuous life what do we need to do when we realize that we are not capable of doing this? Our spirit hates sinful ways but our body does not seem to want to cooperate. It is as Saint Paul says,
“For the good which I will, I do not; but the evil which I will not, that I do… I find then a law, that when I have a will to do good, evil is present within me. For I am delighted with the law of God, according to the inward man: but I see another law in my members, fighting against the law of my mind, and captivating me in the law of sin, that is in my members” (Rom. 7:19, 21-23).

We have no choice but to rise up and oppose the inclinations of our body.  Saint Theophan calls this "Self-opposition and self-forcing."  This is the start of asceticism.  We enter into a necessary struggle with ourselves.

Saint Theophan says,
"This is so essential that all the saints accept the only true path to virtue to be pain and hard work.  On the contrary, lightness and ease are a sign of a false path, for the 'kingdom of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force (Matt 11:12).  Any one who is not struggling, not in prodvig (ascetic struggle), is in prelest (Spiritual deception). The Apostle says: whoever does not endure is not a son. (Heb 12:8)"

When we observe the life of the Saints of the Church we see that they took on very severe ascetic labors.  The engaged in fasts, vigils, sleeplessness, solitude and so forth.  They took on these struggles to more quickly achieve divine contemplation.  These acts were done consciously out of divine inspiration.

Saint Theophan advises:
"The work of the determined one is: be fervent, take up your labors with firm resolve, labors which should also be decisive and suitable––for there are some more, some less suitable for mortifyng the passions and impressing the virtues."

"Now that you have decided, do not just stand there––attack."

Reference: Path to Salvation pp 208-209


  1. Thank you for this, Deacon. Our family of nine was recently baptized and I'm beginning to know more clearly this need to struggle. Our priest is very focused when I ask my "what-ifs" -- what if I find I'm not doing the thing I know I ought to be doing? "Repent." What if I don't feel like I can? "Repent." What if I get discouraged and don't want to press on? "Repent." Glory to God for all things.

  2. It seems to me especially important to do this only with the help of a spiritual father or mother. I seldom see clearly what sort of struggle is best for me. I find when my Priest gives me advice during Confession, I am often tempted to dismiss it because it may not line up with what sort of struggle *I* think I need to undertake, but when I attempt to follow through anyway, trusting God has indeed given me His guidance through my Confessor, God in His goodness seems to bless my small effort well beyond anything it deserves. I see this as His merciful condescension to the weakness of my faith at this point.

  3. Good Advice from Anonymous.
    If able, you should always seek permission from your spiritual father for ascetic practices you undertake. He will guide you according to your ability and spiritual maturity.