Think about this for a moment. How many of us are ignoring the reality of our sinfulness? How many blame others for our shortcomings? How much time to spend complaining about what others do? Do we spend the same amount of time thinking about our own actions?
Saint Basil of Poiana Marului says the following,
Yes, we sin every day, at times unconsciously or out of forgetfulness, without intending to or involuntarily, or because of weakness we sin every day willingly and unwillingly. Because of our human nature and weakness we sin every day willingly and unwillingly. Is this not what the apostle Paul refers to when he says, “I do what I do not want and what I do not want is what I do” (Romans 7:15)? All of us commit excusable sins without asking to be excused. Or rather, we fall into sins that can be forgiven and yet we feel no contrition and thus become guilty of God's judgment and bring God's wrath upon ourselves. In the words of an ancient saying, “we have made a habit of sitting with her own free will”–– that is, we are consciously aware of committing sins and have developed the habit of sitting with our own free will.The recognition of the reality of our sinfulness, the fact that we do sin many times each and every day, is the starting point for our salvation. It is important for us to recognize that we must continually ask the Lord for forgiveness as well as those whom we transgress. Saaint Basil tells us that “we should ask forgiveness of our fellow man face-to-face and beg forgiveness of God with the intellect and secret.”
We all have particular passions that we have grown up with, that have given us great pleasures, that we have continued to nurture and develop habitually. This passion will be different for each individual. For one person it may be an insatiable appetite for food, for another love of money, anger, self-esteem, arrogance or others. All of these increase over time through habit. St. Hesychios reminds us what the great lawgiver Moses teaches when he says, “Pay attention to yourself so that you have no secret thoughts in your heart” (Deuteronomy 15:9). Needless to say, it is imperative that we learn to closely examine ourselves each and every day. It is a matter of recognizing that we have weaknesses and that we need to pray to God continually with a broken heart and the contrite spirit. We must avoid accusing others but instead forgive others as this is what is pleasing to God. With our forgiveness of others and our recognition of our own weaknesses God will forgive us through his great mercy.
Our challenge in the spiritual life is to live the Commandments that Christ has given to us; all of them all of the time. We need to work at this with the best of our ability, recognizing that we are not fully capable of doing this. Because of this imperfect condition, we need to always be repentant and seeking forgiveness from others and our Lord.
This is an issue of obedience. We must learn to become obedient to God's commandments not to our own self-gratification. Saint Basil points out that in these times there is a widespread practice of being obedient for human reasons. This is where we use our obedience to get a promotion or earn a favor of any kind. This is how we learn to survive in the modern workplace. We become obedient to the organizations rules and norms and learn to do what we are asked for the benefit of those who are paying us. We know about obedience and have the ability for it. Our challenge is to transfer this skill we have learned to use for our own benefit, to follow God's commandments in the same way.
Saint Basil points out,
“one who forces himself in obedience for Christ alone and submits themselves to his precepts will find relief from his passions. The one who forces himself for the things of the world hoping to obtain prestige and riches along with physical pleasures is unaware of his burden. This is why the fathers rightly say that there is obedience for God's sake and obedience for the devil's sake.... As for us, let us force ourselves to demonstrate the power of obedience for the sake of God."He also shows us that the most powerful way to deal with this weakness is the practice of what we know as the Jesus Prayer. He says, if we turn to God saying with our mind,
"'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner,' beyond all doubt this will obtain forgiveness of sins for him, and with this prayer also he will fulfill his entire rule, following the example of that widow of the Gospel who used to cry out to the judge day and night claiming her do (Luke 18:1–8 ).The Jesus Prayer had its beginnings in the days of the apostles. It has been practiced by the Saints since that time. Many of them have written much about this practice. It is a common practice within the Orthodox Tradition.
The practice of the Jesus prayer, does not come without effort. We have to commit ourselves to a daily prayer rule were we repeat this prayer over and over and over each and every day. By doing this this, prayer becomes ingrained, etched, programed in our physical brain, so that when it's needed, it is instantly available to us. Living a life with this prayer at the tip of our tongue is the easiest way to constantly be reconciled to our God.
The first step that we must make is to recognize of our nature. We must acknowledge that we are continually, both willfully and unknowably, using our free will to act against the Commandments of our Lord. We also must recognize that our Lord is most merciful and wants to give us help. The only way that we will receive this help is through a life of continual repentance. He has given to us the Jesus Prayer as a powerful way for us to learn to practice obedience to his commands.
More on the Jesus Prayer
Reference: Elder Basil of Poiana Marului: Spiritual Father of Saint Paisy Velichkovsky, pp 109 - 123