Thursday, March 27, 2014

Can We Trust Our Own Judgment?

How do you know you are on the right path for you salvation?   How do you know what effort you need to make to grow in your relationship with God?  Can you judge this by yourself?

"Where there is no guidance, they fall like leaves; salvation exists in much counsel," it says in Proverbs 11:14.

One of the truths about our Orthodox way of life is that we will wither and fall like leaves if we do not seek counsel and instead believe we can guide ourselves. How often do we see the new convert who is enthusiastic about fasting, attends all the services, carries a prayer rope and repeats the Jesus prayer, and all the other things one is taught about the faith. But what frequently happens after a period of time? If they rely only on their own guidance they will have found that they took on more than they were capable of and cannot maintain such a way of life. They lose their zeal and without anyone to guide them other than their own direction they fade in their efforts. This often ends with disillusion and even a falling away from the faith.

Our own will becomes our enemy. It leads us where we are incapable of seeking help from those who have greater wisdom. Saint Dorotheos writes,
It is for this reason that Abba Poeman used to say, "the Will is like a brass wall between man and God". Do you see strength in that saying? In addition, he added, "It is like a stumbling stone by which we go against and oppose the Will of God".  If a person relinquishes his will he can truly say, "By my God, I leapt over a wall. As for my God, His way is perfect." (Ps 18:29-30). How wonderfully spoken! For when a person abandons his own will he sees that the way of God is without blemish but when he identifies himself with his own will then he cannot see that the way of God is blameless. If he happens to be cautioned by someone, he immediately blames him, treats him with contempt, dislikes him and opposes him. How can he tolerate anybody or receive any advice whatsoever when he keeps his own will?
Why is it we are so self-willed? Why do we find it hard to trust in the way of life taught by the Church?  Why do we not seek out help from the elders of the Church for our personal guidance? Why is "My way" so important to us?

Saint Dorotheos also  tells us our condition is even worsened when we couple our self-will with self-justification.  That is, when we take the additional step of justifying why our own will is superior to the teachings of the saints, the wise people of the Church. The saint says, "Who can persuade him to believe that another person knows what is good for him better than he does? He is left to himself, left to follow his own thoughts, and the devil can make a corpse of him."

The way we should behave is to freely seek counsel on everything. As Proverbs says, "Salvation exists in much counsel." Of course we must be careful in whom we choose to take council from. It must be somebody we have full confidence in and who is respected for their wisdom regarding things of the spirit.  Saint Dorotheos says, 
"When the soul is protected by telling everything and advised by somebody who is spiritually wise, saying, "Do that," "Do not do that," or "This is good," "This is not good," "This is self-justification," "This is self-will," "It is not the time to do this," or "This is the time to do this," then the devil does not find an excuse to harm the soul or to cast it down."
It is critical to have the desire to do God's will and not our own will. This is humility. Saint Dorotheos says, "There is no other route to salvation than this." To overcome the trap of seeking our own will requires guidance. Otherwise who is guiding? Our own will. Do you see the error?  Even if we read about the good path from a saint, how are we going to know if we are doing it the way it should be done?
"May God shelter us from the danger of guiding ourselves, and make us worthy to follow the way of our fathers."
Reference: Abba Dorotheos: Practical Teaching on the Christian Life, pp 123-129


  1. How does one know where to seek council? There are a lot of elders, prophets, and gurus out there.

  2. Seek and you will be shown. When you identify one go and speak with him and you will know if this is someone you want to guide you.

    1. Thank you for the reply, Fr Dn Charles.

      What of the many people who have decided they want a Hindu guru, Mormon prophet, Buddhist monk, etc. to guide them? Do you simply think they would change their mind after speaking with an Orthodox Christian guide?

  3. We all have free will.
    A good book is The Gurus, the Young Man, Elder Paisios