Monday, June 2, 2014

A Simple Life?

Elder Paisios says,
"The more people distance themselves from natural, simple life and embrace luxury, the more they suffer from anxiety."
Sitting here on the patio of an historical home on the edge of the cauldera in Santorini Greece, I was reflecting on the many blessings I have received over the years including an abundance of luxury. I have never been forced to live in poverty and spent most of my life distanced from a simple life.  But, in my mature years, I have continually desired a life lived more simply in harmony with nature. I can relate to what Elder Paisios is saying.

At one point I was part of a small group that decided to change our way of life, to live simply and purposefully in harmony with nature and spirit. The idea was to live off the land, self-sufficiently and sustainably. We created an organic garden, used solar panels for our power, used wood to heat our homes, and made minimal use of power equipment. We did not have a tractor and did all the gardening by hand. We built our homes using the lumber cut from the trees on the property. It was a simple life lived close to nature.

The Elder Paisios further says,
"People try to calm themselves with tranquilizers or with the theories of yoga, and they neglect altogether the true serenity that comes when the soul is humble and God fills it with divine consolation."
I have also experienced this path to escape the anxieties of a materialistic worldly life. I was a user of tranquilizers in my early career and a participant in a meditation program that promised peace and harmony.

Neither of the above approaches satisfies the soul. When living purposefully in harmony with nature and spirit there was some relief from the anxiety of a city life but there were new forms of anxiety that replaced the old ones. Our attempt to live the purposeful life lasted only five years before it was abandoned as idealistic and an impractical way to live in our modern culture. It too was a worldly approach to life.

Elder Paisios says,
"When we see a person who has everything be stressed, anxious and sad, we must know that God is missing from his life. In the end, even wealth will make people suffer, because the material goods cannot really satisfy them. Theirs is a double affliction."
The anxiety we seek to be relieved from is caused by a spiritual sickness. We are separated from our creator, God. Our soul mourns and seeks to become reunited with God. We seek meaning from material things and worldly activities but they cannot satisfy what is lacking.

Joy and peace come from a realized relationship with a God, a personal relationship, one based on mutual love. How do we realize this? This is what I have found to be the Orthodox Christian way of life as taught but our Church Fathers based on the teachings of Jesus Christ and His disciples.

This is the aim of the Church, Christ's Body here on earth in this moment. While living at the intentional community designed to live in harmony with nature and spirit, I was given the insight to give up my own solutions to the angst I felt, and instead, surrender to Christ and His Church. I then had to seek and learn what the Church taught. Saint Theophan the Recluse in his book, Path to Salvation, provided the needed direction. I also had the silent guidance of my guardian angel encouraging me not to rationalize or debate what the saints of the Church taught, but to strive to understand what I could not yet fully understand. This was a new way of life for me as I had always thought that I had to figure it out for myself. I found I was my own judge of truth. This idea of surrender was not natural for me. At times it felt as if I was going back to the Middle Ages. But, I always felt a sense of comfort knowing this path was an ancient Tradition founded on the life and teaching of the only son of God, who was both fully God and fully Man.

The foundation of my path was the practice of the Jesus Prayer. I had learned passage meditation  much earlier, but I experienced the Jesus Prayer as much more beneficial because it was based on a personal relationship with God, in His name. It also led one to many of the benefits claimed by passage meditation. In an important way the Jesus Prayer was more.

The Church Fathers provide us with clear direction to live a life free from anxiety, taking each step in companionship with God. This does not promise a life free from struggle or difficulty, but one where all the trials and tribulations can be accompanied with the comfort of God at your side.

The ten principles of the Orthodox way of life provide all the fundamentals you need. This path begins with faith, a belief in the truth of the Gospel teachings, and Baptism and Chrismation. Follow this link  to explore these ten principles.

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