Thursday, July 25, 2019

Development of a Moral Life is Progressive

The development of a moral life is progressive. It’s like our progression in life where we naturally progress from youth, to mature adult and then old age. The same is the development of our moral Christian life. First, in the youth of our spiritual life, one needs to come to know Jesus Christ and learn about living a life according to His teachings. Believing in the Gospel is a necessary first step. After being baptized, one begins to try to put all His commandments he has learned into practice and to continue learning in greater depth what Jesus has taught us. We do this with the hope in the promise that Jesus showed us, eternal life in His kingdom. 

To advance to a mature moral life, with the vision of Christ as the perfect human being, one strives to become like Him. One learns that Christ established the Church for our benefit. We learn the Orthodox way of life that includes fasting, daily prayer, repentance, regular participation in the sacrament of Holy Communion, and continuing study of Holy Scripture and the writings of the church fathers. 

To stay on this path requires the development of an unshakable faith in who He is and that His commandments will lead to what He has promised. Hope must be part of a mature Faith. As we progress and begin to live a moral life God sends His grace to help us. We cannot advance to old age in our spiritual life with only our own efforts. Most important is His Grace. This we must always seek.

Saint Theophan describes it like this:
The beginner tries to join the ranks of those who are making progress, those who are making progress in the ranks of the perfect. Here, the force that moves ahead is hope which, promising what is better, beckons further and further and calls for an all-out effort. Such an attainment is its own measure of recompense. One who enters the path of virtue at first does so from fear of God and a demand of the conscience. Although from the very beginning one expects from this a life of true well-being, this very expectation is held only through faith in God Who is true in His promises; from life itself he does not yet receive any corroboration. 'This corroboration becomes available when, after a few experiences of that sort in life, the soul begins to the fruits thereof. Feeling the fruits is the receiving of recompense; but this does not stop hope in the sense that if you have already received, why hope? For no matter how strong the feeling of well being from walking of the commandments, it will never enter to the extent of what is promised by hope, which as that feeling progresses elevates its own promises. That is the way in all degrees of spiritual perfection; and for one who has attained the very height of perfection, it opens the gates of eternity and inspires him with the expectation of the endless and indescribable good thing there. This is what a vivifier and comforter the Lord has given us in hope.

With faith come hope. This develops to a level of certainty as we begin to experience His grace. With this or love of God intensifies were we have fear that we could lose His love. This Hope, fear and love motivate us to continue toward a perfect moral life.

Saint Theophan,
Faith, encouraged by hope, teaches to walk faithfully in God’s commandments and justifications. This labor of walking is their immediate task; but from it finally emerges love — whole, pure, all-engulfing. Being a fire itself, it turns faith and hope into fire; then all of man’s spirit becomes fire. This serves as testimony that he has become pure; and God, worshipped in the Trinity, has begun to dwell in him, through the benevolence of the Father, holiness of the Spirit and the sprinkling of the blood of Jesus Christ.

I have inclined my heart to perform Thy statutes for ever for a recompense. (Psalm 118:112)

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, p 251.

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