As the Great Fast progressed this year, a couple of things were constants for me. I prayed at the beginning of the Fast that God would give me something, one thing to really focus on. Of course, there was prayer and fasting. But I honestly did not do a great job at fasting this year. Combine my own lack of discipline in that moment with my wife giving birth to our third child and fasting did not go so well for about three weeks. People were bringing us food and I was super tired and…you get the picture. But those are really excuses. I failed at fasting because I lacked the discipline. That lack of discipline came from a cooling of my desire for Christ. That is my fault, no matter my circumstances. But I digress.
Back to the constant thing for the Great Fast.
God brought to a me a text of Holy Scripture for me to dwell on and mediate on for all of the Great Fast. It was 1 John 2:15-17,
“Love not the world, neither the things that are in the world. If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the lust of the eyes, and the pride of life, is not of the Father, but is of the world. And the world passeth away, and the lust thereof: but he that doeth the will of God abideth for ever.”
I’ve written about this recently but want to talk about it a bit more from the perspective of how we are to do this. I live in America (right now anyway). For anyone who pays attention at all to what is happening here, it is safe to say that we have all noticed a sharp decline in recent years of morality in this country. That’s actually putting it rather lightly. America is headed to Hell at breakneck speed. Our society is disintegrating before our very eyes. Granted, this has been going on for a while but the pace seems to have picked up a great deal over the recent past.
Sadly, this apostacy is not limited to secular society. The label of Christian in this country, frankly, means almost nothing. Most of the “Christians” I know are either just as secular as the world or, at very least, just shrug their shoulders and go along to get along. In America, the Church is largely irrelevant to those who want to truly follow Christ. For those who are to speak out against the godless secular society, they are castigated, attacked and cast out, even being labeled as “old fashioned” or “intolerant” by so-called Christians.
For me, it means I have hard decisions to make. Shall I have my family remain in this godless society or should we flee? Right now, I don’t know the answer to that. But, God brought this text to me and I’ve been meditating on it for awhile now. Some things have come to the forefront:
I have been far too complacent with not just my own sins but in shunning things that can lead to sin. I have been far too complacent in helping lead my family away from those things that inevitably will lead us to sin. I have been far too complacent with the world.
I have work to do. We have work to do, brothers and sisters.
In the words of the Puritan preacher, John Owen, “Do you mortify; do you make it your daily work; be always at it whilst you live; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.” And again, he says, “The vigour, and power, and comfort of our spiritual life depends on the mortification of the deeds of the flesh.”
Mortify your flesh; make it your daily work; cease not a day from this work; be killing sin or it will be killing you.
I recognize the irony of me, as an Orthodox Christian, quoting a Protestant but he merely echoes what Holy Scripture exhorts us to.
St. Paul tells us in Romans 8:5-8,
“For they that are after the flesh do mind the things of the flesh; but they that are after the Spirit the things of the Spirit. For to be carnally minded is death; but to be spiritually minded is life and peace. Because the carnal mind is enmity against God: for it is not subject to the law of God, neither indeed can be. So then they that are in the flesh cannot please God.”
Again, in Romans 8:12-13, St. Paul says,
“Therefore, brethren, we are debtors, not to the flesh, to live after the flesh. For if ye live after the flesh, ye shall die: but if ye through the Spirit do mortify the deeds of the body, ye shall live.”
I don’t know how much clearer this can be for us as Christians. The world is in the power of our great enemy, Satan. To love the world is to be the enemy of the Father. It is time for Christians to embrace again the call of our Saviour to come apart and be separate. So, how do we do this?
St. Theophan the Recluse is helpful. In his work, “The Path to Salvation” the blessed Saint talks about (among many things) fleeing sin. He says,
“First of all remove the veils from the eyes of your mind that keep your mind in a state of blindness. If a person does not deny sin and run from it, then that is because he does not know himself and the danger he is in for the sake of his sin. If his eyes were opened he would run from sin as he would run from a house engulfed in flames.”
Deny sin and run from it. How?
Again, St. Theophan helps us,
“First of all, go after the body. Refuse it delights and pleasures, restrict indulgences in even the most natural needs; lengthen the hour of vigil, decrease the usual amount of food, add labor to labor. Mainly, in whatever way you want or are able, lighten the flesh, thin its corpulence. Through this the soul will free itself of the bonds of matter, will become more energetic, lighter, and more receptive to good impressions. The material body prevailing over the soul communicates to the soul the body's lethargy and coldness. Physical ascetic labors weaken these bonds and eliminate their effects. True, not every sinner lives unrestrainedly and indulges the body. But it would be hard to find an individual in normal life who does not have something he would do well to refuse the body once the desire for salvation touches his heart. And the goal is very significant — it completely changes one's activity. What you have done previously according to habit, or in support of your usual occupations, you now begin to do with some changes and additional austerity for the sake of salvation — and there will be tangible results.”
Ask God to remove the veil from the eyes of your mind and heart and show you where you are blind. Run from and deny all things to lead to sin. Subject your body (1 Cor. 9:27) to the ascetical practices given to us by the Church. Pray without ceasing (1 Thess. 5:17). Give your time and effort and energy to God and let Him have His way with you. Forsake the world and turn to the Saviour. If we do that, we will find rest and comfort for our souls (Matt. 11:28-29).
You have heard me talk about this before but so many layers keep getting peeled back and so I keep talking about it. But, my journey into the historic Church and the practice of our faith as it has been once for all delivered to the saints (Jude 1:3) has brought tremendous change to my life. But not just my life but my heart, my mind, my worship, my prayer; all aspects of my life.
But that’s kind of the point, isn’t it? I mean, if we truly believe in the Lord Jesus and have decided to walk in “the Way” (Acts 9:2), our lives and everything about us should be different. If not, then we should seriously start to question whether we truly believe. As I have walked in this Way and delved further back and deeper into the historic Faith, I discovered two primary pillars of Orthodox spirituality. These are hesychia and nepsis.
Let me define these really quickly. Hesychia is the practice of contemplative prayer. The word is Greek and means simply “stillness.” Nepsis means “wakefulness or watchfulness.” The practice of hesychia and neptic theology is as old as the Church itself. I was surprised at the number of the Fathers that talked about this, either directly or indirectly. A friend of mine, when I brought this up in conversation, sarcastically called this prayer practice “navel gazing.” Aside from being rather disrespectful, that idea completely misses the point. The point is deeper communion with Christ.
Anyways, as I have walked in this, the Holy Spirit has revealed some things to me that I really don’t like about myself and that I really didn’t want to face. This all relates directly to why I’ve been so silent for so long on this blog site so I’m going somewhere with this.
I always question motives, my own and others. That’s probably not a super healthy way to look at things but that’s where I am. So, the question of why always comes up in my mind. Why am I doing something, why are you doing something? For example, why pray or go to church? Do we do that to get something from God as if He were a cosmic slot machine? We put our “money” in, and we expect a return; that He will do good things for us if we perform or “be a good person.” Or do we do those things to look good before others? Why do we do the things we do?
I ran into this headfirst vis a vie blogging. As I have gotten more and more still before the Lord and have become more watchful over my own heart, I began to see some things. Why was I blogging? As I examined this for myself and asked the Spirit to show me where the dark places needed Light, I came to a place that was very unpleasant.
In His great love for me and because He doesn’t want to leave me in my flesh, He has shown to me that my motives for blogging were not very pure. Even as I say this, I recognize the irony of blogging about my motive for blogging. Anyways, I’ll make this part short. I realized that my primary reason for blogging was validation. I wanted to be recognized and seen and validated as someone who was wise or holy or whatever. The point is, my blogging, at the heart of it all and even perhaps as helpful as it may have been for others, was about me.
This has been hard to take for me. I was confronted by my own darkness and my own desperate but unseen grasping for recognition. I had to and am still repenting of this. That is why I haven’t been blogging and honestly don’t know how long it may be (if ever) that I do this again.
Something that relates to this for me (and maybe this will resonate with you as well) is stillness. Let me be more specific. There is so much noise in my life, so much noise in all our lives. I don’t necessarily mean actual sounds, but it includes that. I’m talking about the clutter of our lives, the busyness of things and the distractions of the world. Most of us have the attention span of a gnat. There is so much clutter going on in the world and our lives that we find it incredibly difficult to focus. Our souls are at stake.
A good friend of mine has recently done something that I’ve been wanting to do for awhile but spending the initial money has been resisted. He got a “dumb phone.” I want this in my life. I want freedom from the clutter of the world that so quickly distracts me from Christ, so quickly turns me inward so that I truly “navel gaze” and get wrapped up in myself rather that consumed by Christ.
Anyways, I know this has kind of jumped around. I will not be blogging on a regular basis until I can deal with this sin issue in my own heart. I may not ever blog again; I really don’t know. I have to unclutter my heart and life. In fact, if anyone wants to donate a “dumb phone” to me, I’ll happily take it! (I’m mostly kidding)
I want for us, brothers and sisters, a lived experience with the risen Lord Jesus. For me, I’m not super confident that I can have that and still be engaged in the noise of the world. Maybe you’re stronger than me and you can pull that off. If so, please share that strength with others and help them. If not, maybe you should consider how to unclutter your own heart so that you may be watchful in prayer.
Through the prayers of our holy Fathers, Lord Jesus Christ our God, have mercy on us. Amen!