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).
Among the many things that caused me to leave the Protestant tradition was a problem that I began to see with what is called “easy believism.” What that basically means is what I experienced as a child; I was told to say a certain prayer, be baptized and then I was all good. Now, I look back on that and feel like it was kind of a “get out of hell free” card. Once saved, always saved, right?
The problem with that is that it’s not actually a biblical understanding of what salvation is or what it means to be a faithful Christian. There are repeated exhortations in Holy Scripture, specifically the NT, to be faithful, to endure, to keep the faith until the end. In other words, there are things we must do if we are of the Faith.
St. Paul says we are to “examine” ourselves to see if we are of the faith in 2 Corinthians 13:5,
“Examine yourselves as to whether you are in the faith. Test yourselves. Do you not know yourselves, that Jesus Christ is in you?—unless indeed you are disqualified.”
And St. Peter exhorts (2 Peter 1:10-11) us to make our calling and election sure by doing “these things,”
“Therefore, brethren, be even more diligent to make your call and election sure, for if you do these things you will never stumble; for so an entrance will be supplied to you abundantly into the everlasting kingdom of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ.”
One of the things that I have found in the historic Church that is profoundly helpful is the practice of asceticism. And it has changed the way I live out the Faith. I have always been drawn to a monastic practice (though I am not a monk) of prayer and asceticism and the early Church did this very well, I feel. I’ve begun to slowly work my way through a book entitled Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander and it is fantastic. I want to interact with what I am learning and putting into practice in my own walk with Christ and His Church.
Colliander starts right off in Chapter 1,
“If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say: In the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Ghost. Amen. Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is.”
I feel like, in my own life in the past, there has been great lethargy. I depended on a little prayer to “save me” and did little to actually put forth any effort of my own. I love his call to action but not just action for the sake of action alone. No, the call to action is to a lived experience of walking with God.
This is a way of life. It is the Way. The first Christians were initially called “followers of the Way” (Acts 9:2).
One of the earliest extant Christian writings we have, other than what became the books of the New Testament is The Didache (literally meaning “teaching”). In this work, one of the major themes talked about is the comparison between two “ways” that are called the way of life and the way of death.
Following the Way, following Christ should change everything about our lives. And once we change our lives to follow Christ, we cannot let go, we cannot give up. Colliander exhorts us to,
“Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back.”
Don’t look back. Sounds like something Jesus said when He stated,
“No one, having put his hand to the plow, and looking back, is fit for the kingdom of God.” (Luke 9:62
Jesus says that, if we begin to follow Him, if we put our hand to the plow and look back, we are not fit for the kingdom of God. Not fit. I don’t think Jesus is taking this lightly, but I fear that we do. We are given warnings throughout Holy Scripture of how we are to live and the judgement that comes on those who do not.
We must remember that we are no longer our own; we are not even alive in our flesh. As St. Paul reminds us in 2 Corinthians 5:17,
“Therefore, if anyone is in Christ, he is a new creation; old things have passed away; behold, all things have become new.”
He didn’t say old things are to be put on a shelf so we can take them down and look at them occasionally. Old things have passed away. They have died. Or, as St. Paul again says in Colossians 3:3,
“For you died, and your life is hidden with Christ in God.”
Our former selves are dead, and our life is hidden with Christ in God (at least this should be true of us). As Colliander puts it,
“You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie.”
Our lives should be lived with one purpose: to be conformed to the image of the Son (Rom. 8:29). This can only be accomplished by putting on the Lord Jesus (Gal. 3:27) and putting our flesh to death (Rom. 13:14). We must, moment by moment, take up our cross and put our flesh to death and be unified to Christ.
Although this sounds impossible, it has already been done! This is the glory of the gospel! Christ has already defeated sin, death and the devil. In Him, our humanity has been redeemed in His own flesh! We have but to walk it out, daily dying to self and putting on the Lord Jesus, walking in His way and finding again the communion with God we lost in the Garden.
This is the glory of Christ and ours to share in! Through Christ, our communion with God has been restored and, like our first parents, we can now walk in the cool of the evening of our lives with Him. This is not yet fully realized but one day…oh, one day! In that day, we shall see Him as He is, and we shall be like unto Him! Glory to God!
Hold fast to your purpose, beloved, and do not look back.
Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee!