From The Blog

Mission Monthly – July 2004

“So compare your soul with the life of Christ; and as you set your face before a mirror, set your soul before the mirror of the immaculate life of Christ, and take every care to correct and go after whatever you may see that is opposed to it. If you do so, then I assure you that day by day you will become better, for it is impossible for him who looks often into that immaculate mirror not to correct himself.”

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

We are a people accustomed to having choices: Do this. Buy that. Listen to this. Look at that. Eat this. Touch that. Go here. Go there. Think this way. Believe in that. Look like this. Act like that. Play this. Work at that. Sometimes our choices are limited or restricted by circumstance, and sometimes we have no choice at all; but even in these situations our free society affords us opportunities to (self) determine how to proceed. I tend to believe that the freedom of self-determination is such a huge part of our lives, whether as individuals or as a nation, that we simply take it for granted. I suppose we may notice when it is threatened and feel the imminent need to defend it, but as a forty three year old American this freedom is all I’ve even known. Although I know I take it for granted, the thought of having this freedom taken away or of living in a totalitarian state is very sobering. I am thankful for those who have paved the way for my freedom and for those who defend it today. Freedom is a good thing to defend, and by the grace of God we are free to do it!

It is this very freedom that essentially affords us the opportunity to “go after” whatever we want. And while we are governed by laws of both God and man, intended to elevate man to the fundamentals of higher ideals and to protect society and its members—assuming a man stays within the limits of these “laws”—our freedom is so great that “the sky’s the limit!” From my earliest memories of home life, public education, athletics, music, hobbies and interests I was taught to “go after” whatever it was—the only thing holding me back being my own lack of motivation. I was taught that even a lack of natural ability could be overcome with perseverance and practice. The general conclusion is this: we are free to achieve, with enough determination, whatever we set our minds to.

In terms of worldly achievement, there may be nothing wrong with certain pursuits as long as a man is indeed governed by Godly Truth and moral absolutes. The governing spirit of God should then guide him in a good and holy direction. But, having briefly traced the ideas of freedom and choice and the unique opportunities we have as citizens of a free society to “go after” the things of this world, my question is are we are willing to use this same freedom and motivation to “go after” the challenge given by St. Tikhon? His challenge is direct: to set our soul before the mirror of the pure life of Christ, be willing to see things in ourselves that are “opposed” to the Word and Law of God, and “go after” the serious work of bettering ourselves.

When I was a freshman in high school I worked for hours and hours learning how to smoothly make a left-handed lay-up in basketball. When I was a sophomore my attention turned to perfecting the “up and under” move. All my work paid off when in my senior year I was voted my team’s most valuable player and earned first team all-conference honors. Yet while I have put hours of effort into sports, music, gardening, golf, “theology and religion”, I know that I have not put nearly enough time or energy towards the kind of self-examination St. Tikhon is directing us towards. WHY NOT? WHAT COULD BE MORE IMPORTANT? While there may be specific reasons (dare I say excuses) in each individual’s life I also believe there is a general reason why we all struggle to zealously make this effort. I believe the main and very real reason why free men are not ready or able to freely seek to “set their souls before the mirror of the immaculate life of Christ” is because to do so most likely means giving up some of the freedoms we so freely enjoy; especially in those grayer areas of life where even some of the good things we do or enjoy may not be for the best or for our salvation.

In this land of freedom, choice and opportunity, there is no more important time than now to face the responsibilities inherently present in our freedom. Truly there is no freedom without responsibility, and as members of the Orthodox Church we should realize this most keenly of all. While this could be seen as negative or as somehow denying the “self” God created me to be or the world God gave me to enjoy, I am deeply convinced that the promises of God run powerfully through our willingness to resist those things within ourselves which oppose the God-centered life we are all called to live. The sacrifices we make while perfecting the image we see in the mirror can only lead to a fulfillment of life beyond any imagination. And while these sacrifices may be painful and take time to yield their harvest, we have the most certain consolation and hope that day by day a better person will be seen in that mirror—a person who truly reflects the precious image of Christ.