From The Blog

Mission Monthly – November 2008

“Above everything, beware of your own confidence, lest you fall from a height of discipline because of lack of training. It is better to move ahead a little at a time. So then, withdraw from the pleasures of life little by little. Gradually destroy all your evil habits, lest you bring on yourself a mass of temptations by stirring up all of your passions at once. When you have mastered one passion, then begin waging war against another. And before long you will get the better of them all.”

St. Basil the Great

Having Fr. Peter Gillquist with us last week filled our home with joy, laughter, memories and much edifying conversation. In recounting the many things he loves about the Orthodox Church, one brief comment stood out, “What I love about the Orthodox Church is that she is high in her standards and high in her mercy.” Truly this is one of our h’s most appealing and fundamental characteristics. When training for the priesthood men are given significant instruction and hopefully a serious appreciation for guiding in this way the souls of the beloved spiritual children given over to his care. I have been blessed to have been given many wonderful teachers, fathers and mothers who have helped me to understand and make good effort at balancing standards and mercy, for my own needs and for the needs of others.

I thank God for the high standards of moral and ethical Truth to which we all are called as Orthodox Christians. Solely on that level our Church is one of the last defenders of this foundation of human dignity and purpose. I am eternally grateful to God for His patience and kindness with us who are trying, however poorly, to “withdraw from the pleasures of life” and “destroy [our] evil habits.”

What St. Basil has written here is encouraging on many levels. It is almost a permission, if not an actual directive, to take our time in the arena of spiritual warfare. One of the most telling axioms of spiritual warfare addresses the subject of food and fasting, one of man’s fundamental needs but also one of man’s most common abuses: “Unless a man learns self-control with his stomach he will never have true self-control in any area of his life.”Here we see why the Church in Her wisdom instructs us to fast, whether lightly or strictly, over half the days of every year. And of course it should go without saying that this is not a “legal” requirement to “earn” victory (our salvation), but it is good to be taught and reminded that fasting IS required for victory in the arena of self-control, and is obviously an essential building block of strong discipline. And why? To gain, day by day, month by month, year by year, in our love for and trust in God, to develop the ability to address and conquer even greater sin in our lives, and finally to grow in showing greater and active love for our neighbor.

With these goals in mind we see St. Basil giving us no reason whatsoever to consider our spiritual labors as trivial or optional; but rather his definitive instruction, while urgent, directs us to be gradual and persistent in “getting the better” of our adversaries and never to become over-confident. I have seen individuals press themselves and/or others, sometimes through over-confidence (pride) but usually through immaturity, and I have seen the bee’s nest of struggles borne from this error. Beloved, if one’s sincere desire is to be with Christ and enter into the generous fellowship of the Holy Trinity then what joy there is in knowing that this great journey begins first by only needing to be oneself; and knowing that we have a Mother, our Holy Church, who believes enough in Her children to set before us both the highest standards of living and the highest degree of mercy (forgiveness), let us, like the wise, patiently make the most of our time (Eph. 5:15-16) to master our passions, one by one, and with steady, untiring purpose “get the better of them all.”