From The Blog

Mission Monthly – March 2009

“What Christ our God called the ‘narrow way’ (Matthew 7:14), He also called an ‘easy yoke’ and ‘light burden’ (Matthew 11:30). How could He equate these things when they seem to be contraries? For our nature, certainly, this path is harsh and steep, but those who pursue it wholeheartedly and with good hope, and who aspire after holiness, find it attractive and full of delight, for it brings them pleasure, not affliction. Hence they eagerly follow the narrow and painful way, greatly preferring it to that which is broad and spacious.”

St. Theodore the Great Ascetic

Holiness has always been and probably will always be a great mystery to man in his fallen state, no more so than in our present post-modern, rational, scientific, academic, corporate, financial, technological, sensual, media-hyped, politically correct, amoral, humanitarian world. I believe that more than a tacit interest in real holiness does exist in some places, especially where there is Orthodox Faith and a pious expression of it; but on a broader social level, even some places within the Church, it is my view, sadly, that interest may be waning.

While Jesus told us that the life he is calling us to is “easy” and “light,” and while in my heart of hearts I believe this to be true, in my flesh (and maybe most of us would agree) it is often hard and harsh, arduous and filled with more adversity than one might expect. Whether in families or in friendships, at work or at school, in neighborhoods or organizational affiliations, and sadly even within the confines of our churches the pursuit of holiness can be seen as irrational, too strict, even foolish, which often leaves the sincere seeker feeling isolated and even attacked. And this is just the external struggle!

Internal warfare is another matter and one that requires even greater courage as the pursuit of holiness is often challenged in the silence of our very thoughts. Doubt is a significant factor and cannot be blamed on the criticisms and cynicisms of the world. Our doubts, and the vulnerabilities that stem from it, find their source not in the lack of faith of others but in our own lack of faith and the choices we make not to guard the precious seeds God has planted in us at our baptism, our chrismation, and at every partaking of our Lord’s Body and Blood in the Holy Eucharist. It is doubt that prevents us from seeing holiness as “attractive and full of delight” and it is doubt that leads us to choose the “broad and spacious” way.

Indeed we often find ourselves at one crossroad after another, time after time needing to make choices, again and again revealing our preferences. The Apostle John wrote in his first letter these arresting words, “He who says ‘I know Him’ but disobeys His commandments is a liar, and the truth is not in him” (2:4). But let us read on lest we become discouraged, “but whoever keeps His word, in him truly love for God is perfected. By this we may be sure that we are in Him: he who says He abides in him ought to walk in the same way in which He walked” (2:5-6).

Beloved, each year as we enter Lent let us be assured of this time given to us to clarify our preferences! It is the time for us to again learn that man was created for Paradise, for knowledge of God and communion with Him; that man’s sin has deprived him of that blessed life and his existence on earth is exile; that Christ opens the door of Paradise to everyone who follows Him, and the Church, by revealing to us the beauty of the Kingdom, making our life a pilgrimage toward our heavenly fatherland. Through prayer and fasting, almsgiving and forgiveness, Lent is the liberation of our enslavement to sin, from the prison of “this world.” In clarifying our preferences for holiness we boldly proclaim our refusal to accept as normal the desires and urges of our fallen nature and seek freedom from the dictatorship of flesh and matter over the spirit. And Lent is a return to the unity that has been taken from us through division, opposition, separation and hatred, ultimately placing Christ in the middle of our hopeless and dead-end human relations, revealing Christianity’s most profound appeal to man. (Fr. Alexander Schmemann, Great Lent)

While it may never be easy to understand the pleasure of holiness and the “narrow way” it will always be there for us to “prefer” without complete understanding. No matter what resistance we may encounter, whether from without or from within, no matter what season of the year, with assurance we understand this to be our life in Christ. I pray never to be known as a liar because of my disobedience. May God grant us all hope in the “possible impossibility” of being perfected in love for Him. Beloved, blessed Lent!