From The Blog

Monthly Meditation – March 2010

“We live a long time on this earth and we love the beauty of the earth: the sky and the sun, gardens, sea and river, forest and meadow, music too, and all the beauties of the world. But when the soul comes to know our Lord Jesus Christ then she has no further desire for the things of the earth…. The spirit of the man who has come to know God by the Holy Spirit burns day and night with the love of God, and his soul can form no earthly attachment.”

St. Silouan of Mt. Athos

Many of us may have read, or tried to read, St. John Climacus’ Ladder of Divine Ascent. I have read only the first three steps and referenced a few others. The very first step, Renunciation of Life, challenged me immensely. The next two steps showed me without question that I was not ready to read further. This is not light reading and cannot be treated as such. Its content is certainly for every man (even St. John said to those living amongst worldly cares, “Do whatever good you may.”) yet its complete application needs a true guide, a proper environment and a dedicated commitment, which is why this text was intended for the monastic.

In the midst of our Lenten journey let us meditate for a moment simply on the first two steps of the Ladder: Renunciation of Life and Detachment. It is good for us as Orthodox Christians to be reminded that it is completely normal for us to consider earthly attachment as detrimental to our Christian life. I mention this as particular to Orthodoxy because of the overwhelming majority of conversations I’ve had with “western” Christians who consider it odd that an Orthodox Christian would actively withdraw (or

fast) from this God’s activities and attachments. Something as natural to the Orthodox as fasting from food seemed unbelievably foreign to one Christian pastor who couldn’t believe that we would ever “deny ourselves” anything that was created by God. Let us therefore consider the instructions of Renunciation and Detachment and see even a sliver of their benefit for those who desire to grow in their love for God.

We must first acknowledge that man is a being of vitality. There is life in us. We are given the gift of God’s image. We have the ability to appreciate, to recognize and to participate in all that belongs to God, save His essence. Each spring, as life and beauty emerge from beneath the winter snows I especially feel this vitality—this love of life. As I look upon my wife, my son, my family, my church, my friends, my vocation, I see all that is truly beautiful and I must again acknowledge how much I love life. So one might ask, “What could possibly be wrong about that, Father?” It’s not that the love of these things is wrong, but rather the question of whether or not I love these things more than the One who gave them to me? Am I ready to follow the example of Job?

To be in the world but not of the world is a perplexing and difficult problem. It affects everything, not just the sin we are asked to repent of but also that which is good in our lives, which must not become a stumbling block to our relationship with God. As an example I recall a reference made by Fr. Alexander Schmemman that at first shocked me and took me a while to understand. He said, “Even something as good as family can become demonic.” Indeed it is good for us to contemplate this along with all other attachments that might take on a greater importance than my relationship with God.

Beloved, if our Lenten disciplines can provide us any spiritual benefit let us hope that by withdrawing from whatever worldly cares we can, even for this short time, we would be given greater discernment regarding anything that might interfere with our love for God; and thereby begin to discover what is truly meant by Renunciation of Life and Detachment. Ours is a royal way which leads to a Kingdom greater than anything this world has to offer. May God grant us a fervent love for Him, appreciating the abundant goodness of this life but preferring the Paradise yet to come!