Orthodox America

  It Is Time to Begin

He who tries to understand the commandments without fulfilling them, seeking to understand through learning and reading alone, is like a man who mistakes a shadow for the truth'. For the under standing of truth, is given to those who participate in truth, having tasted it through actual living. Those who seek this understanding without being participants in the truth receive a distorted wisdom... no matter how much they boast of their knowledge.

(St. Gregory of Sinai)

Those who have carried on a business or some other undertaking, or in general have accomplished something in life, unanimously declare that the decision to act is of greatest importance, to take the first step, to begin.

There is nothing more foolish than a man who for a long time has thought of accomplishing some task, who has ample opportunity to set to work, and who, nevertheless, just cannot seem to make the decision to begin.

There are, one might add, certain activities which, according to those experienced in such matters, are accomplished by them selves-if only a beginning is made. For example, those involved in building churches wholeheartedly agree that every church "builds itself": it is enough just to begin, and then the money and materials will come of themselves.

The same is true of spiritual building, with the work of self-amendment, of pleasing God. After all, people are called "temples of the Holy Spint." Through our work, our actions, we must all make ourselves into a temple for the Holy Spirit. But we haven't enough determination to begin building. And it is this very lack of determination which constitutes our greatest misfortune.

In his ascetic labors, St. Seraphim of Sarov equaled, if not surpassed, the spiritual heights of the great ancient fathers. In these podvigs he came to know through experience the strengthening Grace of God. Not ~ng before his repose, he was asked why contemporary man so rarely attains to the spiritual level of the ancient fathers. "Because," answered the holy elder, "they lack determination. But God is just as ready as before to help those who seek to please Him, and His grace is ever all-powerful:

Jesus Christ, the same yesterday, today and forever.

Thus, we have no determination, and it is necessary to use all means possible to force ourselves to become determined. We must prod ourselves with the thought that perhaps this is the last month, even the last week of our life.

Everyone knows his greatest fault, his greatest weakness, which more than anything else estranges him from God. it is against this very weakness that one must resolutely rise up, using all possible means, and fight against it without compromising, without weakening, fighting even unto blood if necessary.

How many people, for example, perish and forsake God through immorality. This is one of the most widespread sins which holds in its grasp many people who are otherwise good-merciful, generous, pious. But this one passion alone prevents them from whole heartedly giving themselves to God. And here is the main thing: determination, endurance at the beginning when there is the strongest urge to return to the accustomed sin. If one can only preserve oneself during those first critical months, the first half year, and cultivate in oneself the habit of chaste behavior, just as previously the habit of lust was cultivated. Here it is necessary to have maximum determination and not to fear any necessary measures. IF you must re strict yourself to eat only bread and water, then do it! If you must avoid for a time visiting certain friends, think up a pretext. If less sleep will help, do not resist even this means. Avert the time you previously spent in various pleasures which aroused passion in the soul; use it now for reading spiritual books and attending church services.

One of the ancient ascetics, experienced in the warfare of the passions, expressed a profound truth: the devil of lust is like a hungry dog who has made a habit of always going to that house where each time he is thrown a bone; but just leave him a few times without the bone-and he will soon be broken of the habit.

And so, whatever passion afflicts us, let us become true men and not be like helpless children; let us despise our evil, not only because it is destroying us, but also because in sinning we crucify Christ Whom we love, Whom we all desire to serve. Let us say to ourselves: "Today I shall begin to serve God; from this very day begins my spiritual renewal." Seeing your firm determination, the Lord will unfailingly come to your aid, empowering your human weakness with His divine strength Let us repeat to ourselves more often the words of one of the 24 supplications from the wonderful p r a y e r of the great hierarch St. John Chrysostom, numbered according to the 24 hours in the day:

Lord, thongh I kave done nothing good in Thy sight, grant me by Thy Grace to make a good beginning.

(Translated from "Dushepolezni Sobesednik," Mt. Athos, 1909)