Orthodox America

  The Road Less Traveled

     In our evening prayers we daily entreat the Lord: "Grant that we may, live a life of heroic virtue.' And truly, the Christian life demands from us constant heroic effort-podvig. Instead we are plagued by spiritual torpor.

     From behind the Iron Curtain has recently come an essay which deserves to shake us from our slumber, to do away with our excuses and to in spire us with the glorious Christian ideal of a life hidden in God, a life for God. This three chapter essay contains thoughts and practical instructions on spiritual "self-nourishment," at a time when it is rare, almost impossible , to find an experienced spiritual guide. The author, a solitary monk living under the difficult conditions of an atheist society, expresses such holy zeal, such a thirst for spiritual life as one expects to find only in the lives of saints, May his example arouse in us a heroic determination to throw off our sluggishness and to labor with greater diligence on the narrow path of salvation. 

Making Clear the Way

My ways have I declared, and Thou hast heard me.       (Ps. 118:26)

    What prompts me to write these lines? --the feeling of lonesomeness. This comes --first, from the interruption in me of a vital communion with the Lord, and --second, from the drying up of living words from the lips of grace-filled men.

     I am born of the flesh of Adam, but I received a higher life--the life of the spirit-from Christ. Consequently, the spiritual life must predominate inasmuch as Christ is greater than Adam and the spirit is higher than the flesh. But my spiritual life is often crowded out by the bringing in of worldly understandings, feelings, interests. It even happens that they take precedence, and then the demands of the spirit are squashed and come to occupy a subordinate position. And I, without being aware of it myself, become engulfed in all manner of triviality and neglect; the soul feels empty, devoid of the grace it once possessed. With such weaknesses, I stand in need of outside help, of support from my brethren in Christ. But here, too, is that lonesomeness.

      According to the word of our Saviour, there are many who go in the broad way, and few that find the narrow way which leadeth unto life (Matt. 7:13-14). "There have always been few, very few, who travel alone the narrow wav; in the last days of the world this path will be almost entirely deserted" (Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov).

    Our time forces us all to suffer a common helplessness, and we only intensify it by isolating ourselves one from another. Some think to attain salvation without leaving their self-satisfied state; others withdraw, resigning themselves to the thought that they can't expect help from anyone. And so each person lives, concerned only for himself.

    One can also explain this rather sad estrangement by the general fear of trusting one another, due to the inconstancy reigning in mankind today. It is likewise impossible not to see a general proclivity for earthly things, a state in which each strives for a greater measure of freedom and ease, shunning undue concern for anyone else.

    It is very sad that in our midst yet another sickness finds room--and it is much worse than those already mentioned; this is spiritual light-mindedness which has taken hold of so many people--even among the clergy. This disease can strike at the best impulses of those zealous for righteousness--and paralyze their very inception.

       There are many who are wont to say: "Don't take upon yourself any podvigs, live like everyone else; don't try to be different. God is merciful; we'll all be saved"... And instead of supporting the zealot' s good intentions, by their immature judgment they cool his ardor--for prayer, fasting and other essentials of the Christian life, If the zealot in his love for spiritual activity disregards such conventional opinions and struggles as he is able, then these would-be advisors-who are in fact out of touch with spiritual reality--air their suspicions, often deriding and humiliating the sincere zealot by calling him a hypocrite, pharisee, one fallen into prelest, and the like. They express their understanding of the spiritual side of life in very earthly terms using a false tone of authority, even though we know very well from the Gospel that their reasoning is false, for "the Kingdom of Heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force" (Matt. 11:12). 

Save me, O Lord, for a righteous man there is no more; for truths have diminished from the sons of men. (Ps. 11:1) 

If not entirely, one can still apply to such "teachers" the words of St. Anthony the Great. He says: There will come a time--and men will become diseased. Then they will turn to one untainted and rail at him; You are infected above all, for you are unlike the rest of us.

    Concerning the need of diligent labors and even podvigs for the salvation of one's soul, the Great Fathers Sts. Barsanouphius and John very definitely state: :Don't imagine that salvation is an easy task; it requires much sweat, labor and the forcing of oneself." I have had to endure and witness much grief in this vale of earthly loneliness. Abandoned by grace, I seek it once more and, though deprived of fraternal assistance, I take courage in the hope of gaining the help of God.

(to be continued)

(Translated from "The Path to the One Thing Needful: the experience of 'self-nourishment,'" in Nadezhda No. 12, Frankfurt, 1985)