I think anyone who is diligently pursuing the spiritual life of repentance knows the frustration of losing the battle to sin on a daily basis. Many of us have habitual sins that we cannot seem to break. We fall into sin, we feel dirty and unworthy, we ask God to forgive us, and then we get up and try again.
However, if we are to be honest, many of us sometimes feel at least a hint of hopelessness. We wonder if God really wants to take us back. If we’re constantly falling into the same sin over and over, will God justly become angry with us and refuse to accept our repentance?
The devil would sure like for us to lose hope. But here is the double standard: when repenting of a sin, and then being tempted to fall into it again, I have never said to myself, “No, I might as well give up on sinning. After repenting so many times, I don’t think the Devil will take me back.” Continue reading The Unholy Double Standard
“Self-pity is the root of all our stumblings into sin. He who does not indulge himself is always steadfast in good.” – St. Theophan the Recluse
SELF-PITY AND GRIEVING
I recently experienced the death of a friend. During that time I realized one of the keys between healthy grieving and sinful despair is the focus of our thoughts. When I began dwelling upon, “I’ll never get to see her again,” or “She’ll never be able to make me laugh again like she used to,” I found it was quite easy to slip into despair. Continue reading Self-Pity: A Quiet Snare
There was in a certain place a beautiful woman of questionable behavior. The ruler of this country took pity on her, that such beauty would perish, and, when he found the opportunity, he said to her, “Give up your immoral ways, and I will take you to my house and you will become my wife and the mistress of many treasures. Just watch that you are faithful, or else there will be such trouble for you as you cannot even imagine.”
She agreed to this, and was taken to the ruler’s house. Her former friends, seeing that she had disappeared, began searching for her, and found out that she was with the ruler.
Although the ruler was a terror, they did not despair of enticing the beautiful woman back to themselves once again, knowing her weakness. “We have only to go up behind the house and whistle; she will know who it is and immediately run out to us.”
That is just what they did.
They went behind the house and whistled. The beautiful woman, hearing the whistle, started. Something from her previous life stirred inside of her. But she had already come to her senses, and instead of running out of the house, she rushed into the inner chambers to the ruler himself, and immediately calmed down; she did not even hear the whistling that continued outside.
Her friends whistled a few more times and went off with nothing.
The meaning of the parable is clear. The beautiful woman represents the fallen soul that has turned to the Lord in repentance and made a contract to belong to and serve Him alone. The former friends are the passions. Their whistling is the impulses of passionate thoughts, feeling, and desires. Escape into the inner chambers is shelter in the depths of the heart, there to stand before the Lord.
When this is accomplished within, the passion that has troubled the soul leaves of its own accord as if it had never existed, and the soul calms down.
-=-From The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It. A parable by St. John the Dwarf adapted by St. Theophan the Recluse.
Continue reading On Refuge from Sinful Thoughts
The biblical authors were no strangers to sorrow, and most of us in this life carry or have carried some form of sorrow in our hearts. Speaking of sorrow, the Apostle Paul writes, “For godly sorrow produces a repentance that leads to salvation and brings no regret, but worldly sorrow produces death.” (2 Cor 7:10).
There are two types of sorrow: worldly and godly. But what is the difference?
Worldly sorrows have a multitude of sources including: Continue reading Sorrow and Fasting
Come…let us be transformed this day into a better state and direct our minds to heavenly things, being shaped anew in piety according to the form of Christ. For in His mercy the Savior of our souls has transfigured disfigured man and made him shine with light upon Mount Tabor. 
In my last post, I attempted to emphasize the need for us to look exclusively to God as our source of love and fulfillment. Regarding the “Five Love Languages,” they are fine practices for us to edify others, but we should never expect anything in return.
That is a hard teaching, especially when society tells us the root of our problems is that we don’t love ourselves enough, which is completely wrong because truthfully we love our flesh entirely too much. Continue reading Abiding in Christ
From my teenage years until recent times, I firmly believed that all people had their needs for love fulfilled in five different ways, as outlined in the best seller by Dr. Gary Chapman called The Five Love Languages.
Now that I have been exposed to Orthodox theology and have come to know my own heart more deeply, I feel that Dr. Chapman’s book needs a critique.
As outlined by Dr. Chapman, there are five ways in which people give and receive love. When someone in a relationship feels unloved, it may be because their significant other is not “speaking” their “love language.” The five are:
1. Words of Affirmation
2. Receiving Gifts
3. Acts of Service
4. Quality Time
5. Physical Touch Continue reading A Critique of the Five Love Languages
Some people have criticized the classic Disney movie Beauty and The Beast due to its romantic display of Stockholm Syndrome, which is a phenomenon in which someone held captive develops an emotional attachment and loyalty to his or her captor. While the Disney film makes the beast reform his ways and repent, what if the story took a different direction? What if he remained a ravaging beast and she still fell in love with him?
What if we all have Stockholm Syndrome? What if our culture and our flesh are our beastly captors, and being raised by them and in them has caused us to sympathize with our captors?
What would freedom look like, perhaps a body that is in submission to the soul? Continue reading The Awakening: Spiritual Stockholm Syndrome
It is by the ascesis of faith that a man conquers egotism, steps beyond the bounds of self, and enters into a new, transcendent reality which also transcends subjectivity. In this new reality new laws rule; what is old has passed away and all is made new. Plunged into the unknown depths of this new reality, the ascetic of faith is led and guided by prayer; he feels, thinks, and lives by prayer.
Tracing this path of faith in the intellect of man, St Isaac notes that the intellect is guarded and guided by prayer, every good thought being transformed by prayer into a pondering on God. But prayer is also a hard struggle, calling the whole person into action. Man crucifies himself in prayer, crucifying the passions and sinful thoughts that cling to his soul. Prayer is the slaying of the carnal thoughts of man’s fleshly life.
Patient perseverance in prayer is for man a very hard ascesis, that of Continue reading Reflection: Prayer
Below I continue my series from St. Justin Popovich. This is my favorite article I have ever read on faith because St. Justin makes it so practical. Faith is far more than an ascent to a certain philosophical position, but is the fruit of the struggle to reach our first step of union with God.
It is by the ascesis of faith that the treatment and cure of a soul which is sick with the passions is begun. Once faith begins to live in a man, the passions begin to be uprooted from his soul. But until the soul becomes intoxicated with faith in God, until it comes to feel faith’s power, it can neither be healed of the passions nor overcome the material world. There is both a negative side to the ascesis of faith, freedom from sinful matter, and a positive side, oneness with God.
The soul, which was dispersed by the senses among the things of this world, is brought back to itself by the ascesis of faith, by fasting from material things and by devoting itself to a constant remembrance of God. This is the foundation of all good things.
Freedom from enslavement to sinful matter is essential for advancement in the spiritual life. The beginning of this new way of life is found in the concentration of one’s thoughts on God, in incessant pondering on the words of God, and in a life of poverty.
Through faith the mind, which was previously dispersed among the passions, is concentrated, freed from sensuality, and endowed with peace and humility of thought. When it lives by the senses in a sensual world, the mind is sick. Continue reading Reflection: Faith
The Sickness of the Organs of Understanding
Analyzing man by his empirical gifts, St. Isaac the Syrian finds that his organs of understanding are sick. Evil is a sickness of soul, whence all the organs of understanding are made sick. Evil has its perceptions, the passions, and the passions are illnesses of the soul. Evil and the passions are not natural to the soul; they are accidents, adventitious, and intrusive, an unnatural addition to the soul.
What are the passions in themselves? They are a certain hardness or insensitivity of being. Their causes are to be found in the the things of life themselves. The passions are the desire for wealth and amassing of goods, for ease and bodily comfort; they are thirst for honor and the exercise of power; they are luxury and frivolity; they are the desire for glory from men and fear for one’s own body. Continue reading Reflection: The Sickness & Healing of Understanding
Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.
Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow. Continue reading The Fly and The Bee
When I began my spiritual struggle shortly after converting to Orthodoxy, I felt frustrated. I had joined a church that felt too demanding: fasting every Wednesday and Friday, pre-communion prayers Saturday nights, an expectation to actually change and live a holy life, morning and evening prayers, feast days and periods of fasting. It all seemed like too much.
There is a rhythm to the life of the Church; entering into it takes time. But I wasn’t used to that. My Protestant upbringing and the American culture made me want instant results, even for sinful habits that were deeply entrenched. In charismatic circles, we would always pray for instantaneous miracles and deliverances from evil. To expect anything less could mean one had weak faith.
At a few points, the temptation entered into my mind: “This is too much for you, and for anyone except the most saintly. You know you can’t settle for mediocrity, and you’re certainly not a saint, so just give up on Orthodoxy. Don’t keep pushing yourself into a lifestyle that is simply too pious for you.” Continue reading Feeling Frustrated with the Spiritual Struggle