Way of the Ascetics (Page 12 of 27)

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By: Tito Colliander
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BY throwing off the outer bonds, you throw off the inner as well. While you are freeing yourself from external concerns, your heart is freed from inner pain. It follows from this that the hard warfare you are compelled to wage with yourself is exclusively a means. As such it is neither good nor bad; the saints often liken it to a prescribed cure. However painful it may be to follow out, it nevertheless remains only a means to regain health.
Always keep this in mind: you are not doing anything virtuous by your continence. Or can it be considered a virtuous act when a man who, out of his own carelessness, has been trapped deep down in a mine shaft, takes pick and shovel and tries to work his way out? Is it not, on the contrary, quite natural for him to make use of the tools given him by a higher authority to make his way up out of the choking air and darkness? Would not the opposite be stupidity?
From this picture you can gain wisdom. The tools are the implements of salvation, the commands of the Gospel and the holy Sacraments of the Church, that were bestowed upon every Christian at holy baptism. Unused, they are of no profit to you. But used in the right manner they will open your way to freedom and light.
We must through much tribulation enter into the kingdom of God(Acts 14:22): we must, like the imprisoned victim, give up many opportunities for rest and sleep and enjoyment; we must, like him, watch and employ every moment when others sleep or occupy themselves with trifling things. We do not let the pick and shovel out of our hands: they are prayer, fasting, watching and work to observe all things whatsoever I have commanded you (Matthew 28:20). Further, if the heart finds such discipline difficult, we must use all our will-power to compel it to submit if we are to get out.
What reward does the prisoner get now? Or does he get any reward at all? Toil itself is his reward. In the love of freedom that he feels, in the hope and faith that placed the tools in his hands. With work, hope and love and faith grow: the more industrious he is, and the less he spares himself, the greater is his reward. He becomes aware of himself as a prisoner among prisoners, in his own eyes he does not separate himself from his comrades: he is a sinner among sinners in the bowels of the earth. But while they, in hopeless resignation, sleep or play cards to while away the time, he goes forth to his work. He has found a treasure but he covers it up (Matthew 13:44); he carries the kingdom of heaven within him: love, hope and the faith that sometime he will reach the fresh air outside. As yet, to be sure, he sees true freedom only in a mirror (I Corinthians 13:12), but in hope he is already free: We are saved by hope (Romans 8:24). But hope that is seen is not hope, adds the apostle, in order that we might rightly understand what is involved. Once the prisoner really reaches freedom and sees it face to face, he is no longer a prisoner among prisoners on earth. Then he finds that he is already in the world of freedom: the freedom in which Adam was created and which was restored to us in Christ.
Like the prisoner, we are already free in hope, but the fulfillment of salvation lies beyond our earthly life: only there can we say definitely: I am saved. For the command to be perfect as your heavenly Father is perfect (Matthew 5:48) is impossible of human fulfillment here on earth. Why was it given to us, then? The saints reply: In order that we might begin our work now, but with eternity -before our eyes.
The goal of man’s freedom is neither in himself nor in his fellow man but in God, says Bishop Theophan.
For the cry of freedom is: Repent! And the call is given: Come unto me all ye that labour and are heavy-laden, and I will give you rest (Matthew 11:28f.). Labour on what? On your own temporal welfare? Are heavy-ladenwith what? With earthly cares and concerns? Not in the least, reply the saints. For what does the Lord go on to say: Take my yoke upon you and learn of me, who never thought of my temporal welfare and never was burdened with worldly cares while I wandered on earth.
And what do they get, all those who labour on their salvation and are heavy-laden with the world’s opposition, both within themselves and without? Those who take Christ’s yoke upon themselves and live as He lived, and therefore learn not from angels nor from men nor from books, but from the Lord Himself, from His own life and light and action within them; who too can say I am meek and lowly in heart and hold no high opinion either of myself or of what I do or say or can do-what do all these people get? They will find rest for their souls. The Lord Himself will give them rest. They will receive freedom from temptations, worries, humiliations, spite, fear, anxiety and everything else that disturbs the human heart.
This is the explanation of St. John Climacus. And so it has spread from Christian to Christian. For experience reveals again and again to the new heart the truth that Christ’s yoke is easy and his burden is light for those who love Him.

But only he that endureth to the end shall be saved(Matthew 10:22), not those who fall away and are lazy. The promise does not concern them.
Therefore we must not grow weary. We must be steadfast, immovable, always abounding in the work of the Lord, knowing that in the Lord our labour is not in vain (I Corinthians 15:58). Having once begun, we must not cease to perform deeds worthy of our repentance. To rest is the same as to retreat.

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