Getting Started

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Tito Colliander wrote a small spiritual classic, The Way of the Ascetics. I heartily commend it to all. Asceticism is not simply the domain of monks, or something foreign to Christianity, much less is it opposed to salvation by grace. Asceticism is not an earning of grace, but a “doing of the Word.” It is obeying the commandments of Christ and not just talking about them. I am offering here the short first chapter of Colliander’s work. Again, I commend the book.

Chapter One: ON A RESOLUTE AND SUSTAINED PURPOSE

IF you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the Cross and say:

In the name of the Father, and of the Son and of the Holy Ghost. Amen.

Faith comes not through pondering but through action. Not words and speculation but experience teaches us what God is. To let in fresh air we have to open a window; to get tanned we must go out into the sunshine. Achieving faith is no different; we never reach a goal by just sitting in comfort and waiting, say the holy Fathers. Let the Prodigal Son be our example. He arose and came (Luke15:20).

However weighed down and entangled in earthly fetters you may be, it can never be too late. Not without reason is it written that Abraham was seventy-five when he set forth, and the labourer who comes in the eleventh hour gets the same wages as the one who comes in the first. Nor can it be too early. A forest fire cannot be put out too soon; would you see your soul ravaged and charred?

In baptism you received the command to wage the invisible warfare against the enemies of your soul; take it up now. Long enough have you dallied; sunk in indifference and laziness you have let much valuable time go to waste. Therefore you must begin again from the beginning: for you have let the purity you received in baptismbe sullied in dire fashion. Arise, then; but do so at once, without delay. Do not defer your purpose till “tonight” or “tomorrow” or “later, when I have finished what I have to do just now.” The interval may be fatal. No, this moment, the instant you make your resolution, you will show by your action that you have taken leave of your old self and have now begun a new life, with a new destination and a new way of living. Arise, therefore, without fear and say: Lord, let me begin now. Help me! For what you need above all is God’s help.

Hold fast to your purpose and do not look back. We have been given a warning example in Lot’s wife, who was turned into a pillar of salt when she looked back (Genesis 19:26). You have cast off your old humanity; let the rags lie. Like Abraham, you have heard the voice of the Lord: Get thee out of thy country, and from thy kindred,and from thy father’s house, into a land that I will show thee (Genesis 12:1). Towards that land hereafter you must direct all your attention.

Comments

  1. says

    Asceticism is not simply the domain of monks, or something foreign to Christianity,

    I think that’s one of the main mistakes we’ve made in the Catholic Church since the 1950’s. We’ve gotten soft, and it shows. We’ve relaxed the various fasting disciplines to the point of absurdity.

    I was born in the 60’s, but I still remember Mom going around and shutting off the radio or TV on Good Friday. Silence.

    My Polish/Lithuanian family still keeps Christmas eve as a meatless fast, w/ a traditional Slavic Holy Supper. Actually, I don’t think they know the Roman Rite dispensed w/ that discipline. (Sshh. Don’t tell them.)

  2. says

    Tony,

    If you are of Polish origin, you should be very, very, very proud of Henryk Sienkiewicz that wrote Quo Vadis. That book opened my heart for Christianity. Famous psychoanalyst Dr. Vladeta Jerotic from Belgrade said once on TV that he was “converted” to Christianity by that book (I think he was always Christian by religion, but that he wanted to say that book opened his eyes). It is not without reason that mr. Sienkiewicz got Nobel Prize in 1905. No book I have ever read explains so deeply christian forgiveness.

    Karl,

    Thanks for the link. If you know some other interesting Orthodox links with books please share. I have found interesting link for download of mp3 from famous russian Valaam monastery. Link is http://www.valaam.ru/en/mp3/

    Father,

    I am sad that to the best of my knowledge novel Monk Kalist (Monah Kalist) still has not been translated from Serbian to English. He was the soldier in WWI, later he joined monastery, but since he had military discipline he used to go to caves in mountain and there pray for days and nights. I cannot possibly transfer now the beauty of style of that book, it is always very special when someone is praying in nature, and reader can feel it. Once communist policemen took him to the station to interrogate him. They turned the lamp to his face, and then each inspector interrogated him for 8 hours, and so they switched on and on. But he says -I told them exactly what I wanted to tell them. Poor fellows, they did not know that I willingly undertook far greater struggle (efforts) when I was in cave.- (I am quoting from my memory, so it is unofficial)

  3. Michael says

    Father Stephen,

    In addition to thanking you for your thoughtful answer to my previous post, I want to thank you for this one. Everything you share is so practical and hits home to me in heart and spirit.

    After the endless intellectual gymnastics of some blogs, yours is an oasis of refreshment, and a serious challenge to a holy life for Christ.

    Do I gather that Lent has already begun for the Orthodox Christians? Or does it begin in stages, gradually? I’d love to know more.

  4. Fatherstephen says

    The “Pre-Lenten” Sundays began today. Great Lent officially begins on Monday, February 12. Typically, in Orthodox parishes, we begin Lent with a Vespers service on Sunday (we count a day as beginning in the evening before because the Scriptures say in Genesis, “Evening and morning, the second day, etc.”

    The Vespers is known as “Forgiveness Vespers,” because in the course of the service the priest will ask forgiveness of each person present for any thing he has done against them, etc., in the past year, and they ask his forgiveness. And everyone asks everyone else’s forgiveness. It takes a while, but it’s a wonderful way to begin a season of repentance.

    I usually do pretty good until the members of my family come forward in the line. There certainly is no one whom I sin more frequently against than my immediate family – and I imagine this is so for most of us. Nor is there anyone whom I love more. The combination usually leaves me weeping at their feet (we usually make a full prostration before the person whose forgiveness we are asking – it can be done other ways – but that is our practice at St. Anne).

    But my heart so desperately needs repentance. I am firmly convinced that the human heart is most like the heart of God when it is in the state of repentance. It’s not a one time action, but a state of being. I suppose it’s why I so love Lent. It’s not just the Pascha, though interestingly, in our parish, when we have finished asking forgiveness. We stand in the Church and sing one of the great hymns of Pascha. I will write somewhere along the line and explain why I think everything is Pascha anyway.