…work out your own salvation with fear and trembling (Philippians 2:12)
What does it mean to ‘work out our salvation’? It means that among all the things that we see in cosmic existence, we choose what is pleasing to God and separate ourselves from what goes against God. Then, little by little, we see our life changing. But be patient. God can, of course, visit us and in an instant open our eyes to eternity. But usually it is a labor of several years, which has nothing to do with a mere creation of our imagination. Read Saint Silouan: you will see what his state was, how he was always in God. You will understand his word, where he says that the saints do not spend one second without prayer.
The Elder Sophrony in Words of Life
Perhaps the most difficult thing is not to know what is required of one to choose what is pleasing to God, but to know how to struggle with oneself in order to make the “bit by bit” change, and to ask God for the patience and hope to do so…
I would say that I do not think God intentionally makes salvation hard for us – it is not “tricky” or any such thing – it requires us to truly seek God with all our heart. And it is this that is difficult.
Or, in other words: in my heart I know I don’t want to change; but I *want* to want to change. It is I who makes it complicated. Lord, have mercy.
Yes – I agree, Fr. Stephen.
Thank you for this, keep your mind in hell and despair not, foreign words to the anti-religious culture of America.
Thank you for this. The idea that artisticmisfit quotes above is indeed difficult to this former “Westerner” (church), newly “Easterner” (Orthodox). I would encourage reading and meditation on this and other writings of St. Silouan as it is very difficult to “get”.
However, God loves us and wants us and has indeed given us advice, guidance for living this life here on earth. As He has given us Himself to help us live this life on earth. Thanks be to God and Lord have mercy!
St. Silouan was given that direction (keep your mind in hell and despair not) by Christ. It is difficult for everyone. For St. Silouan it was preceeded by months of demonic attack.
I’m not sure how much most of us should be concerned with it personally as it can easily become an esoteric distraction, possibly even harmful.
I tend to put it in the same category of Orthodox jargon that Fr. Stephen cautions us against. Especially if we use it to separate ourselves from “the west”. In St. Silouan’s hands it was a practice of ultimate unity in love. As a monastic discipline under the guidance of an experienced spiritual father, it is not even recommended for all–some cannot bear it.
What do you think Fr. Stephen?
The Elder Zacharias of St. John’s in Essex, quoted the Elder Sophrony, as saying (and he received directly from St. Silouan) that if you will give thanks to God for all things at all times, you will have done the same as St. Silouan’s “keep your mind in hell and despair not.” It doesn’t sound as esoteric but it is truly the heart of the Christian life. I would even compare it to the philotimo that I wrote about recently. I don’t know that I would criticize the West on this. My Baptist father-in-law lived this teaching (it’s in Scripture) more perfectly than anyone I’ve ever known. Nothing, and I mean nothing, could bring him to not give thanks to God. It was his joy and his constant refrain. I’ve never encountered such grace anywhere else. God is everywhere present and filling all things. We should give attention to ourselves and our own unthankful hearts and let God worry about the West. Indeed we can preach thankfulness to the good God at all times to everyone, the West included. This will be of greater benefit than many of the discussions that take place about less important matters, for it goes to the very heart of things. Indeed, my father-in-law had nothing ill to say about the Orthodox, but gave thanks to God for the faith of his 2 children who were Orthodox, and gave thanks to God for my priesthood. I give thanks to God for his triumphant death 2 years ago, and though I remember him in my prayers more often than daily, I miss him terribly. But when I stop and give thanks, I am aware of the chorus of agreement that surrounds me and in which he stands. Thanks be to the good God!
Not only that, but sometimes major or minor clergy encourage us to meditate on St. Silouaun’s words. For some of us, they are both applicable and relevant. They are also needed. Let us try not to judge one another’s spiritual journey, especially publicly. Its not profitable for anyone.
artisticmisfit, yes, you are right. I had a similar reaction recently when Fr. Stephen mentioned that the use of the word ‘nous’ was often just jargon and thought I might be using it that way. If ‘keep your mind in hell and despair not’ has real content for you that is wonderful.
Just as Father’s caution was not a comment of any kind on the legitmate use and understanding of ‘nous’ in one’s spiritual life, neither is my concern for the use and understanding of ‘keep your mind in hell….’ I was only asking for clarification from Fr. Stephen, nothing more. He is generous enough to share his greater understanding.
My background prior to the Church was one in which esoteria replaced genuine spiritual guidance. I saw many wonderful people spiritually disfigured by it. Unfortunately, the Church is not wholly free of such abuse. In any case, please forgive my offense.
I appreciate very much the comments by Fr. Stephen, Michael Bauman and artisticmisfit concerning St. Silouan’s recommendation to “keep your mind in hell and despair not”.
I will clarify further concerning my experience with this suggestion: My husband was “reading ahead” in the book of St. Silouan’s life when he mentioned that he had just read this passage. (I think we were reading it during our 2nd year of being Orthodox.) I was taken aback because when I think of “keep your mind in hell” it really is nowhere near what St. Silouan was referring to. I really couldn’t understand the words. So I immediately went to the book and read through until I got to that passage. By the time I was there I realized more of what St. Silouan was expressing, that it had been given to him by Christ.
When blogging, even on sites that are read by thoughtful people, mentioning some things “out of context” can really “throw” a reader. That is what I meant to say in my earlier post.
I am very grateful for this blog and for the comments. If today was the first day I heard of St. Silouan’s recommendation of where to keep the mind, I would “track it down” to be sure I understood what I was hearing — at least as much as I can understand. My first step would be to call my priest and ask him about it.
Margaret, I agree, and the only reason I felt comfortable speaking out at all as that I had discussed that statement with my clergy prior to this conversation, and even then I am not comfortable with sharing publicly what I discuss with my clergy. But since I have discussed such things privately with the blog owner, and informed my priest that I have corresponded with the blog owner, I felt I could take a risk. We have to be very careful what we say out here, or at least I do, which is another reason why I remain anonymous. Its not about me and my point of view, its about the saints and the fathers of the church.
Do not assume you are anonymous on the internet. Most people who aren’t technical experts vastly overestimate how anonymous they are. Even a non-technical person who has cruised enough related forums or is good at using search engines may be able to make a pretty good guess at your identity. OK, enough off topic stuff…
Only people whose blogs I posted on early in the beginning have any concrete evidence as to who I am, and that information is not publicly available. I doubt any of those people have it out for me. In any case, thank you for proving to me that wordpress is not safe either, anonymous.