If It Makes You Happy

Storefront Orthodoxy in Oak Ridge

In 1998, my family and I were received into the Orthodox Church. I had served as an Episcopal clergyman for 18 years prior to that. I left a large parish with a wonderful staff and tremendous programs. I took up the work of starting an Orthodox mission. Of course, such a life-change creates awkward moments for your friends, colleagues, and former parishioners. What do you say to someone who just chucked a career to start a mission in a warehouse? Perhaps the common expression, typically American, was, “I’m glad you’re doing what makes you happy.” It would have also been beyond awkward had I responded by telling the truth: “Actually, it makes me miserable.” And the difference between their thoughts and mine, their actions and mine, is all the difference in the world. It was a difference that was at the heart of my conversion and it separates Orthodoxy from the modern world.

The Scottish philosopher, Alasdair MacIntyre, dates the collapse of modern moral thought to the rise of choice and the decline of character as the basis of virtue. Without becoming too academic in that analysis, we can simply say that modern people tend to honor choice above everything else, and have almost no understanding of character. And, not strangely, they consistently use their freedom to choose people of bad character to govern them. They look for leaders whose rhetoric most closely resembles their own choices, not understanding that the world is formed within the depths of our being, in the molding and shaping of a virtuous soul. They do not understand that their ill-driven choices may actually be bad for them. Stated boldly, it is possible to say that modern people have become the kind of persons upon whom freedom is wasted.

And thus, the banal responses to my conversion. “Happy” is one of the acceptable choices in our society. “Successful” is another one. “Following your passion” has become the new catch-phrase for “happy.” To say to someone that you willingly and freely chose a path that you thought would be hard, possibly disastrous, and that made you miserable sounds like insanity to the modern mind. Why would anyone do such a thing?

My answer is that you do such a thing if you believe it is the truth and that choosing such a path sets your feet on the road to salvation. You do such a thing if you believe that other paths are the way of destruction and that, no matter how much pleasure they might bring, they are to be abandoned sooner rather than later.

Character is the word that answers the question, “What kind of person are you?” It is a good predictor of the things you might choose, indeed, it is almost the only reliable predictor of human behavior. The word “character” comes from the Greek (surprise) and means the image left behind in wax after the seal has been pressed on it. It is something that is formed and shaped. Virtue is a name given in classical thought to the habits of character that have been well-formed in a great soul. Bad character describes someone whose character has been shaped by passions and the vices.

You can trust a person with bad character – to act in his own self-interest. And if his character is truly bad, then you can trust that what he perceives as “self-interest” is relatively short-term and pleasure-centered. But you should not trust him with your money or your wife, much less your children.

Modern culture, as MacIntyre and others have observed, has abandoned the notion of virtue and replaced it with a false anthropology of freedom and choice. Such an anthropology of freedom and choice is false, because it fails to ask the simple question, “What kind of person is doing the choosing?”

This is the failure of modern democracies. Freedom and democracy alone guarantee nothing. The prior question must be, “What kind of people are doing the voting?” To be a Jew in a room full of Nazis who are free to choose is not good news. America’s founding fathers were closer to classical Christian civilization than we are. A number of them knew that democracy was never any safer than the character of the people it served. If the people become vicious (governed by vice), then the Republic will become a vicious state. However, their experiment in creating a new civilization failed to institutionalize the making of virtue. In time, the laissez faire approach to character has proven itself to be a failure.

The same approach has come to be adopted within modern Christianity. Faith is now seen as a choice to believe, made by free persons. The assumption is that, given sufficient and accurate information, people will choose well and rightly. A primary sacrament of this flawed theology is adult-only baptism. Infants are not able to choose and are therefore disqualified from Baptism. The presumption is that somehow, a person will become an adult and freely choose to follow the right way. No other civilization in history has made such a foolish gamble with their children.

Character and virtue are formed over years through various “practices.” Practices are a set of actions and behaviors and relationships engaged in for a common good. They are by nature not simply ideas to be studied, but things that must be done. The goods of a practice “can only be achieved by subordinating ourselves within the practice in our relationship to other practitioners” (AV191). This is a philosophical way of saying that character and virtue are acquired through apprenticeship. We learn them and acquire them in the same manner we would learn a trade.

Of course, a practice requires some knowledge of the good it wishes to acquire. And this is the role of tradition. Tradition is the living memory of the good that is to be desired. It is the memory of what it means to be a virtuous person.

All of this sounds like something out of a fantasy novel. Who in your life has taken you on as an apprentice in order to teach you virtue? And what kind of “practices” do you engage in within your life?

There are many practices. If you are in a profession, then you acquired it as a practice. But it may be in deep disarray in that its “good” is either not known, ill-defined, or rarely mentioned. Teaching is such a thing. But many teachers and the systems in which they work today no longer understand the nature of the good. What constitutes a well-taught high school graduate? Etc.

Sports and the military are two of the practices within our culture that still work. The military still knows how to train an effective killer (among other things). And sports know a great deal about what kind of character is required to win. Of course, both of the goods envisioned by those practices may not necessarily embody virtue.

The Christian life, as lived in the Church, is a practice or a collection of practices. The Church is, properly, a school of virtue. The practices that its people engage in should be productive of virtue. The Church should ask us not “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but “what kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?” And then set about forming and shaping that person (the character of Christ) within us.

Practices require a narrative, a story that makes sense of their actions. The gospel of Christ is written in the practices of the Church.

“…you are an epistle of Christ, ministered by us, written not with ink but by the Spirit of the living God, not on tablets of stone but on tablets of flesh, that is, of the heart. (2Co 3:3)

When the gospel becomes an expression of personal desire and happiness, it has been hijacked by a foreign narrative. What do the pleasures of this world have to do with the Cross of Christ? Christ did not die for our self-fulfillment. 

The gospel of Jesus Christ “is to die for.” Speaking to a group of Anglicans not long before my conversion, I was asked questions about the decision I had made and announced. Some were concerned for my “well-being.” The conversation turned around the question of “being happy.” Finally, I said to them, “You should live your life in such a way, that if the gospel of Jesus Christ were not true, then your life would make no sense.” I told them I felt deeply blessed that such an occasion and path had presented itself to me.

What epistle is being written in your heart? What does the world read there?


  1. Father,
    Having been away for some time and coming back to read these last few beautiful essays, I marvelled at the wisdom and perspicuity hidden in all of them – eternal insights conveyed contemporarily.

  2. I should add for readers that the “misery” of my conversion passed in time. I still miss the comraderie of a large parish and multi-member staff. Serving in a small parish with no staff in the American suburban model is simply lonely. But the “misery” I endured was ultimately all within my own mind (very internal). And like all things in God’s hands, it was ultimately salutary. Life is short. Do the right thing.

  3. Your post, father, truly resonated in my heart. Esp. the “misery” part. I am experiencing a similar situation and it does feel very difficult. Your words “the “misery” I endured was ultimately all within my own mind (very internal). And like all things in God’s hands, it was ultimately salutary. Life is short. Do the right thing.” seemed to be written precisely for me. May God bless you! You have offered reassurance at a very difficult time in my life.

  4. “Stated boldly, it is possible to say that modern people have become the kind of persons upon whom freedom is wasted.” Yup. This awful thought has crossed my mind lately.

  5. Thank you for this post, Father. I do think there’s value in the pursuit of happiness in the Aristotelian sense, where it isn’t just an arbitrary collection of preferences, but is interwoven with habits that are rightly ordered to produce virtue. But it’s true much of the time we don’t mean it that way.

    As a young teacher and more recently Peace Corps volunteer I’ve struggled a fair bit with trying to figure out what’s worth insisting on with a pervading sense of arbitrariness. The teacher comes up with a set of things that students should do, but isn’t supposed to use their own education as a solid model, since there’s a strong sense that it’s all about the modern methods, new theories. And anyway, it’s not feasible, I never took any classes like the ones I’m teaching. And then I had to try to insist upon the course that I knew I had largely made up to a number of teenagers. Or, in the case of Peace Corps, insist on it to people who had quite different traditions and life experiences I didn’t really understand. It was a mess.

  6. Irene,
    better than the ‘pursuit of happiness’, is the notion of the ‘guarding of joy’.

  7. Thank you once again for a compellingly truth full post.

    It resonates with much that has been on my mind of late, not least ‘the hard sayings’ of Jesus. The formation of the person is demanding labour. It is little surprise that in a society in which we are all (deceitfully) encouraged to be authors of our own lives, where people labour hard it is for the external goods, and thus find their empty lives too full for the demanding way of Life

  8. Chasing after happiness inevitably leads to increasing isolation and flight from engagement with the reality of our lives

  9. Irene,
    Aristotle is very much worth mentioning. MacIntyre is steeped in him. But, it is safe to say, that Aristotle’s understanding of happiness and modernity’s understanding are utterly contradictory. Modernity means “pleasure.” In fact, the modern world’s understanding of happiness would have been in Aristotle’s list of vices.

  10. The goal of our life is to “rest in hope.” We can judge nothing from within this life when it comes to goals, etc. Goals are eschatological, belonging to the Last Things. When I die, by God’s grace, I pray that my life will truly only make sense from within the narrative of the Kingdom of God. And that apart from that, it will have been absurd. If that is so, then I will “lay me down in hope,” having cast my final care upon God, who alone can justify my existence. This, is the last analysis, is the meaning of faith.

  11. Interestingly I’m reading Atul Gawande’s book, ‘Being Mortal’ What comes to me is how at the last, people start to invest heavily in the difficult work of living

  12. “If it makes you happy” seems to be the slogan of those with disdain for doctrine. They do not care that you have affirmed a higher sense of Truth or gained a larger awareness of Truth. They more care that you are happy and prefer you not to call them out for their doctrinal discrepancies since they are happy too with that.

  13. Father, thank you for this. After a long journey toward the Orthodox Church, I finally became a catechumen earlier this year (together with my husband and child). As I’ve been “breaking the news” to people and trying to explain it, I’ve been hearing the exact same reactions that you mention — “whatever makes you happy”.

    Of course, it isn’t making me happy … not in the traditional sense. The process is unlike anything else I’ve experienced, full of intense highs and lows, awkwardness, isolation, regrets over old mistakes, and probably too much introspection. There have been many tears.

    One thing I struggle with is the fact that I did “choose” Orthodoxy, after visiting many other churches first. I was driven by the painful absence of God in my life, and my egocentric way of life was driving me crazy. I guess I was looking for a way to be “happier”, or at least, less despondent. It’s so frustrating that even in the midst of a sincere spiritual effort, the roots of consumer culture are still there. I assessed all the options and made a choice that seemed like the best fit “for me”. I’m beginning to see it differently now, not as one option among many but as the only one … but am I deciding that too? I can really think myself into a corner on this one.

  14. So – can I be miserable and still be doing God’s will ? I’ve always been miserable – I’ve failed in most I’ve done, have never really had a relationship, never experienced love, no good friends; The years roll on, I have no hope here – for love, understanding, a meaningful job etc (but if it happens great!) Of course I’ve also been astonishingly blessed to be brought to the Faith.

    I go to church, visit monasteries, say the Jesus Prayer… it all feels futile, but I just trust it’s doing something. I speculate that the ‘old man’ is being killed off, my misery is likely tied to my tryranical egoism of not getting what I want, and naturally that’s painful.

    Still, everyone talks about joy and peace; is my persistent unhappiness a sign that something is wrong ? I do everything I know, I’m willing to do absolutly anything to feel His love, and I beg daily in my prayers for it….Thank you.

  15. Catherine,
    Don’t overthink it. We “choose” and then see that it was far more than that. When I was first married I didn’t like to be told that “God chose my wife, etc.” It felt like it really impinged on my freedom. I was young and foolish. Now, after 40 years of marriage, I realize that of course God arranged it and that I couldn’t possibly have chosen so well.

  16. Jonathan,
    I’d have to know a lot more to comment wisely. But, misery is something that comes and goes, and be driven by many things. It sounds like your lack of a lot of desirable things makes you miserable. Of course, if you’re willing to be happy without them, then the misery can dissipate.

    And that is part of the point. The consuming lifestyle that we’re nurtured in is a false model of the world. Sometimes the magic works and sometimes it doesn’t…simply because it does not actually describe the world very well. Relationships, jobs, friends, etc. are not givens in this life. Friends are more important than jobs. Friends are definitely more important than sex.

    I think the topic of shame is something to explore. The failures we endure are often experienced as shame in our culture and it can be toxic.

  17. After describing the idols men make that cannot see or hear or speak among other things, though they have eyes and ears and mouths, the writer of Psalm 115 observes, “Those who make them will become like them, everyone who trusts in them.”

    More recently, Ralph Waldo Emerson observed, “It behooves us to be careful what we worship, for what we are worshipping we are becoming.” And now, somewhat more directly, “We become like the gods we worship.”

    The old English was “worth-ship”, something that has worth or value and the idea from Hebrew is someone or something before which one falls down or surrenders.

    I just noticed that at the bottom right of my PC screen there’s a little arrow. I don’t pay it much attention, but when I paused the cursor on it, it said “show hidden icons”. I suddenly realized that it isn’t always the big and obvious things that cause me trouble, but the hidden icons, the things in which I have invested value inappropriately. The people whose character I would emulate – actors (not just the actors themselves, but the roles they play), singers, poets, athletes, etc. and the things I use to tell me who I am and what reality is. These are the foundations of what used to be my life.

    After urging us to present our bodies to God as living and holy sacrifices, St. Paul writes, “and do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewing of your minds that you may prove what the will of God is, that which is good and acceptable and perfect.” I’m learning that transformation isn’t a walk in the park.

    There is another “mold” the world around me desires to press me into, a different character than you describe, Fr. Stephen. Sometimes the fight to resist is obvious, but other times as I discovered above, it’s way behind the scenes.

    Thank-you, Fr. Stephen for faithfully calling my attention to what is so often “behind the scenes”.

  18. Jonathan,
    I remember reading a few years back of Mother Teresa’s terrible unhappiness the last half of her life. She describes this in some of her correspondence. She could not feel God’s presence and was often troubled in her spirit. And yet she was doing exactly the work Christ calls us to in Matthew 25…though for most of us certainly not on that scale. I’m not a psychologist nor a counselor and certainly do not claim to know why she or you suffer as you do. The cross Christ calls each of us to bear is different for each one of us. I’ll pray for you brother.

  19. Jonathan,
    Take heart! Your speculation about the killing of the old self is spot on I think…
    Ascesis, in a way, is the cultivating, training, and crying out to God that we are “willing to be happy without those” desirable things (whatever these are, the lack of which make us miserable). A great part of the ascesis of the Jesus Prayer (which, contrary to our mind’s –or rather the adversary’s mind- insinuation, is as far from futile as possible), is the wilful ignoring of our thoughts and miseries. (Of our ‘old self’ as you put it). Paying even the slightest heed to our misery and trying to ‘get to the bottom of it’ through our thoughts simply inflates it and gives it further foundations (despite it being just a passing cloud), while believing in the joy that is in ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’ at the expense of our attention to our own (passing) cloud of misery, and remaining fully vigilant in that way reveals to us the Way to dissipate all misery.
    May we believe in Him and not desire other things, not even divine visitations and transformations, may our craving be not for the gifts of the Saviour but for the Saviour Himself, and may we live and struggle with genuine joy, even in the exasperating darkness of God’s providential hiddenness, in the awareness of our own unworthiness, and the certitude that the Saviour bequeaths His worth to those aware of their unworthiness and, remaining in this healthy vision, believe that He is the only Joy.
    This (healthy) ‘vision’ of our unworthiness, and not anything else, is what our union to God, and therefore the further cementing of our joy, is contingent upon.

  20. Thanks for the stimulating post. Among your observations, you note, concerning the founders of the American Republic, that “their experiment in creating a new civilization failed to institutionalize the making of virtue. In time, the laissez faire approach to character has proven itself to be a failure. ” Might we not also add that the enterprise itself was fundamentally undermined, as it was rooted in a history of freedom of religion/conscience, and thus had already preferred choice over character?

  21. These messages (your essays, Fr. S., all the comments, everything here) mean so much to me. What a blessing! A community that is not limited by place, or even by time. And to think I came upon it “by accident” – – as if.

  22. “By God’s grace, I pray that my life will truly only make sense from within the narrative of the Kingdom of God. And that apart from that, it will have been absurd.”

    This would be truly awesome to see upon a tombstone. Perfect quote.

  23. “. . . it is safe to say, that Aristotle’s understanding of happiness and modernity’s understanding are utterly contradictory.”

    I think it is also worth saying that the phrase “pursuit of happiness” in the Declaration of Independence refers to something far closer to Aristotle’s conception of happiness than the one that has arisen out of our consumer culture. And, as opposed to Cameron above, I do not believe that the failure to institutionalize the making of virtue is a result of the political principles exercised at the founding of the United States. There were plenty of institutions dedicated to the definition of and inculcation of virtue from the time of the Revolution through the 19th Century, and into the 20th. The limited nature of the federal government, particularly as it existed before the 20th Century, should not blind us to the variety of institutions (including local and state governments, universities, seminaries, etc.) that undertook to shape the character of the American citizen.

    Take a couple of counter-examples. I do not see anything in the institutions of historically Orthodox countries (Russia and Greece, for example) that persuades me that their institutions created virtue any more efficaciously than those of America or Britain.

  24. Jonathan,

    Thanks for your comment. I agree with Fr. Stephen and Dino. I believe the secret answer to misery is that we’re hoping for something we don’t have and the cure is often to accept life without it. Just some examples:

    1. I dearly wanted to get married since I was probably 7 years old. It didn’t happen until I was 29. One day I finally gave up because I’d finally run out of options. There was absolutely no hope on the horizon. That day I knelt down and told God I was giving up my will on the matter. Whether I was to be married or not was in His hands; what I wanted most was to do His will. Within a week my wife appeared out of nowhere. We were planning the wedding 3 weeks later. That was 18 years ago this week. Every year I look back and become more and more aware of how God picked her out for me, much better than I could have done.

    2. I live on an acreage with a shallow well. After 2 years the well temporarily ran dry. I got water hauled in but then started panicking about what to do. Digging a deep well was a lot of money but how could I live with the constant threat of running out? Lots of research done but no answers in sight.

    Years passed when it suddenly dawned on me one day: money spent for getting water hauled was just a utility bill. Everyone has to pay those. Instead of seeing myself in an emergency state I realized that it was rather reversed. Most of the time I’m blessed with free water; if once in awhile I have to pay for it, why should this alarm me? Problem solved without any changes to my water supply system.


    The wife, the job, the good friends: these are all desires that often come from our own will. God is good and He does answer our prayers, but we must first let go of our own will and seek to serve Him. Only He knows our true needs and how best to fulfill them.

  25. EPG
    Yes, the Founding Fathers took some things for granted, though they restricted the franchise rather strongly to preserve the emphasis on character. That was undone.

    I think you have to look with different measuring sticks when you ask these questions of institutions in other times and places. All institutions instill character. But what “kind” of character? Britain’s Upper Class comes to mind. They had an extremely clear idea of what that character should be and bent everything towards it. They, of course, cared too little for everyone else.

    The Prussians managed amazingly to instill a character that they desired. One we hope has disappeared from the face of the earth.

    Catholic Europe, Catholic England, Orthodox Russia, what did virtue look like there? I think it probably exceeded what we see today in many ways. It was the historical legacy upon which the Enlightenment built. I would suggest that we emptied that bank account sometime in the 20th century and are writing blank checks today that no one can cash.

    Very little of those classical structures and institutions remain today – anywhere. Russia is actually giving very serious thought to these questions, both as Church and State. It will be interesting to see how they do if America doesn’t try to destroy them first.

    China and Japan had very important historical institutions to do this.

  26. If I may demur slightly with regard to the British upper class, with whom I have had considerable encounter over the years, there was a significant thread of Responsibility built into Character formation for many and I saw this directly and indirectly.

    My grandmother grew up in a small hamlet in the North of England, the daughter of a farmer. She told me that whenever anyone in the village fell sick, the Lady of the Manor would be at their door with a basket of fresh fruit and vegetables, according to the season. Yes, they sat at the front of the church and their ‘social inferiors’ according to rank behind them, but care for the weak and poor was part of their being.

    In later years I saw this more closely. As a parish priest in another Northern village, I saw how the Lord and Lady of the manor paid close attention to the well being of their tenants.

    What has happened now is the collapse of that character, which Father Stephen you so acutely map out, and in large part it has been to do with an explosion in wealth. Whilst courting my wife, I worked for two summers for my father in law. We erected marquees for social functions for the well to do. I clearly remember one day working on a marquee for the man who had been Winston Churchill’s doctor. He must have been ninety if he was a day and lived in a ‘stately’ home. The day was very very hot, and as usual putting up the marquee had not been kind to the manicured lawns, yet there was never a word of complaint. Rather, at three in the afternoon, he tottered out from the house to enquire if we’d like some cold drinks. About twenty minutes later he came back bearing a huge tray of drink for us all.
    I contrast that ‘upper class’ with the new upper class, those who’d made money recently, where we were treated like dirt. Everything was a matter for complaint and no regard was paid to our welfare.

    Yes indeed the Upoer Classes could be cruel and heartless, but it was in some regards a denial of their formation. The absence of character formation in the new ‘upper classes’ built entirely on money, is far more pernicious, I humbly suggest.

  27. I feel outgunned in all of this, but I love the conversation.
    I just have Sheryl Crow running through my mind,

    “If it makes you happy
    It can’t be that bad
    If it makes you happy
    Then why the h*** are you so sad?”

    [Sheryl Crow – If It Makes You Happy]

    Thanks, Fr. Stephen, and others. I am a zealous reader of all of these AF blogs.

  28. Jonathan,
    If I may add a word for you:
    Print out what Father, Dino and Drewster said, read it every day for a month (or as long as it takes), pray the Jesus Prayer every day during that time and you will experience the miracles they promise you, that God cannot wait to give you…

    You are standing before the door and Christ is waiting for you on the other side… Don’t stop knocking….

  29. Eric, thanks for adding that nuance to the question of the character of the rich and your observations of the strong sense of responsibility for others on the part of long-established gentry. One can see the remnant of the strong Christian ethic that is the inheritance of Britain’s gentry in this sort of pattern (though there are, of course, exceptions to every rule).

  30. Jonathan,

    I don’t know you at all. So please excuse me (and my poor English) if I give you a wrong advice but these things do help me. I am not trying to give your a sermon. It’s more like a summery for myself because I tend to forget these points that prevent my life from being miserable:

    1. Sacraments of the Church (the Holy Communion and Confession).

    2. Prayer. It’s not just a prayer but the right prayer: with attention, humility, reverence, and repentance. The Holy Fathers say that prayer without attention, is self-delusion. So, we always have to be present in the words of our prayer, keeping our heart and mind in them. Always stand in the presence of God and never forget Who you are praying to.

    a) Morning and evening prayers. St. Ambrose of Optina says, “If you do not feel like praying, you have to force yourself. The Holy Fathers say that prayer with force is higher than prayer unforced. You do not want to, but force yourself. The Kingdom of Heaven is taken by force” (Matt. 11:12).

    The main point is not just to read the prayer book but to PRAY. You have to make the prayers yours. They develop the right “settings” of humility and repentance that help us in our union with the Lord. Again – do not read the prayers like a poem or a mantra but pray. A prayer without attention, humility, reverence, and repentance is a vain repetition.

    St. Theophan the Recluse: “Do not rush one prayer after another but say them with orderly deliberation, as one addressing a great person for a favor. Do not just pay attention to the words, but rather let the mind be in the heart, standing before the Lord in full awareness of His presence, in full consciousness of His greatness and grace and justice.”

    St. John of Kronstadt: “Do not spare yourself from heartfelt prayer even when you have spent the whole day in hard work. Do not indulge in laziness when you pray; tell God everything that is in your heart. If you allow yourself time to pray with diligence, you will not fall asleep before you have wept over your sins. Believe that, if for the sake of bodily rest you pray hurriedly, you will lose the tranquility of both body and soul. By what labor, sweat and tears is our closeness to God achieved!”

    b) The Jesus prayer. (It must be with attention, humility, reverence, and repentance as well. We are far away from the spiritual condition of the main character from “The Way of a Pilgrim”. So for us, it’s not advisable to repeat his practices because they can lead us into self-delusion).

    c) Short prayers. St. John Chrysostom says, “Make sure that you do not limit your prayer merely to a particular part of the day. Turn to prayer at anytime.”

    Say short prayers throughout the day, before and after meal, before driving, meeting or starting something new. (Lord, have mercy! Glory be to God! Lord, bless and keep me! Thank you Lord, etc). Also try to bless people in need when you see them. In your heart, ask the Lord to bless the poor when you see them, the kids when you are passing a school, the sick when you are passing a hospital). When you hear something negative about a person, pray, “Save him, Lord, and have mercy on me, a sinner.”

    3. Attend the church services as often as possible. A prayer in the church is a higher prayer than a home prayer. You are not praying alone. You are praying together with other brothers and sisters, angels and saints, who stand in the presence of the Lord. When you receive the Sacraments, you get closer to the Lord. You are joining His Body. That’s our aim. Our goal is communion with God. As Christians, we should not seek for earthly or heavenly rewards (spiritual gifts, or better jobs/cars/friends, etc). They are nothing compared to our goal. We need Christ Himself. Ask the Lord to cleanse you from all your sins and impurity so that you can have communion with Him.

    4. Read the Gospels every day. At least a chapter a day. Just do it! Even if you know the whole Bible by heart.

    5. Read the Church Fathers and lives of saints. Learn from them. For example, if you want to learn how to pray, read St Ignatius Brianchaninov’s books. He is a great teacher on the Jesus prayer and spiritual life in general.

    After reading the life St Spyridon of Trimythous, I was admired by his humility. St Spyridon dressed so simply that once, when he was invited by the Emperor to the imperial court, a guard took him for a beggar and slapped him, asking how St Spyridon could prove that he was a bishop. The Saint just turned the other cheek. As bishop, St Spyridon could excommunicate the guard, but he humbled himself and proved that he was a true bishop and true Christian. So, I often ask myself the same question: “How can I prove that I am a Christian?” Unfortunately, I have not answered this question yet. The Holy Bible, cross, prayers, and attending the church are not the signs of my Christianity. These outward things can’t prove that Christ lives in me. Looking at my life, I have to admit that I am far away from being a Christian.

    6. Walk in the presence of God. Lift your mind and heart to God, grow the constant awareness and remembrance of God’s existence, His power and His love. Never imagine anything. Never visualize anything. Just feel His presence at every moment, realize how close He is to you right now, and stand in His presence. Trust Him. Do everything for His glory. Accept His will. Put all things in God’s hands. If you put all things in God’s hands, you will see God’s hands in all things.

    7. Keep the Lord’s commandments of the Gospels (not just the 10 commandments of the OT) and fight your passions. This is one of the most difficult things. I am still struggling with my old man, judging other people, getting angry, jealous, and proud. But that’s our spiritual warfare. We fall and get up, fall and get up. The main thing is not to stay on the floor after every fall but always get up. When you understand how hard to keep the Lord’s commandments and when you see your own weaknesses, then you realize what you are. That’s where your humility and repentance start to grow. And from that, you can see how little you can help yourself and how much you need the Lord. We can’t attain solvation by our own strength. That’s why we need Him so much.

    I am sorry if I said something wrong.

    Glory be to God for all things!

    PS Some good links:

    St. Theophan the Recluse On Prayer.


    The Basics of Spiritual Life, Based on the Writings of St. Ignatius(Brianchaninov).


    The Goal of Earthly Life: Prayer


  31. “The Church should ask us not “what do you want to be when you grow up?” but “what kind of person do you want to be when you grow up?” And then set about forming and shaping that person (the character of Christ) within us.”

    I have a 5 year old son who was taking part in his pre-school graduation program. The kids were instructed to individually step up to the microphone and before the gathered crowd introduce themselves and then say what they want to be when they grow up. Many kids said police officers and football players and the such. My son after announcing his name stated “When I grow up I want to be a great person!” All the moms immediately let out a collective “Awwwww!” My wife asked our son later what he meant by “a great person” and he thought for a moment then responded, “full of love”. May God make it so!

  32. Didn’t St Augustine say, “Our souls are restless until they rest in You”? This would be true happiness,
    which would include the happiness associated with a virtuous life.

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