My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.
ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN ASCETICISM
ASCETICISM is an integral part of the Orthodox Christian spiritual life. Orthodox Christian believers have different ascetical practices such as FASTING, VIGILS, MORNING and EVENING prayers, charity (almsgiving), obedience to a pneumatikos (spiritual) Father Confessor, frequent participation in the Mysterion of Repentance/Confession, controlling of wicked thoughts (logismous), and restricting and restraining the PASSIONS. Prayerfully, this spiritual discipline will lead to greater and deeper communion with our Savior Jesus Christ.
In this very secular society, living an authentic Christian life is surmountable and challenging for the ordinary believer. It is possible that the average Orthodox Christian is not equipped with the necessary weaponry to confront and to war against the forces of evil. The Christian must always be ready for combat through alertness, diligent prayer, and watchfulness and always in submission to God the Holy Spirit. No one should ever take this for granted and fall into slumber.
We speak constantly of the unseen spiritual warfare and the invisible enemy of mankind, the devil. How can we not be constantly vigilant and ready for combat? We are at war! Look what is taking place, not only in the world, but also within and among those who claim to be Christians. Just as in the first three hundred years of Christianity, the Church continues to be persecuted by evil forces, heresies, and false prophets. Since all the Christians are united as one, the room is left for the evil one to divide and conquer, to dismantle and destroy, to create confusion to the point that the average Christian finds it difficult to discern right from wrong, Orthodoxy from heresy.
We find security, safety, and refuge ONLY within the Holy Orthodox Church. You will not find any kind of consistency, continuity, and stability anywhere else. You will NOT find the authentic Gospel of our Lord and Savior Jesus Christ any place other than the One, Holy, Catholic, and Apostolic Church. God the Holy Trinity established only ONE Church! There is ONLY One Bridegroom, Jesus Christ! However, the question is: are we "ready" to "go in with Him to the wedding" before the door is shut? Will you be among those, the foolish virgins in the Gospel who arrive late and cried out, "Lord, Lord, open to us!" "But he answered and said, ‘Assuredly, I say to you, I DO NOT KNOW YOU." (Matthew 25:1-12). And His final admonition, "WATCH therefore, FOR YOU KNOW NEITHER THE DAY NOR THE HOUR IN WHICH THE Son of Man IS COMING." (Matt. 25:13).
ASCETICISM prepares the believer for what is coming. The Christian needs to be ready and willing "to fight the good fight." What is "fight the good fight?" This is how Saint Paul explains it to Saint Timothy the holy Apostle: "Fight the good fight OF FAITH, lay hold on eternal life, to which you were also called and have confessed THE GOOD CONFESSION in the presence of many witnesses." And furthermore, "I urge you in the sight of God Who GIVES LIFE to all things, and before Christ Jesus Who witnessed the good confession before Pontius Pilate, that you keep THE COMMANDMENTS WITHOUT SPOT, BLAMELESS UNTIL OUR LORD JESUS CHRIST’S APPEARANCE which will manifest in His OWN TIME, He Who is the Blessed and ONLY Potentate, the King of kings and Lord of lords, Who alone has IMMORTALITY, dwelling in unapproachable Light, Whom NO MAN has seen or CAN SEE, to Whom BE HONOR AND EVERLASTING POWER. AMEN" (1 Timothy 6: 12-16).
There are those today who make every effort to dilute or water-down Christianity to the point that this kind of "Christianity" is NOT recognized even by Our Lord Jesus Christ, the Founder, and Head of the Church. There is this warning by Saint Paul, "Command those who are rich in this present age not to be haughty, nor to trust in uncertain riches but IN THE LIVING GOD, Who gives us richly all things to enjoy. Let them do good, that they be RICH IN GOOD WORKS, READY TO GIVE, WILLING TO SHARE, storing up for themselves A GOOD FOUNDATION FOR THE TIME TO COME THAT THEY MAY LAY HOLD ON ETERNAL LIFE" (1 Timothy 6:17-19).
Contemporary world citizens stand in contrast to the self-restraint, ascetic Christian life. Our secular and Gentile type of life, has become one very materialistic and hedonistic world. Its only aim is to possess wealth and sensual pleasure. It seems that that is its only goal and purpose. Humanity’s goal has become the pursuit of and devotion to pleasure and the senses. This attitude, however, is contrary to the life in Christ, guiding us through the "narrow gate" and eternal life.
As Orthodox Christians, we turn to the Holy Fathers of the Church for guidance and clarity. They, the Holy Fathers, teach us that asceticism is not a negative force,but rather, a positive one.It is therapeutic if strengthens us against the spiritual illness which threatens our very core. As all of you know that the Holy Church is a hospital, a place of healing and recovery. We are there to be cured and be restored from illness of soul and body. But Who is our Doctor? Christ, the Physician of our souls and bodies! His Eminence Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos reminds us that "the True Church’s existence is demonstrated by its success in curing man."
According to Dimitru Staniloae, "Orthodox spirituality aims at the perfection of the faithful in Christ. This perfection is rather a mystical union with God through participation in His Divine-human life, and Christian perfection requiring a whole series of efforts until it is attained." Furthermore, "this is how solutions are understood in the tradition of the Orthodox Church – not merely moral or ethical terms – but as the attainment of Christ-like perfection. This is the purpose of our human existence to become by Divine grace what Christ is by nature."
We Orthodox Christian believe that salvation or theosis (deification), as taught by the Holy Fathers, is union with God. Saint Paul in 1 Corinthians 6:17 states, "But he who is joined to the Lord is one spirit with Him." We strive, by the grace of the Holy Spirit, to acquire union with God and to maintain it throughout our lives both here and in heaven.
It is perfectly clear that asceticism is the practice of self-denial, control of one’s passions, and base impulses and has, as its objective, the Kingdom of God. Ascesis takes place only within the Church and it requires a consistent and deliberate regimen of prayer, fasting and, most of all, true repentance. Continue uninterrupted this spiritual discipline if you wish to be spiritually fruitful and to attain your target.
I recall, as a young athlete, how hard I had to train, both in high school and college, for the various sports in which I participated. It required discipline, exercise, and serious training. A coach or trainer advised, guided, and encouraged the athlete. It took a real commitment from everyone to make sure that each teammate acted as one. This too is called ascesis. The ‘spiritual coach’ is your father confessor. Every Orthodox Christian needs a father confessor, a spiritual guide, to advise him, to train him, to support him spiritually, to be there for him when he falls, to pray for his forgiveness and salvation. No one can succeed on his own. The penitent and the father confessor has a unique and special relationship and no one should interfere. It is a loving relationship founded on trust and must be respected by all.
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostom
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With love in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry0
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George