“THERE IS STRUGGLING AND TOIL AT FIRST.”

My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,

Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.

‘THERE IS STRUGGLING AND TOIL AT FIRST."

"There is struggling and toil at first," teaches Mother Syncletike. Furthermore, Mother Syncletike says, "for all those advancing toward God, but afterward, my children, inexpressible joy. Indeed, just as those seeking to light a fire at first are engulfed in smoke and teary-eyed, thus they obtain what they seek. As I said, "Our God is a consuming fire" (Hebrews 12:29). So we ought to kindle the Divine Fire in our hearts with tears and toil."

Saint Syncletike taught all her spiritual children to "constantly clean out the soul. Smoke out the poison and vermin of sinful thoughts with the divine incense of prayer." Even when a disciple came to the Mother very upset, asking: "What if you realize you yourself have done evil? Saint Syncletiki would say, "Remember, if any time you fall into sin, you say with humility, please forgive me, it will be forgiven you."

Amma (Mother) Theodora, another Desert Mother of our Church, offered a simple story:

Once there was a true seeker of God who came to Amma frustrated with daily temptation in life. Mother Theodora advised them to do the following, "Try this," she said, "Turn and face your temptations–just talk to them just as if they were demons." "Yes," the woman cried out, and she turned and said, "I can’t fast enough to get rid of you." And they answered her: "We do not eat or drink." And she said: "What if I stay up all night and pray the Vigil?" And they answered her: "We do not sleep." And she cried out: "What power than sends you away?" And her demons answered: "Nothing can overcome us, but only humility."

"God, beholding our toils, despite an often unwilling heart, bestows upon His struggler true prayer of the Spirit, true charity, meekness, kindness, and in short, the fruits of the Holy Spirit. The athlete of virtue must continually expect God’s mercy without any doubtful faith."

The spiritual warfare before the Lord Christ is twofold: inward and outward. The inward struggle takes place on the field of the heart, against the whispering and suggestions of the evil spirits. Saint Paul makes this abundantly clear when he says, "For we wrestle not against flesh and blood, but against principalities, against powers, against the rulers of the darkness of this world, against spiritual wickedness in high places" (Ephesians 6:12).

Speaking on love, Saint Synclitike said: "My children, all of us know how to be saved, however, due to our negligence we lose our salvation. First, we must preserve what was revealed by the grace of God. Thou shall love the Lord thy God with All thy soul, and thy neighbor as thyself" (Saint Luke 10:27). These two commandments are the summit of the law and upon them rests all the fullness of grace. These words are few but great and beneficial to the soul which hangs on these two commandments. According to the testimony of Saint Paul, "the end of the commandment is love" (1 Timothy 1:5). Whatever useful words have been spoken, according to the grace of the Holy Spirit they commence with love and they conclude with love. Whereupon, salvation is this two-fold love. I must, however, add what each of us should know. We must always desire to possess love which is the greatest virtue of all."

On poverty and riches, Saint Synclitike states: "One of the nuns asked the righteous woman if poverty was the perfect good. She answered, "There are many things that are good for the strong and the brave. Those that endure poverty shall undergo bodily suffering, yet the soul is at leisure. Similarly, when beautiful and new dresses are trodden underfoot and rent, they may later be used to clean and brighten objects. In like manner, a stouthearted soul, when it is in straits and afflictions with voluntary poverty, will be rendered stronger and more steadfast.

On the other hand, for those that are weak-minded and easily disheartened, they only become more feeble and faltering. She who is discomfited by a slight privation will not bear the good that comes from penury (poverty). This may be compared to torn and old dresses which cannot withstand washing, for they will shred and perish. Now the end of the tattered garment and the durable garment is not the same, as the end is not the same for the vacillating soul and the faithful soul. The durable fabric may be used to clean and restore objects, but the tattered fabric will shred. Hence, poverty is a precious treasure for the courageous soul. Poverty may be used as a bit and bridle to curb one form of sinning. Those who wish to avoid sin must first exert themselves in fasting, in lying on the ground, and in other hardships of the body. After this, they can gain through practice, cast away their money, and come to regret this action. This is because riches are the components of a life of rest and ease. Thus, she who does not take the proper prerequisites will be like one who squanders her goods without careful deliberation, only to repent of her rashness.

Good, therefore, is poverty for them that labor in the life of austerity; they will easily take possession of these good things. These people cast off all that is superfluous and place their mind and all their hope solely on God, chanting the words of the Psalm, "The eyes of all look to Thee with hope, and Thou gavest them their food in due season" (Psalm 144:16).

When an Orthodox Christian, man or woman, is seeking guidance or inspiration you only have to turn to our Saints, to our Desert Dwellers, men and women, the righteous ones and holy ones of God. The best way to explain it is this way: imagine you inherited a chest but you have no idea what is in it. You are happy and even appreciative of inheriting this chest but you never open it to see what is in it for many years. It is simply put away in a closet or basement and almost forgotten. Until one day out of curiosity, you open it and what do you see but a great fortune. Fortune that you could have used for a better future. The Holy Tradition of our Church is our treasure chest and in it, there is everything that one needs to acquire grace and to inherit the Kingdom of God, in other words, salvation. The precious stones found inside this spiritual treasure chest are the virtuous works of the Holy Fathers, the Holy Mothers, their sacred works, their virtuous lives, and wisdom which are more valuable than rubies, diamonds, amethysts, gold, silver, etc. It is up to every Orthodox Christian individually to turn to our Holy Orthodox Tradition and take what he/she needs and use it and share it with others. However, we all have the serious responsibility of protecting this Sacred Treasure and not permitting anyone of stealing it, squandering it, or abusing it.

"A treasure is secure as long as it remains hidden. Yet, once it is discovered and laid open publicly, it is plundered. It is the same with virtue. It is secure as long as it is undisclosed but if rashly exposed, it often evaporates like smoke. As the wax melts before the fire, so PRAISE WEAKENS THE PITCH OF THE SOUL, WHEREAS, REPROACH, AND MALTREATMENT STRENGTHEN THE SOUL AND ENGENDER GREATER VIRTUE. Thus saith the Lord: "Rejoice and be glad when they revile and persecute you, and say all kinds of evil against you falsely for My name’s sake" (St. Matthew 5:11-12).

Every human soul is priceless in the eyes of our Heavenly Father. Let us turn to our God and Savior Jesus Christ and listen to what He has to say about the human soul. "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (St. Matthew 16:25-26). Saint Theophylact interprets this verse in this way: "Let us suppose, He says, that you have gained the whole world: what profit is it if your body prospers while your soul suffers ill? That would be as if the lady of the house dressed in tattered rags, while her maidservants were gorgeously arrayed. For in the age to come a man can give nothing in exchange for his soul. Here one can give tears, sighs, and alms, but there, nothing. For it is a Judge Who takes no bribes that will receive us, and He judges each one according to his deeds. He is also awesome and dreadful and comes in His Glory with His Angels, not in lowly form."

It must be understood by all that our great Adversary the Devil pursues us to steal and possess our immortal soul. If he wins and takes our soul voluntarily or involuntarily, then we are spiritually doomed. The evil one is cunning and never tires and is never discouraged. If he cannot convince through trickery, then he will place all kinds of snares for us to be captured in, and if that fails he will use our own weaknesses and/or our passions to capture us. We must be constantly alert and vigilant and remain constant in our prayers. He has no power to force any one of us to do his bidding, however, he will use our pride, our weak faith, our greed, our passions, i.e., lust, avarice, vanity, greed, gluttony, envy, sloth, and anger. He is the arch-liar and arch-deceiver but when it comes to evil and cunning no human being is his match. We must protect our immortal soul with all our might for it is a matter of life and death, the death of our soul, and the loss of eternal salvation. The evil one reminds me of a mosquito. The mosquito, usually the female mosquito will bite and suck blood from its victim. It can and does transmits diseases like malaria and other illnesses. It is responsible for thousands upon thousands of human deaths every year throughout the world. This dangerous insect uses a cunning method to sting a person or animal. Its stinger contains a fluid that when it lands on its victim, first anesthetizes the area which it will penetrate, and then sucks the blood so that by the time the person or animal realizes what is happening it’s too late. The mosquito has what it wants and at the same time, it has infused its victim with the deadly virus. That is how the devil also works against us. Evil will use sin, (our own wicked passions) against us to gain access to our souls with the intent to infect with the deadly virus known as sin and corrupt them with evil. However, by the time we realize it’s all over and our souls have been compromised and destroyed. You must always know that. Whenever you feel tempted by evil or evil thoughts, you only need to make the sign of the Cross and say "get thee behind me Satan," and any evil spirits will retreat. There is great and divine power in the Sign of the Cross of Christ but it must be done with profound faith and conviction.

______________

"Glory Be To GOD
For
All Things!"

– Saint John Chrysostomos

+ + +

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+ Father George

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