…nothing can be accomplished. If laziness or depression is keeping us from a good beginning – or even another good beginning- then we should ask God for the grace simply to start. Then, with the action of grace within us, we can reap a great harvest!
“A certain brother asked an old man, “What shall I do about my negligence?” The old man said unto him, “If thou wilt root out this small plant, which is negligence, a great forest will come into being.”
The Paradise of the Fathers, #293, Vol. II, p. 65
I bet if everyone actually set out to do this, the world might just be a better place very quickly! As Christians, what St. Anthony discusses as a remedy to sin should be commonplace among us. It may seem crazy and extreme –but it shouldn’t!
“As a safeguard against sin let the following be observed.
Let us each one note and write down our actions and the impulses of our soul as though we were going to relate them to each other. And be assured that if we should be utterly
ashamed to have them known, we shall abstain from sin and harbour no base thoughts in our mind. For who wishes to be seen while sinning? or who will not rather lie after the commission of a sin, through the wish to escape notice? As then while we are looking at one another, we would not commit carnal sin, so if we record our thoughts as though about to tell them to one another, we shall the more easily keep ourselves free from vile thoughts through shame lest they should be known.”
St Anthony the Great, in his Life by St Athanasius
“If we do not hate those things which are blameworthy, we cannot smell the stench of their activity; and so long as we carry them in ourselves, we shall not be able to perceive their malodour. Therefore, until you cast away from yourself that which is unseemly, you will not comprehend the disgrace that entangles you, nor the shame that arises from it. But when you see your burden in others, understand the dishonour that covers you.
Withdraw from evil, and immediately you will comprehend its malodour. For if you do not withdraw, you will never learn it, nay rather, you will put on its stench like a beautiful fragrance, and you will reckon the nakedness of your shame to be a veil of glory. Blessed is the man who has receded from this darkness and who sees himself!”
St Isaac the Syrian, Homily 32, p. 152
By means of some earthly and carnal affection, by which a man in his natural will is bound, sin entices him, until it becomes to him a fetter and a chain and a heavy weight, sinking and stifling him in the world of wickedness, and not allowing him to come to the surface and get to God. Whatever a man has loved in the world, weighs down his mind, and holds it down, and will not let him come up. In this balance, with its bias to the scale of evil, all mankind hangs and is tested, Christians and all, whether dwelling in cities, or in mountains, or in monasteries, or in fields, or in deserts; because the natural will of man entices him to set his affection, say, on property, another on gold and silver, another on the wisdom of the eloquence of the world for the sake of the glory from men; another has loved power, another glory and honours among men, another wrath and anger—for yielding quickly to it is loving it—another unseasonable conversations, another
jealousy; . . . Whether it be a little thing of the world or a great that ties him, the man is kept down by it, and not allowed to rise. Whatever passion a man does not bravely war against, is an object of his affection; and it holds him fast, and weighs him down, and becomes to him a hindrance and a fetter, preventing his mind from going up to God and pleasing Him, and from serving Him only and thereby proving fit for the kingdom and obtaining eternal life.
Saint Macarius the Great, Fifty Spiritual Homilies,
Homily V, pp. 45‒6
“In the spiritual life we can do nothing worthy without repentance, but the Lord has much mercy on us because of our intentions. He who compels himself and holds on to repentance until the end, even if he sins is saved because he compelled himself, for the Lord promised this in the Gospel.” St. Mark the Ascetic
“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.” St. Nektarios of Aegina
“…but he that endureth to the end shall be saved.” Mt. 10:22
My friends, God knows our hearts. He knows when we truly, deep down mean to do well but cannot. I tell people all the time: ” If you can, then you are commanded to do so. If you cannot then God -who is no ‘black and white’ genie- knows your heart, your intent, and is merciful. But if you certainly can, but will not, then the judgement is on you.
Addicts struggle with addiction their whole lives, and most of us who are addicted to sin struggle with the same sins forever. We cannot let the tenacity of the sin get us down. The fact that we are struglling is a good thing. We learn greatly by failure, the ups and downs, and it makes us stronger if we let it. God is there in those times, giving us the grace to become stronger through our weaknesses. And so we should never look at our failures as the end, as though we were completely doomed because of them. They are our cross, and they are what make us Christians.
St. Mark the Ascetic of Sketis said: “Suppose that there are twelve shameful passions. Indulging in any one of them is equivalent to indulging in them all.
“Sin is a blazing fire. The less fuel you give it, the faster it dies down: the more you feed it, the more it bums.” (From the Philokalia, “On the Spiritual Law”)
We who are addicts to sin, when we feel that we have made some progress towards a Christ-like life, must be careful. For one simple passion or sin can catch the others which were drying up and withering away back on fire. And from there we tend to leap head-on into despair and indulgence in sin. Ask any addict how dangerous it can be for them to treat situational triggers lightly, or to “just have one”. POOF! Like a dry forest bed, the spark causes a massive, raging fire to devour us.
And so we must always stand before the Lord, beating our breasts in humility like the Publican “God be gracious! Lord, have mercy! Lord, increase my faith!”