…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
“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
“An irritable spiritual state stems, firstly, from self-love which wants nothing to be done apart from our desire and view of things and, secondly, from unbelief, since we feel that the fulfilling of the Divine commandments will not bring us any benefit in this particular situation.”
St. Ambrose of Optina
This is a spiritual example of what every single person on earth has likely had to endure: the complainer whom nothing can convince. No logic, no reason, no faith can convince the one who is complaining. How often have we done it ourselves? I know I have. When it comes down to it, we have to admit -though it stings- that we are just being selfish babies, and want what we want. Sometimes it has to be pried out of us, and we may fight to admit it, but it is true.
“They who truly love God, are engaged to His service, neither by the consideration of the
Kingdom, as an object of profit or gain, nor by that of the punishment which awaits all sinners, but they love Him for Himself alone, and as their Master; being sensible that it is due, in the order of things, that servants should render themselves pleasing to their Master and Creator. And such persons use all incidents and circumstances with wisdom, knowing that all may become obstructions to their pleasing God. For not only poverty and obscurity, but wealth and honor also, present themselves as temptations to the soul. Nay, even the peace and consolation of Grace, when it occupies the soul, unless the soul entertains a perpetual sense that it has received it by favor, and unless it employs it with much judgment and moderation, tend rather to an occasion of temptation, by relaxing its tone, and inducing upon it languor and negligence. Wherefore, Grace itself, to be duly received, demands a fearing and an understanding soul; which shall reverence it, and bring forth fruits worthy of it. There is danger, therefore, lest not only afflictions, but also ease from afflictions, should become a temptation to sin. For souls are proved to the Creator by both, that it may be clearly demonstrated which love Him, not in prospect of a benefit, but for Himself alone, as being worthy of the greatest love and honor.”
St. Macarius the Great
In other words, we who mess things up continually -even the great gift of grace- must receive the gifts of God with all reverence and humility, for we do not deserve them. If we receive God’s gifts in such a way, then we are doing well. Otherwise, we make them worthless!
Abba John said, ‘Who sold Joseph?’ A brother replied saying, ‘It was his brethren.’ The old man said to him, ‘No, it was his humility which sold him, because he could have said,
“I am their brother” and have objected, but, because he kept silence, he sold himself by his humility. It is also his humility which set him up as chief in Egypt.’
“One day Abba Arsenius consulted an old Egyptian monk about his own thoughts. Someone noticed this and said to him, ‘Abba Arsenius, how is it that you with such a
good Latin and Greek education ask this peasant about your thoughts?’ He replied, ‘I have indeed been taught Latin and Greek, but I do not know even the alphabet of this peasant.'”
Humility and thus closeness to God are the true education. No secular learning can match it!
St. Mark the Ascetic said “Some people when praised for their virtue are delighted, and attribute this pleasurable feeling of self-esteem to grace. Others when reproved for their sins are pained, and they mistake this beneficial pain for the action of sin.”
Here the Saint illustrates to us how deluded we can be when it comes to our feelings and spiritual standing. I will take his last words here on the pain of being reproved one further: people will assume pain is always from the devil. We are deluded if we believe that our simple senses are a measure of our place upon the path of salvation.
Instead, when someone either praises us or reproves us, we should repeat the words our Lord gave us: “We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” This is the path of humility, and a path where we can never be led astray.
God be with you.