Tag Archives: ascetic labors

Do not shrug your shoulders.

St. Anthony the Great

“It is said about an ancient orator that he labored day and night to perfect himself in the art of oratory. Someone said to him: ‘Demosthenes does not want you to be the chief orator.’ To which he immediately retorted: ‘Neither will I allow him to be the only one.’ If you cannot be a first-class saint like St. Anthony, do not shrug your shoulders and say: ‘Nothing can come of me!’ Increase your efforts and double your talent. In My Father’s house are many mansions, said the Lord (John 14:2). If you merit to settle in the least of these dwelling places, you will be more glorious and more fortunate than all of the rulers who have ever existed on earth. To each according to his own talent. You will not be a St. Anthony, but neither will St. Anthony, alone, occupy the Kingdom of God.”

-St. Nikolai Velimirovich

A brief pause for this…

You know how it is when the power goes out, and you can’t do anything that requires the computer or TV? You might read a book by candlelight, or play cards with people, or pray… and the temporary result is often more calm, and more quietness of heart. The benefits of deprivation are real.

Orthodox Lent begins Monday, and the Great Fast is a chance to acquire what our hearts need. This year, in addition to our traditional food fast, I plan to “fast” from blog writing and reading. I will still be using email, and if any of you would like to chat about anything or just say hello, I would love to hear from you. You can find my address on my About Page; it is one of the tabs above.

And I have drafted quite a few posts in advance, mostly gleanings from others, scheduled to automatically publish on certain dates. They are articles or re-posts that seem particularly Lenten; I will put them out there without a comment option. Again, comments are possible through direct email.

Until I see you again here, may God bring us all, in every way possible, deeper into His love.

Ho! Everyone who thirsts, Come to the waters;
And you who have no money, Come, buy and eat.
Yes, come, buy wine and milk
Without money and without price.
Why do you spend money for what is not bread,
And your wages for what does not satisfy?
Listen carefully to Me, and eat what is good,
And let your soul delight itself in fatness.

-Isaiah 55:1-2

Soul Exercise

A freezing morning– but after lying awake for three hours and praying for part of the time, I thought I heard Him call me to Matins, so I scraped the frost off the car windows and drove down the road. Those special Lenten morning prayers were the foundation of my athletic effort today, my Wheaties. What—did I say athletic effort? It has been said that Lent and its ascetic labor is spiritual athleticism. When I meditated on that idea for a while I found some peace and patience for the journey. For if the Church generally, and Lent, provide these exercises for the soul, I might think of the whole program as a large gym with every kind of equipment to help me in my workouts. Some days I might use the treadmill and the upper-body Nautilus machines. Other days I might attend a Yoga class, or swim in the pool. Some days I might stay home and sleep.

I’m an amateur. Not only that, but I have severe handicaps. But the Master Teacher doesn’t let me get away with anything. I might have trainers who can show me what a helpful course would look like, but when it comes down to running an extra five minutes today, or in the Lenten case praying an extra five minutes, or eating five fewer bites—then only He knows if that was a big advance for me, or if I am still being too easy on myself. He can reveal to me how lazy and gluttonous I am, how I cater to my weaknesses and make provision for them. That’s why it doesn’t help at all to compare my progress with anyone else’s. The Lord knows our frame; He remembers that we are dust. But He is our biggest encourager, He is the Prize itself, Whom we want to know more intimately. So we press on.

I’ve learned very well how lazy I am at the local (earthly body) health club. But I also know that just getting on the treadmill and walking slowly, on those Slow Days, is better than languishing at home. Every little step forward is at least in the right direction, aiming for the healing of my soul—and here I have introduced the overarching metaphor, of the Orthodox Church as a spiritual hospital. It has all the best treatments and medicines one needs, including this 40-day “Fitness Challenge” to prepare us for the celebration of the Resurrection of Christ. With patience let us run the race that is before us—even if, like me, you will be the tortoise bringing up the rear–by God’s mercy and grace.

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