Together, we continue to live the yearly cycle of church life. We celebrate the afterfeast of the Ascension - it reminds us to look to the sky and become high fliers in our spiritual life. We know how to crawl and lie idly on our sofas. But we have yet to learn how to fly. The Church calls us to take to the skies; it teaches us to aim for Heaven. It tells us, "Lift up your hearts to the Lord!"
How do we begin to learn to fly? The first step is to acquire the habit of listening to our conscience. When we have done something wrong, our conscience will tell us. To a monastic and layperson alike, conscience will indicate when they need to reconsider their lives. Admitting our wrongs and changing is painful, but this pain is necessary because it brings us to repent. By repenting, we shed the burden of sin that keeps us attached to the ground.
Yet repentance never happens lightly. It is always hard for us to admit our wrongs, or to recognize that we cannot continue our past lives any longer. As long as our conscience is alive, we have the chance to reunite with God. But the pain of repentance is intense and creates a great temptation for us to wait. The Lord is merciful, He will wait for our repentance as long as it takes, but where will it take us? How can we create the urgency of repentance?
The venerable saint Serafim of Sarov always carried with him a bag full of rocks despite his old age and poor health. He was tormenting his tormentor – exerting himself to be vigilant and courageous. We can all learn from his example. Monasticism does not amount simply to adjustment to monastic life. To live as a monastic, one must exert oneself to be in constant self-denial throughout one’s life. Likewise, family life is not a story of two people who fell in love with one another at first sight and lived happily ever after; nor is it about staying together no matter what for the sake of convenience. It is a constant exercise in humility, patience and bearing the infirmities of one another. It demands imagination, without which it would lack meaning, a sense of direction, and beauty.
No one can get to the Kingdom of Heaven without learning to live in the spirit. What a formidable challenge! No one should underestimate its scale. To meet it, we need the daring and courage that comes from the Lord. They are essential to overcome the world with its passions and temptations, to defeat the devil who is coming after us all the way to disrupt, intimidate, seduce, and lead us astray. They are a must-have to defeat our old selves and to abandon our lives in the flesh.
It is easy to know if someone is living in the spirit. The energy of that person inspires us. On the other hand, someone who lives without a sense of purpose is a sad sight for everybody else. Let us all learn to live so that the way others see us inspires them to live in the spirit. Let them know what a life could be like when it is filled with prayer and has a focus. Let us seek love, as love answers all the questions in our lives. Where there is no love, no words, smiles or kisses will replace it. They will be nothing but pretence.
But let us not mistake love for flattery. It does not take much effort to be sweet and nice, to keep smiling at everyone at all times. Flattery is sweet and pleases our ear, but it is destructive. It instils in us the false belief that we are on the right track and do not need to change anything. But, to love another would mean giving him a jolt to bring them to their senses. We love by not being indifferent, by taking responsibility for another. Yet our sinful nature sometimes causes us to rebel against such love. Christ brought us salvation, yet the people shouted to send Him to the Cross. The saints did great and impressive exploits, but most people were not unimpressed.
My beloved brothers and sisters! In only a few days, we will all bow and pray for our Comforter the Holy Spirit would descend on us. It comes down on us all the time, as everything that happens at church is the action of the Holy Spirit, not the work of any human wisdom. The Holy Spirit descends to bring us renewal and inspire us to live in the Spirit of God. It is not an easy task, but we must not settle for anything less. We aim to achieve sanctity and have a life in the Kingdom of Heaven. Our goal is victory over sin and the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.
To help us progress, we pray fervently and put our hearts in it. Monastics carry their strings of beads which they use in prayer at all times. Laypeople should also pray incessantly. Apostle Paul teaches us to pray all the time to keep our minds pure, protect them from clotting up, and not let the dregs of this world enter our hearts. May the Holy Spirit strengthen us!
We can fight off the virus by wearing a mask and keeping our distance, but to keep at bay the spirit of hostility is much harder, as it attacks us from afar.