Measuring our progress to living in the spirit

Spiritual life is our most difficult work

March 01, 2021

preparing Holy Communion

We have two windows on the world - our minds and our hearts. Our eyes and ears tend to see or hear what we want them to. Therefore, we are all learning to pray so we can connect our minds with our hearts. We do not send our prayer to some imaginary figure way above the clouds. Instead, we concentrate and focus, trying to bring our minds and hearts together. This is not an exercise in yoga; we work hard to bring ourselves together and learn self-concentration. We need this skill a lot, and it may take years of practice to develop it. So we should not be confused or ashamed of our distractions or frustrations. We require a lot of learning to begin to converse with God and seek His blessing in our lives. We learn this throughout our lives; in this way, we answer the Church's call to commit our life unto Christ our God.

In our lives, we tend to dedicate much of our time to outward, sensualistic experiences. They are abundant and follow one another like in a kaleidoscope. They might produce in us some pleasant sensations today, some excitement tomorrow, and great disappointment a day after. The kaleidoscope will keep rolling as long as our clock continues to tick away our time on earth. At some point, our time will run out. The clock will stop, and so will the kaleidoscope. Yet we continue to let ourselves be ruled by our momentary moods, desires and sensations. Today, we are feeling good about ourselves, and we are happy; but we do not know what it is going to be like tomorrow. We have a strong unmet need for stability, a firm foundation to stand on. Because of this, we may keep going to Church for years and still not be able to have a conversation with God. Despite all our effort, however sincere and diligent, we might still have too little understanding of life in the spirit and its aims. To a large extent, our thoughts are shaped by our language. This is not to say that we should keep silent all the time and never say anything. We must all be positive, welcoming, sensitive, responsive and sympathetic. As sensuous beings, we may all feel sad, feel like crying, and we will give and accept sympathy. Yet, it is hard for us to be consistent in our emotions and reactions, and we often find it too hard to take criticism or accept adversity.

A monk told an experienced hegumen that he was seeing angels in his sleep. The hegumen asked the other monks to smack him on the back of his head the next time he sees the angels. The monk reacted as a sensuous man. "What kind of angels did he see? They must have been the wrong kind," concluded the hegumen. Similarly, we also get the chance from time to time to test the quality of our lives. When someone hurts us, touches our weak spot, or is rude or insulting, we should all see these moments as tests of our progress towards living in the spirit.

Someone may say to us: "I go to church every day and take communion after every liturgy!" So how has it helped him? What are the results, the fruits of these visits? Is he thankful for what he has? If yes, the Holy Spirit must be living in him. Does he value what he has? He must be living with God. Does he grumble or despair? If not, he must be on the right path. Conversely, he might tell you something like this: "My life is awful. Nothing seems to go right. The world is full of cruel and heartless people, and living among them is a nightmare." In this case, he is certainly heading in the wrong direction. We all need to stop for a while from time to time to check if we are on track. If not, we should examine where and why we fell, where the temptation was and why it happened. Any action has its root causes. When someone abuses alcohol, what does he do it? Is alcohol the cause, or is it the weakness of the soul, the unwillingness to see the problem and recognise the need to change one's life and attitudes?

We also need to take action. Almost certainly, it will not be major. Spiritual life requires constant attention and effort; it is our most difficult challenge, for which we may not be fully prepared.

The people in whom I saw the Holy Spirit never talked of any spirituality; they were simple and considered themselves the least and last of all people, but they were glowing with the love of God, and this could be seen for miles around. Why? Because, as Apostle Matthew wrote, the eyes are the windows to the soul, and the mouth speaks what the heart is full of. (Matthew 12: 34). The eyes and the mouth will reflect and express the state of the soul. When I was still working as a guard at the Cathedral of Sts. Peter and Paul, I had a partner who was also my friend. Eventually, he was ordained a priest and went to Pskov Region as an assistant to an Archimandrite. He had a hard time there, and he saw many things, including some that were not supposed to happen. So when he came to share what he saw with Elder Nikolay Guryanov and attempted to discuss with him the sins of others, the elder interrupted him: "The priest is a fine man, and so is the monk, may God save them." He did not condemn, because he had God in him.

Archpriest Andrey Lemeshonok

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