Tuesday, January 12, 2016

St. Porphyrios on Spiritual Struggle

A few months ago I began reading a book called Wounded by Love, by St. Porphyrios. I am taking a rather slow time to read it because it is my nightly reading and usually I only get through one little section before my eyes begin to close. It is kind of better this way though, because there is a lot to soak in from each section of this wonderful book. It is a really great nighttime read because the sections are indeed short, and leave you feeling completely enlightened before closing your eyes! 

I wanted to share a part of my reading from last night that completely struck me as something incredible and eye-opening. I have never in my life viewed spiritual struggle in such a way as St. Porphyrios talks about it here. 

God has placed a power in man's soul. But it is up to him how he channels it  - for good or for evil. If we imagine the good as a garden full of flowers, trees and plants and the evil as weeds and thorns and the power as water, then what can happen is as follows: when the water is directed towards the flower-garden, then all the plants grow, blossom and bear fruit; and at the same time, the weeds and thorns, because they are not being watered, wither and die. And the opposite, of course, can also happen. 

It is not necessary, therefore, to concern yourselves with the weeds. Don't occupy yourself with rooting out evil. Christ does not wish us to occupy ourselves with the passions, but with the opposite. Channel the water, that is, all the strength of your soul, to the flowers and you will enjoy their beauty, their fragrance and their freshness. 

You won't become saints by hounding after evil. Ignore evil. Look towards Christ and He will save you. Instead of standing outside the door shooing the evil one away, treat him with disdain. If evil approaches from one direction, then calmly turn in the opposite direction. If evil comes to assault you, turn all your inner strength to good, to Christ. Pray, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.' He knows how and in what way to have mercy on you. And when you have filled yourself with good, don't turn any more towards evil. In this way you become good on your own, with the grace of God. Where can evil then find a foothold? It disappears!

In a later section, he continues on a similar path: 
...in your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the words of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the singing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. 

Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things. We can attain to the worship of God easily and bloodlessly. There are two paths that lead to God: the hard and debilitating path with fierce assaults against evil and the easy path with love. There are many who chose the hard path and 'shed blood in order to receive Spirit' until they attained great virtue. I find that the shorter and safer route is the path with love. This is the path that you, too, should follow. 

That is, you can make a different kind of effort: to study and pray and have as your aim to advance in the love of God and of the Church. Do not fight to expel the darkness from the chamber of your soul. Open a tiny aperture for light to enter, and the darkness will disappear. The same holds for our passions and weaknesses. Do not fight them, but transform them into strengths by showing disdain for evil. Occupy yourself with hymns of praise, with the poetic canons, with the worship of God and with divine eros. All the holy books of our Church...contain holy, loving words addressed to Christ. Read them with joy and love and exaltation. When you devote yourself to this effort with intense desire, your soul will be sanctified in a gentle and mystical way without your even being aware of it...

...By reading these books you will gradually acquire meekness, humility and love, and your soul will be made good. Do not choose negative methods to correct yourselves. There is no need to fear the devil, hell or anything else. These things provoke a negative reaction. I, myself, have some little experience in these matters. The object is not to sit and afflict and constrict yourself in order to improve. The object is to live, to study, to pray and to advance in love - in love for Christ and for the Church...

...Forget about all your weaknesses so that the adverse spirit does not realize what is going on and grab you and pin you down and cause you grief. Make no effort to free yourself from these weaknesses. Make your struggle with calmness and simplicity, without contortion and anxiety. Don't say, 'Now I'll force myself and I'll pray to acquire love and become good.' It is not profitable to afflict yourself to become good. In this way your negative response will be worse. Everything should be done in a natural way, calmly and freely. Nor should you pray, 'O God free me from my anger, my sorrow, etc.' It is not good to pray about or think about the specific passion; something happens in our soul and we become even more enmeshed in the passion. Attack your passion head on, and you'll see how strongly it will entwine you and grip you and you won't be able to do anything.   

Don't struggle directly with temptation, don't pray for it to go away, don't say, 'Take it from me, O God!' Then you are acknowledging the strength of the temptation and it takes hold of you. Because, although you are saying 'Take it from me, O God,' basically you are bringing it to the mind and fomenting it even more. Your desire to be free of the passion will, of course, be there, but it will exist in a hidden and discreet way, without appearing outwardly. Remember what Scripture says: Don't let your left hand know what your right hand is doing. Let all your strength be turned to love for God, worship of God and adhesion to God. In this way your release from evil and from your weaknesses will happen in a mystical manner, without your being aware of it and without exertion. 

Sunday, January 3, 2016

New Year!

Happy New Year! (A few days late).

So far, 2016 has been off to quite the busy start for us! I don't think it will get any less busy anytime soon between Christmas, a special girl's 2nd birthday two days later, Theophany, our family's slava, and then, my due date!

This year, I have started out two new traditions/rituals. One is for our family, and one is for myself.

The first one is one I have been trying to remember and do for several years now. Finally, this year I remembered thanks to Facebook. I have created a jar for our family (just a large mason jar with a ribbon on it), which will be used to throw in small pieces of paper that have happy memories and happy thoughts recorded on them throughout the year. If you read the description, it will make a little more sense to you (you jot down anything nice that happens pretty much - surprises, funny moments, accomplishments). I am excited about this! Then, on December 31st this year, my husband and I can open up the jar and see what little things happened throughout the year that we may have forgotten about. I love the idea of this jar, especially the fact that it helps you focus on positives instead of negatives, and I am hoping that we can fill it up to the top (or perhaps overfill it) by December 31st.

The second new thing I have started this year has been a new type of journal.

One of the main issues I struggle with (as I think many moms do) is remembering day-to-day things. It is always easy to remember a major event, but the little things are important, too. Well, it's like one of my friends read my mind because for my birthday, she sent me this journal. I LOVE it! All you need is literally 3 minutes a day, and you answer the same question each year on the same day. (For example, every January 1st for 5 years straight, you answer the same question....etc). You simply fill in which year it is, write your answer, and leave it until the next day. I know we are only a few days into this year, but so far, this has been a lot of fun and very rewarding for me. I love the idea of looking back through my answers 5 years from now once I have completed the entire journal. My favorite thing about it so far is that I do not need to prompt myself on what to write (which is the reason journaling never works out for me - I always have too much to record and not enough time)..the prompt is there ready for me and I have not had any difficulty answering any of the questions yet.