He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ either with the world, with the devil or with one’s self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ?
Can anyone be a victor without contest?
Why is it that much is said and written about the sufferings of holy men and holy women? Because the saints alone are considered victors. Can anyone be a victor without conflict, pain and suffering? In ordinary earthly combat, no one can be considered victorious or heroic who has not been in combat, endured much or suffered greatly. The more so in spiritual combat, where the truth is known, and where self-boasting not only does not help at all but indeed, hinders it. He who does not engage in combat for the sake of Christ either with the world, with the devil or with one’s self, how can he be counted among the soldiers of Christ? How then is it with Christ’s fellow victors? St. Mary spoke about her savage spiritual combat to Elder Zosimas: “For the first seventeen years in this wilderness, I struggled with my deranged lusts as though with fierce beasts. I desired to eat meat and fish, which I had in abundance in Egypt. I also desired to drink wine, and here I did not have even water to drink. I desired to hear lustful songs. I cried and beat my breast. I prayed to the All-pure Mother of God to banish such thoughts from me. When I had sufficiently wept and beat my breast, it was then that I saw a light encompassing me on all sides, and a certain miraculous peace filled me.”
The Prologue of Ochrid, Vol 1, pg 340, of Saint Nikolai Velimirovich
“No pain, No gain”
Beloved, to use a phrase that was popular in the recent past, the spirit of this axiom melds with our Orthodox beliefs. We recognize that there are two essential parts of Orthodox spirituality: Orthodoxia and Orthopraxia, i.e. right worship and right practice. As we do, so we believe. The pains of prayer, fasting, prostrations – whether physical pain or mental, still strengthens the spirit.
This dichotomy leads us to the point, a point lived by the Saints. Borrowing once again from the vernacular, we must adhere to this saying- “Practice what you preach.” The world may look at us as hypocrites as they charge us with these same words. We must ask ourselves if we strive to be what we believe? It is not hypocrisy to struggle, only if we never try.
This does not fully encapsulate the meaning but supports the point we are attempting to make. In the above excerpt from that rich treasury of Orthodoxy, the Prologue of Ochrid, the blessed Bishop Nikolai offers words to us to remind us that even the Saints contended with sin and the passions. Even they struggled through pain yet through their contest they acquired much gain. They are the role-models for us, par-excellence, as they contended well.
The next time you enter an Orthodox Church, behold the icons and note that the Saints came from different lands, different times, different ways of life. They are the TRUE victors, the TRUE heroes, the ones we should strive to emulate!
By the intercessions O Lord of all the Saints, and the Theotokos, do Thou grant us Thy peace and have mercy on us; since Thou art compassionate!