One day, while St. Antony was sitting with a certain Abba, a virgin came up and said to the Elder: ‘Abba, I fast six days of the week and I repeat by heart portions of the Old and New Testament daily.’ To which the Elder replied: ‘Does poverty mean the same to you as abundance?’ ‘No’, she answered. ‘Or dishonour the same as praise?’ ‘No, Abba.’ ‘Are your enemies the same for you as your friends?’ ‘No’, she replied. At that the wise Elder said to her: ‘Go, get to work, you have accomplished nothing.’
St. Peter of Damascus “The Philokalia”
Beloved Christians, this is the day, this is the hour for us to get serious about our salvation. The world is embittered and evil rages more fierce with each passing day. Brace yourself for temptations. Arm yourselves for battle. Plan for the upcoming warfare.
This battle-planning begins in our prayer corner. Our advisors are the Saints. In the above teaching from the great spiritual guidebook called the Philokalia, St. Peter reminds us of a certain event from the life of Saint Antony, the “Father of Fathers”. His advice here is very relevant for each of us. We can modify his words slightly to better apply them to our current circumstances. Consider this:
- “I fast six days of the week and I repeat by heart portions of the Old and New Testament daily.’ To which the Elder replied: ‘Does poverty mean the same to you as abundance?” And what shall we say: yes we fast, but so did the Pharisee. Remember this one who chastized the sinners in the temple, vaunting himself with his great acts. So we fast from flesh meats, yet we still feast sumptuously on the flesh of our brethren when we speak evil of them, mock them, or hold them in contempt. So you fast, this is an important aspect of our law, but it is empty if we lack mercy.
Are we content with our current circumstance in life or do we grumble for more – more money, better car, nicer home, newer car? These are nice things but often they become idols to us. It is better to be poor-in-the-pocket and rich-in-spirit than it is to be rich-in-the-pocket and spiritually bankrupt. Look around, you see this is true.
- “‘… dishonour the same as praise?” Do we grumble when we are chastened? Often times chastisement is warranted because of our foolish behavior. The Lord offers this to correct us. Foolish as we are, we seek the praise of men rather than the praise of God. One is temporal, the other eternal.
- “…Are your enemies the same for you as your friends?” Have we fulfilled the second great commandment, i.e. to love our neighbors? Do we hold grudges? Have we allowed the behaviors of other to lead us down the dark road of judgement and hostility? This hostility towards our neighbor damages our soul.
Beware o Christian of the poison of self-righteousness for this leads to pride, the great sin and the cause of every evil and wickedness. Don’t fool yourself, you may keep the letter of the law but lack in the true spirit of it. It was this same spirit that our Lord rebuked when He spoke with the scribes and Pharisees. May we not be found guilty of this grievous sin of pride.