Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Colliander On Obedience (part 2)

“Whoever desires to come after Me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow Me" (Mark 9:34).

Here is the rest of Chapter 12: "On Obedience" from Tito Colliander's marvelous book Way of the Ascetics. I have been meaning to post this ever since I read it about three weeks ago, but I haven't had the time or the energy. Interestingly, Fr. Stephen Freeman, in his outstanding blog Glory to God in All Things, has today quoted the majority of the chapter. For me this serves as affirmation of just how good this chapter is. Enjoy!

For those of you who don't have time to read the whole chapter, I'll boldface the parts that I thought were especially good.

You must remember that you have of your own free will given yourself over to slavery, and let the cross you wear around your neck be a reminder of this: through slavery you are proceeding toward true freedom. But has the slave a will of his own? He must learn to obey.

Perhaps you ask: Whom shall I obey? The saints answer: you shall obey your leaders (Hebrews 13:17). Who are my leaders, you ask? Where shall I find any, now that it is so utterly hard to discover a genuine leader? Then the holy Fathers reply: The Church has foreseen this too. Therefore since the time of the apostles it has given us a teacher who surpasses all others and who can reach us everywhere, wherever we are and under whatever circumstances we live. Whether we be in city or country, married or single, poor or rich, the teacher is always with us and we always have the opportunity to show him obedience. Do you wish to know his name? It is holy fasting.

God does not need our fasting. He does not even need our prayer. The Perfect cannot be thought of as suffering any lack or needing anything that we, the creatures of His making, could give Him. Nor does he crave anything from us, but, says John Chrysostom, He allows us to bring Him offerings for the sake of our own salvation.

The greatest offering we can present to the Lord is our self. We cannot do this without giving up our own will.
We learn to do this through obedience, and obedience we learn through practice. The best form of practice is that provided by the Church in her prescribed fast days and seasons.

Besides fasting we have other teachers to whom we can show obedience. They meet us at every step in our daily life, if only we recognize their voices. Your wife wants you to take your raincoat with you: do as she wishes, to practice obedience. Your fellow-worker asks you to walk with her a little way: go with her to practice obedience. Wordlessly the infant asks for care and companionship: do as it wishes as far as you can, and thus practice obedience. A novice in a cloister could not find more opportunity for obedience than you in your own home. And likewise at your job and in your dealings with your neighbour.

Obedience breaks down many barriers. You achieve freedom and peace as your heart practices non-resistance. You show obedience, and thorny hedges give way before you. Then love has open space in which to move about. By obedience you crush your pride, your desire to contradict, your self-wisdom and stubbornness that imprison you within a hard shell. Inside that shell you cannot meet the God of love and freedom.

Thus, make it a habit to rejoice when an opportunity for obedience offers. It is quite unnecessary to seek one, for you may easily fall into a studied servility that leads you astray into self-righteous virtue. You may depend upon it that you are sent just as many opportunities for obedience as you need, and the very kind that are most suitable for you. But if you notice that you have let an opportunity slip by, reproach yourself; you have been like a sailor who has let a favourable wind go by unused.

For the wind it was a matter of indifference whether it was used or not. But for the sailor it was a means of reaching his destination sooner. Thus you should think of obedience, and all the means that are offered us by the Holy Trinity, in that way.


charlene said...

Father James,
Thank you for sharing these wonderful writings with us.
There is one sentance though that confounds me though.It is where the Perfect One is not lacking or suffering anything if we do not pray,fast,etc. But if Jesus is fully MAN as well as fully God, doesn;t He love us,and suffer when we fail to return our love? Even if His suffering is because He knows we will never know the joy and peace He wants us to have? We were created to have a relationship with our God. When a human parent loses his/her relationship with a grown child, they grieve deeply. You want only what is best for your children, but you recognize their free will (as adults) to include you in their life or not. Doesn't Jesus grieve when any one of us turns our back to him? I would hate to think God is devoid of emotion. (My daughter has not spoken to me in four years, and perhaps never will, but I will always grieve and hope she will one day return.)

Fr. James Early said...


As always, I appreciate your thoughtful and insightful commments. Would that more people would leave them!

Certainly, Christ loves us and wants to have a relationship with us. And there is certainly plenty of evidence from the Gospels that he is saddened by people's unwillingness to love him in return.

I think that the key word in the paragraph you mentioned (the third one in this quote) is "needing." God never NEEDS anything, but He certainly does DESIRE our fellowship with Him, just as you (technically, at least) do not need your daughter's love to live (even though you naturally want it).

I think that Colliander's last sentence in that same paragraph, in which he says "Nor does he crave anything from us.." is a bit more problematic. Unfortunately, we cannot ask Colliander what he meant by this statement, since he reposed many years ago. If by "crave" he means "want" or "desire," then he may well be wrong.

Anonymous said...

Father James,
Thank you. I can appreciate the difference between want and need, especially in the context you explained it. You have put my heart at rest.
I learn so much from your blog. Most importantly perhaps,I keep finding that the God I have known and loved (and been lovrd by) since early childhood, has always been the God that is known to the Orthodox Church.
Again Father, my deepest thanks.