Reflections on the Orthodox faith and life in this crazy 21st century world by an Orthodox priest and a few of his friends.
Friday, May 1, 2009
WOA Ch. 12: On Obedience
St. John Climacus, author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent, quoted in this chapter.
Chapter 12 of Way of the Ascetics is one of my favorite, perhaps my very favorite, chapters in the entire book. The basic idea that Colliander presents is that the easiest way to learn humility is through obedience--by the voluntary submitting of our will to that of another. Because the chapter is very short, I will reprint all of it in its entirety, without comment (for it needs none - what would I add, anyway?).
Obedience is another indispensable implement in the struggle against our selfish will. With obedience you cut off your physical members the better to be able to serve with the spiritual, says St. John Climacus. And again, obedience is the grave of your own will, but from it rises humility.
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.