Legitimate Exercise

Whatever movement you make, starting with its conception and following through to the implementation, you have to examine all the time what God will take from it. Because that’s all that’ll remain; all the rest will be done away with.

This is why we’re always telling you to be careful, because within the all-embracing evil of the devil, there’s also this dreadful mystery. Satan doesn’t only fight to throw his opponent and get him out of the ring and the stadium. Naturally, he’s delighted beyond belief when people listen to him and leave the stadium, the contest.

But those who aren’t convinced and get involved in the action, he doesn’t stand in their way. Not only that but he gives them support, the difference being that he disorientates them. They do their intellectual or practical work, but not in the right frame of mind. Jesus tells us: “Blessed are they who mourn, for they will be comforted”. If we look at the word literally, we’ll see that the vast majority of people alive today mourn. But of those who mourn, who will be blessed?

Only those few who mourn for God.

The Legitimate Exercise: we must do God’s will

In other words, only those who have a sense of their sinfulness and whose hearts are wounded by Godly sadness at saddening God, the center of their love, and they cry because of it. They will achieve the life of the blessed. This is why we need to be careful. The thing is not merely to act, but to act in accordance with God’s will. You see the detail with which that great luminary whom we read this morning presented that wonderful example. A certain monk decides to dedicate himself to the care of somebody who’s ill. The springboard for his decision and its implementation was that, if he carried out his plan, he’d be rewarded by God. And you saw what this great Father said, with his keen discernment: the monk wasn’t behaving properly. He’d missed the mark. Of course we can’t say that he’d sinned by his actions, but he wouldn’t get much by way of reward compared to the time and effort he put into his task. It would have been better if he’d acted in the name of affection, in the name of Christ’s commandment, in the name of our Lord’s love: “by the words of His lips, He has guarded hard ways” This is the real aim. What’s the reason we take on an obedience in the monastery? It’s not because we’re scared of the Elder who gave the order. It’s not because we’re afraid the others will misjudge us and think we’re somehow difficult and out of order. Nor is it so that we’ll become dependable in routine jobs and supposedly obedient and unwilling to cause any upset. That’s not the aim. The point is that we should do what we have to conscientiously, and, if we had to be shown to how do it, it’s because we didn’t know. We had to accept advice humbly to get to the real aim. Once we’ve understood, once we’ve taken it on board,  then, by ourselves, even if we’re hindered, we obviously won’t react rudely, but we’ll try and find a way of settling things for the love of God. We’ll do it as an obligation, because it’s imposed by God’s command. But you never look for a reward. You never fear anyone. You don’t act because somebody’s threatening you or flattering you. You do it because you’ve realized it’s God’s will. Unless people act first on the basis of love for God and then of love for their neighbor, they’re going the wrong way, they’re disorientated.  Any indirect or oblique means that people use don’t help them get to their real goal.

This is why we need to examine our consciences all the time, in case we’ve been seduced by some passion or some desire and we’re acting in a round about way and wasting our efforts.

Based on Elder Joseph of Vatopedi

The photo depicts a fisherman monk from Vatopedi near to his monastery in Mount Athos

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