Author’s note: During Great Lent Orthodox Christians focus more intently on becoming more godly and less self-centered. Because of this, Great Lent seems the best possible time to feature a series of articles on pursuing virtue. We will spend the next few weeks learning about virtues in order to better pursue them. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!
In this series of blogs, we will focus on how we parents can work to acquire the virtues. We will focus on the seven capital virtues mentioned in the Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians: humility, liberality, chastity, mildness, temperance, happiness, and diligence. As the book mentions, each virtue is the positive counterpart of a grievous sin. In order for us to become more like God, or to grow in theosis, we must not only repent and actively turn away from the sins in our life, but we must also labor actively towards attaining the virtues. Each blog post will focus on one virtue and ways to work towards attaining that virtue.
We are purposefully choosing to focus these blog posts on ourselves, the parents, rather than on our children. This is an intentional choice. We parents are the models, the ones who should be best living a godly life in our family. Throughout the ages, the saints have spoken about this very thing:
“The spirit of faith and piety in the parents should be regarded as the most powerful means for the preservation, upbringing, and strengthening of the life of Grace in children.”~ St. Theophan the Recluse
“What saves and makes for good children is the life of the parents in the home. The parents need to devote themselves to the love of God. They need to become saints in the relation to their children. And the joy that will come to them, the Holiness that will visit them, will shower grace on their children.” ~ St. Porphyrios
Because we parents are responsible to lead godly lives before our children, and because godly lives are filled with virtue instead of sins, we will focus these blog posts on ways to actively seek the virtues. When we actively pursue the virtues we are not just running away from evil: we are struggling towards something, towards virtues. Carole Buleza, director of the Antiochian Orthodox Department of Christian Education recently explained it like this: “We are made in God’s image and likeness. The image is like God’s stamp on us as a human person. It cannot be changed. The likeness, on the other hand, can change and grow. It is the potential to grow evermore godlike… Acquiring virtues [is] a way to grow evermore Godlike. The virtues are specific, [as are] the rungs on St. John Climacus’ ladder. We can choose one, and with prayer, proceed to discipline ourselves so as to acquire it. When our lives are not focused on a major struggle with evil, we need to struggle in the positive direction by seeking to attain the virtues. The saints tell us that suffering (or struggle) is a necessary component of theosis.”
So, fellow parents, let us learn together about the capital virtues. By the grace of God, let us focus in on at least one of them and struggle towards it with all of our heart. Let us lead our family by example, struggling against sin not just by fleeing/fighting our passions, but also by actively struggling towards virtues. By the grace and mercy of God, may we grow evermore like Him. And as we do so, may our children watch, learn, and follow.
This prayer of St. Ephrem will be a great aid to us in this struggle:
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despair, lust of power and idle talk. But give rather the spirit of chastity, meekness of mind, patience and love to Thy servant. Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see my own transgressions and not to judge my brother, for blessed art thou unto ages of ages. Amen.
Here are some links that will help us as we begin to think about obtaining the virtues in our life:
The Pocket Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians is available here: http://store.ancientfaith.com/a-pocket-prayer-book-for-orthodox-christians-vinyl-cover/ and is an excellent companion for any Orthodox Christian! It fits in a pocket or purse and contains prayers, thought-provoking information such as the capital virtues which we are working to attain, the entire Divine Liturgy, preparation for confession, and more. Some of the prayers in the book (but not the section on virtues, unfortunately) are also available online here: http://www.antiochian.org/orthodox-prayers
“All the virtues are aspects of the one great virtue, the virtue of love. When a Christian acquires love, he has all the virtues. It is love that expels the prime cause of all the evils and all the passions from the psyche of man. This cause, according to the holy Fathers, is selfishness. All the evils within us spring from selfishness, which is a diseased love for one’s own self. This is the reason why our Church has asceticism. Without asceticism, there is no spiritual life, no struggle, and no progress. We obey, fast, keep vigil, labour with prostrations, and stand upright, all so that we may be cleansed of our passions.” Read this and more in this excellent article on theosis: http://www.greekorthodoxchurch.org/theosis_qualifications.html
“Let us cleanse ourselves, brethren, with the queen of the virtues: for behold, she is come, bringing us a wealth of blessings. She quells the uprising of the passions, and reconciled sinners to the Master. Therefore let us welcome her with gladness, and cry aloud to Christ our God: O risen from the dead, who alone art free from sin, guard us uncondemned as we give thee glory.” (one of the Four Sichera at the Praises, Matins, Meatfare Sunday, as found here: http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2015/02/16/four-stichera-at-the-praises-matins-meatfare-sunday-i-think-upon-that-day-and-hour-when-we-shall-all-stand-naked/)
“The goal of the Christian life is not to resist temptation but to acquire virtue. We are called to seek the Kingdom of God, not just to avoid hell.” (Mamalakis, “Parenting Towards the Kingdom”, page 168)
“Christians, have we understood the great responsibility that we have taken on before God through baptism? Have we come to know that we must conduct ourselves as children of God, that we must align our will with the will of God, that we must remain free from sin, that we must love God with all our hearts and always patiently await union with Him? Have we thought about the fact that our heart should be so filled with love that it should overflow to our neighbor? Do we have the feeling that we must become holy and perfect, children of God and heirs of the Kingdom of Heaven? We must struggle for this, so that we may not be shown unworthy and rejected. Let none of us lose our boldness, nor neglect our duties, nor be afraid of the difficulties of spiritual struggle. For we have God as a helper, who strengthens us in the difficult path of virtue.”
+ St. Nektarius of Aegina, The Path to Happiness, 2 http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/15/st-nektarios-christians-have-we-understood-the-great-responsibility-that-we-have-taken/
“Every Christian has the power to heal infirmities—not of others, but his own, and not of the body, but of the soul—that is, sins and sinful habits—and to cast out devils, rejecting evil thoughts sown by them, and extinguishing the excitement of passions enflamed by them…
“…But your job is to work upon yourself: for this you are chosen; the rest is in the hands of God. He who humbles himself shall be exalted.”
+ St. Theophan the Recluse, Thoughts for Each Day of the Year: According to the Daily Church Readings from the Word of God http://www.orthodoxchurchquotes.com/2014/09/02/st-theophan-the-recluse-every-christian-is-chosen/
This book is an excellent resource for helping parents to nurture the virtues in their children:
“A troubled mind and chaotic thoughts are the fruit of a disordered life, and these darken the soul. When passions are driven from the soul with the help of the virtues, and the curtain of passions is drawn back from the eyes of the mind, then the intellect can perceive the glory of the other world. The soul grows by means of the virtues; the mind is confirmed in the truth and becomes unshakable, girded for encountering and slaying every passion. Freedom from passions is brought about by crucifying both the intellect and the flesh. This makes a man capable of contemplating God. The intellect is crucified when unclean thoughts are driven out of it, and the body when passions are uprooted. A body given over to pleasure cannot be the abode of the knowledge of God. True knowledge i.e. the revelation of the mysteries – is attained by means of the virtues, and this is – the knowledge that saves.” – Saint Justin (Popovich) of Cheliye Monastery in Serbia
“Sailors need to know when to use ballast or throw down the anchor, lest the ship sink and they drown. In like manner, the virtues enable us to respond correctly to those moments of life that are the moral equivalents to such conditions at sea. However, an ability to discern these moments and respond appropriately entails more than formal techniques of decision-making; just as successful sailing requires that one knows more than just the techniques of good navigation. As the latter requires a knowledge of and familiarity with the sea that cannot be taught in books but can only be learned from sea-faring itself, so the moral life requires that we also be virtuous. The virtues are not just the moral equivalent of techniques of good sailing; rather they are the way as well as the end of goodness and happiness.” from http://www.catholiceducation.org/en/culture/art/awakening-the-moral-imagination-teaching-virtues-through-fairy-tales.html (written by an Orthodox author)