On Pursuing Virtue: Obedience

Author’s note: We have written about virtues before (see https://orthodoxchristianparenting.wordpress.com/2017/03/01/on-pursuing-the-virtues-an-introduction/), and now we are continuing the series. There are so very many virtues for us to acquire! Fr. Thomas Hopko’s book “The Orthodox Faith, Volume 4, Spirituality,” offers additional virtues, some of which we will now study. May the Lord have mercy on us and grant us grace as we learn to better walk in His ways!

Fr. Thomas Hopko’s chapter on obedience helps us understand how important the virtue of obedience is to an Orthodox Christian:

In the Orthodox spiritual tradition, obedience is a basic virtue: obedience to the Lord, to the Gospel, to the Church (Mt 18.17), to the leaders of the Church (Heb 13.7), to one’s parents and elders, to “every ordinance of man” (1 Pet 2.13, Rom 13.1), “to one another out of reverence for Christ” (Eph 6.21). There is no spiritual life without obedience, no freedom or liberation from sinful passions and lusts. To submit to God’s discipline in all of its human forms, is the only way to obtain “the glorious liberty of the children of God” (Rom 8.21). God disciplines us as His children out of His great love for us. “He disciplines us for our good, that we might share His holiness” (cf. Heb 12.3–11). Our obedience to God’s commandments and discipline is the exclusive sign of our love for Him and His Son.

Our Lord was the ultimate example for us of what obedience looks like. His obedience was a marker of His humility, according to Fr. Thomas, who points to St. Paul’s discussion of Christ’s humility in Phil. 2:8. St. Paul explains that, in His humility, Jesus was obedient to His Father to death, “even death on a cross.” Our Lord obeyed God in everything that He did.

Fr. Thomas goes on to talk about the fact that there is no shame or demeaning in obeying God. Rather, doing God’s will is actually glory and life for whoever does it! Obedience is our greatest joy, and the way that we achieve the highest dignity. It is the way of perfection for everyone, even for Jesus Himself.

Although He was a Son, He learned obedience through what He suffered, and being made perfect He became the source of salvation to all who obey Him (Heb 5.8–9).

Disobeying God is the source of all sin, according to Fr. Thomas. When we refuse to submit to God, sorrow and death are the result.

St. John’s gospel records for us the words of Christ, who here tells us how important it is for us to obey God:

He who has My commandments and keeps them, he it is who loves Me; and he who loves Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love him and manifest Myself to him.… If a man loves Me, he will keep My word, and My Father will love him, and we will come and make our home with him. He who does not love Me does not keep My words; and the word which you hear is not Mine but the Father’s who sent Me. (Jn 14.21–24).

May we all grow in the virtue of obedience, and thereby love God as we should!

Find Fr. Thomas Hopko’s discussions of the virtues here: https://oca.org/orthodoxy/the-orthodox-faith/spirituality/the-virtues 

Here are some scriptures, quotes from saints, and quotes from Orthodox resources that can help us as we work on attaining the virtue of obedience in our own life:
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“Now it shall come to pass, if you diligently obey the voice of the Lord your God, to observe carefully all His commandments which I command you today, that the Lord your God will set you high above all nations of the earth.” (Deuteronomy 28:1)
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“For as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners, so also by one Man’s obedience many will be made righteous.” (Romans 5:19)
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“…casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ…” (2 Corinthians 10:5)
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“Having confidence in your obedience, I write to you, knowing that you will do even more than I say.” (Philemon 1:21)
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“…Though He was a Son, yet He learned obedience by the things which He suffered.” (Hebrews 5:8)
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“The grace of the Holy Spirit which is given mystically to every Christian when he is baptized acts and is manifested in proportion to our obedience to the commandments of the Lord. That is, if a Christian obeys the commandments of the Lord more, grace acts with him more, while if he obeys them less, grace acts within him less. Just as a spark, when covered in the ashes of fire becomes increasingly manifest as one removes the ashes, and the more firewood you put the more the fire burns, so the grace that has been given to every Christian through Holy Baptism is hidden in the heart and covered up by the passions and sins, and the more a man acts in accordance with the commandments of Christ, the more he is cleansed of the passions and the more the fire of Divine grace lights in his heart, illumines and deifies him.” ~ St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain
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“One should not oppose authorities who act for good, so as not to sin before God and be subjected to His just chastisement: ‘Therefore whoever resists the authority resists the ordinance of God, and those who resist will bring judgment on themselves’ (Romans 13:2).” ~ St. Seraphim of Sarov
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“The truly intelligent man pursues one sole objective: to obey and conform to the God of all. With this single aim in view, he disciplines his soul, and whatever he may encounter in the course of his life, he gives thanks to God for the compass and depth of His providential ordering of all things.
For it is absurd to be grateful to doctors who give us bitter and unpleasant medicines to cure our bodies, and yet to be ungrateful to God for what appears to us to be harsh, not grasping that all we encounter is for our benefit and in accordance with His providence. For knowledge of God and faith in Him is the salvation and perfection of the soul.” ~ St. Anthony the Great
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“I can’t give you an example of what real obedience is. It’s not that we have a discussion about the virtue of obedience and then I say “go and do a somersault,” and you obey. That’s not obedience. You need to be entirely carefree and not thinking at all about the matter of obedience, and then suddenly you are asked to do something and you are ready to do it joyfully.” ~ St. Porphyrios
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“…obedience is the medicine compounded of virtues, giving life to those who drink it, and the knife which, with one cut, cleans festering wounds. A man who, in faith and simplicity, has chosen to wield this knife, at once cuts off all passions, more completely than anyone…” ~ St. Gregory of Sinai
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“He who wishes to tear up the account of his sins and to be inscribed in the Divine book of the saved, can find for this purpose no better means than obedience.” ~ Sts. Callistus & Ignatius
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“At its heart, obedience is not the destruction of the will, or simply “doing what you are told.” Obedience requires a union of trust with God in which we recognize that the direction of our life is a gift rather than a choice of our own devising. It is a movement of the heart towards God rather than an assertion of the self. This, however, cannot be coerced. There is no obedience with coercion.” ~ Fr. Stephen Freeman, https://blogs.ancientfaith.com/glory2godforallthings/2014/01/15/obedience-and-the-modern-world/
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“Being obedient means learning to make choices that foster freedom, love and joy not simply in my life but yours as well. It isn’t so much a matter of my being obedient to you (or the other way around) but our being obedient together to God Who is the source of all good things. Obedience, in other words, is mutual; what we do together and not what I do alone.” ~ from http://orthochristian.com/91304.html

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