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122Asceticism

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  • Christopher Orr
    Apr 27, 2007
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      Laura wrote: "I have to say there must be a potential danger to become self
      righteous and proud when it comes to asceticism and theosis.."

      CO:

      I thought this was a great summation of a critique, even within Orthodoxy,
      of asceticism. I also thought it worth discussing.

      There IS danger in asceticism, but this does not mean asceticism is not
      required. God commanded asceticism in the Garden for the childlike Adam &
      Eve, and our current state (another discussion) is the result of refusing
      asceticism. "But of the fruit of the tree which is in the midst of the
      garden, God hath said, Ye shall not eat of it, neither shall ye touch it,
      lest ye die." (Gen 3:3) Likewise, Jesus assumed the ascetic practice of
      fasting when he said, "But thou, when thou fastest, anoint thine head, and
      wash thy face..." (Matt 6:17) and "This kind can come forth by nothing, but
      by prayer and fasting." (Mark 9:29). So, this and Christ's 40 days in the
      wilderness and all of the other examples of ascetic practices show that we
      are expected to do them.

      The question becomes whether we should refrain from doing them because we
      assume we are somehow 'earning' God's good will toward us. The Father of
      eremitic monasticism, St. Anthony the Great, answered this question for
      Lutherans and ourselves in the 300s:

      He is good, and He only bestows blessings and never does harm, remaining
      > always the same. We men, on the other hand, if we remain good through
      > resembling God, are united to Him; but if we become evil through not
      > resembling God, we are separated from Him. By living in holiness, we cleave
      > to God; but by becoming wicked we make Him our enemy. It is not that He
      > grows angry with us in an arbitrary way, but it is our own sins that prevent
      > God from shining within us, and expose us to the demons who punish us. And
      > if through prayer and acts of compassion we gain release from our sins, this
      > does not mean that we have won God over and made Him change , but that
      > through our actions and our turning to God we have cured our wickedness and
      > so once more have enjoyment of God's goodness. Thus to say that God turns
      > away from the wicked is like saying that the sun hides itself from the
      > blind. ( Philokalia, Vol. 1, Text 150)


      There is also a story told by one of the Elders of Optina Skete in 1800s
      Russia about himself that is pertinent to this question. In the world,
      preparing to join the Monastery,he would do 1000 prostrations and a giant
      prayer rule. When he joined the monastery, his spiritual father said to do
      the regular morning and evening rule with 100 prostrations. "But, Father, I
      have been doing 1000...". Just start with 100 he was told. A week later he
      came and was embarassed to admit he could not do the 100, so he was given
      only 50 for the next week which he was also unable to do; then 25, then 10.
      Each time he failed and he was practically in despair over his failure in
      the monastic life. His spiritual father told him this was due to the fact
      that in the world he was practicing asceticism (prostrations) out of pride,
      but in the monastery he was now doing them out of obedience and the sin of
      pride and self-will was thus exposed.

      When we attempt to choose our own asceticism it is often out of pride - and
      this is the great danger in looking at fasting, etc. as adiaphora (matters
      of indifference). We end up falling into laziness and spiritual sloth on
      the one side and do nothing, or we fall into pride and self-will on the
      other by choosing (the Greek root of the word for 'heresy' is "choose") our
      own path or practicing asceticism to the extreme. (Perhaps this was part of
      the error of the over-zealous, self-choosing young monk, Brother Martin
      Luther, which resulted in his despair.)

      Christopher


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