The old man is an athlete in prayer, a fool for God, and
often enters and demolishes the territory of the devil (with
Christ's grace). His heart, extremely sensitive through
prayer, recognises the cunning tactics of satan and drives
him out; thus bearing the Holy Spirit.
He proceeds in
humility, the greatest treasure of all virtues, as pride in
prayer is foolishness. He is diligent in avoiding pride,
especially when it is vainglory. He knows that vainglory can
appear in every virtue - when fasting, when chanting in the
Divine Liturgy, and even when praying - opening the soul to
the enemy whose aim is to separate us from God's love. The
old man illustrates this by saying "sin is a beggar
receiving bread and feels proud because he got it".
The narrow path
leads to salvation, which is entered "by the narrow gate;
for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to
destruction" (Matt 7:13). The narrow path is mourning and
obedience, which are closely connected with prayer. The old
man is constantly aware of his sinfulness and
insignificance, and the hope in the Merciful Christ - he is
never deluded by the cliché "once saved always
saved'. This awareness develops when coming close to God and
is illustrated throughout the Old Testament. For example,
Abraham called himself "dust and ashes" (Gen 18:27), Job
despised himself and repented "in dust and ashes" (Job
42:5), and Isaiah exclaimed "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I
am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a
people of unclean lips" (Is 6:5).
The old man starts
prayer with love towards God, and obedience to His Holy will
remembering the Theotokos who was most obedient to God's
will, as it is possible for the devil, disguised as an
"angle of light" (2 Cor 11:14), to trick us that we have
reached perfection. The greatest danger is to think yourself
worthy of the Holy Spirit. Paradoxically, the Holy Spirit
brings calm, peace, humility, and the awareness of our
wretchedness. Yet, how many people say "I am born-again"
without understanding what 'repentance' means?
The old man
strives to be like the Theotokos who,
with great humility, said to the angel Gabriel "I am the
handmaid of the Lord ... let what you have said be done to
me" (Luke 1:38); knowing the high cost she must pay to do
the will of God. That is why it is said in the litanies,
"Remembering our most holy, most pure, most blessed, most
glorious Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin
Mary, with all the Saints, let us commit ourselves and
each other and all our lives unto Christ our God". This is
how we should live, in conformity to Christ's example, with
the will and grace of God, and with faith (cf.. Eph 2:10);
unlike the Pharisee who prayed, "I thank you, God, that I am
not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind,
and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here.
I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get". We should
also have the modesty of the same tax collector who, with a
contrite heart, said "God, be merciful to me, a sinner"
The fool for God
knows that prayer in combination with repentance,
abstinence, communion and the reading of God's Word combats
evil in the acquisition of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The
fool also knows that salvation is possible only through the
Sacraments of the Church, which
are: Baptism (Matt 28:16-20),
Chrismation or Confirmation (Heb 6
16-17), the Eucharist (Matt
26:26-30), Confession or Repentance
(1 Tim 6:12), Holy Orders
such as Bishops, Deacons and so on (1 Tim 3:12-18 & Phil
1:1), Holy Matrimony (Heb 13:4),
and Holy Unction or the Anointing
of the sick (James 5:14). Yet many around us think that the
sacraments are not necessary to be a Christian. These people
live in defacto relationships, do not go to confession, do
not take communion, and are disrespectful to the clergy.
The athete of
prayer concludes his prayers by remembering the Beatitudes;
for the poor in spirit are those who realise they have
nothing, command nothing and are capable of nothing without
God, and praise Him with humility; those who mourn weep with
the realisation that there is a great gulf between us and
the living God calling for His love as a merciful Father;
those who are meek do not promote themselves like the
Pharisee, but are like the tax collector; those who hunger
and thirst for righteousness are those who constantly quest
for God, to worship, love and serve Him, to fast, pray, do
good works for His sake and not their's, and keep His
commandments; blessed are those who are persecuted for the
love of God; and blessed are the peacemakers for peace,
forgiveness, and reconciliation actualise the Kingdom of
Jesus was concerned that the religious community did not
understand the meaning of the law by saying "You search the
Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and
these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing
to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Yet
they did not realise that He personifies the law.
"But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in
you. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive
Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive.
How can you believe, who receive honour from one another,
and do not seek the honour that comes from the only God? Do
not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is
one who accuses you - Moses, in whom you trust. For if you
believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me"
community was more concerned with law-keeping than
understanding God. This is powerfully illustrated by by
Christ's words: "This people honours Me with their lips, but
their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me,
teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying
aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men"
They were able to
look at Jesus yet they could not see the Word, they did not
recognise that this was God who inspired and directed Moses.
They were not willing to give up their positions in the
community and to understand or discover God. The people were
locked into their pride and assumed importance to the
community, yet they were nothing more than lost souls.
Christ gave them a way out, by saying "sell all that you
have and distribute to the poor, and you will have the
treasure in heaven; and come follow Me" (Luke 18:22).
The above was also
observed by St. Paul, when he wrote to the church in Rome,
"For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but
not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's
righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of
God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to
everyone who believes" (Rom 10:2:4).
God must come
first in our lives. We have to be prepared to give up all
material ties, memories, and our positions in society. Thus
we will carry our Cross and follow Christ.