Grace can rescue a fallen man. He can recover from his sins and be rehabilitated into a good moral condition. The Lord can restore a man from his fallen condition into a state where he can freely make his choices and freely implement them in a state free from passion and compulsion. Such a man will be grateful to the Lord. He will recognise what the Lord has done for him. He will be thankful to the Lord and will count himself blessed by his God. But this is not enough. Many non-Orthodox stop here. For them, they think it is sufficient to show gratitude for what they consider to be benefits and to petition the Lord for more of these benefits. This is the practice and the extent of their piety. But an Orthodox Christian knows that gratitude is just the beginning. He knows that he must use his freedom to remember his repentance. He knows that his glorification of the Lord must be grounded in his own sorrow for his sins. When that happens, his sorrow doesn’t go away. Instead, his sorrow takes on a joyous quality. This joyous quality is an effect of his repentance, for when the Lord accepts his repentance, then a man understands that he is reunited with his Lord in the Body of the Church, and he is grateful for this acceptance of his repentance. Even if a man does not sense that the Lord has accepted his repentance, he is still content to repent even without the consolation of this joy. He knows that repentance is still the primary activity of his life. He doesn’t repent so that he might receive consolation and imagine that he is being soothed. He repents because he knows that he must. He has no other reason to live rather than to live out his days in repentance. This is the purpose of his life. Yet the Lord will rarely withhold the consolation of His joy from a repentant man, because He knows that most men are too weak to do without His comforts. These comforts fortify a man. When the Lord does console us with the experience of his joy, He is condescending to our weakness. Why? Because He knows that we will reject His yoke, even though it is lighter than sin, because we cannot even bear a slight trial or temptation. The Lord knows that a man will choose to damn himself and will lose himself in his own sin if he even just slightly tastes some of its temptation. When a repentant man realises that the Lord is shielding him from sin and temptation, then a man will become even more grateful than before. Such a man sees his own corruption in the weakness of his will. He understands that his salvation is at stake. He relies on the grace of the Lord to shelter him from temptation. When he sense that grace, a repentant man’s joy takes him out of himself. This is a very dangerous condition. When a man does not know how to guard and treasure this kind of grace, he will lose this grace. Sooner or later, it will leave him. This grace departs from a man because, little by little, he inevitably gives himself over to his sins and temptations, however small they may be at the beginning. Little by little, he loses grace, his joy, his gratitude, his spiritual balance and his good, moral condition. He may not even be consciously aware of the cooling of his heart, but his soul is always aware. His soul is aware of the choices that he makes in his heart. Here he alienates himself from his Lord. His mind becomes cloudy, his perceptions faulty. He starts to misunderstand his situation. He gives himself over to thoughts that he likes. He develops an appetite for such thoughts. Such a man who turns away from the consolations of the Lord starts to rely on the pleasure and compensations that his thoughts afford him because these thoughts please him. Soon, he is acting out his thoughts and his fall becomes bodily as well as psychical. He becomes hedonistic and self-pleasing. The non-Orthodox are particularly susceptible to this tempation, for they lack the ascetic, Orthodox praxis that preserves one’s spiritual balance. However, even Orthodox Christians face this risk as well. It may go even worse for Orthodox who turn away from the ascetic praxis that they have been granted. In either case, the fall into this tempation is the same for both non-Orthodox and Orthodox, but the latter face greater condemnation for failing to guard the grace that they have received. In summary, a man rescued from his sins is in the most dangerous situation because now he needs to make his choices. He must choose to return to his repentant condition, and let the Lord accept his repentance, if the Lord so wills. Then he may be able to preserve his gratitude, guard the grace that blesses him. He forgoes the pleasure of this world in order to receive the joy that the Lord might share with him.
What are virtues and passions and what is the the relationship between them? I don’t find useful the idea that a passion is just a virtue-gone-wrong, i.e. into its negative mode. I’ve seen many heterodox charts displaying this idea. I prefer to think that virtues aren’t transmutable, as being solely divine energetically, incapable of losing their divine character. I think that divine virtues ground good, downstream moral actions. I’d say virtues are always divine and never human. Using this language, then one won’t make the mistake of considering those purely human, so-called ‘good’ morals (that even atheists and heretics agree upon) to be good in a divine way (that is, there is no imitatio possible in my orthopraxis.) In my orthopraxis, of course we do everything we can. That is no credit to ourselves. We don’t even notice it. It’s automatic. But I ask the Lord to do everything. I don’t even ask the Lord to help me to do things. I just do everything I can, automatically and unthinkingly. I consider my efforts to be nothing. Some people ask the Lord for help and strength in undertaking. That’s fine. I ask the Lord to do everything after I do everything that I can but account it as nothing. The Lord takes all the credit, all the glory, whatever the outcome. It’s His providence. It’s His grace, if He grants it, or grants something else I could not have imagined. The corollary is that I get all the blame if I do not do everything that I can. Immediately, I have no way to avoid this blame and am presented with the necessity to repent, regardless of the outcome. Even if I exert myself fully, repentance is still an outcome of the failure in the shortfall of my efforts exerted to their maximum degree. In simple summary, when virtues are considered to be solely and exclusively divine, and not a humanistic property, then a man will take no credit for any so-called ‘good’ he does.
An Orthodox Christian who knowingly sins for some material reason – i.e. for the sake of maintaining the status quo regarding his job, his family situation, his house, etc. – such a man knows that he is doing something wrong. He knows his reason is not divine but is secular and merely human. He knows that he is acting materially in a way that is not divine. He know this is a sin. He can either admit this sin, or he can deny that he is sinning. If he admits this sin, he can either stop sinning or he can continue sinning. If he continues sinning, then of course the evil one will dominate him in his mind and body. This domination will be visible to others. He will look and sound different from before. On the other hand, if he stops sinning, and stops benefitting from the evil fruits of his wrong-doing, then now he will have an opportunity to repent. Simply refraining from sin is not yet repenting. This is the character of the lukewarm. Will he take his opportunity to repent? It looks to me like some Orthodox Christians who commit sin for some temporary, material benefit – i.e. to maintain the status quo of their current life conditions, for example – these ones have taken a pragmatic position. They know they are doing something wrong to just to ‘get by’ for now. The Lord will judge them. The Lord will judge us. My point is that there are two ways that some Orthodox Christians are currently sinning here, and both of these ways are bad. The first way is that those who agree to this sin for the sake of temporarily maintaining the status quo in their lives do it but without having much appetite or much attachment to the conditions of their life. They are being pragmatic and practical. They plan to change and do the right thing as soon as they are able. I think this is wrong. The evil one will gain rights over them. They should do the right thing now. They shouldn’t wait. Neither should we wait. The time for our ongoing repentance is always now. The second way is even worse. These ones start to justify themselves. Their passions run wild. They foist their sins onto others. They try to hurt, exploit and injure others. They try to benefit materially, more and more. So their sins also increase, more and more. Anyway, after we stop sinning, we all know that then comes the time of repentance. This fact of repentance-time is unavoidable. Unavoidable. Repentance is a hard fact, and it can go either well or badly. This time of repentance is now. Only now. There is no time for repentance after this time. This is our Orthodox dogma. To embody this Orthodox dogma and to always be actively repenting is to be Orthodox. It is our orthopraxia. To practise anything else is to not be Orthodox. To practise something else is to embody some other, strange doctrine. I think that some Orthodox Christians who take a pragmatic position by agreeing to do sin are being visibly ‘lukewarm.’ Other people can see their ‘lukewarmness.’ But there is more to it. As we have said, ‘lukewarm’ Orthodox Christians are also operating from some hidden, strange secret dogma in their hearts. This secret dogma will affect them. Their personalities will change. Their behaviour will change. They will seem different from before. Of course, the way of repentance is always open to them. But repentance, if and when they experiment with it, will seem very difficult to them. They will not want to repent. They don’t like it and will not like it. Just as they don’t want to repent now, neither will they want to repent later. They don’t understand that repentance cannot be forced. Nor can it be faked. The belief that repentance can be forced by their natural antipathy to discomfort is a mistake. To understand this point is key: repentance is only ever voluntary. They mistakenly believe that repentance might issue from them by force of circumstance or condition. No. Repentance can only issue forth from them voluntarily – and never in a fake way – when there is correct, Orthodox dogma in their hearts. This correct, Orthodox dogma dictates that acting materially, for purely secular and human aims, is a sin because it is not partaking of divine energy. Correct dogma will also say that the only time for repentance is now – in the ongoing, continuous sense – in these few years granted to us. Whoever embodies these points of correct, Orthodox dogma will never be lukewarm. A friend of mine who is a priest told me that the injunction to “…love the Lord your God from your whole heart, and from your whole soul, and from your whole power” (Deut 6:5) includes all the powers of our body and of our soul. That is, all the powers of our whole being, both materially and immaterially. For this reason, dogma is not just for the intellect alone, but it is also for our physical nature. Dogma is physical as well as being psychical. We don’t just contain correct dogma in our mind, but we also contain it in our body. The divine, energetic grace and virtue of the Lord is containable in both our minds and bodies. Or, more correctly, we can say that the divine, energetic grace and virtue of the Lord is containable in us as created men and women. We don’t need to distinguish the material and immaterial aspects of our being while regarding this question. If someone has sinned against the Lord for the sake of his material status quo, well, he can repent, theoretically speaking. No one but the Lord will judge him. We cannot do his repentance for him. We can barely repent for even our own sins. The question is whether we, who are ourselves lukewarm, will take our own opportunity to repent right now?
Strike a pose and call it repentance. The repentant pose can be dry. The dry, Christian pose of repentance reads like a pamphlet or brochure, much like some other Christians issue daily press releases on how ‘saved’ they are. The repentant pose can also be wet. The wet, Christian pose of repentance is purely psychological, as a neurotic, mental affect in the mind. The wet Christian must perpetually advertise his anxiety and distress. However, true repentance is not a posture but a position. The truly repentant position is characterised by nothing short of maximum, spiritual grief, 100% pain of heart. Anything less is just an illusion or dream. After a struggler finds himself located in 100% spiritual grief and pain of heart, then something strange happens: he is no longer affected by despair. Unlike breezy, Christian poseurs, a truly repentant man is not menaced or consumed by secret despair. Rather, he himself has ‘eaten’ or consumed his own despair. He is beyond despair. At this point, full lamentation can take hold. This is not pretty. It’s an appalling, horrifying sight. We would recoil, aghast in fear and distaste, should we encounter a saint in the throes of his repentance. For this reason, the saints avoid our company, or play the fool with us, because they do not want to impose the horror of their condition upon us. Did you taste this horror? Do you remember the turning-point in your life, when the Holy Spirit whispered salvation into your ear? A memory of a grace-filled moment is also a present illusion. That same grace-filled moment of our repentant conversion can and should be a present reality once again. It should not be written into the memory-hole of our publicized, psycho-social history. It should be vivified in secret by our hidden grief. These things are veiled and invisible. Repentance is not a dream, and a saint is never an imposter.