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.
There were two monks on Mt Athos that shared a cell their whole monastic life. They knew each other so well. They never had an argument. Everything was so good that they thought something was missing. They felt that there was no temptation or provocation in their situation with each other. One day, they decided to have a mock-argument in order just to test themselves, so that they might profit spiritually from the exercise. The topic in itself wasn’t important to them. They believed their spiritual balance was stable enough to undertake the exercise without harm to their spiritual condition. However, it secretly allowed the evil one to introduce a contentious spirit into their situation. This contention didn’t go away. It eventually led to disrespect and condemning of each other. The rift widened to the point that they could no longer live together. They were not in fact able to preserve their spiritual balance. What started as an exercise became a real fall for both of them. What can we say? We can say they were correct that things were indeed originally missing in their original situation when everything on the surface seemed fine to them. But they were wrong. Firstly, they had stopped relying on the providence of God Who knew they were so weak and were unable to bear certain temptations and Who was shielding them from these temptations all the while. Then they prescribed spiritual medicine to themselves without a blessing, listening to no-one. All of this came about through their inner negligence, their forgetfulness and through their spiritual insensitivity. Step-by-step, they fell into a fall because they were not faithful to their cenobitic way of life that was designed to shelter them from their own presumption and delusion. Their lack of inner vigilance was at the root of their fall. It allowed the evil one to whisper into their hearts that same temptation of our Lord in the Desert (Mt 4: 5-7) Who said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deut 6:16.)
Righteous anger is an energetic and focussed opposition to sin. It involves a hatred for the evil one and all his ways. When the evil one suggests a sin, the righteous mind immediately reacts against it with dynamic strength. As one holy father said somewhere, such an incensed reaction shocks the demons, stopping them momentarily in their tracks. It buys the righteous mind a little time, so that a Christian man might prepare himself for the next temptation that will surely come. Righteous anger is the sudden expression of a man’s will. When a man desires to live righteously, he desires to rely on his Lord in all things. Usually, the temptation away from the Lord is presented to his mind as a picture, a sentiment, or a word-phrase. The righteous mind immediately recognises the blasphemy inherent in such things. The righteous mind loathes blasphemy, and repels these temptations in an habitually reflexive way. Righteous anger is a two-step process. Having projected himself outwardly – “Get behind me, satan!” – a righteous man returns to himself in prayer, seeking the rest and peace of the Lord: “Maranatha! Come, Lord!” and “Lord, have mercy!”. The peace and rest of the Lord is infused with a man’s fervent love for the Lord. This fervent love is the source of a man’s strength, of his incensive power. Such love is dynamic. Why? Having returned to himself, a righteous man prepares himself for the next temptation that will surely come. He prepares himself by renewing his repentance, and his repentance is always an active process. Righteous anger is grounded in a man’s dynamic love for his Lord. He does not want to lose this love, nor his connection to his Lord. He will bear with no blasphemy against his Beloved. He knows that the assault against himself is an assault against the image and likeness of his Lord that forms him. This blasphemy shocks and disgusts him. It offends his dignity, the nobility of his creation, as the work of God’s hands. If he is a repentant man, his indignation will then give way to sorrow, the memory of his own death, for he knows that he deserves his temptations and he deserves his death. But he knows that these temptations are permitted by the mercy of the Lord for the correction of his own soul, so that he may not die, but find life in the peace and rest of the Lord. His sorrow then gives way to gratitude to the Lord. Other graces, gifts of the Holy Spirit, may then quickly follow. He reforms in himself the image and likeness of his Lord. He restores unto himself the dignity and nobility of his own created nature, a work of God’s hands. Without repentance, anger against the evil one is not righteous, but merely human. Such human anger will not repel demons nor shield one from their temptations. But when anger is righteous, and a man’s repentance has been rewarded by fervent love, sorrow, gratitude, and the memory of death, then a righteous man returns to himself in the life, peace and rest of the Lord.