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November - December 2004

FOR CONSIDERATION: On the Denial of Self and the Cleansing of the Heart
(From The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander)

Naked, small, and helpless, you now pass on to the most difficult of all human tasks: to conquer your own selfish desires. Ultimately it is just this "self-persecution" on which your warfare depends, for as long as your selfish will rules, you cannot pray to the Lord with a pure heart: Thy will be done. If you cannot get rid of your own greatness, neither can you lay yourself open for real greatness.

If you cling to your own freedom, you cannot share in true freedom, where only one will reigns.

The saints' deep secret is this: do not seek freedom, and freedom will be given to you.

The earth brings forth thorns and thistles, it is said. By the sweat of his brow, with anguish shall man till it; it is he himself, his own substance.

The holy Fathers' counsel is to begin with small things, for, says Ephraim the Syrian, how can you put out a great fire before you have learned to quench a small one? If you wish to set yourself free from a great suffering, crush the small desires, say the holy Fathers. Do not suppose that the one can be separated from the others: they all hang together like a long chain or a net.

Thus it does not pay to come to grips with the hard-to-master great vices and bad habits you have acquired without at the same time overcoming your small "innocent" weaknesses: your taste for sweets, your urge to talk, your curiosity, your meddling.

For, finally, all our desires, great and small, are built on the same foundation, our unchecked habit of satisfying only our own will.

It is the life of our will that is destroyed. Since the Fall the will has been running errands exclusively for its own ego. For this reason our warfare is directed against the life of self-will as such. And it should be undertaken without delay or wearying. If you have the urge to ask something, don't ask! If you have the urge to drink two cups of coffee, drink only one!

If you have the urge to look at the clock, don't look! If you wish to smoke a cigarette, refrain! If you want to go visiting, stay at home!

This is self-persecution; in this way does one silence, with God's help, one's loud-voiced will.

You are perhaps wondering, is this really necessary? The holy Fathers reply with another question: do you really think you can fill a jar with clean water before the old, dirty water has been emptied out or do you wish to receive a beloved guest in a room crammed with old trash and junk? No; he who hopes to see the Lord as he is, purifies himself, says the apostle John (1 John 3:3).

Thus let us purify our heart! Let us throw out all the dusty trash that is stored there; let us scrub the dirty floor, wash the windows and open them, in order that light and air may come into the room we are preparing as a sanctuary for the Lord. Then let us put on clean garments, so that the old musty smell may not cling to us and we find ourselves thrust out (Luke 13:28).

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