Living According To God’s Will was written by Metropolitan Philaret, first hierarch of the Russian Church Abroad, whose relics were found to be incorrupt, indicating a saintly life. This book is aimed at those who are new to the Orthodox Church. It offers basic but firm instruction for those who are beginning the path of spiritual warfare.
Stages of sin
It is more difficult to struggle with sin when, through frequent repetition, it becomes a habit in one. After acquiring any kind of habit, the habitual actions are performed by the person very easily, almost unnoticed to himself, spontaneously. Thus, the struggle with sin that has become a habit for a person is very difficult since it is not only difficult to overcome but is even difficult to detect in its approach and process.
As even more dangerous stage of sin is vice. In this condition, sin so rules a person that it fetters his will as if in chains. Here, one is almost powerless to struggle against it. He is a slave to sin even though he may acknowledge its danger and, in lucid intervals, perhaps even hates it with all his soul (such for example are the vices of alcoholism, narcotic addictions, etc.). In this condition, one cannot correct oneself without the special mercy and help from God and one is in need of both the prayer and the spiritual support of others. One must bear in mind that even a seemingly minor sin such as gossiping, love of attire, empty diversions, and so forth can become a vice in man if it possesses him entirely and fills his soul.
The highest stage of sin, in which sin completely enslaves one to itself, is the passion of one or another type of sin. In this condition, man can no longer hate his sin as he can with a vice (and this is the difference between them). Rather he submits to sin in all his experiences, actions, and moods, as did Judas Iscariot.
One vice I have, which I’ve become aware of only recently, is daydreaming. Throughout the day, as an escape from whatever task I must perform, I begin a vain fantasy of the future in which I gloriously achieve a worldly goal or assert my superiority and correctness over others. I’ve been getting better at stopping these fantasies while they’re in progress, but they seem to start effortlessly, without my consent, and they often encroach on my prayer rule. Why am I so enraptured with what may happen in the future when here in the present I am creating the most meager of fruits in service to God?
One who is blind can regain his sight and love the one who revealed the truth to him, and one who is soiled with vices and passions can be cleansed by repentance and become a confessor of the Truth, but who and what can change a blasphemer who has seen and known the Truth and who has stubbornly rejected it and come to hate it? This horrible condition is similar to the condition of the devil himself who believes in God and trembles but who nevertheless hates Him, blasphemes Him, and opposes Him.
I find it hard to believe that there are men who have received the full revelation of God, accepted it, enjoyed God’s grace, and then rejected it.
The spiritual struggle
…from a Christian point of view, life is a moral struggle, a path of constant striving toward good and perfection. There can be no pause on this path, according to the law of the spiritual life. A man who stops working on himself will not remain the same as he was, but will inevitably become worse—like a stone that is thrown upward and stops rising, it will not remain suspended in the air but will fall downward.
The entire earthly life of a Christian is a constant struggle of moral self-perfection. And, of course, Christian perfection is not given to a man at once, but gradually. To a Christian who, through his inexperience, thought that he could attain holiness at once, St Seraphim of Sarov said, “Do everything slowly, not suddenly; virtue is not a pear—you cannot eat it at once.”
An Orthodox Christian, however, who is God-loving and strict with himself will never allow, never permit, bad desires and thoughts to possess his mind and heart. In order to accomplish this, he will call upon God’s help in prayer and, with the sign of the Cross, struggle against such thought the instant they appear. By effort of the will one will bring one’s thought over to prayer or at least to other more edifying subjects. If one allows oneself to be inflamed by impure imagination, it means that one has depraved and ruined oneself. In order to struggle with bad thoughts, an Orthodox person must firmly turn away from and quickly depart from all that can elicit these bad thoughts.
I don’t believe God will allow us to feel absolutely certain of our salvation, because then we would immediately slack off. Even on your death bed, He may only give mild comfort, just enough so that you continue to pray to Him, but not so much that you turn on the hospital television or scroll through TikTok videos, lest Satan snatch away your soul at the final moment.
Old Testament law vs New Testament law
…the Old Testament law looked at the exterior actions of man, while the New Testament law looks at the heart of man, at his inner motives. Under the Old Testament law, man submitted himself to God as a slave to his master, but under the New Testament, he strives toward submitting to Him as a son submit to a beloved father.
What is Christian love?
What, exactly, in this Christian love? In its fully developed state, it is the most elevated, powerful, and radiant of all human feelings. It is manifested as an experience of especially spiritual and moral closeness, of a most strong inner gravitation of one person to another. The heart of a loving person is open to the one who is loved, and ready to give itself to the other.
St John of Kronstadt advises us not only not to be angry at those who offend our self-love, but to value them as spiritual doctors who reveal the sores of our proud and vainglorious soul.
Underneath Christian love is natural love, where you love your family members and friends, but only as long as they please you with the emotional or monetary transactions you seek from them. As soon as a mother, brother, or friend hurts your pride or stymies your worldly goals, you will be quick to cut them off in selfishness and anger. The standard for Christian love, on the other hand, which is impossible without the grace of God, is to love those who harm you and—most of all—your enemies, and to never return evil for evil. I am capable of natural love: if you are kind to me I will be happy to repay that kindness. As for Christian love, however, I struggle and fail to not resent those who hurt me.
Importance of the family unit
A strong and healthy family is the first and basic unit of society and of the state. The strongest and most well-organized state will come to a condition of decline and disintegration if its family unit falls apart and there are no bases of family life and upbringing. If, on the other hand, the family unit is strong and the upbringing is healthy, then in the event of a major external destruction of the forms of government and society, the people remain capable of carrying on life and can reestablish the strength and unit of the state.
In the United States, the family unit is broken, and is now a big factory of creating mostly broken people with hearts hard towards God. I would love to reverse this state of affairs, but look at the time—we seem so close to the end. The best we can do is to shield and inoculate our children, assuming we can find a spouse with whom it is suitable for creating a family.
Importance of prayer
One who does not pray is not a Christian. Prayer is the first and most essential element in our spiritual life. It is the breath of our soul, and without it, the soul dies, just as the body dies without air. All the vital functions of the body depend upon its breathing. In exactly the same way, one’s spiritual life depends on prayer, and a person who does not pray to God is spiritually dead.
If you have a good desire to pray, thank God from Whom everything good comes, and do not lose the chance to pray from the soul. If you do not have this desire, and the time for prayer arrives, then it is necessary to force yourself, encouraging your lethargic and lazy spirit by reminding it that prayer (like every good deed) is all the more precious in God’s eyes when it is given with difficulty. The Lord does not disdain any prayer if one prays sincerely, as best he knows how, even though he has not developed the habit of praying fully and with unfading fervor.
Communism is a religion
Communism is supposedly an atheistic system that renounces all religion. In actual fact, it is a religion—a fanatical, dark, and intolerant religion. Christianity is a religion of heaven; communism, a religion of the earth. Christianity preaches love for everyone; communism preaches class hatred and warfare and is based on egoism. Christianity is a religion of idealism, founded on the faith of the victory of God’s truth and love. Communism is a religion of dry, rational pragmatism, pursuing the goal of creating an earthly paradise (a paradise of animalistic satiety and spiritual reprobation).
The Metropolitan’s definition of communism sure sounds like what we have in the United States.
Overall, Living According To God’s Will is a good book for someone who wants to begin the spiritual life within the context of the Orthodox Church. For me, it was more of a review. If you are already actively engaged in spiritual battle, and have at least a rudimentary spiritual life, a more potent resource would be The Struggle For Virtue by Archbishop Averky. It wouldn’t hurt to read both.
Learn More: Living According To God’s Will on Amazon