The Commandments of the Gospel
January 21, 2013 Length: 44:33
Following his recent podcast on the virtue as well as the pitfalls of zeal, Fr. Thomas talks about where our zeal should be focused. He uses a 19th century book entitled The Arena by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov to help us understand.
We recently reflected here on Ancient Faith Radio about the faculty of zeal, which goes together with the faculty of desire, which God, Himself, has, and we, being made in the image and likeness of God, also have these, what the holy fathers call, natural passions, the natural faculties that belong to our nature.
And so we said that God is zealous for us, to be in communion with us. He desires with great desire to save us. He acts in a powerful, energetic, desiring way, even like a bridegroom, loving and seeking his sinful bride. So these qualities belong to God, Himself, and they should be ours, as well. We should be zealous for good. We should be zealous for God. We should be zealous for the law. We should desire, with great desire, to be in communion with God. We should be empowered and energized.
But all our powers and energies of desiring and zealous activity have to be guided, and the fathers of platonic tradition would say, just like Plato taught, the thymos, this incensive power, the epithymia, the desiring power, have to be ruled by the egumenikon, the governing power, or the logistikon, or the nous, or the nomikon.
There is this quality of directing our passions to their proper end, and certainly, not having carnal passions, or passions for money or sex, but even for prominence or prestige, or even for spiritual life, to be like a great saint, to have a desire to be that, which may not be enlightened by God. It may not be according to God, to knowledge. We reflected on this already here on the radio.
But what we want to show today, and I think it is extremely interesting, and very, very instructive, very helpful for us. I quoted, when I was speaking about zeal, some really powerful words of St. Ignatius Brianchaninov in his book, The Arena. I actually quoted the teaching that there can be a zeal that is not according to knowledge that seduces people, especially people who claim to be spiritual—bishops, priests, monks, nuns, committed Christians—having a zeal for God but that is not enlightened.
St. Ignatius, I believe it is in chapter 36 of The Arena discusses that. He teaches about that. I would highly recommend to everybody who is interested in the spiritual life and the spiritual warfare to read The Arena by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, especially those who are monks, nuns, priests and bishops. Deacons, church people, leading people in the church community, should really read this book.
But today I want to go back to St. Ignatius and to show how he says that the zeal, the desire, and the godly passion, when operating in the proper way, for human beings in this world, and for Christians particularly, will always be zeal for the law of God and the commandments of God, and that zeal will be proper and right and true and according to the righteousness of God, only when the person is really striving and hungering and thirsting and is very zealous for keeping the commandments of God.
St. Ignatius would say that desire to keep the commandments of God is foundational to all spiritual life. It certainly was foundational in Israel. Psalm 118 (LXX, 119 MT), this long psalm about the commandments, the statutes, the ordinances, the righteousness, and the words. It is very important. It is read over the very tomb of Jesus Christ on Great Friday and Great Saturday.
Jesus, humanly speaking, in his humanity, kept all of the commandments of God, his father, and he even gave the proper interpretation of the commandments of the law. And he, himself, fulfilled them. So Jesus Christ, himself, is the perfect example in human form of the zealous desiring, properly directed, a godly zealous person, a godly desiring person, a godly grieving person. The proper grief, and desire, and zeal, is shown by Jesus, and by Jesus’ interpretation of the law of God, in Moses, and the Psalms, and the Prophets.
And so, St. Ignatius will speak about the commandments of the gospel, the evangelical commandments, and that would mean how Jesus interprets and himself fulfills the commandments of the old law, the Mosaic law, and the Psalms, and the Prophets. How that begins, and is founded on, and established by, the keeping of the commandments of God as Jesus taught them, for example in the Sermon on the Mount, and in his parables, and how Jesus, himself, lived them, which ends up, of course, in his being led to the cross, being crucified, dying, taking upon himself the sins of the world.
One of the commandments of the gospel is that if we are his disciples, we have to take up our cross, too. We have to follow him. We have to walk in the way he walked. We have to live our own life as he lived it.
Here I would just like to make a comment. We have this WWJD thing going on now on hats and T-shirts and things like that, which means, What Would Jesus Do? And that is a very interesting and a good thing. However, I really think that it is not totally accurate. We should not ask ourselves, in our situations in the 21st century, what would Jesus do? We would say, on the basis of what Jesus has done, and what he has revealed to us, and made powerful in us by the sending of the Holy Spirit, show us what we are to do.
It might be better to think about it in these terms: What would Jesus command us to do? What would Jesus have us to do? Jesus is Jesus, he is the Son of God and the Messiah. Light from light, true God of true God, begotten, not created, born of a virgin. That’s Jesus. And we have to become anointed with the same spirit that he was anointed with as Messiah and we have to be in obedience to God, the Father, as he was. As he said, “The work I do is not my work, but the work of the Father, who sent me. My will is not my will, but it is the will of the Father, who sent me. My words are not my words, they are the words given to me from before the foundation of the world by the Father, who sent me.”
We learn from Jesus how we ought to behave. So maybe we should make a new hat that would say, What Would Jesus Have Us Do? Today, now, here, in our situation.
St. Ignatius, in his book, The Arena, says very clearly, and this is very biblical and very traditional, that the first thing that Jesus would have us do, and that God almighty, through the revelation of Jesus, by the power of the Holy Spirit, would have us do, is to study the commandments of the gospel, Christ’s teaching about commandments, the commandments given by Christ, or the interpretation of the commandments of the Old Testament, as understood, taught and lived by Christ, and to search for a life that we could live according to these evangelical commandments, the Gospel commandments, the Christian commandments.
What I would like to do now is to take the time in this podcast to go through the first ten chapters of the English translation of this book called The Arena by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, and to read to you, and to myself, first of all, what this saint says to the monks and nuns, the monastics of his time, and what he says can certainly be applied to all Christians, to all human beings.
He puts it in a monastic context because he is giving his last will and testament, his legacy, his offering to contemporary monasticism in Russia at the time. But we can all learn from this as Kallistos Ware says in the introduction to this particular translation by Father Lazarus Moore. I counted in the first ten chapters almost 50 times in 25 pages that St. Ignatius is using this expression, commandments of the gospel, or gospel commandments, or evangelical commandments. Usually the translation here is always commandments of the gospel, or commandments of Christ in the gospel. You understand, I am sure, what is meant here.
I want to share this with you. I am hoping to entice you, actually. I am hoping to get you hooked so that you will not only notice these things in scripture, but that you might even get the book, The Arena, and read it. Maybe you can say this is a commercial, a kind of advertisement, for St. Ignatius’ book, in which he summarizes scripture, tradition, and holy fathers, in a very remarkable way. Of course, it is a 19th century style, and maybe that is a little bit difficult for us today, but it is certainly very easy and simple to understand, because it is said very simply.
So, what does he say? The very first line of his book is this:
From his very entry into the monastery, a monk should occupy himself with all possible care and attention with the reading of the Holy Gospel. He should make such a study of the gospel that it may always be present in his memory at every moral step he takes, for every act, for every thought. He may always have ready in his memory the teaching of the gospel. Such is the injunction of the savior, himself.
Now that is very important. It is really very, very important, because it means Christian life, in general, and Christian monastic life, in particular, must be founded on the gospel, the study of the gospel, and the teaching of the gospel, and the commandments of the gospel. It doesn’t begin with the fathers, it doesn’t begin with the canon law book, The Pedalion. It doesn’t begin with books on spirituality. In a sense, it doesn’t even begin with ascetical and liturgical life.
The ascetical and liturgical life, and certainly the liturgy, is totally based on the commandments of the gospel, and how the New Testament interprets those commandments. And if you are interested in this concerning me, I have this other podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio as an interpretation of the Divine Liturgy, and I try to show how the Divine Liturgy is, in fact, evangelical. It is rooted in the gospel. It is rooted in the Bible. It is rooted in the New Testament interpretation of the Old Testament, but without the commandments of the gospel, without God’s commandments, and even to celebrate the liturgy is a commandment. We even say that in the liturgy. When we are consecrating the bread and wine to become the body and blood of Christ, we say, “Having in remembrance, therefore, this, our savior’s commandment, when he said, ‘Do this in remembrance of me.’”
Having in mind this: Our savior’s commandment, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection on the third day, the ascension to heaven, the sitting at the right hand, offering to you, your own, and your own, on behalf of all, and before all, we praise you, we bless you, we hymn you, we worship you, we give you thanks.
So even the celebration of the liturgy is a commandment of Christ, and how it should be celebrated is a commandment of Christ, and it is a commandment that is revealed in the gospel. But the foundational thing, in the scripture, in all the saints, and in St. Ignatius’ writing as he summarizes it, is this:
The promise of Christ consists in the fact that the person who fulfills the commandments of the gospel will not only be saved, but will also enter into the most intimate union with God and become a divinely built temple of God. For the Lord said, “He who has my commandments, and keeps them, he it is who loves me. And he who loves me will be loved by my father, and I will love him, and I will reveal myself to him.”
That, of course, is a quotation of Christ in St. John’s Gospel, the 14th chapter.
Ignatius continues in Chapter One:
From these words of the Lord, it is evident that the commandments of the Gospel must be so studied that they become the possession, the property of the mind. Only then is the exact, constant fulfillment of them possible, such as the Lord commands. The Lord reveals himself to the doer of the commandments, spiritually. He is seen with the spiritual eye, with the mind, the nous. The person sees the Lord in himself, in his thoughts and feelings, transfigured by the Holy Spirit. So, on no account must the Lord be expected to appear to the eyes of sense, but the Lord says, “If anyone loves me, he will keep my word, and my father will love him, and we will come to him, and we will make our abode with him.” It is evident that the Lord comes to the heart of the person who carries out the commandments and makes his heart a temple and dwelling of God. In due time, you will understand this by blessed experience, if you so do it.
Then he continues:
The threat to a person remiss in the fulfillment of the commandments of the gospel is contained in the prediction for him of unfruitfulness, estrangement from God, and even perdition. The Lord said, “Without me you can do nothing.” And he said, “If you keep my commandments, you will abide in my love.”
And he even says, in the Sermon on the Mount, “Not everyone who calls me Lord, Lord, will enter the Kingdom, but only those who do the will of my father in heaven. On that day (the day of judgment) many will say to me, ‘Lord, Lord, did we not prophesy in your name, expel demons in your name, do many miracles in your name?’ And then I will confess to them, I have never known you. Depart from me, you workers of iniquity.”
So we can even do external acts that are not according to the commandments of the gospel of love and humility and meekness, and therefore we can do miracles, and prophecy, and all kinds of things, and end up being lost, ourselves.
So then, St. Ignatius continues:
The giver, teacher, and model of humility, our Lord Jesus Christ, called his all holy, all mighty divine commandments, the least, on account of the very simple form in which they are expressed, and which makes them easy to understand, and easy to carry out for every type of person, even the most uneducated. But at the same time, the Lord added that a deliberate and constant breaker of even one commandment will be called least in the Kingdom of Heaven.
So if we keep the commandments of God we are among the least. We are connected with Christ, but we inherit the Kingdom.
Then Ignatius continues:
The Lord’s commandments are spirit and life. That is a quotation of Jesus in St. John’s gospel. They save the doer of them. They restore a dead soul to life. They make a carnal and worldly person spiritual. On the other hand, a person who neglects the commandments of the gospel ruins himself, and remains in a carnal and worldly state, in a fallen condition, and develops this fall in himself. The animal man (meaning the man who lives only according to the psyche, the soul, and not according to the pneuma, the spirit), such a man does not receive the gifts of the spirit of God, for they are foolishness to him.
And then he continues to comment and ends the first chapter by saying this:
The Lord God destroys all who go a-whoring from Himself. He destroys all those, who follow their own will and their own understanding, by refusing the commandments of the gospel or the will of God. It is good for me as a true monk to cling to God and to put my trust in the Lord, by striving to keep His commandments.
In Chapter Two, he begins the same way:
We shall be judged according to the commandments of God, at that judgment which God has appointed for us on the last day. For by these words of the Lord it is evident that we shall be judged by the gospel, and that negligence in carrying out the commands of the gospel is an actual rejection of the Lord, Himself. Let us take all care, brethren, to become doers of the commandments of the gospel. When death will come is not known, but we must be ready, by living a life according to the Gospel.
These chapters are very short, they are only a page or two each. In Chapter Three, he says:
The monastic life is life according to the commandments of the gospel. The holy monks of old called the monastic life a life according to the commandments of the gospel. St. John of the ladder defines a monk thus: A monk is one who is guided only by the commandments of God, and the word of God in every time and place and matter. The monks subject to St. Pachomius the Great had to learn the gospel by heart so as to have the laws of the God-man like a continually open book in their memory. The blessed elder Seraphim of Sarov said, “We should so train ourselves that the mind, as it were, swims in the law, or the commandments of the Lord, by which we must guide and rule our life.” By studying the gospel and trying to put its precepts into practice and thought, word and deed, you will be following the Lord’s direction, and the spiritual tradition, the moral tradition, of the Orthodox Church.
Of course, again, we say this is not just for monks. This is for every one of us. To the measure that we are capable, we have to study the gospels, meditate on the gospels, memorize the gospel teaching, and struggle and strive, by the grace of God, to put it into practice.
Chapter four is about the precariousness of the monastic life when it is not based on the commandments of the gospel. This is what Ignatius says:
He who has based his life on the study of the gospel and the practice of the commandments of the gospel has based it on solid rock.
Then he continues in a New Testamental way, that our troubles and trials can only be overcome, and faced, and confronted, and all the temptations of evil can be defeated, only when we are standing on this rock of the commandments of the gospel. He says:
It is evident that the strength which the practice of Christ’s commandments wins for the soul, can be won by no other means or method. Christ’s power acts in his commandments.
I can’t resist mentioning St. Theophan the Recluse, a contemporary of St. Ignatius. They disagreed on a few things, by the way, which shows that saints can disagree. St. Theophan has written: Every commandment of God, every law in the Mosaic law as fulfilled and understood in Jesus, every commandment of the Sermon on the Mount has its own particular delight, its own particular sweetness, its own particular quality and character.
That’s a very important thing to think about, that Christ’s power is in his commandments, and in those commandments we find life, and in each one there is found some different aspect of divine life that we are to live.
Listen to what Ignatius says in this fourth chapter:
Easily ruined is the seemingly good life of those who make their foundation an exclusively bodily struggle, or even a series of ascetic exercises, sometimes very difficult and remarkable, but who do not pay due attention to the commandments of the gospel. Very often, ascetics do not pay the least attention to the commandments of the gospel. They even openly disregard them, and do not value them or realize their importance in the least. So when such ascetics encounter unexpected trials and temptations and testings and unforeseen change in their life, not only is their faith soon shaken, but they even run the risk of complete moral collapse, which is called in the gospel, the great ruin of the house of the soul.
Ignatius is saying here that you can have asceticism and external disciplines without being rooted in the commandments of the gospel, and then everything collapses, everything becomes crazy. He says, for example, a hermit living in solitude, who is unfortified by the commandments of the gospel, is bound to be exposed to the violent impact of temptations that are met with so abundantly in human society. This is natural. But if his life is not rooted in the commandments, the study in the commandments of the gospel, his asceticism will not only be fruitless, but will lead him into temptation of thinking wrongly that he is some kind of great zealous spiritual person.
So he ends this particular chapter with these words:
I am saying this, not in the least to disparage the solitary life which guards against temptations and distractions, and especially facilitates the study and practice of the commandments of the gospel. I am saying this so that even a hermit in his solitude may take particular care to study and practice the gospel commandments, by means of which Christ, the power and the wisdom of God, is installed in our soul.
Then he says this:
True Christianity and true monasticism consists in the practice of the commandments of the gospel. Where this practice is absent, there is neither Christianity, nor monasticism, whatever the outward appearance may be.
In Chapter Five, he speaks about guarding oneself from the occasions of sin and temptations. And very simply he says:
While basing our life on the commandments of the Gospel, at the same time we should choose for our place of residence, a monastery as far removed from occasions of sin as possible, for we are weak and corrupted by sin.
He gives in this chapter, advice to the monks about choosing a monastery where they can grow, and so he says that the fathers forbid postulants to choose a monastery that is famous in the eyes of worldly people because the monastery, itself, may be filled with vainglory. That is an amazing thing to think about, that the monastic’s monastery, itself, might not be based on the commandments of the gospel, but on its own asceticism, or its own liturgy, and then become an occasion, not for healing, but an occasion for destruction. This is very, very important to say.
He ends that brief chapter by saying:
Such is our weakness, such is our infirmity, such is the influence the occasions of sin have on us, they have caused the fall even of holy prophets, and holy bishops, and holy martyrs, and holy hermits or solitaries. All the more we who are so weak and passionate to take all precautionary measures, to guard ourselves from the influence of all such occasions, and not to have a life that is not rooted and founded and based on the struggle to keep the evangelical commandments.
In Chapter Six he says:
God-pleasing life in human society must precede God-pleasing life in silence and solitude.
This simply means, the person who wants to enter the monastic life first has to prove that he keeps the commandments of God before entering the monastery. And here, Ignatius does not specifically refer to this, but it is constantly referred to in the fathers, that when that rich young man came to Jesus and asked what he had to do, Jesus said, “Keep the commandments.” When the man said that he had done this even from his youth, not killed, not murdered, not committed adultery, not stealing, not coveting, not bearing false witness, not having idolatry, Jesus then said, “If you will be perfect, sell what you have, give it to the poor, and follow me.”
But Jesus, the fathers point out, first determined whether or not this man was keeping the commandments, because if he was not keeping the commandments first, if he tried to give away everything he had, it was just going to be a total disaster. It would not work.
Listen to what St. Ignatius says in Chapter Six:
For those who are beginning the monastic life, cenobitic monasteries are more suitable since they provide a wide scope for the practice of the commandments of the Gospel.
That means you go to a communal monastery first. You live with the brethren. You don’t go off by yourself to live in a cave, or anything like that. He says you have to be in a community where you can make every effort to cultivate, refine, and educate yourself by the commandments of the gospel.
This is a general rule, which says that a monk must first train himself by the practice of the commandments in human society, where spiritual activity is combined with bodily activity, and only afterward, when he has made sufficient progress, he may occupy himself exclusively with spiritual activity in solitude and silence, if he proves apt for it.
This is very important for us today, for those who are going to enter monasteries, and there are plenty of monasteries in America now, about 120 somebody counted recently. When I was young, we were lucky if there were three or four of them, and even they only had a couple of people.
But now there is this interest in monasticism all over the place. But we have to be very, very careful of it. We have to make sure that the monastery that we would go to and pray in, is rooted and grounded in the commandments of the gospel, and is not just playing church or playing monasticism by dressing up and going through particular external activities that are not really rooted and grounded in keeping the commandments of Christ according to the gospel to the glory of God and the good of our neighbor.
So we have to begin by keeping the commandments, and St. Ignatius would say you can’t begin doing that when you enter the monastery. Of course, when you do enter you have to do it, but it has to be done before you enter. That is crucially important. Ignatius writes:
The holy fathers declare that anyone who truly wants to be saved should first live with people and endure annoyances, slights, privations, and humiliations, and be freed from the influence of his feelings and senses and only then go into solitude and silence.
He even says Jesus is an example of this. Only after enduring all this, meaning his activity in the world, Jesus finally mounted the holy cross. That comes at the end, after mortifying the flesh and the passions by the keeping of the commandments.
You can be certain that you will succeed everywhere, if only you occupy yourself with the study and practice of the commandments of the gospel. On the other hand, wherever you go, whatever you do, you will always remain without success and without spiritual understanding. You will always come to a state of self-deception, delusion, spiritual confusion and disorder, if you neglect the study and practice of the evangelical commandments.
He says to the monks:
Never cease studying the gospel to the end of your life. Do not think you know it enough, even if you know it by heart. It is written, the Lord’s commandments are exceedingly broad, even those that are expressed in a few words. The Lord’s commandment is infinite, just as the Lord who uttered it is infinite. The practice of the commandments and progress in them is unlimited. The most perfect Christians, brought to a state of perfection by divine grace, remain imperfect in regard to the commandments of the gospel.
In Chapter Seven, he writes on guarding oneself from the good that is proper to fall in human nature. He said:
Do you have some good thought? Do you do some good deed? Have you felt some good impulse of inclination in your heart? Stop. Do not dare to be drawn by it. Check it with the gospel. See whether your good thought and your good deed and your good heart’s desire is really good. See if this good impulse tallies with the Lord’s holy teaching. You will soon see that there is no agreement, whatever, between the good of the gospel and what fallen human nature may present as the good.
So be very, very careful. Humble yourself before a teacher, he says, and then he insists again that the gospel is foundational, and he quotes a number of church fathers to make his point. And he ends this chapter with these words:
One who practices the commandments of the gospel is always immersed in humility. Comparing the loftiness and purity of the holy commandments with his own fulfillment of them, he constantly admits that his efforts are extremely unsatisfactory and unworthy of God.
He sees his own weakness and his own fallenness, and that is necessary to be seen, and it cannot be seen unless we measure ourselves according to the keeping of the commandments, for example, the Sermon on the Mount. Read the Sermon on the Mount, see how you measure up, and then you will know if you are on the right path, and going in the right way.
In Chapter Eight, he writes, concerning the enmity and conflict between fallen nature and the commandments of the gospel, and he says the same thing again over and over. He says that if we deny ourselves, and renounce our opinions and our own will and our own righteousness, the knowledge, understanding, will, and righteousness of fallen nature, if we renounce all that, in order to plant within ourselves the knowledge of God, the will of God, the righteousness of God taught to us in the holy gospel by God, himself, then fallen nature will open fire within us. It will declare a savage war against the gospel and against God, and against those who are trying to keep the commandments of the gospel.
He writes here that if you desire to do this, you are going to enter into quite a significant spiritual warfare, and he says that warfare begins by the practice of the commandments of the Gospel.
In the ninth chapter he writes about reading the gospel, and the writings of the holy fathers. And what he says is this:
From what has already been said, it becomes increasingly clear that the chief occupation of a novice in his cell should be the reading and study of the gospel and of the whole New Testament. The whole new Testament can be called the gospel, since it contains nothing but the gospel teachings, but a novice should first of all study the Lord’s commandments in the gospels of Matthew and Luke. From the study of the commandments in these two evangelists’ gospels, combined with the actual practice of the commandments, the other scriptures which constitute the new testament also become more easily understandable.
He is recommending beginning with Matthew and Luke. We could add Mark—simply the synoptic gospels, before we go to John, and before we go to St. Paul. Then he continues by saying that there are books and writings of the holy Fathers that can help us to understand these scriptures and we can use them, but we should remember that when we come to these Fathers, Theophylact, his commentaries, or St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, who were always following the teaching of the gospels, in these writings it is the Gospel commandments that are explained.
In other words, the Fathers are still, themselves, rooted in the commandments of the Gospel, they are teaching the commandments of the Gospel, they are explaining them, they are illumining them, they are showing how they work, they are showing how they can be acquired. That is how the writings of the Fathers are.
And so he says in this chapter that we should not begin with the fathers. We should not begin with high books of spirituality. We should begin with the New Testament writings and the commandments of the Gospel, trying to put into practice what we read there.
These are his words:
Having set oneself, as a rule of life, that learning and carrying out the commandments of the gospel, without allowing oneself to be diverted or distracted by directions given by the different writings of the holy fathers, one can begin to read them in order to obtain as intimate and exact a knowledge as possible of the laborious, painful, but not joyless, monastic struggle. In reading the writings of the fathers, it is essential to observe their gradational character. They are written for different stages and degrees of the spiritual life. On no account should they be read hurriedly. In fact, they should not be read at all, but only after some considerable time of studying the New Testament and trying to practice what the New Testament scriptures teach and command us to fulfill.
He ends this chapter with the sentence:The reading of other writings of the holy fathers leads to meditations and contemplations, which for an ascetic insufficiently purified of the passions, that is, in the keeping of the evangelical commandments, is premature, and therefore it is destruction.The books of the holy fathers on the monastic life must be read with great caution. It has been noticed that novices can never adapt books to their condition, but are invariably drawn by the tendency of the book.Then he begins to explain what he means. He says that if a neophyte starts reading about silence he will rush to go and try to follow silence. If he reads about fasting he will go and try to increase his fasting. Whatever he reads of the highest level, he will try to put it into practice, and the whole thing will destroy him. It won’t work. It won’t work at all. He says in this first paragraph that if a book speaks of unconditional obedience under the direction of a spirit-bearing elder, the beginner will inevitably develop a desire for the strictest life in complete submission to an elder. Now listen what he says in the first sentence of the next paragraph. He says:God has not given to our time either of these two ways of life.In other words, unconditional obedience to an elder, or going off on one’s own into solitude. He said the books of the holy fathers describing these states can influence a beginner so strongly that out of inexperience and ignorance he can easily decide to leave the place where he is living and where he has every convenience to work out his salvation and make spiritual progress by putting into practice the evangelical commandments. And in reading the fathers, he comes up with an impossible dream of a perfect life, pictured vividly and alluringly through his imagination, and if he tries to follow it prematurely before being trained by the keeping of the commandments of the gospel, he will certainly reach destruction and wreckage. The whole thing simply will not work. Now the last paragraph in the tenth chapter, and I will stop my reading now and will end with these last words of St. Ignatius. He writes:The fallen angel, the devil, tries to deceive monks, and we could add, any good Christian who is trying to live a spiritual life, and drag them to perdition by suggesting to them not only sin in its various forms, but also the most exalted virtues, in their various forms, which are unsuited to their premature or immature condition. Do not trust your thoughts, opinions, dreams, impulses, or inclinations, even though they offer you, or put before you in an attractive guise, the most holy monastic life. If the monastery in which you are residing gives you the possibility of living a life according to the commandments of the gospel, and unless you are exposed to temptations to mortal sin, do not leave your monastery. Endure courageously its defects, both spiritual and material. Do not think you can find a sphere of activity not given by God to our time.What that really means is, what you read in these holy fathers of a very high nature doesn’t even exist anymore, according to Ignatius, so if you try to go there, specifically on your own, or through deluded teachers, or through any kind of teaching that is not rooted in the evangelical commandments, you are in for destruction. He ends:God desires and seeks the salvation of all, and He is always saving all who wish to be saved from drowning in the sea of life and sin, but God does not always save in a boat, or in a convenient, well-equipped harbor. God promised to save the holy Apostle Paul and all his fellow travelers, and He did save them, but the apostle and his fellow passengers were not saved in the ship, which was wrecked. They were saved with great difficulty, some by swimming, and others on boards and various bits of the ship’s wreckage.And then he continues on the solitary life and continues in the book all the way to the end, and then the very ending, the conclusion of the entire book, again brings up the issue of the commandments. It begins and ends with the commandments. So this is St. Ignatius’ teaching, and boy oh boy, we have to hear it and heed it. We have to take it very seriously, especially since there is a kind of boom in monastic life going on all over the world, in the old countries, and here in America, but we can even see in these monasteries how difficulties come up. You hear about monasteries exploding. When I was young there were three monasteries competing with each other about which was the best one, and it is interesting that the abbots of all three of them ended up being suspended from the monastic life. They were removed from their abbotial leadership because they had done bad things. They had sinned in many ways, so much so that two of them were simply suspended from the church. This is true not only of monasteries, but of parishes. There are troubles, troubles, troubles all over the place, but there is no way of overcoming these troubles, temptations, trials, and testings except by being rooted and grounded in the keeping of the evangelical commandments, the commandments of Jesus Christ, as recorded in the four gospels, and as interpreted also in the epistles, the acts of the apostles, and even the holy apocalypse. The Scripture, and the keeping of the commandments. That is foundational. That is, essentially, we have to persevere in it to our last breath. But one thing is for sure, we have to begin with it. Wherever God leads us, we have to begin with it: The Holy scriptures, the New Testament scriptures, and the keeping of the commandments of God that are found in them.
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