Religion is not just mere information or mere fullness of religious knowledge. Knowledge on its own is not enough. What would one benefit if he knew all there is to know about virtues without applying it to his life?!
We read much and we hear much. But what matters is what we do.
In each Holy Mass, we hear a chapter from the Bible, readings from the Epistles of St Paul the Apostle, the Catholic Epistle and from the Acts of the Apostles. We also hear the lives of the saints in the Synaxarium, then we hear a sermon. If we attend the Vespers and the Matins, we will hear other chapters from the Bible, adding to what we read at home and in spiritual meetings.. But what is the effect of all that on our practical life? Are we satisfied by knowledge? Or our concern is to turn this knowledge into life, according to the saying of the Lord Jesus Christ, to Him is the glory: “The words that I speak to you are spirit, and they are life” (Jn 6:63). How could this change happen?
Through spiritual training, knowledge is transformed into practice and the information into work.
We also notice that many go to church, confess and partake in Holy Communion and maybe serve also. But in spite of that, they have fixed weaknesses that are about to become part of their character, remaining with them for many years!! Why?.. Maybe because they did not give special attention to these weaknesses by training themselves on leaving them and observing the outcome of this training....
We say the same thing about many who repeat certain sins every time they go to Confession. They discovered these sins, knew about them and confessed them. But in spite of that continued in them. That is because they did not practically train themselves to leave these sins.
Here comes the importance of spiritual training: Where one comes into a practical confrontation with himself: Either to leave his sins behind or to acquire virtues or to grow spiritually....
He transforms the spiritual knowledge into life. He also transforms the spiritual longings into a spiritual life...
And in the practical training: he knows the reality of himself and from where does the mistake come to him, its causes and its sources. He then gets into the way of resisting, knowing the obstacles and how to overcome them. He does not stop at the point of knowledge and not even at the point of inner religious feeling.
In training, one struggles with himself and with God...
One listens to the rebuke of the Apostle Paul when he said: “You have not yet resisted to blood-shed, striving against sin” (Heb 12:4). He resists himself and struggles. At the same time, he does not depend on his human hand but he mixes the training with prayers, asking for help from above, according to the Lord’s saying to us: “Without me you can do nothing” (Jn 15:5). In all that, he puts himself and his training under the spiritual supervision of an experienced, wise guide, because the Bible says: “And lean not on your own understanding” (Prov 3:5).
The Holy Bible also offers us examples of exercises.
St Paul the Apostle said: “I know how to be abased, and I know how to abound. Everywhere and in all things I have learned both to be full and to be hungry, both to abound and to suffer need” (Phil 4:12). And he also said: “...Those who by reason of use have their senses exercised” (Heb 5:14).
God trained his saints
It was said about Moses the Prophet: “Now the man Moses was very humble, more than all men who were on the face of the earth” (Num 12:3) . Do you think he was born like that?! No, he even started his life of service very violent when he killed an Egyptian man and hid him in the sand (Ex 2:12). But God took him to the wilderness and trained him while working as a shepherd, to acquire gentleness, quietness and meekness during forty years till he reached this level..
Do you think John the Beloved started his life with the love that was known about him till he said: “God is love, and he who abides in love abides in God, and God in him” (1 Jn 4:16) , as we have discussed this issue before here on st-takla.org in other sections. No. But he and his brother James were very stern, as they were brought up in the school of the firm John the Baptist who used to rebuke severely. (Mt 3:7-11). The Lord gave them the name Boanerges, that is, “Sons of Thunder” (Mk 3:17).
They were also the two who, when a Samaritan village rejected the Saviour, because His face was set for the journey to Jerusalem, they said to Him: “Lord, do You want us to command fire to come down from heaven and consume them, just as Elijah did?” But the Lord rebuked them and said: “You do not know what manner of spirit you are of. For the Son of Man did not come to destroy men’s lives but to save them” (Lk 9:52-56).
But the Lord trained the Son of Thunder so that John became a flame of love, unlike his beginning.
The same thing with the saints. They did not reach their high levels of spirituality at once, but trained themselves.
They trained through strife and toil for a long time. So we should not take what has been written about their spiritual peaks as starting points!! And we do not begin with what they have achieved at the end of their struggle, but we progress.
+ St Arsanious the Great, at the beginning of his monastic life, always made mistakes in the way beans were to be sorted, and learnt the correct method from an illiterate Egyptian. He considered this a lesson and said: “This is a slap on your cheek, Arsanious.” And through training over long periods of time, he achieved his level of holiness.
+ One of the fathers saw in a vision St. Moses the Black being fed honey by the angels. However, St. Moses did not reach the life of love, service, and humility at once, but St Isidore the Priest trained him gradually until he reached such a high level of holiness and endurance.
Even in the field of service, the Lord also trained His Disciples...
He sent them for practical training and they returned and reported to Him the results of their services. They were rejoicing because the demons were subject to them in His name!! The Lord corrected this mistake and said to them: “...Do not rejoice in this... but rejoice rather because your names are written in heaven” (Lk 10:17-20).
He also trained them in another matter, and that was not to be concerned about who is to become great among them; He said to them: “Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave - just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many” (Mt 20:26-28).
Advice in training
Therefore we should not be satisfied by religious knowledge but let us give more care to work, training ourselves to carry out the commandments.
The Lord, after giving the Sermon on the Mount, concluded by saying: “Therefore whoever hears these sayings of Mine, and does them, I will liken him to a wise man who built his house on the rock... Now everyone who hears these sayings of Mine, and does not do them, will be like a foolish man who built his house on the sand” (Mt 7:24-26). And so He concentrated on the importance of acting according to what we hear. He also confirmed this by saying: “Not everyone who says to Me, ‘Lord, Lord,’ shall enter the Kingdom of heaven, but he who does the will of My Father in heaven” (Mt 7:21). And so the priest prays in the Litany of the Gospel: “May we be worthy of hearing and performing according to Your Holy Gospels, through the prayers of Your saints.”
Let us then train ourselves to act according to His commandments and the teaching of the Gospel.
Indications of training
Spiritual training indicates that one is watchful for the salvation of his soul. He discovers his mistakes and weaknesses and trains himself to avoid them.
You must then discover your mistakes or the mistakes that others uncover for you, because without discovering your mistakes, you will never be able to train yourself to avoid them as: “ Those who are well have no need of a physician, but those who are sick” (Mt 9:12). Do not be annoyed then with the one who uncovers a defect in you but benefit from it by training yourself to overcome this defect... But you too should try to inspect yourself well in the light of God’s commandments to discover your weaknesses.
Beware of self-justification and finding excuses for your mistakes.
The one who justifies himself will always remain where he is without any improvement because, in his eyes, his self is beautiful and without defect!! As for the one who gives account of himself accurately, and never makes excuses for himself , he will be able to overcome and confess his weaknesses before himself.
If you are ashamed that others might reveal mistakes in you, there is no doubt that you would not be ashamed in the same way from yourself!!
Sit with yourself and be totally honest. Try to touch the weak points that are in you which have been revealed through spiritual readings or from hearing particular sermons that you feel have touched your life.
If you train yourself once a week, or even once a month, to resist one point of weakness, you would be able in one year to overcome twelve weak points. Be certain that sins are interrelated. So to be free from a specific sin could free you from many others.
It is the same when you train yourself for acquiring a specific virtue, it will lead you to acquire other virtues.. Virtues are also interrelated, like links in one chain.
I will give you here an example of the linking of virtues.
Suppose you trained yourself one day to remain in solitude. You will find that you need to keep yourself busy during this solitude so you would not get bored. You may turn to reading for sometime, then praying for another time, or singing hymns, or memorizing psalms or parts of the Agpia or verses from the Bible. May be that will invite you to contemplate on these verses... And so you will find that training for solitude brings with it many virtues...
Or if one day you trained yourself to be silent, you will find yourself definitely in need to occupy your mind with something useful, so you would not ponder on what is unsuitable. And so silence will lead you to prayer or to contemplation or keeping yourself busy by reading... That is how one type of training brings forth many other types of training.
→ Remarks Concerning Spiritual Training.
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