Entries with tag temptation .

All In Our Perspective

Choosing to live each day as an Orthodox Christian involves being willing to see the world differently, to have a different perspective than we might want to initially.

 

When I went off to college, I became acutely aware that I was probably the only Orthodox Christian most of my friends would ever meet. This realization made me more sensitive to how I presented myself, how I spoke about the Church, and how I represented Christ. I knew that something should be different about me as a Christian; after all, Jesus tells us “you are the light of the world” (Matthew 5:14). At times that felt like an unrealistic expectation, like something I would just never live up to.

 

But as I worked to balance being an Orthodox Christian and still present in the world, I saw that the Church helps to cultivate a unique way of seeing the world and the issues I face. It helps me to discern how I can bring a bit of light into my relationships, if only I can have a change of perspective.

 

Though we might be inclined towards being judgemental or distrusting, Christ calls us to look instead at ourselves and to first question our own prejudices.  We’re called to “not be conformed to this world, but [to] be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing you may discern what is the will of God, what is good and acceptable and perfect” (Romans 12:2).

 

So what are some ways that Orthodox Christians are called to have this transformation and renewal of our mind? How does the Church give us this change in our perspective?

 

1. Looking past the bad to find the good

 

The world can feel like a really negative place sometimes. Whether it’s on a national level during and after an election season or on a more personal level after being hurt by someone, it’s hard to stay positive. But unless we struggle with depression, we really do have a choice to look toward the good instead of focusing on the bad.

 

I was reminded of this choice to change my perspective as we celebrated the life of Saint Paisios last week. By the way, this is the saint who inspired Y2AM to create Be the Bee! His words really speak to us today as we struggle with the negativity we see each day:

Some people tell me that they are scandalized because they see many things wrong in the Church. I tell them that if you ask a fly, “Are there any flowers in this area?” it will say, “I don’t know about flowers, but over there in that heap of rubbish you can find all the filth you want.” And it will go on to list all the unclean things it has been to.Now, if you ask a honeybee, “Have you seen any unclean things in this area?” it will reply, “Unclean things? No, I have not seen any; the place here is full of the most fragrant flowers.” And it will go on to name all the flowers of the garden or the meadow.You see, the fly only knows where the unclean things are, while the honeybee knows where the beautiful iris or hyacinth is.

 

As I have come to understand, some people resemble the honeybee and some resemble the fly. Those who resemble the fly seek to find evil in every circumstance and are preoccupied with it; they see no good anywhere. But those who resemble the honeybee only see the good in everything they see. The stupid person thinks stupidly and takes everything in the wrong way, whereas the person who has good thoughts, no matter what he sees, no matter what you tell him, maintains a positive and good thought. (“Good and Evil Thoughts,” Spiritual Counsels III: Spiritual Struggle)

 

So whether the bad I see is in the Church, in my relationships, or in our society, I have a decision to make today. Will I be like a bee and direct my attention toward the good, remembering to live with gratitude and to give thanks even in trying times, or will I be like the fly and focus on my doubts and the specks of bad in my life?

 

2. Living in a Non-Orthodox world

 

Being an Orthodox Christian in the United States brings its own challenges. As a minority faith, we often struggle being either overly prideful of our faith or we essentially hide it. We focus either on all that separates us from others, or we gloss over the differences. We try to stand out or we try to blend in.

 

All of this juggling can make us distrustful of the outside world, including the political and educational landscape around us. We might be tempted to isolate ourselves into Orthodox bubbles, content with ignoring the non-Orthodox around us. But is that a reasonable response when we look at the Church Fathers? Here’s what St Gregory the Theologian has to say about secular education:

I take it as admitted by men of sense that the first of our advantages is education...even that external culture which many Christians ill-judgingly abhor, as treacherous and dangerous, and keeping us afar from God. For as we ought not to neglect the heavens, and earth, and air, and all such things, because some have wrongly seized upon them, and honor God's works instead of God: but to reap what advantage we can from them for our life and enjoyment, while we avoid their dangers...so from secular literature we have received principles of inquiry and speculation, while we have rejected their idolatry, terror, and pit of destruction. Nay, even these have aided us in our religion, by our perception of the contrast between what is worse and what is better, and by gaining strength for our doctrine from the weakness of theirs. We must not then dishonor education, because some men are pleased to do so, but rather suppose such men to be boorish and uneducated, desiring all men to be as they themselves are, in order to hide themselves in the general, and escape the detection of their want of culture. (St Gregory the Theologian on St Basil the Great, Oration 43:11)

 

In the early centuries of the Church, before and after it was first legalized, Christians were wary of the outside world. They were scared they'd be negatively influenced and thus become pagans. But instead of rejecting outright what his people were wary of, St Gregory directed them to have a change of perspective. We too can find good in our secular society today. It just takes the work of discernment, and the trust that God truly can redeem and even transfigure the world.

 

3. Sin and temptation

 

A major perspective change that the Church works to inspire in us is in how we view temptation, sin, and repentance. Instead of viewing the Church in terms of some grand court tribunal, the Church views itself as a hospital with Jesus being our doctor. That means that sin is not a broken law, but rather a disease that needs healing. And as a consequence, repentance and the live of the Christian are seen as part of a life-long process of healing and transformation.

 

Our Orthodox vision of sin and repentance is one thing which makes so much sense to me that I mention it when others ask why I’m an Orthodox Christian. When my sin and brokenness stops being about me being a bad person and becomes more of an opportunity to grow closer to Christ, I have less reason to despair. With a new perspective, I see potential instead of failure. When I see that I’m not alone when a temptation comes, but that I can call out to Jesus to save and strengthen me, I see that I don’t fight alone. Or as Saint Porphyrios might say, I don’t need to fight at all; I just need to run toward Christ. This is a change in perspective that I need on a daily, hourly, moment-by-moment basis.

 

After all, repentance itself is about having a change of mind, a change of heart, a change of perspective. Instead of continuing forward as I had been, I take a new direction which leads me towards Jesus.

 

*****

 

The Christian life is a life of transformation, of continually putting off the old man and choosing to live for Christ. As we participate in the sacraments regularly, our perspective changes and we start to see the world through the eyes of Christ. This perspective change is what some refer to as the Orthodox worldview or the Orthodox phronema. Being a Christian is fundamentally about a change in our perspective: a willingness to live a life radically devoted to Christ and neighbor. This requires of me more than a simple improvement in my personal ethics, but a total transformation of who I am as a person in relation to others. This comes about as I start to see the world with a new perspective, as through new eyes: to look for the good instead of the bad, to see potential in our non-Orthodox world, and to see opportunities even in my own temptations.

 

How is God trying to bring about a change in perspective in your life? What struggles are you facing and how can they help you better encounter Christ?

 

Want more from Y2AM? Subscribe to our email list and get weekly tips for your spiritual life every Monday! And you can support Y2AM even more by becoming a monthly Patreon supporter. As little as $1 a month can help us continue the work we’re doing.

 

Sam is the Pastoral Assistant at Saint Nicholas Greek Orthodox Church in Virginia Beach, Virginia. He grew up in Powhatan, Virginia and studied International Affairs and Spanish at James Madison University. Sam received his MDiv from Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of Theology in 2013. He loves food, languages, genealogy, and good coffee.

Photo Credit: depositphotos

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Learning to Walk on Water

We all know the feeling. We’re doing great spiritually, we’ve got our focus on Jesus and then boom – we fall down. We go from cloud nine to sinking in the waters of self-criticism, overcome by the feeling that we’re not good enough.

It’s all too easy to fluctuate between spiritual highs and lows, between the feeling that we’ve got it together and the feeling that we will never get out of our bad habits.  When I’m feeling this way, I find encouragement by remembering that the saints wrestled with this, too.  Even the Apostles, Jesus’ closest friends, struggled with keeping their focus on Him. Saint Peter had an especially close relationship with Jesus, but even he denied the Lord. Three times!  

Rather than focus on that, I’d like to reflect on another event in the life of Saint Peter: when he walked on water.

Most of us remember that Jesus walked on water (He’s God, after all!) but do we remember that Saint Peter did, too?

Matthew 14:22-33 tells us that, while the disciples were sailing one night, their boat was being rocked by the wind and the waves. Suddenly, they see Jesus walking towards them on the water and they’re afraid. Saint Peter says, “If it is you, command me to come to you on the water” (Matthew 14:28). He gets out of the boat and walks on the water to Jesus, but is distracted by the wind, so he gets scared and starts to sink. He calls out, “Lord, save me!” so Jesus pulls him up and says, “You of little faith, why did you doubt?” The story ends as Jesus and Saint Peter get back into the boat and the wind stops.

This story challenges us to do three things:

1. Keep our eyes on Jesus

Saint Peter walked on water when he kept his focus on Christ.  He only sinks when he begins to worry about the wind and the waves. If we pay more attention to the struggles we have with sin, or the stresses that we have in our lives, than we do to Christ Himself, we’re going to get tripped up.

We’re going to sink.

Saint Porphyrios (check out the book on his life and teachings, “Wounded by Love”) taught that instead of fighting against our passions directly, we should run towards Christ. He said that if we devote ourselves to loving Christ more and more by attending services, reading Scripture, and living the life of the Church, gradually the temptations will lose their strength over us. We can’t empty a room of its darkness by fighting the darkness; instead, we need to let in some light. In the same way, we can’t empty our hearts of darkness by fighting it head on; instead, we need to turn to Christ.

There’s even an episode of “Be the Bee” on Saint Porphyrios’s advice.

Saint Peter sank because he tried to battle the waves and the wind instead of keeping his eyes on Jesus.  Similarly, if we take our eyes off of Him to battle sin (or stress, anxiety, or whatever else is going on in our lives) alone, we will lose: each and every time.

And once we have our eyes on Christ, the next step is to trust in Him. 

2. Let go of control

Another reason Saint Peter began to sink was that he tried to control his situation. When he realized he couldn’t, he began to panic. On a daily basis, it’s easy to get stressed and anxious about everything we have to do. But this anxiety often results from our desire to do everything ourselves.

We, like Saint Peter, need to cultivate a faith in Jesus instead of a faith in ourselves.

Jesus told Saint Peter that he sank because of his little faith. Instead of having faith in Jesus, he tried to rely on his own strength. He forgot that, though it is impossible for a person to walk on water, Christ reminds us that “with God all things are possible” (Matthew 19:26).

Having faith in Jesus means trusting Him to guide and support me. If I am anxious and stressed out, or if I am feeling that I just don’t know how I’ll get everything done, it’s often because I am relying on my own strength. Yet, living out my faith in Jesus means letting go of control and asking Him to be the strength I need.

I have to let go of my need to be right and of having my way, and instead learn to accept God’s will in my life, for today. Only then can I ask for the help I need.

3. Call out for help

Once Saint Peter turned his eyes away from Jesus, tried to control his situation, and began to sink, he realized he needed Christ to save him. He went from doing the impossible one moment, to sinking in wave-tossed waters the next. But, then he stopped trying to handle the situation on his own and said, “Lord, save me!”

As easy as that, he was back in the boat and the wind and waves were gone.

Saint Peter’s words marked his decision to rely on Christ. Self-reliance only gets us so far. Realizing that only Jesus can get us out of the waves and calm the wind means learning to ask for help. In the moment of our temptation to sin, or in the moment of our overwhelming worry or stress, we can stop and ask God for help.

 

Whether we’re battling a habitual sin or bad habit, dealing with stress and anxiety, or trying to handle a difficult work or family situation, finding a solution might feel impossible. It can seem like only a fantasy to imagine that there could be an end to whatever we are encountering right now.

Our situation might feel as impossible as walking on water.

But with Jesus, we have a solution. Today, we can decide to focus on Him, to stop trying to be in control and to call out to Him for help. Jesus is personally calling each of us, like Saint Peter, to follow Him in the midst of our difficulties.

Will we balk at the challenge and sink? Or will we, like Saint Peter, learn to walk on water?

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