What Is Asceticism

An introduction to The Struggle For Virtue by Archbishop Averky

I have had The Struggle For Virtue by Archbishop Averky sitting in my kindle wishlist for a long while. I really wish I had just bought it sooner. I purchased the book and sat down with a cup of coffee to read the introduction.
That was all it took.

the striving to perform good works is a necessary undertaking for all who desire to live an authentic spiritual life. 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 (Matt 7: 21)— to this the Lord Jesus Christ Himself testifies. In His farewell discourse with His disciples at the Mystical Supper, He decisively stated this condition: If you love Me, keep My commandments (John 14: 15).

Every time we would like to perform some good work, we must overcome and suppress in ourselves one evil habit or another that protests against the good work we would like to accomplish. In this manner, a battle emerges in the soul between good aspirations and evil habits.

he who desires success in the spiritual life must by all possible means force himself to perform good works as often and as varied as possible.

This constant practice of performing good works bears the name of “asceticism,” and one who practices the performance of good works by forcing himself is called an “ascetic.” Inasmuch as asceticism is the foundation of the spiritual life and its primary instrument, the science of the spiritual life is itself normally called “askesis.”

the word “ascetic,” having been derived from the Greek askitis, in no way implies a kind of superstitious fanatic occupying himself with self- torture for who knows what reason, as many secular people think. Instead, according to its original meaning, it means a “fighter,” as is indicated by a very characteristic analogy used by St Paul in his first epistle to the Corinthians (9: 24– 27), comparing physical and spiritual exercises in the attainment of one’s desired goal

This constant opposition by the law of sin, which lodges in the flesh, makes asceticism necessary. The essence of asceticism consists in constantly forcing oneself, constantly making oneself to do not that which the sin living in us wants to do, but rather that which the law of God, the law of good, requires.

The ascetic is one who forces himself to do everything that is conducive to growth and development in the spiritual life and does nothing that would prevent this.

Good works do not have power and significance in and of themselves, but only as an indication and external expression of a good disposition, a good aspiration of the soul

the true ascetic strives to uproot from his soul evil dispositions, evil habits, and evil will, and in their place to plant and firmly inculcate good dispositions, good habits, and good will.

“Fear evil habits,” says one of the greatest instructors of asceticism, St Isaac the Syrian, “more than demons.”

The human soul, being divine in origin, always aspires towards God. It cannot find full satisfaction in anything earthly and, suffering severely in its alienation from God, it can find rest only in God. The human soul can attain this salvific communion with God only through the fulfillment of the commandments of love for God and neighbor.

Should everyone, all Christians, be ascetic strugglers? This question is tantamount to asking: is everyone created by God and destined by Him for the spiritual life and spiritual communion with their Creator?

Asceticism alone, which unites man with God, the Source and Giver of all good things, is the true path to that inviting beacon of happiness to which everyone living on this earth so impetuously strives.

This is why asceticism, to one degree or another, is without doubt essential for everyone without exception: it is a common good, a common property. One who shuns asceticism is his own enemy, depriving himself of the highest good: peace of conscience and blessed communion with God.

More in this series


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