How to keep one’s self pure in this sinful world? by Fr. Gabriel Wissa

March 30, 2021

How to keep one’s self pure in this sinful world?

In the name of the Father, and the Son, and the Holy Spirit; One God, Amen. 

It is generally no easy task to be a Christian in this world. And, in this last decade, it has become increasingly more difficult. Humanity has been giving in to oblivious ideas and the morality level is rapidly declining causing many to stumble and giving in to their passions. As Christians, we are not surprised, Scripture does warn us of this eventuality. Matthew 24 says: …because lawlessness will abound, the love of many will grow cold. But he who endures to the end shall be saved. But the question becomes how do we, as Christians, deal with this? Of course, we can always consider physically renouncing the world and detaching from it. But the reality is we are not monks or nuns or missionaries in unaffected areas. In fact, we have to deal with the world and its darkness on a daily basis. So, how to keep one’s self pure in this sinful world? 


In His prayer to the Father, in John 17, Christ prays for His disciples not to be taken out of the world but to be kept from the evil one. A few verses later, Christ prays the following: “I do not pray for these alone, but also for those who will believe in Me through their word.” I personally think this prayer is particularly encouraging—the realization that Christ prayed to the Father for my personal salvation and yours. But Christ also warned us to watch! At the end of His apocalyptic message in Mark 13, after describing the difficult events that will take place, He says: “And what I say to you, I say to all: Watch!” Be alert. Like someone guarding a great treasure in the middle of the night. The message is protect your soul from evil at all costs. Therefore, being watchful stands in direct opposition to the mindset some have of fulfilling the bare minimum and hope for the best. This attitude is problematic because he who aims for 60% in an exam usually doesn’t pass—specially in this day and age. But more significantly, this attitude strikes at Christianity’s core objective, which is to be united with God. Therefore, we ought to be watchful. We ought to aim for 100%. Thus, St. Peter warns us. He says: “Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. So the way to deal with the adversary is to be sober, vigilant, awake, alert—what the Church fathers call nepsis. Even though, we live in the world, we ought to be alert to ensure the world does not live within us. We must remain sojourners and pilgrims. A good example of someone that remained righteous even in the midst of an extremely dark environment is Lot, Abraham’s nephew. Lot knew that the people of Sodom were very lustful so he kept watch at the city’s gate, even during the evening, to ensure that any visitors will be protected under the shelter of his home. He also proved to be greatly hospitable. He was truly a virtuous man even in the midst of that darkness. Evidently, achieving this is far from being easy. We often fall but we need to get back up straightaway to Christ who is our Hope. At the end of the video, I’ll share with you a very beautiful story of repentance that is worth sticking around for. 


Being watchful involves examining our thoughts. Are they from Christ? Or from an evil source? Why did I arrive at this specific conclusion? Was it to satisfy my ego? We ought to be on top of these thoughts and cast them out when needed. But watchfulness alone is not the full story. In Matthew 26, Christ adds to watchfulness prayer, He says: “Watch and pray, lest you enter into temptation...” Tito Colliander, in his book the way of the ascetics, gives a beautiful example about watchfulness and prayer. He says the following:In the middle of his [the spider’s] web he [the spider] sits and feels the smallest fly and kills it. Likewise prayer watches in the middle of your heart: as soon as a trembling makes it known that an enemy is there, prayer kills it. To leave off praying is the same thing as deserting one’s post. The gate stands open for the ravaging hordes, and the treasures one has gathered are plundered. The plunderer does not need long to accomplish his work: anger, for example, can destroy everything in a single second. In other words, if any bad thought attempts to infiltrate into our souls, we ought to immediately cast it out and say the Jesus prayer or offer repentance in prayer. Another imagery used by the Desert Fathers is to strike the serpent on the head before it enters. Once it is inside, the situation becomes complex. Similarly, we ought to avoid at all costs entertaining the evil thought. We ought to cast it out as it attempts to enter. And if it already did enter, it is not too late, with much zeal we ought to reject it so it won’t progress and establish evil roots within.  



Also, the desert fathers have given us a tool to keep watchful. That tool is the remembrance of death. The idea of having Christ always before us, knowing it is a matter of time before we find ourselves in His Presence. This tool leads to watchfulness and repentance. St. Isaac the Syrian poetically expounds this idea. He says: “When you approach your bed, say to it: This very night, perchance, you will be my tomb, O bed; for I know not whether tonight, in place of a transient sleep, the eternal sleep of the future will be mine.And so, while you still have legs, follow the path of doing [good deeds,] before you are tied by bonds that can never be severed. While you still have hands, crucify yourself in prayer before death comes. While you still have eyes, fill them with tears, before they are covered by dust Establish, O man, in your heart the thought that instant departure confronts you, and constantly say to yourself: There, already, at the door is the messenger come for me. Why am I idle? My removal is forever; there will be no return.’” 


Again, this watchfulness business is far from being easy. We often fall. And when we do, our immediate reaction should be to get back up. So, finally, I would like to share with you this beautiful story of repentance intertwined with watchfulness and prayer. It goes like this: “A brother who was dwelling in the monastery fell [in sin] repeatedly due to the intensity of warfare. He kept forcing himself to be patient in order not to abandon the monastic skema. He was diligent in his monastic life and said his prayers carefully. And in his prayer he would say: Oh Lord, You see the severity of my state and my deep sorrow. Rescue me, O Lord, whether I am willing or unwilling, because I am like clay and I yearn for and love sin…But you are the Great God, remove impurity from me, because if You only have mercy on Saints, this will not be strange. And if You only save the pure ones, then what will be the benefit, for they are already worthy. However, reveal the wonder of Your mercy in me, the unworthy, O my Lord, because I have submitted myself to You.’ This is the prayer he said every day, whether he committed a fault or not. One day, as he prayed fervently, Satan became weary of the boldness of his great hope, and as he chanted his psalms, a face appeared to him, saying: …‘Do you not feel ashamed of standing before God and mentioning His Name with your impure mouth?’ The brother responded: ‘Do you not strike with a sledgehammer and I do likewise? You cause me to fall into sin, and I ask the Merciful God to take pity on me. I struggle against you, until I am overtaken by death. I will cling onto hope from my God and I will not cease from being prepared for your attacks, and thus you will witness who wins: you or God’s mercy. When the devil heard his words, he said: from now on, I will not fight you, lest I give you crowns because of your hope in your God. From that day, the devil kept away from him. 


Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith


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