Discretion, the governing virtue

27 September OS 2018 – Wednesday of the Second Week of St. Luke; Holy Martyr Kallistratos; Holy New-Martyr Aquilina

The reading today for the Holy Gospel, according to the daily cycle, is Luke 5:33-39.

At that time, the Pharisees came to Jesus and said unto him, Why do the disciples of John fast often, and make prayers, and likewise the disciples of the Pharisees; but thine eat and drink? And he said unto them, Can ye make the children of the bridechamber fast, while the bridegroom is with them? But the days will come, when the bridegroom shall be taken away from them, and then shall they fast in those days. And he spake also a parable unto them; No man putteth a piece of a new garment upon an old; if otherwise, then both the new maketh a rent, and the piece that was taken out of the new agreeth not with the old. And no man putteth new wine into old bottles; else the new wine will burst the bottles, and be spilled, and the bottles shall perish. But new wine must be put into new bottles; and both are preserved. No man also having drunk old wine straightway desireth new: for he saith, The old is better.

Fasting is good, of course – the Lord does not deny that. But there is a time for fasting, and a time for not fasting. During His time on earth, the disciples did not fast, for He was with them. After His Ascension, they began to fast, to keep watch for His Second Coming. And so we still do today.

St. Theophan the Recluse derives a general lesson for us: that all good works must be practiced with discretion, and in harmony with each other:

It is unbecoming for the children of the bridechamber to fast while the bridegroom is with them, said the Lord, and thus He pronounced the law that even with virtues and spiritual endeavors everything has its place and time. And this is so crucial that an untimely and inappropriate deed loses its value, either entirely, or in part. The Lord arranged everything in visible nature with measure, weight, and number. He also wants everything in the moral realm to be decent and in order (cf. I Cor. 14:40). Inner decency consists in a joining of each virtue with all the virtues in conjunction, or a harmony of virtues, so that none stand out needlessly, but all are in accord, like voices in a choir. Outward decency gives each deed its place, time, and other connections. When all of this is properly arranged, it is like a beautiful lady dressed in beautiful clothes. Virtue which is decent both inwardly and outwardly is desirable. It is Christian good sense that makes it this way. With elders it is discernment acquired through experience and the sensible examination of the Lives of the saints in the light of the word of God. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 215-216

How does one acquire discretion, the ability wisely to order the priorities and activities of one’s life?   Both in the specifically spiritual arena of our life – our prayers, fasting, preparing for confession and Holy Communion, Church attendance, etc. – and in our practical daily lives, we often experience that things are out of joint.   We do not know what to put first, second, and third. We start new projects or activities with enthusiasm and do not finish them.   We emphasize one aspect of life to the exclusion of others, and life becomes unbalanced. And so forth.

There are countless self-help books from secular writers about prioritizing, planning, and organizing. But what we need is deeper: the profound wisdom by which we know intuitively what to do and when to do it; to keep in mind always that which is most important; to be attentive and conscious in our daily activities and not to “go on auto-pilot.” If we are in order inwardly, whatever outward order needed will naturally arise.

The first step in acquiring discretion is the same as the first step in acquiring all spiritual gifts: We must ask for it!   Let us not fail each day to begin our day with prayer, and as part of our prayers, to ask the Lord to give us prudence, discernment, and practical wisdom to order our lives aright inwardly and outwardly. We must ask the Lord to show us the way, to give us the light of understanding His holy will, and the resolve to do His will come what may.

Another simple step is to write down our core duties, first spiritual duties and then practical ones, and ask if we are doing them.   Resolving to say 1000 Jesus Prayers on the prayer rope every day does not make sense if, so far, we have failed to say five minutes of morning prayers in the morning.   Resolving to help the poor in a faraway country does not make sense if we are not helping our relatives and our fellow parishioners. We need to make a short list of the ABC duties of our Orthodox life, resolve to fulfill them, and ask God’s help to do so.

Another simple step is to seek counsel.   There may be ways in which our life is out of balance, in which we are being imprudent, that we cannot see ourselves, but that others who love us and understand us can see. Let us not forget to seek counsel from our priest and from the one or two very trusted and close spiritual friends upon whom we can truly rely.

May Christ, the Wisdom of God, bestow upon us His divine understanding, so that our hearts will sense naturally what to do and when to do it, both inwardly and outwardly.

Sermon on the Mount

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