THE HUMILITY OF THE OLD MAN AND THE LAW
by Alexi Markovic
The Old Man
The old man is an athlete in prayer, a fool for God, and often enters and demolishes the territory of the devil (with Christ's grace). His heart, extremely sensitive through prayer, recognises the cunning tactics of satan and drives him out; thus bearing the Holy Spirit.
He proceeds in humility, the greatest treasure of all virtues, as pride in prayer is foolishness. He is diligent in avoiding pride, especially when it is vainglory. He knows that vainglory can appear in every virtue — when fasting, when chanting in the Divine Liturgy, and even when praying — opening the soul to the enemy whose aim is to separate us from God's love. The old man illustrates this by saying "sin is a beggar receiving bread and feels proud because he got it".
The narrow path leads to salvation, which is entered "by the narrow gate; for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction" (Matt 7:13). The narrow path is mourning and obedience, which are closely connected with prayer. The old man is constantly aware of his sinfulness and insignificance, and the hope in the Merciful Christ — he is never deluded by the cliché "once saved always saved'. This awareness develops when coming close to God and is illustrated throughout the Old Testament. For example, Abraham called himself "dust and ashes" (Gen 18:27), Job despised himself and repented "in dust and ashes" (Job 42:5), and Isaiah exclaimed "Woe is me! For I am lost; for I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell in the midst of a people of unclean lips" (Is 6:5).
The old man starts prayer with love towards God, and obedience to His Holy will remembering the Theotokos who was most obedient to God's will, as it is possible for the devil, disguised as an "angle of light" (2 Cor 11:14), to trick us that we have reached perfection. The greatest danger is to think yourself worthy of the Holy Spirit. Paradoxically, the Holy Spirit brings calm, peace, humility, and the awareness of our wretchedness. Yet, how many people say "I am born-again" without understanding what 'repentance' means?
The old man strives to be like the Theotokos who, with great humility, said to the angel Gabriel "I am the handmaid of the Lord … let what you have said be done to me" (Luke 1:38); knowing the high cost she must pay to do the will of God. That is why it is said in the litanies, "Remembering our most holy, most pure, most blessed, most glorious Lady, the Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary, with all the Saints, let us commit ourselves and each other and all our lives unto Christ our God". This is how we should live, in conformity to Christ's example, with the will and grace of God, and with faith (cf.. Eph 2:10); unlike the Pharisee who prayed, "I thank you, God, that I am not grasping, unjust, adulterous like the rest of mankind, and particularly that I am not like this tax collector here. I fast twice a week; I pay tithes on all I get". We should also have the modesty of the same tax collector who, with a contrite heart, said "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:11-13).
The fool for God knows that prayer in combination with repentance, abstinence, communion and the reading of God's Word combats evil in the acquisition of the gifts of the Holy Spirit. The fool also knows that salvation is possible only through the Sacraments of the Church, which are: Baptism (Matt 28:16-20), Chrismation or Confirmation (Heb 6 16-17), the Eucharist (Matt 26:26-30), Confession or Repentance (1 Tim 6:12), Holy Orders such as Bishops, Deacons and so on (1 Tim 3:12-18 & Phil 1:1), Holy Matrimony (Heb 13:4), and Holy Unction or the Anointing of the sick (James 5:14). Yet many around us think that the sacraments are not necessary to be a Christian. These people live in defacto relationships, do not go to confession, do not take communion, and are disrespectful to the clergy.
The athlete of prayer concludes his prayers by remembering the Beatitudes; for the poor in spirit are those who realise they have nothing, command nothing and are capable of nothing without God, and praise Him with humility; those who mourn weep with the realisation that there is a great gulf between us and the living God calling for His love as a merciful Father; those who are meek do not promote themselves like the Pharisee, but are like the tax collector; those who hunger and thirst for righteousness are those who constantly quest for God, to worship, love and serve Him, to fast, pray, do good works for His sake and not their's, and keep His commandments; blessed are those who are persecuted for the love of God; and blessed are the peacemakers for peace, forgiveness, and reconciliation actualise the Kingdom of God.
Jesus was concerned that the religious community did not understand the meaning of the law by saying "You search the Scriptures, for in them you think you have eternal life; and these are they which testify of Me. But you are not willing to come to Me that you may have life" (John 5:39-40). Yet they did not realise that He personifies the law.
Jesus continued, "But I know you, that you do not have the love of God in you. I have come in My Father's name, and you do not receive Me; if another comes in his own name, him you will receive. How can you believe, who receive honour from one another, and do not seek the honour that comes from the only God? Do not think that I shall accuse you to the Father; there is one who accuses you — Moses, in whom you trust. For if you believed Moses, you would believe Me; for he wrote about Me" (John 5:42-46).
The religious community was more concerned with law-keeping than understanding God. This is powerfully illustrated by by Christ's words: "This people honours Me with their lips, but their heart is far from Me. And in vain they worship Me, teaching as doctrines the commandments of men. For laying aside the commandment of God, you hold the tradition of men" (Mark 7:6-8).
They were able to look at Jesus yet they could not see the Word, they did not recognise that this was God who inspired and directed Moses. They were not willing to give up their positions in the community and to understand or discover God. The people were locked into their pride and assumed importance to the community, yet they were nothing more than lost souls. Christ gave them a way out, by saying "sell all that you have and distribute to the poor, and you will have the treasure in heaven; and come follow Me" (Luke 18:22).
The above was also observed by St. Paul, when he wrote to the church in Rome, "For I bear them witness that they have a zeal for God, but not according to knowledge. For they being ignorant of God's righteousness, have not submitted to the righteousness of God. For Christ is the end of the law for righteousness to everyone who believes" (Rom 10:2:4).
God must come first in our lives. We have to be prepared to give up all material ties, memories, and our positions in society. Thus we will carry our Cross and follow Christ.