“See then that ye walk circumspectly, not as fools, but as wise,
Redeeming the time, because the days are evil. Wherefore be ye not
unwise, but understanding what the will of the Lord is“ Eph 5:9-19
God has given to us many gifts, however, it is necessary for us to use these gifts well and wisely. If a highly skilled craftsmen were to be placed in a workshop with every tool imaginable, in perfect working order, and if he were given the best supplies to work with and the plans and examples of the kind of finished pieces that were possible, it would be expected that he would produce excellent work. However in order to do this, our craftsman would have to take the tools in hand, and using the plans and examples as a guide, begin to work on the raw material. He would need to work carefully, applying his skills and talents, in order to use the tools to their best effect so that in the end he would produce a beautiful work of his craft.
On the other hand, if the craftsman did nothing, no finished product would be forthcoming; or if he misused his tools or simply was not careful, then the end result would be flawed at best and he might end up with simply spoiling the materials that he had been given. If he did not follow the plan or example that he had been given then his finished product might bear no resemblance at all to that which was desired. In order to produce a finished product that was beautiful, functional and that fulfilled its purpose, it is necessary first that the craftsman use the time he had been given in the workshop and not neglect the task at hand. It is also necessary for him to use the tools he had been given not carelessly or ineptly, but rather applying all his skill to use them to their best advantage. Finally it is necessary that the craftsman follow the plan and examples given so that what he produces resembles the desired end product.
This is the same situation in which we find ourselves as Christians. We have been placed in a workshop with every possible tool, that is, we have been placed in the Orthodox Church by the rebirth of baptism and given every aspect of the tradition of the Church as a tool. We are filled with the Holy Spirit, in our Chrismation, who guides and directs us in the use of those tools, just as the craftsman has his skill. We are given the raw material of our own self and the plan set before us is the Gospel, which we should be reading daily. Using these tools and this workshop we are to shape and form ourselves into the likeness of Christ. As examples, we have the choir of the saints, so that we can see the many forms that this likeness can take and the many means by which this form is expressed. The time we have been given for this task is this life.
In order to embark upon this task, it is necessary that we do not waste the time that has been given to us. Every moment is precious and cannot be regained once it is spent. If we are negligent and slothful, we will allow those precious moments to be wasted, as water that is spilled to the ground and there spent to no effect. Therefore Christian, awake from your slumber, do not sleep through this life, but diligently begin to use wisely the time you have been given. The spiritual book, The Way of the Ascetics, begins with this very instruction saying, “If you wish to save your soul and win eternal life, arise from your lethargy, make the sign of the cross and say: In the name of the Father and of the Son and of the Holy Spirit. Amen. Long enough have you dallied, sunk in indifference and laziness, you have let much valuable time go to waste. Arise, then; but do so at once, without delay. Do not defer your purpose till tonight or tomorrow or later, when I have finished what I have to do just now. The interval may be fatal. No, this moment, the instant you make your resolution, you will show by your action that you have begun a new life.” St Herman of Alaska echoes this urgency when he says, “..from this very day, from this hour, from this minute, strive to love God above all and fulfill his holy will!” There is no time to lose for any of us, whether old or young, whether healthy or ill, no matter who we are or what our situation, from this moment on we must no longer waste time, but focus on working out our salvation.
Not only must we begin working now, but we must use all the skill that we have, and all the tools that God has placed at our disposal. For this God has given to us His Holy Spirit and He lives in us. He is the master craftsman and through the grace that He bestows upon us, we can use what He has given us with precision and skill that we might conform to His image and likeness. Therefore we must not rely upon ourselves, but
rather we must act in such a way that we say with the Apostle, not I, but Christ in me. We have many spiritual tools in the Church, some more basic than others and some more powerful than others. The proper use and application of these tools is given to us in the tradition and life of the Church. Also we are given helpers and guides who are appointed to help us apply all of these tools in the most effective manner. These helpers are our priests, our spiritual fathers and elders. The elders are those who by their lives, have gained some experience and wisdom in the use of these spiritual tools. They can give sober advice based on what they have experienced in their own lives and struggles. Also we have the clergy who are given the special grace by God in their ordination to provide the help and direction to care for the flock of Christ and bring us all safely into the heavenly kingdom. It is incumbent then that we always work under supervision and guidance so that we avoid the danger of misusing the tools that we have and thus injuring ourselves. Let me say a quick voice on Elders, talk with your Priest before you think about talking to an Elder, or so-called elder. Your Priest is or should be your Spiritual Father. He will guide you spiritually in your life.
Let us take the example of fasting. Fasting is a basic and powerful tool for denying oneself and clearing out the rubbish that sin has left in our lives by the unchecked passions. The regular routine of fasting that we have been given, the four fasting seasons, as well as the Wednesday and Friday fasts, is well within the ability of nearly everyone and is an effective use of this spiritual tool. However, there are those who, out of a desire to work harder or overcome some difficult obstacle might wish to undertake a stricter or longer fast. Or there may be someone, who by physical necessity or weakness might seek to lessen the fast for a time. There is nothing wrong with this in theory, however, when increasing or decreasing the intensity of the fast, one must do so with care so that on one hand you don’t take on a task greater than your strength and fall into despair or pride, or on the other hand you don’t dilute the fast so much that it has really no beneficial effect but you are deceived into thinking that you have accomplished much when in fact there is nothing. The guard against this is to have an experienced helper oversee such departures from the norm and so one should undertake these changes only with the blessing of the priest, your spiritual father. This similar kind of proper and misuse of the tools of spiritual labor can be found in every specific. Therefore, not only must we begin working now, but we must begin working with wisdom and carefully so that we do not harm ourselves and fall into delusion and despair on one hand, or so that we do not waste our efforts and believe that we have accomplished much when nothing has been done at all.
We are also given the plan of the Gospel and the examples of the saints. It is necessary when working, always to have the goal of Jesus Christ before us as we struggle to follow the path of salvation that He has set before us. If we are constantly referring to the plan, His Plan, we can see quickly any deviation or imperfection that might arise in our work and correct it while it is still small.
If on the other hand we allow such errors to go on, they continue to grow and become more and more serious until a great deal of work is required to correct what in the beginning might have been only a small effort. This we do by daily reading the Gospel and by reading also the lives of the saints so that they are familiar to us. In our prayers it is good to ask the saints to assist us by their own prayers before the throne of God for as the scripture tells us, the prayer of the righteous man avails much.
Therefore, my brothers and sisters, redeem the time, do not wait or delay but begin, this very day, this very hour, this very minute to follow Christ and walk in the path of salvation. Do this with wisdom and
with care walking vigilantly and with wisdom. Follow the traditions of the Church and the directions of your spiritual guide for in this way, we know that we use what God has given to us, properly and wisely. Finally do not lose sight of your goal but always, by psalms, hymns and Spiritual songs, that is by the reading of scripture and the prayers and services of the Church, keep our Lord Jesus Christ always before your eyes and in your heart; be not unwise but understand what the will of the Lord is. Keep your attention on the One Who has made you and Who loves you with the perfect love. In this way work out your salvation and bring to fulfillment and expression within yourself the image and likeness of God with which you were created.