2. John Chryssavgis
Ascent to Heaven.
Holy Cross Orthodox Press
3. GEH Palmer.
The final term of this process is the reception of the undeserved and incomprehensible deifying gift of divine participation (cf. 2 Peter 1:4; 1 John
1:1-4), bestowed upon us by 'the grace of the Lord Jesus Christ and the love of God [the Father] and the communion of the Holy Spirit' (2 Corinthians 13:13).
All we experience and accomplish along this process of spiritual becoming - sacramental regeneration, faith initiation, ecclesial participation, prayer, ascetic discipline, contemplation, sheer generosity etc. - cannot be taken as ultimate achievements.
More precisely, they do not represent ends in themselves, but means in order to attain the goal.
As such, everything we experience in our journey is subsumed to the ultimate purpose of accessing the fullness of life here, now and ever, according to the promise of the Lord (cf. John
And we are writing this that our joy may be complete (1 John
I can speak of the place that St. Polycarp sat and disputed, how he
came in and went out... the discourses which he
made to the people... how he
influence with John
and with the others who had seen the Lord."
A well-known anecdote recounts the story of John
the Dwarf, who, upon entering the desert, was told, by his
spiritual elder to continue watering a dry stick2, which had been planted into the ground, and to keep on doing this until it bore fruit.
Indeed, the story is intensified when we are told that the novice had to travel throughout the whole night to collect water, something, which, besides being irrational would have been physically and mentally exhausting.
The pinnacle moment of the story is reached when we discover that one morning, in the third year, upon going to water the "dead" stick, John
found that it had flowered and produced much fruit.
It is said that his
spiritual elder took it to the community and told the brothers: "Take and eat the fruit of obedience!"3
Another story relates the perfect obedience of a disciple, who, having been called by his
spiritual father, responded immediately, not even completing the letter of the alphabet that he
had been writing whilst copying a manuscript.4 From this, we can see that all sayings in the Gerondikon seek to emphasize, in the strongest of terms the importance of obedience for a person setting out to live a monastic life.
PG 88:680 and 717 cited in John Chryssavgis
, Soul Mending: The Art of Spiritual Direction (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press
, 2000), 102.
4. For a more extensive reflection on the spiritual elder as a guide, physician, teacher and sponsor see John Chryssavgis, Ascent to Heaven (Brookline, MA: Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1989), 211-230.