1 Tim. 1:8-14
The Lord Jesus Christ continued His earthly journey and, as usual, “there went great multitudes with him”. Everyone was there: those who were consciously seeking the way into the Kingdom of Heaven, and those who, unwittingly, just wanted to be with Jesus, to see and hear Him, and those who only sought healing or who were curious. The disciples of the Lord, whom He Himself had chosen and who were close to Him, were among them. Jesus was always teaching them. He said certain things in private to his disciples, but more often he addressed everybody. Much of what He said sounded impossible. For example, even the Sermon on the Mount, Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matthew 5:48), or about turning the right cheek after being struck on the left cheek.
It was the same on that day. The Lord “…turned and said” to all who followed him, If any man come to me, and hate not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and brethren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. And whosoever doth not bear his cross, and come after me, cannot be my disciple. These words are clear only to those who have already made their choice. For the rest of the people, they may cause either a desire to understand, or desperate bewilderment, or a contrite sigh about their imperfection. Some people may even protest. But everybody should hear these words.
The same holds true today. The vast majority of Orthodox books are written by monks about monastic life. Hagiographic literature mostly presents examples of people who were fighting for Christ to death. Why are there almost no instructions for an ordinary lay person to live a normal life while doing his or her everyday duties?
The fact is that both the Lord Himself and the holy teachers of the Church were speaking and writing to those who were ready to go all the way to the end, so as not to put obstacles to anyone. Otherwise, a new Christian might get introduced to the narrow circle of his duties from the outset and feel proud and at ease. He may say that the rest is none of his business. The rest is only for some totally different people called “saints” or “monks”!
In fact, everything is for everyone. Although, of course, not everyone is ready for everything right now. And God forbid, we must not try to do what is still beyond our reach! The Lord taught us how to evaluate our strength soberly: For which of you, intending to build a tower, sitteth not down first, and counteth the cost, whether he have sufficient to finish it? Or what king, going to make war against another king, sitteth not down first, and consulteth whether he be able with ten thousand to meet him that cometh against him with twenty thousand? Or else, while the other is yet a great way off, he sendeth an ambassage, and desireth conditions of peace.
In the introduction to his wonderful book The Ladder, its author, Abbot John of Mount Sinai, writes, “Some people who carelessly live in the world, asked me, ‘How can we who live with our wives and are entangled in worldly cares, imitate the life of a monk?’ I replied, ‘Do all the good things you can do. Do not criticize anyone, do not steal, do not lie to anyone, do not disdain anyone, do not hate anyone, do not forsake the church. Be merciful to those in need, and do not tempt anyone. Do not touch someone else’s belongings, but be satisfied with your possessions and wives. If you do so, you will not be far from the Kingdom of Heaven.'”
That’s the preface to the book. Then there is the spiritual book itself, which helps one to ascend to the highest level. It would be very beneficial if, after reading it, we stop thinking that we have already reached perfection as soon as we ceased to steal or get drunk.
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds