“If we get beaten, as being men we shall, and slip into sin, let us quickly get up and do penance”

You see then what happens when a man gets the habit of giving in to his instinctive urges? Do you see what a miserable affliction it is? … It was well said by Abbot Nistheron that if a man is pulled down and carried off by a passion, he becomes a slave of that passion. May the good and merciful God shield us from bad habits lest we also should say (with the Psalmist), “What use is my blood if I go down into corruption?”

I have told you the different ways a man falls into bad habits. For if a man is angry once, he is not straightway called irascible; nor if a man falls once into fornication is he straightway called a fornicator; nor if a man does one act of mercy is he called a merciful man. But virtue and vice are formed in the soul by repeated actions, and ingrained habits brings peace or punishment with them. We speak of virtue bringing rest to the soul and vice bringing punishment—why the difference? Because virtue belongs to the nature we possess; the seeds of virtue are ineradicable. I say, therefore, that insofar as we carry out what is good, we generate for ourselves a habit of virtue—that is, we take up a state proper to our nature, we return to a state of health which belongs to us, as diseased eyes recover their normal reactions to light, or from any other state of weakness, we return to the normal state of health which belongs to our very nature. In the case of vice it is entirely different. By doing repeatedly what is evil, we acquire a habit which is foreign to us, something unnatural. We put ourselves, as it were, into a permanent state of pestilential sickness, so that we can no longer be healed without many tears, which have the power to attract Christ’s compassion to us. We find the same sort of thing in bodily sickness. There are certain foods which are supposed to generate a certain humor [in the body] which causes melancholy—for example, cabbage and lentils and things like that. By eating such foods once or twice the body generates a certain quantity of fluid which predisposes to melancholy; but if a man continues feeding on these things for a long time, the body becomes full of this fluid, which promotes fevers which burn up the sufferer and bring on thousands of attendant troubles. So it is with the soul: if a man continues sinning, he gets into a bad condition and it is this which torments him. …

There is need therefore of much vigilance and zeal, and a healthy fear, if we are to avoid falling into bad habits. Believe me, brothers, a man with a single passion set into a habit is destined to punishment. Maybe he will do ten good actions for every one resulting from bad habit, but the latter will prevail over the ten good actions. If an eagle gets out of a snare except for one claw which remains caught in the net, it has lost all its power to escape. Though it is outside the net, is it not half-captive by it? Can the hunter not strike it down whenever he pleases? So it is with the soul: if it has one passion set into a bad habit, the enemy at any moment he pleases strikes it down, for he has the upper hand over the soul through that passion. This is why I am always telling you not to allow a passion to harden into a habit. We must go on fighting and praying God night and day lest we fall into temptation. If we get beaten, as being men we shall, and slip into sin, let us quickly get up and do penance, weeping in the sight of God’s goodness. Let us be on our watch and go on fighting, and God, seeing our good-will, our humility and our contrition, will lend us a hand and extend his mercy to us. Amen.

St Dorotheos of Gaza

 

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1 Response to “If we get beaten, as being men we shall, and slip into sin, let us quickly get up and do penance”

  1. PhiLiP s. SchMidT says:

    Dear Father Kimel:

    Whoa.
    Truly sobering, alarming even, is your observation: “If an eagle gets out of a snare except for one claw which remains caught in the net, it has lost all its power to escape. Though it is outside the net, is it not half-captive by it? Can the hunter not strike it down whenever he pleases? So it is with the soul: if it has one passion set into a bad habit, the enemy at any moment he pleases strikes it down, for he has the upper hand over the soul through that passion.”

    Wow. You and C.S. Lewis must be kindred spirits. Here is Lewis’ echo in ‘Mere Christianity’:

    “Good and evil both increase at compound interest. That is why the little decisions you and I make every day are of such infinite importance. The smallest good act today is the capture of a strategic point from which, a few months later, you may be able to go on to victories you never dreamed of. An apparently trivial indulgence in lust or anger today is the loss of a ridge or railway line or bridgehead from which the enemy may launch an attack otherwise impossible.”

    And thus I wonder:
    What steps can I take to minimize the risk of getting even one claw caught in the net of the devil’s snare?

    Since I’ve retired from Canada Post, I have started auditing courses at Heritage College and Redeemer University College here in Ontario.
    Both Christian institutions are approximately one hour’s drive from where I live.
    One of the happy consequences of this commitment of time and money is that I’m being exposed to weighty literature that I daresay I would never have otherwise come across on my own.
    One of the books I have thus been introduced to is Donald S. Whitney’s ‘Spiritual Disciplines For The Christian Life.’
    Whitney maintains that without keen attention to the spiritual disciplines, Godliness is impossible.
    Whoa Nelly!
    It was Whitney’s chapter on monetary giving that hit me the hardest…..
    But I instinctively knew that I needed to conceptualize – and follow through on – a ‘spiritual regimen’ that encompassed worship, prayer, acquiring spiritual knowledge (reading/listening) and physical fitness.

    It has taken me quite some time to fine-tune my ‘regimen,’ but for what it’s worth:
    I now begin each day by listening to a ‘Psalmody’ (a Psalm set to music).
    With coffee in hand, and my kitty cats accompanying me on the back deck outside, I then read a prayer from a 125-year-old prayer book entitled Great Souls At Prayer, a book that my wife discovered amongst my late father’s personal effects.
    I then make myself breakfast.
    While enjoying breakfast, I read either Ravi Zacharias’ ‘Just Thinking’ magazine, Christian Courier Magazine (the Canadian magazine of the Christian Reformed Church) or, most recently, your blogspot, Eclectic Orthodoxy.
    These breakfast readings I truly love, because they engage my intellect as well as my emotions and soul.

    Then I undertake an intense 23-minute interval training session on my elliptical crosstrainer. During this time, I don wireless headphones and listen to music by Christian artists, tracking the lyrics on my iPad, in an attempt to learn the songs by heart.

    Late at night, and often extending into the wee hours of the morning, I embark upon a 25-mile bicycle ride out into the countryside, armed with 500-lumen bike flares for visibility.
    These are precious times, Father Kimel.
    I listen to audiobooks, podcasts and lectures by my favourite Christian authors, or full-blown dramatized audio dramas (such as Lord of The Rings, The Chronicles of Narnia or Pilgrim’s Progress)…..
    All the while being caressed by the cool night air, under a canopy of stars, clouds or both.

    Do I feel different since I undertook this ‘regimen’?

    Yes, but I’m not sure I can qualify it in the realm of words.

    I’ve lost a tremendous amount of weight; my physique is more toned than it has been in decades.
    The interval training sessions and bike rides have indeed kickstarted my metabolism.

    But I’m also finding myself under spiritual attack with frightening frequency.
    In the throngs of such bedevilments, I feel like a tumbleweed blowing across the prairie…..
    Like everything I’ve done has amounted to nothing more than wood, hay and stubble.

    There is this, though, if this sheds any light on the matter:
    This ‘regimen’ does not feel like a grind.
    I’m not gritting my teeth and ‘sticking it out at all costs.’
    I genuinely love all facets of it, even the interval training sessions on the crossramp.
    Is that a positive sign?

    One thing’s for sure:
    I certainly don’t FEEL more ‘spiritual.’
    But as Teresa of Avila noted in her classic ‘Interior Castle,’ if God is indeed changing my heart and effecting my spiritual formation…..
    If I AM growing…..
    Then I’d be the last person to know, lest I become proud.

    Anyway, my two cents worth.
    Thank you, Father Kimel, for ‘snapping me to.’
    As I said at the outset of my response, your illuminating article is sobering, even alarming…..
    And exactly what I needed to hear.

    Pensively,
    PhiL {‘•_•’}

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