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The Pursuit of Virtues

The Pursuit of virtues - St Shenouda Monastery Pimonakhos Articles

Virtues are the fruits that everyone is required to bring forth in his/her spiritual journey towards Christian perfection. “Every tree which does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matt 3:10) That is what the Lord tells us about the importance of these fruits. However, before we proceed any further, let us listen to what the Lord further tells us, “Abide in Me, and I in you. As the branch cannot bear fruit of itself, unless it abides in the vine, neither can you, unless you abide in Me. I am the vine, you are the branches. He who abides in Me, and I in him, bears much fruit; for without Me you can do nothing.” (Joh 15:4-5)

So, the first rule of bringing fruit is this, “without Me you can do nothing” No one can produce fruit by his/her effort only. It is God Who makes us fruitful. God is like a farmer who owns a land and Who hires a servant to look after the land. The land and the seeds are owned by God, even the fertilizer is owned by God. God sends the rain and the sunshine required for the cultivation. But the hired servant has to till the land, put the seeds, pull out the weeds and put the fertilizer, then harvest the fruits of his labour. But, in spite of his work, the hired servant has no merit in what he does and so are we as the Lord tells us, “So likewise you, when you have done all those things which you are commanded, say, We are unprofitable servants. We have done what was our duty to do.” (Luk 17:10)

Virtues do not just happen. One has to train for them in the appropriate way. Virtues are often likened to a ladder with many steps that leads from earth to heaven. Some of the virtues are at the bottom of the ladder; others are at the top. The Fathers tell us that we cannot “skip” but rather should ascend the ladder of virtues in an orderly fashion.

At the bottom of the ladder are the two basic virtues of obedience and patience. At the top of the ladder are the higher virtues of humility and love. Love is considered the highest of all virtues. It is often called, “the all-encompassing virtue”. One that has love will have all the other virtues also. In the training for virtues, we are advised to take them one at a time. Once we have finished our training in one we should start on the next step up the ladder.

Virtues are cumulative. Training in one virtue makes it easier to acquire the next one. For example, if you train yourself in obedience and patience, meekness will be at your grasp. And once you have mastered meekness, you are at the doorsteps of humility, and so on. Training needs a trainer or a coach. No one can make it in athletics without a coach, neither can one be a successful “athlete for Christ” without a coach. Your coach is your Father in confession. He should be in charge of your training program. If you have read and understood the last chapter, then you will surely have discovered the perils of trying to do it on your own.

Obedience and patience are considered pre-requisites for all the other virtues. You cannot have fruit in any other virtue if you have not mastered these basic virtues. The reasons given for this is that if you have no obedience, you will not follow the instructions given by the trainer! And, obviously, there will be no progress. Likewise, without patience you will not be able to persevere in your training until you bring forth fruit.

In the parable of the sower, our Lord tells us, “But the ones… on the good ground are those who, having heard the word with a noble and good heart, keep it and bear fruit with patience.” (Luk 8:15) In the remainder of this chapter we will be considering some practical “techniques” in the training for obedience and patience.

By Father Athanasius Iskander