April 11, 2017

Let Us Not Be Like the Foolish Virgins (St. Mark the Ascetic)

By St. Mark the Ascetic

How long shall we continue in this manner, our intellect reduced to futility, failing to make the spirit of the Gospel our own, not knowing what it means to live according to our conscience, making no serious effort to keep it pure? Lacking real knowledge, we still trust solely in the apparent righteousness of our outward way of life, and so lead ourselves astray, trying to please men, pursuing the glory, honor and praise which they offer. But the Judge who cannot be deceived will certainly come, and 'will bring to light the things now hidden in darkness, and reveal the purposes of hearts' (1 Cor. 4:5). He neither respects the wealthy nor pities the poor, but strips away the outward appearance and reveals the truth hidden within. In the presence of the angels and before His own Father, He crowns those who have truly pursued the spiritual way and lived according to their conscience; and in the presence of the heavenly Church of the saints and of all the celestial hosts. He exposes those who possessed merely an outward pretense of devotion, which they displayed to men, vainly relying on it and deceiving themselves; and He banishes them in shame to outer darkness.

Such people are like the foolish virgins (cf. Matt. 25:1-12), who did indeed preserve their outer virginity, yet in spite of this were not admitted to the marriage-feast; they also had some oil in their vessels, that is, they possessed some virtues and external achievements and some gifts of grace, so that their lamps remained alight for a certain time. But because of negligence, ignorance and laziness they were not provident, and did not pay careful attention to the hidden swarm of passions energized within them by the evil spirits. Their thoughts were corrupted by these hostile energies, while they themselves assented to this demonic activity and shared in it. They were secretly enticed and overcome by malicious envy, by jealousy that hates everything good, by strife, quarreling, hatred, anger, bitterness, rancor, hypocrisy, wrath, pride, self-esteem, love of popularity, self-satisfaction, avarice, listlessness, by sensual desire which provokes images of self-indulgence, by unbelief, irreverence, cowardice, dejection, contentiousness, sluggishness, sleep, presumption, self-justification, pomposity, boastfulness, insatiateness, profligacy, greed, by despair which is the most dangerous of all, and by the subtle workings of vice. Even the good acts which they performed and their life of chastity were all for the sake of being seen and praised by men; and though they had a share in some gifts of grace, this they sold to the spirits of self-esteem and popularity. Because of their involvement with the other passions, they mixed their virtues with sinful and worldly thoughts, so rendering them unacceptable and impure, like Cain's sacrifice (cf Gen. 4:5). Thus they were deprived of the joy of the Bridegroom and shut out from the heavenly bridal chamber.

Pondering, assessing and testing all this, let us realize our situation and correct our way of life while we still have time for repentance and conversion. Let us perform our good actions with purity, so that they are really good and not mixed with worldly thoughts; otherwise they will be rejected, like a blemished sacrifice, because of our irreverence, negligence and want of real knowledge. Let us be careful not to waste our days, lest we undergo all the effort of the life of virginity - practicing self-control, keeping vigil, fasting, showing hospitality - only to find at the end that, because of the passions we have mentioned, our apparent righteousness, like the blemished sacrifice, proves unacceptable to the heavenly Priest, Christ our God.

From The Philokalia, vol. 1, "Letter to Nicolas the Solitary".