We live today in a culture that teaches a philosophy of (1) utilitarianism and (2) relativism. I posit however that this culture is one of the most nihilistic, most dangerous outlooks for our spiritual formation.
(1) Utilitarianism, in its most basic form as espoused by John Stuart Mill, states that if some thing brings pleasure, then it is good. If it brings pain, then it is bad. Put another way, an act is good if produces more pleasure than it does pain, and bad if it produces more pain than it does pleasure.
I’m not going to go into too many details since that’s not the point of this post, but would you deny that, especially in America, this is the philosophy driving the general population?
(2) For the sake of being ‘politically correct’ (how I hate that term!) society today is very careful not to step on anyone’s toes or offend them. People are afraid to speak their minds for fear that someone else might complain, and if someone does complain then they are seen as victims and things are changed to go their way. All ways of life are equal and good, all religions are valid and profitable, and your way is equally right as mine; these are things that our relativism says to us.
But both of these extremely popular ideas are lies. When it comes to matters of truth there are only two options, there can be no fallacy of the excluded middle here; either something is true, or it is false. A half-truth is still wholly false and only the whole truth can be the truth. That is why it is so very important, as Christians, that we live our life a certain away. Platon, Bishop of Kostroma gives some very edifying and practical rules for living a pious life:
Force yourself to get up early and at a definite time. Do not sleep for more than seven hours, unless you have a special reason. As soon as you wake up, direct your thoughts to God and piously cross yourself, thinking of our crucified Lord Jesus Christ, Who died on the Cross for the sake of our salvation.
Get up from your bed at once, get dressed and do not pamper yourself. While dressing remember that you are in the presence of the Lord and your Guardian Angel, think of the fall of Adam who, because of sin, deprived himself of the covering of innocence, and beg Lord Jesus Christ for the blessing of being adopted by Him. Then start immediately your morning prayers, kneeling, pray carefully with reverence and deepest humility, as ought to be done under the watchful regard of the Almighty; and ask Him for Faith, Hope, Love and a blessing for the coming day; and also for strength to humbly accept His will and bear all burdens, difficulties, misfortunes, disasters, sorrows and illnesses of body and mind, because of our love for Jesus Christ. Make a firm resolution to do everything for the Lord, to receive everything from His Fatherly Hand, and make a special resolution to do some particular good, and to avoid some particular evil. Every morning spend at least quarter of an hour on a brief meditation on the truths of faith, meditating especially on the incomprehensible mystery of Christ’s assumption of our flesh, and on His awesome second coming, and on Hell and Paradise. Meditate in this way: maybe this is the last day of my life, then do everything the way you would — if you were preparing to come before the justice of God. Thank the Lord for protecting you during the night and thank Him that you are still alive, not having died in your sins. How many people in the past have come before the justice of God! And also thank God that you still have time of Grace and Mercy and means of repentance and attaining heaven. Every morning think about yourself, realize that only now you are beginning and want to be a Christian, and the past was wasted.
After the prayers and meditations, if time permits, read some spiritual book, for example: St. Dimitry’s Spiritual Alphabet, or Bishop Tikhon Zadonsky’s Spiritual Treasure Gathered from the World, and read until your heart is made humble. After you have meditated sufficiently on a certain part, read further and listen carefully to what the Lord says to your heart. After that, start doing your work, and let your deeds and actions be for the glory of God. Remember that God sees you everywhere, sees all your actions, doings, feelings, thoughts and desires, and will generously reward you for all your good deeds. Do not begin anything without praying to God, because the things we do or say without prayer, later prove to be either sinful or harmful and display us through our deeds in a way unknown to us. Our Lord Himself said: “Without Me ye can do nothing.” Amid your labors be not downcast, and entrust their success to God’s Grace. Fulfill all that is difficult for you as though it were a penance for your sins —in the spirit of obedience and humbleness; while working repeat brief prayers, especially the Prayer of Jesus, and think of Jesus, Who by the sweat of His brow, ate bread, laboring with Joseph. If your work is being accomplished with success, as your heart desires—thank the Lord: if without success—then remember that this, too, God allows, and He works everything for good.
At dinner picture to yourself the image of Our Heavenly Father opening His hand, in order to feed you; never omit your prayer before you eat; and leave some of your food for the poor. After dinner consider yourself one of the five thousand who were miraculously fed by Jesus Christ; thank Him from your heart and pray that He not leave you without heavenly food—His word and His most precious Body and Blood. If you wish for spiritually peaceful life, give yourself to God. You will not find any spiritual peace until you are satisfied with God alone, loving Him only. Always and in everything think of God and His holy love for us sinners. In everything try to fulfill God’s will and to please God alone; do and suffer everything for God. Do not care to be respected and loved by people in their sins. Keep a vigilant watch over your feelings, thoughts, motions of your heart and your passions; give consideration to nothing trivial where your personal salvation is concerned.
When you think of God multiply your prayers, so that God will remember you when you forget Him. In everything may your teacher be Our Lord Jesus Christ, looking upon Him with the eye of your mind ask yourself more often: in this case what would Jesus Christ have thought, said, or done? Be meek, quiet, humble, be silent and endure by the example of Jesus. He will not lay a cross upon you, which you are not able to carry. He Himself will help you carry your cross. Do not expect to acquire any one virtue without any sorrow and pains of the soul.
Beg God to give you grace to fulfill in the best way possible His holiest commandments—even though they may seem difficult for you. When you have fulfilled any one of God’s commandments, await temptation, for love for Christ is tested by our conquering the obstacles. Do not dwell in idleness even for a short time, but always remain in labor and be occupied, because he who does not labor does not deserve the name of man. Isolate yourself, by the example of Jesus, Who, drawing Himself away from others, prayed to the Heavenly Father. In the midst of spiritual heaviness or coldness towards prayer and to all religious exercises do not give up acts of piety, it was that Jesus thrice prayed when His soul was sorrowful, even unto death. Do everything in the name of Jesus Christ and in this way all your actions will be deeds of piety. Flee even the smallest of sins, because one who does not leave the smallest, certainly will fall into great and deep ones. If you do not want to be bothered by evil thoughts, then humbly receive all disparagements of soul and bodily suffering, not at some expected time, but at any time, any place, and under any circumstances. Every thought, which withdraws you further away from God, especially filthy thoughts of the flesh, banish from your heart, as quickly as possible, as you would cast from your clothes a spark of fire that fell burning on them. When such a thought appears, pray hard: God forgive me, God do not leave me, deliver me from temptations, or the like. But amidst temptations do not be troubled. He who gives you the circumstance of a battle, will also give you strength for victory. Let your spirit be at rest, trust in God; if God is for you, then who is against you? Pray to God that He take from you everything that feeds your self-love, even though it may be very bitter for you. Wish to live and die for God alone, and to belong to Him entirely. When you suffer some dishonor from others, then realize that this was sent to you by God for your glory, thus being in dishonor you will be without sadness and confusion, and in glory. If you have food and clothing, be content with it by the example of Jesus Who became impoverished for our sake. Never argue and do not defend or excuse yourself too much, do not say anything against superiors or your neighbors without need or obligation. Be sincere and simple in heart, with love accept directions, admonitions, and being exposed by others, even though you may be wise.
Do not detest or be envious or exceedingly stern in word and deeds. What you do not wish for yourself do not do unto others, and what you wish others to do to you, do it first unto them. If someone visits you, elevate your heart to God and pray that He give you spirit of meekness, humbleness, and concentration; be gentle, modest, careful, wise, blind and deaf. according to the situation. Remember that Jesus is present among those with whom you are and among those with whom you speak. Say nothing without thought. Bear it firmly in mind, that time is short and that man must give an account of every [word uttered.] Listen more than speak, [for] in verbosity you will not escape sin. Beg God to give you [the] blessing to be silent and to speak at the right time. Do not be curious about news, [for] it diverts the spirit. If by words you are helpful to someone, acknowledge it in God’s grace. When you are alone, examine yourself whether you have become worse than before, whether you have committed any sins which you did not do before. If you did sin, immediately beg God’s forgiveness with humbleness and a contrite heart, and trust His Mercy, hastening to repent before your spiritual father: because every sin left without repentance is a sin unto death. And if you do not repent with a contrite heart the sin you have committed, you will fall into that sin again. Try to do good to everyone, any kind of good and at any time you can, not thinking whether it will be appreciated, with gratitude or without. And rejoice, not when you do good to someone, but when without spite [you] bear insults from others, especially from those to whom you were good. If one does not obey you the first time, do not force him through debate; make use of the good yourself, which he has lost, because meekness will bring you great profit. But when harm caused by one spreads to many others, then do not tolerate it, looking not for your own benefit but that of others. The general welfare is more important than personal considerations.
During supper remember the Last Supper of Jesus Christ, begging Him to honor you with heavenly food. Before going to sleep, examine your conscience, pray to be given light to recognize your sins: think of them, beg for forgiveness and promise to reform, determining clearly and precisely in what matter and how you intend to improve yourself. Then give yourself up to God, as though tonight you will have to appear before Him, entrust yourself to the Mother of God, your guardian angel, the Saint whose name you bear. Picture your bed as your coffin and your blanket as your shroud. Cross yourself and kissing the cross you wear, fall asleep under the protection of [the] Shepherd of Israel! He will not nod or fall asleep. If you cannot sleep or are keeping vigil at night, like Jesus Who prayed to His Father until His body sweat was bloody—pray for those who at night are severely ill or fatally ill, for the suffering and the dead, and pray God, that the night’s darkness not cover you. In the middle of the night get up from your bed and pray, as much as you can.
During an illness first of all entrust yourself to God in order to strengthen your spirit in the midst of your misery. Often remember and think of the suffering and the death of Jesus Christ. Ceaselessly say all the prayers you know and can; beg God to forgive you your sins and to give you patience while ill. In all ways possible abstain from complaining and irritation which are common when ill. Our Lord Jesus Christ underwent, for the sake of our salvation, the most painful illness and sufferings, and what have we done or suffered for the sake of our salvation?
Go to the services in church as often as possible; try especially to be present often at the Liturgy. Sundays and holidays without fail do deeds of piety; always remember that you are in the presence of God, the Angels and the Saints; the remaining time devote to pious reading and other acts of piety and love. Devote your birthday and Saint’s Day especially to pious deeds. Every year and every month examine your conscience rigorously. Go to confession and receive the Holy Sacraments as often as possible. Receive Holy Communion always with sincere hunger and real thirst of your soul, with a contrite heart, with reverence, humbleness, faith, trust and love. Think of the sufferings and death of Jesus Christ as often as possible, begging Him to veil your sins and receive you into His Kingdom. May the name of Jesus always be on your lips, in your soul and your heart. As often as possible meditate on God’s great love to you, glorified and worshipped in the Trinity so that you yourself may love Him with all your heart, all your soul and with all your thoughts. Doing so, you will lead a peaceful life on this earth and a blessed one in heaven forever. The Grace of Our Lord Jesus Christ be with you.
May our Eternal King and Righteous Father, along with Son and the life-giving Holy Spirit have mercy on us all!