My yoke is easy and My burden is light… ( 17.11.2007 )
At the beginning, Christ’s yoke and Christ’s burden (i.e. the accomplishment of His commandments) seem to us and really are heavy (since we are inheritors to the consequences of Adam’s fall); later, as we purify our heart from the captivity to passions and as our struggle transforms from being predominantly ascetical into being predominantly graceful, we see that His yoke is really easy and His burden is really light—that is, finally, we see they do not exist at all. Our struggle turns from predominantly ascetical into predominantly graceful from the moment God reveals to us the place of the heart and when He grants us the gift of the mind-and-heart prayer.
Contrary to this, the demonic offer (i.e. the demonic yoke and burden) at the beginning appears attractive and easy to carry into effect (as congruous with man’s perverted passions), yet with its acceptance and accomplishment man merely continues nurturing his passions and in that way remains a captive to sin and to the demon, to failure, to misfortune, to illness, and eventually also to death and to hell. Falling into sin and abiding in unrepentance, man violates his union with God (by Whom and for Whom we are created)—that is, man is left without His life-giving grace—and eventually realizes, if it is not already late, that the demonic yoke and burden are in fact unbearable. Accepting and carrying the demonic yoke and the demonic burden, man misses the meaning and the predetermination of his existence.
However, what does Christ say, intentionally, in the same Gospel reading, wishing to show us the road we must walk: “learn from Me, for I am meek and humble in heart”. Hence, He does not say: learn from Me, for I am not money-loving or I am not pleasure-loving, but He emphasizes exactly this—for I am meek and humble in heart. If we know that our spiritual struggle is directed against the three main passions—vainglory, avarice, and pleasure-indulgence—then from Christ’s words it immediately becomes clear to us from where we should start and against which passion is waged our main warfare, perhaps even up to the end of our life. Thus, the Godman Christ clearly shows us what is stressed and what is the essence of our struggle, and it is the fight against the passion of the mind—pride, that is, vanity (our high self-esteem), which is the source of all the other passions and sins and falls.
The war against absolute pride, against the spiritual forces of evil in the heavenly realms, is waged with absolute humility, i.e. with absolute obedience. Christ our Lord has shown us by personal example and has established the practice of absolute obedience: He humbled Himself and became obedient to the point of death, even the death of the cross (Phil. 2:8). It goes without saying, absolute obedience was not necessary to Him, it is us who need it.
This struggle—the absolute (blind, perfect) obedience to the spiritual father, accepted voluntarily and freely—according to the Holy Fathers, is the sole remedy for our illness. Absolute obedience is the absolute stoppage in feeding the passion of our mind—pride. Hence, it is necessary, as I have told you before, our proud, distracted and darkened mind to be humbled and subdued to other mind, to our spiritual father’s mind. This is a concretely realized obedience that lasts all up to the revelation of the place of the heart and the prayer congruent to it. According to the Holy Fathers, obedience provides a carefree and undistracted state of mind during prayer, and the pure prayer, for its part—purification and illumination of the mind, first of its energy and then of its essence, too. The mind becomes humble, collected in the heart, and illumined—a state that will never be familiar to them who have not passed through this patristic tradition and experience.
Perhaps to some Christians such yoke and burden seem heavy, but we should not therefore forget that in their struggle, according to the Gospel, some will bring forth 30, some 60, and some 100 fruits… It all depends on the personal will and on the commitment and love towards God, that is, it depends on whether we have a son’s or a slave’s and hired servant’s attitude towards our Heavenly Father. It depends on it how much, freely and unforced, ourselves we will decide to obey. Absolute obedience is the ideal and tradition of the Holy Fathers towards which we should aspire, each one according to his desire and power. This is not the opinion of this or that spiritual father, which, due to our small love for God and slackness in the struggle, we may, self-justifying ourselves, allow ourselves to relativize and negate. Absolute obedience is in force all up to the acquisition of the gift of prayer in the heart. Then, naturally, the relationship with the spiritual father acquires another quality.
Absolute obedience does not count only in the case when the spiritual child wants to dedicate his life to God and become a monastic, whereas his spiritual father—a married priest—does not let him do that, and even advises him instead to get married. In a normal case, the decision about someone’s dedication to God via monastic life should be left to a practised spiritual father—a priestmonk (hieromonk). It is beyond the authority of a married spiritual father, in a normal case, the decision about someone’s going or not to a monastery. How will he decide on something he has no slightest idea about?! And, since we are talking about this, we know what the Holy Apostle Paul says—he/she who is married cares about how he/she may please, whether he/she likes it or not, first of all his/her spouse, not God (cf. 1 Cor. 7:32-34). So, we are back to that 30, 60 or 100… or, God forbid—nothing.
Metropolitan of Strumica Nahum