Elder, I am a beginner, where do I start in order to come close to God and receive His Grace?
St Paisios had visited the female monastery of St John the Theologian and was conversing with the nuns when one of the sisters asked him, ‘Elder, how can we become friends with God?
The Elder replied with a quote from the scriptures. ‘How can a young person stay on the path of purity? By living according to your word.’ (Ps 119:9)
If you live according to the commandments of God you will become friends with God. If we are children of God, we must observe his commandments. When the Jews said, ‘Abraham is our father’, Jesus told them, ‘you do not have Abraham as your father; you have the devil as a father, “If you were Abraham’s children then you would do what Abraham did.’
Elder, what does Abba Isaac mean when he says that, ‘Christ demands not the observation of the commandments but the amendment of the soul?’ What was the reason God gave the commandments? Was it not for the sake for our correction? By observing the commandments of God we cultivate virtue and acquire the health of the soul. Abba Isaac says, ‘the work of virtue is the observation of the Lord’s commandments.’
Elder, Abba Isaiah says, ‘Man needs great manliness of heart and courage in his effort to observe the commandments of God.’ Exactly, replied the Elder. In order to observe the commandments of God with precision, we need courage, a manly heart and vigilance. This is why you ought to seek out your shortcomings and what it is God asks of you, to examine what you have done and what you should have done but did not. Ask yourself, ‘all right, although what I’m doing may be pleasing to me is it pleasing to Christ ?’ Struggle to perform the will of God. Sacred scripture indicates, ‘By the word of Thy lips I have kept me from the ways of the destroyer.’
Virtue has worth when it is acquired freely, without pressure. One must feel virtue to be a necessity and then work in order to acquire it. It is not as if God needs us to do his will; It is we who need to do His will, in order to be delivered from the old man within us. The precise observation of the commandments of God must be the goal of the faithful’s entire struggle. When one seeks to do the will of God, he draws closer to God and then, without asking, he receives divine Grace; in other words, he drinks water straight from the spring.
Dear brothers and sisters in Christ, it goes without saying that in order to live according to the will of God, as St Paisios suggests, we must know well the commandments of God. The only way to achieve this is by reading the Scriptures daily!