Asceticism and Normalcy


It always seems to me that I run into two kind of people when it comes to ascetical labors. One person tries to do too much too soon, and quickly becomes disgusted with themself and thereafter does little. Another person does very little, out of fear, and again remains in the same position. Oddly, the end of both is the same. We would do better to add humility to our fasting, to our prayers and not drive ourselves crazy.

From St. Seraphim of Sarov:

One should not undertake ascetic labors beyond one’s measure, but one should strive to make our friend – the flesh – faithful and capable of performing virtues.

One should go by a middle path: turn not aside to the right hand nor to the left (Prov. 4:27); and one should render unto the spirit what is spiritual, and unto the body what is bodily; for the maintenance of temporal life, one should render what is necessary, and for life in society, that which si lawfully demanded by it, in accordance with the words of Holy Scripture: Render unto Caesar the things that are Caesar’s, and unto God the things that are God’s (Matt. 22:21).

One must condescend to the soul in its infirmities and imperfections, and bear its defects as we bear those of others; one must not, however, become lazy, but should spur oneself to do better.

Perhaps one has eaten too much, or done something similar to this which is natural to human weakness – do not be disturbed at this, and do not add injury to injury; but bestire yourself to correction and at the same time strive to preserve peace of soul, according to the word of the Apostle: Blessed is he that condemneth not himself in that thing which he alloweth (Rom. 14:22).

The same thoughtis contained in the words of the Savior: Except ye be converted, and become as little children, ye shall not enter into the kingdom of heaven (Matt. 18:3).

If the body has been worn out by ascetic labors or sickness, one should strengthen it with moderate sleep, food, and drink, not observing even the times. Jesus Christ, after the raising of Jairus’ daughter, immediately commanded: Give her to eat (Lk. 8:55).

Every success in anything we should refer to the Lord and with the Prophet say: Not to us, O Lord, not to us, but to Thy name give glory (Ps. 113:9).

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.





2 responses to “Asceticism and Normalcy”

  1. Barnabas Powell Avatar

    Why is this so difficult for folks to get? I guess the more humble question is why is this so hard for me to get?

    I understand the temptation to jump in the deep end and try to do it all right at the beginning, but, by God’s grace, I was catechized by a few ise souls who constantly reminded me to “fast as you can, not as you can’t.”

    To be sure, there is a ditch on the other side of this narrow road that leads to sloth, but there is remedy for this as well in this human approach to asceticism.

    The one truth we cannot loose regardless where we are no is that asceticism is absolutely necessary to making “our friend – the flesh – faithful and capable of performing virtues.”

    Once more to Great Lent with sober joy.


  2. Michelle Avatar

    Boy, did I need this post.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Subscribe to blog via email

Support the work

Your generous support for Glory to God for All Things will help maintain and expand the work of Fr. Stephen. This ministry continues to grow and your help is important. Thank you for your prayers and encouragement!

Latest Comments

  1. As a total aside: Henry Adams practically invented Social History with his efforts almost 200 years ago. A magnificent book…

  2. Sorry for typos. Meant to say nothing pollutes more than warfare, etc , and don’t want to tread over the…

  3. Regarding “green” policies and the discussion here, I want to add that nothing polltes more han warfare, weapons, and to…

Read my books

Everywhere Present by Stephen Freeman

Listen to my podcast