Virtue is not what you do

The Sts. Sebastian and Mardarije Institute held these past few days, beginning Monday evening with Vespers followed by a welcome reception and then ending last night, was something close to amazing. All in all, Fr. Maximos of Simonopetra gave a total of nine talks during the course of the three full days of sessions. During one of the discussions a question was asked about virtue. The question ran along the lines of, when we think of virtue or someone tells us about virtue we think of good deeds, feeding the poor, working soup kitchens and similar things.

In his response Fr. Maximos noted that virtue is who we are and not what we do. We grow in virtue. We don’t notice our own growth for instance. People will look in the mirror and say something like, When did I get so fat?; or, When did my hair get so grey? We don’t observe our physical growth, it’s gradual. Yet, on the spiritual field we expect to fast, take communion and go to church a few times and somewhat expect to see or feel our spiritual growth. We expect to somehow measure our spiritual maturity.  But God doesn’t allow us to see our spiritual progress. If he did we’d become prideful. There’s a story of a man who comes to his father confessor and confesses that he’s a drunk. His father confessor says to him, thank God you’re a drunk, otherwise you’d be prideful, all you’d do would be enumerate your good deeds, your fasting and how you don’t commit any sins. We can be filled with good deeds and never have the slightest inclination to get drunk, to curse, to not go to church, or whatever. Any yet at the same time our hearts can be filled with pride which, ironically, is the “mother of all sins”. Therefore, virtue is not something we do, it’s who we are. And this growth in the virtues is something we do our entire lives, it doesn’t happen to us over the weekend or forty days of fasting or whatever the case may be. As one elder said, No one dies right away, it takes your entire life to die.

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