Taking Responsibility For Your Life

Metropolitan Athanasios’s talk with the youth in Limassol, January 23, 2020


This year we decided to focus on issues that are especially important for you all. One of the questions you asked was the following: Does God decide who will become our future husband or wife?

We should all know that the Lord does not predetermine anything in our life. Indeed, if He determined everything in our life, He would be responsible for what happens to us. For example, I am a monk. If God had predetermined this for me, I could have objected, “Why didn’t anybody ask me whether I wanted to be a monk?” Or, if the choice had proved to be wrong, I could have complained, “I had no wish to be a monk, so it all is God’s fault.” On the contrary, if I make a choice, whatever choice it may be, I have to bear responsibility for my choice, because nobody thrust it upon me—not even the Lord himself. The same applies to marriage. The Lord does not determine who will become our spouse. This is exclusively up to us. You will ask, “Does the Lord know who will be my husband or wife?” Of course, He does. Nothing is unknown to Him. He knows everything. But there is one thing we should understand.

Nothing we do depends on the fact that God knows what we want. The Lord knows it because only we make this decision. For example, if I marry Maria, this does not mean I chose her to be my wife because the Lord knows about it. The Lord is aware of the person I marry because I chose her to be my wife. It is not the Lord Who rules that I should marry Maria, but I who make the decision as a free person. I can change my mind whenever I want.

Why do so many marriages end up in a divorce? Do you think it’s the Lord’s will to see so many people ruin their families? Not at all. Does God know they will divorce? Of course He does. Why do they divorce? This is their own choice. They decide whether they should be together or not. There is only one thing the Lord wants: He wants us to save our souls in marriage, to be His true children, to unite and to be with Him forever. So the Lord’s will is too see us living in marriage spiritually. As we have discussed earlier, joy, children and a happy life are not the purpose of marriage. All these things are essential, of course. We wish to be happy, to have children, to have a good job and to earn good money, to have everything needed for our family, for our children, for our life; and this is not something bad. But we should not forget that in everything we do, in every step we take, must have only one goal—to be with Christ, both in this life and in the eternal one. Consequently, whatever happens to us and to our family (be it troubles, a problems, temptations, divorce, or some other undesirable thing, regardless of whether it is our fault, this is less important), you should make use of these shifts in life to benefit your soul.

You should look even your own errors spiritually. How is this possible? By humbling yourself and shouldering your responsibility, or even accepting your fault, praying to God that He have mercy on you and bless you, that He helps you to deal with these difficulties spiritually. So our mistakes may be extremely precious if we can see them through the lens of repentance. I will give you an example. Manure is animal excrement. Is there anything quite as disgusting as manure? On the other hand, manure can be of great value as we use it to fertilize plants; it is the best fertilizer. It helps us reap a rich harvest. This is why we should learn to use our mistakes to good advantage.

For this reason, my friends, if you look at a person and decide whether he or she becomes your spouse, you should first of all pray to God lest you make a mistake. But, as you make your decision, do not ask yourself whether God wants it or whether the person is your destiny. You had better ask yourself: Do I want this person to be my husband or wife? Does he or she suit me? If you feel he does, if you feel this is the right person, go ahead and do not fear anything. Nevertheless, beware of shifting your responsibility onto God, because it is up to you to make the decision. Therefore, if a day or two later it turns out you were wrong, or if you do not chose anyone, do not blame God, saying, “Lord, it is all Your fault that You made me be with this man and now I suffer”. You shouldn’t complain, “I cannot meet anyone”, and so on and so forth. I chose this man, this work, this way of life, and I am responsible for it. If everything goes well, I will give glory to the Lord and thank Him; if it does not go so well, I will not be despondent. You should say, “This is my mistake (be it marriage or any misfortune), and how can my spiritual life benefit from it?” Folks, remember, only one thing matters: how spiritual our life is. That is to say, whatever happens in your life—either happiness or trouble—only one thing is truly important: Does my soul benefit from this particular situation or not.

I chanced to meet a woman (she is already dead) who was literally married to a tyrant. She lived a life of a true martyr with him, but, being a very righteous woman, she treated him as a Christian. Surely, she suffered a lot, she had to endure humiliation and disgrace, but she took all these things as something that can help her save her soul. That woman was “the temple of the Holy Ghost” indeed, and she reposed like a saint. She could have said, “It is God’s fault that this man became my husband.” Instead, she said, “This man is my husband, and I will try to be patient in the misery of my life for the benefit of my soul.” She had to work hard, but finally she won her spiritual battle.

It may happen that people cannot be patient. They will say, “That woman succeeded, she could bear her cross, but I can’t”; or, “I do not want to bear that cross”. It is okay if you do not want to, you have the right to make a different choice, to humble yourself and say, “I am sorry, but I can’t and don’t want to suffer it any longer. Lord, forgive me! Everyone forgive me, but I can’t. I am on the edge.” To admit you are helpless is also a kind of humility. I realize that I can no longer endure this kind of life and humbly make up my mind to change it.

Just do not forget, you must not blame God or any other person. Nor should you despair if you make a mistake. A humble person will not shift responsibility for his mistake onto anyone. Nor would they be despondent, they would never say, “I have made a mistake, and now I will have to pay for it. It is the end of my life.” They would rather say, “I admit I have made a mistake. Lord, forgive me! But I can’t go on with it, I can’t suffer it till the end.” In other words, I tell the Lord what I can do and do what I can. So, with humility and simplicity, the person continues his or her life, trying to foster a relationship with Christ under the present conditions.

Folks, I want you to bear in mind that spiritual life never ends in a deadlock. Having made even the gravest mistakes, you will never reach a deadlock as there is always a way out—repentance, humility, prayer. Christ is the way out. For example, a man makes an atomic bomb, kills billions of people and now he is the only person in the world. Even in this horrific case he has hope for salvation. God gives him this hope for his repentance, no matter what evil he has done. The Athonite monks have a saying “Burn the Holy Mount and say, ‘Lord, have mercy’”. In other words, if you repent, you deserve forgiveness. For worldly people, such way of thinking is a challenge, something they cannot understand. For a worldly mind, if you do some evil, you must pay for it.

You all are well aware of the fact that forest fires blaze in Greece every year. People die. Once a man came to Mount Athos. Enraged at what was going on, he complained, “I want those who set the forests on fire to die in these fires. We should tie them to the trees and leave in the burning forest.” Indeed, what was going on was a calamity. The forests were set on fire for no reason, and they caused people to die and damaged the houses. That man, however, was not ready to admit the fact that the arsonists could ever repent and ask the Lord for forgiveness. Yes, they burnt forests in their home country, but they could be forgiven even if they burnt the entire planet. What if someone resolves to take revenge on them, to do what that man suggested? What would happen then? This is how worldly logic works, but we do not agree with it. If the arsonist realizes he has made a mistake and takes it spiritually, he will say, “He is right, I deserve to be burnt as I have burnt the forest, as I did it intentionally, on the sly, not accidentally.”

So one will save oneself if he humbles himself and repents. What is more, he can become a saint. Do you want an example? Okay, the Penitent Thief. Who was the first to enter paradise? Who was the first one Christ took with Him? He was a thief, a hooligan, a criminal and a cheat, perhaps even a murderer. And what happened to him? He repented, he implored Christ for forgiveness, he asked Him to remember Him when He would come to His Heavenly Kingdom, and Christ replied, Verily I say unto thee, Today thou shalt be with Me in paradise. (Luke 23, 43). That is all, he needed do nothing more. His humility and repentance saved him, and is the core of the Gospel. You cannot say that you will never deserve forgiveness for all the evil you have done, for all your mistakes and wrong doings. Even if you blow up the entire world and are the only living person, you may hope for salvation because there is repentance that comes from humility. A humble person will definitely repent, unlike an arrogant person who only ends up in despair.

Therefore, friends, all decisions we make in life are of our own choice; the Lord does not predetermine our life. We determine the course of our life and take responsibility for the choices we make. We should take everything that happens to us—our mistakes, sins, failures and troubles—with calm and dignity, trying to extract some benefit for our souls. Egotism leads to nothing but despair and an erroneous understanding of things, something unknown to a believing person. Once I make a choice, this means with humility I will do what I can, being perfectly sure that if I humbly ask God for help, He will help me finish what I have started.

Metropolitan Athanasios of Limassol
Translation from the Russian version by Maria Litzman


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