Exercises in Fulfilling the Commandments During Great Lent. Part 1

The root of virtuous life lies in the unceasing
study of the Word of God. His Word compels
us to acknowledge our objectives, choose
His holy life as an example, and follow Him

St. Paisios the Athonite

Fulfilling the commandments as the foundation of spiritual life

Let us begin the all-holy season of fasting with joy; Let us shine with the bright radiance of the holy commandments of Christ our God: With the brightness of love and the splendor of prayer, The strength of good courage and the purity of holiness! Thus, clothed in garments of light, Let us hasten to the Holy Resurrection on the third day

Lenten Triodion

Photo: Pinterest Photo: Pinterest The fulfillment of the commandments forms the foundation of a sound spiritual life. We know it well. We remember: He that hath my commandments, and keepeth them, he it is that loveth me: and he that loveth me shall be loved of my Father, and I will love him, and will manifest myself to him (Jn. 14:21). A spiritual building erected not on the foundation of the Gospel commandments will inevitably collapse. We know this as well.

Well... But let’s face it, we all too often perceive the commandments mainly as a guide to repentance. We read them before confession to understand what we need to confess. We didn’t do this or that. We come to confession, receive absolution, and again leave everything as it is. Until the next confession.

But right now, at the beginning of the fourth week of Lent, it is the most convenient, the most suitable, and the easiest time to try and lay the foundation of life according to the commandments. During the first week of Lent, most of us have come to the Sacrament of Confession and received the Holy Communion, refreshed the fountains of Life within ourselves, and experienced blessed lightness. The main thing right now is to not stop and decide that our job is done.

A spiritual building erected not on the foundation of the Gospel commandments will inevitably crumble

“Think that you are as like a broken machine, finally fixed just now. The time is ripe to do the work, not to end it,” Holy Hierarch Theophan the Recluse counsels.

The work of salvation is the fulfillment of the commandments. Here’s when another “but” comes up.

In order to fulfill the commandments, and not just to fulfill, but also to “be illumined” with them; that is, to find joy (“bliss”), comfort, and inspiration in this work, we need to at least know them.

Do all of us at least know the Beatitudes by heart? But we hear them at every Liturgy. What about the other commandments of Christ? Don’t they often remain unfulfilled simply because we don’t remember them or fail to keep them in our minds? And once we come across them, we may even make up our minds to adopt them, but then we will sadly forget about them again? It is not in vain that ignorance and forgetfulness are called the dread enemies of salvation.

That’s why I would suggest trying to wrestle with these “leviathans” as follows:

Thirty-three days according to the commandments

Fr. Konstantin Bely in his book Getting to Sretenka tells us that first-year seminarians once received an assignment from then Bishop Tikhon (Shevkunov): to read the fifth, sixth and seventh chapters of the Gospel of Matthew every day for a week and then try to live the whole day by correlating everything they did, thought and said with what was set forth in these chapters.

What if we extend this exercise to Lent? For each day of the Forty-Day Fast, let’s take a Gospel text containing a commandment and practice to fulfill that commandment.

The first week of Lent is so eventful that I suggest that we begin this exercise on the second week (the article was written in the second week of Lent.—Ed.). In this case, there are thirty-three days left until the end of the Forty-Day Fast.

Let’s dedicate the first nine days to the Beatitudes, and for the remaining twenty-four days we will select the readings from the Gospel containing the commandments. A rough outline for the thirty-three days is presented below.1

Of course, this does not mean that by choosing one commandment for today, we will ignore all the others. But, as one priest said, “Just go and try to fulfill a single commandment as you should. Put it to practice from early morning. Acquire the taste of it. And it will slowly become obvious that, as you fulfill it, you observe other commandments as well!"

All virtues, according to the Optina elders, are linked by a joint golden chain

Because all virtues, according to the Optina elders, are connected by a joint golden chain. Decide to show mercy and you will overcome anger. Decide to watch your tongue and you will stop condemning others, and along with condemnation, spitefulness will vanish, as well. And so on.

“It's like in linguistics,” notes Archpriest Vasily Gelevan. “You learn one language and now you can easily master another one, followed by more and more languages. It is the same with our spiritual life. Once you have tasted victory over sin, you continue and fight the next one. The sweet feeling of victory and the joyful sense of freedom—it is so worth it!”

Some practical advice

It is a good idea to write down the Gospel text chosen for the day by hand in a special notebook. In the process of writing it, you will connect with the text as closely as possible, while doing it won’t take much of your time.

And it would be simply wonderful if such an exercise could bring the whole family together.

You may proceed as follows

In the evening or in the morning, as time permits, we write out the daily Gospel reading in a notebook purchased specifically for this purpose (we can appoint a person on duty for every day).

Throughout your day, try to hold the memory of it and direct all your activities, visible and invisible, according to what you have read (St. Ignatius of the Caucasus). In this way, we enter into the fulfillment of the Word of God as a family, and become, even if in a very small way, the disciples of Christ.

In the evening it would be good to summarize the results and reflect aloud as to what we have succeeded in today and what we have not. Talk about the reasons why we did not succeed or what stood in the way.

It is very important at this point not to turn such discussions into “blamestorming.” We need to contemplate in the spirit of peace and love, mutual help and advice. If you have children in the family, this becomes particularly important! “Do not be a father, but a mother,” one abbot was instructed by St. Seraphim of Sarov. If mercifulness and meekness is important for adults seemingly disciplined by suffering, it is all the more important for children. And not only the children.

But if we talk about them, it is very important that the commandments are not conveyed to the child in the attitude of servile obligation, but as a source of happiness. After all, it is not by chance that the commandments are called the Beatitudes (of blissfulness).

If a child feels that for us the commandments are simply a formidable, but often annoying set of taboos, he will also perceive them the same way.

But if he feels that we perceive the words of Christ with love, that we joyfully contemplate ways to fulfill them more properly, completely, and diligently (even if it is hard!), they will then become for your child a way of life in Christ.

  • Peace be to those who love thy law.

  • I will delight myself in thy statutes: I will not forget thy word.

  • And I will delight in thy commandments, which I have loved.

  • My hands also will I lift up unto thy commandments, which I have loved; and I will meditate on thy statutes (Psalm 118: 48).

The greatest good already lies in the fulfillment of the Gospel. Yes, following it involves the labor of compelling yourself to do this—but this is happiness. This is what we need to pass on to others and to cultivate in ourselves.2

To be continued…

Vladimir Shishkin
Translation by Liubov Ambrose



1 Every test is compelemented by a small commentary-example of the way we can use the commandment in our regular, day-to-day life.

2 I remember the wonderful words by Fr. Spiridon Vasilakos: “My grandmother included Christ in a frying pan full of food! Before she closed her stove with a lid, she crossed herself, then crossed the frying pan and said:

—May it be as sweet and tasty as the words of Christ!

I, still a young child, would ??lean to her, ?? her by her apron and repeated to myself:

—What are they, those words of Christ? How can I learn them to see what things Christ says! It sounds so good, that they are something sweet and tasty!” (Vasilakos Spiridon, priest. Theology of the Fairy-tales for Children // https://pravoslavie.ru/119558.html )

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