The Saints repeatedly tell us that each of us has complete freedom in our choices to respond to God, or to reject Him. It is strange then, that in our modern day, we have become almost enslaved to the idea that we can do very little about the condition of our life, or the condition of our soul.
Psychologists speak of something called “learned helplessness”, a condition in which a person feels almost paralyzed in their capacity to think or act for themselves. In many ways, our world is afflicted with a kind of spiritual learned helplessness – we are trapped in the assumption that we simply “are what we are”, and that our habits or patterns of life can’t be changed. Some even go so far as to blasphemously say that our sinful condition (in whatever form it takes) is “the way God made me”, completely forgetting that the Likeness of God in which we were made was completely lost when mankind fell away from communion with God.
St. Dorotheos of Gaza tells us that even the grace of God which we receive through the Holy Mysteries is something which we receive voluntarily, and that “nothing is offered in the Church… Without the agreement and personal struggle of the believer.”
What a loss of God’s grace it is when we simply refuse to struggle to push aside our own selfish ego to make way for the work of the Holy Spirit! Where God offers us everything we could ask or imagine, are we not required to at least make some small effort to receive Christ, and to be changed by Him?
St. Dorotheos further tells us that there are really only two states in which we can find ourselves: one is laying down on the spiritual battlefield of life, defeated, while the other is struggling to achieve the victory, even when it appears that we are complete failures.
Elder Paisios tells us that there is a name for those who are struggling to lead a faithful life – Christ calls them, “the righteous”. It might amaze us that it would be possible to be seen in this life as “righteous” in the eyes of God – yet it is quite possible. To be a righteous Christian person is not beyond the strength of any one of us, if we are willing to use our freedom, to crush our own egotism, to turn away from our rebellion against God, and to drag ourselves up from defeat each time we fall.
All it requires is that we try. And perhaps that is the reason so many souls give up on it.