Why aren’t we succeeding in imitating the Saints? Because we take their highest, most extraordinary deeds out of context, and those deeds can be way beyond our measure – with our strength, capacity, circumstances, and daily duties in mind. But we can still all carry our own everyday ascetic practices. It may not necessarily be as extraordinary or appealing, and it may not necessarily be commended and praised by men. The saints, before coming into that kind of spiritual life and practices, first carried great inward struggles. That is the hardest thing – a day to day, stable, worthy spiritual life, all until death itself.
Remember how I once told you about Saint Acacius who at first believed he could be a martyr, but once it came to the actual martyrdom, he all of a sudden lost that dreamy faith in himself and was overcome with fear. If you want to fast by only eating bread and drinking water, if you desire to not sleep all night long or to be a stylite – well, please try something small first. Do not begin by becoming a stylite, but instead, say, “May it be blessed” and do the work you’re asked to do, from beginning to end, when you’re so exhausted you’re falling off of your feet. If we can’t even accomplish that, why then do we dream of the great things? There’s space for spiritual struggle and hard work for each Christian every single day – it just may not be as extraordinary as those we read about in the lives of the saints. Or maybe the fact it is not as appealing or majestic is what does make it extraordinary.
I was once told a proverb on Mount Athos; it goes like this: “Vainglory makes an old man young.” When you’re admiring yourself, you could really move mountains. But when there’s no outward self admiration at play, but instead, there’s mundane, stable, everyday hard work, unattractive, uninspiring, that hard work that may very well be devoid of prayer, attention, warmth, when there are gross things coming out of your heart, but you’re still, no matter what, keep calling on Jesus – that is indeed martyrdom, and that’s what makes one venerable and righteous. That’s the safe, medium path – up from that point until death, here we are, pressing on, moving forward, sighing, sometimes even whining, but we’re still getting up and moving forward, time and again – now that is that very martyrdom. It’s no coincidence that the venerable are called martyrs that shed no blood. That is what being venerable is all about.