In today’s epistle we hear the words of the Apostle Paul to the church in Galatia. This is a well known text regarding the fruit of the Spirit. He begins by telling us what these fruit are: love, joy, peace, patience, kindness, goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, and self control.
We can say that the fruit of the Spirit is the sign that we are living in, with and through God. What benefit would we have if we speak of God with our lips or come and sing hymns in the church but we don’t walk in the Spirit? We have to ask ourselves if we are walking in the Spirit, truly. Just as a doctor should not treat himself, we shouldn’t trust our own opinions so much as we should seek out the guidance of others who are more experienced in the struggle such as godparents, parents, and clergy. So we have to ask them to help us if there is a question about our behavior or our way of life. We have to know our starting point and repent to begin this struggle.
Then we can ask the more important question: “how do I cultivate the fruit of the Holy Spirit?” And this is not a trivial matter. It is really at the heart of Christian life. One day we have to go and face our Lord and He will ask us to give an account for ourselves and He will question us as to whether or not we used the gifts that He gave us in a way that is good and pleasing to Him or whether we squandered our inheritance.
So why do I mention these things? Because we love one another and want to see one another thrive in Christ! We are in the army and we have to do what is best for one another and protect each other on this great spiritual battlefield.
St. John Chrysostom tells us that there is a struggle between the flesh and the Spirit and it is the soul that is in the middle of the struggle. He writes “The soul is situated in the middle of the struggle between virtue and vice. If the soul uses the body as it should, it makes itself more spiritual. But if it departs from the Spirit and yields itself to evil desires, it renders it more earthy.” He tells us that it is the exercise of our free will that dictates the direction that we go. Are we inclined toward virtue or vice? Christian life is holistic. Everything is connected. When we choose vices, sinful, or impure or untrue things, we are not honoring God, we are defacing the image of God within us. We also are choosing what is dead and cannot give us life, but leads us towards corruption.
St. Seraphim tells us that when we receive something good and holy in our lives, we feel joy but when we receive something demonic or evil, we are actually disturbed, our peace is lost immediately. Of course this assumes that we are attempting to struggle. He writes,
“When a man receives something Divine, in his heart he rejoices; but when he receives something diabolic, he is disturbed. The Christian heart, when it has received something Divine, does not demand anything else in order to convince it that this is precisely from the Lord; but by that very effect it is convinced that this is heavenly, for it senses within itself spiritual fruits: love, joy, peace, and the rest (cf. Gal. 5:22).”- St. Seraphim of Sarov, Little Russian Philokalia: Vol. I
One small example is the way that our heart rejoices when we receive the Holy Eucharist. It is an overwhelming sensation of joy and peace. It is a sign that what we have received comes from God.
My fear is that as Christians we continuously receive many different inputs through our senses and we are not careful to guard our hearts and to sense whether the things we see, and hear are good or evil. In our own times it is even harder to discern these things because our world has turned away from Christ. The world wants you to believe that evil is good, such as we see in the homosexual agenda and the decline of marriage because of casual sexual relations and co-habitation. Our world wants us to be confused even regarding the status of whether one is male or female. Lord have mercy.
As people who want to live in the truth and want to love God, we are really called to be warriors and struggle and train and be on guard so that we will be inclined to gravitate towards and choose the good, the pure, the true and the holy.
So as Christians the way that we make sure that we are on the right path is to follow the commandments and check our works against the teachings of Christ. We also add various spiritual disciplines to our lives, some with the guidance of our spiritual father.
Some of these disciplines include coming to confession at least 4 times a year and possibly more often. Another discipline is daily repentance every evening. We make a mental inventory of our sins and we ask God to help us and forgive us. Another discipline we add is prayer. This can be praying with prayer books, psalms or saying the Jesus prayer. How often should we pray? Always. And while that is not always possible or practical in our lives, we can try to make sure that prayer is the start and the end of every day. We can say the Jesus prayer throughout the day. This gives us strength and renewed focus in our Christian walk.
We also have fasting and the giving of alms to the poor and needy. Of course there are many other Christians deeds that help us to grow in Christ. Wives, show reverence and support for your husbands. Husbands, love and be present for your wives. Fathers and mothers be diligent with your stewardship of the home and the raising of your children. Be diligent with providing for your families and protecting them from enemies seen and unseen. Do everything that has just been mentioned with joy and gladness and gratitude because this is the path that God has given for your salvation. Listen again to what St. Seraphim of Sarov says about all of these spiritual disciplines.
“Fasting, prayer, alms, and every other good Christian deed is good in itself, but the purpose of the Christian life consists not only in the fulfillment of one or another of them. The true purpose of our Christian life is the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. But fasting, prayer, alms and every good deed done for the sake of Christ is a means to the attainment of the Holy Spirit. Note that only good deeds done for the sake of Christ bear the fruit of the Holy Spirit. Everything else that is not done for the sake of Christ, even if it is good, does not bring us a reward in the life to come, not does it bring the grace of God in this life.” — St. Seraphim of Sarov, Conversation on the Goal of the Christian Life
May the Lord help us to humbly cultivate this life of spiritual fruit and acquire the Holy Spirit! AMEN.