Exercises for developing ‘the will’

Developing the will means impressing upon it good dispositions or virtues — humility, meekness, patience, continence, submissiveness, helpfulness and so on — so that in blending with and grafting onto the will, the virtues would eventually constitute its very nature, and when something is undertaken by the will, it would be undertaken according to their inspiration and in their spirit, and they would govern and reign over our deeds.Such a disposition of will is the safest and most stable. But inasmuch as it is contrary to the spirit of sin, its achievement requires toil and sweat. That is why the activity related to this is for the most part directed against the chief infirmity of the will, that is — self-will, unsubmissiveness, and intolerance of the yoke.

This infirmity is healed by submission to the will of God, with denial of your own and of any other. The will of God is revealed through the various forms of obedience that each person carries. Its first and most important requirement is observing the laws or commandments according to each person’s duty or calling; next is observing the rubrics of the Church, the dictates of civil and family order, the dictates of circumstance that are wrought by providential will, and the demands of a zealous spirit — all done with discernment and counsel.
All of this is within the field of righteous deeds which is open to anyone and everyone. Therefore, know only how to arrange this for yourself and you will not experience a dearth of means for developing the will.

For this you must clarify for yourself the sum of righteous deeds that are possible for you to do — in your station, calling and circumstances — together with an assessment of what, when, how, in what measure, and what can and should be done.

Having clarified all this, determine the general outline of the deeds and their order, so that nothing you do would be accidental. Remember at the same time that this is only an outline — details may change according to what is required under the circumstances. Do everything with discernment.

Therefore it is best to daily go over all the possible occurrences and deeds.

Those who are used to doing righteous deeds never pre-determine what they are going to do, but do always what God sends them, for everything comes from God. He reveals His own determination to us through different occurrences.

By the way, all of this is only deeds. Doing them only straightens you out. In order to flow also into virtues through them, you must forcefully keep a true spirit of good works. To be more precise, do everything with humility and fear of God according to God’s will and to His glory. He who does something out of self-reliance, with boldness and audacity, out of self- gratification or man-pleasing, no matter how righteous the works may be, only fosters within himself an evil spirit of self- righteousness, arrogance and pharisaism.Carrying a right spirit, you should also be in remembrance of the laws, especially the law of graduality and constancy; that is, always begin with the small and ascend to what is higher. Then, once you have begun, do not stop.By this you can avoid:1) “Embarrassment” that you are not perfect, for perfection does not come all at once. The time will come.2) “Thoughts” that you have already done everything; for there is no end to the heights.
3) “Arrogant” aspirations, ascetic feats beyond your strength.

The last stage is when good deeds have become natural for you, and the law no longer weighs upon you as a burden.

The one who achieves this most successfully is one who is blessed with the grace of living with an actively virtuous man, especially if he is being taught this science. He will not have to repeat and re-do every failure he has allowed through ignorance and inexperience. As they say, even if you do not read or intellectualize, only find a reverent man, and you will quickly learn the fear of God. This is applicable to any virtue.

Incidentally, it is good to choose one outstanding virtuous work according to your character and station, and stick with it unswervingly — it will be the foundation or basis from which you can go on to others. It will save you in times of weakness — it is a strong reminder and quickly inspires. The most reliable of all is almsgiving, which leads to the King.

This concern only works and not dispositions, which should have their own inner framework that is founded on the spirit, and are in a certain way independent of the consciousness and free will — they are as the Lord grants. All the saints accept the beginning of this to be the fear of God, and the end to be love. In the middle are all the virtues, one building upon another. Although they are perhaps not all the same, they are inevitably built on humble, conpunctionate repentance and sorrow over sins, which are the essence of virtue. A description of each virtue – – its nature, activity, degrees of perfection, and deviations from them — is the subject of special books and patristic instructions. Get to know all of this through reading.

This kind of virtuous activity directly develops the will and impresses the virtuous into it. At the same time it also keeps the spirit in constant tension. Just as friction causes warmth, so do good works warm the heart. Without them a good spirit also grows cold and evaporates. This is what usually befalls those who do not do anything, or those who limit themselves to merely not doing evil and unrighteousness. No, we must also find good works to do. Incidentally, there are also those who make too much fuss over their works, and therefore quickly exhaust themselves and dissipate the spirit. Everything should be done in moderation.

from St. Theophan the Recluse, “The Path to Salvation,” (Platina, California: St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1998), pp. 250 – 253

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