I recently saw a quote on Facebook by Father Seraphim Rose of blessed memory. The quote was “When we sin it proves we have lost the grace of God, and we must struggle to regain it.”
I found this quote just after falling into one of my own personal sins Friday evening. The act of finding Father Seraphim’s quote immediately after my own fall was more than just happenstance I believe. I felt a deep shame within me, for just the day before I had strengthened my practice of the Jesus prayer. I guess it doesn’t matter what you do the day before, for everyday is a struggle, a battle in and of itself to keep the grace of God alive within your heart. We must constantly be working on our spiritual life and bearing fruit for as Christ said “Even now the axe is laid to the root of the trees; every tree therefore that does not bear good fruit is cut down and thrown into the fire.” (Matthew 3:10 RSV)
I awoke Saturday morning with Father Seraphim’s words still in my head. I felt like the devil had won the night before. I felt like he was laughing at me and saying “see it doesn’t matter how hard you pray, I can still encourage you to sin!” The question of how we regain the grace of God was burning within my heart. How exactly does one regain the grace of God? Is it through prayer? The sacrament of confession? Can you regain the grace of God by just going to church and partaking in holy communion? I wasn’t sure what the answer was, and being away from everyone I know was starting to take a toll on me. Not only was I struggling with this question of regaining the grace of God after sin, but I was also lonely. There’s a reason I talk my mouth off when I meet new people, because there’s not a lot of people to talk to besides myself in the truck.
I was determined to make a change that day and do whatever I physically could to regain the grace of God. I didn’t know where to start however. so I just turned on Ancient Faith radio and started saying the Jesus prayer repeatedly. Several hours went by while doing this. Sometime during my prayers, my best friend called to catch up and see how I was doing. I was really grateful for that. Shortly afterwards my wife called and we discussed all the nitty-gritty details regarding our soap business and whether or not it was okay for her to make certain purchases for it. I told her to go ahead and that I couldn’t wait until the business started making a profit. As I got closer to Columbus Ohio, I realized I might have time Sunday morning to actually attend Divine Liturgy in person! My heart could burst with joy.
It has been 3 months since I’ve last stepped inside an orthodox church. It’s been over a year since I’ve last actually attended a Divine Liturgy in person. And it’s been over 2.5 years since I’ve last had communion. Holy Communion, I can’t tell you how much I miss it. Being able to partake in the Holy Mysteries, the body and blood of our Lord Jesus Christ for the healing of our souls and bodies, is not something that we Orthodox Christians take lightly. Where as some churches will only offer the bread and wine once a month, for us it’s every liturgy. As a person I feel like you can tell when it’s been too long since you last had communion. For me it feels like an emptiness within my soul, like a part of my spiritual being is missing. It’s akin to being thirsty and not having freshwater. If there was a chance I could go to church in the morning, then I was going to try to make it.
I emailed the priest at St George of Nyssa Orthodox Church in Columbus Ohio, it was only going to be six miles away from the Knight yard where I was hoping to be shut down at for the night. I wanted to get permission first to attend service in the morning and to be able to receive Holy Communion. You don’t just want to show up at a church you are not from, at its best to give the priest a heads up. I sent my message off and waited for a reply. In the meantime I kept driving to make my delivery. Finally around 8:30pm I arrived and was ready to drop off my trailer at the customer. I had been hauling the same load from Walla Walla Washington to the Campbell’s Distribution Center in Findlay Ohio and then had to go to Columbus afterwards for my next load. I dropped off my trailer and left as soon as I could. However, once I looked at my drive clock I realized I wasn’t going to be able to attend church in the morning.
I had two moments earlier in the day where I had gotten lost because I accidentally took the wrong turn instead of the one my GPS recommended. 40 minutes of lost time later I realized there wasn’t enough time to make it back to the Columbus yard legally. I was going to be forced to shut down at a rest stop. For the second time in a single day, I had tears. My first tears earlier where for when I was praying and focusing on my life and the things I’ve done. I want to be better and not be that person who falls easily into sin. The loneliness I was feeling didn’t help either. But now the realization that I wasn’t going to be able to attend Divine Liturgy in person, and that I wasn’t going to be able to partake in the of the Divine Mysteries, opened up that hole within my heart again I’m not going to lie, the disappointment really hurt.
I went to bed at a rest stop in Marion Ohio. I had been saying my Jesus prayers again and working on my prayer rope and had come to the acceptance that at least I could stream Church on my phone in the morning. I’d light some incense, say some prayers, and participate that way. I have been streaming Church from the road nearly every Sunday so as to not miss the Divine Liturgy. What’s one more week of virtual church, right?
This morning I woke up to an email from father Steven from St George of Nyssa Orthodox Church. It arrived early in the morning and it said “yes Ian we would love to have you at church, please join us this morning. Yes you may receive communion please arrive early for confession and covid screening.” If only I could have parked at the yard last night. I lit my incense at 10 a.m. and pulled up a live stream of church from YouTube and started saying my own prayers at the same time.
I have realized today several different things. First off, my attitude yesterday was wrong. I was sad because I was lonely and because I wasn’t able to attend church. I was allowing myself to continue feeling sad, when I should have been thankful for several different things. I should have been thankful that even though I sinned the day before, I still woke up. I was still given another day on this Earth to do better. I was still given the opportunity to pray and work on my spiritual life. I have access to so many spiritual resources and can pull up a Divine Liturgy service straight from my fingertips whenever I want. I have so much to be thankful for and must not waste the gifts that God gives me. I was acting foolish and now I knew it.
I already prayed to God repenting of my sins and asking for his forgiveness. I repeatedly said the Jesus prayer over and over again and was trying to redevelop a good prayer life. I was trying to do everything I could within my truck to regain the grace of God. This morning when I was leaving Columbus I passed the Orthodox Church dedicated to st. Nicholas the wonder-worker. Its a beautiful brick building with several Orthodox crosses perched on top and the round dome representative of Eastern Orthodoxy visible next to the bricks spires filled my soul with joy. I might not have been able to go physically to church, but I was able to see a physical church with my own eyes and it was the drink of freshwater that I had been thirsting so very much for.
I realize now that struggling with sin is a key part of the Christian faith. If you’re not struggling, you’re not making progress. You can’t make a sword out of a piece of metal without putting it through fire and shaping it first. You can’t make a statue without first chiseling the excess away. You will never conquer your passions if you don’t try.
I still have a lot of work to do in order shape myself into the person that I want to be. I’m working on it however and I know now that I still have the grace of God with me. I now think that it’s not just a matter of losing it, rather it’s a matter of picking yourself back up and trying again to be better.
Thank you for reading my friends. Blessed feast day of the Archangel Michael. I hope you enjoyed my post. Be safe and have a wonderful week.