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Strengthening The Will With Works And Vows

Work is an indispensable characteristic of every virtue of man which strengthens his will. It is an obedience placed by God upon sinful man when he lost paradise. "In the sweat of your brow you will eat your food." Therefore, each one of us must work.

In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians, Apostle Paul wrote about the necessity of work: "We beg you, brethren ... to go about your own business and to work with your own hands, as we commanded you" (4:11). In the Second Epistle, he sharply rebuked those who act indecently and are superstitious, and he precisely sets forth his appeal to work: "He who will not work, will not eat." We must note here that Orthodoxy never divides work into "white collar" and "blue collar" work. Such divisions are accepted in contemporary society which (although less so now) has tended to regard physical labor disdainfully. Orthodoxy requires only that a person's work be honorable and bring corresponding benefit. From an Orthodox Christian point of view, a person who treats his obligations disdainfully, though he be in a high and responsible post, is far lower than the most insignificant of his subordinates who fulfil their obligations conscientiously, in an Orthodox Christian manner. Moreover, one can easily discover through personal experience what a fulfilling satisfaction is felt by one who works honorably and well, and what a squalid sediment remains in the soul after time spent in thoughtless emptiness.

A false and sinful view of work and amusement is becoming widespread in contemporary society. People look upon work as something very unpleasant, like a heavy, subjecting yoke, and they strive to remove themselves from it as quickly as possible. All their efforts are directed toward "rest" (from what?) and toward being amused ... Rest and amusement are pleasant and enjoyable only when they are earned by previous work. In order to prevent that emptiness and diffuseness in the soul which are so common now in our nervous, restless, vain times, an Orthodox Christian must learn to concentrate, to gather himself together. One must observe oneself in all respects and give oneself an account of one's moods and longings. One must also consider what must be done at any given moment and the aim toward which to direct one's efforts.

Speaking of strengthening the will, we must also remember those instances when a person feels his will to be powerless to withstand some temptation or sinful habit which has taken root. In such a case, one must remember that the first and basic means at such times is prayer, a humble prayer of faith and hope. More will be said about prayer further on. In the meantime, let us recall that even such a spiritually strong person as the Apostle Paul spoke of his impotence to struggle with sin and do good: "The good which I desire to do, I do not, but the evil I do not want to do, I do." How much more is it so with us then, who are ill and weak! But prayer can help us, since through it we receive God's almighty strength to help our powerlessness.

In addition to prayers, vows and pledges have great significance in the strengthening of the will in the struggle with sin. A vow is a personal promise to do any good, beneficial deed, for example, to help a person in poverty, to build a church or public institution, to adopt an orphan, to make a pilgrimage, etc. When applied to our personal lives, such vows can consist of the following: if a person notices himself deficient in any way - not helpful to others, lazy, having little concern for the family, etc., he must select a definite, constant good deed in this area and make himself fulfil it unfailingly, as his obligation. Pledges are negative vows. One gives a pledge not to commit one or another sin, to struggle in the most resolute manner with one or another sinful habit (for example, to cease drinking, smoking, swearing, etc.)... It is obvious that a person must give vows or pledges only after having assessed his strength and resolved that with God's help he will fulfil them no matter what. The Savior warns us against vows which are made carelessly, without thought and not according to our strength, in the parable about the unwise builder. In the parable, the man began grandly to build a tower, but could not complete it and his neighbors, laughed at him, saying, "This man began to build and could not finish."

If you have made a vow, then having called upon God's help, set yourself to fulfil it unwaveringly.

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