Eternal Vigilance
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Eternal Vigilance


There is a famous quote in the States:  ‘The price of liberty is eternal vigilance.’  Short though it is, it carries with it great spiritual significance.

Man is indeed supposed to be constantly watching, but watching diligently the thoughts of his heart, not the seething waves of the political ocean.  But the latter is precisely where he has set his eyes, which can only do harm to the soul:

Being Attentive

Without wishing to minimize the importance of skilled craftsmanship (which the Holy Mountain has been practicing and supporting throughout its long history), I would like to focus on the logically prior moment of “attentiveness” itself, independent of any (logically sequent) activity for which it might be deemed necessary or useful. As we shall see, attentiveness offers us a profound and effective response to our modern culture of organized distractions. To be sure, the “ethics and ascetics of attention” that Crawford is seeking are central to Orthodox anthropology and moral psychology, namely: the practice of “attentiveness” (προσοχή) or “attending (or giving heed) to thyself” (προσέχειν σεαυτώ).

This phrase–which is only superficially related to the Socratic injunction to “know thyself” (γνώθι σαυτόν) occurs in various forms in the New Testament, but is in fact derived from the Book of Deuteronomy (Old Testament) 4:9: “Attend (or Give heed) to thyself, and keep thy heart diligently” (πρόσεχε σεαυτώ και φύλαξον τήν ψυχήν σου σφόδρα), or, alternately, from Deuteronomy 15:9 “Attend to thyself, that there be no hidden, iniquitous word in your heart” (πρόσεχε σεαυτώ μή γένηται ρήμα κρυπτόν έν τή καρδία σου ανόμημα). The phrase, which is an ethical imperative, has a long and rich history, from which only a few examples can be cited here.

“…Although the Life of Saint Anthony does not describe the practice of attentiveness in any detail, Saint Basil the Great describes it at length. Far from mere external “self-observation,” and having nothing to do with any kind of solipsistic self-absorption, “attentiveness” is comprehensive in scope, being at once:

(1)  the awakening of the rational principles that God has placed in the soul;

(2)  vigilant stewardship over the movements of the mind, which governs the movements of the body and society as a whole;

(3)  the awareness of the mind’s (or soul’s) priority over the body, and of the beauty of God over sensory pleasure;

(4)  an engagement with reality and a rejection of mental fantasies;

(5)  self- examination and the refusal to meddle in the affairs of others;

(6)  and least, the very knowledge of God, insofar as the “self” is the image of God, a connection with which Basil concludes the entire sermon: “Give heed, therefore, to thyself, that you may give heed to God” (πρόσεχε ούν σεαυτώ, ίνα προσέχης Θεώ”).


The practice of attending to the self, firmly established by the 4th century, remained central to Christian anthropology and ethics. Subsequent generations of writers and practitioners developed the concept, generally aligning attentiveness with cognate practice such as “stillness” (ησυχία) and “vigilance” (νήψις). In this more comprehensive form–already suggested by Saint Basil–it was given a foundational role in Christian life, and was ultimately considered a necessary presumption or pre-condition for salvation.

The extraordinary emphasis given to attentiveness is explained, not simply because the human mind is prone to distraction, but because the disintegration of our inner life began precisely with the fall, when humanity separated itself from God. “Distraction,” from this point of view, has rightly been called “the original sin of the mind.” (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

—Protopresbyter George Konstantopoulos,

Because American man does give far too much heed to politics, every election becomes an apocalyptic event.  A couple of examples from the 2018 election cycle:

Regardless of the outcome, those who oppose the Kavanaugh nomination are running scared because they see a real threat to their right to kill under the law.

This is why the present battle against a conservative Supreme Court nominee and the upcoming mid-term elections are the most important battle in modern times for America.

—Michael Bresciani,

We are locked in an intense civil war over the values that will govern our life as a nation. 

 . . .

November 6 is our Gettysburg.  . . .  

It’s a battle of ballots, not bullets, and we must win this battle and lead our nation into a new era of stability and the rule of law. If we fail on November 6, our nation will descend into chaos and violence. We must not let that happen. 

 . . .

—Bryan Fischer,

Man was created to live in community with others (‘It is not good that the man should be alone’, Gen. 2:18), so some level of political interaction is expected.  However, actions in the spiritual realm are far more important than those taking place only in the earthly realm.  Fr Stephen Freeman writes,

An important insight within all of this is that what we ourselves see is not the full extent of the story. Human history is not entirely human. When Pilate questions Christ, he assumes that he is a key player in a human drama. But the true drama is being acted out in the heavens. The entire cosmos surrounds what happens on Golgotha. Our daily lives are no less intertwined in the business of the heavens.

This unmasks the foolishness of modern thought. We have reduced our world to the merely secular, presuming that we ourselves are the driving force of history and that the outcome of things is in our hands. The Church, however, has its “citizenship” in heaven (Phil. 3:20). Actions that might seem out-of-the-way in the light of secular history have more to do with reality than is realized. The offering of the Bloodless Sacrifice at the altar in even the smallest congregation carries more eternal weight in heaven than all the votes cast by men. The outcome of history in Sodom and Gomorrah turned on the possible presence of but ten righteous persons.

We should remember to live lives that matter. Pray. Forgive. Repent. Intercede. Confess. Commune. The Lord sustains the universe through the prayers of the faithful.

Fr Barnabas Powell continues Fr Stephen’s final thoughts, showing us how we can more effectively direct our efforts to ‘change the world’ than with mere politics:

In John [the Baptist], we’ll find a missing ingredient for how to turn the world right-side up again: because he first subdues his own passions in the wilderness before ever preaching to others.

In biblical spirituality, the desert isn’t a place of tranquil retreat, but of warfare with demons. This will be John’s school, so that when he emerges, having conquered the passions, he won’t be sharing any ideology — but rather a practice and experience he knows firsthand: “Repent, for the Kingdom is at hand.”

Unlike proverbial hypocrites, John will practice what he preaches. This is important given how regularly those in positions of moral authority seem to fall over immoral behavior, whether clergy or politicians.

No one would ever have to #MeToo about John the Baptist. He won’t be hobbled by allegations as he speaks against Herod’s violation of marriage. He also won’t be interested in power, as Herod himself must see.

He’ll recognize how small power is. The only power he’ll seek is God’s power ruling him. This will come from the desert, and lessons learned there about the battle taking place beneath the surface of each of us.

This feast of St. John invites us not to mistake activism for asceticism, nor abandon spiritual warfare for the false apotheosis of politics. This feast invites us to go into the desert, and prepare in our own hearts a path made straight.

St Paisios of Mt Athos (+1994) has very aptly described the modern American heart:

“Now days, too much “world”– an excess of secular spirit  — has entered the world and will destroy us. People have taken this “world” into their hearts and have expelled Christ.”

But if he is to do any real and lasting good in the world, it is the meekness which St Seraphim of Sarov (+1833) preached and lived that is needed within it instead:

Acquire a peaceful spirit, and around you thousands will be saved.

That is how Christ will re-enter the hearts of men and women in the States, that is how healing will begin, from New England to Hawai’i, not through obsession with elections, not through a crushing electoral defeat of the ‘enemy’, which only breeds deeper resentment within the ‘defeated’ and therefore a continuation and worsening of the cycle of anger, division, and hatred - not through any such things, but through attentiveness to the condition of our own hearts, through humility and self-condemnation.

Fr Barnabas said it well just above:  Beware the ‘apotheosis of politics’.

Author: Walt Garlington