(2 Tim. 4 : 5–8)
“But you be watchful in all things” writes St. Paul to his disciple Timothy (2 Tim. 4:5). As valuable advice it is for Timothy, it is even more so for us. If we would only adhere to this advice, we would be spared many troubles, pangs of conscience and subsequent reconstructions of events. It happens all too often that our already insufficient watchfulness weakens, and as a result we do or say something that we regret bitterly afterwards, and would rather erase from our lives and our memories, if only we could.
The Apostle then goes on to hearten his disciple to be ready for longsuffering and to preach the word of God, fulfilling his ministry to the end, “for wide is the gate and broad is the way that leads to destruction and there are many who go in by it; because narrow is the gate and difficult is the way which leads to life” (Matt. 7:13-14).
It is evident that St. Paul wrote his epistle to the young bishop Timothy as he was nearing the end of his earthly days. “For I am already being poured out as a drink offering, and the time of my departure is at hand” (2 Tim. 4:6). It is touching to read how calmly the holy Apostle speaks of the end of his earthly life. Sometimes it is possible to find today, although very rarely, a person who has lived his life among us sinners and is ready to give up his soul to the Lord, at peace with himself and his neighbors. St. Paul carried out every single bit of advice he gave to Timothy in his own life: he was watchful and vigilant, he suffered all his troubles with patience and fulfilled his ministry to the end. “I have fought the good fight, I have finished the race, I have kept the faith. Finally, there is laid up for me the crown of righteousness, which the Lord, the righteous Judge, will give to me on that Day,” he writes (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
Only Apostle Paul could have spoken about himself in this way. He achieved this level of perfection through terrible sufferings and torments. He actually reached the point where he identified Himself with his beloved Lord: “For I bear in my body the marks of my Lord Jesus,” (Gal. 6:17) and “it is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me” (Gal. 2:20).
When he advises us to be watchful and alert, St. Paul compares Christians to soldiers. Military alertness was something that characterized St. Paul at all times. “I have fought the good fight,” he says. And even though he ran races, fought countless battles, and had been taken up to the third heaven and with his very own eyes had seen ineffable heavenly glories (2 Cor. 12:2-4), until the end of his earthly life St. Paul was still unsure of himself and asked on more than one occasion that the prayers of his fellow Christians be woven together with his (Eph. 6:19; 2 Thess. 3:1; Heb. 13:18), that by their prayers he might be strengthened in his trials and tribulations.
“Therefore let him who thinks he stands take heed lest he fall”, he wrote to the Christians in Corinth (2 Cor. 10:12). “Do you not know that those who run in a race all run, but one receives the prize? Run in such a way that you may obtain it” (1 Cor. 9:24). If you are on the narrow and tortuous path, know that your adversary, the devil, lies in wait for you so that he might push you into the abyss, for “he walks like a roaring lion seeking whom he may devour” (1 Pet. 5:8). The devil is full of cunningness. “On the path which I travel they have set a snare for me,” (Ps. 5:9) sings the Psalmist. Dante said that the road to hell is paved with good intentions. The wise King Solomon said that sometimes a path can appear straight, but that the end of the path is in death (Prov. 5:9). In his book “Healing Spiritual Illnesses” Archimandrite Lazarus of Bethany writes: “There was a young man who, with the blessing of his father, entered a monastery where he led a life of the strictest asceticism. Even the abbot of the monastery was amazed at the strictness of his life. Soon he begged the abbot to allow him to go into the desert and to live the life of a hermit, taking upon himself even harder ascetic feats. Having received his blessing he finally set off to the desert. He lived there for six years, never seeing or speaking to another human being. One day, while he was deep in prayer, the devil, taking the form of an old monk, came to him and knelt beside him in prayer. He managed to convince him that he should leave the desert to take Holy Communion. Together they left the desert and went to the nearest monastery and there the hermit finally understood that, ostensibly with the best of intentions, the devil had lured him away from the desert. Another time the devil appeared to him as his countryman. He brought him news of his father’s death and convinced him to go home and sell the family house and all that his father had left behind, and divide the proceeds among the poor and needy. It was another good and noble cause.
When the hermit reached his home, he found his father alive and well. When his father asked him why he had come, he answered that his great love for his father had led him to leave his desert for a while. Instead of coming to his senses and hurrying back to the desert, he stayed in his father’s home. After a while he sinned gravely and his father punished him severely.”
The devil can only be conquered by humility – if do not have a high opinion of ourselves, he will not be able to trick us. It was pride that separated Lucifer from God and pride is what he still uses to lure people away from Him. In order to avoid falling into the sin of pride, we must remember death often and live with the awareness of our own imperfections. “God resists the proud but gives His grace to the humble” (James 4:6).
In today’s world, even those who call themselves Christians have a very weakened sense of sin. Having lost their fear of God, they have allowed themselves the freedom of interpreting the law of God to their own liking. “I like this, so I will accept it. I don’t like this, so I will reject it.” This is not how it works, brothers and sisters. In Orthodoxy, it’s either everything or nothing. “For whoever shall keep the whole law, and yet stumble in one point, he is guilty of all” (James 2:10). St. Paul cites the Old Testament in which it says: “ Cursed is everyone who does not continue in all things which are written in the book of the law” (Gal. 3:10).