Father Herman was once invited aboard a ship that had docked in Kodiak and during a conversation with those on board he asked them what it was that would bring them the most happiness. Some wanted wealth, others wanted a top ranking job in the Navy, another wanted a beautiful wife, etc. ‘What could be better, higher, more worthy of love and more splendid than Our Lord Jesus Christ Himself, Who created the world, adorns, gives life, sustains, nourishes and loves everything – Who is Himself love. Should we not love God above all things, and wish for and seek Him?’
The reply was, ‘Why that’s obvious, how can we not love God?’ And Father Herman responded ‘I, a poor sinner, have been trying to learn how to love God for more than forty years, and I cannot say that I yet love Him properly. If we love someone, we always remember them, we try to please them continually. Day and night we are concerned about them. Our mind and our heart is concerned with the object of our love. How do you love God? Do you turn to Him often? Do you always remember Him? Do you always pray to Him and keep His commandments?’ The crew admitted that they did not. ‘Then, for our good and for our happiness, let us all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!’ –The Life of St. Herman of Alaska
If your life is anything like mine, it’s busy. So much happens in college. We can start with the school work: hours of work a day. If you play a sport, there’s a few more hours most if not every day. Throw in a few other organizations, trying to spend time with friends, working a job, figuring out what you’re doing next semester, next year, or with your life in general, and to say you have your hands full may be an understatement.
We have so much stuff to be concerned with, and at some point we are likely to switch to survival mode. We try to just survive each day, avoiding thinking about anything except what needs to be done to survive that moment. Anything that isn’t completely necessary gets dropped out: “I can’t attend this talk because I have to work on this paper.” “I guess I’m only sleeping four hours tonight.” “Lunch isn’t really that important.” “I have to miss Liturgy this Sunday because I have a late event on Saturday.” “I need to skip my prayers tonight because I’m behind on sleep.”
Uh oh. It comes on subtly enough, but in the overwhelming onslaught of life’s craziness, God can get lost sometimes. We may find ourselves in a situation where we slip and fall, doing things that we shouldn’t be, thinking things we shouldn’t think. You, like me, may sometimes find yourself in a situation in which you are putting so much energy into everything that you are doing that you let it distract you from God for even days at a time. You may suddenly see something that puts your mind in a place when you felt close to God, and you realize that you have been completely neglecting your spiritual life.
And that’s our chance. One of the beautiful things about life is that we control whether or not we let the things that we just did affect us. Saint Paul said “For salvation is nearer to us now than when we first believed; the night is far gone, the day is at hand. Let us then cast off the works of darkness and put on the armor of light” (Rom 13:11-12).
Salvation is happening right now.
It doesn’t matter what we did last year, last week, or even in the past hour: our job is to cast of the works of darkness (right now) and put on the armor of light (immediately).
What an amazing gift! We are going to slip and fall at some point: we will break the fast, we will end up somewhere on the internet where we shouldn’t be, we will knowingly skip our prayers, we will engage in gossip, we will choose to skip church. And the devil will try to get in our heads and say, “Well you’ve already sinned, you might as well keep going and enjoy the pleasure. Go ahead and eat that burger for dinner, you already forgot it was Friday and had meat for lunch. Get five more minutes of sleep instead of praying, you already skipped your prayers last night. Keep talking about your friend behind her back, you’ve already started. Don’t go to church this week, you already skipped last week and haven’t been to confession yet. Spend ten more minutes on this website, you’ve already been here an hour.”
His words will seem so enticing, they will make so much sense. Except we forget that now is the hour of salvation, not next year, not next week, not ten minutes from now. We forget the words of St. Herman saying that we need to strive to love God from this moment, not later. The moment that God grants us the realization that we are doing something wrong, we need to turn back to him immediately.
It’s hard, but God never promised that it would be easy.
However, we make it easier on one another when we do it together. In the words of St. Herman, “Then, for our good and for our happiness, let us [the Orthodox Christian college students of North America] all make a vow: at least from this day, this hour, this very minute, we should strive to love God above all else and do His will!”
May God give us all the strength to live up to that vow, to constantly reevaluate our lives to make sure that everything that we do is for God’s glory.
Paul Murray is a senior psychology major and Spanish minor at Franklin & Marshall College, and he attends Annunciation Greek Orthodox Church in Lancaster, PA. His home parish is St. George Antiochian Orthodox Church in New Kensington, PA, and he has spent the past three summers serving as a counselor at the Greek Orthodox Metropolis of Pittsburgh Summer Camp and the Antiochian Village. In his free time, Paul ties prayer ropes and writes descriptions of himself in the third person for blog articles.