The most blessed of all people are those who exhibited the greatest repentance, with pain and inner contrition, and, in this way, extinguished the proud enemy. They humbled their unruly flesh with asceticism - subdued it to the spirit - and granted the greatest joy to Heaven with their repentance (their return to God). - Elder Paisios
We engage in ascetic disciplines for the following reasons:
Guard the Holy Spirit which has been planted within us.
- Eliminate the passions joined with our normal actions.
- To purify our hearts
- To attain union with God
- To live a virtuous life
Remember, our aim in this life is to seek union with God. Also, remember that our current human condition is not normal, but a distorted one where our bodily needs dominate our lives. Our soul, instead of being aligned with God, has been captured by the demands of our body’s needs. These needs in excess we call passions. We struggle excessively to maintain life in a bodily form that will sooner or later face death. Yet, we know the soul will continue to live forever. So why don’t we put our priority on the well being of our soul? Why do we let our bodily needs dominate? It makes no logical sense. To overcome this situation requires a struggle. In this struggle we need God’s help. With tHis help we can find peace and union with our Lord. We should think of this as a liberating process so our soul can live free of the unreasonable demands of the body. This freedom will allow us to align our human will with His divine will.. This is the condition we seek, so, at the time of our death, we will know God and be able to joyfully join with Him in His heavenly Kingdom for eternal life in paradise.
This is not a task we can do alone, solely by our own will. If we try to do it on our own we will surely be defeated. The process is a process of surrender and becoming humble in the face of our Creator allowing Him to help us. God will not do it all for us either. We have to do our part, we need to purify our hearts, so His grace can work with us. The means we do this are called ascetic practices. They are aids to help us overcome this fallen human condition. Ascetic practices are not the end we seek, but provide us with a means to the end we desire, union with God.
The Scripture writers and Church Fathers frequently write about the passions and advise us how to overcome them. They also talk about the importance of having purity of heart. What are these passions that we must overcome? What are the virtues we are to gain? What do they mean by having a pure heart? How do we overcome our passions, develop a pure heart, and act with virtue?