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Remember Your Training

The line “remember your training“ has entered our culture through a series of mostly cheesy action movies. The phrase is intended as an instruction to soldiers that they should not lose their head in the heat of battle but remember their training, which - theoretically - should help them survive.

There’s just one problem with this: if you have to actually remember your training then you haven’t been trained very well. If, for example, in the heat of battle you have to stop and think about what you should do next and what you were trained to do you’re probably putting yourself at a serious disadvantage. The same is true for athletes, for musicians, etc. If you have to think about how to shoot a jump shot in the middle of a game or how to play a B7 in the middle of a song, well then, you’re probably in trouble. Training shouldn’t have to be consciously recalled. It should be in our bones; it should be our reaction; it should be, according to the old phrase, second nature.

This same truth applies to our spiritual training (ascesis) in the Orthodox tradition. Let’s take, for example, the perennial and ongoing battle against sinful thoughts. Often when these thoughts come to us they almost immediately begin to arouse our passions. And if we have to stop and think, “what should I do now?“, we might have already become captive by the thought and lost ground. The point of real training is not that we should remember it but that it should already have shaped and formed us to such a degree that it is our natural response. And so, in the battle for the heart, when a sinful thought comes to our mind we should naturally and seemingly instinctively begin to say the Jesus prayer or some other prayer that quickly turns our mind from the temptation toward God, toward assistance, toward grace.

Now, of course, in the early stages this will take practice and we will have to consciously “remember our training”. But as this becomes natural to us slowly temptation will have less of a hold on us. And then we will be on our way toward what the Bible and the fathers call the purification of the heart.

With love in Christ,

Fr John

The spiritual struggle is this: to transfigure anything that happens to you into something good. If you have tribulations, then give yourself to prayer. Slowly you will be able to heal all of your weaknesses [through Christ]. -St. Porphyrios of Kavsokalyvia

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