Theophan the Recluse on What It Takes to Bear Fruit

It must be realized that the true sign of spiritual endeavour and the price of success in it is suffering. One who proceeds without suffering will bear no fruit. Pain of the heart and physical suffering bring to light the gift of the Holy Spirit, bestowed in holy baptism upon every believer, buried in passions through our negligence in fulfilling the commandments, and brought once more to life by repentance, through the ineffable mercy of God. Do not, because of the suffering that accompanies them, cease to make painstaking efforts, lest you be condemned for fruitlessness and hear the words, ‘Take the talent from him’ (Matthew 25.28)

Every struggle in the soul’s training, whether physical or mental, that is not accompanied by suffering, that does not require the utmost effort, will bear no fruit. ‘The kingdom of heaven suffereth violence and the violent take it by force’ (Matthew 11.12). Many people have worked and continue to work without pain, but because of its absence they are strangers to purity and out of communion with the Holy Spirit, because they have turned aside from the severity of suffering. Those who work feebly and carelessly may go through the movements of making great efforts, but they harvest no fruit, because they undergo no suffering. According to the prophet, unless our loins are broken, weakened by the labor of fasting, unless we undergo an agony of contrition, unless we suffer like a woman in travail, we shall not succeed in bringing to birth the spirit of salvation in the ground of the heart.

—Theophan the Recluse

Such a bargain here. In seeking to grow in our relationship with God, we are promised that we have to suffer. Makes us want to sign right up, doesn’t it? Yet hard as Theophan’s words sound to us, they point us to the plight of the human condition. Humans can only find life in God, through suffering. We have to deny ourselves and take up our cross if we want to follow Jesus and this, frankly, ain’t easy to do. This is one of the challenges of Lent. This is one of the challenges of following Jesus. And you likely won’t do it (or even be willing to try) unless you are firmly grounded in the Good News of Jesus Christ, which means grounding it in the entire narrative of Scripture.