Keeping Your Focus

St. John Maximovich-Watchfulness: Keeping Your Focus

St. John Maximovich-Watchfulness: Keeping Your Focus

There was a king who had a wicked son. Having no hope that he would change for the better, 
the father condemned the son to death. He gave him a month to prepare. 

The month went by, and the father summoned the son. To his surprise he saw that the 
young man was noticeably changed: his face was thin and drawn, and his whole body 
looked as if it had suffered. 
"How is it that such a transformation has come over you, my son?" the father asked. 

"My father and my lord," replied the son, "how could I not change when each passing 
day brought me closer to death?" 

"Good, my son," remarked the king. "Since you have evidently come to your senses,
 I shall pardon you. However, you must maintain this vigilant disposition of soul for the 
rest of your life." 
"Father," replied the son, "that's impossible. How can I withstand the countless 
seductions and temptations?" 

Then the king ordered that a vessel be brought, full of oil, and he told his son: 
"Take this vessel and carry it along all the streets of the city. 
Following you will be two soldiers with sharp swords. If you spill so much as a single drop 
they will cut off your head." 
The son obeyed. With light, careful steps, he walked along all the streets, 
the soldiers accompanying him, and he did not spill a drop. 
When he returned to the castle, the father asked, "My son, what did you see as
 you were walking through the city?" 
"I saw nothing." 
"What do you mean, 'nothing'?" said the king. 
"Today is a holiday; you must have seen the booths with all kinds of trinkets, 
many carriages, people, animals ..." 
"I didn't notice any of that," said the son. "All my attention was focused on the oil 
in the vessel. I was afraid to spill a drop and thereby lose my life." 

"Quite right, my son," said the king. "Keep this lesson in mind for the rest of you life. 
Be as vigilant over your soul as you were today over the oil in the vessel. 
Turn your thoughts away from what will soon pass away, and keep them 
focused on what is eternal. You will be followed not by armed soldiers 
but by death to which we are brought closer by every day. Be very 
careful to guard your soul from all ruinous temptations." 
The son obeyed his father, and lived happily. 

Focus on the Eternal 

Just as a basic concern is to be careful of anything that might be harmful to 
our physical health, so our spiritual concern should watch out for anything that
 might harm our spiritual life and the work of faith and salvation. 

Therefore, carefully and attentively assess your inner impulses: are they 
from God or from the spirit of evil? Beware of temptations from this 
world and from worldly people; beware of hidden inner temptations 
that come from the spirit of indifference and carelessness in prayer, from 
the waning of Christian love. 

If we turn our attention to our mind, we notice a torrent of successive 
thoughts and ideas. This torrent is uninterrupted; it is racing everywhere 
and at all times: at home, in church, at work, when we read, when we converse. 

"It is usually called thinking," writes Bishop Theophan the Recluse, 
"But in fact it is a disturbance of the mind, a scattering, a lack of concentration and attention." 

The same happens with the heart. Have you ever observed the life of the heart? 
Try it even for a short time and see what you find. Something unpleasant 
happens, and you get irritated; some misfortune occurs, and you pity 
yourself; you see someone whom you dislike, and animosity wells up 
within you; you meet one of your equals who has now outdistanced you 
on the social scale, and you begin to envy him; you think of your talents 
and capabilities, and you begin to grow proud. 

And all of this can pass through the heart in a matter of minutes. For this reason 
one ascetic, who was extremely attentive to himself, was quite right in saying 
that "man's heart is filled with poisonous serpents. Only the hearts of saints are 
free from these serpents, the passions." 

But such freedom is attained only through a long and difficult process of 
self-knowledge, working on oneself and being vigilant towards one's inner life, i.e., the soul. 

Be careful. Watch out for your soul! Turn your thoughts away from what 
will soon pass away and turn them toward what is eternal. Here you will 
find the happiness that your soul seeks, that your heart thirsts for. 

SOURCE: Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus and
 taken from Orthodox America, Vol. XIV, No. 2-3. Sept – Oct. 1993