Greek Orthodoxy - What Is Askesis?

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The word askesis comes from a Greek verb which means to exercise, to strive, or to contend with the dedication of an athlete. St. Paul used the image of a boxer when referring to his own practice of self-discipline. "I harden my body with blows and bring it under complete control, to keep myself from being disqualified after having called others to the contest" (1 Corinthians 9:26-27). Askesis can be translated as "spiritual discipline," "spiritual striving" or "spiritual training."

However, askesis should not be identified with the extreme external disciplines associated with the word "ascetic" harsh fasts, long vigils, and string self-denial regarding every earthly blessing. Rather the essence of askesis involves the struggle in our hearts between good and evil, God and Satan, the Kingdom and the world. Its goal is the new life in Christ. Its principles are the teachings of Christ. Its power is the grace of Christ experienced especially in the Eucharist and in personal prayer. Askesis is for all, not only for monastics. Each Christian is called to be a spiritual athlete who with his whole mind, heart and actions contends, within himself, family, and community, for the supreme priority of the Kingdom, believing that all the other necessary things will be given to us as well as by God.

From the book:    
A Year of the Lord