Saint Ephraim the Syrian
Brethren, this life is the time for repentance. So those who have never fallen into the snares of the enemy are blessed. But if people have fallen into his snares and managed to tear them and break free of them in the course of this life, then they, too, are blessed, as far as I’m concerned. Because while still living in the flesh they’ve managed to escape the warfare, like a fish that slips through a net.
If a fish living in water is caught in a net but manages to break it and swims down into the depths, it survives; but if it’s dragged up onto dry land, there’s nothing it can do to help itself. That’s the way it is with us, as well. For as long as we’re in this life, we have the power and authority from God to voluntarily break the bonds of the will of the enemy and to cast off the burden of our sins through repentance. In this way we’ll arrive safely in the kingdom of heaven. But if the dread command of death comes before then and the soul departs from the body and the body is consigned to the grave, we can no longer help ourselves, just the same as the fish which has been dragged from the water and confined in the basket.
Brother, don’t say: ‘I’ll sin today and repent tomorrow’, because you can’t be sure. Tomorrow’s in the hands of the Lord.
Brother, expect your death every day and prepare for that journey. Because the dread command will come at a time when you’re not expecting it and woe betide those who are unprepared. Particularly if you’re young, the enemy (the devil) whispers to you: ‘You’re still young; enjoy your pleasures and repent in your old age. You know plenty of people who enjoyed their pleasures and repented and gained the good things of heaven. So what’s the point in tormenting your body at your age? Don’t you think you might be doing it harm?’.
Resist the enemy, though, and tell him:
‘Persecutor and enemy of souls! Stop whispering such things to me. If death should befall me when I’m still young and I never manage to reach old age, what defence will I have before the judgement seat of Christ? Because I see a lot of young people dying and a lot of old people living for many years. We don’t know the hour of our death. So, if death comes upon me, can I then say to the Lord: “Death snatched me early, so could you please restore me to life and I’ll repent?”. Obviously not. And besides, I see how those who serve the Lord from youth to old age glorify him. He himself says: ‘‘I remember the devotion of your youth, and the love of your mature years since you have followed the holy God of Israel” (Jer. 2, 2). On the other hand I see how the prophet Daniel, even though he was still young, upbraided the man who had grown old in wickedness and now the sins he had committed earlier in life had come to light (Susanna 52).
This is why the Holy Spirit calls blessed those people who bear the yoke of Christ and says: “It is good to bear the yoke in your youth” (Lam. 3, 27). So get away from me, worker of iniquity and wicked counsellor. The Lord God will counter your ploys and will save me from your traps by his power and grace’.