Virtue: Gifts for Redemption

Written By: Linnaea Radley

Teacher: Fr. Noah Bushelli

Class: Catechism Level 6

Issue: Set to Appear in the April Issue of the Newsletter

“A virtue is what? A power contrary to vices? An ethical feeling that’s all in your head?” I
look up from my book. Across from me at the table is the new girl to church. She always has
questions about the faith, so my nickname for her is The Questioner. I guess my face had a blank
look because she elaborated saying, “What is a virtue’s most basic form, why do we need them,
and how have the saints used them?”

A classic from-the-dictionary definition is that a virtue is a righteous action or deed. A
more theological view is that they are gifts from God. Now before you roll your eyes at me and
say, “Duh, everything is a gift from God,” let me refine my idea. Virtue is a gift that we have to
earn. Say we are confronted with a vice. We react to it. Based on our performance, God rewards
us with a little bit of a virtue. Over time our given experience of the virtue has grown. I don’t say,
“we will have received the whole virtue.” There is no end to the virtue’s goodness because there
is no end to God’s goodness. In one way, this is kind of annoying as we cannot have an end goal
in mind. In another way, it is awesome because we can continue growing stronger in love,
kindness, faith, and virtue.

“Okay, this kind of seems like a simple reward system, but I feel like there’s more to the
story. What does virtue actually do in action?” If we combat a sin and we lose, God doesn’t give
us the virtue. But He does give us an opportunity to learn. If we learn from our mistakes and try
again until we succeed, the Lord will grant us with some of a virtue. And it is the virtue that
allows us to defeat the vice. Recall that the virtue that God gives us id a righteous action. A good
deed. And a vice is an evil or bad deed. The only way to overcome a sin is to use its bane: a virtue.

So when we hypothetically defeated that vice back up there, God had seen that we had
learned and were willing to be strong for Him and so He rewarded us with a virtuous victory.
Now it can also so very easily go the other way. We have a virtue, but we are faltering for some
reason or another. God sees this, revokes our privileged gift, and we lose but again are given a
chance to reflect and learn.

Now that you know something about virtues and their purpose, I will give you two
examples of virtue in action amidst heavenly lives. Saint Elizabeth, fondly called Ella as a child,
and St. Macarius the Great. Ella was born to a rich and important family. When she grew older,
she converted to Orthodoxy and married Grand Duke Serge of Russia. Then one day, the Duke’s
carriage is blown up. Ella gave away her belongings and became a nun and latter an abbess. The
army came one year, took her and her nuns away from their monastery and threw them and some
others into an abandoned mineshaft along with a bomb. After it exploded, the soldiers could hear
voices singing to God for a few hours, and then it ceased. Afterwards, St. Ella’s body was found
bandaging a wounded man with strips of her clothing. For St. Macarius the Great, I will tell you
about a small period in his life. He was living in the outskirts of an Egyptian town. One day, and
unmarried girl was found to be with child. She readily blamed St. Macarius, for he was already
known as 1a shady character. Instead of protesting, he let himself be saddled with the unfair
accusations and a wife. He supported her by making and selling baskets. When it was time for
the woman to give birth, she found herself unable to until she had declared that she had lied and
Macarius was not the father. The townspeople went to Macarius’s home to apologize and praise
him to find it empty. Macarius had fled to the desert to escape the worldly glory.

My friend The Questioner is lost in thought. She says, “So a virtue is a righteous action that
God gives us to defeat sins.”
“That’s right,” I say.
“In Ella’s story, I can see patience, caring, and love.”
“Yes. When Ella was younger, she used to be very impatient. She didn’t like things like
sitting still and knitting.”
“And St. Macarius used humility.”

“Imagine being blamed for something terrible that you didn’t do. It takes great humility to
live along side that. Then imagine everyone realizing that you were right and coming to you to
give you much praise. It takes one of great humility to turn that down and walk away from that,
much less to run!” There is a pause. Then as we are both preparing to leave, she says, “And that
just goes to show that God won’t give us a challenge that we are not strong enough to face.
Nothing is impossible with God.”

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