The Explorer

There once was a village full of people who stayed where they were. It had been this way a long time, and because of that, any other way of life had been forgotten. The adults of the village said it was good for people to stay put, but sometimes the children of the village asked themselves if the adults said this simply because it was the easiest thing for them to do. The children never said that thought out loud, though. When the children of the village grew older and began to work, it never crossed their minds again. They would work, grow old, and die.

It was not unusual for strangers to visit the village, and the people would offer them food and shelter, and then, when the guests would leave, the villagers would muse over how great they had been as hosts.

Today, however, a stranger came who was a little different than those they had talked to before. He was known as the Explorer, and he had traveled to many, many lands, seeing beauties of nature and culture far and wide. He told many of his stories to the people and to their children, but as the adults realized that the children were becoming enticed by these stories, the parents sent their young ones home. The Explorer stopped speaking when the expressions on the villagers’ faces gave away their distaste. His intention was to share his love of the world with others, not to disrespectfully disrupt people’s lives. That was part of what made the people he encountered so interesting, and forcing his stories on them stole the chance to see who they were.

That night, as the Explorer slept, two of the older boys in the town had each decided that they wanted to hear more stories from the Explorer. Each boy snuck to the guest house and, when they both ran into each other outside of the cottage that the Explorer was staying in, they knew the other’s intention without any exchange of words. Together they knocked at the Explorer’s door.

“Ah, so you want to know more of my journeys?” the Explorer said with a spark of courage in his eye. The boys both nodded with nervous determination. The Explorer sat them down on the floor and then placed himself on his cot – finger on cheek, thumb on jaw – as he gazed up at the ceiling in recollection.

The Explorer began to tell them of sights, sounds, tastes, smells, and feelings they had never even imagined (and they had a hard time imagining them even with elaborate descriptions). He spoke of tiny ants working as a unified whole in the desert to build likewise small fortresses, and massive elephants in the jungle with noses called trunks that they used to grab, drink, or defend themselves. He spoke of huge castles of stone in the far north, and the soft frozen water called snow that surrounded them. The Explorer described wise gurus who taught practices of inner peace, and bold warriors who had mastered spear and sword. The Explorer spoke of the towering waves at the endless body of water called the ocean, and the dancing purples and pinks of distant night skies.

The boys could scarcely believe that such things were possible, but they could tell that the Explorer had meant every word of it. They had even heard details about the rest of the world from strangers, but only the Explorer had such a vast wealth of knowledge of these beauties. The Explorer did not just know of the world outside the village, he had fallen in love with it, and that is what kept him exploring.

The two boys, After several hours late into the night, were left in awe. Hearing these stories colored by the Explorer’s love, they could not help but long for that same world, to know it with such depth. When the Explorer finally decided he needed some sleep, the two boys begged him to take them with him.

“Well, I certainly would enjoy some companionship in my travels, but few are able to last long as the treks themselves are often very difficult. It would not work for you to leave with me now…” The boys dipped their heads in discouragement, as their hearts ached with the broken hope that they, too, might know of such wonders. Then the Explorer said, “If you want to travel with me and know the beauty of the world, here is what you must do: when I came into your village, I saw a small mountain. If you travel to the top every day, then hopefully when I visit your village again, you may join me.” The boys eyes lit up and they thanked the Explorer. He noted that it may be quite some time before he returned, but that he would not forget them. He told them he now needed some sleep before he continued on his way, and thanked them for being so bold as to come visit him and listen to his tales.

The boys rushed back in the dark with excitement to each of their homes, and neither slept at all that night. Their minds raced with the images they had conjured in their minds of what the animals, people, and places from the Explorer’s stories looked like. They knew they could not tell their parents of what they had heard from the Explorer, for their parents would not understand, and would probably disapprove, but the boys knew now that nothing in their tiny village would satisfy their longing.

There was another reason that each boy was excited, however. Both of them lived at the base of the mountain that the Explorer had mentioned, though on nearly opposite sides. They had both memorized the rule the Explorer had given: “If you travel to the top every day, then you may join me.”

As it happened, the side where the first boy lived was on a very gentle incline of the mountain, and even had the main trail that the villagers used running right up it. The first boy was very glad it would be so easy to fulfill the task he had been given so that he could join the Explorer when he returned. Every day he would walk up the trail, and finally sit at this favorite spot under a tree, dreaming of the travels he would be going on because he had accomplished the Explorer’s assignment so well.

On the other side of the mountain, the second boy had quite a different situation. He lived on the rugged side, where no one ever went up the steep slope. He would press through the bushes and then attempt to climb, one hand and foot at a time, the face of the rock. He found it was so difficult that even on good days he made it up less than a quarter of the mountain before he would slide and hop back down. As months went on, he found he was able to make it up a little further than before.

The first boy wondered after some time why he never saw the second boy at the top. Was he lazy?  The first boy looked down where he know the second lived, and saw him struggling up the side. The first boy laughed and thought to himself how great it was that he was not like the other boy, that he would so easily get to go out with the Explorer while this poor kid would be stuck here in the village, failing at the task they were both given.

Things went on like this for several years, until one day, the second boy reached the top from his very difficult side. He met the first boy who had perfected over the last few months his drawing of an elephant, and was moving on to his next picture. (I must note here that his elephant looked nothing like a real elephant, but the first boy imagined it was the best picture of an elephant ever drawn.) Upon seeing the second boy reach the top, the first boy let out one mocking “Ha!” He set down his drawing utensils and congratulated the second boy on finally reaching the top, and noted that it was unfortunate because he himself had been coming to the top every day since the Explorer had visited. The second boy looked down in embarrassment, but quickly forgot as he noticed a wagon pulling into town.

The two boys quickly descended on the side they were familiar with, the first trotting down the village path and the second skidding and hopping down the slope. They had hurried to the village center at the sight of visiting strangers many times before, hoping the Explorer had returned, only to be disappointed, but this never kept them from renewed enthusiasm at each visitor’s approach.

Today, however, their hearts leapt in their chests as they both caught sight of a face etched in their memories: the Explorer had returned.

The boys had each aged several years since the Explorer’s visit, and they were worried that He might not recognize them, assuming he remembered them at all as he had promised. Yet all doubt was removed when, gazing across the crowd, that spark of courage in the Explorer’s eye appeared as he looked right at them.

“There you are boys! You have grown into quite the young men in my absence! Are you still as eager to travel with me as you were when I last visited?” Both of the boys nodded with the same determination they had had when wanting to hear his stories long ago. “Good!” he said, “I am glad to see you still burn with that same desire to know the mysteries and beauties of the world! Come with me.”

The boys followed the Explorer to his room, eager to see what he had to say. The second boy was very nervous as he had only once fulfilled what he was told to do every day, and started to think it would only be the first boy who would leave the town and travel the world. The first boy was simply waiting with confidence to report his accomplishment to the Explorer.

“Now that I’ve got my things settled in, let us see if you are truly ready to join me as a friend in my adventures.” The boys braced themselves, expecting the Explorer to ask them each if they had obeyed what he had said about the mountain, but instead he walked past them and beckoned with a gesture of his hand for them to follow him outside.

“We are going to go for a run together. Follow me!” Both of the boys were somewhat confused, but followed without hesitation. Their confusion was increased as the Explorer did not acknowledge the mountain and the climbing of it in any way, even running in nearly the opposite direction. They followed closely behind the Explorer as he jogged off on one of the village’s roads.

Both boys pondered the situation as they jogged, wondering what the Explorer had in mind. Soon, they both noticed that the Explorer was slowly picking up his pace. They responded by increasing their own paces in order to keep up with him. Eventually, he was running quite fast, and the boys had to run very quickly, fully engrossed in the task at hand.

There began to appear a problem, and that was that the first boy was starting to run out of breath. The second boy was surprised as the first boy had said that he climbed to the top of the mountain every day. They kept running along with the Explorer, but the first boy was panting as he ran.

Then something happened that they should have expected, but they had been so distracted that it never occurred to them: they had followed the Explorer in a loop to the foot of the mountain. Not only this, but they were on the difficult side where the second boy lived. The first boy had not even realized how steep this side was, always looking down from way up at the top. They all went through the path in the bushes (which had formed from the second boy climbing the mountain every day), and as soon as the boys began to follow the Explorer up the incline, the first boy started to collapse.

The Explorer kept moving, hand and foot up the steep incline. The second boy, however, noticed that the first boy was having a hard time climbing at all, weak and out of breath. The second boy decided that, because he probably wouldn’t be going with the Explorer anyways, he at least wanted the first boy, who had done what he was told, to get to go. The second boy crawled back down to where the first had stopped, put this arm under the arms of the first boy, and tried to help him climb up. The first boy became very embarrassed and pushed the second away.

The second was confused but decided he would keep climbing. The first boy made it up about a quarter of the way, when finally weak and breathless, he collapsed completely onto the ledge he was currently at. The second boy had made it nearly three-fourths of the way up, when he noticed the Explorer was coming back down. “Come with me to help the other boy.” They both crawled back to the first boy and tried to help him, but his embarrassment was so strong that he yelled and swung at them. “Well, we shall meet you at my cottage then,” the Explorer said.

The Explorer and the second boy walked back in silence. As they approached the Explorer’s accommodations, the first boy came running, still entirely out of breath. The Explorer opened the door to the cottage, and both boys went inside, sitting down in the chairs therein. The first boy was embarrassed and finally began to catch his breath. The second was wondering what the Explorer had in mind with the whole situation.

“I have made my decision.” He pointed at the second boy. “You are ready to accompany me on my journey.” Both the boys were very confused. They had spent the last four years focused on the challenge they had been given, and so this was not expected. The first boy objected. “I climbed the mountain every day just as you told me to! You promised that if I did that then I could go with you!”

The Explorer shook his head and said in response, “I never promised either of you that you could come with me. I gave you a task to help prepare you, and you took the easiest route to accomplish it, defeating the whole purpose of it. Your friend here has clearly applied himself and pushed himself to be ready, and now his body is equipped to take on the physical challenges of traveling the world. Additionally, he has been humbled by his challenges, and is thus the kind of person who will help me and anyone he encounters who is in need. You, on the other hand, won’t even accept help, because climbing the mountain stopped being about how beautiful the world is, but instead has become about making yourself look great in your own eyes. Neither your body in legs and lungs, nor your heart in true love and humility, is ready to journey with me. If I let you come at this point, you would destroy the beauty of the world you encounter, you would abandon me, and you would die.”

At first, the town objected to having one of the boys leave. They said it was not right for a villager to travel out of the village and try to be something more than their humble village life offered. However, when they saw the love for adventure burning in the second boy, they preferred he leave so that he might not contaminate any of the other children with his zeal. Thus, the Explorer and the second boy left.

Years later, the Explorer and the second boy returned, though the second boy had become a young man. On seeing the young man return, the other young men and women who had grown up around him would not stay away from him, nor would they keep their children from him. They were drawn to him by the love they felt in him, and to the Explorer, and to see the world with that same sight.

The first boy had grown up, too, and had in his grief realized how wrong he had gone with his time climbing the mountain. It took some time for him to accept why he had failed, but once he did, he had climbed the mountain constantly, on every side, and found other challenges too. He judged no one and was kind to all, because he had seen how easy it was to misunderstand himself and others. He had even shared secretly the story of his failure with others, and the stories from the Explorer, and they too had climbed and challenged themselves to be strong and humble. Thus, on this return to the village, many more than just the first young man ran with the Explorer and took off on the journey to see the world with him.

Some villagers still looked with disgust, and perhaps they always would, but the chance to prepare oneself and join the Explorer and his companions was always available to anyone who would take up the challenge and follow Him.

“The world is a book and those who do not travel read only one page.”

– Augustine

Additional Reflection

The main reason I wrote this story was because I was confused for a long time about why God lets us sin even when we ask him sincerely to help us stop. It is because sin is BOTH a trespass (a breaking of the rules), and the part of us that makes us want to trespass (the flesh), and God is solving the first by addressing the deeper problem of the second. We choose to sin, an He allows it because it humbles us and pushes towards Him. He allows us to act out our sinful behaviors so that we may see the deeper issue of the flesh, of self godhood, and thus call out to Him and establish a reliance on His perfect love. When we fall and repent, we are strengthened. We must be spiritually resurrected through repentance.

“Let yourself die by striving, rather than living in laziness. For those who die while trying to keep the commandments are just as much martyrs as those who died for Christ’s sake.” +St. Maximos the Confessor

“Once on Mount Athos there was a monk who lived in Karyes. He drank and got drunk every day and was the cause of scandal to the pilgrims. Eventually he died and this relieved some of the faithful who went on to tell Elder Paisios that they were delighted that this huge problem was finally solved.

Father Paisios answered them that he knew about the death of the monk, after seeing the entire battalion of angels who came to collect his soul. The pilgrims were amazed and some protested and tried to explain to the Elder of whom they were talking about, thinking that the Elder did not understand.

Elder Paisios explained to them: “This particular monk was born in Asia Minor, shortly before the destruction by the Turks when they gathered all the boys. So as not to take him from their parents, they would take him with them to the reaping, and so he wouldn’t cry, they just put raki (alcohol) into his milk in order for him to sleep. Therefore he grew up as an alcoholic. There he found an elder and said to him that he was an alcoholic. The elder told him to do prostrations and prayers every night and beg the Panagia to help him to reduce by one the glasses he drank.

After a year he managed with struggle and repentance to make the 20 glasses he drank into 19 glasses. The struggle continued over the years and he reached 2-3 glasses, with which he would still get drunk.”

The world for years saw an alcoholic monk who scandalized the pilgrims, but God saw a fighter who fought a long struggle to reduce his passion. Without knowing what each one is trying to do what he wants to do, what right do we have to judge his effort?”

+ A story of St. Paisios (translated by John Sanidopoulos)

“The Lord sometimes allows people who are devoted to Him to fall into such dreadful vices; and this is in order to prevent them from falling into a still greater sin–pride. Your temptation will pass and you will spend the remaining days of your life in humility. Only do not forget your sin.”
+ St. Seraphim of Sarov

“Often the Lord allows the enemy to surprise us, and we wonder: what has happened to us? The Lord permits these things to happen in order that we might realize we are nothing and the trust we place in ourselves is nothing. We must learn to never ascribe any merit to ourselves.”

+ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Our Thoughts Determine our Lives)

“[God allows temptations] so as to dust off our soul, for it to be purified through sorrows and weeping, so that we are forced to take refuge in God for our salvation.” + St. Pasisios

“All of us sin constantly. We slip and fall. In reality, we fall into a trap set by the demons. The Holy Fathers and the Saints always tell us, ‘It is important to get up immediately after a fall and to keep on walking toward God’. Even if we fall a hundred times a day, it does not matter; we must get up and go on walking toward God without looking back. What has happened has happened – it is in the past. Just keep on going, all the while asking for help from God.”

+ Elder Thaddeus of Vitovnica (Our Thoughts Determine our Lives)

“If there were no temptations, then pride and other passions would have turned yus into other lucifers. But our good Father, God, allows afflictions to come upon us so that we may be guarded by humility, which will lighten the burden of our sins.” + Elder Ephraim

“God’s plan was that those who died in Adam might be made alive in Christ. The Law was given to Israel, not in order to give life (that was for Christ to do), but to let us see the heinousness of our sins and to welcome Christ’s salvation all the more. […] When the Law condemns our sinful behavior, we struggle against our sins and thereby come to know the real strength of them. Our sins grow in power the more we fight against them. Only then, in the desperation of our failing fight, can we truly appreciate our need for salvation.”

+ Fr. Lawrence Farley (Commentary on Romans)

“Blessed is the man who knows his weakness, because this knowledge becomes to him the foundation, root, and beginning of all goodness.” + St. Isaac the Syrian

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