I was asked today how a middle-class person, married and living in the world, not subject to great persecution and not able to do any great heroic acts of asceticism — how can regular people like us even be saved from our besetting sins, let alone become saints?
Fifty years after the legalization of Christianity and the end of persecution against the Church, Saint Athanasios bishop of Alexandria (+373AD) was asked:
One of you often says: “Where is the persecution so I can be martyred?”
Suffer martyrdom in your conscience; die to sin; “Put to death what is earthly in you” (cf. Col. 3:5) and you will have become a martyr by intention.
Those [martyrs] fought with emperors and rulers; you have the devil, the emperor of sin, for adversary, and demons for rulers. For at that time a shrine and an altar stood before them and an abomination of idolatry, a damnable idol. Take careful thought: Even today there is an altar and a sanctuary and a virtual damnable idol in the soul.
An altar, that is luxurious gluttony; a sanctuary, the longing for delights; an idol, the spirit of covetousness.
For he who is a slave to impurity and spends his time on the delights of the flesh has denied Jesus and is an idol-worshipper, having within himself the effigy of Aphrodite, i.e. the shameful pleasures of the flesh.
Or again, he who is the slave of anger and wrath and does not uproot the madness of this passion, he has denied Jesus, having Ares within himself for a god, for he is still worshipping wrath which is an idol of madness.
Somebody else who loves money and pleasure but who “shuts up his bowels of compassion” against his brother (cf. 1 John 3:17) and is not merciful to his neighbor, he has denied Jesus too and serves idols, for he has the effigy of Hermes within himself, worshipping the creature rather than the Creator, “For the love of money is the root of all evil” (1 Tim. 6:10).
So if you achieve self-control and guard yourself against these raving passions, you have trodden the idols underfoot, denied superstition and become a martyr by making a good confession.