When anyone presents himself to be admitted as a monk, they shall not easily give him entrance; but, as the apostle advises: “Make trial of the spirits, to see if they are of God.” If he is importunate and goes on knocking at the door, for four or five days, and patiently bears insults and rebuffs and still persists, he shall be allowed to enter. He shall stay in the guest-room for a few days. Thence he shall go to the cell where the novices study and eat and sleep.

~ Rule of St. Benedict, 58

There is a saying of Christ that typically is translated, “I say to you, ask, and it will be given to you; seek, and you will find; knock, and it will be opened to you” (Luke 11:9). This translation isn’t wrong, but English is one of the most precise languages, with millions of words and many words and phrases with slight nuance to express similar ideas. Thus, even when a translation is correct, something might get lost in translation.

In this case, I think something did. I recently read a different translation that also translated it correctly, “keep asking … keep seeking … keep knocking….” In English, the difference between the two is great.

The former does not convey the same level of persistence as the latter. To be fair, one should get that persistence from the context, but when both translations are correct, I would favor the second just for clarity.

Just before this saying, Jesus asks his disciples,

Which of you shall have a friend, and go to him at midnight and say to him, “Friend, lend me three loaves; for a friend of mine has come to me on his journey, and I have nothing to set before him”; and he will answer from within and say, “Do not trouble me; the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give to you”? I say to you, though he will not rise and give to him because he is his friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise and give him as many as he needs. (Luke 11:5-8)

The point of the question follows a certain common logic. The reasoning is from the lesser to the greater. Here the lesser is us, who even after bedtime will help a persistent friend. The greater is God: “If you then, being evil, know how to give good gifts to your children, how much more will your heavenly Father give the Holy Spirit to those who ask him!” (Luke 11:13)

Another thing lost in translation: friend. This, again, is correct, but I think a clunkier translation actually carries the force better: “though he will not rise and give to him because he loves him as a friend, yet because of his persistence he will rise….” The word for friend is a noun form of philo, meaning, “I love as a friend.” Thus to be considered a friend is to be loved in a certain way.

Yet that love is not enough. There are other loves involved. The man does not want to wake his children. This is something I, as a father, understand. On the one hand, perhaps the man is a good and loving father. On the other hand, he is likely at least as self-interested. I don’t mean that term in a negative sense. There is nothing wrong with a tired parent wanting sleep. Self-care, and in that sense self-love, is important and morally neutral, even—if not often—beneficial.

But what compels the man to get out of bed? Persistence.

So then Jesus says, “keep asking … keep seeking … keep knocking….” The Rule of St. Benedict enshrined this persistence into its monastic code in the epigraph to this post. If someone comes to the monastery, desiring to leave the world and be a monk, the monks are instructed to ignore that person for “four or five days.” Only the truly persistent are allowed to enter a Benedictine monastery. But why?

There are many ways persistence—or, to use a less positive term, stubbornness—can be a good thing. The martyrs of the faith were persistent in their confession even unto death. Their stubbornness was saintly.

So persistence can be good, but why is it desired? Let’s think like economists for a minute. If a person is willing to pound on the door of a monastery for four of five days straight, what does that tells us about him? It tells us that he prefers to starve at the door of the monastery rather than turn back and return to the world. His interest in the monastic life is greater than any material or bodily comfort.

So also, says Christ, all Christians are to make the Holy Spirit their highest preference, to speak again in economic terms. Indeed, St. Seraphim of Sarov even summarized the whole of our spiritual life as the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.

To some readers that may sound odd, but it is right there in the Gospel. And to say that we must acquire the Holy Spirit does not mean that he is currently absent from us. He is a spring within us welling up to eternal life. But how tragic if we should drink but once from that font and be satisfied? Why thirst for the waters of this world when the Water of Life is present within us that we might never grow thirsty, if only we would daily acquire it?

And how do we do that? Persistence. “Keep asking … keep seeking … keep knocking….” Taken out of context—as, for example, by a health and wealth preacher—the saying can sound like Jesus is promising to fulfill our every desire. That is not the case at all. Rather, he is telling us that our highest desire must be for communion with him and the Father through the Holy Spirit.

If all Christians receive the Spirit at their baptism, and—I believe—we Orthodox are sealed with the Spirit in chrismation, then the door is within us. We must seek him in our hearts. This is no “find yourself” spirituality, however. What we are searching for is categorically greater than us, though within us. He is not us, but he promises to make us, by grace, as he is. In so doing, we do not turn inward like Narcissus, infatuated with our own reflection. Rather we deny ourselves that we might see the likeness of God, after whose image we were created.

What is God like? He is not simply good, but Goodness. He is not simply true, but the Truth. He is true Joy and Happiness. He is Love.

These things are not a matter of our passions’ whims. They can only be found at a place beyond passion—a peace that persists through the disturbance of our passions, whether pleasurable or painful. And so, perhaps we see something else: We must be persistent to find God, because God is Persistence too.

Lord have mercy on me! How many distractions and frustrations or petty desires or even truly noble responsibilities beckon me every day to look back, like Lot’s wife, at a world that is perishing when I carry before me, within me, a world imperishable—a world that transforms this corruption into incorruption?

I have been trying to give more time each day to silence. I should try harder. I should keep asking, seeking, knocking, until the door, each day, is opened. Then, perhaps, I might beckon those I love, and even those things I love, to follow, persisting anew each day in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit.