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Ascending the Heights Session IV: Living in the Valley Below

Overview and Outline
The purpose of this session is to reintroduce the camper to dwelling on the ground. Life is full of spiritual highs, but life itself will never be a constant spiritual high. The young people will learn how to remain grounded while constantly reaching for greater heights. The discussion will go as follows. Please reference the retreat notes to fill in the details of this outline.

To live in the valley means to stay grounded at all times.
The climb to the summit of Everest means nothing, if you don't return.
To be grounded means to live in humility.
Use the lives of the Saints as examples, Sts. Euphrosynos and Eustathios.

Benefits of Life in the Valley Below

Dangers of Life in the Valley Below

Discussion questions are provided throughout the sessions.

Orthodox Life Session Introduction
Begin the session with a prayer.

The main point of this session is to remind the young people that the climb means absolutely nothing if they don't return to tell about it. There are three options in attempting to climb Everest: first, a successful attempt at reaching the summit and returning to the valley below; second, a failed attempt and returning to the valley below; and finally, an unsuccessful attempt and perishing in the process. This mirrors our spiritual climb. The second and third scenarios bring no honor, benefit or glory. You must return to the valley if the expedition is to be successful.

In order to reach the summit of Everest, you must first reach four camp sites, preceded by the base camp which is an approximate 5,000 foot climb from the Tengpoche Monastery. And still, 12,887 below that area is the Katmandu Valley. This is where Sir Edmond Hillary's voyage began, and this is where our discussion will remain, in the Valley.

Therefore, in this session we will contemplate the importance of remaining "grounded – on the way up, on the way down, and sitting at home!" Additionally we will contemplate life in the Valley after returning from the climb.

To be a grounded person means that you walk in humility. In terms of our discussion, it means you keep your eye on the mountain, your mind on the summit, and your feet planted firmly on the ground. Examples of such highly spiritually, yet grounded individuals are the following:

St. Euphrosynos
St. Euphrosynos was a simple cook of the Amorean Monastery. Ridiculed by his brother monks until the evening, the abbot had a dream seeing Ephrosynos in the Kingdom of God. In his dream, the simple cook picked three apples from a tree and handed them to him. When the abbot awoke, he saw the apples on his pillow. When the abbot asked where he was the night before, he replied "I was with you, father." After sharing this story with the monks, the cook was no longer the target of ridicule. However, fearing the praise of his fellow brothers, he immediately fled the monastery and lived alone. He reached the summit by being seen in the Kingdom itself, but his heart was always firmly grounded.

St. Eustathios the Great Martyr
St. Eustathios the Great Martyr was a great Roman general that had a conversion experience that set him on a path (Preparing to Ascend). He and his family were baptized (The Climb). He went through great trials, including kidnapping of his wife and seeing his sons carried off by wild animals on both sides of a river while he was crossing it. He was eventually reunited with his family, commanded a successful army, witnessed of his faith (Reached the Summit), and eventually he had to choose to confess his Faith or worship false gods (Life in the Valley). He was martyred for the Faith, and received his Crown for making the climb and being able to share it ("Prologue of Ohrid," Volume II page 327).

Discussion Questions
What other saints come to mind as examples?
Has anyone ever come down from a canyon or descended in an airplane? Your ears pop. They are adjusting to life below, preparing you, gradually releasing pressure. How does such an experience relate spiritually? Remember that you must also descend gradually, the same way you climbed.

Allow a few moments for discussion, and then continue the session. At this point we have had three sessions which prepare us for the climb, describe the climb, illustrate the fruits of the summit, and we now have a firm footing on the ground; what is so great about being down on the ground? We have just climbed and descended the tallest mountain in the world, over 29,000 feet. We have endured freezing temperatures, lack of oxygen, glaciers, winds, fatigue etc. Why?

The Benefits of Returning to and Living in the Valley Below
Once you are down from the mountain, you engage in fellowship with those who were not able to go. Their lives will be enriched by the experience, and you will be surrounded by more people than the few on the expedition. Now is a good time to discuss the Troparion of Pentecost. A few individuals (the Apostles) were touched in a special way (the summit) and they were inspired to share their message (fellowship).

The entire reason to climb Everest, or reach a "spiritual summit," is to give God the glory. However, the acknowledgement of your accomplishments, in humility, will not come to you via the summit; they must wait for the return. Allow your attained goals the opportunity to inspire others by the rewards that will be reaped. Remember, Winter Olympic medals are given in the stadium below, not the summit above.

What good is the thrill of the climb if you don't share it with those who never ascended with you? This is your opportunity to describe the process, the beauty, the challenges, the victory. Consider Isaiah 6:1-7:
"In the year King Uzziah died, I saw the Lord sitting on a throne, high and lifted up. The house was full of His glory. Around Him stood seraphim; each one had six wings; with two he covered his face, with two he covered his feet, and with two he flew. And one cried to another and said, ‘Holy, holy, holy is the Lord of hosts; the whole earth is full of His glory.' The lintel was lifted up by the voice of those who cried out, and the house was filled with smoke. So I said, ‘Woe is me, because I am pierced to the heart, for being a man and having unclean lips, I dwell in the midst of a people with unclean lips; for I saw the King, the Lord of hosts, with my eyes!' Then one of the seraphim was sent to me. He had a live coal in his hand, which he took with tongs from the altar. He touched my mouth, and said, ‘Behold, this has touched your lips. Your lawlessness is taken away, and your sin is cleansed.'" Isaiah 6:1-7.

This great Prophet of God reached the summit in his vision, and then requested the opportunity to return to the valley and share it with the world. Remember, 19 years before the first successful ascent in 1953, two men named George Mallory and Andrew Irvine set out to climb Mt. Everest. Once they embarked, they were never heard from again, nor were their bodies recovered. Did they reach the summit? Perhaps…but they never came back to the valley to tell about it.

Make the experience benefit others. While others may be simply impressed by your climb, they will only benefit from it if it advances their lives in any way. For instance, Yale University monitors the vitals of climbers in order to adapt the same technology in patients' homes. Health conditions such as headaches, abdominal pain, blurred vision and pneumonias affect Everest climbers and people who live in the Valley. Their research, brought down to the valley will not only impress others, but will benefit them. Consider Moses' descent from Mt. Sinai in Exodus 19:20 through 20:23. Moses reached the summit and came back down to the valley with something to benefit the people of God.
"Then the Lord came down upon Mount Sinai, on the top of the mountain, and the Lord called Moses to the top of the mountain, and Moses went up. Then God spoke to Moses, ‘Go down and solemnly charge the people, lest they break through to gaze at God, and many of them perish. Also let the priests who come near the Lord God sanctify themselves, lest He destroy some of them.' But Moses said to God, ‘The people cannot come up to Mount Sinai; for You solemnly charged us, saying "Set bounds around the mountain and sanctify it."' The Lord then said to him, ‘Go! Go down and then come up, you and Aaron with you. But do not let the priests and the people break through to come up to God, lest the Lord destroy some of them.' So Moses went down to the people and spoke to them." Exodus 19:20-25.

When you're hanging by a rope, looking down at the world from its highest point, knowing that everything could end in an instant with the slightest mistake, you see yourself in a humbled way. Suddenly your issues, problems, quirks, gripes and broken relationships melt away as a sense of humility overcomes you. It is precisely then that the summit experience bears fruit…not from the summit itself, but as expressed in the valley. Consider again the life of St. Euphrosynos.

As you are planning for your ascent, you must also plan on your successful return. Details left unchecked and half-efforts could result in death or a premature and rapid descent. Consider the Parable of the Tower and King preparing for war.

"For which of you, intending to build a tower, does not sit down first and count the cost, whether he has enough to finish it, lest after he has laid the foundation, and is not able to finish, all who see it begin to mock him, saying, ‘This man began to build and was not able to finish'? Or what king, going to make war against another king, does not sit down first and consider whether he is able with ten thousand to meet him who comes against him with twenty thousand?" Luke 14:28-31.

If such planning and execution are successful, the above mentioned opportunities will be celebrated.

Discussion Questions
What experiences with glory have you had? Did you include God and share the credit?
What do the lives of Mallory and Irvine mean to you? Have you ever done anything extraordinary and didn't talk about it? Why would you do that?
How have your experiences benefited others? If you are a great ball player, do you allow others to benefit?

The Dangers of Returning to and Living in the Valley Below
"Look at me! I climbed Mt. Everest. What have you done lately?" The greatest danger of spiritual ascent is pride. Look at the icon of St. John's Ladder of Divine Ascent. There are not many demons pulling people off the first rungs, for they are of no value to Satan. However, when one reaches the final steps, there is no greater danger than their own pride. Consider Luke 10:17-20.

"I saw Satan fall like lightning."

"Then the seventy returned with joy, saying, ‘Lord, even the demons are subject to us in Your name.' And He said to them, ‘I saw Satan fall like lightning from heaven. Behold, I give you the authority to trample on serpents and scorpions, and over all the power of the enemy, and nothing shall by any means hurt you. Nevertheless do not rejoice in this, that the spirits are subject to you, but rather rejoice because your names are written in heaven.'" Luke 10:17-20.

Lethargy and Laziness
If you do something as great as climb Everest, what else can compare? What other goals are there to motivate you to greatness? You have reached the summit! You have seen the Throne of God! What else could there possibly be to top this? I guess I'll just sit around now. Consider Apollodoros, an ancient Greek painter of the 5th Century BC, whose first painting was so outstanding, he refused to pick up a brush again. He thought he could never do any better. After a while, his master whitewashed the painting in order to remind him that his greatest work was yet to come. He went on to become one of the ancient world's most dynamic artists.

We can long for the high. We can miss being on the summit terribly. But for reasons that have been certainly covered in proceeding sessions, we can't stay there. We must come down from the mountain tops. To be in the Valley might mean depression. It is important at this time to realize that people who long for the constant spiritual high are in danger. Their state may sink lower than the valley. It is interesting to note that even though Mt. Everest is the highest point on earth, the lowest point is an ocean ridge in the Southern Pacific. The Mariana Trench is 36,197 feet deep. That's about 7,000 feet deeper than Mt. Everest is high! Relate that to a spiritual state, and you can see how low people can get. Refer to the state of the disciples state after the Crucifixion (Luke 24:13-17) and the reaction of the Angels at the Ascension (Acts 1:9-11).
"Now behold, two of them were traveling that same day to a village called Emmaus, which was seven miles from Jerusalem. And they talked together of all these things which had happened. So it was, while they conversed and reasoned, that Jesus Himself drew near and went with them. But their eyes were restrained, so that they did not know Him. And He said to them, ‘What kind of conversation is this that you have with on another as you walk and are sad?'" Luke 24:13-17.

"Now when He had spoken these things, while they watched, He was taken up, and a cloud received Him out of their sight. And while they looked steadfastly toward heaven as He went up, behold, two men stood by them in white apparel, who also said, ‘Men of Galilee, why do you stand gazing up into heaven? This same Jesus, who was taken up from you into heaven, will so come in like manner as you saw Him go into heaven.'" Acts 1:9-11.

Once you reach the summit and return to the valley, don't think that everyone's reaction will be favorable to you. Some will be jealous of your opportunity, envious of your skill and covetous of your gifts. How will you work with them? Refer to how Christ discussed jealousy among the Twelve in Matthew 20: 20-28:

"Then the mother of Zebedee's sons came to Him with her sons, kneeling down and asking something form Him. And He said to her, ‘What do you wish?' She said to Him, ‘Grant that these two sons of mine may sit, one on Your right hand and the other on the left, in Your kingdom.' But Jesus answered and said, ‘You do not know what you ask. Are you able to drink the cup that I am about to drink, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with?' They said to Him, ‘We are able.' So He said to them, ‘You will indeed drink My cup, and be baptized with the baptism that I am baptized with; but to sit on My right hand and on My left is not Mine to give, but it is for those for whom it is prepared by My Father.' And when the ten heard it, they were greatly displeased with the two brothers. But Jesus called them to Himself and said, "You know that the rulers of the Gentiles lord it over them, and those who are great exercise authority over them. Yet it shall not be so among you; but whoever desires to become great among you, let him be your servant. And whoever desires to be first among you, let him be your slave—just as the Son of Man did not come to be served, but to serve, and to give His life a ransom for many.'" Matthew 20:20-28.

Discussion Questions
Does Pride ever overtake you? How do you handle it?
Have you ever been like the Greek painter? Is your latest test score or fastest time at last week's swim meet the best you'll ever accomplish?
What are you looking forward to?
Are you jealous of others? Are others jealous of you? How do you respond?

To be sure, humility is the mark of one who can Live in the Valley Below after returning from the summit. The final point should be that for the Orthodox Christian, we are to return to the top of Everest constantly. Our cycles of fasting and feasting are grounded in the fact that we climb and fall continually. Most climbers climb Everest once and live with the accomplishment. This is not the case with our spirituality.

End this session with a prayer.

Street Wise Session
Begin with a prayer.

Pass out pencils and paper and ask the young people to write down "Summit Experiences" or the highest points in the following areas:

  • Spiritual Highs Examples: Camp, Liturgy, a Good Confession
  • Physical Highs Examples: Sports, Exercise, Intimacy (this is a good opportunity to talk about mountains we should not be climbing)
  • Intellectual Highs Examples: Academics, Creativity, Debate
  • Emotional Highs Examples; Friends, Boy/Girl Friend, Family Relationships

Use the following questions as guidelines for your discussion Use the scriptural references and lessons from the OL session to help:

Discussion Questions
How do these "summit experiences" make them better people?
Did you have to work hard to reach these summits?
Why does it feel good to be at these high places?
Have you ever come down from these "highs"?
How did you feel when you fell or came down? There is a difference between falling and coming down. A child can come down from the monkey bars or fall off from the top.

Other Discussion Questions for Street Wise that will grow from OL include:
What makes you want to climb a mountain in the first place? Everest and Spiritual.
What kinds of "mountains" or "highs" are not beneficial to climb at this or any point in our lives? Sex, Drugs, Conceit…
Baptism can be considered two things in our discussion: The beginning of the climb, since it is the entry of all sacramental life, and the summit itself, since we participate in the death and resurrection of Christ, are plunged into the Jordan and find ourselves in the closest proximity to God.

Recall the Story of St. Eustathios the Great Martyr. What does if feel like to be close to God (The Summit)? How does it feel to be far from Him (the Valley)? Remember the discussion on being grounded. Mind in the Heavens, Feet on the Ground.

This brings up another point. To some, "Living in the Valley" means to live in despair and hopelessness. Discuss Psalm 88 on how Christ dealt with despair and fear of death.

If you had the tools, experience, equipment and conditioning to climb Mt. Everest, would you? What would be your motivation? What would you bring back to the Valley? To whose glory would you climb?

If you could come face to face with God, would you? What would be your motivation? What would you ask? Why? Would you share the experience? What would you bring back to the Valley?

Life in the Valley is full of people who have never climbed higher than a step ladder. How would you communicate high places to them?

Spiritually climbing Mt. Everest means returning to the Valley and becoming a disciple. Consider Matthew 5:13-16. If you made it to the summit of Everest, would you keep it a secret and tell no one?
"You are the salt of the earth; but if the salt loses its flavor, how shall it be seasoned? It is then good for nothing but to be thrown out and trampled underfoot by men. You are the light of the world. A city that is set on a hill cannot be hidden. Nor do they light a lamp and put it under a basket, but on a lampstand, and it gives light to all who are in the house. Let your light so shine before men, that they may see your good works and glorify your Father in heaven." Matthew 5:13-16.

Remember that one does not climb Everest alone. You need a team to help. As you climb the mountain and live in the valley below, what type of team are you assembling? Who are you surrounding yourself with? Consider the first deacons of the Church, Acts 6: 1-6.

They were individuals who formed a special team, a special expedition, a special climb. They reached the summit through their ordination. They lived in the valley with fellowship, glory, witness, ministry, and humility.

  • Stephen was the first Deacon and Martyr.
  • Philip was a teacher and Apostle;
  • Prochoros was St. John's Scribe and Bishop of Nikomedia.
  • Nicanor died following Stephen in Jerusalem.
  • Timon was the Bishop of Arabia and was crucified.
  • Parmenas was martyred and buried by the Apostles themselves.
  • Nicholas is proof that some will fall from the mountain; he was apostatized and condemned.

Again: Who would you have on your team? What characteristics would you require? What will you do together Living in the Valley Below?

End the session with a prayer.

Prepared by Fr. Anthony Savas