From With Pain and Love for Contemporary Man by Saint Paisios the Athonite:
Geronda, why does St. Cyril of Jerusalem say that the Martyrs of the last days will surpass all Martyrs?
Because in the old times we had men of great stature; our present age is lacking in examples—and I am speaking generally about the Church and Monasticism. Today, there are more words and books and fewer living examples. We admire the holy Athletes of our Church, but without understanding how much they struggled, because we have not struggled ourselves. Had we done so, we would appreciate their pain, we would love them even more and strive with philotimo to imitate them. The Good God will of course take into account the age and conditions in which we live, and He will ask of each one of us accordingly. If we only strive even a little bit, we will merit the crown more than our ancestors.
In the old days, when there was a fighting spirit and everyone was trying to measure up to the best, evil and negligence would not be tolerated. Good was in great supply back then, and with this competitive spirit, it was difficult for careless people to make it to the finish line. The others would run them over. I remember once, in Thessaloniki, we were waiting for the traffic light to cross the street, when I suddenly felt pushed by the crowd behind me, as if by a wave. I only had to lift my foot and the rest was done for me. All I am trying to say is that when everybody is going toward the same direction, those who don’t wish to follow will have difficulty resisting because the others will push them along.
Today, if someone wishes to live honestly and spiritually, he will have a hard time fitting in this world. And if he is not careful, he’ll be swept by the secular stream downhill. In the old days, there was plenty of good around, plenty of virtue, many good examples, and evil was drowned by the good; so, the little disorder that existed in the world or in the monasteries was neither visible nor harmful. What’s going on now? Bad examples abound, and the little good that exists is scorned. Thus, the opposite occurs; the little good that exists is drowned by an excess of evil, and evil reigns.
It helps so much when a person or a group of people has a fighting spirit. When even one person grows spiritually, he does not only benefit himself, but helps those who see him. Likewise, one who is laid back and lazy has the same effect on the others. When one give in, others follow until in the end there’s nothing left. This is why it’s so important to have a fighting spirit in these lax times. We must pay great attention to this matter, because people today have reached the point where they make lax laws and impose them on those who want to live strict and disciplined lives. For this reason, it is important for those who are struggling spiritually, not only to resist being influenced by the secular spirit, but also to resist comparing themselves to the world and concluding that they are saints. For when this happens, they end up being worse than those who live in the world. If we take one virtue at a time, find the Saint who exemplified it and study his or her life, we will soon realize that we have achieved nothing and will carry on with humility.
Just as in racing, the runner speeding for the end line does not look back toward those lagging behind, but fixes his eyes forward, so too in this struggle we don’t want to be looking back and thus left behind. When I try to imitate those who are ahead of me, my conscience is refined. When, however, I look back, I justify myself and think that my faults are not important compared to theirs. The thought that others are inferior consoles me. Thus, I end up drowning my conscience or, to put it better, having a plastered, unfeeling heart.