St Gregory Palamas: To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia
1. Those who truly desire to live a monastic life find all talk troublesome, whether it is with people at large or with those living in the same way as themselves. For it breaks the continuity of their joyful intercourse with God and sunders, and sometimes shatters, that one -pointed concentration of the intellect which constitutes the inward and true monk. For this reason one of the fathers, when asked why he avoided people, answered that he could not be with God while associating with men. Another father, speaking of these things from experience, affirms that not only talk with others but even the sight of them can destroy the steady quietude of mind possessed by those who practice stillness.
2. If you observe carefully you will find that even the thought of someone's approach, and the expectation of a visit and of having to talk, disrupt your mental tranquility. If you write you burden your intellect with even more demanding worries. For if you are among those who are well advanced on the spiritual path and who through their soul's good health have attained God's love, then though this love will be active within you while you write, it will be so only indirectly and not unalloyed. But if you are one who still falls into many maladies and passions of the soul - and such in truth am I - and must continually cry out to God, 'Heal me, for I have sinned against Thee' (cf. Ps. 41 :4), then it is unwise for you to leave off prayer before being healed and of your own accord to occupy yourself with something else. In addition, through your writings you converse also with those who are not present, and often what you write falls into the hands of others, sometimes of those whom you would not wish to read it, since writings usually survive the death of their author.
3. For this reason many of the fathers who practiced extreme stillness could not bear to write anything at all, although they were in a position to set forth great and profitable things. It is true that I myseh', who totally lack the strict observance of the fathers, have the habit of writing, although only when some great need compels me to do so. Now, however, those who look upon certain of my writings with malicious eyes and seek to find in them grounds to do me wrong have made me more reluctant to write. Such people, according to St Dionysios, are passionately attached to the component parts of letters, to meaningless penstrokes, to unfamiliar syllables and words - things that do not touch their power of noetic understanding. It is indeed witless, perverse and entirely inappropriate to want to understand divine things and yet to pay attention, not to the purpose of what is said, but to the words alone.
4. Yet I know that I have been justly censured, not because what I have written conflicts with the fathers - for by the grace of Christ I have been kept from doing this - but because I have written on things whereof I am unworthy, perhaps, like another Uzzah, trying through words to prevent the chariot of truth from overturning (cf. 2 Sam. 6:6-7). Yet my punishment was not a matter of divine wrath, but a fit measure of instruction. On account of this my adversaries were not permitted to get the better of me. Yet this, too, may have been due to my unworthiness, for, it seems, I was not worthy, or capable, of suffering anything on behalf of the truth, and so sharing joyfully in the sufferings of the saints.
5. Indeed, was not St John Chrysostom, who while yet clothed with the body was united to the Church of the firstborn in the heavens, and who as no other truthfully, clearly and fluently wrote about holiness - was not he cut off from the Church and condemned to exile on the charge of holding and expounding the doctrines of Origen? And St Peter, the chief of the foremost choir of the Lord's disciples, says that unlearned and unstable people in his days distorted difficult passages in St Paul's epistles and brought destruction upon themselves as a result (cf 2 Pet. 3:16). 6. I myself had intended to give up writing altogether because of the somewhat trivial attacks made upon me, even though those who attacked me have been synodically condemned. But now you, most reverend mother, through your constant requests in letters and messages, have persuaded me once again to write words of counsel, though indeed you have no great need of counsel. For by the grace of Christ you have gained, together with old age, a venerable understanding, and for many years you have studied and applied the ordinances of the divine commandments, dividing your life in due measure between obedience and stillness. In this way you have wiped clean the tablet of your soul, so that it is capable of receiving and preserving whatever God writes on it. But the soul completely dominated by its desire for spiritual instruction is never sated.
7. It is because of this that Wisdom says of herself, 'Those who eat Me will still be hungry' (Eccles. 24:21); while the Lord, who has instilled this divine desire in the soul, says of Mary who chose 'what is best' that it will not be taken away from her (cf. Luke 10:42). But you perhaps may be in need of such words of instruction for the sake of the daughters of the Emperor who live under your guidance, and especially for the sake of the nun Synesis, who is of your own family and whom you have longed to espouse to Christ, the bestower of mcorruption. And, indeed, you imitate Him in that, just as He truly assumed our form for our sakes, so you have now assumed the role of a novice who is in need of instruction. Therefore, although I am not rich in words, and particularly in such words as these, I shall repay the debt of Christian love from what I now possess, showing thus my good will as well as my obedience and my readiness to keep the commandment, 'Give to him that asks' (Matt. 5:42).
8. You must know, then, reverend mother - or rather, let the maidens who have chosen to live a godly life learn through you - that there is a death of the soul, though by nature the soul is immortal. This is made clear by the beloved disciple, St John the Theologian, when he says, 'There is sin that leads to death' and 'There is sin that does not lead to death' (1 John 5:16, 17). By death he certainly means here the death of the soul. And St Paul says, 'Worldly sorrowfulness produces death' (2 Cor. 7:10) - death, certainly, of the soul. Again, St Paul says, 'Awake, you who sleep, and arise from the dead, and Christ will give you light' (Eph. 5:14). From which 'dead' is one enjoined to arise? Clearly, from those who have been killed by 'sinful desires that wage war against the soul' (1 Pet. 2:11). Hence the Lord also described those who live in this vain world as 'dead', for when one of His disciples asked to be allowed to go and bury his father. He refused permission, and told him to follow Him, leaving the dead to bury their dead (cf Matt. 8 : 22). Here, then, the Lord clearly calls those living people 'dead', in the sense that they are dead in soul.
9. As the separation of the soul from the body is the death of the body, so the separation of God from the soul is the death of the soul. And this death of the soul is the true death. This is made clear by the commandment given in paradise, when God said to Adam, 'On whatever day you eat from the forbidden tree you will certainly die' (cf. Gen. 2:17). And it was indeed Adam's soul that died by becoming through his transgression separated from God; for bodily he continued to live after that time, even for nine hundred and thirty years (cf. Gen. 5:5).
10. The death, however, that befell the soul because of the transgression not only crippled the soul and made man accursed; it also rendered the body itself subject to fatigue, suffering and corruptibility, and finally handed it over to death. For it was after the dying of his inner self brought about by the transgression that the earthly Adam heard the words, 'Earth will be cursed because of what you do, it will produce thorns and thistles for you; through the sweat of your brow you will eat your bread until you return to the earth from which you were taken: for you are earth, and to earth you will return' (Gen. 3:17-19).
11. Even though at the regeneration to come, in the resurrection of the righteous, the bodies of the godless and sinners will also be raised up, yet they will be given over to the second death, age-long chastisement, the unsleeping worm (cf. Mark 9:44), the gnashing of teeth, the outer, tangible darkness (cf. Matt. 8:12), the murky and unquenchable fire of Gehenna (cf. Matt. 5:22), in which, as the prophet says, the godless and sinners 'will be burned up together and there will be none to quench the flame' (Isa. 1:31). For this is the second death, as St John has taught us in the Revelation (cf. Rev. 20:14). Hark, too, to the words of St Paul, 'If you live in accordance with your fallen self, you will die, but if through the Spirit you extirpate the evil actions of your fallen self, you will live' (Rom. 8:13). Here he speaks of life and death in the age to be: life is the enjoyment of the everlasting kingdom, death age- long chastisement.
12. Thus the violation of God's commandment is the cause of all types of death, both of soul and body, whether in the present life or in that endless chastisement. And death, properly speaking, is this: for the soul to be unharnessed from divine grace and to be yoked to sin. This death, for those who have their wits, is truly dreadful and something to be avoided. This, for those who think aright, is more terrible than the chastisement of Gehenna. From this let us also flee with all our might. Let us cast away, let us reject all things, bid farewell to all things: to all relationships, actions and intentions that drag us downward, separate us from God and produce such a death. He who is frightened of this death and has preserved himself from it will not be alarmed by the oncoming death of the body, for in him the true life dwells, and bodily death, so far from taking true life away, renders it inalienable.
13. As the death of the soul is authentic death, so the life of the soul is authentic life. Life of the soul is union with God, as life of the body is its union with the soul. As the soul was separated from God and died in consequence of the violation of the commandment, so by obedience to the commandment it is again united to God and is quickened. This is why the Lord says in the Gospels, 'The words I speak to you are spirit and life' (John 6:63). And having experienced the truth of this, St Peter said to Him, 'Thy words are the words of eternal life' (John 6:68). But they are words of eternal life for those who obey them; for those who disobey, this commandment of life results in death (cf. Rom. 7:10). So it was that the apostles, being Christ's fragrance, were to some the death-inducing odor of death. while to others they were the life -inducing odor of life (of. 2 Cor. 2:16).
14. And this life is not only the life of the soul, it is also the life of the body. Through resurrection the body is also rendered immortal: it is delivered not merely from mortality, but also from that never-abating death of future chastisement. On it, too, is bestowed everlasting life in Christ, free of pain, sickness and sorrow, and truly immortal.
The death of the soul through transgression and sin is, then, followed by the death of the body and by its dissolution in the earth and its conversion into dust; and this bodily death is followed in its turn by the soul's banishment to Hades. In the same way the resurrection of the soul - its return to God through obedience to the divine commandments - is followed by the body's resurrection and its reunion with the soul. And for those who experience it the consequence of this resurrection will be true mcorruption and eternal life with God: they will become spiritual instead of non-spiritual, and will dwell in heaven as angels of God (cf. Matt. 22:30).
15. As St Paul says, 'We shall be caught up in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air, and so we shall be with the Lord for ever' (1 Thess. 4:17). The Son of God, who in His compassion became man, died so far as His body was concerned when His soul was separated from His body; but this body was not separated from His divinity, and so He raised up His body once more and took it with Him to heaven in glory. Similarly, when those who have lived here in a godly manner are separated from their bodies, they are not separated from God, and in the resurrection they will take their bodies with them to God, and in their bodies they will enter with inexpressible joy there where Jesus has preceded us (cf Heb. 6:20) and in their bodies they will enjoy the glory that will be revealed in Christ (cf. I Pet. 5:1). Indeed, they will share not only in resurrection, but also in the Lord's ascension and in all divine life. But this does not apply to those who live this present life in an unregenerate manner and who at death have no communion with God. For though all will be resurrected, yet the resurrection of each individual will be in accordance with his own inner state (cf . I Cor. 15:23). He who through the power of the Spirit has extirpated his materialistic worldly proclivities in this life will hereafter live a divine and truly eternal life in communion with Christ. But he who through surrendering to his materialistic and worldly lusts and passions has in this life deadened his spiritual being will, alas, hereafter be co- judged with the devil, the agent-provocateur of evil, and will be handed over to unbearable and immeasurable chastisement, which is the second and final death.
16. Where did true death - the death that produces and induces in soul and body both temporal and eternal death - have its origin? Was it not in the realm of life? Thus was man, alas, at once banished from God's paradise, for he had imbued his life with death and made it unfit for paradise. Consequently true life - the life that confers immortality and true life on both soul and body - will have its origin here, in this place of death. If you do not strive here to gain this life in your soul, do not deceive yourself with vain hopes about receiving it hereafter, or about God then being compassionate towards you. For then is the time of requital and retribution, not of sympathy and compassion: the time for the revealing of God's wrath and anger and just judgment, for the manifestation of the mighty and sublime power that brings chastisement upon unbelievers. Woe to him who falls into the hands of the living God (cf. Heb. 10:31)! Woe to him who hereafter experiences the Lord's wrath, who has not acquired in this life the fear of God and so come to know the might of His anger, who has not through his actions gained a foretaste of God's compassion! For the time to do all this is the present life. That is the reason why God has accorded us this present life, giving us a place for repentance. Were this not the case a person who sinned would at once be deprived of this life. For otherwise of what use would it be to him?
17. This is why no one should give way to despair, even though the devil finds various means by which to insinuate it not only into those who live carelessly but also into those who practice the ascetic life. If, then, the time of this life is time for repentance, the very fact that a sinner still lives is a pledge that God will accept whoever desires to return to Him. Free will is always part and parcel of this present life. And it lies within the power of free will to choose or to reject the road of life or the road of death that we have described above; for it can pursue whichever it wishes. Where, then, are the grounds for despair, since all of us can at all times lay hold of eternal life whenever we want to?
18. Do you not perceive the grandeur of God's compassion? When we are disobedient He does not immediately condemn us, but He is longsuffermg and allows us time for conversion. Throughout this period of longsuffermg He gives us power to gain divine sonship if we so wish. Yet why do I say 'gain sonship'? He gives us power to be united with Him and to become one spirit with Him (cf. I Cor. 6:17).
If, however, during this period of longsuffering we pursue the opposite path and choose death rather than true life, God does not take away the power that He gave us. And not only does He not take it away, but He reminds us of it again and again. From the dawn till the dusk of this life. He goes round, as in the parable of the vineyard, seeking us out and inviting us to engage in the works of life (cf. Matt. 20:7-15). And who is it that calls us in this way and would engage us in His service? It is the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the God of all solace (cf. 2 Cor. I :3). And who is the vineyard into which He calls us to work? The Son of God, who said, 'I am the vine' (cf. John 15:1). For, indeed, no one can come to Christ, as He Himself said in the Gospels, unless the Father draws him (cf. John 6:44). Who are the branches? We ourselves are. For directly afterwards Christ says, 'You are the branches. My Father is the vine-dresser' (cf. John 15:1, 5).
19. The Father, therefore, through the Son reconciles us to Himself, not taking into account our offences (cf. 2 Cor. 5:19); and He calls us, not in so far as we are engaged in unseemly works, but in so far as we are idle; although idleness is also a sin, since we shall give an account even for an idle word (cf Matt. 12:36). But, as I said. God overlooks former sins and calls us again and again. And what does He call us to do? To work in the vineyard, that is, to work on behalf of the branches, on behah' of ourselves. And afterwards - the incomparable grandeur of His compassion! - He promises and gives us a reward for toiling on our own behalf. 'Come,' He says, 'receive eternal life, which I bestow abundantly; and as though in your debt I reward you in full for the labor of your journey and even for your very desire to receive eternal life from Me.'
20. Who does not owe the price of redemption to the Redeemer from death? Who will not give thanks to the Giver of Life? But He even promises to give us a reward as well, an inexpressible reward. 'I am come'. He says, 'so that they may have life, and have it in all its fullness' (John 10:10). What is meant by 'in all its fullness'? He came not only to be and to live with us, but to make us His brethren and coheirs. This, it seems, is the reward granted 'in all its fullness' to those who hasten to the life-giving Vine and establish themselves as branches in it, who labor on behalf of themselves and who cultivate it on behalf of themselves. And what do they do? First, they cut away everything that is superfluous and that, instead of promoting, impedes the bearing of fruit worthy of the divine cellars. And what are these things? Wealth, soft living, vain honors, all things that are transitory and fleeting, every sly and abominable passion of soul and body, all the litter gathered while daydreaming, everything heard, seen and spoken that can bring injury to the soul. If you do not cut out these things and prune the heart's offshoots with great assiduity, you will never bear fruit fit for eternal life.
21. Married people can also strive for this purity, but only with the greatest difficulty. For this reason all who from their youth have by God's mercy glimpsed that eternal life with the mind's keen eye, and who have longed for its blessings, avoid getting married, since likewise in the resurrection, as the Lord said, people neither marry nor are given in marriage, but are 'as the angels of God' (Matt. 22:30). Therefore those who wish to become 'as the angels of God' will even in this present life, like the sons of the resurrection, rightly place themselves above bodily intercourse. Moreover, the occasion for sinning was first provided by the wife. Consequently those who do not wish ever to give the devil any way of catching hold of them should not marry.
22. If this body of ours is hard to harness and hard to lead towards virtue - if, indeed, we carry it about like an innate opposing force -why should we ever entrust ourselves to it, thereby increasing the difficulty we have in attaining a state of virtue by binding ourselves to many different bodies? How will the woman, who is tied by natural bonds to a husband, children and all her blood relations, possess that freedom for which she is enjoined to strive? How will she, when she has taken upon herself the care of so many, devote herself, free from care, to the Lord? How will she possess tranquility when entangled with such a multitude?
23. For this reason she who is really a virgin - who models herself on Him who is virgin, who was born of a Virgin and who is the Bridegroom of the souls that live in true virginity - will shun not merely carnal wedlock but also worldly companionship, having renounced all kindred, so that like St Peter she can say boldly to Christ, 'We have left all and followed Thee' (Matt. 19:27). If an earthly bride leaves father and mother for the sake of a mortal bridegroom and cleaves to him alone, as Scripture says (cf. Gen. 2:24), what is untoward in a woman leaving her parents for the sake of an immortal Bridegroom and bridal chamber? How can she whose 'citizenship is in heaven' (Phil. 3:20) have kinship on the earth? How can she who is not an offspring of the flesh but of the Spirit (cf. John 1:13) have a fleshly father or mother or blood relative? How will she who has renounced the carnal life, and so as far as possible has spumed and continues to spurn her own body, entertain any relationship whatever to bodies that are not her own? And if, as they say, likeness leads to friendship and everything adheres to what is like itself, how can the virgin align herself with worldly loves and fall victim once again to the disease of self-adornment? 'Love of the world is hostility to God' (Jas. 4:4), says the apostle who is our bridal escort into the spiritual bridal chamber. Thus a virgin who reverts to worldly affections is not only in danger of separating herself from the immortal Bridegroom, but also of being at enmity with him.
Do not be astonished or distressed by the fact that no criticism is made in Scripture of women who live in wedlock, caring for the things of the world but not for the things of the Lord (cf. I Cor. 7:34), while at the same time those who have vowed themselves to virginity are forbidden even to approach worldly things and are never allowed to live in comfort. Yet St Paul also warns those who live in wedlock: 'The time is short; so let those who have wives live as though they had none and those involved in worldly affairs as though they were not involved' (1 Cor. 7:29, 31): and this, I think, is harder to accomplish than the keeping of one's virginity. For experience shows that total abstinence is easier than self-control in food and drink. And one might justly and truly say that if someone is not concerned to save himself, we have nothing to say to him, but if he is so concerned, then he should know that a life led in virginity is more easily accomplished and less laborious than married life.
24. Yet let us leave these matters and return, virgin, bride of Christ, branch of the Vine of life, to what was said above. The Lord says, '1 am the vine, you are the branches. . . . My Father is the vine-dresser... He prunes every branch in Me that bears fruit, so that it may bring forth more fruit' (John 15:1, 2, 5). Reflecting on His careful concern for yourself, recognize what fruit your virginity should bear and how great is the Bridegroom's affection for you; and rejoice the more and strive in return to be still more obedient to Him. Gold that has been mixed with brass is called counterfeit, but brass that has been smelted with gold dust appears brighter and more radiant than its natural color. Similarly, it is an honorable thing for married women to long for you and the chastity of your way of life, but for you to yearn for them brings dishonor upon you. For such a yearning returns you to the world, first because though you have died to the world you still want to have relations with those who live in the world and to share their life, and second because being in contact with such persons leads you to desire what they desire for themselves and their kindred, that is, abundance in all things pertaining to this life - wealth, fame, glory, and the delight that these things bring. In this way you will fall away from your Bridegroom's will, for in the Gospels He clearly disparages such things, saying, 'Woe to the rich, woe to those who mock, woe to those who stuff themselves, woe to you when everyone speaks well of you' (cf Luke 6:24-26).
25. Why does He deplore such people? Is it not because their souls are dead? What kinship can the bride of life have with the dead? What communion with those who walk in the opposite direction? Wide and broad is the way they travel; and unless they restrain themselves by blending some aspects of your life with theirs, they will lapse into total destruction. But you should enter through the strait and narrow gate, the way that leads to life (cf. Matt. 7:13-14). You cannot pass through this narrow gate and along this way while carrying a load of self-glory, or a cornucopia of self-indulgence, or the burden of money and possessions.
26. But when you hear that other path of life called 'broad', do not suppose it to be free of sorrow, for in fact it is filled with many oppressive misfortunes. He calls it 'broad' and 'wide' because there are many who pass along it (cf. Matt. 7:13), each bearing a heavy load of the rubbish of this fleeting material life. But yours is a narrow path, virgin, not even wide enough for two together. None the less, many at first embroiled in the world have renounced it on the death of their spouses, emulating your supernatural way of life and choosing to journey along your path so as to share in its rewards. And St Paul enjoins us to honor such people, for with hope in God they persevere in supplication and prayer (cf I Tim. 5:3, 5). Although the narrow way of life involves affliction, it also brings solace, confers the kingdom of heaven and fosters salvation. But on the broad path what is pleasant and what is grievous are both alike. For, as St Paul says, worldly sorrowfulness produces death, while 'godly sorrow produces a saving repentance that is not to be regretted' (2 Cor. 7:10).
27. It is for this reason that the Lord blesses the opposite of what the world calls blessed, saying, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of the heavens' (Matt. 5:3). In saying 'Blessed are the poor', why did He add 'in spirit'? So as to show that He blesses and commends humility of soul. And why did He not say, 'Blessed are those whose spirit is poor', thus indicating the modesty of their manner of thinking, but 'Blessed are the poor in spirit'? So as to teach us that poverty of body is also blessed and fosters the kingdom of heaven, but only when it is accomplished in accordance with the soul's humility, when it is united to it and originates from it. By calling the poor in spirit blessed He wonderfully demonstrated what is the root, as it were, and mainspring of the outward poverty of the saints, namely, their humility of spirit. For from our spirit, once it has embraced the grace of the gospel teaching, flows a wellsprmg of poverty that 'waters the whole face of our ground' (cf. Gen. 2:6), I mean our outward self, transforming us into a paradise of virtues. Such, then, is the poverty that is called blessed by God.
28. 'The Lord has given a concise saying upon the earth', as the prophet observes (cf. Isa. 10:23. LXX). Having pointed out and called blessed the root cause of voluntary and many-sided poverty. He also teaches us in this single short saying about its many effects. For we can choose to shed possessions, and to be frugal and abstinent, simply in order to be praised by other people. In such a case we are not 'poor in spirit'. Hypocrisy is born of self-conceit, and self-conceit is contrary to being poor in spirit. But if you possess a contrite, lowly and humble spirit you cannot but rejoice in outward simplicity and self-abasement, because you will regard yourself as unworthy of praise, comfort, prosperity and all such things. The poor man deemed blessed by God is he who considers himself unworthy of these things. It is he who is really poor, being poor in full measure. It was on this account that St Luke also wrote, 'Blessed are the poor' (6:20), without adding 'in spirit'. These are they who have hearkened to the Son of God, following Him and assimilating themselves to him; for He said, 'Learn of Me, for I am gentle and humble in heart, and you will find rest for your souls' (Matt. I 1 :29). Hence 'theirs is the kingdom of heaven', for they are 'joint-heirs with Christ' (Rom. 8:17).
29. The soul is tripartite and is considered as having three powers: the intelligent, the incensive, and the appetitive. Because the soul was ill in all three powers, Christ, the soul's Healer, began His cure with the last, the appetitive. For desire unsatisfied fuels the incensive power, and when both the appetitive and incensive powers are sick they produce distraction of mind. Thus the soul's incensive power will never be healthy before the appetitive power is healed; nor will the intelligence be healthy until the other two powers are first restored to health.
30. If you examine things you will find that the first evil offspring of the appetitive power is love of material possessions. For the desires that help men to live are not blameworthy, as is clear from the fact that they are with us from a very early age. Love of possessions, however, comes a little later - although still in childhood - and in this way it is evident that it does not have its ground in nature, but is a matter of individual choice. St Paul rightly termed it the root of all evils (cf. I Tim. 6:10), and the evils that it usually begets are niggardliness, trickery, rapacity, thievery and, in short, greed in all its forms, which St Paul called a second idolatry (cf. Col. 3:5). Even in the case of evils that do not spring directly from it, greed nearly always provides the fuel for their sustenance.
31. Such evils, begotten of the love for material things, are passions of a soul that has no zeal for spiritual work. We can free ourselves more easily from passions that are a matter of our own volition than from those rooted in nature. It is disbelief in God's providence that makes it difficult for us to eradicate the passions that arise from our love of possessions, for such disbelief leads us to put our trust in material riches. 'It is easier', said the Lord, 'for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter into the kingdom of God' (Matt. 19:24). But if we trust in material riches, this means nothing to us; we long for worldly, perishable wealth, not for a kingdom that is heavenly and eternal. And even when we fail to acquire that wealth, the mere desire for it is extremely pernicious. For, as St Paul says, those who want to be rich fall into the temptations and snares of the devil (cf I Tim. 6:9). Yet when wealth comes, it proves itself to be nothing, since its possessors, unless they are brought to their senses by experience, still thirst after it as though they lacked it. This love that is no love does not come from need; rather the need arises from the love. The love itself arises from folly, the same folly that led Christ, the Master of all, justly to describe as foolish the man who pulled down his bams and built greater ones (cf Luke 12:18-20).
32. How could such a person not be a fool when for the sake of things that cannot profit him - 'For a man's life does not consist in the abundance of the things that he possesses' (Luke 12:15) - he gives up what is most profitable of all? He fails to become a wise merchant, selling even necessities, so far as possible, and in this way adding to the capital of a truly bountiful and gainful form of commerce or husbandry - a husbandry, indeed, which even before the harvest time multiplies a hundredfold that which was sown, thus foreshowing that the profit to come and the harvest shortly to be reaped will be indescribable and unimaginable. And the curious thing is that the smaller the storerooms the seed comes from the larger will the harvest be.
Hence there is no justification in aspiring to become rich even for a good cause. The truth is that people are frightened of being poor because they have no faith in Him who promised to provide all things needful to those who seek the kingdom of God (cf. Matt. 6:33). It is this fear that spurs them, even when they are endowed with all things, and it prevents them from ever freeing themselves from this sickly and baneful desire. They go on amassing wealth, loading themselves with a worthless burden or, rather, enclosing themselves while still living in a most absurd kind of tomb.
33. Dead men are simply buried in the earth, but the intellect of a living pinchpenny is buried in the dust and earth of gold. Further, for those whose senses are in a healthy state this grave smells worse than the normal one, and the more earth one throws on it, the stronger the smell grows. For the festering wound of wretched persons buried in this way spreads, and its stench rises up to heaven, even up to the angels of God and to God Himself. They have become loathsome and repulsive, stinking on account of their folly, as David puts it (cf Ps. 38:5). Voluntary poverty - not undertaken to impress others - delivers men from this foul-smelling and deadly passion; and such poverty is precisely the 'poorness in spirit' that the Lord called blessed.
34. Yet a monk who has this passion cannot be obedient. If he persists in serving it diligently, there is a grave risk of him lapsing also into incurable maladies of the body. Gehazi in the Old Testament and Judas in the New Testament are sufficient examples of this. The first sprouted leprosy as evidence of his incurable soul (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:27), while the second hanged himself in the field of blood, and falling headlong he burst his belly and his intestines gushed out (cf. Acts 1:18). If, then, renunciation precedes obedience, how can it be the other way round? And if renunciation is the initial step in the monastic profession, how can anyone who has not first renounced material possessions succeed in any of the other struggles of monastic life? Moreover, if a monk is incapable of practicing obedience, how will he be able to cultivate stillness by himself in a cell, devoting himself to solitude and persevering in prayer? But as the Lord says, 'Where your treasure is, there will your intellect be also' (Matt. 6:21). How, then, can you gaze noetically at Him who sits in heaven on the right hand of the divine Majesty (cf. Heb. I :3) while you are still amassing treasure upon the earth? How will you inherit that kingdom which this passion entirely prevents you even from conceiving in your mind? 'Blessed', therefore, 'are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' Do you see how many passions the Lord has cut away with one beatitude?
35. Yet this is not all. If love for material things is the first offspring of evil desire, there is a second offspring which is even more to be shunned, and a third that is no less evil. What is the second? Self-flattery. We encounter this passion while we are still quite young, as a kind of prelude to the love for worldly things which we encounter later. Here I am referring to the self -flattery that expresses itself in the beautification of the body through expensive clothing and so on. It is what the fathers caU worldly vanity, to distinguish it from the other kind of vanity, which afflicts those noted for their virtue and is accompanied by self- conceit and hypocrisy, whereby the devil contrives to plunder and disperse our spiritual riches.
36. You can be completely healed from all these things if you become aware of divine glory and long for it while regarding yourself as unworthy of it, and if you patiently endure people's scorn while thinking you deserve it. In addition, you should esteem God's glory above your own, in conformity with the Psalmist's words, 'Not unto us, Lord, not unto us, but unto Thy name give glory' (Ps. I 15:2). And should you feel that you have done something praiseworthy, you should attribute it to God, proclaiming Him as its cause and gratefully praising Him for it and not yourself. In your rejoicing you will regard each virtue as a gift, and will not become conceited about it, since it is not your personal achievement; on the contrary, you will grow more humble, and night and day will fix your mental eyes on God, as the eyes of the handmaid - to use the Psalmist's words again - are fixed on the hands other mistress (cf Ps. 123:2). At the same time you will be full of fear lest, becoming separated from Him who alone confers goodness and preserves us in it, you are pulled down into the pit of evil; for this is what happens when you are enslaved to conceit and vanity. A great help in healing these passions is withdrawal from the world and living a life of solitude, keeping yourself to your cell. But you must be deeply aware of the frailty of your will and regard yourself as not strong enough to mix with other people. Yet what is this but the poverty in spirit that the Lord called blessed?
37. If you recognize the disgrace that such self -flattery brings upon you, you will spurn it with all your might. For by longing for men's praise you dishonor yourself through the very deeds you do in order to attain it. By caring about your appearance, by attaching great importance to the fame of your ancestors and to gaudy clothes and so on, you show that yours is still a puerile mind. For all these things are mere dust, and what is more despicable than dust? The nun who wears what she wears not simply for covering or warmth, but because it is gossamery and gaudy, not only proclaims the barrenness of her soul but also displays the indecency of a loose woman. She should listen rather to Him who says, 'They that wear fine clothing are to be found in royal palaces' (Matt. I 1 :8). But 'our citizenship is in heaven' (Phil. 3:20), as St Paul says. Let us not be cast out of heaven into the abodes of the 'ruler of the darkness of this world' (cf. Eph. 6:12) simply for the sake of foolish ostentation in our clothing.
38. This same thing happens to those who practice virtue in order to be praised by others. While they are called to be citizens of heaven, they 'degrade their glory to the dust' (Ps. 7:5), and make their dwelling there, thus drawing upon themselves the curse of the Psalmist. For their prayer does not rise to heaven, and their every endeavor falls to the earth, since it is not supported by the wings of divine love that raise aloft the works we do upon the earth. So although they labor they reap no reward. But why do I speak of reaping no reward? For indeed they bear fruit, only it is the fruit of shame, instability of thoughts, and distraction and turbulence of mind. For the Lord, as the Psalmist says, 'has scattered the bones of those who court popularity; they have been put to shame, because God has set them at naught' (Ps. 53:5. LXX).
This passion is the subtlest of all the passions, and for this reason the person who fights against it must not merely be on guard against coupling with it or avoid assenting to it, but he must regard the very provocation as assent and must shield himself from it. Only in this way can he narrowly escape speedy defeat. If through inward watchfulness he manages to do this, the provocation itself will become an occasion for compunction. But if he fails to do it, the provocation induces pride; and once a person has fallen a victim to pride it is hard, in fact impossible, to cure him, for such a fall is the same as the devil's. Yet even before this the passion for popularity brings such injury upon those it masters that it shipwrecks faith itself (cf. I Tim. 1:19). Our Lord confirms this when He says, 'How can you have faith in Me when you receive honor from one another and do not seek for the honor that comes from the only God?' (cf John 5:44).
39. What have you to do with honor accorded by men or, rather, with the empty name of honor? Not only is such honor no honor at all, but it also deprives you of true honor. And not only this, but among other evils it also generates envy: envy that is potentially murder and that was the cause of the first murder (cf Gen. 4:1-8) and then of the slaying of God (cf . Matt. 27 : I 8). What, in fact, does this passion for human honor contribute to our nature? Does it sustain or protect it, or in any way restore or heal it when it has gone awry? No one could claim it does anything like that; and I think that this alone is enough to show how baseless are the excuses made for its perversions. Should you examine things closely you will find that in a treacherous fashion the thirst for glory among men first provokes us to various kinds of villainy and then denounces us, shamelessly unmasking itself and disgracing even its own lovers. And yet the champions of profane Greek teachings dare to say that nothing in life can be achieved without it - an absurd delusion!
40. But we Christians have not been taught thus, we who bear the name of Him who lovingly anointed our nature with His own and who watches over our actions. Turning to Him, we accomplish whatever is most excellent through Him and because of Him, doing all for the glory of God (cf I Cor. 10:31) and having no desire at all to court popularity. In fact, we are positively displeasing to people, as St Paul, the most intimate initiate of our Lawmaker and Lawgiver, confirms when he says: 'If I still wanted to be popular I would not be the servant of Christ' (Gal. 1:10).
41. Let us now see whether the third offspring of evil desire is likewise destroyed by that poverty which the Lord called blessed. The third offspring of the desire of a sick soul is gluttony; and from gluttony arises every kind of carnal impurity. Yet why do we call this the third and last when it is implanted in us from our very birth? For not only this passion, but also the natural motions related to the begetting of children, can be detected in infants that are still at the breast. Why, then, do we place the disease of carnal desire at the end of the list? The reason is this: the passions to which it gives birth belong to us by nature, and natural things are not indictable; for they were created by God who is good, so that through them we can act in ways that are also good. Hence in themselves they do not indicate sickness of soul, but they become evidence of such sickness when we misuse them. When we coddle the flesh in order to foster its desires, then the passion becomes evil and self-indulgence gives rise to the carnal passions and renders the soul diseased.
The first victim of these passions is the intellect. Because the passions initially spring from the mind, the Lord says that the evil thoughts which defile us proceed from the heart (cf. Matt. 15:18-19). And prior to the Gospel the Law tells us, 'Be attentive to yourself, lest there arise some secret iniquity in your hearts' (Deut. 15:9. LXX). Yet though it is the intellect that initiates evil, none the less the images of sensory bodies that entice the intellect towards these bodies and incite it to misuse them are impressed on it from below, through the senses, and above all through the eyes, for the eyes can embrace a defiling object even from a distance. Eve, our primordial mother, is clear evidence of this: first she saw that the forbidden tree was 'comely to look upon and beautiful to contemplate', and then, assenting in her heart, she plucked and ate its fruit (cf Gen. 3:6). So we were right when we said that yielding to the beauty of physical objects precedes and leads us to the degrading passions. Hence the fathers advise us not to look closely upon another's beauty or to find delectation in our own.
42. Before the mind becomes embroiled with them, the passions which are naturally implanted in children conduce not to sin but to the sustaining of nature. For this reason they are not at that stage evil. It is in the passion- charged intellect that the carnal passions arise initially, and so healing must begin with the intellect. You cannot extinguish a raging fire by slashing at it from above; but if you pull away the fuel from below, the fire will die down immediately. So it is with the passions of impurity. If you do not cut off the inner flow of evil thoughts by means of prayer and humility, but fight against them merely with the weapons of fasting and bodily hardship, you will labor in vain. But if through prayer and humility you sanctify the root, as we said, you will attain outward sanctity as well. This it seems to me is what St Paul counsels when he exhorts us to gird our loins with truth (cf Eph. 6: 14). One of the fathers has excellently interpreted this as signifying that when the contemplative faculty of the soul tightly girds the appetitive faculty it also girds the passions manifested through the loins and the genitals. The body, nevertheless, is in need of hardship and moderate abstention from food, lest it become unruly and more powerful than the intelligence. Thus all the passions of the flesh are healed solely by bodily hardship and prayer issuing from a humble heart, which indeed is the poverty in spirit that the Lord called blessed.
43. If, then, you yearn to be enriched with holiness - and without holiness no one will see the Lord (cf. Heb. 12:14) - you should abide in your own cell, enduring hardship and praying with humility. For the cell of one rightly pursuing the monastic life is a haven of self-restraint. But all that lies outside, and especially what is found in market places and at fairs, constitutes an obscene medley of ugly sounds and sights, drowning the wretched soul of the nun who exposes herself to them. One might also call this evil world a raging fire that devours those who come into contact with it and bums up every virtue they possess. The fire that did not bum was found in the desert (cf. Exod. 3:2). Instead of in the desert, you should abide in your cell and hide yourself a little until the tempest of passion has passed over you. When it has passed, spending time outside your cell will do you no harm.
44. Then in truth you will be poor in spirit and will gain dominion over the passions and clearly be called blessed by Him who said, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven.' How, indeed, can those not be called blessed who have absolutely no truck with material wealth and place all their trust in Him? Who wish to please only Him? Who with humility and the other virtues live in His presence? Let us, then, also become poor in spirit by being humble, by submitting our unregenerate self to hardship and by shedding all possessions, so that the kingdom of God may be ours, and we may fulfill our blessed aspirations by inheriting the kingdom of heaven.
The Lord has left us certain synoptic statements that express in a succinct manner the Gospel of our salvation, and one of these statements is the beatitude of which we have been speaking. By including so many virtues in that single phrase and excluding so many vices, the Lord has conferred His blessing on all those who through these virtues and through repentance prune the aspect of their souls that is vulnerable to passion. But this is not all; for in that phrase He also includes many other things, analogous not to pruning but rather to the activity of cold, ice, snow, frost and the violence of the wind - in a word, to the hardship that plants undergo in winter and summer by being exposed to the cold and heat, yet without which nothing upon earth can ever bear fruit.
45. What are these things? The various trials and temptations that afflict us and that we must gladly endure if we are to yield fruit to the Husbandman of our souls. If we were to feel sorry for earthly plants and build a wall around them and put a roof over them and not allow them to suffer such hardships, then although we may prune and otherwise tend them assiduously, they will bear no fruit. On the contrary, we must let them endure everything, for then, after the winter's hardship, in springtime they will bud, blossom, adorn themselves with leaves and, covered with this bountiful foliage, they will produce young fruit. This fruit, as the sun's rays grow stronger, will thrive, mature and become ready for harvesting and eating. Similarly, if we do not courageously bear the burden of trial and temptation - even though we may practice all the other virtues - we will never yield fruit worthy of the divine wine-press and the eternal granaries. For it is through patient endurance of afflictions deliberately entered into and those that are unsought, whether they come upon us from without or assault us from within, that we become perfect. What happens naturally to plants as a result of the farmer's care and the changing seasons happens, if we so choose, to us, Christ's spiritual branches (cf John 15:5), when as creatures possessing free-will we are obedient to Him, the Husbandman of souls.
46. Unless we bear with patience the afflictions that come to us unsought, God will not bless those that we embrace deliberately. For our love for God is demonstrated above all by the way we endure trials and temptations. First the soul has to surmount afflictions embraced willingly, thereby learning to spurn sensual pleasure and self- glory; and this in its turn will permit us readily to bear the afflictions that come unsought. If for the sake of poverty of spirit you spurn such pleasure and self-glory, and also regard yourself as deserving the more drastic remedy of repentance, you will be ready to bear any affliction and will accept any temptation as your due, and you will rejoice when it comes, for you will see it as a cleansing-agent for your soul. In addition, it will spur you to ardent and most efficacious prayer to God, and you will regard it as the source and protector of the soul's health. Not only will you forgive those who afflict you, but you will be grateful to them and will pray for them as for your benefactors. Thus you will not only receive forgiveness for your sins, as the Lord has promised (cf. Matt. 6: 14), but you will also attain the kingdom of heaven and God's benediction, for you will be blessed by the Lord for enduring with patience and a spirit of humility till the end.
47. Having spoken briefly about spiritual pruning, I will now add something about the productiveness that results from it. After first calling blessed those who gain imperishable wealth because of their poverty in spirit. God, who alone is blessed, next makes those who grieve partakers of His own blessedness, saying, 'Blessed are those who grieve, for they will be consoled' (Matt. 5:4).
48. Why did Christ thus join grief to poverty? Because it always coexists with it. But while sorrow over worldly poverty induces the soul's death, grief over poverty embraced in God's name induces the 'saving repentance that is not to be regretted' (2 Cor. 7:10). The first kind of poverty, being unsought, is followed by unwished-for grief; the second, being freely embraced, is followed by grief freely embraced. Because the grief here called blessed is linked with the poverty embraced in God's name, necessarily issuing from it and depending on it as its cause, it too possesses a spiritual and voluntary character.
49. Let us see, then, how this blessed poverty begets blessed grief. In this single word 'poverty' four types of spiritual poverty are represented: poverty in body, poverty in our way of thinking, poverty in worldly goods, and poverty through trials and temptations that come upon us from without. But because you see me setting down these four types of poverty separately, do not conclude that they are to be practiced separately. Each of them is to be implemented along with the others. Hence they are embraced by a single beatitude, which also discloses in a marvelous way what is, as it were, their root and mainspring, I mean, our spirit. For from our spirit, as has been said, once it has embraced the grace of the gospel teaching, there flows a wellspring of poverty that 'waters the whole face of our ground' (cf Gen. 2:6), I mean our outward self, transforming us into a paradise of virtues. 50. There are, then, four types of spiritual poverty, and each gives birth to a corresponding kind of grief, as weU as to a corresponding form of spiritual solace. In the first place, freely -embraced physical poverty and humility - and that means hunger, thirst, vigils and in general hardship and tribulation of body, as well as a reasonable restraint of the senses - begets not only grief, but also tears. For just as insensibility, callousness and hardness of heart develop as the result of ease, soft living and self-indulgence, so from a way of life marked by self-control and renunciation come contrition of heart and compunction, expelling all bitterness and generating a gentle gladness. It is said that without contrition of heart it is impossible to be free from vice; and the heart is rendered contrite by a triple form of self-control, in sleep, food and bodily ease. When through such contrition the soul is freed from vice and bitterness, it will certainly receive spiritual delight in their place. This is the solace on account of which the Lord calls those who grieve blessed. St John Klmiakos, who has constructed for us the ladder of spiritual ascent, says: 'Thirst and vigil afflict the heart, and when the heart is afflicted, tears spring up. ... He who has found this by experience will laugh' - he will laugh with that blessed joy ousness which springs from the solace that the Lord promised. Thus from bodily poverty embraced out of love for God is born the grief that brings solace to those who experience it and fills them with blessing.
51. How, in the second place, does grief arise from a fear-dominated state of mind and a godly humility of soul? Self-reproach always coexists with humility of soul. Initially self-reproach strongly emphasizes the fear of torment, bringing before our eyes a frightening image in which all the various conflicting forms of hell are combined into one. Our fear is increased yet more as we reflect that these torments of hell are inexpressible, and so even worse than they have been painted, and - to add still further to the dismay - that they are unending. Heat, cold, darkness, fire, movement and immobility, bonds, terrors, and the biting of undying beasts are all brought together into this single condemnation; but all these things fail properly to convey the true horror of hell which - to use St Paul's words - 'man's mind has not grasped' (1 Cor. 2:9).
52. What, then, is this profitless, unconsoling and endless grief experienced in hell? It is the grief stirred up in those who have sinned against God when they become aware of their offences. There, in hell, convicted of their sins, stripped of all hope of salvation or of any improvement in their condition, they feel yet greater anguish and grief because of the unsought reproof of their conscience. And this itself, and the everlasting nature of their grief, gives rise to yet another form of grief, and to another dreadful darkness, to unbearable heat and a helpless abyss of despondency. In this life, however, such grief is altogether beneficial, for God hearkens to it compassionately, so much so that He even came down arid dwelt among us; and He promised consolation to those who grieve in this way, the consolation being Himself, since He is called, and He is indeed, a Comforter (cf. John 14:16).
53. Do you see what grief arises in a humble soul and the consolation that ensues? Indeed, self-reproach on its own, when lying for a protracted time upon the soul's thoughts like some intellectual weight, crushes and presses and squeezes out the saving wine that gladdens the heart of man (cf. Ps. 104: 15), that is to say, our inner self. This wine is compunction (cf. Ps. 60:3. LXX). Together with grief compunction crushes the passions and, having freed the soul from the weight that oppresses it, fiUs it with blessed joy. That is the reason why Christ says, 'Blessed are those who grieve, for they will be consoled' (Matt. 5:4).
Thirdly, grief also arises from the shedding of possessions, that is to say, from poverty in worldly goods and in what we gather around us. This, we said, is to be conjoined with poverty in spirit, for it is only when all types of poverty are practiced together that they are perfected and pleasing to God. Now listen attentively so as to learn how from such poverty in worldly goods grief is produced in us along with the consolation that grief confers. When a person bids farewell to all things, to both money and possessions, either casting them away or distributing them to the poor according to the commandment (cf Luke 14:33), and weans his soul from anxiety about such things, he enables it to turn inwards to self-scrutiny, free now from all external attachments.
54. And whenever the intellect withdraws itself from all material things, emerges from the turbulence they generate, and becomes aware of our inner self, then first of all it sees the ugly mask it has wrought for itself as a result of its divagations among worldly things, and it strives to wash it away through grief. When it has got rid of that uncouth guise, and the soul is no longer coarsely distracted by various cares and worries, then the intellect withdraws untroubled into its true treasure-house and prays to the Father 'in secret' (Matt. 6:6). And the Father first bestows upon it peace of thoughts, the gift which contains within it all other gifts. Then He makes it perfect in humility, which is begetter and sustainer of every virtue - not the humility that consists of words and postures easily taken by anyone who wishes, but that to which the Holy Spirit bears witness and which the Spirit Himself creates when enshrined in the depths of the soul.
55. In such peace and humility, as in the secure enclosure of the noetic paradise, every tree of true virtue flourishes. At its heart stands the sacred palace of love, and in the forecourt of this palace blossoms the harbinger of the age to be, ineffable and inalienable joy.
The shedding of possessions gives birth to freedom from anxiety, this freedom to attentiveness and prayer, while attentiveness and prayer induce grief and tears. Grief and tears expunge passion-imbued predispositions. When these are expunged the path of virtue is made smooth, since the obstacles are removed, and the conscience is no longer full of reproach. As a consequence joy and the soul's blessed laughter break through.
56. Then tears of tribulation are transformed into tears of delight, and the words of God become sweet to the palate and more sweet than honey to the mouth (cf. Ps. 119: 103). Prayer changes from entreaty to thanksgiving, and meditation on the divine truths of faith fills the heart with a sense of jubilation and unimpeachable hope. This hope is a foretaste of future blessings, of which the soul even now receives direct experience, and so it comes to know in part the surpassing richness of God's bounty, in accordance with the Psalmist's words, 'Taste and know that the Lord is bountiful' (Ps. 34:8). For He is the jubilation of the righteous, the joy of the upright, the gladness of the humble, and the solace of those who grieve because of Him.
57. Yet does such solace extend no further than this? Are these the only gifts of the sacred betrothal? Will not the Bridegroom of such souls manifest Himself still more clearly to those who are perfected and cleansed by blessed grief, and who through the virtues are arrayed as brides? Undoubtedly He will. We are well aware that at this point certain people out of malice are ready to censure us, telling us, in effect, 'You are not to speak in the name of the Lord (cf. Jer. 11:21), and if you do we will repudiate your name as evil (cf Luke 6:22), devising and spreading slanders and falsehoods about you.' But let us take no notice of these people, and let us now continue with what we were saying, believing in and affirming the teachings of the holy fathers, directing our attention to them and convincing others through them. For it is written, 'I believed, and so I have spoken' (Ps. 116:10). We also believe, and so we, too, will speak (cf. 2 Cor. 4:13).
58. When every shameful indwelling passion has been expelled and the intellect, as already indicated, has returned wholly to itself, converting at the same time the other powers of the soul - and when through cultivating the virtues it sets the soul in good order, ever advancing to a more perfect state, ascending through its active spiritual progress and with God's help cleansing itself more fully - then it not only expunges all imprints of evil but also rids itself of every accretion, however good it is or appears to be.
59. And when it has transcended intelligible realities and the concepts, not unmixed with images, that pertain to them, and in a godly and devout manner has rejected all things, then it will stand before God deaf and speechless (cf. Ps. 38:13).
It is now that: the intellect becomes simple matter in God's hands and is unresistingly recreated in the most sublime way, for nothing alien intrudes on it: inner grace translates it to a better state and, in an altogether marvelous fashion, illumines it with ineffable light, thus perfecting our inner being. And when in this manner 'the day breaks and the morning star rises in our hearts' (cf 2 Pet. 1:19), then 'the true man' - the intellect - 'will go out to his true work' (cf. Ps. 104:23), ascending in the light the road that leads to the eternal mountains. In this light it miraculously surveys supramundane things, being either still joined to the materiality to which it was originally linked, or else separated from it - this depending on the level that it has attained. For it does not ascend on the wings of the mind's fantasy, for the mind always wanders about as though blind, without possessing an accurate and assured understanding either of sensory things not immediately present to it or of transcendent intelligible realities. Rather it ascends in very truth, raised by the Spirit's ineffable power, and with spiritual and ineffable apperception it hears words too sacred to utter (cf. 2 Cor. 12:4) and sees invisible things. And it becomes entirely rapt in the miracle of it, even when it is no longer there, and it rivals the tireless angelic choir, having become truly another angel of God upon earth. Through itself it brings every created thing closer to God, for it itself now participates in all things and even in Him who transcends all, inasmuch as it has faithfully conformed itself to the divine image.
60. For this reason St Neilos says, 'The intellect's proper state is a noetic height, somewhat resembling the sky's hue, which is filled with the light of the Holy Trinity during the time of prayer.' And again: 'If you wish to see the intellect's proper state, rid yourself of all concepts, and then you will see it like sapphire or the sky's hue. But you cannot do this unless you have attained a state of dispassion, for God has to cooperate with you and to imbue you with His co-natural light.' And St Diadochos writes: 'Divine grace confers on us two gifts through the baptism of regeneration, one being infinitely superior to the other. The first gift is given to us at once, when grace renews us in the actual waters of baptism and cleanses all the lineaments of our soul, that is, the image of God in us, by washing away every stain of sin. The second - our likeness to God - requires our co-operation. When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us. ... Our power of perception shows us that we are being formed into the divine likeness; but the perfecting of this likeness we shall know only by the light of grace. But no one can acquire spiritual love unless he experiences fully and clearly the illumination of the Holy Spirit. If the intellect does not receive the perfection of the divine likeness through such illumination, although it may have almost every other virtue, it will still have no share in perfect love.'
61. And likewise St Isaac writes that during the time of prayer the intellect that has received grace sees its own purity to be 'like heaven's hue, which was also called the 'place of God' by the council of the elders of Israel, when it was seen by them in the mountain' (cf. Exod. 24:9-10). Again, he says that 'prayer is purity of the intellect, and it is consummated when we are illumined in utter amazement by the light of the Holy Trinity'. He also speaks of 'the purity of the intellect upon and through which the light of the Holy Trinity shines at the time of prayer'.
62. The intellect that has been accounted worthy of this light also transmits to the body that is united with it many clear tokens of the divine beauty, acting as an intermediary between divine grace and the grossness of the flesh and conferring on the flesh the power to do what lies beyond its power. This gives birth to a godlike, unmatched and stable state of virtue as well as to a disposition that has no or little inclination to sin. It is then that the intellect is illumined by the divine Logos who enables it to perceive clearly the inner essences - the logoi - of created things and on account of its purity reveals to it the mysteries of nature. In this way, through relationships of correspondence the perceiving and trusting intelligence is raised up to-the apprehension of supernatural realities - an apprehension that the Father of the Logos communicates through an immaterial union. From this arise various other miraculous effects, such as visionary insight, the seeing of things future, and the experience of things happening afar off as though they were occurring before one's very eyes. But what is more important is that those blessed in this manner do not aspire to attain such powers. Rather it is as though one were to look at a ray of sunlight and at the same time perceive the small particles in the air, though this was not one's intention. So it is with those who commune directly with the rays of divine light, which by nature reveal all things: according to their degree of purity they truly attain - albeit as something incidental - a knowledge of what is past, of what is present, and even of what is to come. But their main concern is the return of the intellect to itself and its concentration on itself. Or, rather, their aim is the reconvergence of all the soul's powers in the intellect - however strange this may sound - and the attaining of the state in which both intellect and God work together. In this way they are restored to their original state and assimilated to their Archetype, grace renewing in them their pristine and inconceivable beauty. To such a consummation, then, does grief bring those who are humble in heart and poor in spirit.
63. Since on account of our innate laziness such a consummation is beyond us, let us return to its foundation and say a little more about grief itself. Grief also accompanies every kind of unsolicited worldly poverty. For how can a person in need of money not be sorrowful, or he who hungers against his will or who suffers pain and dishonor? Such grief, indeed, lacks all consolation, the more so the more acute the poverty becomes, especially when the sufferer lacks true knowledge. For if you do not keep an intelligent control over sensual pleasures and pains but, rather, allow yourself to be dominated by them through the misuse of your intelligence, you wrongly and profitlessly multiply them, even causing yourself great injury. For thereby you give sure and self-accusing evidence that you do not firmly adhere to God's Gospel and to the prophets who preceded Him, and to those who came after Him and were His disciples and apostles. For these all teach that inexhaustible riches come through poverty, that ineffable glory comes through simplicity of life, that painless delight comes through self-control, and that through patiently enduring the trials and temptations that befall us we are delivered from the eternal tribulation and affliction held in store for those who choose an easy and soft life in this world instead of entering by the strait and narrow gate (cf. Matt. 7:14).
64. Rightly did St Paul say, 'Worldly sorrowfulness produces death' (2 Cor. 7:10), for from what we have said it is clear that such sorrow is sin leading to death. If the soul's true life is the divine light conferred, according to the fathers, through spiritual grief, then the death of the soul is an evil darkness induced in the soul through worldly sorrowfulness. It is with reference to this darkness that St Basil the Great says, 'Sin, which exists through the absence of the good.
65. And St 'Mark also says: 'If you are beset by evil thoughts, how can you see the reality of the sin concealed behind them? This sin wraps the soul in darkness and obscurity, and increases its hold upon us through our evil thoughts and actions. ... If you fail to perceive this general process of sinning, when will you pray about it and be cleansed from it? And if you have not been cleansed, how will you find purity of nature? And if you have not found this, how will you behold the inner dwelling-place of Christ? . . . We should try to find that dwelling-place and knock with persistent prayer. . . . Not only ought we to ask and receive, but we should also keep safely what is given; for some people lose what they have received. A theoretical knowledge or chance experience of this may perhaps be gained by those who have begun to learn late in life or who are still young; but the constant and patient practice of these things is barely to be acquired even by devout and deeply experienced elders. ' St Makarios, possessor of divine knowledge, says the same, as do all the saints.
66. Just as this darkness derives its existence from all our various sins, so - as you will find if you examine it closely - worldly sorrowfulness is born of and dominated by all the passions. Such sorrowfulness is thus an image and a kind of firstfnut, prelude to and foretaste of the future endless grief that overwhelms those who do not choose for themselves the grief that the Lord called blessed. This grief not only brings spiritual solace and provides a foretaste of eternal joy, but it also stabilizes virtue and takes from the soul its disposition to fall into a lower state. For although you may become poor and humble yourself and strive to live with godlike simplicity, yet if you do not acquire grief as you advance along the spiritual path you can easily be changed and can readily return in thought to that which you have abandoned, desiring again what you initially renounced and thus making yourself a transgressor (cf. Gal. 2:18). But if you persist in your intention to live a life of blessed poverty, and devote your attention to it, you will give birth to this grief in yourself and will lose all tendency to regress, and will not wrongly want to return to what you have so well abandoned. For, as St Paul says, 'Godly sorrow produces in the soul a saving repentance which is not to be regretted (cf. 2 Cor. 7:10). Hence one of the fathers has said that 'grief both acts and protects'.
67. This is not the only gain that comes of grief, namely, that you virtually lose all disposition towards evil and do not regress to your former sins; it also makes former sins as though they never existed. For once you begin to grieve over them. God reckons them as unintentional, and there is no guilt in actions performed unintentionally. A person who grieves because of his poverty shows that he is not in this state through his own choice, and so - like those who want to be rich or are already rich - he falls into the snares of the devil (cf. I Tim. 6:9); and unless he changes and strives to escape these snares, he will be sent with the devil into eternal torment. On the other hand, if a person who has sinned against God continues to grieve over his sins, they will be justly regarded as unintentional, and along with those who have not sinned he will journey without stumbling on the path leading to eternal life.
68. This, then, is the profit of the initial stage of grief, which is painful inasmuch as it is conjoined with the fear of God. But in later stages it becomes in a wondrous manner wedded to love for God, and once you are conditioned by it you experience the tender and sacred solace of the Comforter's blessing. But to those who have not experienced this it is something virtually incomprehensible, since it cannot be described in words. For if one cannot explain the sweetness of honey to someone who has never tasted it, how can one describe the delight of God's joy and grace to those who have never experienced it?
69. In addition, the initial stage of grief resembles something that appears to be almost unattainable - a kind of petition for betrothal to God. Thus those who grieve in their longing for the Bridegroom to whom they are not yet united utter as it were certain words of courtship, smiting themselves and calling upon Him with tears as though He were not present and perhaps might never be present. But the consummation of grief is pure bridal union with the Bridegroom. For this reason St Paul, after describing a married couple's union in one flesh as 'a great mystery', added, 'but I say this with respect to Christ and the Church' (Eph. 5:32). As they are one flesh, so those who are with God are one spirit, as St Paul clearly testifies elsewhere when he says that he who cleaves to the Lord is one spirit with Him (cf I Cor. 6:17).
70. What are we to say, then, of those who regard the grace that dwells in God's saints as created? Let them know that they blaspheme against the Spirit Himself who, in giving His grace, is united to the saints.
Let us add another still clearer example of what we are saying. The first stage of grief resembles the return of the prodigal son. For this reason it fills the mourner with dejection and leads him to employ these very words, 'Father, I have sinned against heaven and before Thee, and am no more worthy to be called Thy son' (Luke 15:21). But the consummation of grief resembles the moment when the heavenly Father runs out to meet him and embraces him. And when the son finds himself accepted with such inexpressible compassion and on account of it is filled with great joy and boldness, he receives the Father's embrace and embraces Him in return. Then, entering into the Father's house, he shares together in the feast of divine felicity.
71. Let us, then, in blessed poverty also fall down and weep before the Lord our God, so that we may wash away our former sins, make ourselves impervious to evil and, receiving the blessings and solace of the Comforter, may glorify Him and the unorigmate Father and the Only -begotten Son, now and always and throughout the ages. Amen.