St Peter of Damaskos: Book I: A Treasury of Divine KnowledgeIntroduction
Because by God's grace I have been granted many great gifts and yet have never done anything good myself, I became frightened lest in my laziness and sloth I would forget His blessings - as well as my own faults and sins - and not even offer Him thanks or show my gratitude in any way. I have therefore written this treatise as a rebuke to my unhappy soul, putting in it whatever I have come across from the lives and writings of the holy fathers, citing them by name, so that I might have it by me as a reminder of their words, even though it is incomplete.
As I myself neither own nor ever have owned any books, I have borrowed them from devout friends, who also cater for my physical needs; and going through these books with great care out of love for God, I have then given them back to their owners. These books include first of all the Old and the New Testaments, that is, the Pentateuch, the Psalter, the Four Books of Kings, the Six Books of Wisdom, the Prophets, the Chronicles, the Acts of the Apostles, the Holy Gospels and the commentaries on all these; and then all the writings of the great fathers and teachers-Dionysios, Athanasios, Basil, Gregory the Theologian, John Chrysostom, Gregory of Nyssa, Antony, Arsenios, Makarios, Neilos, Ephrem, Isaac, Mark, John of Damaskos, John Klimakos, Maximos, Dorotheos, Philimon, as well as the lives and sayings of all the saints.
I went through all these slowly and diligently, trying to discover the root of man's destruction and salvation, and which of his actions or practices does or does not bring him to salvation. I wanted to find what it is that everyone seeks after, and how people served God in the past, and still serve Him today, in wealth or poverty, living among many sinners or in solitude, married or celibate: how, quite simply, in every circumstance and activity we find life or death, salvation or destruction. Even among us monks there are different situations: obedience to a spiritual father in all matters pertaining to body or soul; the stillness that purifies the soul; spiritual counsel in the place of obedience; the offices of abbot and bishop. In each of these situations, some find salvation and others perish.
This in itself astonished me; but I was astonished also by the fall of that erstwhile angel in heaven, immaterial by nature, clothed with wisdom and every virtue, who suddenly became a devil, darkness and ignorance, the beginning and end of all evil and malice. And, then there was Adam, who enjoyed such honor and so many blessings, such familiarity with God, who was adorned with wisdom and virtue, alone in paradise with Eve: he suddenly became an exile, filled with passions, mortal, forced to labour with sweat and affliction. From him sprang the only two brothers in the world, Cain and Abel; and between them jealousy triumphed, and deceit, and these gave rise to murder, cursing and terror. I was astonished, too, by their descendants, whose sins were so many that they provoked the flood; and then, after God in His compassion had saved those in the ark, one of them - Canaan - was cursed, although it was his father Ham who had sinned: for in order not to abrogate God's blessing, righteous Noah cursed the son instead of the father (cf. Gen. 9 : 22-27). Then there were the tower of Babel, the people of Sodom, the Israelites, Solomon, the Ninevites, Gehazi, Judas, and all those who were endowed with blessings and yet turned to sin.
I was also astonished how God, who is good beyond all goodness and mil of compassion, permits all the many and various trials and afflictions of the world. Some He allows as sufferings conducive to repentance. These include hunger, thirst, grief, privation of life's needs, abstinence from pleasure, the wasting of the body through asceticism, vigils, labors, hardships, prolific bitter tears, anguish, fear of death, of cross-examination, of being called to account, of living in hell with demons, the appalling day of judgment, the ignominy that is to fall on the whole world, the terror, the bitter searching out and assessment of one's acts, words and thoughts, the threats and the wrath; and in addition to these, the various agelong punishments, the useless lamenting and the ceaseless tears; the unrelieved darkness, the fear, the pain, the exile, the dismay, the oppression, the throttling of the soul in this world and in the next. And then there are all the dangers facing one in this world: shipwrecks, illnesses of every kind. lightning, thunder, hail, earthquake, famine, tidal waves, untimely deaths-all the painful things that God allows to happen to us against our will.
Other things are willed not by God but by ourselves or by the demons. These include battles, passions, the whole range of sins from folly to despair and final destruction, of which our treatise will speak as it goes on; the attack of demons, wars, the tyranny of the passions; the derelictions, dislocations and vicissitudes of life; the anger, slander and all the affliction that we of our own will bring upon ourselves and one another against God's will. Again I was astonished how, though beset by such evils, many have been saved, and that nothing has been able to prevent this. On the other hand, many have perished against God's will.
When from my laborious study of the Scriptures I became aware of all these things, and many more, my soul was shattered and often I felt quite helpless, like spilt water. I did not fully grasp the significance of what I read; indeed, had I done so, I would not have been able to remain in this life, filled as it is with sin and disobedience to God, which produce all the evils of this world and the next. Nevertheless, through God's grace, I came Upon the answers I sought for, and saw, from my reading of the holy fathers, that we have to make certain distinctions.
First, we must recognize that the starting-point of all our spiritual development is the natural knowledge given us by God, whether this comes through the Scriptures by human agency, or by means of the angel that is given in divine baptism to guard the soul of every believer, to act as his conscience and to remind him of the divine commandments of Christ. If the baptized person keeps these commandments, the grace of the Holy Spirit is preserved in him.
Then, alongside this knowledge, there is our capacity to choose. This is the beginning of our salvation; by our free choice we abandon our own wishes and thoughts and do what God wishes and thinks. If we succeed in doing this, there is no object, no activity or place in the whole of creation that can prevent us from becoming what God from the beginning has wished us to be: that is to say, according to His image and likeness, gods by adoption through grace, dispassionate, just, good and wise, whether we are rich or poor, married or unmarried, in authority and free or under obedience and in bondage - in short, whatever our time, place or activity. That is why, alike before the Law, under the Law and under grace, there have been many righteous men-men who preferred the knowledge of God and His will to their own thoughts and wishes. Yet there were also many who have perished in these same times and in the same circumstances, because they preferred their own thoughts and wishes to those of God.
This, then, is the general picture. But situations and pursuits vary, and one needs to acquire discrimination, either through the humility given by God or through questioning those who possess the gifts of discrimination. For without discrimination nothing that comes to pass is good, even if we in our ignorance think that it is. But when through discrimination we learn how it lies in our power to attain what we wish, then what we do begins to conform to God's will.
Only, as has been said, in all things we ought to renounce our own will so as to attain the goal God has set for us and to pursue whatever He wishes. Unless we do this we can never be saved. For since Adam's transgression we are all subject to the passions because of our constant association with them. We do not gladly pursue goodness, nor do we long for the knowledge of God, nor do we do good out of love, as the dispassionate do; instead we cling to our passions and our vices and do not aspire at all to do what is good unless constrained by the fear of punishment. And this is the case with those who receive God's word with firm faith and purpose. The rest of us do not even aspire to this extent, but we regard the afflictions of this life and the punishments to come as of no account and are wholeheartedly enslaved to our passions. Some of us do not even perceive our desperate plight, and only under constraint and reluctantly engage in the struggle for virtue. And in our ignorance we long for what merits our hatred.
Just as sick people need surgery and cautery to recover the health they have lost, so we need trials, and toils of repentance, and fear of death and punishment, so that we may regain our former health of soul and shake off the sickness which our folly has induced. The more the Physician of our souls bestows upon us voluntary and involuntary suffering, the more we should thank Him for His compassion and accept the suffering joyfully: For it is to help us that He increases our tribulation, both through the sufferings we willingly embrace in our repentance and through the trials and punishments not subject to our will. In this way, if we voluntarily accept affliction, we will be freed from our sickness and from the punishments to come, and perhaps even from present punishments as well. Even if we are not grateful, our Physician in His grace will still heal us, although by means of chastisement and manifold trials. But if we cling to our disease and persist in it, we will deservedly bring upon ourselves agelong punishment. We will have made ourselves like the demons and so will justly share with them the agelong punishments prepared for them; for, like them, we will have scorned our Benefactor.
We do not all receive blessmgs in the same way. Some, on receiving the fire of the Lord, that is. His word, put it into practice and so become softer of heart, like wax, while others through laziness become harder than clay and altogether stone-like. And no one compels us to receive these blessings in different ways. It is as with the sun whose rays illumine all the world: the person who wants to see it can do so, while the person who does not want to see it is not forced to, so that he alone is to blame for his lightless condition. For God made both the sun and man's eyes, but how man uses them depends on himself. Similarly, then, God irradiates knowledge to all and at the same time He gives us faith as an eye through which we can perceive it.
If we choose to grasp this knowledge firmly by means of faith, we can keep ourselves mindful of it by putting it into practice; and God then gives us greater ardor, knowledge and power. For our pursuit of natural knowledge kindles our ardor, and this ardor increases our capacity to put the knowledge into practice. By putting it into practice we keep ourselves mindful of it, and this in its turn induces us to practice it to an even greater extent. Greater practice is rewarded by greater knowledge; and from the understanding thus acquired we gain control of the passions and learn how to endure our sufferings patiently. Sufferings produce devotion to God and a recognition of His gifts and our faults. These give birth to gratitude, and gratitude inculcates the fear of God which leads us to the keeping of the commandments, to inward grief, gentleness and humility. These three virtues produce discrimination, which gives us spiritual insight and makes it possible for the intellect in its purity to foresee coming faults and to forestall them through its experience and'^ recollection of what has happened in the past; in this way it can protect itself against stealthy attacks. All this generates hope, and from hope come detachment and perfect love.
Once we have advanced thus far we shall not wish for anything except the will of God; rather we will joyfully abandon this transitory life out of love for God and for our fellow-men. Through the wisdom and indwelling of the Holy Spirit and through adoption to sonship, we are crucified with Christ and buried with Him, and we rise with Him and ascend with Him spiritually by imitating His way of life in this world. To speak simply, we become gods by adoption through grace, receiving the pledge of eternal blessedness, as St Gregory the Theologian says. In this way, with regard to the eight evil thoughts, we become dispassionate, just, good and wise, having God within ourselves - as Christ Himself has told us (cf John 14:21-23) -through the keeping of the commandments in order, from the first to the last. I will speak below about how the commandments should be practiced.
Since we have spoken of the knowledge of the virtues, we will also speak about the passions. Knowledge comes like light from the sun. The foolish man through lack of faith or laziness deliberately closes his eyes - that is, his faculty of choice - and at once consigns the knowledge to oblivion because in his indolence he fails to put it into practice. For folly leads to indolence, and this in turn begets inertia and hence forgetfulness. Forgetfulness breeds self-love - the love of one's own will and thoughts - which is equivalent to the love of pleasure and praise. From self-love comes avarice, the root of all evils (cf. I Tim. 6:10), for it entangles us in worldly concerns and in this way leads to complete unawareness of God's gifts and of our own faults. It is now that the eight ruling passions take up residence: gluttony, which leads to unchastity, which breeds avarice, which gives rise to anger when we fail to attain what we want - that is, fail to have our own way. This produces dejection, and dejection engenders first listlessness and then self-esteem; and self-esteem leads to pride. From these eight passions come every evil, passion and sin. Those consumed by them are led to despair and utter destruction; they fall away from God and become like the demons, as has already been said.
Man stands at the crossroads between righteousness and sin, and chooses whichever path he wishes. But after that the path which he has chosen to follow, and the guides assigned to it, whether angels and saints or demons and sinners, will lead him to the end of it, even if he has no wish to go there. The good guides lead him toward God and the kingdom of heaven, the evil guides toward the devil and agelong punishment. But nothing and no one is to blame for his destruction except his own free will. For God is the God of salvation, bestowing on us, along with being and well-being, the knowledge and strength that we cannot have without the grace of God. Not even the devil can destroy a man, compelling him to choose wrongly, or reducing him to impotence or enforced ignorance, or anything else: he can only suggest evil to him.
Thus he who acts rightly should ascribe the grace of so doing to God, for along with our being He has given us everything else. But the person who has opted for the path of evil, and actually commits evil, should blame only himself, for no one can force him to commit it, since God created him with free will. Hence he will merit God's praise when he chooses the path of goodness; for he does so, not from any necessity of his nature, as is the case with animals and inanimate things that participate passively in goodness, but as befits a being that God has honored with the gift of intelligence. We ourselves deliberately and willfully choose to do evil, being coached in it by its discoverer. God, who is good beyond goodness, does not force us, lest being forced and still disobeying we should be even more culpable. Nor does He take from us the freedom that in His goodness He has bestowed upon us.
Let him who wants to act rightly entreat God in prayer, and at once knowledge and power will be given him. In this way it will be evident that the grace bestowed by God was justly given; for it was given after prayer, although it could have been given without prayer. No praise, however, is due to the man who accepts the air by means of which he lives, knowing that without it life is impossible; rather he himself owes thanks to his Creator, who has given him a nose and the health to breathe and live. Similarly, we also should rather thank God because in His grace He has created our prayer, our knowledge, our strength, our virtue, all our circumstances and our very selves. And not only has He done all this, but He ceaselessly does whatever He can to overcome our wickedness and that of our enemies, the demons.
Even the devil, having lost the knowledge of God, and so inevitably becoming ignorant in his ingratitude and pride, cannot of himself know what to do. On the contrary, he sees what God does to save us and maliciously learns from this and contrives similar things for our destruction. For he hates God and, being unable to fight Him directly, he fights against us who are in God's image, thinking to avenge himself on God in this way; and, as St John Chrysostom says, he finds us obedient to his will. For instance, he sees how God created Eve as a helpmate for Adam, and so he enlists her co-operation to bring about disobedience and transgression. Or, again, God gave a commandment so that by keeping it Adam might be mindful of the great gifts he had received and thank his Benefactor for them; but the devil made of this commandment the starting-point for disobedience and death. Instead of prophets, he promotes false prophets; instead of apostles, false apostles; instead of law, lawlessness; instead of virtues, vice; instead of commandments, transgressions; instead of righteousness, foul heresies.
In addition, when the devil saw Christ descending in His extreme goodness to the holy martyrs and revered fathers, appearing either in Himself or through angels or in some other ineffable form, he began to fabricate numerous delusions in order to destroy people. It is on account of this that the fathers, in their discrimination, wrote that one should not pay any attention to such diabolic manifestations, whether they come through images, or light, or fire, or some other deceptive form. ' For the devil can deceive even in sleep or through the senses. If we accept such delusions, he makes the intellect, in its utter ignorance and self-conceit, depict various shapes or colors so that we think that this is a manifestation of God or of an angel. Often in sleep, or to our senses when awake, he shows us demons that are apparently defeated. In short, he does all he can to destroy us by making us succumb to these delusions.
In spite of all this, the devil will fail in his purpose if we apply the counsel of the holy fathers: that during the time of prayer we should keep our intellect free from form, shape, and colour, and not give access to anything at all, whether light, fire or anything else; and that we should do all we can to confine our mind solely to the words we are saying, since he who prays only with his mouth prays to the wind and not to God. For, unlike men, God is attentive to the intellect and not to the words spoken. We must worship, it is said, 'in spirit and in truth' (John 4:24); and again, 'I had rather speak five words whose meaning I understand than ten thousand words in a strange tongue' (1 Cor. 14:19).
It is now that the devil, having failed in all his other schemes, tempts us with thoughts of despair: he tries to persuade us that in the past things were different and that the men through whom God performed wonders for the strengthening of the faith were not like us. He also tells us that there is now no need for such exertion. For are we not now all of us Christians and all baptized? 'He who believes and is baptized shall be saved' (Mark 16:16). What more do we need? But if we succumb to this temptation and remain as we are, we will be completely barren. We will be Christians only in name, not realizing that he who has believed and been baptized must keep all Christ's commandments; and even when he has succeeded in doing this, he should say, 'I am a useless servant' (Luke 17:10), as the Lord told His apostles when He instructed them to carry out all He had laid down for them.
Everyone who is baptized renounces the devil, saying, 'I renounce Satan and all his works, and I join myself to Christ and all His works. ' But where is our renunciation, if we do not abandon every passion and desist from every sinful act that the devil promotes? Rather, let us hate such things with all our soul and show our love for Christ through the keeping of His commandments. And how shall we keep His commandments unless we relinquish our own will and thought - the will and thought, that is to say, which are opposed to the commandments of God?
There are often people who because of personal temperament or out of habit do in fact choose what is good in certain situations and hate what is evil. And there are also good thoughts, as the Scriptures attest, although they require the discrimination of those who possess experience; for without discrimination even those thoughts that seem good are not in fact good, either because they come at the wrong time, or are unnecessary, or unworthy, or are not properly understood. For unless both the questioner and he who is questioned are attentive not only to the Scriptures but also to the question raised, they will miss the meaning of what has been said, and the resulting damage will be serious. I myself have often found this, both when asking and when being asked; and when afterwards I have understood the true sense of the passage under discussion, I have been amazed to learn how the words can be the same, but the meaning very different.
Thus we need discrimination in all things if we are to know how to act so as to do the will of God. For God, as the creator of all things, knows our nature thoroughly and has ordered- all things for our benefit; and He has laid down laws that accord with our nature and are not alien to it, even though they are not capable of leading to perfection those who voluntarily aspire to attain God in a way that transcends nature. For that requires the more than natural qualities of virginity, deliberate poverty, humility - not of gratitude, for this is natural. Humility is more than natural, since the humble man pursues every virtue and, though not a debtor, he regards himself as the greatest debtor of all. The grateful person, on the other hand, will simply acknowledge the debt he owes. Similarly, the merciful man who performs his acts of charity by drawing on his possessions remains within the bounds of nature, and does not go beyond them as does the person who deliberately gives away all he possesses. Again, marriage is natural, while virginity is a more than natural grace. The person who remains within the bounds of nature is saved if he abandons his own will and fulfils that of God; but to the person who transcends these bounds God will give the crown of endurance and glory, because he has renounced not only what is forbidden by the law but also, with God's help, his own nature. He loves the supranatural God with all his soul and imitates His dispassion with all his strength.
Yet since we are ignorant not merely of ourselves and of what we do, but also of the purpose of what is done and of the true goal of everything, the divine Scriptures and the words of the saints, whether prophets and righteous men of old or more recent holy fathers, appear to us to be contradictory. Those who wish to be saved appear to disagree with one another. But in reality this is not the case.
Briefly, we may say that in the nature of things, if someone wants to be saved, no person and no time, place or occupation can prevent him. He must not, however, act contrary to the objective that he has in view, but must with discrimination refer every thought to the divine purpose. Things do not happen out of necessity: they depend upon the person through whom they happen. We do not sin against our will, but we first assent to an evil thought and so fall into captivity. Then the thought itself carries the captive forcibly and against his wishes into sin. The same is true of sins that occur through ignorance: they arise from sins consciously committed. For unless a man is drunk with either wine or desire, he is not unaware of what he is doing; but such drunkenness obscures the intellect and so it falls, and dies as a result. Yet that death has not come about inexplicably: it has been unwittingly induced by the drunkenness to which we consciously assented. We will find many instances, especially in our thoughts, where we fall from what is within our control to what is outside it, and from what we are consciously aware of to what is unwitting. But because the first appears unimportant and attractive, we slip unintentionally and unawares into the second. Yet if from the start we had wanted to keep the commandments and to remain as we were when baptized, we would not have fallen into so many sins or have needed the trials and tribulations of repentance.
If we so wish, however. God's second gift of grace - repentance - can lead us back to our former beauty. But if we fail to repent, inevitably we will depart with the unrepentant demons into agelong punishment, more by our own free choice than against our will. Yet God did not create us for wrath but for salvation (cf I Thess. 5:9), so that we might enjoy His blessings; and we should therefore be thankful and grateful towards our Benefactor. But our failure to get to know His gifts has made us indolent, and indolence has made us forgetful, with the result that ignorance lords it over us.
We have to make strenuous efforts when we first try to return to where we fell from. For we resent abandoning our own desires, and we think that we can carry out both God's wishes and our own - which is impossible. Our Lord Himself said, 'I have come to do, not My own will, but the will of the Father who sent Me' (cf. John 6:38), even though the will of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is one, since they constitute a single inseparable nature. But He said this on our account and with respect to the will of the flesh. For if the flesh is not consumed and if a man is not wholly led by the Spirit of God, he will not do the will of God unless he is forced to. But when the grace of the Spirit rules within him, then he no longer has a will of his own, but whatever he does is according to God's will. Then he is at peace. Men like that will be called sons of God (cf. Matt. 5:9), because they will the will of their Father, as did the Son of God who is also God.
Yet it is impossible to discover the will of God unless we keep the commandments, thereby cutting off all pleasure or personal will, and unless we endure all the pain that this involves. As has been said, pleasure and pain are born of folly, and they give rise to all evil. For the foolish man loves himself and cannot love his brother or God; he can neither refrain from pleasure or from the desires that give him satisfaction, nor can he endure pain. Sometimes .he gets what he wants, and then he is filled with pleasure and elation; sometimes he does not get it and, completely dominated by the pain which this engenders, he is cast down and dejected, experiencing a foretaste of hell.
From knowledge, or understanding, is born self-control and patient endurance. For the man of understanding restrains his own will and endures the resulting pain; and, regarding himself as unworthy of anything pleasant, he is grateful and thankful to his Benefactor, fearing lest because of the many blessings that God has given him in this world he should suffer punishment in the world to come. Thus through self-control he practices the other virtues as well. He looks on himself as in God's debt for everything, finding nothing whatsoever with which to repay to his Benefactor, and even thinking that his virtues simply increase his debt. For he receives and has nothing to give. He only asks that he may be allowed to offer thanks to God. Yet even the fact that God accepts his thanks puts him, so he thinks, into still greater debt. But he continues to give thanks, ever doing what is good and reckoning himself an ever greater debtor, in his humility considering himself lower than all men, delighting in God his Benefactor and trembling even as he rejoices (cf. Ps. 2: I 1).
As he advances through this humility towards divine and unfailing love, he accepts sufferings as though he deserved them. Indeed, he thinks he deserves more suffering than he encounters; and he is glad that he has been granted some affliction in this world, since through it he may be spared a portion of the punishments which he has prepared for himself in the world to be. And because in all this he knows his own weakness, and that he should not exult, and because he has been found worthy of knowing and enduring these things by the grace of God, he is filled with a strong longing for God.
Humility is born of spiritual knowledge, and such knowledge is born of trials and temptations. To the person who knows himself is given knowledge of alt things, and he who subjects himself to God brings every material thought under his control; and then all things are subject to him, for he is completely humble. According to St Basil and St Gregory, he who knows himself-who knows, that is to say, that he stands midway between nobility and baseness, in that he has a soul capable of spiritual knowledge and a mortal, earthly body -never exults or despairs. Rather, with a feeling of shame before his noetic soul he rejects everything shameful and, knowing his weakness, he shrinks from all sense of elation.
Thus he who knows his own weakness as a result of the many temptations and trials that he undergoes through the passions of soul and body, understands the measureless power of God and how He redeems the humble who cry out to Him through persistent prayer from the depths of their hearts. For such a person prayer becomes a delight. He knows that without God he can do nothing (cf. John 15:5), and in his fear lest he fall he strives to cleave to God and is amazed as he considers how God has rescued him from so many temptations and passions. He gives thanks to his Savior, and to his thanksgiving he adds humility and love; and he does not dare to judge anyone, knowing that as God has helped him, so He can help all men when He wishes, as St Maximos says. He knows, too, that if a person realizes his weakness he may be able to fight and conquer many passions; for in such a case God swiftly comes to his assistance, lest his soul be utterly destroyed. And for many other reasons as well the person who recognizes his own weakness does not fall. No one can attain this recognition unless he first suffers many temptations of soul and body, and gains experience by enduring them patiently and so overcoming them with God's strength.
Such a man does not dare to act according to his own volition or to depend on his own ideas without first questioning those with experience. For what does a person gain by choosing to do or to think something that does not contribute to his bodily life or to the salvation of his soul? And if he does not know what wish he should abandon and what thought he should put aside, let him test every action and every thought by holding back from it with self-control and by seeing how that affects him. If its realization brings pleasure, but resisting it brings pain. then it is something bad and he should reject it before it takes root; otherwise he will find it hard to overcome it later, when he sees what damage it does. This applies to every action or thought which does not help us to keep ourselves alive and to conform to God's will. For a long-standing habit assumes the strength of nature; but if you do not give way to it, it loses strength and is gradually destroyed. Whether a habit is good or bad, time nourishes it, just as wood feeds a fire. Thus, so far as we can, we should cultivate and practice what is good, so that it becomes an established habit operating automatically and effortlessly when required. It was through victories in small things that the fathers won their great battles.
For if a man refuses to satisfy even the basic needs of the body, but rejects them in order to travel along the straight and narrow road, how can he ever fall victim to the love of possessions? Love of possessions consists not merely in owning many things, but also in attachment to them, or in their misuse or excessive use. For many of the saints of old, such as Abraham, Job, David and many others, had extensive possessions, but they were not attached to them: they held them as a gift from God and sought to please Him all the more through their use of them. Nevertheless the Lord, being beyond perfection and being wisdom itself, strikes at the root: for He urges those who would follow Him through the imitation of supreme virtue to renounce not only material goods or possessions, but even their own soul (cf. Luke 14:26), that is to say, their own thoughts and will.
Because they knew this, the fathers fled from the world as a hindrance to perfection; and not only from the world but also from their own will for the same reason. No one of them ever did what he himself wanted. Some lived in bodily obedience, so that in the place of Christ they would have a spiritual father guiding their every thought. Others, fleeing totally from human society, lived in the desert and had God himself as their teacher, for whose sake they chose to undergo a voluntary death. Others pursued the 'royal way', leading a life of silence with one or two companions: these had one another as counselors in doing God's will. And those who, after being subject to a spiritual father, were then appointed by him to take charge of other brethren, carried out their task as if they were themselves still under obedience, keeping the traditions of their own spiritual fathers. Thus all their efforts were blessed by God.
Nowadays, however, whether we are under obedience or in authority, we are not wilhng to abandon our own will, and so none of us makes any progress. None the less, it is still possible to escape from human society and from worldly affairs, and to take the 'royal way' through living the life of stillness with one or two others, studying the commandments of Christ and all the Scriptures day and night. By this means, through being tested in all things by our conscience and application, by reading and by prayer, we may perhaps attain the first commandment, the fear of God, which comes through faith and the study of the Holy Scriptures; and through this we may achieve inward grief, and so arrive at the commandments of which St Paul spoke: faith, hope and love (cf I Cor. 13:13). For he who has faith in the Lord fears chastisement; and this fear prompts him to keep the commandments. The keeping of the commandments leads him to endure affliction; and the enduring of affliction produces hope in God. Such hope separates the intellect from all material attachment; and the person freed from such attachment possesses love for God. Whoever follows this sequence will be saved.
Stillness, which is the basis of the soul's purification, makes the observance of the commandments relatively painless. 'Flee,' it has been said, 'keep silence, be still, for herein lie the roots of sinlessness.' Again it has been said: 'Flee men and you will be saved.' For human society does not permit the intellect to perceive either its own faults or the wiles of the demons, so as to guard itself against them. Nor, on the other hand, does it allow the intellect to perceive God's providence and bounty, so as to acquire in this way knowledge of God and humility.
That is why whoever wishes to travel the shortest road to Christ - the road of dispassion and spiritual knowledge - and joyfully to attain perfection, should not turn either to the right or to the left, but in his whole way of life should journey diligently along the royal way. He should steer a middle course between excess and insufficiency, as both engender pleasure. He should not obscure the. intellect with excessive food and conviviality, making himself blind through such distractions; but neither should he cloud his mind through prolonged fasts and vigils. Rather, he should carefully and patiently practice the seven forms of bodily discipline as though climbing a ladder. mastering them once and for all and advancing towards that moral state in which, as the Lord has said (cf. Matt. 13: I 1-12), by God's grace the different stages of spiritual contemplation are given to the believer.
All Scripture is inspired by God and profitable (cf. 2 Tim. 3:16), and no one can thwart someone who wishes to be saved. Only God who made us has power over us, and He is ready to help and protect from every temptation those who cry out to Him and want to do His holy will. Without Him we can do nothing (cf. John 1:12): we cannot even suffer evil against our will unless God permits it in order to chastise us and save our souls. But the evil that we commit ourselves is our own responsibility and arises from our own laziness with the help of the demons. On the other hand, all knowledge, strength and virtue are the grace of God, as are all other things. And through grace He has given all men the power to become sons of God (cf. John 1:12) by keeping the divine commandments. Or, rather, these commandments keep us, and are the grace of God, since without His grace we cannot keep them. We have nothing to offer Him except our faith, our resolution and, in brief, all the true dogmas that we hold with firm faith through the teaching we have heard (cf. Rom. 10:17). With all this in mind, let us set to work undistractedly, as though beginning lessons at school, and in this way carefully learn about the seven forms of discipline to which we have referred.
The Seven Forms of Bodily Discipline
The first of these forms of discipline consists in stillness, or in living a life without distraction, far from all worldly care. By removing ourselves from human society and distraction, we escape from turmoil and from him who 'walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour' (1 Pet. 5:8) through idle talk and the worries of life. Instead, we have but one concern: how to do God's will and to prepare our soul so that it is not condemned when we die; and how with complete attention to learn about the snares of the demons and our own faults which, being more in number than the sands of the sea and like dust in their fineness, pass unrecognized by most people. Ever mourning, we grieve over human nature but are comforted by God. For in our gratitude we are encouraged because we have come to see what we could never have hoped to perceive had we lived outside our cell. Having recognized our own weakness and the power of God, we are filled with fear and hope, so that we neither lapse through ignorance because we are too sure of ourselves nor, when some misfortune befalls us, fall into despair because we have forgotten God's compassion.
The second form of bodily discipline consists in moderate fasting. We should eat once a day and then not to the point of satiety. We should eat one kind of simple and readily accessible food - if possible, the kind of food that we do not relish particularly. In this way we can overcome gluttony, greed and desire, and live without distraction. But we should not refuse any kind of food completely, lest thereby we wrongly reject things that, being created by God, are 'wholly good and beautiful' (Gen. 1:31). Nor should we gulp everything down at once, indulgently and without restraint; but each day we should eat one kind of thing, with self-control. We should use all things for the glory of God, and we should not refuse anything on the grounds that it is evil, as the accursed heretics do. We may drink wine when appropriate: in old age, sickness and cold weather it is most helpful, but must be drunk only in small quantities. When we are young and in good health, and the weather is warm, water is better, though we should drink it as little as possible. For thirst is the best of all bodily disciplines.
The third form of discipline consists in keeping moderate vigils. We should sleep for half the night and the other half we should devote to the recital of psalms and to prayer, compunctive sorrow, and tears. Through this judicious fasting and vigil the body will become pliable to the soul, healthy and ready for every good work; while the soul will gain in fortitude and illumination, so as to see and to do what is right.
The fourth form of discipline consists in the recital of psalms - that is to say, in prayer expressed in a bodily way through psalms and prostrations. This is in order to gall the body and humble the soul, so that our enemies the demons may take flight and our allies the angels come to us, and we may know from where we receive help. Otherwise in ignorance we may grow arrogant, thinking that what we do is due to ourselves. If that happens, we will be forsaken by God so that we may recognize our own weakness.
The fifth form of discipline consists in spiritual prayer, prayer that is offered by the intellect and free from all thoughts. During such prayer the intellect is concentrated within the words spoken and, inexpressibly contrite, it abases itself before God, asking only that His will may be done in all its pursuits and conceptions. It does not pay attention to any thought, shape, color, light, fire, or anything at all of this kind; but, conscious that it is watched by God and communing with Him alone, it is free from form, color and shape. Such is the pure prayer appropriate for those still engaged in ascetic practice; for the contemplative there are yet higher forms of prayer.
The sixth form of discipline consists in reading the writings and lives of the fathers, paying no attention to strange doctrines, or to other people, especially heretics. In this way we learn from the divine Scriptures and from the discrimination of the fathers how to conquer the passions and acquire the virtues. Our intellects will be filled with the thoughts of the Holy Spirit, and we will forget the unseemly words and conceptions to which we gave our attention before we became monks. Moreover, through deep communion in prayer and reading we will be able to grasp precious meanings; for prayer is helped by reading in stillness, and reading is helped by pure prayer, so long as we attend to what is being said and do not read or recite carelessly. It is true, however, that we cannot properly understand the full significance of what we read because of the darkness induced by the passions; our presumption often leads us astray, especially when we rely on the wisdom of this world which we think we possess, and do not realize that we need knowledge based on experience to understand these things, and that if we wish to attain knowledge of God mere reading or hstening is not enough. For reading and hstening are one thing and experience is another. One cannot become a craftsman simply by hearsay: one has to practice, and watch, and make numerous mistakes, and be corrected by those with experience, so that through long perseverance and by eliminating one's own desires one eventually masters the an. Similarly, spiritual knowledge is not acquired simply through study but is given by God through grace to the humble. That a person on reading the Scriptures may think that he partially understands their meaning need cause no surprise, especially if that person is at the stage of ascetic practice. But he does not possess the knowledge of God; he simply hears the words of those who do possess this knowledge. Writers like the prophets often did indeed possess divine knowledge, but as yet the ordinary reader does not. So it is in my own case: I have collected material from the Holy Scriptures, but have not been found worthy of learning directly from the Holy Spirit; I have learnt only from those who did learn directly from the Holy Spirit. It is like learning about a person or a city from those who have actually seen them.
The seventh form of bodily discipline consists in questioning those with experience about all our thoughts and actions, in case we go astray because of our inexperience and self-satisfaction, thinking and doing one thing after another, and so become presumptuous, imagining that we know as we should, although we still know nothing, as St Paul says (cf I Cor. 8:2).
In addition to practicing these seven bodily disciplines, we should patiently endure all that God allows to happen to us so that we may learn and gain experience and knowledge of our weaknesses. We should neither grow too bold nor fall into despair, whatever happens to us, whether good or bad. We should repudiate every dream and every idle word or action, and should always meditate on God's name, at every moment, in every place, in all we do, as something more precious than breath itself. And we should sincerely abase ourselves before God, withdrawing the intellect from all worldly thoughts, seeking only that God's will may be done. Then the intellect will begin to see that its faults are like the sand of the sea. This is the beginning of the soul's illumination and a sign of its health: the soul becomes contrite and the heart humble, and truly regards itself as the least of things. Then we begin to understand God's blessings, whether particular or all-embracing, of which the Holy Scriptures speak; and we begin to understand also our own offences. We start to keep all the commandments, from the first to the last, fully aware of what we are doing. For the Lord has established them like a ladder, and we cannot miss one out and go on to the next: as with steps, we must go from the first to the second, from the second to the third, and so on. In the end they make man a god, through the grace of Him who has given the commandments to those who choose to keep them.
The Seven Commandments
If we want to make a start, we must concentrate on the practice of these seven forms of bodily discipline and on nothing else: otherwise we will fall over a precipice or, rather, into chaos. In the case both of the seven gifts of the Spirit and of the Lord's Beatitudes, we are taught that if we do not begin with fear, we can never ascend to the rest. For, as David says, 'the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom' (Ps. 111:10). Another inspired prophet describes the seven gifts as 'the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of counsel and strength, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of the fear of God' (cf. Isa. I 1 :2-3). Our Lord Himself began his teaching by speaking of fear; for He says, 'Blessed are the poor in spirit' (Matt. 5:3), that is, those who quail with fear of God and are inexpressibly contrite in soul. For the Lord has established this as the basic commandment, knowing that without this even living in heaven would be profitless, for one would still possess the same madness through which the devil, Adam and many others have fallen.
If, then, we wish to keep the first commandment - that is, to possess fear of the Lord - we should meditate deeply upon the contingencies of life already described and upon God's measureless and unfathomable blessings. We should consider how much He has done and continues to do for our sake through things visible and invisible, through commandments and dogmas, threats and promises; how He guards, nourishes and provides for us, giving us life and saving us from enemies seen and unseen; how through the prayers and intercessions of His saints He cures the diseases caused by our own disarray; how He is always long-suffering over our sins, our irreverence, our delinquency -over all those things that we have done, are doing, and will do, from which His grace has saved us; how He is patient over our actions, words and thoughts that have provoked His anger, and how He not only suffers us, but even -bestows greater blessings on us, acting directly, or through the angels, the Scriptures,, through righteous men and prophets, apostles and martyrs, teachers and holy fathers.
Moreover, we should not only recall the sufferings and struggles of the saints and martyrs, but should also reflect with wonder on the self-abasement of our Lord Jesus Christ, the way He lived in the world. His pure Passion, the Cross, His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the advent of the Holy Spirit, the indescribable miracles that are always occurring every day, paradise, the crowns of glory, the adoption to sonship that He has accorded us, and all the things contained in Holy Scripture and so much else. If we bring all this to mind, we will be amazed at God's compassion, and with trembling will marvel at His forbearance and patience. We will grieve because of what our nature has lost - angel-like dispassion, paradise and all the blessings which we have forfeited - and because of the evils into which we have fallen: demons, passions and sins. In this way our soul will be filled with contrition, thinking of all the ills that have been caused by our wickedness and the trickery of the demons.
So it is that God grants us the blessing of inward grief, which constitutes the second commandment. For, as Christ says, 'Blessed are those who grieve' (Matt. 5:4) - who grieve for themselves and also, out of love and compassion, for others as well. We become as one who mourns a dead person, because we perceive the terrible consequences that the things we have done before our death will have for us after we are dead; and we weep bitterly, from the depths of our heart and with inexpressible sorrow. Worldly honor or dishonor no longer concerns us; we become indifferent to life itself, often forgetting even to eat because of the pain in our heart and our ceaseless lamentation.
In this way God's grace, our universal mother, will give us gentleness, so that we begin to imitate Christ. This constitutes the third commandment; for the Lord says, 'Blessed are the gentle' (Matt. 5:5). Thus we become like a firmly-rooted rock, unshaken by the storms and tempests of life, always the same, whether rich or poor, in ease or hardship, in honor or dishonor. In short, at every moment and whatever we do we will be aware that all things, whether sweet or bitter, pass away, and that this life is a path leading to the future life. We will recognize that, whether we like it or not, what happens happens; to be upset about it is useless, and moreover deprives us of the crown of patience and shows us to be in revolt against the will of God. For whatever God does is 'wholly good and beautiful' (Gen. 1:31), even if we are unaware of this. As the psalm puts it: 'He will teach the gentle how to judge' (Ps. 25: 9. LXX) or, rather, how to exercise discrimination. Then, even if someone gets furious with us, we are not troubled; on the contrary, we are glad to have been given an opportunity to profit and to exercise our understanding, recognizing that we would not have been tried in this way were there not some cause for it. Unwittingly or wittingly we must have offended God, or a brother, or someone else, and now we are being given a chance to receive forgiveness for this. For through patient endurance we may be granted forgiveness for many sins. Moreover, if we do not forgive others their debts, the Father will not forgive us our debts (cf Matt. 6:14). Indeed, nothing leads more swiftly to the forgiveness of sins than this virtue or commandment: 'Forgive, and you will be forgiven' (cf. Matt. 6:14).
This, then, is what we realize when we imitate Christ, growing gentle through the grace of the commandment. But we are distressed for our brother, because it was on account of our sins that this brother was tempted by the common enemy and so became a remedy for the healing of our weakness. Every trial and temptation is permitted by God as a cure for some sick person's soul. Indeed, such trials not only confer on us forgiveness of our past and present sins, but also act as a check on sins not yet committed. But this is not to the credit either of the devil, or of the person who tempts, or of the person tempted. The devil, being maleficent, deserves our hatred, for he acts with no concern for our welfare. The person who tempts us merits our compassion, not because he tempts us out of love but because he is deluded and oppressed. The person tempted, finally, endures affliction because of his own faults, not on behalf of someone else. If the latter were the case, he would deserve praise; but as it is, he is not without sin. Were he without sin-which is impossible-he would still endure the affliction in hope of reward and out of fear of punishment. Such, then, is the situation of these three. But God, being self-sufficient and giving to each what is to his profit, does indeed deserve our thanks, since He patiently suffers both the devil and the wickedness of men, and yet bestows His blessings upon those who repent both before and after they sin.
Thus the person who has been granted the grace of keeping the third commandment, and so has acquired full discrimination, will no longer be deceived either wittingly or unwittingly. Instead, having received the grace of humility, he will regard himself as nothing. For gentleness is the substance of humility, and humility is the door leading to dispassion. Through dispassion a man enters into perfect unfaltering love; for he understands his own nature - what it was before birth and what it will be after death. For mortal man is nothing but a slight, short-lived stench, baser than any other created being. For no created being, animate or inanimate, has ever subverted the will of God except man who, although loaded with blessings, endlessly angers God.
That is why man has been given the fourth commandment, that is, longing to acquire the virtues: 'Blessed are they that hunger and thirst after righteousness' (Matt. 5:6). He becomes as one who hungers and thirsts for all righteousness, that is, both for bodily virtue and for the moral virtue of the soul. He who has not tasted something, says Basil the Great, does not know what he is missing; but once he has tasted it, he is filled with longing. Thus he who has tasted the sweetness of the commandments, and realizes that they lead him gradually towards the imitation of Christ, longs to acquire them all, with the result that he often disdains even death for their sake. Glimpsing the mysteries of God hidden in the Holy Scriptures, he thirsts to grasp them fully; and the more knowledge he gains, the more he thirsts, burning as though drinking flames. And because the Divine cannot be grasped fully by anyone, he continues to thirst for ever.
What health and sickness are to the body, virtue and wickedness are to the soul, and knowledge and ignorance to the intellect. The greater our devotion to the practice of the virtues, the more our intellect is illumined by knowledge. It is in this way that we are accounted worthy of mercy, that is, through the fifth commandment: 'Blessed are the merciful, for they will receive mercy' (Matt. 5:7). The merciful person is he who gives to others what he has himself received from God, whether it be money, or food, or strength, a helpful word, a prayer, or anything else that he has through which he can express his compassion for those in need. At the same time he considers himself a debtor, since he has received more than he is asked to give. By Christ's grace, both in the present world and in the world to come, before the whole of creation he is called merciful, just as God is called merciful (cf Luke 6:36). Through his brother, it is God Himself who has need of him, and in this way God has become his debtor. Although his needy brother can live without him giving what he is asked for, he himself can neither live nor be saved if he does not do what he can to show mercy. If he is not willing to show mercy to his own kind, how can he ask God to show mercy to him? Bearing these and many other things in mind, the person to whom it is granted to keep the commandments gives not only his possessions but even his very life for his neighbor. This is perfect mercy; for just as Christ endured death on our behalf, giving to all an example and a model, so we should die for one another, and not only for our friends, but for our enemies as well, should the occasion call for it.
Not that it is necessary, of course, to have property in order to show mercy. Possessions, rather, are a great weakness. Indeed, it is better to have nothing to give and still to be full of sympathy for all. And if we do have something to give to those in need, we should ourselves be detached from the things of this life, and yet feel deeply involved with our fellow men. Neither should we, in our arrogance, take it upon ourselves to teach others when we have not yet proved ourselves by our own actions; though we make the excuse that we are thereby helping the souls of the weak, the truth is that we are ourselves weaker than those we claim to be helping. For every action must be done at the right time and with discrimination, so that it is not inopportune or detrimental. For a weak person flight is always best, while the total shedding of possessions is far superior to giving alms.
It is through detachment that one is enabled to fulfill the sixth commandment: 'Blessed are the pure in heart' (Matt. 5:8). The pure in heart are those who have accomplished every virtue reflectively and reverently and have come to see the true nature of things. In this way they find peace in their thoughts. For, as the seventh commandment puts it, 'Blessed are the peacemakers' (Matt. 5:9), that is, those who have set soul and body at peace by subjecting the flesh to the spirit, so that the flesh no longer rises against the spirit (cf. Gal. 5:17). Instead, the grace of the Holy Spirit reigns in their soul and leads it where it will, bestowing the divine knowledge whereby man can endure persecution, vilification and maltreatment 'for righteousness' sake' (Matt. 5:10), rejoicing because his 'reward is great in heaven' (Matt. 5:12).
All the Beatitudes make man a god by grace; he becomes gentle, longs for righteousness, is charitable, dispassionate, a peacemaker, and endures every pain with joy out of love for God and for his fellow men. For the Beatitudes are gifts from God and we should thank Him greatly for them and for the rewards promised: the kingdom of heaven in the age to be, spiritual refreshment in this world, the fullness of all God's blessings and mercies. His manifestation when we contemplate the hidden mysteries found in the Holy Scriptures and in all created things, and the great reward in heaven (of. Matt. 5:12). For if we learn while on earth to imitate Christ and receive the blessedness inherent in each commandment, we shall be granted the highest good and the ultimate goal of our desire. As the apostle says, God, who dwells in unapproachable light, alone is blessed (cf. I Tim. 6:15-16). We, for our part, have the duty of keeping the commandments-or, rather, of being kept by them; but through them God in His compassion will give to the believer rewards both in this world and in the world to be.
When through blessed inward grief all this has been realized, then the intellect finds relief from the passions; and through the many bitter tears that it sheds over its sins it is reconciled to God. It is crucified with Christ spiritually through moral practice, that is, through the keeping of the commandments and the guarding of the five senses, so that they do not do anything contrary to their nature. Restraining mindless impulses, the intellect begins to curb the passions of anger and desire that encompass it. Sometimes it assuages tempestuous anger with the gentleness of desire; and at other times it calms desire with the severity of anger. Then, coming to itself, the intellect recognizes its proper dignity - to be master of itself - and is able to see things as they truly are; for its eye, made blind by the devil through the tyranny of the passions, is opened. Then man is granted the grace to be buried spiritually with Christ, so that he is set free from the things of this world and no longer captivated by external beauty. He looks upon gold and silver and precious stones, and he knows that like other inanimate things such as wood and rock they are of the earth, and that man, too, is after death a bit of dust and mould in the tomb. Regarding all the delectations of this life as nothing, he looks upon their continual alteration with the judgment that comes from spiritual knowledge. Gladly he dies to the world, and the world becomes dead to him: he no longer has any violent feeling within him, but only calmness and detachment.
Thus, by virtue of his soul's purity, he is found worthy to be resurrected with Christ spiritually, and receives the strength to look without passion on the exterior beauty of visible things and to praise through them the Creator of all. Contemplating in these visible things God's power and providence. His goodness and wisdom, as St Paul says (cf. Rom I : 20-21), and perceiving the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures, his intellect is given the grace to ascend with Christ through the contemplation of intelligible realities, that is, through the knowledge of intelligible powers. Perceiving, after tears of understanding and joy, the invisible through the visible (cf. Rom. 1:20) and the eternal through the transitory, he realizes that if this ephemeral world, which is said to be a place of exile and punishment for those who have transgressed the commandments of God, is so beautiful, how much more beautiful must be the eternal, inconceivable blessings 'that God has prepared for those who love Him' (1 Cor. 2:9). And if these blessings are beyond our conception, how much more so must be the God who created all things from nothing.
If you turn from all other activity and give yourself entirely to the cultivation of the virtues of soul and body, which is what the fathers mean by religious devotion; and if you disregard any dream or private thought not confirmed by Scripture, and avoid all pointless company, not hearing or reading anything fruitless, and especially anything that involves heresy, then the tears of joy and understanding will well up copiously within you and you will drink from their plenitude. In this way you will attain another form of prayer, the form of pure prayer that is proper to the contemplative. For just as previously you had one form of reading, one form of tears and prayer, so now you have another. Since your intellect has moved into the sphere of spiritual contemplation, you should now read all pits of the Scriptures, no longer fearing the more difficuh and obscure passages, as is the case with those stiU at the stage of ascetic practice, who are weak in their ignorance.
By your persistent struggle in practicing the virtues of body and soul, you have been crucified with Christ and buried with Him through the knowledge of created things, both of their nature and of the changes they undergo; and you have been raised with Him through dispassion and through the knowledge of the mysteries of God inherent in the visible world. As a result of this knowledge you have ascended with Christ into the transcendent world through the knowledge of intelligible realities and of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures. You move from fear to religious devotion, from which springs spiritual knowledge; from this knowledge comes judgment, that is, discrimination; from discrimination comes the strength -that leads to understanding; from thence you come to wisdom.
By passing through all these levels of practice and contemplation you are granted pure and perfect prayer, established within you through the peace and love of God and through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. This is what is meant by saying, 'Gain possession of God within yourself; and, as St John Chrysostom has said, this manifestation and indwelling of God is realized when your body and soul become so far as is possible sinless, like those of Christ; and when you possess, by virtue of Christ, an intellect that apprehends, through the grace and wisdom of the Holy Spirit, the knowledge of things both human and divine.
The Four Virtues of the Soul
There are four forms of wisdom: first, moral judgment, or the knowledge of what should and should not be done, combined with watchfulness of the intellect; second, self-restraint, whereby our moral purpose is safeguarded and kept free from all acts, thoughts and words that do not accord with God; third, courage, or strength and endurance in sufferings, trials and temptations encountered on the spiritual path; and fourth, justice, which consists in maintaining a proper balance between the first three. These four general virtues arise from the three powers of the soul in the following manner: from the intelligence, or intellect, come moral judgment and justice, or discrimination; from the desiring power comes self-restraint; and from the incensive power comes courage.
The seven Commandments
Each virtue lies between two unnatural passions. Moral judgment lies between craftiness and thoughtlessness; self-restraint, between obduracy and licentiousness; courage, between overbearingness and cowardice; justice between over-frugality and greed. The four virtues constitute an image of the heavenly man, while the eight unnatural passions constitute an image of the earthly man (cf. I Cor. 15:49).
God possesses a perfect knowledge of all these things, just as He knows the past, the present and the future; and they are known to some extent by him who through grace has learned from God about His works, and who through this grace has been enabled to realize in himself that which is according to God's image and likeness (cf. Gen. 1:26). But if someone claims that, simply by hearing about these things, he knows them as he should, he is a liar. Man's intellect can never rise to heaven without God as a guide; and it cannot speak of what it has not seen, but must first ascend and see it. On the level of hearsay, you should speak only of things that you have learnt from the Scriptures, and then with circumspection, confessing your faith in the Father of the Logos, as St Basil the Great puts it, and not imagining that through hearsay you possess spiritual knowledge; for that is to be worse than ignorant. As St Maximos has said, 'To think that one knows prevents one from advancing in knowledge.' St John Chrysostom points out that there is an ignorance which is praiseworthy: it consists in knowing consciously that one knows nothing. In addition, there is a form of ignorance that is worse than any other: not to know that one does not know. Similarly, there is a knowledge that is falsely so called, which occurs when, as St Paul says, one thinks that one knows but does not know (cf. I Cor. 8:2).
Active Spiritual Knowledge
There is such a thing as true spiritual knowledge, and there is total ignorance; but best of all is active spiritual knowledge. For of what use is it to possess all knowledge, or, rather, to receive it from God by grace, as did Solomon (cf. I Kgs. 3:12) - and there will never be another man like him - and yet go into agelong punishment? What good is such knowledge to you unless, as a result of your actions and firm faith, your conscience assures you that you are delivered from future punishment, and that you have no reason to condemn yourself for neglecting anything you should and could have done? As St John the Theologian says: 'If our heart does not condemn us, then we can approach God with confidence' (1 John 3:21). But it may be, St Neilos says, that our conscience itself deceives us, overcome by the darkening of the passions, as St John Klimakos observes. ' For evil can by itself darken the intellect, as St Basil the Great puts it, and presumption can make it blind, not allowing it to become what it supposes itself to be. What, then, shall we say of those who are enslaved to the passions, and yet think they have a clear conscience? Even the Apostle Paul, in whom Christ dwelt in word and act, said: 'Though I have nothing on my conscience' - no sin, that is to say - 'yet I am not thereby acquitted' (1 Cor. 4:4).
Because of our great insensitivity most of us think that we are something while in fact we are nothing (cf. Gal. 6:3): as St Paul says, 'When they are talking about peace... calamity falls on them' (1 Thess. 5:3). For they did not in fact possess peace but, as St John Chrysostom explains, only talked about it, thinking in their great insensitivity that they did possess it. Such people, as James the brother of the Lord points out, have forgotten about their sins (cf. Jas. 1:24), and most of them in their pride deceive themselves, as St John Klimakos says, into thinking that they are dispassionate.
Indeed, I myself am terrified of those three giants of the devil about whom St Mark the Ascetic has written: laziness, forgetfulness and ignorance. For I am always dominated by them, and I am afraid that in my unawareness of my own limitations I will stray from the straight path, as St Isaac puts it. It is for this reason that I have compiled this present collection. The person who hates being rebuked is obviously subject to the passion of pride, St John Klimakos says; but the person who puts behind him the fault for which he was rebuked is loosed from his bonds. As Solomon says, 'When a fool enquires about wisdom, he is regarded as wise' (cf. Prov. 17:28. LXX).
I have given the names of books and saints at the beginning, so as not to overburden my work by specifying to. whom each saying belongs. Indeed, the holy fathers often copied out the words of the divine Scriptures just as they are, as St Gregory the Theologian did with those of Solomon; and Symeon Metaphrastis the Logothete said with reference to St John Chrysostom that it would be wrong not to use the saint's words and to substitute his own. And yet he could have done so; for all the fathers were inspired by the same Holy Spirit. Sometimes they do cite their authors, adorning their works with their names, and in their humility preferring the words of the Scriptures to their own; at other times, because of the great number of citations, they quote anonymously, so as not to overload their texts.
The Bodily Virtues as Tools for the Acquisition of the Virtues of the Soul
It is good to be reminded of certain things frequently, and so I will begin by quoting for the most part from the writings of others. For what I say is not my own invention but comes from the words and discernment of the divine Scriptures and the holy fathers.
St John of Damaskos affirms that the bodily virtues-or, rather, tools of virtue - are essential, for without them the virtues of the soul cannot be acquired. ' But one must pursue them in humility and with spiritual knowledge. If they are not pursued in this way, but only for themselves, then they serve no purpose, just as plants are useless if they do not bear any fruit. Moreover, no one can fully master any art without long application and the excision of his own desires. Hence, after ascetic practice we need spiritual knowledge, total devotion to God in all things, and careful study of the divine Scriptures; for without these things no one can ever acquire virtue. The person enabled by grace to devote himself utterly and always to God has achieved the highest good; he who has not reached this point should take care not to grow negligent in any way. Blessed are they who are completely devoted to God, either through obedience to someone experienced in the practice of the virtues and living an ordered life in stillness, or eke through themselves living in stillness and total detachment, scrupulously obedient to God's will, and seeking the advice of experienced men in everything they say or think. Blessed above all are those who seek to attain dispassion and spiritual knowledge unlabonously through their total devotion to God: as God Himself has said through His prophet, 'Devote yourselves to stillness and know that lam God'(Ps. 46: 10).
Those who live in the world - or rather who live after the fashion of the world, for this includes many so-called monks - should try to attain a measure of devotion, as did the righteous men of old, so as to examine their unhappy soul before their death and to amend or humble them, and not to bring them to utter destruction through their total ignorance and their conscious or unconscious sins. David, indeed, was a king; but every night he watered his bed with tears because of his sense of the divine presence (cf Ps. 6:6). And Job says: 'The hair of my flesh stood up' (Job 4:15). Let us then, like those living in the world, devote at least a small part of the day and night to God; and let us consider what we are going to say in our defense before our righteous Judge on the terrible day of judgment. Let us take trouble over this, for it is essential in view of the threat of agelong punishment; and let us not be troubled about how we shall live if we are poor or how we can grow rich so as to give alms, thus stupidly devoting all our attention to worldly matters. We have to work, St John Chrysostom says; but we need not concern or trouble ourselves about many things, as our Lord told Martha (cf. Luke 10 : 4i). For concern with this life prevents that concern with one's own soul and its state which is the purpose of the man who devotes himself to God and is attentive to himself. It is said in the Law, 'Be attentive to yourself' (Deut. 15:9. LXX). St Basil the Great has written about this text with marvelous wisdom.'
The Guarding of the Intellect
As St John of Damaskos says, without attentiveness and watchfulness of the intellect we cannot be saved and rescued from the devil, who walks about Tike a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour' (1 Pet. 5:8). For this reason the Lord often said to His disciples, 'Watch and pray; for you do not know at what hour your Lord is coming' (Matt. 26:41, 24:42). Through them He was giving a warning to us all about the remembrance of death, so that we should be prepared to offer a defense, grounded in works and attentiveness, that will be acceptable to God. For the demons, as St Hilarion has said, are immaterial and sleepless, concerned only to fight against us and to destroy our souls through word, act and thought. We lack a similar persistence, and concern ourselves now with our comfort and with ephemeral opinion, now with worldly matters, now with a thousand and one other things. We are not in the least interested in examining our life, so that our intellect may develop the habit of so doing and may give attention to itself unremittingly.
As Solomon says, 'We walk among many snares' (Ecclus. 9:13); and St John Chrysostom has written about them, explaining what they are with great precision and wisdom. The Lord Himself, wishing to purge us of all worldly care, exhorts us not to bother about what we eat or wear, but to have only a single concern: how to be saved 'as a roe from the snare and as a bird from the net' (Prov. 6:5. LXX), in this way gaining the quick-sightedness of the roe and the soaring flight of the bird. It is truly remarkable that these things are said by King Solomon; and his father, too, said the same. Both of them lived, in virtue and wisdom with great attentiveness and many ascetic struggles. Yet, after being granted so many gifts of grace and even the manifestation of God, they were overcome, alas, by sin: the first lamented both murder and adultery, while the second committed many terrible acts (cf. 2 Sam. chs. 11-12; I Kgs. ch. 11). As St John Klimakos and Philimon the Ascetic put it, does this not fill anyone of understanding with fear and terror? In our weakness, how can we not shudder and try to escape from the distractions of this life, we who are nothing and who are as insensate as brutes? Wretched as I am, would that I had been true to my nature, as animals are; for the dog is better than I.
Obedience and Stillness
If we want to perceive our lethal condition, we must abandon our own desires and all the preoccupations of this life. Through this flight from everything, let us assiduously devote ourselves to God with a devotion that is truly blessed and divine. Let each of us seek his own soul through studying the divine Scriptures, either in perfect obedience of soul and body or in stillness following the angelic way. This is especially important for those who are as yet subject to the passions and cannot control their own desires, whether great or small.
'Sit in your own cell, it has been said, 'and your cell will teach you all things.' Or as St Basil puts it, 'Stillness initiates the soul's purification'. It is also true that Solomon says, 'God has given noxious distraction to the sons of men, so that they may be distracted by vain things' (cf Eccles. 1:3). This is to prevent their mindless and impassioned inertia from dragging them down into what is even worse.
What, however, are we to say about one who has by God's grace been rescued from both these pitfalls and has become a monk, wearing the angelic habit of the solitary or monastic life, and thereby, as St Dionysios the Areopagite says, showing himself to be, in word and action, so far as this is possible, an image of the one and only God? Should not such a person always devote himself to God and be attentive with his intellect in everything he undertakes, meditating continually on God in accordance with the state he has attained? This is what Ephrem and other holy fathers recommend to those setting out on the spiritual path. One man should have a psalm on his lips, another a verse of a hymn; all those who haw not yet been found worthy of entering the realm of contemplation and spiritual knowledge, the fathers tell us, should attend with the intellect to psalms and troparia. In this way each will be engaged in some kind of meditation, whether working or traveling or lying down before sleep. As soon as each has finished his appointed rule of prayer, he should at once enclose his intellect in some form of meditation, lest the enemy find hmi unoccupied in the remembrance of God and attack him with vanities or worse. This counsel is given to all.
By means of the virtues of soul and body, and after many struggles, a person is enabled to rise noetically, by Christ's grace, and to engage in spiritual labor - the labor of the intellect - so that he begins to grieve inwardly for his own soul. When this happens, he should guard as the apple of his eye the thought that induces pain-laden tears, to use the words of St John Klimakos. He should continue to do this until God in His providence, to prevent him growing proud, withdraws the fire and the water. The fire is the heart's pain and its burning faith; the water is tears. And they are not given to all, says St Athanasios the Great, but only to those enabled by grace to see the terrible things that occur before and after death, and who in stillness bear them constantly in mind. As Isaiah says: 'The ear of the hesychast hears strange wonders' (cf. Job 4:12); and again: 'Devote yourself to stillness and know' (Ps. 46:10).
Stillness alone engenders knowledge of God, for it is of the greatest help even to the weakest and to those most subject to the passions. It enables them to live without distraction and to withdraw from human society, from the cares and encounters that darken the intellect. I mean not simply worldly cares but also those that appear insignificant and sinless. As St John Klimakos says, 'A small hair will irritate the eye.' And St Isaac says, 'Do not think that avarice consists simply in the possession of silver or gold; it is present whenever our thought is attached to something.' The lord Himself has said, 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' (Matt. 6:21) - either in divine or in worldly thoughts and concerns. For this reason all should be detached and should devote themselves to God. If they live in the world, they can in this way attain at least some measure of understanding and spiritual knowledge. Or they may devote themselves wholly to God, making it their one concern to conform to His will; and then God, seeing their intention, will grant them rest through spiritual knowledge. By this means He confers on them the meditation that belongs to the first stage of contemplation, which enables them to acquire inexpressible contrition of soul and to become poor in spirit (cf. Matt. 5:3). Leading them in this way gradually through the other stages of contemplation. He will make it possible for them to keep the Beatitudes until they attain peace in their thoughts. This peace is the 'realm' or 'dwelling-place of God', as Evagnos says, referring to the Psalter: 'In peace is His dwelling-place' (Ps. 76 : 2. LXX).
The Eight Stages of Contemplation
The stages of contemplation are, it seems to me, eight in number. Seven pertain to this present age, while the eighth is the pursuit of the age to come, as St Isaac says.
The first stage, according to St Dorotheos, is knowledge of the tribulations and trials of this life. This fills us with grief for all the damage done to human nature through sin.
The second is knowledge of our own faults and of God's bounty, as St John Klimakos, St Isaac and many other fathers express it.
The third is knowledge of the terrible things that await us before and after death, as revealed in the Holy Scriptures.
The fourth is deep understanding of the life led by our Lord Jesus Christ in this world, and of the words and actions of His disciples and the other saints, the martyrs and the holy fathers.
The fifth is knowledge of the nature and flux of things, as St Gregory and St John of Damaskos put it.
The sixth is contemplation of created beings, that is to say, knowledge and understanding of God's visible creation.
The seventh is understanding of God's spiritual creation.
The eighth is knowledge -concerning God, or what we call 'theology'.
These are the eight stages of contemplation. The first three are suitable for one still engaged in ascetic practice, so that with many bitter tears he may purify his soul from all the passions and may be allowed through God's grace to proceed to the remaining stages.
The last five stages pertain to the contemplative or gnostic. Through them he maintains a careful watch over the activities of both body and soul, and performs them rightly. As a result he is enabled to grasp these later stages clearly with his intellect.
Thus the man engaged in ascetic practice begins to enter the path of spiritual knowledge by way of the first three stages; and by concentrating on his task and by meditating on the thoughts produced within him, he progresses in them until they are established in him. In this way the next stage of knowledge enters automatically into his intellect. The same happens with all the remaining stages.
To make things quite clear, I will speak, despite my incompetence, about each stage of contemplation, and about what is understood and said at each stage. In this way we can discover how we ought to act when grace begins to open the eyes of our soul and we come with astonishment to understand thoughts and words that instill in us fear of God or, in other words, contrition of soul.
The First Stage of Contemplation
The first stage of contemplation is that which leads the seeker to all the later stages. The person who is called to this first, stage should act as follows. He should seat himself facing the east, as once did Adam, and meditate in this way:
'Adam then sat and wept because of his joss of the delights of paradise, beating his eyes with his fists and saying: '0 Merciful One, have mercy on me, for I have fallen.'
'Seeing the angel driving him out and closing the door to the divine garden, Adam groaned aloud and said: '0 Merciful One, have mercy on me, for I have fallen.'
After that, reflecting on what then took place, he should begin to lament in this way, grieving with all his soul and shaking his head and saying with great sorrow of heart:
The Second Stage of Contemplation
Woe is me, a sinner! What has happened to me? Alas, what was I and what have I become! What have I lost, what found? Instead of paradise, this perishable world. Instead of God, and life in the company of the angels, the devil and the demons of impurity. In the place of rest, hard labor; in the place of gladness and joy, the sorrows and tribulations of this world; instead of peace and endless felicity, fear and tears of sorrow. In the place of virtue and justice, injustice and sin. Instead of goodness and dispassion, evil and passion; instead of wisdom and intimacy with God, ignorance and exile; instead of detachment and freedom, a life full of worries and the worst kind of slavery. Woe, woe is me! How, created a king, have I become in my folly a slave of passion? How can I have embraced death instead of life through my disobedience? Alas! What has happened to me, pitiful that I am, because of my thoughtlessness? What shall I do? War and confusion beset me, illness and temptation, danger and shipwreck, fear and sorrow, passion and sin, bitterness and distress. What shall I do? Where shall I flee? 'All doors are closed to me', as Susanna said (Sus. 1:22).
I do not know what to ask for. If I ask for life, I fear the trials of life, its ups and downs, its conflicts. I see how Satan, the angel who once rose as the morning star (cf. Isa. 14:12), has now become the devil, as we call him. I see how the first-created man was sent into exile (cf. Gen. 3:23); how Cain became his brother's murderer (cf Gen. 4:8); how Canaan was cursed (cf. Gen. 9:25); I see the citizens of Sodom burned by fire (cf. Gen. 19:24-25); Esau banished (cf. Gen. 25:33); I see the Israelites subjected to God's wrath (cf Num. 14:34); I see Gehazi and Judas, the apostle, cast out because they were sick with avarice (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:26-27; Matt. 26:15,24); I see David, the great prophet and kmg, lamenting his double sin (cf. Ps. 51); I see Solomon, for all his wisdom, fallen (cf. I Kgs. 11:9- I see how one of the seven deacons and one of the forty martyrs lapsed, as St Basil the Great says; Gleefully the prince of evil entrapped the mean-spirited Judas, one of the twelve; he snatched man from Eden, and ensnared one of the forty martyrs. Grieving for him the same Basil the Great says, 'Foolish and worthy of our tears is he, for he went astray in both lives: in this life he was destroyed by fire and in the next went to eternal fire. And I see many others, numberless, who fell; not only unbelievers, but also many of the fathers, in spite of all their labors.
Yet who am 1, who am worse and more obdurate and weaker than them all? What shall I call myselt7 For Abraham says that he is 'but dust and ashes' (Gen. 18:27); David calls himself 'a dead dog' (2 Sam. 9:8) and 'a flea' (1 Sam. 24:14) in Israel; Solomon calls himself 'a little child, not knowing left from right' (cf. I Kgs. 3:7); the three holy children say, 'We have become a shame and a reproach' (Song of the Three Children, verse 10); Isaiah the prophet says, 'Woe is me, for I am undone, because I am a man of unclean lips' (Isa. 6:5); the prophet Habakkuk says, '1 am a child' (Jer. 1:6); St Paul calls himself the chief of sinners (cf . I Tim. 1:15); and all the rest said that they were nothing. What then should I do? Where shall I hide myself from my many crimes? What will become of me, who am nothing, worse than nothing? For that which is nothing has not sinned, nor has it received God's blessings as I have. Alas, how shall I pass the rest of my life? And how shall I escape the snares of the devil? For the demons are sleepless and immaterial, death is at hand, and I am weak. Lord, help me; do not let Thy creature perish, for Thou carest for me in my misery. 'Make known to me. Lord, which way I should go; for I lift up my soul to Thee' (Ps. 143:8). 'Forsake me not, Lord my God, be not far from me; make haste to help me, Lord of my salvation'(Ps. 38:21-22).
By such words the soul is made contrite, if it has at least some sensibility. By persisting in this way, and growing accustomed to the fear of God, the intellect begins to understand and meditate on the second stage of contemplation. Woe is me, unhappy that I am! What shall I do? I have sinned greatly; many blessings are bestowed on me; I am very weak. Many are the temptations: sloth overwhelms me, forgetfulness benights me and will not let me see myself and my many crimes. Ignorance is evil; conscious transgression is worse; virtue is difficult to achieve; the passions are many; the demons are crafty and subtle; sin is easy; death is near; the reckoning is bitter. Alas, what shall I do? Where shall I flee from myself? For I am the cause of my own destruction. I have been honored with free will and no one can force me. I have sinned, I sin constantly, and am indifferent to any good thing, though no one constrains me. Whom can I blame? God, who is good and full of compassion, who always longs for us to turn to Him and repent? The angels, who love and protect me? Men, who also desire my progress? The demons? They cannot constrain anyone unless, because of negligence or despair, he chooses to destroy himself. Who is then to blame? Surely it is myself?
1 begin to see that my soul is being destroyed, and yet I make no effort 'to embark on a godly life. Why, my soul, are you so indifferent about yourself? Why, when you sin, are you not as ashamed before God and His angels as you are before men? Alas, alas, for I do not feel the shame before my Creator and Master that I feel before a man. Before a man I cannot sin, but do all I can to appear to be acting righteously; yet standing before God I think evil thoughts and often am not ashamed to speak of them. What madness! Though I sin, I have no fear of God who watches me, and yet I cannot tell to a single man what I have done so as to give him a chance to correct me. Alas, for I know the punishment and yet am unwilling to repent. I love the heavenly kingdom, and yet do not acquire virtue. I believe in God and constantly disobey His commandments. I hate the devil, and yet do not stop doing what he wants. If I pray, I lose interest and become unfeeling. If I fast, I become proud, and damn myself all the more. If I keep vigil, I think I have achieved something, and so I have no profit from it. If I read, I do one of two evil things in my obduracy: either I read for the sake of profane learning and self-esteem, and so am farther benighted; or by reading, and not acting in the spirit of what I read.
I simply increase my guilt. If by God's grace I happen to stop sinning in outward action, I do not stop sinning continually in what I say. And if God's grace should protect me also from this, I continue to provoke His wrath by my evil thoughts. Alas, what can I do? Wherever I go, I find sin. Everywhere there are demons. Despair is worst of all. I have provoked God, I have saddened His angels, I have frequently injured and offended men.
I would like. Lord, to erase the record of my sins by tears, and through repentance to live the rest of my life according to Thy will. But the enemy deceives me and battles with my soul. Lord, before I perish completely, save I have sinned against Thee, Savior, hke the prodigal son; receive me. Father, in my repentance and have mercy on me, God.
I cry to Thee, Christ my Savior, with the voice of the publican: be gracious to me, as to him, and have mercy upon me, God. '
What will happen in the last days? What is to come afterwards? How hapless I am! 'Who will give water to my head and a fountain of tears to my eyes?' (Jer. 9:1. LXX). Who can grieve for me as I deserve? I cannot do so. Come, mountains, cover me in my abjectness. What have I to say? how many blessings has God bestowed on me, blessings that only He knows of, and how many terrible things in act, word and thought have I done in my ingratitude, always provoking my Benefactor. And the more long-suffering He is, the more I disdain Him, becoming harder in heart than lifeless stones. Yet I do not despair, but acknowledge Thy great compassion.
I have no repentance, no tears. Therefore I entreat Thee, Savior, to make me turn back before I die and to grant me repentance, so that I may be spared punishment.
Lord my God, do not abandon me, though I am nothing before Thee, though I am wholly a sinner. How shall I become aware of my many sins? For unless I become aware, severe is my condemnation. For me Thou hast created heaven and earth, the four elements and all that is formed from them, as St Gregory the Theologian says. I shall keep silence as to the rest, for I am unworthy to say anything because of my many crimes. Who, even if he had the intellect of an angel, could grasp all the countless blessings I have been given? Yet because I do not change my ways I shall lose them all.
By meditating in this way, a man gradually advances to the third stage of contemplation.
The Third Stage of Contemplation
Again he laments: Alas, what agony the soul experiences when it is separated from the body. How many tears it sheds then, and there is no one to take pity on it. Turning its eyes to the angels, it entreats in vain. Stretching its hands towards men, it finds no one to help it.
I weep and grieve when I think of death and see man's beauty, created by God in His own image, lying in the grave, ugly, abject, its physical form destroyed. What is this mystery that has befallen us? How have we been given over to corruption? How have we been yoked to death? Truly it is by God's command, as it is written. Ah, what will I do at the moment of my death, when the demons encircle my unhappy soul, bearing the indictment of the sins I have committed, consciously or unconsciously, in word, act and thought, and demanding from me my defense? But alas, even without any other sin, I am already condemned-and rightly so-for not having kept the commandments- Tell me, my wretched soul, where are your baptismal promises? What has happened to your covenant with Christ and your renunciation of Satan? Where is your keeping of God's commandments, your imitation of Christ through the virtues of body and soul? Because of this you were called a Christian. What has happened to your profession of the monastic habit? Should you blame bodily weakness, where is the faith that casts all care upon the Lord, the faith by which, even had it been no bigger than a mustard seed, you would have been able to move mountains (cf Matt. 17:20)? Where is the complete repentance that repels every evil word or action?
Where is the contrition of soul and the deep inward grid? Where is the gentleness, the generosity, the heart's freedom from evil thoughts, the all-embracing self-control that restrains each member of the body and every thought and desire that is not indispensable for the soul's salvation or for bodily life? Where is the patience that endures so many tribulations for the sake of the kingdom of heaven? Where is the gratitude in all things? The ceaseless prayer? The recollection of death? The tears of distress for my failure to love? Where is the moral judgment attuned to God, that keeps the soul from the snares of our enemies? Where is the self-restraint that prevents anything contrary to the will of God from being done or deliberately thought? Where is the courage that endures terrible sufferings and that advances full of hope against the adversary? Where is the justice that gives to each thing its due, the humility that knows its own weakness and ignorance, and the godlike compassion that would have saved me from all the wiles of the demons? Where is dispassion and perfect love, the peace that excels all intellect (cf Phil. 4:7), whereby I should have been called a son of God (cf Matt. 5:9)? Even without bodily strength he who wishes can possess all these things simply through his own resolution.
What can I say about all this? What can I do? If in my uncertainty I lose heart for a while because I have completely failed to do what I should to the limits of my power, I shall fall lower than Hades, as St Athanasios the Great says. How wretched I am! What have I brought upon myself, not only through my sins, but rather through my refusal to repent! For if like the prodigal son I had repented, my loving Father would have received me back (cf. Luke 15:11-32). And if I had been as honest as the publican (of. Luke 18:13), condemning myself alone and no one else, I too would have received forgiveness of sins from God, especially if I had called upon Him with all my soul as the publican did. As it is, I still do not regard myself in this way. Because of this, I fear that I shall dwell in Hades with the demons, and I live in dread of the coming judgment, with the river of fire, the thrones, and the open books (cf. Dan. 7:9-12), angels ranning ahead, all humankind standing by, everything naked and exposed (cf. Heb. 4:13) before the fearsome and righteous Judge.
How shall I endure the examination, the displeasure of the awe-inspiring impartial Judge, the gathering of numberless angels, the retribution demanded with terrible threats, the decision that cannot be altered? How shall I bear the ceaseless lamenting and the useless tears, the pitch darkness and the worm that does not sleep, the unquenchable fire and many torments? How bear exclusion from the kingdom and separation from the saints, the departure of the angels and the alienation from God, the soul's enfeeblement and eternal death, the fear, the pain, the distress, the shame, the torture of the conscience?
Woe is me, a sinner. What has happened to me? Why should I destroy myself so wrongly? I still have time for repentance. The Lord calls me: shall I procrastinate? How long, my soul, will you remain in your sins? How long will you put off repentance? Think of the judgment to come, cry out to Christ your God; Searcher of hearts, I have sinned; before Thou condemnest me, have mercy upon me! At Thy awesome coming, Christ, may I not hear: '1 know you not' (Matt. 25: 12). For we have placed our hope in Thee, our Savior, even though in our negligence we fail to keep Thy commandments. But, we pray Thee, spare our souls. Alas, Lord, for I have grieved Thee and did not perceive it; yet behold, through Thy grace I have begun to perceive, and so am filled with confusion. My unhappy soul is shaken with fear.
Shall I be allowed to live for a short time longer, so as to weep bitter tears and cleanse my defiled body and soul? Or, after sorrowing for a while, shall I then stop once more, obdurate as always? What shall I do to acquire unceasing pain of soul? Shall I fast and keep vigil? Yet without humility I will gain nothing. Shall I read and sing psalms with my mouth only? For my passions have darkened my intellect and I cannot understand the meaning of what is said. Shall I fall prostrate before Thee, the giver of all blessings? But I have no confidence. My life is without hope; I have destroyed my soul. Lord, help me and receive me as the publican; for like the prodigal I have sinned against heaven and before Thee (cf Luke 15:18). I have sinned like the harlot who came to Thee weeping, and of whom it is written: 'Full of despair on account of life, her ways well known, she came to Thee bearing myrrh and crying: '0 virgin-born, do not cast me away, harlot though I am; do not spurn my tears, joy of the angels; but receive me in my repentance, Lord, and in Thy great mercy do not reject me, a sinner.' 'For I, too, am in despair because of my many sins, yet I am welt known to Thine ineffable compassion and the boundless sea of Thy mercies.
Casting my soul's despair into this sea, I dare to concentrate my intellect in holy remembrance of Thee; and, rising up, in fear and trembling I make this one request: that unworthy though I am I may be found worthy to be Thy servant; that by grace I may have an intellect that is free from all form, shape, color or materiality; that, as Daniel once bowed down before Thy angel (cf. Dan. 10:9), I may fall on hands and knees before Thee, the only God, Creator of all, and offer Thee first thanksgiving and then confession. In this way shall I begin to seek Thy most holy will, confessing Thy grace in all the blessings that Thou hast granted me, who am but dirt, dust and ashes, and knowing that, being wholly a creature of earth, it is only through the intellect that I am enabled to approach Thee.
Then, conscious that Thy look is upon me, with all my soul I will cry out and say: most merciful Lord, I thank Thee, I glorify Thee, I hymn Thee, I venerate Thee, for unworthy though I am Thou hast found me worthy in this hour to give thanks to Thee and to be mindful of the wonders and blessings - numberless and unfathomable, visible and invisible, known and unknown - that Thy grace has bestowed and still bestows on our souls and bodies. I confess Thy gifts; I do not hide Thy blessings; I proclaim Thy mercies; I acknowledge Thee, Lord my God, with all my heart, and glorify Thy name for ever. 'For great is Thy mercy towards me' (Ps. 86:13), and inexpressible is Thy forbearance and long-suffering over my many sins and iniquities, over the heinous and godless things that I have done, and still do, and will do in the future. From these Thy grace has saved me, whether they were committed consciously or unconsciously, in word, in action, or in thought. Thou knowest them all, Lord, Searcher of hearts, from my birth until my death; and, abject that I am, I dare to confess them before Thee. 'I have sinned, I have transgressed, I have acted godlessly' (cf. Dan. 9:5), 'I have done evil in thy sight' (Ps. 51 :4), and I am not worthy to gaze upon the height of heaven.
Yet, finding courage in Thy inexpressible compassion, in Thy goodness and tender mercy that excel our understanding, I fall before Thee and entreat Thee, Lord: 'Have mercy upon me, Lord, for I am weak' (Ps. 6:2), and forgive me my many crimes. Do not allow me to sin again or to stray from Thy straight path, or to injure or offend anyone, but check in me every iniquity, every evil habit, every mindless impulse of soul and body, of anger and desire; and teach me to act according to Thy will.
Have mercy on my brethren and fathers, on all monks and priests everywhere, on my parents, my brothers and sisters, my relatives, on those who have served us and those who serve us now, on those who pray for us and who have asked us to pray for them, on those who hate us and those who love us, on those whom I have injured or offended, on those who have injured or offended me or who will do so in the future, and on all who trust in Thee. Forgive us every sin whether deliberate or unintentional. Protect our lives and our departure out of this world from impure spirits, from every temptation, from all sin and malice, from presumption and despair, from lack of faith, from folly, from self-inflation and cowardice, from delusion and unniliness, from the wiles and snares of the devil. In Thy compassion grant us what is good for our souls in this age and in the age to be. Give rest to our fathers and brethren who have departed this life before us, and through the prayers of them all have mercy on my unhappy self in my depravity. See how feeble I am in all things: rectify my conduct, direct my life and death into the paths of peace, fashion me into what Thou wilt and as Thou wilt, whether I want it or not. Grant only that I shall not fail to find myself at Thy right hand on the day of judgment. Lord Jesus Christ my God, even though I am the least of all Thy servants to be saved.
Give peace to Thy world, and in ways best known to Thee have mercy on all men. Count me worthy to partake of Thy pure body and Thy precious blood, for the remission of sins, for communion in the Holy Spirit, as a foretaste of eternal life in Thee with Thine elect, through the intercessions of Thy most pure Mother, of the angels and the celestial powers and of all Thy saints; for Thou art blessed through all the ages. Amen.
Most holy Lady, Mother of God, all celestial powers, holy angels and archangels, and all saints, intercede for me a sinner.
God our Master, Father almighty. Lord Jesus Christ, the Only-begotten Son, and Holy Spirit, one Godhead, one Power, have mercy on me a sinner.
After praying in this way you should immediately address your own thoughts and say three times: '0 come, let us worship and fall down before God our King. ' Then you should begin the psalms, reciting the Trisagion after each subsection of the Psalter, and enclosing your intellect within the words you are saying. After the Trisagion say 'Lord, have mercy' forty times; and then make a prostration and say once within yourself, 'I have sinned. Lord, forgive me'. On standing, you should stretch out your arms and say once, 'God, be merciful to me a sinner'. After praying in this way, you should say once more, '0 come, let us worship...' three times, and then another sub-section of the Psalter in the same way.
When, however, God's grace kindles a sense of deep penitence in the heart, you should allow your intellect to be bathed in tears of compunction, even if this means that your mouth stops reciting psalms and your mind is made captive to what St Isaac the Syrian calls 'blessed captivity'. For now is the time to harvest, not to plant (cf.Eccles. 3:2). You should therefore persist in such thoughts, so that your heart grows more full of compunction and bears fruit in the form of godly tears. St John Klimakos says that if a particular word moves you to compunction, you should linger over it. Every bodily activity - by which I mean fasting, vigils, psalmody, spiritual reading, stillness and so on - is directed towards the purification of the intellect; but without inward grief the intellect cannot be purified, and so be united to God through the pure prayer that transports it beyond all conceptual thought, and sets it free from all form and figure. Yet all that is good in bodily activities has good results - and the reverse is also true. Everything, however, demands discrimination if it is to be used for the good; without discrimination we are ignorant of the true nature of things.
Many of us may be shocked when we see disagreement in what was said and done .by the holy fathers. For instance, the Church has received through its tradition the practice of singing many hymns and troparia; but St John Klimakos, in praising those who have received from God the gift of inward grief, says that such people do not sing hymns among themselves. Again, while speaking of those in a state of pure prayer, St Isaac says that often it happens that a person so concentrates his intellect during prayer that, like Daniel the prophet (cf. Dan. 10:9), he falls unbidden to his knees, his hands outstretched and his eyes gazing at Christ's Cross; his thoughts are changed and his limbs are made weak because of the new thoughts that arise spontaneously in his intellect. Many of the holy fathers write similarly about such persons, how in the rapt state of their intellect they not only pass beyond hymns and psalmody but, as Evagrios says, even become oblivious of the intellect itself. Yet, because of the feebleness of our intellect, the Church is right to commend the singing of hymns and troparia; for by this means those of us who lack spiritual knowledge may willy-nilly praise God through the sweetness of the melody, while those who possess such knowledge and so understand the words are brought to a state of compunction.
Thus, as St John of Damaskos puts it, we are led as though up a ladder to the thinking of good thoughts. The more habitual these thoughts become, the more the longing for God draws us on to understand and worship the Father 'in Spirit and in truth' (John 4:24), as the Lord said. St Paul also indicates this when he says: 'I had rather speak five words whose meaning I understand than ten thousand words in a strange tongue' (1 Cor. 14:19); and again: 'I wish that men would pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands without anger and without quarrelling' (1 Tim. 2:8). Thus hymns and troparia are remedies for our weakness, while the experiences of rapture mark the perfection of the intellect. This is the solution to such questions. For 'all things are good in their proper time' (cf, Ecclus. 39:34); and, as Solomon says, 'For each thing there is a proper time' (Eccles. 3:1). But to those ignorant of this proper time everything will appear discordant and untimely.
When one has attained the level of good thoughts, one should take extreme care to keep these points in mind, lest out of negligence or conceit one is deprived of God's grace, as St Isaac says. When God-given thoughts increase in a man's soul and lead him toward greater humility and compunction, he should always give thanks, acknowledging that only by God's grace does he know such things, and regarding himself as unworthy of them. If good thoughts cease and his mind is once more darkened, losing its awe and its sense of inward grief, he should be greatly distressed and humble himself in word and deed; for grace has already abandoned him, so that he may realize his own weakness, acquire humility and try to amend his life, as St Basil the Great says. For had he not neglected that inward grief which is so dear to God he would not have lacked tears when he wished for them. That is why we should always be conscious of our own weakness and the power of God's grace, and should neither lose hope if something happens to us, nor be emboldened to think that we are anything whatsoever. Rather we should always hope in God with humility. This applies particularly to those who in thought and action are seeking to regain (he gift of tears: they had once been granted this providential grace, but they failed to preserve it because of past, present or future negligence or self-elation, as we have explained.
If someone has deliberately relinquished these gifts of grace - inward grief, tears and radiant thoughts - what does he deserve if not deep distress? For what greater folly is there than that of the man who, after starting from what is contrary to nature and attaining through grace a state above nature - by which I mean tears of understanding and love - then reverts through some trivial act or extraneous thought and his own willfulness to the ignorance of a beast. as a dog to its own vomit? Yet if such a man decides once more to devote himself to God, reading the divine Scriptures with attentiveness and the remembrance of death, and keeping his intellect, so far as he can, free from vain thoughts during prayer, he can regain what he has lost. And he can do this all the more readily if he is never angry with anyone, however greatly he suffers at the other's hands, and if he never allows anyone to be angry with him, but does all he can through his actions and his words to remedy things. When this happens his intellect exults still more, being released from the turbulence of anger; and he learns by practice never to neglect his own soul, fearing lest he should be once again abandoned. And because of his fear he is kept from fatting, and is blessed always with tears of repentance and inward grief until he attains the tears of joy and love, whereby through Christ's grace his thoughts are set at peace.
Yet we who are still impassioned and obdurate should always meditate on words of grief, and should examine ourselves daily, both before our set rule of prayer, during it, and afterwards. We should do this if we are still struggling, despite our weakness, to devote ourselves to God and to turn away from everything else, as St Isaac puts it; and we should do it even if we have so turned away and remain concentrated, our eyes sleepless and our minds watchful, as St John Klimakos says. Consider what progress you are making in these things, so that your soul may be chastened and may begin to experience the gift of tears, as St Dorotheos says.
Such, then, are the first three stages of contemplation, by means of which we are enabled to go forward to the further stages.
The Fourth Stage of Contemplation
The fourth stage of contemplation consists in the understanding of our Lord's incarnation and His manner of life in this world, to the point that we practically forget even to eat, as St Basil the Great writes. This, according to St John Klimakos, is what happened to King David (cf. Ps. 102:4) when his mind was rapt in ecstasy at God's marvels.' As St Basil says, he was at a loss as to what to do in return: 'What shall I give to the Lord in return for all His benefits towards me?' (Ps. 116:12). For our sakes God lived among men; because of our corrupted nature the Logos became flesh and dwelt among us. The Source of Blessing visited the ungrateful, the Liberator the captives, the Sun of Righteousness those sitting in darkness. The Man of Dispassion came to the Cross, Light to Hades, Life to death. Resurrection to the fallen. To Him let us cry: 'Our God, glory to Thee!' St John of Damaskos says: 'Heaven was amazed, and the earth's ends were astounded, that God should appear in bodily form to men and that your womb, Mother of God, became capable of containing the heavens; because of this the orders of angels and of men magnify you.' And again: 'All who heard shuddered at the ineffable condescension of God; how the Most High of His own will descended even to the body, born man from a virgin womb. Because of this we the faithful magnify the pure Mother of our God. '
'Come, all peoples, and believe. Let us climb the holy and heavenly mountain; free from materiality, let us stand in the city of the living God and behold with our intellect the immaterial godhead of the Father and the Spirit blazing forth in the Only-begotten Son. Thou hast enraptured me with longing for Thee, Christ, and hast transformed me with the intensity of Thy divine love; with immaterial fire consume my sins and fill me with delight in Thee, so that in my joy, Lord, I may praise Thy first and second coming. Thou art all tenderness, Savior, all my desire, truly the goal of my insatiable longing; Thou art all beauty irresistible.'
If anyone through the virtues of body and soul has received knowledge of these things, and of the mysteries hidden in the words of the holy fathers, of the divine Scriptures, and especially of the Holy Gospels, he will never lose his longing or cease from shedding the tears that come to him unbidden. And we, too, who do no more than listen to the Scriptures, should devote ourselves to them and meditate on them so constantly that through our persistence a longing for God is impressed upon our hearts, as St Maxnnos says. For this is what the holy fathers did before they acquired direct spiritual knowledge. All the longing of the martyrs was directed solely toward God. They were united to Him through love and sang His praises, as St John of Damaskos says of the three holy children: 'These most blessed children, risking their lives in Babylon for their ancestral laws, disdained the foolish commandment of their king; cast into the flames yet not consumed, they sang a hymn worthy of the One who kept them safe.' This is quite natural; for when a person truly perceives God's marvels he is wholly beside himself and is oblivious of this transient life because he has understood the divine Scriptures, as St Isaac puts it.
Such a man is not like us: for though we may for a while be slightly stirred by the Scriptures, we are again plunged into darkness by laziness, forgetfulness and ignorance, and become obdurate because of our passions. But he who has been purified of the passions through inward grief perceives the hidden mysteries in all the Scriptures and is astonished by them all, especially by the words and actions recorded in the Holy Gospels. He is amazed to see how the wisdom of God renders what is difficult easy, so that gradually it deifies man. He is filled with goodness, so that he lows his enemies; he is merciful, as his Father is merciful (cf Luke 6:36); he is dispassionate, as God is dispassionate; he is endowed with every virtue and is perfect, as the Father is perfect (cf Matt. 5:48). In short, the Holy Bible teaches us that what befits God befits man as well, so that he becomes god by divine adoption.
Who would not marvel at the teaching of the Holy Gospel? For, simply on condition that we choose rightly, God grants us complete rest in both this world and the next, and confers on us great honors. It is as the Lord said: 'He who humbles himself will be exalted' (Luke 18:14). St Peter bears this out when he leaves his nets and receives the keys of heaven (cf. Matt. 16:19); and each of the other disciples, leaving behind what little he had, received into his charge the whole world in this age and in the age to come. The eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard, and man's heart has not grasped the things that God has prepared for those who love Him' (1 Cor. 2:9). This is true not only of the apostles, but also of all those who up to the present time have elected to pursue the spiritual life. As one of the fathers says: 'Even though they struggled in the desert they had much repose.' He said this with reference to the life that is tranquil and trouble-free.
Who has greater repose and honor, the person who devotes himself to God and acts accordingly, or the person involved in hustle, law courts and worldly cares? The person who always converses with God through meditation on the Holy Scriptures and undistracted prayer and tears, or the person who is always on the go, who devotes himself to fraud and lawless actions which, when they come to nothing, leave him only with his exhaustion and perhaps twofold death? Consider how some of us endure even painful and dishonorable death all for nothing. Indeed, some for purely destructive ends have inflicted the greatest injury on their own souls. I have in mind robbers, pirates, fornicators, instigators of quarrels - all of them people who refused salvation and the repose, honor and rewards that go with it. How blind we are! We endure death for the sake of destruction, but do not love life for the sake of salvation. And if we prefer death to the kingdom of heaven, in what do we differ from the thief or grave-robber or soldier? These, simply for the sake of food, have often endured the death that is to come as well as death in this present life.
We must make Christ our primary goal; for on those who choose Him He confers the kingdom of heaven. This means that in this present life we must rise spirituaUy above all things, subjecting them all to Him. We must rule not only: over external things but also over the body, through our non-attachment to it, and over death, through the courage of our faith; then in the life to come we shall reign in our bodies eternally with Christ through the grace of the general resurrection. Death comes both to the righteous and to the sinner, but there is a great difference. As mortals both die, and there is nothing extraordinary in that But the one dies without reward and possibly condemned; the other is blessed in this world and in the next.
What is the point of amassing riches? Despite his unwillingness, the seeming possessor will have to surrender them, not just at the moment of his death, but often before this, with much shame, tribulation and pain. Wealth breeds innumerable trials - fear, anxiety, constant worry and troubles sought and unsought - and yet many have endured even death for its sake. But God's holy commandment saves every man from all this and gives him complete freedom from anxiety and fear; often, indeed, it confers inexpressible delight on those who deliberately choose to rid themselves of possessions. For what brings more delight than to achieve dispassion, and no longer to be under the sway of anger or the desire for worldly things? Regarding as nothing the things that most people value and rising above them, we live as in paradise, or rather as in heaven, set free from all constraints through our untroubled devotion to God.
Because a person in such a state, joyfully accepts all that happens to him, all things bring him repose; because he loves everyone, everyone loves him; because he is detached from all things, he rises above them all. Moreover, he has no wish for the things that other people fight about and which cause them distress when they fail to acquire them, even though they would only be condemned if they did acquire them. This detachment frees an acquisitive person from ail sufferings in this present life and in the life to come. Because he does not want anything that he does not possess, he is above and beyond all comfort and wealth; while to desire what one lacks is the greatest torment a man can suffer prior to age long torment. A person in this condition is a slave, even though he may appear to be a rich man or a king. The commandments of the Lord are not burdensome (cf I John 5:3).
Yet, abject as we are, we do not carry them out with any eagerness unless we are rewarded for it.
He who can partiaUy understand the grace of the Holy Gospel and the things that are in it -that is to say, the actions and teachings of the Lord, His commandments and His doctrines. His threats and His promises-knows what inexhaustible treasure he has found, even if he cannot speak about such things as he should, since what is heavenly is inexpressible. For Christ is hidden in the Gospel, and he who wishes to find Him must first sell all that he has and buy the Gospel (cf. Matt. 13:44). It is not enough merely to find Christ through one's reading, but one should also receive Him in oneself by imitating His way of life in the world. For he who seeks Christ, says St Maxmios, should seek him not outside but inside himself Like Christ he should become sinless in body and soul, in so far as a human being can do this; and he should guard the testimony of his conscience (cf. 2 Cor. 1:12) with all his strength. In this way, even though in the eyes of the world he is poor and of no consequence, he will rule as a king over his will at all times, rising above it and rejecting it. For what is the use of appearing to be a king if you are a slave to anger and desire in this world, while in the next you will receive agelong punishment because you would not keep the commandments?
How witless we are when, for the sake of things that are paltry and transient, we do not aspire to receive great and eternal blessings. We reject what is good and pursue the opposite. What can be simpler than giving a glass of cold water or a piece of bread, or than refraining from one's own desires and petty thoughts? Yet through such things the kingdom of heaven is offered to us, by the grace of Him who Said: 'Behold, the kingdom of heaven is within you' (Luke 17:21). For, as St John of Damaskos says, the kingdom of heaven is not far away, not outside us, but within us. Simply choose to overcome the passions, and you will possess it within you because you live in accordance with God's will. But if you do not choose to do this, you will end up with nothing. For the kingdom of God, say the fathers, is to live in conformity to God; and this is also the meaning of Christ's first and second coming.
We spoke of the second coming when dealing with inward grief. As for the first coming, he who through grace and with full consciousness of soul grasps the significance of the incarnation should in his astonishment exclaim: Great art Thou, Lord, and marvelous are Thy works; and no word suffices to hymn Thy wonders. Behold, dear Lord, I Thy servant stand before Thee, speechless, motionless, awaiting the light of spiritual knowledge that comes from Thee. For Thou hast said. Lord, 'Without Me you can do nothing' (John 15:5). Teach me, therefore, about Thyself. For this reason I have dared, like the sister of Thy friend Lazarus (cf. Luke 10:39), to sit at Thy most pure feet, so that I too may hear through my intellect, if not about Thy incomprehensible divinity, then at least about the manner of Thy incarnate life in the world. In this way I shall gain some slight awareness of the meaning of what in Thy grace Thou hast said in the Holy Gospel; and of how Thou hast dwelt among us, 'gentle and humble in heart' (Matt. I 1 :29), as Thou Thyself hast said, so that we might learn from Thee to be the same. Thou hast lived in poverty, though Thou art rich in mercy; by Thy own free choice Thou hast endured toil and thirst, though Thou hast offered to the Samaritan woman living water (cf. John 4:10), and hast said: 'If any man thirst, let him come to Me and drink' (John 7:37). For Thou art the source of healing, and who can hymn Thy manner of life in this world?
I am earth, ashes, dust, a transgressor, a suicide, who have sinned many times against Thee and continue to do so; yet Thou hast enabled me to grasp something of Thy actions and words; and I dare to ask Thee about them, hoping to see Thee by faith, although Thou art invisible to the whole of creation. Forgive me my boldness. For Thou knowest, Lord, Searcher of hearts, that I do not ask out of idle curiosity, but seek to learn, I believe that if I am found worthy of Thy spiritual knowledge, then in Thy compassion Thou wilt grant to me, as Thou dost to all who long for Thee, the strength to imitate Thy life in the flesh; for it is by virtue of Thy incarnation that I by grace am called a Christian. Although, unlike Thy disciples, none of us is capable of enduring death for the sake of his enemies, or of acquiring the poverty and virtue which Thou and they possessed,, yet each of us does what he can according to the strength of his resolve. For even if we were to die for Thy sake daily, still we could not repay Thee what we owe. For Thou, Lord, being perfect God and perfect man, hast lived in this world without sin and endured all things on our behalf; while we, even if we do endure something, suffer on our own account and for our own sins. Who' is not amazed when he thinks of Thy inexpressible self-abasement? For being God, inscrutable, all-powerful and ruling all things, enthroned above the cherubim - who are figures of wisdom in its multiplicity - on account of us, who have provoked Thy anger from the beginning. Thou hast humbled Thyself, accepting to be born and brought up among us. Thou hast endured persecution, stoning, mocking, insults, cuffs and blows, ridicule and spitting, then the Cross and the nails, the sponge and reed, vinegar and gall, and all the rest that I am unworthy to hear about. Then a spear pierced Thy most pure side, and from this wound Thou hast poured forth for us eternal life: Thy precious blood and water.
I hymn Thy birth and her who gave Thee birth: she whom Thou didst preserve a virgin after she gave birth as she was before she gave birth. I worship Thee in the cave, swaddled in the manger. I glorify Thee, who hast gone down into Egypt with Thy virginal and most pure Mother; who hast lived in Nazareth in obedience to Thy mortal parents. Thy putative father and Thy true mother. I hymn Thee, baptized in Jordan by John the Forerunner- Thee, Lord, and Thy Father who bore witness to Thee, and Thy Holy Spirit who manifested Thee. I hymn Thy baptism and Thy baptizer John, Thy prophet and Thy servant. I glorify Thee who didst fast for us, who hast voluntarily accepted temptation and triumphed over the enemy in the body which Thou didst take from us, giving us victory over him in Thy inexpressible wisdom. I glorify Thee as Thou hast lived together with Thy disciples, cleansed lepers, made cripples stand erect, given light to the blind, speech and hearing to the dumb and the deaf; as Thou hast blessed the loaves and walked upon the sea as upon dry land, taught the crowds about the practice of the virtues and about contemplation, proclaimed the Father and the Holy Spirit, foretold the threats and promises to come, and spoken of all that brings us to salvation. I praise Thee who hast already vanquished the enemy; who dost pull up the passions by their roots with Thy wise teaching; who dost make fools wise and dost overthrow crafty idiots by thy boundless wisdom; who dost raise the dead with Thy inexpressible might and dost cast out demons with Thy authority as God of all. And not only dost Thou do these things in Thy own person, but Thou givest Thy servants the power to do even greater things (cf. John 14:12), so that we may be still more astonished, as
Thou Thyself hast said. Great is Thy Name, for through Thee Thy saints perform all their miracles.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Logos of God, the most tender name of our salvation, great is Thy glory, great are Thy works, marvelous are Thy words, 'sweeter also than honey and the honeycomb' (Ps. 19:10). Glory to Thee, Lord, glory to Thee. Who can glorify and hymn Thy coming in the flesh. Thy goodness, power, wisdom. Thy life in this world and Thy teaching? And how is it that Thy holy commandments teach us the life of virtue so naturally and so easily? As Thou didst say. Lord: 'Forgive, and you will be forgiven' (cf. Matt. 6:14); and again: 'Seek and you will find, knock and it will be opened to you' (Matt. 7:7); and: 'Whatever you would that men should do to you, do also to them' (Matt. 7:12). Who, having understood Thy commandments and other, sayings, will not be astonished when he perceives Thy boundless wisdom? For Thou art the wisdom of God, the life of all, the joy of angels, the ineffable light, the resurrection of the dead, the good shepherd 'who gives His life for the sheep' (John 10: 11)1 hymn Thy transfiguration, crucifixion, burial, resurrection, ascension. Thy enthronement at the right hand of God the Father, the descent of the Holy Spirit and Thy future advent, when Thou wilt come with power and great, incomprehensible glory.
I grow weak, my Lord, before Thy wonders and, at a loss, I long to take refuge in silence. Yet I do not know what to do. For if I keep silence, amazement overwhelms me; but if I dare to say something, I am struck dumb and rapt away. I regard myself as unworthy of heaven and earth, and as deserving every punishment, not simply because of the sins I have committed, but much more because of the blessings I have received without my showing any gratitude, contemptible as I am. For Thou, Lord, who dost transcend all goodness, hast filled my soul with every blessing. I dimly perceive Thy works and my mind is amazed. Merely to look on what is Thine reduces me to nothing. Yet the knowledge is not mine, nor the endeavor, for it is Thy grace. Therefore I will lay my hand on my mouth, as Job once did (cf. Job 40:4), and will take refuge in Thy saints, for I am bewildered.
Blessed Queen of the universe, you know that we sinners' have no intimacy with the God whom you have borne. But, putting our trust in you, through your mediation we your servants prostrate ourselves before the Lord: for you can freely approach Him smce He is your son and our God. Thus I, too, unworthy believer that I am, entreat you, holy Queen, that I may be allowed to perceive the gifts of grace bestowed on you and on the other saints, and to understand how you display so many virtues. Simply your giving birth to the Son of God shows that you excel all other beings. For He who, as creator of all, knows all things before they come into existence, found your womb worthy of His indwellmg. No one can question you about your mysteries, for they transcend nature, thought and intellect. Rightly do we, who have been saved through you, pure Virgin, confess that you are the Mother of God, extolling you with the angelic choirs. ' For God, whom men cannot see, on whom the ranks of angels do not dare to look, has through you become visible to men as the Logos made flesh. Glorifying Him with the heavenly hosts we proclaim you blessed. And what shall we call you, who are full of grace? Heaven, for you have made the Sun of Righteousness shine forth? Paradise, for you have put forth the flower of immortality? Virgin, for you have remained inviolate? Pure mother, for you have held in your holy embrace the God of all? Mother of God, you are the true vine, for you have borne the fruit of life. We entreat you, intercede in your glory with the apostles and all the saints, that God may have mercy on our souls. For with the true faith we confess that you are the Mother of God and we bless you, the ever-blessed. All generations proclaim you blessed as the only Mother of God, more honored than the cherubim and incomparably more glorious than the seraphim.
Unable to grasp the mysteries of the Mother of God, I marvel at the lives of the other saints, and ask; How did you dwell. Baptist and Forerunner of the Lord, in the desert? What shall we call you, prophet: angel, apostle, martyr? Angel, because you lived as though bodiless; apostle, because you caught the nations in your net; martyr, because you were beheaded for Christ's sake. Pray to Him or the salvation of our souls. 'The memory of the just is praised', Solomon says (cf. Prov. 10:7. LXX); but the Lord's testimony suffices you. Forerunner: truly you were proclaimed greater in honor than the prophets, for you were found worthy to baptize Him whom they prophesied.
Holy apostles and disciples of the Savior, eyewitnesses of His mysteries, you have proclaimed Him whom none can contemplate and who has no origin, saying, 'In the beginning was the Logos' (John 1:1). You were not created before the angels, nor did you learn this from men, but from the wisdom that is from above. We beseech you, then, since you have communion with God, intercede for our souls. I marvel at your love of God. It is as the ancient troparia say: 'Lord, because the apostles truly longed for Thee on earth, they considered all things to be dung, so that they might gain Thee alone (cf. Phil. 3:8). For Thee they gave their bodies over to torture and, glorified because of this, they intercede for our souls. ' How is it that, being men, as we are, and wearing flesh of clay, you displayed such virtues, so that you even endured death for the sake of those who slew you? How, few though you were, did you conquer the whole world? How, though simple and unlettered, did you overcome kings and rulers? How, though unarmed, naked and poor, enclosed in weak flesh, did you defeat the invisible demons? And what was the great strength, or rather faith, which enabled you to receive the power of the Holy Spirit -you and the holy martyrs who fought the good fight and received their crowns? Apostles, martyrs, prophets, hierarchs, holy men, we beseech you to intercede with Christ so that in His goodness He will save our souls.
Who is not astounded when he sees, holy martyrs, the good fight that you fought? Being in the body you conquered the bodiless enemy, confessing Christ and armed with the Cross. In this way justly you were revealed to be expellers of demons and enemies of barbaric powers. Intercede unceasingly for the salvation of our souls. For, like the three children in the fiery furnace, you did not endure your trials in the hope of a reward, but out of love for God, as you yourselves have declared: 'For even if He does not deliver us, yet we will not for that reason deny Him as one who does not save' (cf. Dan. 3:17-18). I marvel at your extreme humility, holy children, for even though you were surrounded by flames, you declared that you did not know how to give thanks to God. There is at this time no prince, prophet, leader or burnt offering', you said,'... but because we come with a contrite heart and humble spirit, accept us' (Song of the Three Children, verses 15-16). I marvel at the power of God that has filled you, and that also filled Elijah the prophet: as St John of Damaskos has said: 'Out of the Same hast Thou made dew fall upon Thy saints (cf . Song of the Three Children, verse 27), and hast burnt up with water the sacrifice of the Righteous One (cf . 1 Kgs. 18:58). For Thou doest all things, Christ, simply by Thy will alone/ Yet which shall I contemplate first? The testimonies found in the Gospel, or the Acts of the Apostles? The contests of the martyrs, or the struggles of the holy fathers, or of the saints ancient and recent, both men and women? Their lives and sayings, or their power of interpretation and discernment? I am at a loss and stand amazed.
But I pray Thee, compassionate Lord, do not allow me to be condemned because of the unworthy and ungrateful manner in which I contemplate the great mysteries that Thou hast revealed to Thy saints and through them to me, a sinner and Thy unworthy servant. For see. Lord, Thy servant stands before Thee, idle in everything, speechless, as one who is dead; and I do not dare to say anything more or presumptuously to contemplate further. But as always I fall down before Thee, crying from the depths of my soul and saying, 'Master, rich in mercy. Lord Jesus Christ...' and the rest of the prayer. (Here you should meditate on the second prayer and the psalms, watching over the conduct of your soul and body, so that you develop a disposition receptive to divine thoughts. Then you will be able with full consciousness to understand all the mysteries and miracles hidden within the Holy Scriptures. Astounded in this way at God's gifts, you will come to love Him alone and to suffer for His sake with joy, as all the saints have done. For the Holy Scriptures are full of astonishing things, as Solomon says.)
Along with the other marvels, I wonder at God's power as it was manifest in the manna. For the manna did not preserve the same form until the following day, but dissolved and was found to be full of worms (cf. Exod. 16:20). This was to prevent those who lacked faith from concerning themselves about the next day. But in the pitcher that was in the tabernacle it remained unchanged (cf. Exod. 16:32-34). Again, when cooked with fire the manna was not burnt; yet it dissolved at the faintest ray of sunlight, so that the greedy should not collect more than they needed to keep alive. How marvelously God works everywhere for the salvation of men, as the Lord says with regard to divine providence: 'My Father goes on working and I work too' (John 5:17). He who reverently meditates on this is outwardly taught by the Holy Scriptures, and inwardly by divine providence. He begins to see things as they are in their true nature, as St Gregory of Nyssa and St John of Damaskos say. He is no longer deceived by the exterior attractiveness of the things of this world, such as physical beauty, wealth, transient glory and so on; nor is he seduced by the shadows they cast, as are those still subject to the passions.
The Fifth Stage of Contemplation
Through the fifth stage of contemplation, that called 'counsel' by the prophet (cf. Isa. 11:2), one comes to understand, as the final Beatitude indicates, the changeable nature of visible created things: how they derive from the earth and return again to the earth, thus confirming the words of Ecclesiastes: 'Vanity of vanities; all, is vanity' (Eccles. 1:2). St John of Damaskos says the same thing: 'All human affairs, all that does not exist after death, are vanity. Riches vanish, glory leaves us. When death comes, all such things disappear.' And again. Truly all things are vanity; life is but a shadow and a dream, and every man born of the earth troubles himself in vain, as the Scriptures say (cf. Ps. 39:6. LXX). By the time we have gained the whole world we shall be in the grave, where king and pauper are one.
The Sixth Stage of Contemplation
When a person has acquired the habit of detachment, then he is granted access to the sixth stage of contemplation, that known as 'strength' (cf. Isa. I 1:2). At this stage one begins to look without passion on the beauty of created things.
There are three categories of thought: human, demonic, and angelic. Human thought consists in the abstract conception, arising in the heart, of some created thing, such as a man, or gold, or some other sensible object. Demonic thought consists in a conceptual image compounded with passion. One thinks, for example, of a human being, but this thought is accompanied by mindless affection, that is to say, by the desire for a relationship not blessed by God but involving unchastity; or else it is accompanied by unreasoning hatred, that is to say, by rancor or spite. Again, one thinks of gold avariciously or with the intention of stealing or seizing it; or else one is roused to hatred and blasphemy against God's works, thus causing one's own perdition. For if we do not love things as they should be loved, but love them more than we love God, then we are no different from idolaters, as St Maximos says. But if, on the other hand, we hate and despise things, failing to perceive that they were created 'wholly good and beautiful' (Gen. 1:31 ), we provoke the anger of God.
Angelic thought, finally, consists in the dispassionate contemplation of things, which is spiritual knowledge proper. It is the mid-point between two precipices, protecting the intellect and enabling it to distinguish between its true goal and the six diabolic pitfalls that threaten it. These pitfalls lie above and below, to the right and left, and on the near side and on the far side of the intellect's true goal. Thus spiritual knowledge proper stands as though at the centre, surrounded by these pitfalls. It is the knowledge taught by those earthly angels who have made themselves dead to the world, so that their intellect has grown dispassionate arid hence sees things as it should. In this way, the intellect does not go above its true goal out of pride or self-esteem, thinking it understands things merely through its own power of thought; nor does it fall below its true goal, prevented by ignorance from attaining perfection. It does not veer to the right through rejecting and hating created things, or to the left through mindless affection for them and attachment to them. It does not remain on the near side of its true goal because of its utter ignorance and sloth, nor trespass on its far side, lured by the spirit of meddlesomeness and senseless curiosity that arises from contempt or maliciousness. Rather, it accepts spiritual knowledge with patience, humility and the hope that is born of a deep faith. In this way, through its partial knowledge of things the intellect is led upwards towards divine love. But, even though it possesses some knowledge, it is aware that it is still ignorant; and this awareness keeps it in a state of humility. Thus through persistent hope and faith it reaches its goal, neither hating anything completely as evil, or loving anything beyond measure.
We should look on man with wonder, conscious that his intellect, being infinite, is the image of the invisible God; and that even if it is for a time limited by the body, as St Basil says, it can embrace all form, just as God's providence embraces the whole universe. For the intellect has the ability to transform itself into everything, and is dyed with the form of the object it apprehends. But when it is taken up into God, who is formless and miageless, it becomes formless and imageless itself. Then we should marvel at how the intellect can preserve any thought or idea, and how an earlier thought need not be modified by later thoughts, or a later thought injured by earlier ones. On the contrary, the mind like a treasure-house tirelessly stores all thoughts. And these thoughts, whether new or long held in store, the intellect when it wishes can express in language; yet although words are always coming from it, it is never exhausted.
When we come to consider the body, we should marvel at the way in which eyes, ears and tongue are used externally according to the soul's wish, eyes through the medium of light, and ears and tongue through the medium of air; and how no one sense impedes any of the others or can do anything the soul does not intend. We should marvel, too, at how the body, that is not its own animating principle, is, at God's command, commixed with the noetic and deiform soul, created by the Holy Spirit breathing life into it (cf Gen. 2:7), as St John of Damaskos says. Yet it is wrong to think, as some do, that the soul is an emanation from the supraessential Godhead, for this is impossible. As St John John Chrysostom says, 'In order to prevent the human intellect from thinking that it is God, God has subjected it to ignorance and forgetfulness, so that in this way it may acquire humility.' He also says that the Creator willed that there should be a separation in this natural intermixture of soul and body. The deiform soul, as St John Klimakos says, either ascends upward to heaven, or goes downward to Hades, while the earthly body returns to the earth from which it was taken. But through the grace of our Savior Jesus Christ these two separated elements are once more joined together at His second coming, so that each of us may receive the due reward for his works. Who can grasp but an inkling of this mystery without being astonished? God raises man again from the earth after he has committed so many terrible crimes, despising the divine commandments, and He bestows on man the same immortality that he possessed originally, even though man has disobeyed the commandment which preserves him from death and corruption, and in his arrogance has drawn death upon himself.
Enlightened spiritually through angelic inspiration, man marvels at these and many other things concerning human nature. Again, he contemplates the beauty and use of gold, and marvels at how such a thing has come out of the earth for our sake, so that the weak may distribute their wealth in acts of charity, while those unwilling to exercise such charity are helped to do so by various unsought trials which, so long as they are thankfully accepted, lead to salvation. Thus both groups are saved. Those, however, who choose to shed all their possessions will be crowned with glory, for-like those who live in virginity -they accomplish what transcends nature. In so far as gold is a perishable and earthly thing, it is not to be preferred to the commandments of God; yet as something created by God and useful for bodily life and for salvation, it deserves, not our hatred, but our love and self-control.
By thus contemplating dispassionately the beauty and use of each thing, he who is illumined is filled with love for the Creator, He surveys all visible things in the upper and lower worlds: the sky, the sun, the moon, stars and clouds, water-spouts and rain, snow and hail, how in great heat liquids coagulate, thunder, lightning, the winds and breezes and the way they change, the seasons, the years, the days, the nights, the hours, the minutes, the earth, the sea, the countless flocks, the four-legged animals, the wild beasts and reptiles, all the kinds of bird, the springs and rivers, the many varieties of plant and herb, both wild and cultivated. He sees in all things the order, the equilibrium, the proportion, the beauty, the rhythm, the union, the harmony, the usefulness, the concordance, the variety, the delightfulness, the stability, the motion, the colors, the shapes, the forms, the reversion of things to their source, permanence in the midst of corruption.
Contemplating thus all created realities, he is filled with wonder. He marvels how the Creator by a simple command brought the four elements forth out of nothing; how, by virtue of His wisdom, opposites do not destroy one another; and how out of the four elements God made all things for our sake. Yet, as St Gregory the Theologian says, these things are insignificant in comparison with Christ's incarnation and with the blessings to come. He perceives, too, how God's goodness and wisdom. His strength and forethought, which are concealed in created things, are brought to light by man's artistic powers. It is as God Himself said to job (cf Job 12:13). Similarly he sees how by means of words and letters-through fragments of inanimate ink-God has revealed such great mysteries to us in the Holy Scriptures; and how, even more wonderfully, the holy prophets and apostles gained such blessings through their great labor and love of God, while we can learn about these matters simply by reading. For, inspired by the Logos, the Scriptures speak to us of the most astonishing things.
Whoever is aware of all this recognizes that there is nothing incidental or evil in creation, and that even what takes place against God's will is miraculously changed by God into something good. For example, the fall of the devil was not God's will, yet it has been turned to the advantage of those being saved. For the devil is permitted to tempt the elect - according to the strength of each, as St Isaac says - so that he may be mocked and, with God's help, defeated by them. And these people, who have achieved equality with the angels, include not many men, but also great numbers of women. Because of their patient endurance and faith in the divine Judge they receive, by His grace and compassion, crowns of immortality: for God has defeated and continues to defeat the murderous and insolent snake.
The person who has received the grace of spiritual knowledge knows that all things are 'wholly good and beautiful' (Gen. 1:31); but he who possesses only the first glimmerings of such knowledge should recognize in all humility that he is ignorant and, as St John Chrysostom advises, he should admit on every occasion, 'I do not know'. For, as John Chrysostom says, 'if someone asserts that the height of the sky is such and such, and I say that I do not know, at least I have told the truth, whereas the other person is deceived into thinking that he knows while in fact he does not know, as St Paul says' (cf I Cor. 8:2). It is on this account that with firm faith and by questioning those with experience we should accept the doctrines of the Church and the decisions of its teachers, both concerning the Holy Scriptures and concerning the sensible and spiritual worlds. Otherwise we may quickly fall because we walk according to our own understanding, as St Dorotheos puts it. We should admit our own ignorance in all things, so that by searching and with distrust in our own opinions we may aspire to learn and, at a loss in spite of great knowledge, may realize our own ignorance through recognizing the infinite wisdom of God.
The intellect, being spiritual, is capable of every spiritual perception when it purifies itself for God, according to St Gregory the Theologian. Yet we should regard such knowledge with the greatest apprehension, lest there be hidden in our soul a single evil doctrine able to destroy it without our committing any other sin, as St Basil the Great says. For this reason we should not try, through contempt or arrogant zeal, to attain this kind of contemplative knowledge prematurely; rather we should practice the commandments of Christ in due order and proceed undistracted through the various stages of contemplation previously discussed. Once we have purified the soul through patient endurance and with tears of fear and inward grief, and have reached the state of seeing the true nature of things, then - initiated spiritually by the angels - the intellect spontaneously attains this contemplative knowledge.
But if a person is presumptuous and tries to reach the second stage before having reached the first, then not only will he fail to conform to God's purpose, but he will provoke many battles against himself, particularly through speculating about the nature of man, as we have learnt in the case of Adam. Those still subject to the passions gain nothing by attempting to act or think as if they were dispassionate: solid food is not good for babies, even though it is excellent for the mature (cf. Heb. 5:14). Rather they should exercise discrimination, yearning to act and think like the dispassionate, but holding back, as being unworthy. Yet when grace comes they should not reject it out of despair or laziness, neither should they presumptuously demand something prematurely, lest by seeking what has its proper time before that time has come, as St John Klimakos says, they fail to attain it in its proper time, and fall into delusion, perhaps beyond the help of man or the Scriptures.
If a person's purpose is fixed in God with all humility and he patiently endures the trials that come upon him, God will resolve for him any question that perplexes him and perhaps even leads him into delusion. Then, greatly ashamed but full of joy, he turns back, seeking the path of the fathers. For, as St John Klimakos states, we should regard what happens according to God's will, and nothing else, as coming from grace for our good, even though in itself it is not very good. Without such patience and humility a person will suffer what many have suffered, perishing in their stupidity, trusting to their own opinions and thinking they can get along very well without either a guide or the experience that comes from patience and humility. For experience transcends tribulation, trials, and even active warfare. Should a person of experience be subject to some slight attack on the part of the demons, this trial will be a source of great joy and profit to him; for it is permitted by God so that he may gain yet further experience and courage in facing his enemies.
The signs that he has done this are tears, contrition of soul before God, flight into stillness and patient recourse to God, a diligent enquiry into the Scriptures and a desire, based on faith, to accomplish God's purpose. When, on the other hand, a person lacks patience and humility, the signs of this are doubt with regard to God's help, being ashamed to ask questions humbly, avoidance of stillness and the reading of Scripture, a love of distraction and of human company, with the idea - entirely misguided - that one will attain a state of repose in this way. On the contrary, it is now that the passions find an opportunity to put down roots, and that trials and temptations grow stronger, while one's own pusillanimity, ingratitude and listlessness wax because of one's aboundmg ignorance.
The trials imposed by spiritual fathers in order to discipline and instruct their spiritual children are one thing; but the trials brought on by our enemies for our destruction are another. This is especially true when we are deluded by pride; for 'God opposes the proud, but gives grace to the humble' (cf Jas. 4:6; Prov. 3:34. LXX). Every tribulation that we accept patiently is good and profitable; but if we do not accept it patiently, it drives us away from God and serves no useful purpose. When this happens, there is only one cure-humility. The humble man censures and blames himself and no one else when he suffers affliction. Consequently, he patiently awaits for God to release him, and when this happens he rejoices and gratefully endures whatever comes; and through his experience of these things he gains spiritual knowledge. Recognizing his own ignorance and weakness, he seeks diligently for the Physician and, seeking, he finds Him, as Christ himself has said (cf. Matt. 7:8). Having found God, he longs for Him; and the more he longs, the more God longs for him. Then, purifying himself as much as he can, he struggles to make room in himself for the Beloved for whom he longs. And the Beloved for whom he longs, finding room for Himself in this man, takes up His abode there, as the Gerontikon says. Dwelling there. He protects His home, and fills it with light. And the person thus filled with light knows and, knowing, he is known, as St John of Damaskos says.
In all this, and in what has been said above, one should keep a proper order, and one should work on whatever one understands. For what one cannot understand one should give silent thanks, as St Isaac says, but should not presumptuously assume that one has understood it. And St Isaac, borrowing his words from Sirach, also says: 'When you find honey, eat moderately, lest by over-indulging you make yourself sick' (cf. Prov. 25:16). As St Gregory the Theologian says, 'Uncontrolled contemplation may well push us over the edge, when we seek for what is beyond our strength and are unwilling to say, 'God knows this; but who am I?'' And as St Basil observes, we must believe that He who made the mountains and the great sea-monsters has also hollowed out the sting of the bee.
Thus he who is strong enough-to attain understanding apprehends the spiritual from the sensible, and the invisible and eternal from what is visible and transient. Having grasped, through grace, a knowledge of the higher powers, he sees that a single righteous man is worth more than the whole world. 'Consider how many tongues and nations the righteous man excels', says St John Chrysostom. 'Yet an angel is greater than man, and the vision of a single angel is enough to fill us with astonishment. Remember what happened to Daniel, the equal of the angels, when he saw the angel' (cf Dan. 10:5-21).
The Seventh Stage of Contemplation
A person given grace to attain the seventh stage of contemplation marvels at the multitude of incorporeal powers: authorities, thrones, dominions, seraphim and cherabim, the nine orders mentioned in all the divine Scriptures, whose nature, power and other good qualities, as well as their hierarchical disposition, are known to God their Creator. But the heavenly hosts have also other ranks, about which St John Chrysostom speaks. He says that the Words 'Lord of Sabaoth' mean 'Lord of the celestial powers', and that these powers transmit illumination to one another. The angels, he says, illumine man, while they in turn are illumined by the archangels; these are illumined by the principalities. Thus each order receives illumination and knowledge from another. He also tells us that humankind constitutes as it were but a single sheep, lost not by God but through its own choice, and that the ninety- nine other sheep are the orders of angels (cf. Matt. 18:12-14).
Considering the wisdom and power of the Creator and how He has produced such multiple states of being simply by summoning them into existence, St Gregory the Theologian says that God conceived first the angelic powers and then the states sequent to them. As St Isaac says, on passing spiritually beyond the threshold-that is to say, beyond the veil of the temple-one becomes immaterial. The outer part of the temple represents this world; the veil or the threshold represents the firmament of heaven; the holy of holies represents the supracosmic realm where the bodiless and immaterial powers ceaselessly hymn God and intercede for us, as St Athanasios the Great says. In that realm one's thoughts are at peace and one becomes a son of God by grace, initiated into the mysteries hidden in the Holy Scriptures, as St John of Damaskos puts it: 'The divine veil of the temple was rent by the Cross of the Creator, revealing to the faithful the truth concealed beneath the literal sense of Scripture; and they cry: God of our fathers, blessed art Thou.' As St Kosmas the Hymnographer says, 'When the first man tasted the tree, he was commuted with corruption: cast out ignobly from life and with a body subject to corruption, he passed on this punishment to all mankind. But we, the earth-born, restored through the wood of the Cross, cry aloud: Blessed art Thou and praised above all for ever. '
The Eighth Stage of Contemplation
Through the eighth stage of contemplation we are led upwards to the vision of what pertains to God by means of the second kind of prayer, the pure prayer proper to the contemplative. In it the mtellect is seized during the transport of prayer by a divine longing, and it no longer knows anything at all of this world, as both St Maximos'' and St John of Damaskos confirm. Not only does the intellect forget all things, but it forgets itself as well. Evagrios says that so long as the intellect is still conscious of itself, it abides, not in God alone, but also in itself. According to St Maximos, it is only when it abides in God alone that it is granted direct vision of what pertains to God and, through the indwelling of the Holy Spirit, becomes in the true sense a theologian.
In our ignorance, however, we should not identify God in Himself with His divine attributes, such as His goodness, bountifulness, justice, holiness, light, fire, being, nature, power, wisdom and the others of which St Dionysios the Areopagite speaks. God in Himself is not among any of the things that the intellect is capable of defining, for He is undetermined and undeterminable. In theology we can speak about the attributes of God but not about God in Himself, as St Dionysios explains to St Timothy, invoking St Hierotheos as witness. It is indeed more correct to speak of God in Himself as inscrutable, unsearchable, inexplicable, as all that it is impossible to define. For He is beyond intellection and thought, and is known only to Himself, one God in three hypostases, unoriginate, unending, beyond goodness, above all praise. All that is said of God in divine Scripture is said with this sense of our inadequacy, that though we may know that God is, we cannot know what He is; for in Himself He is incomprehensible to every being endowed with intellect and reason.
The same applies to the incarnation of the Son of God and to the hypostatic union, as St Cyril says. We can only marvel at the way in which the flesh He assumed from us is taken up into His divinity, as St Basil the Great puts it. The union is like that of fire and iron, and it is on this model that we are to conceive of the two natures in the single person of Christ. As St John of Damaskos says in his hymn to the Mother of God: '0 most holy Lady, you have given birth to the incarnate God as one hypostasis in two natures; and to Him we all sing: Blessed art Thou, God.' And again: 'Without changing. He who is beyond determination was in you, all-holy Lady, united hypostatically to our flesh; for He is compassionate and He alone is blessed. '
That There Are No Contradictions in Holy Scripture
Whenever a person even slightly lUummed reads the Scriptures or sings psalms he finds in them matter for contemplation and theology, one text supporting another. But he whose intellect is still unenlightened thinks that the Holy Scriptures are contradictory. Yet there is no contradiction in the Holy Scriptures: God forbid that there should be. For some texts are confirmed by others, while some were written with reference to a particular time or a particular person. Thus every word of Scripture is beyond reproach. The appearance of contradiction is due to our ignorance. We ought not to find fault with the Scriptures, but to the limit of our capacity we should attend to them as they are, and not as we would like them to be, after the manner of the Greeks and Jews. For the Greeks and Jews refused to admit that they did not understand, but out of conceit and self- satisfaction they found fault with the Scriptures and with the natural order of things, and interpreted them as they saw fit and not according to the will of God. As a result they were led into delusion and gave themselves over to every kind of evil.
The person who searches for the meaning of the Scriptures will not put forward his own opinion, bad or good; but, as St Basil the Great and St John Chrysostom have said, he will take as his teacher, not the learning of this world, but Holy Scripture itself. Then if his heart is pure and God puts something unpremeditated into it, he will accept it, providing he can find confirmation for it in the Scriptures, as St Antony the Great says. For St Isaac says that the thoughts that enter spontaneously and without premeditation into the intellects of those pursuing a life of stillness are to be accepted; but that to investigate and then to draw one's own conclusions is an act of self-will and results in material knowledge.
This is especially the case if a person does not approach the Scriptures through the door of humility but, as St John John Chrysostom says, climbs up some other way, like a thief (cf John 10:1), and forces them to accord with his allegorizing. For no one is more foolish than he who forces the meaning of the Scriptures or finds fault with them so as to demonstrate his own knowledge -or, rather, his own ignorance. What kind of knowledge can result from adapting the meaning of the Scriptures to suit one's own likes and from daring to alter their words? The true sage is he who regards the text as authoritative and discovers, through the wisdom of the Spirit, the hidden mysteries to which the divine Scriptures bear witness.
The three great luminaries, St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and St John Chrysostom, are outstanding examples of this: they base themselves either on the particular text they are considering or on some other passage of Scripture. Thus no one can contradict them, for they do not adduce external support for what they say, so that it might be claimed that it was merely their own opinion, but refer directly to the text under discussion or to some other scriptural passage that sheds light on it. And in this they are right; for what they understand and expound comes from the Holy Spirit, of whose inspiration they have been found worthy. No one, therefore, should do or mentally assent to anything if its integrity is in doubt and cannot be attested from Scripture. For what is the point of rejecting something whose integrity Scripture clearly attests as being in accordance with God's will, in order to do something else, whether good or not? Only passion could provoke such behavior.
The Classification of Prayer According to the Eight Stages of Contemplation
Where the first four of the eight stages of contemplation are concerned, we should say the traditional written prayers daily; where the last four are concerned, like St Philimon we should continuously utter the words 'Lord, have mercy', keeping our intellect completely free from thoughts.' Those who are advanced on the spiritual way should direct their intellect now to the contemplation of sensible realities, and now to the cognition of intelligible realities and to that which is formless; now to the meaning of some passage of the Scriptures, and now to pure prayer. On the bodily level they should engage sometimes in reading, sometmies in prayer, sometimes in shedding tears over their own state or, out 'of divinely -inspired sympathy, on behalf of others; or they should undertake some task in order to assist someone unwell either mentally or physically.
Thus at all times they will fulfill the work of the angels, never concerning themselves with the thmgs of this world. For God, who has chosen them, who has set them apart to be His companions, and has granted them this way of life and this freedom from anxiety, will Himself look after them and nourish them in soul and body: 'Cast your burden upon the Lord, and He will nourish you' (Ps. 55:22. LXX). The more they place their hope in the Lord with regard to all things that concern them, whether of soul or body, the more they will find that the Lord provides for them. In the end they will regard themselves as lower than all other creatures because of God's many gifts, visible and invisible, bestowed on both soul and body. So great grows their debt that they cannot feel proud about anything because of their shame at God's generosity. The more they give thanks to Him and try forcibly to exert themselves for the sake of His love, the more God draws near to them through His gifts and longs to fill them with peace, making them value stillness and voluntary poverty more than all the kingdoms of this earth, without even taking account of any reward in the world to come.
The holy martyrs suffered when tormented by their enemies, but their longing for the kingdom and their love of God conquered the pain. They even regarded the strength they were given to overcome their enemies as a further great blessing that added to their debts. As a result, when found worthy of enduring death for Christ's sake, they had in many cases lost all sense of pain. In the same way the holy fathers at first exerted themselves forcibly in many forms of asceticism, as well as in their warfare against the spirits of evil; but their longing and aspiration for the state of dispassion was triumphant.
After his struggles the person who attains the state of dispassion is relieved of all worry and anxiety, because he has-conquered the passions. A person still subject to the passions may also think that all is well, but he does so merely because of his blindness. It is only the spiritual contestant who wants to conquer the passions but finds he cannot do so that suffers tribulation and warfare. Sometimes God allows a person in this situation to be defeated by his enemies so that he may acquire humility. On account of this he ought to recognize his own weakness and flee vigorously from what harms him, so that he forgets his former habits. For if one does not drat See from distraction and acquire complete quietude, one wiH never be dispassionate with regard to anything, or be able always to say what is right and good. In short, this total flight from distraction is of prime importance in all things, if one is not to be dragged back by one's former habits. But let no one, on hearing about humility, dispassion and other such things, think in his ignorance that he possesses them. He should search for the signs of these things in himself and see if he can find them. The following are the signs of humility: when possessing every virtue of body and soul, to consider oneself to be the more a debtor to God because, though unworthy, one has received so much by grace; when tried or tempted by the demons or by men, to regard oneself as deserving such things - and much more - so that a small part of one's debt may be taken away and one may find some mitigation of the punishment one expects on the day of judgment; when not suffering any such trial, to be extremely troubled and afflicted, and to look for some way in which to exert oneself more forcibly; on achieving this, again to take it as a gift from God and so to humble oneself further; and, not discovering anything to give God in return, to continue to labor and to consider oneself to be all the more a debtor.
This, surely, is the sign of dispassion; to remain calm and fearless in all things because one has received by God's grace the strength to do anything, as St Paul puts it (cf Phil. 4: 13). Such a person is totally unconcerned about his material life, but exerts himself in ascetic labors as forcibly as he can, and so attains a state of repose. Full of thanksgiving, he exerts himself still more forcibly, thus finding himself always engaged in battle and triumphing with the help of humility. It is by this means that a person advances; for, as St Isaac says, things accomplished without forcefulness are not works but gifts of God. If one were to find repose after one's first efforts, it would be the prize of defeat and not a reason for boasting. It is not those who receive a reward who are to be praised, but those who exert themselves forcibly in their labors and who receive nothing.
What can we say? The more we act and the more we give thanks to our Benefactor, the more we are His debtors; for He is without need and wants nothing, while without Him we are not able to do anything good (cf John 15:5). The person found worthy of praising God gains more by it than God, for he has received a great and marvelous gift of grace. The more he praises God, the more he becomes a debtor, until finally he finds no limit or interruption to his knowledge of God or to thanksgiving or humilits- or love. For these things belong, not to this world - which would mean that they had an end - but to that eternal world which does not have an end and in which there is on the contrary an increase in knowledge and in gifts of grace. He who in thought and practice is found worthy of that world is freed from all the passions.
In order to attain all this we must focus our attention on God, have no concern for this world, and must not-be dismayed by any trial or temptation. Starting from this world, we must continually advance, ascending to a higher level of reality. We should not be distracted by anything: neither by dreams, whether evil or seemingly good, nor by the thought of anything, whether good or bad, nor by distress or deceitful joy, 'nor by self-conceit or despair, nor by depression or elation, nor by a sense of abandonment or by illusory help and strength, nor by negligence or progress, nor by laziness or seeming zeal, nor by apparent dispassion or passionate attachment. Rather with humility we should strive to maintain a state of stillness, free from all distraction, knowing that no one can do us harm unless we ourselves wish for it.
Because of our conceit and our failure constantly to have recourse to God, we should cast ourselves down before Him, asking that His will should be done in all things and saynig to every thought that comes to us: I do not know who you are; God knows if you are good or not; for I have thrown myself, as I shall continue to throw myself, into His hands, and He looks after me (cf. I Pet. 5:7). For just as He created me out of what was not, so it is within His power to save me by His grace if He so chooses. May His holy will be done in this world and in the next, as He wishes and when He wishes. I have no will of my own. I know but one thing: that, though I have sinned greatly, I receive great blessings; and yet I do not even thank God for His goodness through my actions and my thoughts, so far as it is in my power to do so. In spite of this He is able and willing to save all men, myself included, as He wishes. How do I know, being a man, whether He wants me to be this or that? Thus, through fear of sinning, I have fled to this stillness; and because of my sins and my many weaknesses I sit doing nothing in my cell, like a prisoner, awaiting the Lord's decision.
Yet even if we see that we are doing nothing and are altogether lost, let us not be afraid; for if we do not leave our cell, we will learn contrition of soul and will shed heartfelt tears. But again, should we find ourselves eager to undertake spiritual labors and should we be granted such tears, let us not rejoice over this but be on our guard against fraud and prepare ourselves for war.
In short, we should be detached from all things, whether good or bad, so that nothing perturbs us and we reach a state of stillness, struggling as much as we can and, if we have someone to advise us, doing what we are told to do. If we do not have anyone to advise us, we should take Christ as our counselor, asking Him with humility and through pure heartfelt prayer about every thought and undertaking. Let us not presume that we are fully-tested monks until we have encountered Christ in the world to be, as Abba Agathon and St John Klimakos tell us. If our sole purpose is to do God's will, God Himself will teach us what it is, assuring us of it either directly, through the intellect, or by means of some person or of Scripture. And if for God's sake we amputate our own will. God will enable us to reach, with inexpressible joy, a perfection that we have never known; and when we experience this we will be filled with wonder at seeing how joy and spiritual knowledge begin to pour forth from everywhere. We will derive some profit from everything and God will reign in us, since we have no will of our own, but have submitted ourselves to the holy will of God. We become like-kings, so that whatever we desire we receive effortlessly and speedily from God, who has us in His care.
A Further Analysis of the Seven Forms of Bodily Discipline
This is the faith with which the Lord said it is possible to move mountains (cf Matt 21 :21); upon it, according to St Paul (cf. Col I :23), the other virtues are founded. For this reason the enemy does everything he can to disrupt our state of stillness and make us fall into temptation. And if he finds us in some way lacking in faith, wholly or partially trusting in our own strength and judgment, he takes advantage of this to overcome us and to take us captive, pitiful as we are. Once we have truly grasped this, we will, abandon all the delights and comforts of this world, and will free ourselves as fast as possible from its preoccupations and anxieties. We will do this either through the way of obedience, setting our spiritual father in the place of Christ and referring every idea, thought and action to him, so that we have nothing we can call our own; or by following the path of stillness in resolute faith, fleeing from all things.
Then for us Christ takes the place of all things and becomes all things for us, in this world and in the world to come, as St John Chrysostom and St John of Damaskos say. Christ feeds us, clothes us, brings us joy, encourages us, gladdens us, gives us rest, teaches and enlightens us. In short, Christ cares for us as He cared for His disciples; and even if we do not have to toil as they did, yet we have their firmness of faith, which frees us from the self-concern that dominates other people. Like the apostles in their fear of the Jews, we sit in our cells out of fear of the spirits of evil, and we await our Teacher. We await Him so that through contemplation in the full sense, or through the spiritual knowledge of His creatures, we may be helped to rise noetically from the passions and be given peace, as happened according to St Maximos to the apostles when the doors were closed (cf. John 20: 19). We should always carry out what was said at the beginning of this work with regard to the seven forms of bodily and moral discipline, not doing either more or less than was recommended there.
Exceptions may be if a person is too young to engage in bodily warfare, or if he possesses excessive bodily strength which requires a correspondingly severe degree of discipline. Again, exceptions may be made in cases of bodily frailty: here a certain relaxation can be allowed, but not a total suspension of discipline, for this according to St Isaac can harm even the dispassionate. The relaxation must be no more than is necessary as a remedy for the sickness; then the soul will not take it as an excuse for slackening its own exertions. This is the right course when a person desperately wants some relaxation. Yet such relaxation, they say, can be dangerous for the young and the healthy.
The holy fathers St Basil and St Maximos state that, to relieve hunger and thirst, only bread and water are needed, while for health and bodily strength we require other foods that God in His compassion has given us. But so that the constant eating of the same thing does not produce a feeling of revulsion in the sick person, he should eat different foods, one at a time, as already said. It is abstention and dissipation that bring on illness, while self-control and a change of foods each day are conducive to health. The body then remains impervious to pleasure and sickness, and co-operates in the acquisition of the virtues.
As has been said, all this is intended for those who are still engaged in the struggle for purification. As for those who have attained the state of dispassion, they often do not eat for days on end, since they have become like children in their devotion to Christ and forget about their bodies. St Sisois was such a person: in the ecstasy of his love for God he asked to take communion after he had eaten. As St Paul said for the good of us all, 'If we go out of ourselves in ecstasy, it is for God; if we are restrained, it is foryour sake' (2 Cor. 5:13). Among others, St Basil the Great has also spoken of these things. Certain people in this state, even after eating plentifully, have not been aware of it: it is as if they had eaten nothing. For their intellect is not in the body, and so is not aware of the body's ease or its pain.
This is clear from many of the fathers and holy martyrs, as well as from the saint whom Evagrios described. A certain elder living in the desert, he tells us, used to pray noetically; and it happened - for his benefit as well as for that of many others - that God permitted the demons to seize him hand and foot and fling him down from a high place; yet so that he would not be harmed by falling from such a height, they would catch him on a rush-mat. This they did for some time, trying to see if his intellect would descend from the heavens; but they were not able to make it do so. 'When would such a man be aware of food or drink or of anything bodily? Or take the case of St Ephrem: after he had conquered all the passions of soul and body by the grace of Christ, he asked in his immense humility that the gift of dispassion might be taken away from him, so that he would not fail into idleness and be condemned because he no longer had to fight the enemy. St John Khmakos was amazed at this and wrote that there are some, like St Ephrem, who are more dispassionate than those who have attained the state of dispassion.
We therefore need discrimination in all things so that we may rightly assess every form of action. For him who possesses it, discrimination is a light illuminating the right moment, the proposed action, the form it takes, strength, knowledge, maturity, capacity, weakness, resolution, aptitude, degree of contrition, inner state, ignorance, physical strength and temperament, health and misery, behavior, position, occupation, upbringing, faith, disposition, purpose, way of life, degree of fearlessness, skill, natural intelligence, diligence, vigilance, sluggishness, and so on. -Then discrimination reveals the nature of things, their use, quantity and variety, as well as the divine purpose and meaning in each word or passage of Holy Scripture. An example of how to discern such a meaning occurs in the Gospel of St John. When the Greeks came wanting to see the Lord, He said, 'The hour is come' (John 12:23). Clearly He meant that the moment for the calling of the Gentiles had arrived: for the time of His passion had begun, and He used this request from the Greeks as a sign. Discrimination clarifies all these things and also the significance of the interpretation given by the fathers. As St Neilos says, it is not what happens that is the object of our enquiry, but why it happens.
If we act in ignorance of all this we may expend much effort but will accomplish nothing. That is what St Antony the Great and St Isaac say about those who struggle to attain bodily virtues but neglect the work proper to the intellect, though such work should be our main concern. In the words of St Maximos, 'Engage the body in ascetic practice according to its capacity, but apply your whole effort to the intellect.' As he points out, the person disciplining his body is sometimes overcome by gluttony and somnolence, by distraction and-talkativeness, and through these he darkens his intellect; at other times he clouds his mind through extended fasting, vigils and excessive labors. But he who cultivates the intellect contemplates, prays and engages in theology, and is able to achieve every virtue.
A sensible person struggles intelligently to minimize, so far as he can, the needs of his body, so that he may devote himself to the keeping of the commandments with few or no material preoccupations. Indeed, the Lord Himself says, 'Do not worry about your life, what you will eat, or what you will drink, or about your body, what you will put on' (Matt. 6:25). When a person is full of such anxiety he cannot even see himself: how then can he perceive the long-prepared snares of the enemy? For, as St John Chrysostom remarks, the enemy does not always fight in the open. If he did, so-many of us would not have fallen so readily into his snares, leaving but a few that are saved, as the Lord says (cf Luke 13:23-24). On the contrary, when he wants to plunge a person into some great sin, the enemy prepares the ground by making him negligent in trivial, unnoticed things. For example, before adultery, there are frequent licentious glances; before murder, moments of anger; before the clouding of the mind, small distractions; and, before these, concern for what appear to be the needs of the body. Because of this the Lord who, as the Wisdom of the Father (cf. I Cor. 1:24), foreknows all things and so anticipates the devil's tricks, commands us to frustrate the impulses to sin by cutting them off before they can develop, lest by thinking that little things may readily be condoned we fall calamitously into great and terrible sins. This He emphasizes in the Sermon on the Mount, when He says, 'It was said by the men of old', that is, by those under the Law, and then continues, 'But I say to you' (cf Matt. 5:21-48).
The true student of the Holy Gospels should therefore pay attention to what the Savior teaches him and do all he can to escape from the enemy's traps. He should regard the commandments as a privilege and a great blessing, since through their deep wisdom he cm save his soul. The commandments are a gift from God and, as St James, the brother of God, rightly says, 'All good giving and every perfect gift comes from above' (Jas. 1:17). And St John of Damaskos says, 'Thou hast appointed her who gave Thee birth as an infallible ambassador for us, Christ; through her intercession grant us Thy merciful Spirit, the bestower of all goodness, who comes through Thee from the Father.'
The man who has received the grace of being attentive to Holy Scripture will find, as the fathers say, all benediction hidden everywhere within it. 'He who is instructed in the kingdom of heaven', says the Lord, 'is like a householder who produces from his storeroom things new and old' (Matt. 13:52); and this means someone who has learnt how to read Scripture with devoted attention. For Scripture presents one aspect to most people, even if they think that they understand its meaning, and another to the person who has dedicated himself to continual prayer, that is, who keeps the thought of God always within him, as if it were his breathing. As St Basil the Great says, this is true even if in a worldly sense the person is ignorant and uneducated with regard to secular and merely human knowledge. God reveals Himself, as St John Khmakos states, to simplicity and humility, and not to those who engage in laborious study and superfluous learning.' Indeed, God turns away from such learning if it is not allied to humility: as St Paul says, it is better to be ignorant in speech rather than in spiritual knowledge (cf. 2 Cor. 11:6). Spiritual knowledge is a gift of grace, but skill in speaking is a matter of human learning, as are the other forms of worldly education: they do not contribute to the salvation of the soul. The example of the pagan Greeks makes this clear.
Reading serves as a reminder for those who know from experience about what is being said, while to those who lack experience it provides instruction. As St Basil remarks, when God finds a heart free from all worldly matters and worldly learning. He then writes on it His own thoughts as if it were a clean slate. I say this so that no one will read what does not assist him to conform to God's will. But if in ignorance of this he does, read something unprofitable, let him quickly try to erase it from his mind through spiritual reading in the Holy Scriptures, and especially in those that contribute to the salvation of his soul at the particular point which he has reached in his development. If he is still engaged in ascetic practice, let him read the lives and sayings of the fathers; if grace has raised him to the sphere of divine knowledge, let him read in all the Holy Scriptures, since, in the words of St Paul, this is able to destroy 'all the self-esteem that exalts itself against the knowledge of God' (2 Cor. 10:5), and to correct all disobedience and transgression through active virtue and true knowledge of the divine commandments and teachings of Christ. Read nothing other than these; for what is the use of giving admittance to an unclean spirit rather than to the Holy Spirit? For our aim is to grasp the spirit of whatever text we study, even though that does not appear so difficult to us as it does to those with experience.
The purpose of spiritual reading is to keep the intellect from distraction and restlessness, for this is the first step towards salvation. Solomon says that the enemy 'hates the sound of steadfastness' (Prov. 11:15. LXX), while the wandering of the mind is the first step towards sinning, as St Isaac states. ' If you want to be completely free from distraction, keep to your cell. Should you become listless, work a little for the benefit of others and to help the sick, for this is what the man of dispassion and the man of spiritual knowledge do. This, indeed, is what the greatest of the fathers did, allowing themselves for the sake of humility to act in the same way as those enslaved to the passions. For they were always able to hold God within themselves and to devote themselves to contemplation in Him, whether workmg with their hands or in the market place. As St Basil the Great says, even when in a crowd the truly perfect are always alone with themselves and God.
If you have not yet reached this stage, but want to get rid of some of your listlessness, you should give up all talk with other people and all sleep beyond what is necessary, allowing the listlessness to smelt you in body and soul, until such time as it grows exhausted and retreats in the face of your patient uninterrupted devotion to God, your readmg, and the purity of your prayer. For every enemy assailant, if he sees that he can accomplish something, continues to fight; but when he sees that he cannot, he withdraws, either for good or for a short while. Thus, if you want to defeat your assailants you should endure with all patience: 'He who endures to the end will be saved' (Matt. 10:22). According to St Paul, it is right to afflict those who vex us, and to bring relief to ourselves when we are afflicted (cf 2 Thess. 1:6-7).
Nothing done in humility for the sake of God is bad. But things and pursuits differ. Everything not strictly necessary is a hindrance to salvation - everything, that is to say, that does not contribute to the soul's salvation or to the body's life. For it is not food,, but gluttony, that is bad; not money, but attachment to it; not speech, but idle talk; not the world's delights, but dissipation; not love of one's family, but the neglect of God that such love may produce; not the clothes worn only for covering and protection from cold and heat, but those that: are excessive and costly; not the houses that also protect us from, heat and cold, as well as from anything human or animal that might harm us, but houses with two or three floors, large and expensive; not owning something, but owning it when it has no vital use for us; not the possession of books on the part of those who have embraced total poverty, but the possession of books for some purpose other than spiritual reading; not friendship, but the having of friends who are of no benefit to one's soul; not woman, but unchastity; not wealth, but avarice; not wine, but drunkenness; not anger used in accordance with nature for the chastisement of sin, but its use against one's fellow-men.
Again, it is not authority that is bad, but the love of authority; not glory, but the love of glory and-what is worse — vainglory; not the acquisition of virtue, but to suppose that one has acquired it; not spiritual knowledge, but to think that one is wise and - worse than this - to be ignorant of one's own ignorance; not true knowledge but what is falsely called knowledge (cf. I Tim. 6:20); not the world, but the passions; not nature, but what is contrary to nature; not agreement, but agreement to do what is evil does not contribute to the soul's salvation; not the body's members, but their misuse. For sight was given us, not so that we should desire what we ought not to desire, but so that on seeing God's creatures we might because of them glorify the Creator and thus nourish our soul and our body. The ears were given us, not to listen to slander and stupidities, but to hear the word of God and every form of speech - of men, birds or anything else - that leads as to glorify the Creator. The nose was given us, not so that we might debilitate and unbrace our soul with delectable perfumes, as St Gregory the Theologian puts it, but so that we might breathe the air bestowed on us by God, and glorify Him because of it; for without it neither man nor beast can live bodily.
I marvel at God's wisdom, at how the most indispensable things - air, fire, water, earth - are readily available to all. And not simply this, but things conducive to the soul's salvation are more accessible than other things, while soul-destroying things are harder to come by. For example, poverty, which anyone can experience, is conducive to the soul's salvation; while riches, which are not simply at our command, are generally a hindrance. It is the same with dishonor, humiliation, patience, obedience, submission, self-control, fasting, vigils, the cutting off of one's will, bodily enfeeblement, thankfulness for all things, trials, injuries, the lack of life's necessities, abstinence from sensual pleasure, destitution, forbearance - in short, all the things conducive to the spiritual life are freely available. No one fights over them. On the contrary, everyone leaves them to those who choose to accept them, whether they have been sought for or have come against our will. Soul-destroying things, on the other hand, are not so readily within our grasp - things, like wealth, glory, pride, intolerance, power, authority, dissipation, gluttony, excessive sleep, having one's own way, health and bodily strength, an easy life, a good income, unrestricted hedonism, lavish and costly clothes, and so on. People struggle greatly for these things, but only a few attain them, and in any case the benefit they confer is fleeting. In short, they produce a great deal of trouble and very little enjoyment. For they bring to those who possess them, as well as to those who do not possess them but desire to do so, all manner of distress.
None the less, it is not the thing itself, but its misuse, that is evil. For we were given hands and feet, not so that we might steal and plunder and lay violent hands on one another, but so that we might use them in ways agreeable to God. The weaker among us should use what we have in acts of compassion towards the poor, so as to help our own spiritual development and to assist the needy; while those who are stronger in soul and body should give away all their possessions in imitation of Christ and His holy disciples. In this way we can glorify God and at the same time leam to look with wonder at the divine wisdom hidden in our limbs. For through God's providence our hands and fingers are apt for every skill and activity, whether writing or anything else. From God, too, comes the knowledge of numberless arts and scripts, of healing and medicine, of languages and the various other branches of learning. In short, all things, whether past, present or future, have been and are always being given to us by God in His great goodness, so that our bodies may live and our souls may be saved, provided we use all these things according to His purpose, glorifying Him through them with all thankfulness. If we fail to do this, we will fall and perish, and all things will cause us affliction in this present age, while in the age to be they will bring on us agelong punishment, as has been said.
If by the grace of God you have received the gift of discrimination, you should in great humility do everything you can to guard it, so that you do nothing without it. Otherwise you will bring on yourself greater chastisement by sinning knowingly because of your negligence. If you have not received this gift you should not think, say or do anything without consulting others about it, and without a basis of firm faith and pure prayer. Without such faith and such prayer you will never truly achieve discrimination.
Discrimination is born of humility. On its possessor it confers spiritual insight, as both Moses and St John Klimakos say: such a man foresees the hidden designs of the enemy and foils them before they are put into operation. It is as David states: 'And my eyes looked down upon my enemies' (Ps. 14:7. LXX). Discrimination is characterized by an unerring recognition of what is good and what is not, and the knowledge of the will of God in all that one does. Spiritual insight is characterized, first, by awareness of one's own failings before they issue in outward actions, as well as of the stealthy tricks of the demons; and, second, by the knowledge of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in sensible creation.
As has been already explained, humility, the mother of discrimination and spiritual insight, likewise has its own characteristic by which it is known. The humble person, must possess every virtue and yet truly think himself the greatest of debtors and inferior to everythmg else in creation. If, however, a person does not think in this way, then he can be assured that he is mi fact inferior to everythmg else in creation, even though he seems to lead a life like that of the angels. For even a true angel possessing so many virtues and so much wisdom cannot conform to the Creator's will unless he also possesses humility. What, then, can a person who thinks that he is an angel say for himself if he lacks humility, source of all present and future blessings, begetter of that discrimination which illumines the ends of the earth and without which all things are obscure?
Discrimination is not only called light; it truly is light. We need this light before we say or do anything. When it is present we are able to view everything else with wonder. We can marvel at how God, on the first and greatest of days, began by creating light, so that what was subsequently created might not he invisible and as if it did not exist, as St John of Damaskos says.' Let it be said again: discrimination is light; and the spiritual insight it generates is more necessary than all other gifts. For what is more necessary than to perceive the wiles of the demons and with the help of God's grace to protect one's soul? Other things most necessary to; us include, according to St Isaac, purity of conscience; and, according to the apostle, the sanctification of the body (cf Rom. 12:1; I Cor. 6:19-20) without which 'no one will see the Lord' (Heb. 12:14).
That We Should Not Despair Even If We Sin Many Times
Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding Him in your ignorance as powerless? Is He, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as His incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son (cf Luke 16:20) and the prostitute (cf. Luke 7: 37-50). But if repentance is too much foryou, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (cf. Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God's compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well. Even if he is subject to the devil in that he sins, yet from fear of God he disobeys the enemy when the latter tries to make him despair. Because of this he has his portion with God; for he is grateful, gives thanks, is patient, fears God, does not judge so that he may not be judged. All these are crucial qualities. It is as St John Chrysostom says about Gehenna: it is almost of greater benefit to us than the kingdom of heaven, since because of it many enter into the kingdom of heaven, while few enter for the sake of the kingdom itself; and if they do enter it, it is by virtue of God's compassion. Gehenna pursues us with fear, the kingdom embraces us with love, and through them both we are saved by Christ's grace.
If those attacked by many passions of soul and body endure patiently, do not out of negligence surrender their free will, and do not despair, they are saved. Similarly, he who has attained the state of dispassion, freedom from fear and lightness of heart, quickly falls if he does not confess God's grace continually by not judging anyone. Indeed, should he dare to judge someone, he makes it evident that in acquiring his wealth he has rehed on his own strength, as St Maximos states. St John of Damaskos says that if someone still subject to the passions, and still bereft of the light of spiritual knowledge, is put in charge of anyone, he is in great danger: and so is the person who has received dispassion and spiritual knowledge from God but does not help other people.
Nothing so benefits the weak as withdrawal into stillness, or the man subject to the passions and without spiritual knowledge as obedience combined with stillness. Nor is there anything better than to know one's own weakness and ignorance, nor anything worse than not to recognize them. No passion is so hateful as pride, or as ridiculous as avarice, 'the root of all evils' (1 Tim. 6:10): for those who with great labor mine silver, and then hide it in the earth again, remain without any profit. That is why the Lord says, 'Do not store up treasures on earth' (Matt. 6:19): and again: 'Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also' (Matt. 6:21). For the intellect of man is drawn by longing towards those things with which it habitually occupies itself, whether these be earthly things, or the passions, or heavenly and eternal blessings. As St Basil the Great says, a persistent habit acquires all the strength of nature.
A weak person especially ought to pay attention to the promptings of his conscience, so that he may free his soul from all condemnation. Otherwise at the end of his life he may repent in vain and mourn eternally. The person who cannot endure for Christ's sake a physical death as Christ did, should at least be willing to endure death spiritually. Then he will be a martyr with respect to his conscience, in that he does not submit to the demons that assail him, or to then' purposes, but conquers them, as did the holy martyrs and the holy fathers. The first were bodily martyrs, the latter spiritual martyrs. By forcing oneself slightly, one defeats the enemy: through slight negligence one is filled with darkness and destroyed.
A Short Discourse on the Acquisition of the Virtues and on Abstinence from the Passions
According to St Basil the Great, nothing so darkens the mind as evil, and nothing so enlightens the intellect as spiritual reading in stillness. Nor does anything so quickly fill the soul with sorrow as the thought of death, or so contribute to our secret progress as self-reproach and the excising of our own will On the other hand, nothing so abets our secret destruction as conceit and self-satisfaction, or so cuts us off from God and provokes our chastisement at the hands of other men as grumbling, or so disposes us to sin as a disorderly life and talkativeness. Again, nothing so quickly fosters the acquisition of virtue as the solitary life and meditation, or so rapidly promotes gratitude and thankfulness as reflection on God's gifts and our own wickedness. Nothing so augments the blessings bestowed on us as our recognition of them, or so contributes to our salvation, even against our will, as trials and temptations. There is no shorter way to Christ - that is to say, to dispassion and the wisdom of the Spirit - than the royal way that avoids both excess and deficiency in all things; nor is any virtue more capable of comprehending the divine will than humility and the abandoning of every personal thought and desire. Nothing so contributes to every good action as pure prayer, and nothing so impedes the acquisition of the virtues as even the slightest mental distraction and day-dreaming.
The greater one's purity, the more clearly one sees how much one sins; and the more one sins, the more benighted one is, even though one may appear to be pure. Again, the more knowledge one has, the more one thinks oneself ignorant; and the more one is ignorant of one's ignorance and of the shortcomings in one's spiritual knowledge, the more one thinks one knows. The more the spiritual contestant endures afflictions, the more he will defeat the enemy; and, lastly, the more one tries for one day to do something good, the more one is a debtor all the days of one's life, as St Mark has said; for even if the ability and desire to do good are one's own. If sinners should tremble because they have angered God, those who have been shielded by His grace because of their weakness and proneness to despair should tremble even more, since they are deeply in His debt. St Epiphanios says that ignorance of the Scriptures is a huge abyss; worse still is evil consciously committed; while great is the benefit that the soul receives through Scripture and through prayer. To bear with our neighbor; not to distress him when he wrongs us but to help him to be at peace when he is troubled, as St Dorotheos puts it; to show compassion towards him, sharing his burden and praying for him, lull of longing that he may be saved and may enjoy every other blessing of body and soul - this is true forbearance; and it purifies the soul and leads it towards God.
To heal a person is the greatest thing one can do and excels all other virtue, because among the virtues there is nothing higher or more perfect than love for one's neighbor. The sign of this love is not just that one does not keep for oneself anything of which another has need, but also that, as the Lord enjoins, one should joyfully endure death for his sake (cf John 15:13), looking on it as a debt we have to pay. And this is as it should be: for we should love our neighbor to the point of dying for him, not only because nature requires this of us, but also because of the precious blood poured out for us by Christ who commanded us to love in this way. Do not love yourself, says St Maximos, and you will love God; do not pander to your ego, and you will love your brother. Such love comes through hope; and to hope is to believe unhesitatingly that one will surely attain what one hopes for. This in turn is born of a firm faith, where one has no concern whatsoever for one's own life or death, but casts all care upon God (cf. I Pet 5:7), as I said when speaking about the person who wants to acquire the signs of dispassion, of which faith is the foundation. He who has faith should reflect that since God in His extreme goodness has created all things - ourselves included - out of non-existence. He is certainly capable of providing as He thinks fit for our souls and bodies.
How to Acquire True Faith
If we desire to acquire faith - the foundation of all blessings, the door to God's mysteries, unflagging defeat of our enemies, the most necessary of all the virtues, the wings of prayer and the dwelling of God within our soul -we must endure every trial imposed by our enemies and by our many and various thoughts. Only the inventor of evil, the devil, can perceive these thoughts or uncover and describe them. But we should take courage; because if we forcibly triumph over the trials and temptations that befall us, and keep control over our intellect so that it does not give in to the thoughts that spring up in our heart, we will once and for all overcome all the passions; for it will not be we who are victorious, but Christ, who is present in us through faith. It was with regard to this that Christ said, 'If you have faith no bigger than a mustard-seed../ (Luke 17:6). Yet even if our thought, in a moment of weakness, should succumb, we should not be afraid or despair, or ascribe to our own soul what is said to us by the devil. On the contrary, we should patiently and diligently, to the limit of our strength, practice the virtues and keep the commandments, in stillness' and devotion to God, freeing ourselves from all thoughts subject to our volition.
In this way the enemy, who day and night promotes every kind of fantasy and deceit, will not find us worried about his tricks and illusions and all the thoughts within which he lurks, presenting to us as truth what are really deceits and falsehoods, and so he will lose heart and go away. Through such experience of the devil's weakness, the man who practices Christ's commandments will no longer be alarmed by any of his tricks. On the contrary, he will do whatever accords with God's will joyfully and without hindrance, strengthened by faith and assisted by God in whom he has believed. As the Lord Himself has said, 'AH things are possible for the person who believes' (Mark 9:23). For it is not he who fights the enemy, but God, who watches over him on account of his faith. As the Prophet-said, 'You have made the Most High your refuge' (Ps. 91:9. LXX). Such a person no longer feels anxiety about anything, for he knows that 'though the horse is made ready for battle, salvation comes from the Lord' (Prov. 21:31). Because of his faith he faces everything boldly. As St Isaac says, 'Acquire faith within you and you will trample on your enemies. '
The man of faith acts, not as one endowed with free will, but as a beast that is led by the will of God. He says to God: 'I became as a beast before Thee; yet I am continually with Thee' (Ps. 73:22-23). If Thy desire is that I should be at rest in Thy knowledge, I shall not refuse. If it is that I should experience temptation so as to learn humility, again I am with Thee. Of myself, there is absolutely nothing' I can do. For without Thee I would not have come into existence from non-existence; without Thee I cannot live or be saved. Do what Thou wilt to Thy creature; for I believe that, being good. Thou bestowest blessings on me, even if I do not recognize that they are for my benefit. Nor am I worthy to know, nor do I claim to understand, so as to be at rest: this might not be to my profit.
I do not dare to ask for relief in any of my battles, even if I am weak and utterly exhausted: for I do not know what is good for me. 'Thou knowest all things' (John 21:17); act according to Thy knowledge. Only do not let me go astray, whatever happens; whether I want it or not, save me, though, again, only if it accords with Thy will. I, then, have nothing: before Thee I am as one that is dead; I commit my soul into Thy pure hands, in this age and in the age to be. Thou art able to do all things; Thou knowest all things; Thou desirest every kind of goodness for all men and ever longest for my salvation. This is clear from the many blessings that in Thy grace Thou hast bestowed and always bestowest on us, visible and invisible, known to us and unknown; and from that gift of Thyself to us, Son and Logos of God, which is beyond our understanding. Yet who am I that I should dare to speak to Thee of these things. Thou searcher of hearts? I speak of them in order to make known to myself and to my enemies that I take refuge in Thee, the harbor of my salvation. For I know by Thy grace that 'Thou an my God' (Ps. 31:14).
I do not dare to say many things, but only wish to set before Thee an intellect that is inactive, deaf and dumb. It is not myself, but Thy grace that accomplishes all things: for, knowing that I am always full of evil, I do not attribute such things to my own goodness; and because of this I fall down as a servant before Thee, for Thou hast found me worthy of repentance, and 'I am Thy servant, and the son of Thy handmaid' (Ps. 116:16). But do not allow me, my Lord Jesus Christ, my God, to do, say or think anything contrary to Thy will: the sins I have already committed are enough. But in whatever way Thou desirest have mercy on me. I have sinned: have mercy on me as Thou knowest. I believe. Lord, that Thou nearest this my pitiable cry, 'Help Thou my unbelief (Mark 9:24), Thou who hast granted me, not only to be, but also to be a Christian. 'It is a great thing'. St John of Karpathos has said, 'for me to be called a monk and a Christian.' As Thou hast said. Lord, to one of Thy servants, 'It is no light thing for you to be called by My name' (cf. Isa. 49:6. LXX). This is more to me than all the kingdoms of heaven or of earth. Let me always be called by Thy most sweet name. Master, full of compassion, I give thanks to Thee.
Just as certain readings and certain words, tears and prayers are appropriate for one engaged in ascetic practice, so his is a different kind of faith from that superior faith which gives birth to stillness. The former is the faith of hearsay, the latter is the faith of contemplation, as St Isaac says. Contemplation is more sure than hearsay. For the ordinary initial faith of the Orthodox is born of natural knowledge, and from this faith are born devotion to God, fasting and vigil, reading and psalmody, prayer and the questioning of those with experience. It is such practices that give birth to the soul's virtues, that is, to the constant observance of the commandments and of moral conduct. Through this observance come great faith, hope, and the perfect love that ravishes the intellect to God in prayer, when one is united with God spiritually, as St Neilos puts it.
The words of prayer are written once and for all, so that he who wishes to present his intellect motionless before the Holy and Life-giving Trinity may always pray one and the same -prayer. The intellect itself has me sense that it is seen, even though at that time it is utterly impossible for it to see anything, for it is imageless, formless, colorless, undisturbed, undistracted, motionless, matterless, entirely transcending all the things that can be apprehended and perceived in the created world. It communes with God- in deep peace and with perfect calm, having only God in mind, until it is seized with rapture and found worthy to say the Lord's Prayer as it should be said. This is what we are told by St Philmion and St Irene, as well as by the holy apostles, the martyrs and other holy men. Anything other than this is illusion born of self-conceit. For the Divine is infinite and uncircumscnbed, and the intellect that returns to itself must be in a similar state, so that through grace it may experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. 'For we walk by faith, not by sight,' says St Paul (2 Cor. 5:7).
For this reason we should persist in our ascetic practice, so that through this enduring persistence our intellect is drawn in longing towards the Divine. For if the intellect does not find something that is superior to sensible realities it cannot direct its desire towards it, abandoning the things to which it has been so long accustomed. Just as the compassionate and the dispassionate are not greatly harmed by the affairs of this life, since they manage them well, so those who have received great gifts of grace are not harmed, since they ascribe their achievements to God.
That Stillness Is of Great Benefit to Those Subject to Passion
Stillness and withdrawal from men and human affairs are of benefit to all, but especially to those who are weak and subject to the passions. For the intellect cannot attain dispassion by means of ascetic practice alone: such practice must be followed by spiritual contemplation. Nor will anyone escape unharmed from distraction and from exercising authority over others unless he has first acquired dispassion through withdrawal. The cares and confusion, of this life are liable to harm even the perfect and the dispassionate. Human effort is profitless, says St John John Chrysostom, without help from above; but no one receives such help unless he himself chooses to make an effort. We need always both things; we need the human and the divine, ascetic practice and spiritual knowledge, fear and hope, inward grief and solace, tearfulness and humility, discrimination and love. For. he says, all things in life are twofold: day and night, light and dark, health and sickness, virtue and vice, ease and adversity, life and death. Through the help from above we in our weakness come to love God, while through our own effort we flee sin out of our fear of trials. But if we are strong we can love God as our Father in all things, knowing that all things are 'wholly good and beautiful' (Gen. 1:31) and that God orders them for our benefit. We will restrain ourselves from pleasures and long for adversity, knowing that through such self-restraint our bodies are imbued with life for the glory of the Creator, while through adversity our souls are helped towards salvation by the ineffable mercy of God.
Men are of three kinds: slaves, hirelings or sons. Slaves do not love the good, but refrain from evil out of fear of punishment; this, as St Dorotheos observes, is a good thing, but not fully in accord with God's will. Hirelings love what is good and hate what is evil, out of hope of reward. But sons, being perfect, refrain from evil, not Out of fear of punishment, but because they hate evil violently; and they do what is good, not because they hope for reward, but because they consider it their duty. They love dispassion because it imitates God and leads Him to dwell in them; through it they refrain from all evil, even if no punishment threatens them. For unless we are dispassionate God in His holiness does not send down His Holy Spirit upon us, lest we violate His indwelling because out of habit we are still drawn towards the passions, and so incur greater condemnation. But when we are established in virtue, and are no longer friendly with our enemies or pulled this way and that by our impassioned habits, then we receive grace and are not liable to condemnation through receiving it. It is for this reason, according to St John Klimakos, that God does not reveal His will to us lest, after learning it, we disobey Him and so incur greater condemnation, failing like children to recognize in our ingratitude His limitless mercy towards us. For if we want to learn the divine will, he says, we must die to the whole world and to our every wish.
We should not do any thing about which we feel hesitation, nor should we consider something good unless we cannot live or be saved without it. That is why we should question men of experience. In this way, through prayer and firm faith we receive a sense of assurance, until such time as we attain the perfect dispassion that makes our intellect invulnerable and invmcible in eveiy good activity. Thus the battle is great, but we remain unharmed. 'For My power comes to its fullness in your weakness', says the Lord to St Paul; and St Paul adds, 'When I am weak, then I am strong' (2 Cor. 12:9-10). It is not good to be free from warfare. For the demons retreat for many reasons, as St John Klimakos explains: it may be in order to set an ambush, or to make one presumptuous; and they leave behind self-elation or some other evil, contenting themselves with this on the grounds that it can take the place of the other passions.
The fathers, says the Gerontikon, kept the commandments; their successors wrote them down; but we have placed their books on the shelves. And even if we want to read them, we do not have the application to understand what is said and to put it into practice; we read them either as something incidental, or because we think that by reading them we are doing something great, thus growing full of pride. We do not realize that we incur greater condemnation if we do not put into practice what we read, as St John Chrysostom says. And we should remember what the Lord says about the servant who knew his master's will but failed to carry it out (cf Luke 12:47).
Thus reading and spiritual knowledge are good, but only when they lead to greater humility; and to seek advice is good so long as one is not inquisitive about the life of one's teacher. As St Gregory the Theologian says: 'Do not question the authority of him who teaches you or preaches to you.' The Lord Himself commands us to carry out what the priests tell us to do (cf. Matt. 23:3). For the actions of those from whom we ask advice do not harm us; nor, on the other hand, does their advice help us if we fail to put it into practice. Each will have to give account for himself: the teacher, for his words; the disciple, for his obedience in doing what he is told. Everything apart from this is contrary to nature and merits condemnation. As St Evstratios said: 'God is good and righteous, and in His goodness He gives us every good thing, so long as we are grateful, acknowledging through our thanksgiving the good we. have received. But if we are ungrateful, we are condemned by the righteous judgment of God' Thus God's goodness and righteousness by nature supply us with every good thing; if we misuse His gifts, they procure our agelong punishment.
The Great Benefit of True Repentance
It is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. 'You fell,' it is written, 'now arise' (cf Prov. 24: 16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all of your salvation, no matter what happens. So long as you do not surrender yourself willingly to the enemy, your patient endurance, combined with self-reproach, will suffice for your salvation. 'For at one time we ourselves went astray in our folly and disobedience', says St Paul. '... Yet He saved us, not because of any good things we had done, but in His mercy' (Tit. 3:3,5). So do not despair in any way, ignoring God's help, for He can do whatever He wishes. On the contrary, place your hope in Him and He will do one of these things: either through trials and temptations, or in some other way which He alone knows. He will bring about your restoration; or He will accept your patient endurance and humility in the place of works; or because of your hope He will act-lovingly towards you in some other way of which you are not aware, and so will save your shackled soul. Only do not abandon your Physician, for otherwise you will suffer senselessly the twofold death because you do not know the hidden ways of God.
What has been said in relation to spiritual knowledge also applies to ascetic practice. Ever,' action of soul and body is beset by six snares: to the left and right lie excess and deficiency of effort; above and below lie self-elation and despair; on the near side and the far side lie cowardice and over-boldness which, as St Gregory the Theologian says, is very different from boldness, even though the words themselves are similar. At the mid-point between these six snares lies action accomplished with due measure and with patience and humility.
It is remarkable how the human intellect sees things differently according to its own light, even when these things are unalterable and in themselves remain what they are. It is because of this that we do not all have the same attitude to things, but each of us uses them as he wishes, whether for good or for-ill. We use sensible things in our practical activity, and intelligible things in thought and disputation.
It seems to me that there are four ways of viewing men and that these correspond to the four states of which St Gregory the Theologian speaks. Some, such as the saints and those who attain dispassion, flourish both in this world and in the world to be. Others, such as the rich man in the Gospel (cf. Matt. 19:22), prosper only in this world, in that, though they are blessed in soul or body, they are unworthy of it, since they are without gratitude towards their Benefactor. Others, such as the paralytic (cf. Matt. 9:2), who are subject to prolonged illness and gladly embrace afflictions, are punished only in this world. Others, finally, such as those tempted like Judas by their own selfish desires, are punished both in this world and in the world to be.
Moreover, men also have four different attitudes towards sensible realities. Some, like the demons, hate God's works, and they commit evil deliberately. Others, like the irrational animals, love these works because they are attractive, but their love is full of passion and they make no effort to acquire natural contemplation or to show gratitude. Others, in a way that befits men, love God's works in a natural manner, with spiritual knowledge and gratitude, and they use everything with self-control. Finally, others, like the angels, love these works in a manner that is above and beyond nature, contemplating all things to the glory of God and making use of them only in so far as they are necessary for life, as St Paul puts it (cf. I Tim. 6:8).
God's Universal and Particular Gifts
We ought all of us always to give thanks to God for both the universal and the particular gifts of soul and body that He bestows on us. The universal gifts consist of the four elements and all that comes into being through them, as well as all the marvelous works of God mentioned in the divine Scriptures. The particular gifts consist of all that God has given to each individual. These include wealth, so that one can perform acts of charity; poverty, so that one can endure it with patience and gratitude; authority, so that one can exercise righteous judgment and establish virtue; obedience and service, so that one can more readily attain salvation of soul; health, so that one can assist those in need and undertake work worthy of God; sickness, so that one may earn the crown of patience; spiritual knowledge and strength, so that one may acquire virtue; weakness and ignorance, so that, turning one's back on worldly things, one may be under obedience in stillness and humility; unsought loss of goods and possessions, so that one may deliberately seek to be saved and may be helped when incapable of shedding all one's possessions or even of giving alms; ease and prosperity, so that one may voluntarily struggle and suffer to attain the virtues and thus become dispassionate and fit to save other souls; trials and hardship, so that those who cannot eradicate their own will- may be saved in spite of themselves, and those capable of joyful endurance may attain perfection. All these things, even if they are opposed to each other, are nevertheless good when used correctly; but when misused, they are not good, but are harmful for both soul and body.
Better than them all, however, is the patient endurance of afflictions; and he who has been found worthy of this great gift should give thanks to God in that he has been all the more blessed. For he has become an imitator of Christ, of His holy apostles, and of the martyrs and saints: he has received from God great strength and spiritual knowledge, so that he may voluntarily abstain from pleasure and may readily embrace hardship through the eradication of his own will and his rejection of unholy thoughts, and may thus always do and think what is in accordance with God's will. Those who have been found worthy of using things as they ought to be used should in all humility give heartfelt thanks to God. for by His grace they have been freed from what is contrary to nature and from the transgression of the commandments. We, however, who are still subject to the passions and who still misuse things, and who therefore act in a manner that is contrary to nature, should tremble and in all gratitude should give heartfelt thanks to our Benefactor, astonished at His unutterable forbearance, in that though we have disobeyed His commandments, misused His creation and rejected His gifts. He endures our ingratitude and docs not cease to confer His blessings on us, awaiting until our last breath for our conversion and repentance.
Thus we should all give thanks to Him, as it is said: 'In everything give thanks' (1 Thess. 5:18). Closely linked to this phrase is another of St Paul's injunctions: 'Pray without ceasing' (1 Thess. 5:17), that is, be mindful of God at all times, in all places, and in every circumstance. For no matter what you do, you should keep in mind the Creator of all things. When you see the light, do not forget Him who gave it to you; when you see the sky, the earth, the sea and all that is in them, marvel at these things and glorify their Creator; when you put on clothing, acknowledge whose gift it is and praise Him who in His providence has given you life. In short, if everything you do becomes for you an occasion for glorifying God, you will be praying unceasingly. And in this way your soul will always rejoice, as St Paul commends (cf. I Thess. 5:15). For as St Dorotheos explains, remembrance of God rejoices the soul; and he adduces David as witness: 'I remembered God, and rejoiced' (cf. Ps. 77:3. LXX).
How God Has Done All Things For Our Benefit
God has done all things for our benefit. We are guarded and taught by the angels; we are tempted by the demons so that we may be humbled and have recourse to God, thus being saved from self-elation and delivered from negligence. On the one hand, we are led to give thanks to our Benefactor through the good things of this world, by which I mean health, prosperity, strength, rest, joy, light, spiritual knowledge, riches, progress in all things, a peaceful life, the enjoyment of honors, authority, abundance and all the other supposed blessings of this life. We are led to love Him and to do what good we can, because we feel we have a natural obligation to repay God for His gifts to us by performing good works. It is of course impossible to repay Him, for our debt always grows larger. On the other hand, through what are regarded as hardships we attain a state of patience, humility and hope of blessings in the age to be; and by these so-called hardships I mean such things as illness, discomfort, tribulation, weakness, unsought distress, darkness, ignorance, poverty, general misfortune, the fear of loss, dishonor, affliction, indigence, and so on. Indeed, not only in the age to be, but even in this present age these things are a source of great blessing to us.
Thus God in His unutterable goodness has arranged all things in a marvelous way for us; and if you want to understand this and to be as you should, you must struggle to acquire the virtues so as to be able to accept with gratitude everything that comes, whether it is good or whether it appears to be bad, and to remain undisturbed in all things. And even when the demons suggest some pride-provoking thought in order to fill you with self -elation, you should remember the shameful things they have said to you in the past and should reject this thought and become humble. And when they again suggest to you something shameful, you should remember that pride-provoking thought and so reject this new suggestion. Thus, through the co-operation of grace and by means of recollection, you make the demons cast out the demons, and are not brought to despair because of their shameful suggestions, or driven out of your mind because of your own conceit. On the contrary, when your intellect is exalted, you fake refuge in humility; and when your enemies humble you before God, you are raised up through hope. In this way until your last breath you will never become confused and fall, or through fear succumb to despair. This, according to the Gerontikon, is the great work of the monk. When his enemies suggest one thing, he suggests something else: when they put forward this something else, he introduces the first thing again, knowing that nothing in this life is exempt from change, and that 'he who endures to the end will be saved' (Matt. 10:22). But the person who wants things to come about as he himself wills does not know where he is going and, like a blind man thrown hither and thither by the wind, he is entirely dominated by whatever befalls him. Like a slave be fears what produces distress, and he is led captive by his own conceit: in his inane joy he thinks he possesses things he has never seen and of whose origin he is completely ignorant - and if he says he is not ignorant of it, then he is all the more blind. This happens because he does not censure himself Such lack of self-criticism is a form of self-satisfaction and leads imperceptibly to destruction, as St Makanos says in his discourses about the monk who saw the heavenly Jerusalem: while this monk was praying with some of the brethren, his intellect was ravished in ecstasy, but he perished because he thought that he had achieved something by his own efforts and did not realize that he had become an even greater debtor. Just as those dominated by the passions do not even know what is obvious to all because of the obfuscation produced by their passions, so the dispassionate, because of the purity of their intellect, know things of which most are ignorant.
How God's Speech Is Not Loose Chatter
God's speech, says St Maximos, is not loose chatter, for though we were all to speak at length, we still would not have uttered the equivalent of a single word of God. For example. God says, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart, and with all your soul, and with all your might' (Deut. 6:5): yet how much have the fathers said and written - and still say and write - without equaling what is contained in that single phrase? For, as St Basil the Great has said, to love God with all your soul means to love nothing together with God: for if someone loves his own soul, he loves God, not with all his soul, but only partially: and if we love ourselves and innumerable other things as well, how can we love God or dare to claim that we love Him? It is the same with love of one's neighbor. If we are not willing to sacrifice this temporal life, or perhaps even the life to come, for the sake of our neighbor, as were Moses and St Paul, how can we say that we love him? For Moses said to God concerning his people. If Thou will forgive their sins, forgive; but if not, blot me as well out of the book of life which Thou hast written' (Exod. 32:32. LXX); while St Paul said, 'For I could wish that I myself were severed from Christ for the sake of my brethren (Rom. 9:3). He prayed, that is to say, that he should perish in order that others might be saved - and these others were the Israelites who were seeking to kill him.
Such are the souls of the saints: they love their enemies more than themselves, and in this age and in the age to come they put their neighbor first in all things, even though because of his ill-will he may be their enemy. They do not seek recompense from those whom they love, but because they have themselves received they rejoice in giving to others all that they have, so that they may conform to their Benefactor and imitate His compassion to the best of their ability; 'for He is bountiful to the thankless and to sinners' (cf Luke 6:35). Indeed, the more a man is found worthy to receive God's gifts, the more he ought to consider himself a debtor to God, who has raised him from the earth and bestowed on dust the privilege of imitating to some degree its Creator and God. For to endure injustice with joy, patiently to do good to one's enemies, to lay down one's own life for one's neighbor, and so on, are gifts from God, bestowed on those who are resolved to receive them from Him through their solicitude in cultivating and protecting what has been entrusted to them, as Adam was commanded to do (cf. Gen. 2:15). In this way they hold fast to the gifts through their gratitude towards their Benefactor. For we have never achieved anything good on our own, but all good things are ours from God by grace, and come as it were from nothingness into being. For 'what do you have which you did not receive?' asks St Paul - receive, that is, freely from God; 'and if you received it, why do you boast as if you had not received it' (1 Cor. 4:7), but had achieved it by yourselt7 Yet by yourself you cannot achieve anything, for the Lord has said: 'Without Me, you can do nothing' (John 15:5).
How It Is Impossible to be Saved Without Humility
Because of the great obscurity produced by the passions, a person may become so demented as to imagine in his lack of humility that he is the equal of the angels, or even greater than they. It was precisely this lack of humility on Lucifer's part that was enough without any other sin to turn him into darkness. What, then, will be the fate of a man who is without humility, since he is but dust and mortal, not to say a sinner? Perhaps in his blindness he does not believe that he has sinned. St John Chrysostom says that the perfect man will certainly become the equal of the angels, as the Lord affirms; but he will do so in the resurrection of the dead, and not in this present world. Even then the perfect will not be angels, but 'equal to the angels' (Luke 20:36). This means that men cannot forsake their own nature, though like the angels they can become changeless through grace and released from all necessity, free in everything they do, possessing ceaseless joy, love of God, and all that 'the eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard' (1 Cor. 2:9).
In this present life, however, it is impossible for anyone to become perfect, though he may receive as it were a pledge of the blessings promised him. For just as those who have not received God's gifts should humble themselves because of their indigence, so those who have received them should likewise humble themselves, since they have received them from God; otherwise they will be condemned for their lack of gratitude. And just as the wealthy ought to confess God's grace because of the gifts He has given them, so those who are rich in virtues ought to do so all the more. Just as the poor should give thanks to God and return rich love to those who assist them, so all the more should the wealthy give thanks, for through God's providence they are able to perform acts of charity and so are saved both in this age and in the age to be. For without the poor they cannot save their souls or nee the temptations of wealth.
Just as disciples should love their masters, so masters should love their disciples, and on behalf of each other they should mutually acknowledge the grace of God who has given to all men spiritual knowledge and every other good thing. For these good things we ought all of us always to give thinks to Him, especially those who have received from Him the power to renew their holy baptism through repentance, because without repentance no one can be saved. For the Lord has said, 'Why do you call me. Lord, Lord, yet fail to do the thmgs I tell you?' (Luke 6:46). But let no one be so stupid as to think, on hearing these or similar words, that if he does not call upon the Lord he will not be culpable. On the contrary, he will be all the more condemned; for, as the Lord has said, 'If they do these things when the wood is green, what will happen when it is dry?' (Luke 23:31); and as Solomon says, 'If the righteous man is only just saved, where will the ungodly and the sinner appear?' (Prov. 11:31. LXX).
Yet when a person sees himself beset on all sides by the divine commandments he should not despair and so suffer greater condemnation than one who commits suicide. Rather, he should marvel at how the divine Scriptures and the commandments urge a man from this side and that towards perfection, so that he cannot find a way to escape from the good by seeking relief in what is inferior. As soon as he wishes to do something bad, he finds himself face to face with threatening dangers, and so he turns towards the good. God in His love arranges all this in a marvelous manner, so that every man may somehow become perfect, even in spite of himself, if only he will take himself in hand. Those who feel gratitude, filled with a sense of shame because of the blessings they have received, embark on the spiritual contest like people crossing over a river while asleep, as St Ephrem puts it. God has multiplied our trials, says St Isaac, so that out of fear of them we may take refuge in Him. He who does not understand this, but through self-indulgence rejects this gift, has slain and destroyed himself: having received arms for use against his enemies, he has used them to kill himself. For just as God, says St Basil the Great, wants to do good to all because He Himself is good, so the devil, because he himself is evil, desires to involve everyone in his own depravity, even though he cannot do this. And just as loving parents, impelled by their love, turn upon their children with threats when they do foolish things, so God permits trials and temptations because they are a rod that turns those who are worthy away from the devil's maleficence. 'He who spares his rod hates his son; but he who loves him chastens hun dihgently' (Prov. 13:24).
Self-indulgent and self-centered as we are, peril besets us on both sides. Those who love God are saved through the trials and temptations He allows them to undergo; but despite such trials we are threatened with destruction because of our pride and because we fail to remain faithful to God, as children who are 'chastened and not killed' (2 Cor. 6:9). Let us therefore choose the less perilous course. For it is better to take refuge in God by patiently enduring whatever befalls us than to turn away from Him in fear of facing the trials and temptations He may send; for if we do the latter, we fall into the hands of the devil - which means eternal destruction - or, rather, we bring punishment upon ourselves along with him. For we are faced with this alternative: we must endure either temporary trials and temptations, or else agelong punishment. The righteous, on the other hand, are free from both the perils which beset us, for they welcome joyfully what seems to us painful, and they embrace trials and temptations as an opportunity for profit, while remaining invulnerable to them. For if a man is hit by an arrow but not wounded he will not die; it is the man who receives a mortal wound who perishes from it. In what way did the plague harm Job? Did it not rather add to his glory? Or did calamity perturb the apostles and martyrs? Rather they rejoiced in it, because 'they were found worthy to suffer disgrace for the sake of His name' (Acts 5: 41).
The more the victor has to struggle, the more he is honored, and from this he derives great joy. When such a person hears the sound of the trumpet, he does not feel fear because it summons him to face death, but rather he rejoices because it foretells the glory that awaits him. For there is nothing that so readily prepares one for victory as bravery combined with a firm faith; and nothing so readily prepares one for defeat as self-centeredness and the cowardice that comes from lack of faith. And there is no better instructor in courage than diligence and experience; nor in clarity of thought than spiritual reading in stillness. Nor is there any cause of forgetfulness so great as indolence, or any swifter path to the forgiveness of sins than the patient endurance of evil. There is no surer way to attain forgiveness of sins than repentance and the eradication of evil, and no more rapid progress of soul than that achieved by cutting off one's own desires and thoughts. Nor is there anything greater than casting oneself down before God day and night and asking that His will be done in all things; or anything worse than loving the license and distraction of soul or body. For such license is in no way beneficial to those of us who cleave to the good because we are still frightened of trials and punishment. On the contrary, we-are helped by watchfulness and by turning away from worldly affairs, so that, at least by renouncing those things that harm us because of our weakness, we may be able to struggle with our thoughts.
The dispassionate rule over the ruling spirits because they have already triumphed over their shameful passions, while those still under obedience to a spiritual father must struggle with the spirits that are subordinate. Both St Makanos and Abba Kronios say that there are ruling demons and demons that are subordinate. The ruling demons are self-esteem, presumption and so on; the subordinate demons are gluttony, unchastity and similar things. Those who have attained perfect love have the power to do what is good without having to force themselves: they rejoice in doing it and never wish to cease. Should they encounter some unsought obstacle, they act under complete control: drawn by their love for God they resort at once to stillness and spiritual work as though to a familiar and delightful pursuit. It is to such men that the fathers say: 'Pray a little, read a little, meditate a little, work a little, watch over your intellect a little, and in this way pass your time. ' They can say this because the dispassionate have control over themselves and are not sinfully led captive by their own desires. When they want, they control the intellect and command the body as though it were their servant.
We, however, ought to be subject to a rule of life, so that we are under an obligation to do what is good, even against our will. For we still pander to our passions and our pleasures, to the comfort of our bodies and to our own desires; and so the enemy leads our intellect where he wills. In the same way our body, dominated by disordered impulses, does whatever it likes uncontrollably. This is only to be expected; for where the intellect is not in command, everything is out of control and contrary to nature. It is altogether different with the true Israelites. When the Lord says to Nathanael, 'Behold, a true Israelite, in whom there is no guile' (John I : 47), he thereby proclaims the virtue of the man; for Nathanael means 'zeal for God'. The name given him by his family was 'Simon'; he was called 'the Canaanite' because he came from Cana of Galilee, and 'Nathanael' because of his virtue. Thus the Israelite - that is to say, the Intellect that sees God - is without guile. For, according to St Basil the Great, it is usual in the divine Scripture to call a man by a name expressing his particular virtue, rather than by the name given him at birth; So it is in the case of the two chief apostles, Peter and Paul: Peter was first called Simon and then given the name Peter because of his steadfastness (cf Mark 3:16), while Saul, which means 'stormy', was changed to Paul, which means 'rest', 'repose' (cf. Acts 13:9). And this was fitting: for at first Paul troubled and disturbed the faithful, but later he gave rest to their souls by word and act, as St John Chrysostom says of him.
Consider the reverence shown by St Paul. When he wished to speak about God, he did not begin until he had offered to Him the prayer and thanksgivmg that befits Him, thus showing that it was from God that he had his knowledge and strength. And this is the right order, for counsel comes after prayer. Likewise St Luke did not leave the Acts of the Apostles incomplete because of negligence or some worldly constraint, but because he departed this life to be with God. We, however, leave our tasks unfinished because of our negligence or debility, for we do not carry out the work of God diligently and do not regard it as our main task; on the contrary, we disdain it as a kind of incidental chore. Because of this we fail to prosper, or indeed often regress, like those others who 'turned back' and no longer followed Jesus (cf John 6:66). And yet, says St John Chrysostom, what Jesus said was nothing harsh, as they thought, for he was speaking to them about doctrine. None the less, where a resolute disposition and desire are lacking, even easy things appear difficult-though the reverse is true as well.
On Building Up the Soul Through the Virtues
According to St Basil the Great, the chief thing that every man needs is endurance, just as the earth needs water. On this earth he should lay the foundation of faith (cf 2 Pet. I :5). Then discrimination, like an experienced builder, can set about slowly building the house of the soul with clay taken from the earth of humility, successively binding one stone to another - that is, one virtue to another - until the roof, which is perfect love, is put in place. Then, when it has posted good doorkeepers, always bearing arms - that is to say, luminous thoughts and godlike actions capable of protecting the king from being disturbed - the master of the house comes and takes up residence in it. It should not have a female doorkeeper, one who is busy with her own handiwork, as St Neilos says in his interpretation of the Old Testament: he explains how it was for this reason that the Patriarch Abraham did not appoint a female porter, but rather someone who was manly - swift, incisive thought - armed with, among other things, 'the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God' (Eph. 6:17), so that he might fight off and slay those who try to enter. For such a doorkeeper is sleepless and stands at his post slaying alien thoughts with retaliatory action and confuting speech. He repels everything that enters the heart contrary to God's purpose, disdaining and rejecting it, so that the illumined intellect may never stop contemplating God or be empty of divine thoughts. This is the work of stillness, as St Neilos remarks. Elsewhere, referring to Holy Scripture, St Neilos explains that distraction is the cause of the intellect's obscuration. This is to be expected; for if the intellect is not completely confined like water in a pipe, then the mind cannot be gathered into itself, and so rise to God. And if one does not rise spiritually and taste something at least of what is above, how can one readily be detached from what is below?
Thus, as St Paul says (cf 2 Cor. 5:7), we should press forward on the basis of faith, patiently striving to conform ourselves to God's will. And, with time, those who make good progress succeed HI attaining a partial knowledge and in overthrowing the enemy. They will then receive the fullness of this knowledge in the world to be, when the mirror - this mortal life - has been broken (cf I Cor. 13:12), and when the soul no longer desires against the flesh, or the flesh against the Spirit (cf Gal. 5:17), and when sloth does not engender forgetfulness or forgetfulness ignorance. This is what most of us experience in this present life which is why we need a written text to remind us. Indeed, often a thought has spontaneously occurred to me, and it was by writing it down that I committed it to memory. Thus in time of spiritual struggle I had it as a source of aid or relief or gratitude, supported as it was by the testimony of divine Scripture. Had I been negligent about writing, it down, I would not have found it when I had need of it, and I would have been deprived of its help by that greatest of evils, forgetfulness.
For this reason we ought to learn the virtues through practicing them, not merely through talking about them, so that by acquiring the habit of them we do not forget what is of benefit to us. 'The kingdom of God', as St Paul says, 'resides not in words but in power' (1 Cor. 4:20). For he who tries to discover things through actual practice will come to understand what gain or loss lies in any activity that he pursues, as St Isaac says; and he can also give advice to others, for he has often suffered and has thereby gained experience. For some things, St Isaac tells us, appear good, but conceal no small harm; while others appear bad, but contain within themselves the greatest profit. For this reason, he states, not every man can be trusted when giving advice to those who seek it. We can trust only him who has received from God the grace of discrimination and who, as St Maxnnos says, has acquired through great humility and long practice of the virtues an intellect blessed with spiritual insight. Such a man is in a position to advise, not everyone, but at least those who seek him out voluntarily and who question him by their own choice; for he has learned things in their true order. It is because of his humility, and because his questioners seek him out voluntarily, that what he says is stamped on the soul of his listeners: they are filled with the warmth of faith, regarding their good adviser as if he were that 'wonderful counselor' of whom the prophet Isaiah speaks, calling him 'mighty God, ruler, prince of peace' (Isa. 9:6. LXX).
This refers of course to our Lord Jesus Christ, who said to the man who appealed to Him, 'Who set me up as a judge or arbitrator over you?' (Luke 12:14). Yet He also says, 'The Father has committed all judgment to the Son' (John 5:22). Through His holy humility. He shows us here, as everywhere, the path to salvation, and how He does not constrain anyone. 'If any man will come after Me,' He says, Tet him deny himself and follow Me' (Man. 16:24), that is, let him not worry about his own life in any way, but just as I actively undergo My visible and voluntary death for the sake of all, so should he follow Me in word and action, as did the apostles and martyrs; and if he cannot do this outwardly, then let him endure death so far as the probity of his intention is concerned. Again, to the rich young man He sajd 'If you want to be perfect, go and sell all you have and come and follow Me' (Matt. 19:21).
It is with reference to this incident that St Basil the Great observes that the young man lied when he said that he had kept the commandments; for if he had kept them, he would not have acquired many possessions, since the first commandment in the Law is, 'You shall love the Lord your God with all your soul' (Deut. 6:5). The word 'all' forbids him who loves God to love anything else to such an extent that it would make him sad were it to be taken away. After this the Law says, 'You shall love your neighbor as yourself (Lev. 19:18), that is, 'you shall love every man'. But how can he have kept this commandment if, when many other men lacked daily nourishment, he had many possessions and was passionately attached to them? If, like Abraham, Job and other righteous men, he had regarded those possessions as the property of God, he would not have gone away sorrowing. St John Chrysostom says the same thing: the young man believed that what was said to him by the Lord was true, and this was why he went away full of sorrow, for he had not the strength to carry it into effect. For there are many who believe the sayings of the Scriptures, but have not the strength to fulfill what is written.
The Great Value of Love and Advice Given With Humility
The Lord, then, gives us these and many other similar counsels, as also do the apostles when they say, 'We exhort you, beloved, to do this thing or that. ' We, however, are unwilling to encourage those who seek advice from us- Yet, if they saw us humble and full of respect for them, they would listen to us with joy, feeling assured because we speak the words of Holy Scripture with great humility and love. They would eagerly pursue the honor and love which they receive from us and, together with this honor and love, they would also accept what is difficult, since because of our love it would appear easy to them.
This was the case with the holy apostle Peter, who repeatedly heard of death and the cross and yet rejoiced (cf. John 21 : 18-20); they were as nothing to him, for he was filled with the love he felt towards his Master. He was not concerned about miracles, as unbelievers are, but said to the Lord: 'Thy words are the words of eternal life. We believe and are assured that Thou art Christ, the Son of the living God' (John 6:68-69). It was not thus with Judas, who died twice; for he hanged himself, yet did not die, but lived on unrepentant, fell ill, and 'burst open', as the Apostle Peter says (Acts 1:18). Then again, the holy Apostle Paul says in one place to the brethren: 'So great is our affection for you that we wished to share with you not the Gospel of Christ only, but also our own souls' (1 Thess. 1:8); and elsewhere he says, 'We are your servants for Christ's sake' (2 Cor. 4:5). Again, writing to Timothy, he tells him to treat the elders as fathers and the younger men as brethren (cf I Tim. 5:1). Who is capable of grasping the humility of the saints and the burning love they felt toward God and their neighbor? Indeed, we should be attentive not only to God and our neighbor, but to everyone to whom we speak or write.
For he who wishes to admonish someone or to give him advice - or, rather, to refresh his memory, as St John Klimakos says - should first be purified of the passions, so that he may truly understand God's purpose and the state of the person who asks for his counsel. For the same medicine is not suited for all, even when the illness is the same.' Then we must ascertain from the person who is seeking advice whether he does this because he has once and for all committed himself to obedience in soul and body; or whether he has made his request spontaneously and with fervent faith, seeking counsel from us before questioning his own teacher; or whether there is something else that forces him to pretend that he longs for such counsel. For if this last is the case both teacher and disciple will succumb to falsehood and idle talk, deceitfulness and many other things. The disciple, forced by his supposed teacher to speak against his will, feels ashamed and tells lies, pretending that he wants to do good; and the teacher also acts deceitfully, flattering his disciple in order to discover what is hidden in his mind, and in general employing every kind of trick and speaking at length, in spite of the fact that Solomon has said, 'Through talkativeness you will not escape sin' (Prov. 10:19). St Basil the Great has also described the sins that come from talkativeness.
All this has been said, not so that we should refuse to advise those who come to us readily and with firm faith, especially if we have attained a state of dispassion; it is said so that we should not, out of self-esteem, presumptuously teach those who do not express the wish to hear us either through their actions or through their fervent faith. While we are still subject to the passions we should not do this even if we feel we have the authority to do so. Rather, as the fathers have said, unless questioned by the brethren we should not say anything by way of giving help, so that any benefit is a consequence of their own free choice. Both St Paul and St Peter followed this principle (cf. Philem., verse 14; I Pet. 5:2); and St Peter adds that we should not lord it over the members of our flock but be an example to them (cf. I Pet. 5:3). And St Paul wrote to St Timothy, 'The fanner who does the work should be the first to eat of the produce' (2 Tim. 2:6); that is to say, first practice what you intend to preach. Again, he writes, 'Let no one slight you because you are young' (1 Tim. 4:12); that is, do nothing that is immature or childish, but rather be as one who is perfect in Christ. Similarly, it is said in the Gerontikon that unless questioned by the brethren the fathers said nothing that might contribute to the soul's salvation; they regarded unsolicited advice as vain chatter. This is quite right; for it is because we think that we know more than others that we speak unbidden. And the more we are guilty of this, the greater the freedom before God we assume we possess, although the closer the saints draw to God, the more they regard themselves as sinners, as St Dorotheos says; they are astounded by the knowledge of God that they have been granted and are reduced to helplessness.
So, too, the holy angels in their infinite happiness and wonder can never satisfy their longing to glorify God; and because they have been found worthy of celebrating so great a Master, they sing His praises ceaselessly, marveling at what He has brought to pass, as St John Chrysostom says, and advancing to still greater knowledge, as St Gregory the Theologian states. It is the same with all the saints, in this world and in the next. Just as the angels transmit illumination to each other, so intelligent beings are instructed by each other. Some derive their knowledge from the divine Scriptures and teach those who are more in need, while others are taught spiritually by the Holy Spirit and make known to their brethren in writing the mysteries that have been revealed to them.
Therefore we all need to humble ourselves before God and before each other, in that we have received from God our being and all other things, and from one another, through Him, our knowledge. He who humbles himself is illumined all the more, while he who refuses to humble himself remains in darkness, as was the case with him who was the Morning-star and is now the devil. For Lucifer originally belonged to the lowest angelic order, the one closest to the earth and the furthest from the supreme order that stands beside the unapproachable throne; but because of his self-elation he and those who obeyed him became lower not only than the nine orders of angels and than us who inhabit the earth, but lower even than the subterranean powers: for he was cast into Tartarus because of his senseless arrogance.
Because of this it is often said that presumption alone, without any other sin, is enough to destroy the soul; for he who regards his sins as trivial is allowed to fall into those that are greater, as St Isaac says. And he who has received a gift from God, and is ungrateful for it, is already on the way to losing it; for, as St Basil the Great says, he has made himself unworthy of God's gift. For gratitude is a form of intercession. Only it must not be like the gratitude of the Pharisee, who condemned others and justified himself (cf. Luke 18:11). On the contrary, it must make one regard oneself as a greater debtor than all other men; one gives thanks in astonished bewilderment because one understands God's unutterable restraint and forbearance. Moreover, one ought to marvel that God, who is without need, who is praised above all, accepts this gratitude from us in spite of the way we anger and embitter Him constantly after He has bestowed on us so many and so varied blessings, both universal and particular.
These blessings, of both body and soul, have been described by St Gregory the Theologian and the other fathers, and they take numberless forms. One of them consists in the fact that in the Holy Scriptures some things are obvious and easy to grasp, while others are unclear and difficult to grasp. Through the first category God draws the slower amongst us towards faith and towards the investigation of more difficult things; and in this way He ensures that we do not fall into despair and lose our faith because of our utter failure to understand what is said. Through the second category He preserves us from incurring even greater condemnation by disdaining the passages that we can understand. He desires that those who want to do so should labor willingly to search out and put into effect what is unclear-and for this they will receive praise, as St John Chrysostom says.
That the Frequent Repition Found in Divine Scripture Is Not Verbosity
Divine Scripture often repeats the same words, yet this is not to be regarded as verbosity. On the contrary, by means of this frequent repetition it unexpectedly and compassionately draws even those who are very slow in grasping things to an awareness and understanding of what is being said; and it ensures that a particular saying does not escape notice because of its fleetingness and brevity. This can happen especially when we are much involved in the affairs of this life, and know nothing save in part - though, as St John Chiysostom says, we do not know wholly even what is given 'in part', but know only a part of a part/ This part Itself will be 'done away with' (1 Cor. 13:10), not in the sense that it disappears and is reduced to nothing - for then we would have no knowledge at all and would not be human - but in the sense that it will give place to the knowledge that comes from meeting 'face to face', in the same way as childhood disappears when one grows up, to use the analogy given by St Paul (cf. ICor. 13:11-12). This again is what St John Chrysostom means when he says that now we know that heaven exists, though not what it is: but that later the lesser will be 'done away with' by the greater, that is, by our knowing what heaven is, so that our knowledge increases. For there are many mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures, and we do not know God's meaning in what is said there. 'Do not be contemptuous of our frankness', says St Gregory the Theologian, 'and find fault with our words, when we adroit our ignorance.' It is stupid and uncouth, declares St Dionysios the Areopagite, to give attention not to the meaning intended but only to the words. ' But he who seeks with holy grief will find. This is a task to be undertaken in fear, for through fear things hidden are revealed to us.
Thus in one passage the prophet Isaiah says, 'The dead shall not see life' (Isa. 26:14. LXX): in another he says, 'The dead shall rise' (Isa. 26:19. LXX). But this is not contradiction, as they think who fail to understand the meaning disclosed by a spiritual interpretation of divine Scripture. For he was referring to the idols of the Gentiles when he said, 'They shall not see life', because they are soulless; while when he said, 'The dead shall rise', he was referring to the general resurrection and the blessedness of the righteous-though he was also prophesying the rising of the dead together with our Savior Jesus Christ. Similarly, in the Holy Gospels, in the accounts of the transfiguration of the Lord, one of the Evangelists says 'after six days' (Matt. 17:1: cf. Mark 9:2) and another speaks of eight days'(Luke 9:28) - meaning, in each case, after the preceding miracles and teaching of the Lord. But the one leaves out of the reckoning the first and last days and counts only the six days that lie between, while the other includes both of these and so speaks of eight days.
Again, in his Gospel St John the Theologian says at one point, 'And there are many other signs that Jesus performed in the presence of His disciples which are not recorded in this book' (John 20: 30); while at another he says, 'And there are also many other things which Jesus did' (John 21:25), without saying 'in the presence of His disciples'. Concerning these passages St Prochoros, who wrote them both down, says that in the first case the Evangelist is referring to the miracles and Other things the Lord did, which he did not record because they had been previously written down by the other Evangelists; and that is why he added 'in the presence of His disciples'. In the second case he is referring to the creation of the world, when the Logos of God was in His incorporeal state, and when together with Him the Father created all things out of non-existence, saying, 'Let this thing be, and it was' (of. Gen. 1:3-14). 'If all these things were to be recorded individually,' says the Theologian, 'I suppose that even the world itself could not contain the books that would be written' (John 21:25).
Generally speaking, every scriptural passage and every word of God, or of any saint, refers in a hidden way to the purpose of created things, whether they belong to the sensible or to the intelligible realm. The same is also true of any human statement. And no one knows the meaning of the passage in question except by revelation. As the Lord said, 'The wind blows where it wills' (John 3:8). Commenting on this, St John Chrysostom observes that the Lord did not mean that the wind has a power of its own: but, making allowances for Nikodimos' weakness. He spoke of the wind so that Nikodimos might understand what was being said to him. The Lord was in fact referring to the Holy Spirit when He spoke of the wind. He was trying to tell Nikodimos and others that what He said to them was spirit or spiritual and not what they thought it was. He was not speaking about bodily things, in a way that could be understood simply by earthly-minded people. For this reason St John of Damaskos writes that, if the speaker does not disclose to us the meaning of what he says, we cannot know what it means. And how can anyone dare to say, 'I know the purpose of God that is hidden in divine Scripture', unless it has been revealed to him by the Son?
Christ Himself has said that He reveals the truth to whomsoever He wishes (cf Matt. I 1 21). This means that He reveals it only if we have previously resolved to receive this knowledge from Him spiritually through the keeping of His divine commandments; because without this anyone who claims to possess knowledge is lying. For, as St John Klimakos says, he speaks from conjecture, not learning authoritatively from God, even though in his conceit he boasts immeasurably. It is such a person that St Gregory the Theologian has in mind when he uses the phrases '0 you great lover of wisdom' or '0 you wonderful scholar', reproaching him for his presumption in thinking he knows something when in fact he is ignorant. In such cases, even what he thinks he has will be taken away from him (cf. Matt. 13:12), because he is unwilling to say, 'I do not know', as all the saints have said. Had he said that, what he lacks might have been given to him because of his humility, and given abundantly, as it was to the saints. For the saints, though they knew, said that they did not know. As St John John Chrysostom observes, St Paul did not say, 'I have never known anything yet', but that he had never known anything yet 'as he ought to know it' (cf. I Cor. 8:2). Thus he knew, but not as he should know.
Spurious knowledge, or 'knowledge falsely so called' (1 Tim. 6:20), is that which a man possesses when he thinks he knows what he has never known. It is worse than complete ignorance, says St John Chrysostom, in that its victim will not accept correction from any teacher because he thinks that this worst kind of ignorance is in fact something excellent. For this reason the fathers say that we ought to search the Scriptures assiduously, in humility and with the counsel of experienced men, learning not merely theoretically but by putting into practice what we read; and that we ought not to inquire at all into what is passed over in silence by Holy Scripture.
Such enquiry is senseless, St Antony the Great tells us, speaking with reference to those who want to know about the future rather than renouncing any claim to such knowledge on the grounds of their unworthmess. If God in His providence does impart such knowledge, as He did to Nebuchadnezzar (cf. Dan. 2:31-45) and Balaam (cf. Num. 23:8-10), He imparts it for the benefit of all, even if some of the recipients are unworthy of the gift. In such cases, it docs not come from the demons, especially when it is given through dreams and certain forms of imagination. We are not told much about these things, lest we search the Scriptures simply-with our minds and then out of pride think that we have grasped something. For the Lord commands that we should search the Scriptures above all by means of bodily and moral actions, and in this way find eternal life (cf. John 5:39-40). In particular we should bear in mind that things have been hidden from us for our greater humility, and so that we may not be condemned for sinning knowingly.
The man who has been enabled by grace to acquire spiritual knowledge should struggle to study the divine Scriptures and this knowledge with deep dedication, humility, attention and fear of God; for unless he does this he will be deprived of his knowledge and threatened with punishment, as unworthy of what God has given him, in the same way as Saul was deprived of his kingdom, as St Maximos explains. But he who devotes himself to spiritual knowledge and struggles to attain it, St Maximos states, should call upon God at all times, as did David, saying: 'Create in me a pure heart, God, and renew an upright Spirit within me' (Ps. 51:10). In this way he may become worthy of God's indwelling, like the apostles who received grace 'at the third hour' (Acts 2:15). For the Spirit came down on the apostles, as St Luke declares, at the third hour of the day, a Sunday, since Pentecost is the seventh Sunday after the Sunday on which 'Pascha' is celebrated.
This Hebrew word, 'Pascha', when translated, means 'passing over' or 'freedom'; and the Sunday that follows fifty days later is therefore called 'Pentecost' or 'Fiftieth', for in the Law it marks the completion of the fifty days that follow Pascha. As St John the Theologian says in his Gospel, 'On that last, that great day of the feast' (John 7:37), because Pentecost constitutes the conclusion of the feast of Pascha. 'The third hour received this grace', says St John of Damaskos. At the same time, the grace was given on 'day one', the Lord's day. This signifies that we worship three persons with but a single power, that is, a single Godhead. For Sunday is called 'day one' and not the first day of the week, says St John Chrysostom; such is the way in which it is singled out and described prophetically in the Old Testament. It is not simply enumerated with the other days of the week, such as the second day and the rest. Had it not been singled out, it would have been called the 'first day', but as it is it is called 'day one' of the week (cf Gen. I :5. LXX). In the new dispensation of grace, however, this 'holy' and 'chosen day' (Lev. 23:35. LXX) is called 'the Lord's day' (Rev. 1:10), because on it the more lordly and masterful events in Christ's life took place, the Annunciation, the Nativity, the Resurrection; and on this day the general resurrection of the dead will also take place. For it was on this day that God created the visible light, says St John of Damaskos, and it will also be the day of Christ's second coming. Thus it will last for limitless ages: it is both day one and the eighth day, as being outside the other seven ages that have days and nights in them.
It has been granted to us to learn about the meaning of these things from the saints. Let us then also learn thoroughly the meaning of each topic of this present work, from beginning to end. We should recite straight through the names of the biblical books and of the saints, so that we may continually remember their words and zealously imitate their lives, as St Basil the Great says; and we should make these things known to those who are ignorant of them. The person who already knows them will recollect them, while the person who does not know them may thus be encouraged to search out the books in question. We mention the name of a saint or a particular book from time to time so that we may call them to mind more frequently, and by means of this brief mention may remember the acts and words of each. This also helps us to grasp the implications of scriptural passages, and to understand the discrimination and counsel of the teacher in question. It also makes clear that what is said here, in this work, is not mine, but comes from Holy Scripture. Moreover, it increases our wonder at and comprehension of God's ineffable love: how by means of pen and ink He has provided for the salvation of our souls, and has given us so many writings and teachers of the Orthodox faith.
I myself marvel how I, untutored and lazy though I am, have been privileged to go through so many texts, although I have not one book of my own nor any other possession, but am always a stranger and poor; and yet I pass my time in complete ease and security, with much bodily enjoyment. If any books are left unnamed, it is because of my carelessness or so that my work should not grow too long. The questions and solutions I propose here with regard to our common problems are put forward to help our understanding. They are also a way of expressing gratitude to Him who has granted spiritual knowledge and discrimination to His saints, our holy fathers, and through them to us, unworthy though we are. They likewise help us to condemn our own weakness and ignorance.
I have said something about the righteous men of old who were saved in the midst of great wealth and among sinners and unbelievers, although they were by nature the same as us. But we lack the will to attain perfection, even though we can draw upon greater experience and knowledge of good and evil, since we have learned from them and so have been granted fuller grace and knowledge of the Scriptures. I have also mentioned details from the lives of us monks, so that we may know that we can be saved in any situation, provided we renounce our own will. Indeed, unless we do this, we cannot find rest, nor can we gain either knowledge of God's will or practice in fulfilling it. For our own will is a dividing wall, separating us from God: and if it is not torn down, we cannot learn and do what accords with God's will, but are estranged from Him and tyrannized by our enemies against our will.
We must remember, too, that stillness is the highest gift of all, and that without it we cannot be purified and come to know our weakness and the trickery of the demons; neither will we be able to understand the power of God and His providence from the divine words that we read and sing. For we all need this devotion and stillness, total or partial, if we are to attain the humility and spiritual knowledge necessary for the understanding of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in all creation. We must also remember that we should not use any object or any word, or engage in any activity or thought, that is not necessary for the life and salvation of soul and body; and that, unless we exercise discrimination, not even what appears to be good is acceptable to God, and that unless they are rightly motivated even good works are of no use to anyone.
The tropana to be found in the liturgical books are intended to assist us in understanding these books as well as other texts. In addition, as St John Klmiakos says, they stimulate compunction in people whose intellect is still weak. For the melody, says St Basil the Great, draws the mind where it will, whether to grief or longing, to remorse or joy. Moreover, we should search the Scriptures in accordance with the Lord's commandment, so that we may find eternal life in them (cf John 5:39); and we should pay attention to the meaning of the psalms and troparia, becoming in this way totally aware of our ignorance. For if one does not taste of knowledge, says St Basil the Great, one does not know how much one lacks. To promote this experience and knowledge I have described the origins of the virtues and the passions; for thereby others may come to recognize them, and so struggle to acquire what engenders the virtues and to expel by retaliatory action that which produces the passions. We should also and at all times keep a watch over our bodily activities as if they were plants, and should always give attention to the virtues of the soul and study how we can acquire each virtue. We should leam about this from the divine Scriptures and from saintly men; and what we leam we should through our actions zealously and in labor of soul guard as a treasure, until we have firmly established the virtue in question. Then we should diligently begin to acquire another virtue, as St Basil the Great says, so as not to exhaust ourselves through trying to acquire them all at once. We should begin by patiently enduring what befalls us and should then press on eagerly and forcefully to tackle the other virtues, our purpose being to conform to God's will. For we should all, as Christians, keep the commandments, since in order to acquire the virtues of the soul we need, not bodily effort, but simply probity of intention and the desire to receive what is given, as St Basil the Great, St Gregory the Theologian and many others say. Yet bodily asceticism does help in the acquisition of the virtues, especially in the case of those who lead a life of stillness and are completely undistracted and detached. For a man cannot see his own habits and correct them unless he is free from worry about worldly things. Hence we ought first to acquire dispassion by withdrawing from worldly affairs and human society; for only then can we begin, when the time is ripe, to look after others and administer things without going wrong and without causing harm. This is possible only because, our detachment having become a habit, we have attained total dispassion; and above all, as St John of Damaskos says, because we have received a call from God, as happened in the case of Moses (cf Exod. 3:4), Samuel (cf I Sam. 3:10) and the other prophets (cf. Isa. 6:8; Jer. 1:5), as well as the holy apostles (cf. Matt. 4:19), for the salvation of many others. St John of Damaskos also says that one should at first refuse to accept the call, as did Moses (cf. Exod. 3:11; 4:10), Habakkuk (cf. Bel and Dragon, verse 35), St Gregory the Theologian and others.
St Prochoros says of St John the Evangelist that he did not wish to leave his beloved stillness, even though as an apostle he was under to renounce the stillness and to proclaim the Gospel. It was not in the least because he was subject to the passions that St John took refuge in stillness, for he of all men was most free of them. He did so because he did not want ever to be cut off from the contemplation of God or to be deprived of the great sweetness of stillness. But others, although dispassionate, fled into the farthest deserts out of humility, fearing confusion. St Sisois the Great is an example of this: when his disciple told him to rest, he refused to do so and said, 'Let us go where no one is to be found'; and yet he had reached such a high state of dispassion that he had become a captive of his love for God and was no longer aware whether he ate or not.
In short, by withdrawing into complete stillness all of these men cut off their own wills. Then some of them, as disciples, were appointed by their Teacher to instruct others, accepting the confession of their thoughts and ruling over them, either as bishops or as abbots. They received through their spiritual senses confirmation of this from the Holy Spirit Himself, when He came to dwell in them. This was what happened to the holy apostles (cf. Acts 2:3) and to those who went before them, such as Aaron (cf. Exod. 28:1; Heb. 5:4), Melchisidec (cf. Gen. 14:18; Ps. 110:4) and others. But St John of Damaskos says that he who brazenly tries to assume this status of his own accord is condemned. For if those who shamelessly assume high office without royal authorization are severely punished, how much more so are those who audaciously take charge of what is God's without receiving His call? This is especially so if out of ignorance or pride they think that such an awesome task involves no danger of condemnation, imagining that it will bring them honor or ease, and not realizing that they will rather be required, when the moment comes, to enter into an abyss of humility and death for the sake of their spiritual children and their enemies. For this is what was done by the holy apostles - who were to the highest degree compassionate and wise - when they taught others. If we do not even know that we are weak and insufficient for the task, what is to be said? For pride and ignorance blind those who, refusing to devote themselves to God in stillness, fail to recognize their own weakness and ignorance. As the Gerontikon puts it, the cell of a monk is like the furnace of Babylon in which the three holy children found the Son of God (cf. Dan. 3:23). Again it says, 'Sit in your cell and it will teach you all things.' And the Lord Himself says:
'Where two or three are gathered together in My name, I am in the midst of them' (Matt. 18:20). St John Klimakos exhorts us: 'Do not turn to the right or to the left, as Solomon puts it (cf Prov. 4:27), but rather travel the royal road, living in stillness with one or two others, neither alone in the desert nor in great company; for the mean between these two is suited to most men.' Again he says: 'Fasting humbles the body, vigils illumine the intellect, stillness induces inward grief, and grief baptizes a man, washes his soul and frees it from sin. '
On account of this the names of almost all the virtues and the passions are listed at the end of this discourse, so that we may know how many virtues we have to acquire and how many sinful acts we have to grieve for. For without grief there is no purification, and there can be no grief in the midst of continuous distraction. Without purification of the soul there is no assurance; and without assurance the separation of soul and body is full of dangers. For, as St John Klimakos has said, 'We cannot trust what still remains unknown.'
The eight stages of contemplation previously mentioned are not achieved by our own labors, but are the reward granted in return for our efforts to acquire the virtues. We should not try to attain these stages of contemplation simply by reading, or by striving for them with an eagerness full of pride, as St John Klimakos says with reference to the four highest and more perfect stages; for these stages are celestial, and an unpurified intellect is incapable of embracing them. Instead, we should devote all our efforts to acquiring the virtues of soul and body, and in this way the first commandment will be born in us, that is, the fear of God. And if we persevere in this, grief will be born as well. For as soon as we are established in one stage of contemplation, then the grace of God, the common mother of us all, as St Isaac calls it, will grant to us what lies beyond. This will continue until we have established the seven stages of spiritual knowledge in ourselves; and then the eighth, which is the work of the age to come, will be granted to those who labor diligently at the virtues with the genuine intention of fulfilling God's will.
Each time that a godlike thought comes to us spontaneously, suddenly and without our knowing how, whether it belongs to the first stage or whatever it may be, we should always at once abandon every worldly concern and even our rule of prayer. We should do this in order to guard, as the apple of our eye, whatever spiritual knowledge or compunction it may bring, until through God's providence it withdraws from us. Then, after such an experience and before resuming our rule, we should always meditate on what has been written about fear and grief Weak as we still are, and inclined towards sleep and laziness, at whatever time of the night or day we have a free moment, whether we are involved in some handiwork, or are without occupation and so able to give ourselves entirely over to grief, we should surrender ourselves to what is said in these writings and to the tears that they induce. For they have been written so that even those - especially myself - who have no experience of the things they describe may rouse their sluggish intellects through studying them attentively. Those who possess the purpose and the experience that comes from the habitual practice of the virtues know and can speak about much more than we have said in this work. This is the case particularly at the moment when they feel spontaneous contrition; for that moment possesses great power, far beyond our capacity.
Yet let no one think that he himself brings about these gifts of grace. Rather, he has received much more than he deserves, and he should be deeply grateful, and should go in fear lest he incur greater condemnation because of what has been given to him; for without laboring he has been granted the fruits for which the angels strive. Knowledge is given to anoint the intellect, to strengthen us in the keeping of the commandments, and to help us in the practice of the virtues. It is also given so that we may know how and why we practice the virtues, and what we should do and what we should not do, so as to avoid condemnation. For thus, borne on the wings of knowledge, we strive joyfully and receive yet greater knowledge, strength and gladness through our strivmg; and, when this happens, we are enabled by grace to give thanks to Him who has bestowed these great blessings on us, knowing whence we have received them. For when God is thanked, He gives us still further blessings, while we, by receiving His gifts, love Him all the more and through this love attain that divine wisdom whose beginning is the fear of God (cf. Prov. I :7). Fear brings about repentance, says St Isaac' and through repentance comes the revelation of hidden things.
This is how we should meditate on the fear of God. After the service of Compline each of us should recite the Creed and the Lord's Prayer, and then repeat 'Lord, have mercy' many times. We should sit facing east, like someone mourning for the dead, moving our heads backward and forward with pain in our souls and with a grieving heart, and saying the words appropriate to our particular stage of knowledge, beginning with the first stage, until we attain the state of prayer. Then we should fall upon our face before God with inexpressible awe and should begin to pray. First our prayer should be thanksgiving, then confession of our sins, and then the other words of prayer as given previously. St Athanasios the Great says that we should confess the sins we have committed in ignorance, as well as those that we would have committed had we not been saved from them by God's grace, so that these may not be counted against us in the hour of our death. We should also pray for each other, according to the commandment of the Lord (cf. Luke 22:32) and of the Apostle James (cf. Jas. 5:16).
The purpose of what we say in our prayers is as follows. The thanksgiving is in recognition of our incapacity to offer thanksgiving as we should at this present moment, of our neghgence in doing so at other times, and of the fact that the present moment is a gift of God's grace. Our confession of sins proclaims that God's gifts are measureless and that we are unable to understand them all or even to recognize them: we have only known of them from hearsay, and then not of them all. It also proclaims that we are constantly being benefited, visibly and invisibly, and that God's restraint in the face of our many sins cannot be put into words. We confess that, like the publican, we are unworthy even to raise our eyes to heaven (cf. Luke 18:13) and that, relying solely on His ineffable love, we fall down before Him, as Daniel, the Apostle John and the other fathers fell down before the holy angel (cf. Dan. 8:17; Rev. 1:17). We fall down with all our soul, and indeed with a certain temerity, since we are unworthy to do even this. And we should briefly confess all the various types of sin into which we fall, so as to recall them and to grieve for them, acknowledging our own weakness so that the power of Christ may come upon us, as St Paul says (cf. 2 Cor. 12:9), and so that our many evil actions may be forgiven. We do not dare to entreat on behalf of all, but only for our own sins. We ask that our every vice and every evil habit may be curbed, since we cannot control them, and we call upon the Almighty to restrain the impulses of our passions and not to permit us to sin against Him or against any man, so that we may in this way find salvation through His grace.
We also pray that through the recollection of our sins we may acquire tribulation of soul and the ability to pray for others, thereby fulfilling the commandment of St James (cf. Jas. 5:16), as well as expressing our love for all men. By listing the forms of passion that tyrannize us, we are led to take refuge in our Master and brought to a state of contrition. We pray for those whom we have distressed, and for those who have distressed us, or who will distress us, because we do not want to harbor the least trace of rancor, and because we fear that on account of our own weakness we will not be able to endure with forbearance when the time comes, or to pray for those who mistreat us, as the Lord commands (cf. Luke 6:28). For this reason we anticipate that time and, as St Isaac says, we seek a doctor before becoming ill and pray before we are faced by temptation. We then pray for the departed, that they may receive salvation and so as to remind ourselves of our own death. It is a sign of love to pray for all men, even when we need the prayers of all. We also pray to be directed by God and to become what He wishes us to be; and to be united with others, so that through their prayers we may receive mercy, all the while regarding them as superior to ourselves.
We do not yet dare to seek forgiveness for all our sins, lest by minimizing our own faults we come to regard others as unworthy of forgiveness. Ignorant, incapable of doing anything, we take refuge in Christ; and fearing His righteousness because we are sinners, we ask Him to order all things as He judges best in His compassionate love. We also ask that we may not be deprived of a place at His right hand, even though we are the least of all those who are saved and are unworthy of being numbered with them. We pray as well for the whole world, as we have been taught to do by the Church, and that though sinful we may be found worthy to partake of holy communion as we should, and that by praying before taking it we may find Him ready to help us when the moment for communion comes. We pray that we may remember the holy Passion of our Savior and may cleave with love to this remembrance. We pray that through the sacrament we may enter into communion with the Holy Spirit; for in this world and in the next the Paraclete Himself solaces those who are filled with godlike grief (cf Matt. 5:4), and who with all their soul and with many tears call upon Him for help and say, '0 heavenly King, Paraclete, the Spirit of truth...'. We pray that our participation in the undefiled mysteries may be a pledge of eternal life in Christ, through the intercessions of His Mother and of all the saints. Then we fall down before the saints, calling upon them to make intercession for us, since they are able to bring their petitions before the Master. Then we say as usual the prayer of St Basil the Great, so wonderfully charged with theology, asking that we may seek only the divine will and may ever bless God. After this, watching over our thoughts with full attentiveness, at once we say three times, '0 come, let us worship and fall down before God our King', in the way already described, sc that by means of prayer of the heart and meditation on the divine Scripture the intellect may be purified and begin to see the mysteries hidden in Scripture.
The soul must be free from all evil, especially rancor, at the time of prayer, as the Lord Himself has told us (cf . Mark 11:25). For this reason St Basil the Great, castigating contentiousness as the source of rancor, says that the abbot should submit anyone who argues with him to as many as a thousand prostrations. He said, when giving this high figure, 'either a thousand or one': that is, the person who answers back ought to make either a thousand prostrations before God, or one before the abbot himself, saying simply, 'Forgive me, father.' In this way he will be absolved with one prostration only, but it has to be a genuine prostration, one that eradicates the passion of contentiousness. Contentiousness is alien to the Christian way of life, states St Isaac, appealing to the words of St Paul who said, 'But if anyone wants to argue, we have no such custom among us': and so that he would not seem to be expelling the contentious person merely on the basis of his own personal opinions, St Paul adds, 'nor in the churches of God' (1 Cor. 11:16). In this way everyone may know that when he argues he is outside all the churches and estranged from God. He has need of that one marvelous act of repentance, and if he fails to make that genuinely, and so remains unrepentant, not even a thousand prostrations will help him.
For repentance, properly speaking, is the eradication of evil, says St John Chiysostom; while what are called acts of repentance or prostrations are a bending of the knees, which expresses the fact that the person who bows sincerely before God and man after having offended someone assumes the attitude of a servant. By doing this he can claim in self-defense that he has not answered back at all or attempted to justify himself, as did the Pharisee, but is more like the publican in considering himself the least of all men and unworthy to lift his eyes to heaven (cf Luke 18:11-13), For if he thinks he is repentant and nevertheless attempts to refute the person who - rightly or wrongly - is judging him, he is not worthy of the grace of forgiveness, since he acts as if he seeks a hearing in court and the opportunity to justify himself, hoping to achieve what he wants through a due process of law. Such behavior is entirely at odds with the Lord's commandments. And naturally so; for if one attempts to justify oneself, then one is appealing to lawful rights, not to love for one's fellow-men. In such a case grace is no longer our guiding principle - the grace that justifies the ungodly without the works of righteousness (cf. Rom. 4:5), but only on condition that we are grateful for rebukes and endure them with forbearance, giving thanks to those who rebuke us and remaining patient and unresentful before our accusers. In this way our prayer will be pure and our repentance effective. For the more we pray for those who slander and accuse us, the more God pacifies those who bear enmity towards us and also gives us peace through our pure and persistent prayer.
When we make specific requests in our prayers, this is not so as to inform God, for He already knows our hearts; we make them so that we may be brought to contrition. We also do it because we desire to remain longer in His presence, attentively addressing yet more words to Him, giving thanks to Him, acknowledging the many blessings we have received from Him, for as long as we can, as St John Chrysostom says of the Prophet David. For to repeat the same or similar things again and again is not to talk garrulously or haphazardly, since, as in the case of the prophet, it is done out of longing and so that the word of divine Scripture should be imprinted in the intellect of whoever is reading or praying. For God knows all things before they occur and does not need to be told about them. We, however, -have need of hearing things, so that we may know what we ask for and why we arc praying, and may be filled with gratitude and cleave to God through our entreaties. It is through such repetition that we avoid being overcome by our enemies when we are troubled in thought, for then they will not find us unmindful of Him; and it is also through it that, helped by prayer and the study of divine Scripture, we may come to acquire the virtues about which the holy fathers have written in their various works, through the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is from the fathers that I myself have learned about the virtues, and I will give a list of them, so far as I can, even though it is not complete because of my lack of knowledge.
A List of the Virtues
The virtues are: moral judgment, self-restraint, courage, justice, faith, hope, love, fear, religious devotion, spiritual knowledge, resolution, strength, understanding, wisdom, contrition, grief, gentleness, searching the Scriptures, acts of charity, purity of heart, peace, patient endurance, self-control, perseverance, probity of intention, purposiveness, sensitivity, heedfulness, godlike stability, warmth, alertness, the fervor of the Spirit, meditation, diligence, watchfulness, mindfulness, reflection, reverence, shame, respect, penitence, refraining from evil, repentance, return to God, allegiance to Christ, rejection of the devil, keeping of the commandments, guarding of the soul, purity of conscience, remembrance of death, tribulation of soul, the doing of good actions, effort, toil, an austere life, fasting, vigils, hunger, thirst, frugality, self-sufficiency, orderliness, gracefulness, modesty, reserve, disdain of money, unacquisitiveness, renunciation of worldly things, submissiveness, obedience, compliance, poverty, possessionlessness, withdrawal from the world, eradication of self-will, denial of self, counsel, magnanimity, devotion to God, stillness, discipline, sleeping on a hard bed, abstinence from washing oneself, service, struggle, attentiveness, the eating of uncooked food, nakedness, the wasting of one's body, solitude, quietude, calmness, cheerfulness, fortitude, boldness, godlike zeal, fervency, progress, folly for Christ, watchfulness over the intellect, moral integrity, holiness, virginity, sanctification, purity of body, chasteness of soul, reading for Christ's sake, concern for God, comprehension, friendliness, truthfulness, uninquisitiveness, uncensonousness, forgiveness of debts, good management, skilfulness, acuity, fairness, the right use of things, cognitive insight, good-naturedness, experience, psalmody, prayer, thanksgiving, acknowledgment, entreaty, kneeling, supplication, intercession, petition, appeal, hymnody, doxology, confession, solicitude, mourning, affliction, pain, distress, lamentation, sighs of sorrow, weeping, heart-rending tears, compunction, silence, the search for God, cries of anguish, lack of. anxiety about all things, forbearance, lack of self-esteem, disinterest in glory, simplicity of soul, sympathy, self -retirement, goodness of disposition, activities that accord with nature, activities exceeding one's natural capacity, brotherly love, concord, communion in God, sweetness, a spiritual disposition, mildness, rectitude, innocence, kindliness, guilelessness, simplicity, good repute, speaking well of others, good works, preference of one's neighbor, godlike tenderness, a virtuous character, consistency, nobility, gratitude, humility, detachment, dignity, forbearance, long-suffering, kindness, goodness, discrimination, accessibility, courtesy, tranquility, contemplation, guidance, reliability, clearsightedness, dispassion, spiritual joy, sureness, tears of understanding, tears of soul, a loving desire for God, pity, mercy, compassion, purity of soul, purity of intellect, prescience, pure prayer, passion-free thoughts, steadfastness, fitness of soul and body, illumination, the recovery of one's soul, hatred of life, proper teaching, a healthy longing for death, childhkeness in Christ, rootedness, admonition and encouragement, both moderate and forcible, a praiseworthy ability to change, ecstasy towards God, perfection in Christ, true enlightenment, an intense longing for God. rapture of intellect, the indwelling of God, love of God, love of inner wisdom, theology, a true confession of faith, disdain of death. saintliness, successful accomplishment, perfect health of soul, virtue, praise from God, grace, kingship, adoption to sonship - altogether 228 virtues. To acquire all of them is possible only through the grace of Him who grants us victory over the passions.
A List of the Passions
The passions are: harshness, trickery, malice, perversity, mindlessness, licentiousness, enticement, dullness, lack of understanding, idleness, sluggishness, stupidity, flattery, silliness, idiocy, madness, derangement, coarseness, rashness, cowardice, lethargy, dearth of good actions, moral errors, greed, over-frugality, ignorance, folly, spurious knowledge, forgetfulness, lack of discrimination, obduracy, injustice, evil intention, a conscienceless soul, slothfulness, idle chatter, breaking of faith, wrongdoing, sinfulness, lawlessness, criminality, passion, seduction, assent to evil, mindless coupling, demonic provocation, dallying, bodily comfort beyond what is required, vice, stumbling, sickness of soul, enervation, weakness of intellect, negligence, laziness, a reprehensible despondency, disdam of God, aberration, transgression, unbelief, lack of faith, wrong belief, poverty of faith, heresy, fellowship in heresy, polytheism, idolatry, ignorance of God, impiety, magic, astrology, divination, sorcery, denial of God, the love of idols, dissipation, profligacy, loquacity, indolence, self-love, inattentiveness, lack of progress, deceit, delusion, audacity, witchcraft, defilement, the eating of unclean food, soft living, dissoluteness, voracity, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listless-ness, self-esteem, pride, presumption, self-elation, boastfulness, infatuation, foulness, satiety, doltishness, torpor, sensuality, overeating, gluttony, insatiability, secret eating, hoggishness, solitary eating, indifference, fickleness, self-will, thoughtlessness, self-satisfaction, love of popularity, ignorance of beauty, uncouthness, gauchene, lightmindedness, boorishness, rudeness, contentiousness, quarrelsomeness, abusiveness, shouting, brawling, fighting, rage, mindless desire, gall, exasperation, giving offence, enmity, meddlesomeness, chicanery, asperity, slander, censure, calumny, condemnation, accusation, hatred, railing, insolence, dishonor, ferocity, frenzy, severity, aggressiveness, forswearing oneself, oathtakmg, lack of compassion, hatred of one's brothers, partiality, patricide, matricide, breaking fasts, laxity, acceptance of bribes, theft, rapine, jealousy, strife, envy, indecency, jesting, vilification, mockery, derision, exploitation, oppression, disdain of one's neighbor, flogging, making sport of others, hanging, throttling, heartlessness, implacability, covenant-breaking, bewitchment, harshness, shamelessness, impudence, obfuscation of thoughts, obtuseness, mental blindness, attraction to what is fleeting, impassionedness, frivolity, disobedience, duUwittedness, drowsiness of soul, excessive sleep, fantasy, heavy drinking, drunkenness, uselessness, slackness, mindless enjoyment, self-indulgence, venery, using foul language, effeminacy, unbridled desire, burning lust, masturbation, pimping, adultery, sodomy, bestiality, defilement, wantonness, a stained soul, incest, uncleanlmess, pollution, sordidness, feigned affection, laughter, jokes, immodest dancing, clapping, improper songs, revelry, fluteplaying, license of tongue, excessive love of order, insubordination, disorderlmess, reprehensible collusion, conspiracy, warfare, killing, brigandry, sacrilege, illicit gains, usury, wiliness, grave-robbing, hardness of heart, obloquy, complaining, blasphemy, fault-finding, ingratitude, malevolence, contemptuousness, pettiness, confusion, lying, verbosity, empty words, mindless joy, day- dreaming, mindless friendship, bad habits, nonsensicality, silly talk, garrulity, niggardliness, depravity, intolerance, irritability, affluence, rancor, misuse, ill-temper, clinging to life, ostentation, affectation, love of power, dissimulation, irony, treachery, frivolous talk, pusillanimity, satanic love, curiosity, contumely, lack of the fear of God, unteachabihty, senselessness, haughtiness, self- vaunting, self- inflation, scorn for one's neighbor, mercilessness, insensitivity, hopelessness, spiritual paralysis, hatred of God, despair, suicide, a falling away from God in all things, utter destruction - altogether 298 passions.
These, then, are the passions which I have found named in the Holy Scriptures. I have set them down in a single list, as I did at the beginning of my discourse with the various books I have used. I have not tried, nor would I have been able, to arrange them all in order; this would have been beyond my powers, for the reason given by St John Klimakos: 'If you seek understanding in wicked men, you will not find it.' For all that the demons produce is disorderly. In common with the godless and the unjust, the demons have but one purpose: to destroy the souls of those who accept their evil counsel. Yet sometimes they actually help men to attain holiness. In such instances they are conquered by the patience and faith of those who put their trust in the Lord, and who through their good actions and resistance to evil thoughts counteract the demons and bring down curses upon them.
The Difference Between Thoughts and Provocations
Our thoughts differ greatly one from the other. Some are altogether free from sin. Others do not initially involve sin: this is the case with what are called provocations, in other words, conceptions of either good or evil, which in themselves are neither commendable nor reprehensible. What follows on these is known as 'coupling': that is to say, we begin to entertain a particular thought and parley with it, so to speak; and this leads us either to give assent to it or to reject it. Our reaction to the thought, if in accordance with God's will, is praiseworthy, though not highly so; but if it accords with evil, then it deserves censure. After this comes the stage at which our intellect wrestles with the thought, and either conquers it or is conquered by it; and this brings the intellect either credit or punishment when the thought is put into action. The same is true with what is called assent: this is a pleasurable inclination of the soul towards what it sees; and it leads to the state of seduction, or captivity, in which the heart is induced forcibly and unwillingly to put the thought into effect.
When the soul dallies for a long time with an impassioned thought there arises what we call a passion. This in its turn, through its intercourse with the soul, becomes a settled disposition within us, compelling the soul to move of its own accord towards the corresponding action. Where passion is concerned, unquestionably and invariably we must either repent proportionately or else undergo punishment in the age to come, as St John KHmakos states. We are punished for our lack of repentance, and not because we had to struggle against temptation; otherwise most of us could not receive forgiveness until we had attained total dispassion. But as St John Klimakos again observes, 'It is not possible for all to achieve dispassion, yet all can be saved and reconciled with God. '
An intelligent person, aware of all this, will thus reject the initial malicious provocation, mother of all evil, so that he may cut off at one stroke all its pernicious consequences. But he is always ready to put the good provocation into effect, so that his soul and body may gi'ow firmly disposed to virtue and be delivered from the passions through the grace of Christ. For we have nothing that we have not received from Him (cf. I Cor. 4:7), nor can we offer Him anything except our faculty of free choice. If we lacked this, we would not possess the knowledge or the strength to do what is good. Yet even this faculty of free choice is given to us by God in His love, so that we may not be condemned as incapable of doing anything. For idleness is the source of all evil.
Moreover, according to the Gerontikon, even the doing of what is good requires discrimination. For the virgin who fasted for six days in each week, and constantly studied the Old and New Testaments, did not look with detachment on what is pleasant and what is unpleasant. After such labors she ought to have attained the state of dispassion, but this did not happen; for the good is not good unless its purpose is conformed to God's will. On many occasions in divine Scripture God is grieved with someone who is doing something that appears to all to be good, and He looks favorably on someone who appears to be doing evil. A case in point is that of the prophet who asked someone to strike him; when the man refused he was eaten by a wild beast, although he had acted in a way that was ostensibly good (cf. I Kgs. 20:35-36). St Peter, too, thought he was acting rightly when he refused to have his feet washed, but he was rebuked for this (cf. John 13:8). Hence we should do all we can to discern the will of God and to do it, whether it corresponds to what we think good or not. Thus the doing of good is not to be accomplished without effort on our part; for in this way we are deprived neither of our freedom of choice nor of the praise we earn for exerting pressure on ourselves. In short, all that God arranges is admirable, beyond the grasp of intellect and thought.
We must admire not only the inner meaning of all the things that are celebrated in the Church of the Orthodox Christians, but also the sacramental actions through which this meaning is expressed: how through divine baptism we become sons of God by grace; though we have done nothing before this, and do nothing after except keep the commandments; and how these awesome mysteries-I refer to holy baptism and holy communion-cannot take place without the priesthood, as St John Chrysostom says. Here, too, we see the significance of the power given to St Peter, chief of the apostles; for if the gates of the kingdom of heaven are not opened by priestly action, no one can enter (cf Matt 16:19). As the Lord says: 'Unless a man is born of water and the Spirit...' (John 3:5); and again: 'Unless you eat the flesh of the Son of man and drink His blood, you have no life in you' (John 6:53).
In the same way we must reflect with wonder how the outer part of the temple of the Old Covenant, where the priests performed sacrifices, was an image of the cosmos (cf. I Kgs. 8:64), while within there was the Holy of Holies (cf. Exod. 30: 10; Heb. 9:3), in which was offered the incense made of four components, fragrant gum, myrrh, balsam and cassia, which represent the four universal virtues. The ceremonies performed in the outer part were a concession accorded by God, so that the Jews, with their childlike mentality, might not be led astray by songs and reveling to the worship of idols. But the Church of the New Covenant is the image of the blessings held in store, and for this reason what is accomplished within it is spiritual and heavenly. For just as there are nine orders in heaven, so there are nine orders in the Church; patriarchs, metropolitans, bishops, priests, deacons, subdeacons, readers, singers and monks.
Then we should also marvel how demons and various diseases are dispelled by the sign of the precious and life- giving Cross, which all can make without cost or effort. Who can number the panegyrics composed in its honor? The holy fathers have handed down to us the inner significance of this sign, so that we can refute heretics and unbelievers. The two fingers and single hand with which it is made represent the Lord Jesus Christ crucified, and He is thereby acknowledged to exist in two-natures and one hypostasis or person. The use of the right hand betokens His infinite power and the fact that He sits at the right hand of the Father. That the sign begins with a downward movement from above signifies His descent to us from heaven. Again, the movement of the hand from the right side to the left drives away our enemies and declares that by His invincible power the Lord overcame the devil, who is on the left side, dark and lacking strength.
Again, we must marvel how through little strokes of color paintings show us so many wonderful things performed over so many years by our Lord and all His saints, making them look as if they had only just been performed. This comes about through God's providence, so that by becoming eyewitnesses, as it were, of these things, our longing for God may grow even greater, as St Peter, chief of the apostles, says in the account of the martyrdom of his disciple Pankratios.
All that has been said from the beginning of this discourse is of no benefit to anyone without the true faith; nor can it be put into practice without faith, just as there is no faith without works (cf. Jas. 2:20). Many of the holy fathers have written concerning faith and works. As a concluding reminder I shall say briefly that, to whatever order we belong, we ought all of us to undertake the works I have written about, as well as holding fast to the Orthodox faith we have received from the saints I have cited, so that with them we may attain eternal blessings through the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom rightly belong honor and worship, together with His unonginate Father and His all-holy, blessed and life-giving Spirit, now and always and through all the ages. Amen.
Having completed this I said: 'Christ, glory is rightly Thine.'
Book II: Twenty-Four Discourses
I: Spiritual Wisdom
In all languages the first letter of the alphabet is A, though some people are unaware of this. Similarly, the first of all the virtues is spiritual wisdom, though it is also their consummation. For if the intellect is not imbued with spiritual wisdom, no one can accomplish anything of value, for he will not even have learnt what is of value. But if he has been enabled by grace to learn something about this, he will to that extent possess wisdom. Yet although learning the alphabet is something elementary, unless we learn it we cannot proceed to any more advanced study. In the same way, although our first steps in spiritual knowledge may be very slight, unless we make them we will not acquire any virtue at all. Because of this I am afraid to write anything about wisdom, since I am entirely lacking in it.
It seems to me that there are four things which make the intellect articulate: first, supranatural grace and blessedness; second, the purity that comes from the practice of the virtues and that restores the soul to its pristine beauty; third, experience of the lower forms of teaching, through human education and secular learning; fourth, the accursed and satanic delusion that works in us through pride and demonic cunning, and distorts our nature. I have no share in any of these things. So how can I write? Perhaps the faith of you who in your devotion to God urge me to write will bring grace to my pen; for my intellect and my hand are unworthy and impure. I know from experience that this can happen. For, fathers, whenever I have wanted to write something I have not been able to formulate it in my intellect until I have actually picked up my pen. Frequently it was some small thought suggested by Scripture, or something I had heard or seen in this world, that set my mind to work; but as soon as I took up my pen and began to write, at once I discovered what I needed to say. It is as if someone is forcing me to write the thing down; and when this happens I begin to write freely and without anxiety for as long as my hand holds out. If God puts something into my darkened heart, I write it down without thinking. This prevents me from imagining that I am the source of what I have received through the prayers of another, as St John Klimakos puts it, basing himself on St Paul's words: 'What do you have which you did not receive? Now if you received it, why do you boast, as if you had not received it?' (1 Cor. 4:7) - as if, that is to say, you were yourself the author of it.
According to St Isaac the ideas that arise spontaneously in the intellect of those who have attained a state of stillness, free from discursive thought, are to be accepted. But what comes from discursive thought is a purely subjective and individual notion. St Antony says that every word or act ought to be supported by divine Scripture. It is in this spirit that I begin to write, just as the ass of Balaam began to talk (cf. Num. 22:28-30). I do this not in order to teach others - God forbid! - but in order to reprove my unhappy soul, so that, shamed by my own words, as St John Klimakos says, I who have done nothing but speak may begin to act. Who knows whether I shall live and have the strength to write? Or whether you will be able to carry out what I say? But let us both begin to do both things, each to the extent of his own ability. For we do not know when we will die and. when our end will come. But God who foreknows all things knows about us as well. To Him be glory through all the ages. Amen.
II. The Two Kinds of Faith
St Paul said that faith was the basis of all actions that conform to God's will, and that we have received it through holy baptism by the grace of Christ and not through works (cf Col. I :23; Rom. I 1 :6). According to St Isaac, this is the first kind of faith, and it engenders the fear that is inherent in it. Such fear leads us to keep the commandments and patiently to endure trials and temptations, as St Maxmios has explained. Then, after we have begun to act in this way, a second kind of faith is born in us, the great faith of contemplation, to which the Lord was referring when He said; 'If you have faith as a mustard seed... nothing will be impossible for you' (Matt. 17:20). Thus there is, first, the ordinary faith of all Orthodox Christians, that is to say, correct doctrinal belief concerning God and His creation, both visible and invisible, as the Holy Catholic Church, by God's grace, has received it; and there is, second, the faith of contemplation or spiritual knowledge, which is not in any way opposed to the first kind of faith; on the contrary, the first gives birth to the second, while the second strengthens the first.
We acquire the first kind of faith through hearing about it, inheriting it from devout parents and teachers of the Orthodox faith; but the second is engendered in us by our true belief and by our fear of the Lord in whom we have come to believe. For because of this fear we have chosen to keep the commandments and so have resolved to practice the virtues that pertain to the body-stillness, fasting, moderate vigils, psalmody, prayer, spiritual reading, and the questioning of those with experience about all our thoughts, words, or undertakings. We practice these virtues so that the body may be purified of the worst passions -gluttony, unchastity and superfluous possessions - and so that we may be content with what we have, as the apostle puts it (cf. Heb. 13:5).
It is in this way that a man finds the strength to devote himself undistractedly to God. He learns from the Scriptures and from people of experience about divine doctrines and commandments, and he begins to reject the rest of the eight leading passions. Perceiving the punishments that threaten man, he is not merely afraid of God: he fears Him as God, in the words of St Neilos. As a consequence of this fear he begins to keep the commandments with true knowledge of why he does so. And the more he endures voluntary death for the sake of each commandment, the more he enters into greater knowledge and contemplates what is taking place in himself through the grace of Christ. As a result he comes to believe that the Orthodox faith is truly glorious, and he begins to long to do God's will. He no longer has any doubts about God's help, but 'casts his burden upon the Lord' (Ps. 55: 22). As St Basil the Great says, he who wishes to acquire the higher kind of faith should not worry about his own life or death: even if faced by a wild beast or attacked by demons or evil men, he should not be at all afraid, since he knows that they are all the creatures of a single Creator and are co-servants with him, and would have no power against him if God did not allow it. He should fear God alone, for He alone has power.
This is made clear by the Lord Himself when He says: 'I will warn you whom to fear', continuing: 'Fear Him who has the power to cast both soul and body into hell'; and in order to confirm His words. He says: 'Yes, I tell you. fear Him' (cf. Luke 12:5). He has good reason to say this; for if someone else apart from God had power, we ought to fear him; but since God alone is the Creator and Master of things above and things below, who can do anything without Him? If someone says that there are creatures that possess free will, I too agree that angels and men, as well as the demons, do indeed possess it. But the angelic orders and good men cannot bear to inflict any harm at all on one of their fellow-servants, even though he is very evil; instead, they feel compassion for him and entreat God on his behalf, as St Athanasios the Great says. As for evil men and their teachers in evil, the demons, they would certainly like to harm others, but are utterly unable to do so, unless the person in question has himself caused God to abandon him through his own sinful actions. Yet even this occurs for the sake of his instruction and salvation at the hands of the all-bountiful God, provided, that is to say, he is willing to accept God's correction of his smfulness with thankful endurance. If he refuses to do this, then God's action proves of benefit to someone else, since God desires the salvation of everyone. The trials and temptations of righteous and holy men take place with God's consent and contribute both to the perfecting of their souls and to the shaming of their enemies, the demons. Thus when the person who carries out Christ's commandments becomes aware of these things, he does not believe simply that Christ is God and that He has power; for even the demons realize this because of His actions and they shudder (cf. Jas. 2:19). On the contrary, he believes that all things are possible for Christ, that His every will is good, and that without Him nothing good can happen. It is for this reason that such a person does not want to do anything contrary to the divine will, even if it is a question of saving his life; though, of course, it is impossible to save one's life unless one does perform God's will, for this divine will is eternal life (cf. John 12:50), the greatest of blessings, even if the effort needed to attain it appears to some to be arduous.
Because of this I in my wretchedness am worse than the infidel, for I am unwilling to make efforts to find that greater faith and through it to come to the fear of God, the beginning of the wisdom of the Spirit (cf. Prov. I :7). At times I deliberately close my soul's eyes and transgress the law; at other times I am blinded by forgetfulness and enter a state of total ignorance: unaware of what profits my soul I fall into bad habits and become an inveterate sinner. As a result, even if I want to return whence I fell, I cannot do so, since my own will has become a dividing wall between myself and God, as the holy fathers say, and I have no wish to exert myself in order to destroy it. Had I the faith that comes from performing works of repentance, I would be able to say, 'With the help of my God I will leap over the wall' (Ps. I 8:29. LXX). I would not hesitate out of cowardice, asking myself what will happen to me if 1 rush over this wall, and whether there may not be a pit on the other side, and what I will do if I cannot get over, and fall headlong backwards again after my efforts, and many other questions of this kind. Such questions never even occur to someone who has faith that God is close at hand and not far off (cf. Jer. 23:23), and who in his determination to attain his end advances directly towards God, source of all strength, power, goodness and love, acting not like one who 'beats the air' (cf. I Cor. 9:26), but like a swimmer. He aspires to the realm above and, leaving all self-will behind, journeys towards the divine will until he hears 'new tongues' and even perhaps speaks with them (cf Mark 16:17), perceiving the mysteries. So he gains, or rather he is given, the power to ascend from the practice of the virtues to the state of contemplation, through the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong all glory, honor and dominion throughout the ages. Amen.
III: The Two Kinds of Fear
Gluttony is the first of the eight champions of evil. But fear of God, which is the first commandment, defeats all eight of them, while without this fear one cannot possess any blessing. For how can the person who feels no fear keep the commandment, unless indeed he has already attained the state of love? Even he who has attained the state of love began with fear, though he may not know how this initial fear passed from him. Should someone say that he has reached the state of love by some other path, he has been taken captive either by spiritual joy or by his own obduracy, so that he is like someone crossing a river while asleep, as St Ephrem puts it. The man seized by spiritual joy is astounded by the many blessings that God in his grace has bestowed on him, and he loves his Benefactor. But he who obdurately indulges in luxury and splendor, like the rich man (cf. Luke 16:19), thinks that those consumed by fear and facing trials and temptation suffer in this way because of their sins, and in his comfort and complacency he despises them. He imagines that he deserves his easy life, although in fact he does not deserve it at all; for, blinded by his inane love for the ephemeral, he has made himself unworthy of the life held in store. He may even think that he has attained the state of love and on account of this has received greater benefits than others have. This shows that he is totally unaware of God's forbearance towards him. For this reason he will find himself defenseless on the day of judgment and deservedly will hear the words, 'You received your good things during your lifetime' (Luke 16:25). All this is obvious from the fact that there are many non-believers of this type, who are benefited by God without deserving it; yet no one with any sense would call them blessed or say that they are worthy of being loved by God, or that they love God and perhaps on this account live comfortably in the present life.
But to return to the question of the fear of God. Like faith, fear is of two kinds: the first is introductory, while the second, which grows out of the first, is perfect. He who is afraid of God's punishment has a slave-like fear of God, and it is this that makes him refrain from evil: 'Out of fear of the Lord men shun evil' (Prov. 16:6. LXX); 'I will teach you the fear of the Lord' (Ps. 34: I 1). According to St Dorotheos, these and similar things are said with regard to the introductory fear, so that through fear of what threatens us we sinners may be led to' repent and may seek to find deliverance from our sins. Moreover, when it is active within us, this introductory fear teaches us the way that leads to life, for it is said: 'Shun evil, and do good' (Ps. 34:14).
The more a man struggles to do good, the more fear grows in him, until it shows him his slightest faults, those which he thought of as nothing while he was still in the darkness of ignorance. When fear in this way has become perfect, he himself becomes perfect through inward grief: he no longer desires to sin but, fearing the return of the passions, he remains in this pure fear invulnerable. As the psalm puts it, 'The fear of the Lord is pure, and endures for ever' (Ps. 19:9. LXX). The first kind of fear is not pure, for it arises in us because of our sins. But, independent of sin, the person who has been purified continues to feel fear, not because he sins, but because, being human, he is changeable and prone to evil. In his humility, the further he advances through the acquisition of the virtues, the more he fears. This is natural; for everyone who possesses wealth greatly fears loss, punishment, dishonor, and the consequent fall from his high estate. The poor man, on the contrary, is on the whole without fear: he is only afraid of being beaten.
What has just been said applies to those who are entirely perfect and pure in soul and body. But if someone is still stumbling, even though his sins are of the slightest and most insignificant kind, let him not mislead himself by thinking that his fear is pure. For if he does think this, he is deceived, as St John Klimakos states: his fear is not pure, nor is it humility. It is but servile prudence and fear of punishments threatened. Thus such a person's thoughts need to be corrected, so that he may learn what kind of fear he is subject to, and through the deepest grief and by patiently enduring affliction may purify himself of sins, and in this way through Christ's grace may attain perfect fear. The sign of the first kind of fear is hatred of sin and anger towards it, like someone wounded by a wild beast. The sign of perfect fear is the love of virtue and the fear of relapsing, since no one is unalterable.
Thus in every situation throughout this present life we ought always to be afraid of falling; for we see the great king and prophet David mourning for his two sins (cf Ps. 51;2 Sam. 11:1-17), and Solomon himself giving way to grievous evil (cf. I Kgs. 11:1-10). As St Paul said: 'Let anyone who thinks he stands firm take care lest he fall' (1 Cor. 10: 12). If someone says that, according to St John, Tove casts out fear' (1 John 4:18), he is right; but this refers to the first, the introductory fear. Concerning perfect fear David has said: 'Blessed is the man who fears the Lord and who greatly delights in His commandments' (Ps. I 12:1), that is, who greatly cherishes virtue. Such a person has the status of a son, for he cherishes virtue not out of fear of punishment, but because of the love that 'casts out fear'. This is why he 'greatly delights', unlike the slave who carries out orders under constraint because of his fear of punishment. From this punishment may we all be saved, through the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong all glory, honor and worship throughout the ages. Amen.
IV: True Piety and Self-Control
It is clear that true piety embraces a great variety of things, as does secular philosophy. For philosophy presupposes the completion of ten different branches of learning, embracing not just one or two of these branches but all ten together. Similarly, true piety consists not in the possession of a single virtue alone, but in the keeping of all the commandments. In its Greek form, the term 'true piety' comes from a word meaning 'to serve well'. If some people say that 'to serve well' is the same thing as faith, let them explain how it is possible to fear the Lord before believing in Him. Does one not first believe in the Lord and then fear Him? Hence faith gives rise to fear, and from fear comes true piety. The prophet Isaiah indicates that this is the correct sequence: starting with wisdom, he proceeds in a descending order, referring to 'the spirit of knowledge and true piety', and last of all to 'the spirit of the fear of God' (Isa. 11:2-3. LXX). The Lord Himself starts with fear and then guides the man who possesses this fear to a state of inward grief.
This is not the moment to speak systematically about every form of true piety or spiritual activity. Leaving to one side the ascetic practices pertaining to the body that precede the acquisition both of the higher kind of faith and of pure fear - for everyone knows what these practices are - I will speak of the trees of the spiritual paradise, that is, with the help of God's grace I will speak briefly about the virtues of the soul. Of these, the most all-embracing is self-control, by which I mean abstinence from all the passions. There is also another, more partial form of self- control, that applies to bodily actions and teaches us the proper use of food and drink. Here, however, I am referring to the self-control that applies, as I said, to the passions and that restrains every thought and every movement of the limbs that is not in harmony with God's will. The person who possesses this virtue does not tolerate any thought or word, any movement of hand or foot or of any other member of the body, unless it is essential to the life of the body or to the soul's salvation.
It is after the acquisition of this virtue that the trials and temptations incited by the demons muhiply, for they see before them an embodied angel, wholeheartedly committed to doing what is right and good. This is what is meant by the command given to man in paradise, 'to cultivate and to keep it' (Gen. 2:15); for self-control needs to be cultivated and guarded ceaselessly, so as to prevent any of the passions that are outside the garden from stealthily creeping in. As I have said, the two forms of self-control or self-restraint are not identical, for while the first curbs unchastity and the other shameful passions, the second controls even the slightest thought, bringing it under surveillance before it can lead to sin, and then conducting it to God.
No one can speak or learn about this with precision merely through hearsay; it is only through experience that one can come to understand and counteract all these things that so disturb the intellect. How, indeed, is it possible merely by giving things a name to resurrect the dust and to make the material immaterial? Names are one thing, and secular learning, on the basis of etymology, can provide one with knowledge about them. But the experience and acquisition of the virtues require God's help; and they are achieved only through much effort and over a long period of time. This is especially true of the virtues of the soul, for these are the more inward and essential virtues. The virtues that pertain to the body - which are better described as the tools of the virtues - are easier to acquire, even though they do demand bodily effort. But the virtues of the soul, although they demand the control of thought alone, are much more difficult to achieve. Because of this the Law says first: 'Watch yourself attentively' (Exod. 23:21. LXX). St Basil the Great has written an excellent treatise on this phrase.
But what shall we say, we who are not attentive at all? We are like the Pharisees. Some of us may fast and keep vigil and perform other such things, and we may often do this with partial understanding. But we lack discrimination because we do not pay attention to ourselves and do not know what it is that is being asked of us. Nor are we willing to give persistent and patient attention to our thoughts, so as to gain experience from our many trials and battles, and thus become for others at least an experienced sailor, if not a captain. Although we are all of us blind, we claim that we ourselves see, as the Pharisees claimed. That is why it is said, that they will be judged more severely (cf. John 9:41). For if we acknowledged our blindness, we should not be condemned; it would be enough for us to be grateful and to admit our failure and ignorance. But, alas, we shall receive the greater condemnation, as did the pagan Greeks; for, according to Solomon, they aspired after so many things and yet failed to attain what they sought. Should we therefore keep silence, as though there was nothing for us to do? That would be even worse. Let us rather rebuke ourselves, for it is shameful even to mention the things that we do in secret (cf Eph. 5:12). Hence I will say nothing about such things, but will speak about the virtues that so deserve our esteem. For the recollection of their sweetness fills my darkened heart with pleasure, and I forget my limitations and am no longer troubled about the condemnation that awaits me if I speak and do not act.
Self-control, then, and self-restraint have the same power and are twofold, as has been said. But now I want to say something further about their more perfect form. He who by God's grace enjoys the great faith of contemplation together with pure and divine fear, and who wishes on the basis of these to keep possession of self-control and self-restraint, should first master himself both outwardly and inwardly, acting as if he were already dead in soul and body as regards this world and all other men. In every circumstance he should say to himself: 'Who am I? What is my existence? Nothing but abomination. For I start as earth and I end as putrefaction, and in between I am filled with all manner of insolence and worse. What is my life? And how long? A single hour and then death comes. Why do I bother about this and that? Already I am dying. For Christ controls both life and death. Why do I worry and strive in vain? All one needs is a bit of bread: why seek more? If I have this, there is nothing to worry about. If I don't, it may be that in my ignorance I do worry about it; yet it is God who provides.'
For these reasons every man should make it his whole concern to guard his senses and his thoughts, so as not to devise or do anything that does not seem to be in accordance with God's will. Let him prepare himself to accept patiently the things that befall him at the hands of men and demons, whether these things are pleasant or unpleasant. Neither the one nor the other should excite him or make him give way either to senseless joy and presumption, or to dejection and despair. He should entertain no over-confident thought until the Lord comes. To Him be glory throughout the ages. Amen.
V: Patient Endurance
The Lord said: 'He who endures patiently to the end will be saved' (Matt. 10:22). Patient endurance is the consolidation of all the virtues, because without it not one of them can subsist. For whoever turns back is not 'fit for the kingdom of heaven' (Luke 9:62). Indeed, even though someone thinks that he is in possession of all the virtues, he is still not fit for the kingdom until he has first endured to the end and escaped from the snares of the devil; for only thus can he attain it. Even those who have received a foretaste of the kingdom stand in need of patient endurance if they are to gain their final reward in the age to be. Indeed, in every form of learning and knowledge persistence is needed. This is natural, since even sensible things cannot be produced without it: when any such thing is born, there has to be a period of patient waiting if it is to continue to live.
In short, patient endurance is required before anything can come about; and, once something has come about, it can be sustained and brought to perfection only through such endurance. If it is something good, this virtue assists and guards it; if something evil, it confers relief and strength of soul and does not permit the person being tempted to grow faint-hearted, thus experiencing a foretaste of hell. Patient endurance kills the despair that kills the soul; it teaches the soul to take comfort and not to grow listless in the face of its many battles and afflictions.
Judas lacked this virtue, and because of his inexperience in spiritual warfare suffered a double death (cf. Matt. 27:5j. Peter, chief of the apostles, possessed it, being an experienced warrior; and when he fell, he defeated the devil who had overthrown him (cf. Matt. 26:75; John 21:15-17). The monk who once lapsed into unchastity acquired it, and conquered his conqueror by not yielding to the counsel of despair that urged him to abandon his cell and his solitude. Patiently he said to the thoughts that tempted him: 'I have not sinned; and again I say to you, I have not sinned.' What divine understanding and patience in that noble man! This blessed virtue brought the righteous Job and his initial good works to fulfillment; for had he lacked it even slightly, he would have obliterated all the good he had previously done. But God who knew his patience allowed the plague to strike him for his own perfecting and for the benefit of many others.
He, then, who knows what is to his benefit should struggle to acquire this virtue before anything else, accordmg to St Basil the Great. For St Basil advises us not to fight against all the passions at once, since if we are unsuccessful we might turn back and no longer be fit for the kingdom of heaven. Rather we should fight the passions one at a time, and start by patiently enduring whatever befalls us. This is right; for the person who lacks patient endurance will never be able to stand fast even in an ordinary, battle, but will bring only flight and destruction upon himself and others by retreating. This is why God told Moses not to allow anyone who was cowardly to go out with the army (cf. Deut. 20:8). In an ordinary war it may be possible for someone to remain inside in his house and not go out to fight; and though by doing this he loses gifts and honors, he may live on in poverty and dishonor. But in spiritual warfare it is impossible to fmd a place anywhere in creation in which a battle is not being waged. In the desert there are wild beasts and demons and other malefic and terrifying things; in places of solitude and stillness there are demons, trials and temptations; in the midst of human company there are demons and men who try one and tempt one. There is no place anywhere where one is unmolested; and, because of this, without patient endurance it is impossible to find peace.
Such endurance is born of fear and faith, though it originates in understanding. He who is sensible tests things in the light of his intellect and, when he finds that he is 'hemmed in on every side' - to use Susanna's words - he chooses what is better, as she did. For she said to God: 'I am hemmed in on every side. If I do the will of the lawless priests, my soul will perish because of my adultery; but if I disobey them, they will accuse me of adultery and as judges of the people will condemn me to death. It is better for me to take refuge in the Almighty, even if death awaits me' (cf. Sus., verses 22-23). How great was the wisdom of that blessed woman! For as soon as the people had gathered together and the lawless judges had sat down to accuse her, blameless as she was, and to condemn her to death as an adulteress, then Daniel, though only twelve years old, was shown by God to be a prophet and saved her from death, transferring the death sentence from her to the priests who were about to judge her unjustly (cf. Sus., verses 44-62).
Through Susanna God has shown how close He is to those who are willing to endure trials for His sake, and who will not abandon virtue out of cowardice because of the suffering involved, but cleave to the law of God by patiently enduring what befalls them, rejoicing in the hope of salvation. And they have good cause to do this; for when confronted by two perils, one with temporary and the other with eternal consequences, is it not better to choose the first? For this reason St Isaac says that it is better to endure dangers out of love for God, and to cleave to Him in the hope of eternal life, than through fear, of trials to fall away from God into the hands of the devil and to be condemned with him to punishment. If we love God, then like the saints we should rejoice in our own trials. But even if we are not like them, let us at least choose the better path simply out of constraint; for we are in fact constrained either to run bodily risks in this present life, thereby attaining the state of dispassion, and so coming to reign with Christ spiritually in this age and in the age to be; or else, as I have said, to fall away through fear of trials and be committed to agelong punishment.
May God save us from punishment by giving us the strength patiently to endure whatever terrible things befall us. Endurance is like an unshakeable rock in the winds and waves of life. However the tempest batters him, the patient man remains steadfast and does not turn back; and when he finds relief and joy, he is not carried away by self-glory: he is always the same, whether things are hard or easy, and for this reason he is proof against the snares of the enemy. When storms beset him, he endures them with joy, awaiting their end; and when the heavens smile on him, he expects temptation-until his last breath, as St Antony has said. Such a person knows that nothing in life is unchangeable, and that all things pass. Thus he is not troubled or anxious about any of them, but leaves all things in the hands of God, for He has us in His care (cf. I Pet. 5:7); and to Him belong all glory, honor and dominion throughout the ages. Amen.
Life is hope free from all anxiety, wealth hidden from the senses but attested by the understanding and by the true nature of things. Farmers work laboriously, sowing and planting, sailors endure many dangers, and children learn reading and writing and other branches of knowledge. They all look forward with hope, laboring with joy. Outwardly they sacrifice immediate advantages, but in reality, even if they forfeit what they sacrifice, through their patient endurance they gain what is of far greater value. But in such instances, it might be said, they do this because they know from experience that they stand to gain something, while in the realm of the spiritual no one has risen from the dead so that we can know what rewards to expect. It is, however, only because we have no experience of spiritual gifts and spiritual knowledge that we think like this. Nor is it surprising that we should do so. For even farmers and sailors are full of apprehension so long as they have not acquired experience. And children, ignorant of the value of writing and the other subjects, seek to avoid learning them; but their parents, aware of what is to be gained, in their love compel them to study; then, when the time is ripe, the children themselves acquire experience and not only begin to love their lessons and those who force them to study, but even to accept with joy the ordeals of learning. Thus we, too, setting out in faith should strive patiently to advance, and not lose heart because of our tribulations; and then, when the time is ripe, we like them will come to know the value of what is happening to us and so will work tirelessly and with joy and gladness. 'We walk by faith,' as St Paul says, 'not by sight' (2 Cor. 5:1).
Yet just as it is impossible for someone engaged in business to make a profit on the basis of faith alone, so it is impossible for anyone to attain spiritual knowledge and repose before he has labored in thought and action to acquire the virtues. And just as business men always fear loss and hope for gain, so should we, until our final breath; and as they exert themselves not only when they make a profit, but also after suffering loss and taking risks, so should we as well, knowing that the idle man will not eat from the fruit of his own labors and so will become a pauper, perhaps even falling heavily into debt. It is because of this that the prophet says, 'Thou hast made me to dwell in hope' (Ps. 4:8. LXX); and the apostle writes, 'Through hope were they made perfect' (cf. Heb. I 1 :39-40).
Such in brief is what we can learn from nature and from Holy Scripture. But if someone wishes to know these things through experience, let him do all that he can to practice assiduously, as though he were at school, the seven forms of bodily discipline, and let him pay attention to the moral virtues as well, that is, to the virtues that pertain to the soul. Then, after attaining hope and persisting in it, he will obtain precise knowledge of what has been said. He will realize that from the very outset of his repentance, when he began to practice the first of the seven forms of bodily discipline - namely, stillness - the reward of hope and the blessings it confers were granted to him even before he began to practice the other six, that is to say, fasting, vigils, and so on. As soon as he had begun to practice the first of them - stillness, the beginning of the soul's purification - at once the blessings to which he aspired were bestowed on him. But being an inexperienced student he did not recognize the grace of his Master, just as a child does not recognize the bounty of his parents, though before he was born it was already their desire to help him, for they prayed that he would be born and would live. The child even fails to realize that he will be their heir and will have all they already possess as well as what their labors may still accumulate. In his ignorance he pays no attention whatsoever to such things, but thinks of obedience to his parents as a trial. Indeed, were he not in need of food and other natural necessities he would not be grateful towards them at all.
He who wishes to inherit the kingdom of heaven, yet does not patiently endure what befalls him, shows himself even more ungrateful than such a child. For he was created by God's grace, has received all things in this world, awaits what is to come, and has been called to reign eternally with Christ, who has honored him, in spite of his nothingness, with such great gifts, visible and invisible, to the extent even of shedding His most precious blood for him, not asking anything from him at all except that he should choose to receive His blessings. For this is Christ's only request, and whoever can understand that will be astonished. 'What does God require of you?' we are asked (cf. Mic. 6:8. LXX). How stupid we are! How is it that we look and fail to see His awesome mysteries? For precisely that which He seems to demand from us is in fact another, a greater gift. How do we not understand that he who cultivates the virtues is the greatest of men, superior to all, even if he is a pauper and of humble birth? How can we recognize the prophets, apostles and martyrs in this present life, and yet be doubtful about the blessings held in store? Let us consider their lives and what they have done, and whence it is they say they have received grace and strength. Do they not perform miracles even after their death? Have we not remarked how kings and rich people venerate their holy icons? We have seen how virtuous men live even in this present life full of thankfulness and virtue and spiritual joy, while the rich are troubled and experience greater trials and temptations than ascetics and those who possess nothing. All this gives us grounds for hoping that virtue is truly greater than everything else. But if it is not enough, then we should note how unbelievers, although they may not know God, still praise virtue, despite the fact that the virtuous man seems to have a faith other than their own. For even an enemy is capable of respecting virtue in his opponent.
If we beheve that virtue is good, then of necessity God, who created virtue and gave it to men, is also good; and if He is good, then of necessity He is likewise righteous, for righteousness is a virtue and thus is good. If God is both good and righteous, then He has certainly done all that He has done and is doing out of goodness, even if this does not seem to be so to the wicked. For nothing darkens a man's mind so much as evil, while God reveals Himself to simplicity and humility, not to toil and weariness. But He reveals Himself, not in the way that some in their inexperience think, but through the contemplation of created beings and through the revelation of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures. Such is the reward, in this present life, of stillness and of the other virtues. As for the age to be, 'the eye has not seen, and the ear has not heard, and man's heart has not grasped the things that God has prepared for those who love Him' (1 Cor. 2:9), and who renounce their own will in patient endurance and in the hope of the blessings held in store. We pray that we too may attain these blessings through the grace and love of our Lord Jesus Christ, to whom belong all glory, honor and dominion throughout the ages. Amen.
Detachment has its origin in hope, for he who hopes to acquire elsewhere eternal wealth readily despises that which is material and transient, even if it offers him every kind of comfort. For although his life may be harsh and full of pain, who could persuade a man of intelligence to value material wealth above love for God, who gives both forms of wealth to those who love Him? This could only happen to someone blind and unable to see at all because of his lack of faith or because of his evil disposition and habits. Had he possessed faith, he would have been enlightened; and had he through his firm faith received but a small measure of the enlightenment that comes from spiritual knowledge, he would have struggled to destroy those evil habits. And if he had resolved to do this, God's grace would have worked and struggled with him. But the Lord has said that few are saved (cf Luke 13:23-24); for the things we see appear to be sweet, even when they are actually bitter. The dog that licks his wound with his tongue is not aware of the pain because of the sweetness, and does not realize that he is drinking his own blood; and the glutton who eats what harms him in both soul and body is not aware of the damage he does himself. All those who are the slaves of passion suffer likewise because of their lack of awareness; and even if they resist for a while they are again overcome by habit.
For this reason the Lord says, 'The kingdom of heaven is subjected to violence' (Matt. 11:12). Such violence is due, not to our nature, but to our intimacy with the passions. Had it been due to our nature, no one would enter the kingdom. For those who have chosen the kingdom, however, the yoke of the Lord is easy to bear and His burden is light (cf. Matt. I 1:30), while for those who have not made this choice, 'strait is the gate, and narrow is the way' (Matt. 7:14) and 'the kingdom is subjected to violence' (Matt. 11:12). In the case of those who choose it, the kingdom is within and close to them, because they wish for it, and desire to attain here and now the state of dispassion. For what helps or hinders our salvation is the will, and nothing else. If you want to do something good, do it; and if you cannot do it, then resolve to do it, and you will have achieved the resolution even if you do not fulfill the action itself. Thus a habit, whether good or bad, can gradually and spontaneously be overcome. If this were not the case, no criminals would ever be saved, whereas in fact not only have they been saved, but many have become conspicuous for their excellence. Think what a great gulf separates the criminal from the saint; yet resolution finally overcame habit. If by Christ's grace someone is religious, or a monk, what prevents him from achieving sanctity, as criminals have achieved it? They were far from sanctity, he is near it; he has already completed the greater part of the journey, helped by grace, or by nature, or by the devotion and reverence he has inherited from his parents. Is it not strange, then, that when brigands and grave-robbers become saints, monks are condemned? But, alas, 'the shame of my face has covered me' (Ps. 44:15).
Kings renounce their riches, as Joasaph did and others like him; but often a poor man is unable to continue in his original state, and so to enter without struggle into the kingdom of heaven simply by remaining detached from things which he has not acquired by inheritance from his parents. For although at baptism he renounced even what did not belong to him - since another possesses the world and the things in it, he merely has the power to desire them - and although he renounced this world-ruler as well, yet even so he may afterwards try to acquire possessions. He may say, 'I am not able to live without possessions or to endure the things that befall me.' 'What things?' it may be asked. The prison cells and chains which he endured previously, and might have had to endure, even if he had been a ruler? For even those who are in positions of authority and who possess wealth are subject to these things. What, then? The deprivation of life's necessities, the nakedness and the other things that he has to endure? But in order not to prolong this discussion by going into details and so heaping further disgrace on those who are already full of shame, I will add only the following. If we crave but one of the visible things, the desire for which we have renounced, then like Gehazi and Judas (cf. 2 Kgs. 5:25-27; Matt. 27:3-5) we will reap shame and disgrace in the age to come. For Gehazi desired what he did not have and so both contracted leprosy and fell away from God; while Judas desired to repossess what he had renounced and so was punished not only with hanging but also with perdition.
In what way is the monk exceptional if he does not persevere in virginity and a state of total dispossession? All men are under an obligation to keep the other commandments, because they pertain to our nature; that is to say, we are all required to love God and our neighbor, to endure patiently what befalls us, to make use of things according to their true nature, and to refrain from committing evil. We should keep these commandments even if we do .not want to. Indeed, unless we keep them, we will not find peace even in this world, since the laws punish those who offend against them, and our rulers compel us to live virtuously. As St Paul says, the ruler 'does not bear the sword to no purpose' (Rom. 13:4); and again: 'You wish to have no fear of the authorities? Do what is right and you will have their approval' (Rom. 13:3). Everyone does and wants to do these things because they accord with nature - indeed, we insist that they should be done. But the lot of the monk as a soldier of Christ is to do that which is beyond nature; for this reason he should taste Christ's sufferings, so that he may also attain His glory.
Indeed, this too is a law of nature, verified by what happens in this world. Are not the soldiers of the king honored because they suffer with him? And does not each of them receive praise in proportion to his suffering? And to the extent that he shows himself incapable of suffering in this way, is he not dishonored? Is it not obvious that the more regal the garments a person wears, the closer he is to the king? And the less regal, the farther away? The same things apply in connection with our own King. The more we suffer with Christ and imitate His poverty, tasting His sufferings and the ill-treatment to which He was subjected before He was crucified for our sake and buried, the more intimate we become with Him and the more we share in His glory. It is as St Paul says: if we suffer with Him, we will also be glorified with Him (cf Rom. 8:17).
Why, as we know, soldiers and thieves suffer simply trying to get food, travelers and sailors are absent from home for long periods, and people endure great trials quite apart from any hope of the kingdom of heaven, often indeed failing to achieve whatever it is they struggle for. But we are unwilling to endure even slight hardship for the s