“Saint Diadochos was born around 400 and served as the Bishop of Photiki in Epirus of Northern Greece. In 451, he took part in the Fourth Ecumenical Council of Chalcedon as Bishop of Photiki and supported Orthodoxy against the Monophysites.
Diadochos’ writing and ascetic practice were influenced by Evagrius the Solitary and Saint Macarius the Great, incorporating ideas of hesychia (stillness, rest, quiet), sensible spiritual experience, and the fierceness of the fight against the demons.
His best-known work, On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination (known as the One Hundred Chapters), was written for his monks in reaction to strange doctrines coming from the heretical Messalian sect in Mesopotamia, who taught that each person has a personal demon to be exorcised by constant prayer. He is also thought to be the author of a sermon on the ‘Ascension and dialogue with Saint John the Baptist’.
The One Hundred Chapters represent a complete treatise on the spiritual life, the ultimate goal of which is to unite the soul with God through love (chapters 1-2). His writings essentially contain dogmatic teachings and spiritual counsel.
The mystical experience referred to by St. Diadochos is consolidated around prayer, the only one able to drive away evil thoughts. “If then, the mind be found keeping in mind the holy name of the Lord Jesus, and use it as a weapon of that most holy and glorified name, the deceitful deceiver will depart” (ch. 31:32).
The Holy Hierarch Diodochos, Bishop of Photiki, will be celebrated annually on March 29, together with the Holy Martyrs Mark, the Bishop of Arethusa, and Cyril the Deacon.”
On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination
(known as the One Hundred Chapters)
- All spiritual contemplation should be governed by faith, hope and love, but most of all by love. The first two teach us to be detached from visible delights, but love unites the soul with the excellence of God, searching out the Invisible by means of intellectual perception.
- Only God is good by nature, but with God’s help man can become good through careful attention to his way of life. He transforms himself into what he is not when his soul, by devoting its attention to true delight, unites itself to God, in so far as its energized power desires this. For it is written: ‘Be good and merciful as is your Father in heaven‘ (cf Luke 6:36; Matt. 5:48).
- Evil does not exist by nature, nor is any man naturally evil, for God made nothing that was not good. When in the desire of his heart someone conceives and gives form to what in reality has no existence, then what he desires begins to exist. We should therefore turn our attention away from the inclination to evil and concentrate it on the remembrance of God; for good, which exists by nature, is more powerful than our inclination to evil. The one has existence while the other has not, except when we give it existence through our actions.
- All men are made in God’s image; but to be in His likeness is granted only to those who through great love have brought their own freedom into subjection to God. For only when we do not belong to ourselves do we become like Him who through love has reconciled us to Himself. No one achieves this unless he persuades his soul not to be distracted by the false glitter of this life.
- Free will is the power of a deiform soul to direct itself by deliberate choice towards whatever it decides. Let us make sure that our soul directs itself deliberately only towards what is good, so that we always consume our remembrance of evil with good thoughts.
- The light of true knowledge is the power to discriminate without error between good and evil. Then the path of righteousness leads the intellect upward towards the Sun of Righteousness and brings it into the boundless illumination of spiritual knowledge, so that henceforward it will grow more and more confident in its quest for love. With an incensive power free from anger we should snatch righteousness from the hands of those who dare to outrage it, since the aspiration for holiness triumphs not by hating others, but by convincing them of their faults.
- Spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it comes from God through the energy of love. It is on account of this that the intellect continues undisturbed in its concentration on theology. It does not suffer then from the emptiness which produces a state of anxiety, since in its contemplation it is filled to the degree that the energy of love desires. So it is right always to wait, with a faith energized by love, for the illumination which will enable us to speak. For nothing is so destitute as a mind philosophizing about God when it is without Him.
- The unilluminated should not embark on spiritual speculations nor, on the other hand, should anyone try to speak while the light of the Holy Spirit is shining richly upon him. For where there is emptiness, ignorance is also to be found, but where there is richness of the Spirit, no speech is possible. At such a time the soul is drunk with the love of God and, with voice silent, delights in His glory. We should therefore watch for the middle point between these two extremes before we begin to speak of God. This balance confers a certain harmony on our words glorifying God; as we speak and teach, our faith is nourished by the richness of the illumination and so, because of our love, we are the first to taste the fruits of knowledge. For it is written: ‘The farmer who does the work should be the first to eat of the produce’ (2 Tim. 2; 6).
- Wisdom and spiritual knowledge are both gifts of the one Holy Spirit, as are all the divine gifts of grace: but each has its own distinctive energy. For this reason the Apostle testifies that to one is given wisdom, to another spiritual knowledge by the same Spirit (cf. I Cor. 12:8). Such knowledge unites man to God through experience, but does not move him to express outwardly what he knows. Some, then, of those who practice the solitary life are consciously illuminated by spiritual knowledge, yet do not speak about God. But when wisdom, with the fear of God, is given to someone at the same time as spiritual knowledge – and this seldom happens – it leads him to express outwardly the inner energies of this knowledge within him: for spiritual knowledge illuminates men through its inner energy while wisdom does so through being expressed outwardly. Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scripture and, above all, through grace given by God.
- When the soul’s incensive power is aroused against the passions, we should know that it is time for silence, as the hour of battle is at hand. But when this turbulence grows calm, whether through prayer or through acts of mercy, we may then be moved by a desire to proclaim God’s mysteries, restraining the wings of our intellect with the cords of humility. For unless a man sets himself utterly at naught, he cannot speak of the majesty of God.
- Spiritual discourse always keeps the soul free from self-esteem, for it gives every part of the soul a sense of light, so that it no longer needs the praise of men. In the same way, such discourse keeps the mind free from fantasy, transfusing it completely with the love of God. Discourse deriving from the wisdom of this world, on the other hand, always provokes self-esteem: because it is incapable of granting us the experience of spiritual perception, it inspires its adepts with a longing for praise, being nothing but the fabrication of conceited men. It follows, therefore, that we can know with certainty when we are in the proper state to speak about God, if during the hours when we do not speak we maintain a fervent remembrance of God in untroubled silence.
- Whoever loves himself cannot love God: but if, because of ‘the overflowing richness’ of God’s love, a man does not love himself, then he truly loves God (Eph. 2:7). Such a man never seeks his own glory, but seeks the glory of God. The man who loves himself seeks his own glory, whereas he who loves God loves the glory of his Creator. It is characteristic of the soul which consciously senses the love of God always to seek God’s glory in every commandment it performs, and to be happy in its low estate. For glory befits God because of His majesty, while lowliness befits man because it unites us with God. If we realize this, rejoicing in the glory of the Lord, we too, like St John the Baptist, will begin to say unceasingly, ‘He must increase, but we must decrease’ (cf. John 3:30).
- 1 know a man who loves God with great intensity, and yet grieves because he does not love Him as much as he would wish. His soul is ceaselessly filled with burning desire that God should be glorified in him and that he himself should be as nothing. This man does not think of what he is, even when others praise him. In his great desire for humility he does not think of his priestly rank, but performs his ministry as the rules enjoin. In his extreme love for God, he strips himself of any thought of his own dignity: and with a spirit of humility he buries in the depths of divine love any pride to which his high position might give rise. Thus, out of desire to humble himself, he always sees himself in his own mind as a useless servant, extraneous to the rank he holds. We too should do the same, fleeing all honor and glory in the overflowing richness of our love for the Lord who loves us so greatly.
- He who loves God consciously in his heart is known by God (cf. I Cor. 8:3), for to the degree that he receives the love of God consciously in his soul, he truly enters into God’s love. From that time on, such a man never loses an intense longing for the illumination of spiritual knowledge, until he senses its strength in his bones and no longer knows himself, but is completely transformed by the love of God. He is both present in this life and not present in it; still dwelling in the body, he yet departs from it, as through love he ceaselessly journeys towards God in his soul. His heart now burns constantly with the fire of love and clings to God with an irresistible longing, since he has once and for all transcended self-love in his love for God. As St Paul writes: ‘If we go out of ourselves, it is because of God: if we are restrained, it is for your sake’ (2 Cor. 5:13.
- When a man begins to perceive the love of God in all its richness, he begins also to love his neighbor with spiritual perception. This is the love of which all the Scriptures speak. Friendship after the flesh is very easily destroyed on some slight pretext, since it is not held firm by spiritual perception. But when a person is spiritually awakened, even if something irritates him, the bond of love is not dissolved: rekindling himself with the warmth of the love of God, he quickly recovers himself and with great joy seeks his neighbor’s love, even though he has been gravely wronged or insulted by him. For the sweetness of God completely consumes the bitterness of the quarrel.
- No one can love God consciously in his heart unless he has first feared Him with all his heart. Through the action of fear the soul is purified and, as it were, made malleable and so it becomes awakened to the action of love. No one, however, can come to fear God completely in the way described, unless he first transcends all worldly cares: for when the intellect reaches a state of deep stillness and detachment, then the fear of God begins to trouble it, purifying it with full perception from all gross and cloddish density, and thereby bringing it to a great love for God’s goodness. Thus the fear which characterizes those who are still being purified is accompanied by a moderate measure of love. But perfect love is found in those who have already been purified and in whom there is no longer any fear, for ‘perfect love casts out fear’ (1 John 4:18). Fear and love are found together only in the righteous who achieve virtue through the energy of the Holy Spirit in them. For this reason Holy Scripture says in one place: ‘0 fear the Lord, all you who are His saints’ (Ps. 34:9), and in another: ‘0 love the Lord, all you who are His saints’ (Ps. 3 I :23). From this we see clearly that the righteous, who are still in the process of being purified, are characterized both by fear and by a moderate measure of love: perfect love, on the other hand, is found only in those who have already been purified and in whom there is no longer any thought of fear, but rather a constant burning and binding of the soul to God through the energy of the Holy Spirit. As it is written, ‘My soul is bound to Thee: Thy right hand has upheld me’ (Ps. 63:8. LXX).
- If wounds in the body have been neglected and left unattended, they do not react to medicine when the doctors apply it to them: but if they have first been cleansed, then they respond to the action of the medicine and so are quickly healed. In the same way, if the soul is neglected and wholly covered with the leprosy of self-indulgence, it cannot experience the fear of God, however persistently it is warned of the terror and power of God’s judgment. When, however, through great attentiveness the soul begins to be purified, it also begins to experience the fear of God as a life-giving medicine which, through the reproaches it arouses in the conscience, burns the soul in the fire of dispassion. After this the soul is gradually cleansed until it is completely purified: its love increases as its fear diminishes, until it attains perfect love, in which there is no fear but only the complete dispassion which is energized by the glory of God. So let us rejoice endlessly in our fear of God and in the love which is the fulfilling of the law of perfection in Christ (cf Rom. 13:10).
- A person who is not detached from worldly cares can neither love God truly nor hate the devil as he should, for such cares are both a burden and a veil. His intellect cannot discern the tribunal which will judge him, neither can it foresee the verdict which will be given at his trial. For all these reasons, then, withdrawal from the world is invaluable.
- The qualities of a pure soul are intelligence devoid of envy, ambition, free from malice, and unceasing love for the Lord of glory. When the soul has these qualities, then the intellect can accurately assess how it will be judged, seeing itself appear before the most faultless of tribunals.
- Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions. Our father Abraham would not have been counted righteous because of his faith had he not offered its fruit, his son (cf. Jas. 2:21: Rom. 4:3).
- He who loves God both believes truly and performs the works of faith reverently. But he who only believes and does not love, lacks even the faith he thinks he has: for he believes merely with a certain superficiality of intellect and is not energized by the full force of love’s glory. The chief part of virtue, then, is faith energized by love.
- The deep waters of faith seem turbulent when we peer into them too curiously: but when contemplated in a spirit of simplicity, they are calm. The depths of faith are like the waters of Lethe, making us forget all evil: they will not reveal themselves to the scrutiny of meddlesome reasoning. Let us therefore sail these waters with simplicity of mind, and so reach the harbor of God’s will.
- No one can either love truly or believe truly unless he has first brought accusation against himself. For so long as our conscience is troubled with self-reproach, the intellect is no longer able to sense the perfume of heavenly blessings, but at once becomes divided and ambivalent. Because of the experience it once enjoyed it reaches out fervently towards faith, but can no longer perceive faith in the heart through love because of the pricks of an accusing conscience. But when we have purified ourselves by closer attentive-ness, then with a fuller experience of God we shall attain what we desire.
- Just as the senses of the body impel us almost violently towards what attracts them, so the perceptive faculty of the intellect, once it tastes the divine goodness, leads us towards invisible blessings. Everything longs for what is akin to itself: the soul, since it is bodiless, desires heavenly goods, while the body, being dust, seeks earthly nourishment. So we shall surely come to experience immaterial perception if by our labors we refine our material nature.
- Divine knowledge, once it is awakened in us, teaches us that the perceptive faculty natural to our soul is single, but that it is split into two distinct modes of operation as a result of Adam’s disobedience. This single and simple perceptive faculty is implanted in the soul by the Holy Spirit; but no one can realize this singleness of perception except those who have willingly abandoned the delights of this corruptible life in the hope of enjoying those of eternity, and who have caused every appetite of the bodily senses to wither away through self-control. Only in such men does the intellect, because of its freedom from worldly care, act with its full vigor so that it is capable of perceiving ineffably the goodness of God. Then, according to the measure of its own progress, the intellect communicates its joy to the body too, rejoicing endlessly in the song of love and praise: ‘My heart has trusted in Him and I am helped; my flesh flowers again, and with all my being I will sing His praise’ (Ps. 28:7. LXX). The joy which then fills both soul and body is a true recalling of the life without corruption.
- Those pursuing the spiritual way must always keep the mind free from agitation in order that the intellect, as it discriminates among the thoughts that pass through the mind, may store in the treasuries of its memory those thoughts which are good and have been sent by God, while casting out those which are evil and come from the devil. When the sea is calm, fishermen can scan its depths and therefore hardly any creature moving in the water escapes their notice. But when the sea is disturbed by the winds, it hides beneath its turbid and agitated waves what it was happy to reveal when it was smiling and calm; and then the fishermen’s skill and cunning prove vain. The same thing happens with the contemplative power of the intellect, especially when it is unjust anger which disturbs the depths of the soul.
- Very few men can accurately recognize all their own faults; indeed, only those can do this whose intellect is never torn away from the remembrance of God. Our bodily eyes, when healthy, can see everything, even gnats and mosquitoes flying about in the air; but when they are clouded by some discharge, they see large objects only indistinctly and small things not at all. Similarly if the soul, through attentiveness, reduces the blindness caused by the love of this world, it will consider its slightest faults to be very grave and will continually shed tears with deep thankfulness. For it is written, ‘The righteous shall give thanks unto Thy name’ (Ps. 140: 13). But if the soul persists in its worldly disposition, even though it commits a murder or some other act deserving severe punishment, it takes little notice; and it is quite unable to discern its other faults, often considering them to be signs of progress, and in its wretchedness it is not ashamed to defend them heatedly.
- Only the Holy Spirit can purify the intellect, for unless a greater power comes and overthrows the despoiler, what he has taken captive will never be set free (cf Luke I 1 :21-22). In every way, therefore, and especially through peace of soul, we must make ourselves a dwelling-place for the Holy Spirit. Then we shall have the lamp of spiritual knowledge burning always within us; and when it is shining constantly in the inner shrine of the soul, not only will the intellect perceive all the dark and bitter attacks of the demons, but these attacks will be greatly weakened when exposed for what they are by that glorious and holy light. That is why the Apostle says: ‘Do not quench the Spirit’ ( I Thess. 5:19), meaning: ‘Do not grieve the goodness of the Holy Spirit by wicked actions or wicked thoughts, lest you be deprived of this protecting light.’ The Spirit, since He is eternal and life-creating, cannot be quenched; but if He is grieved – that is if He withdraws – He leaves the intellect without the light of spiritual knowledge, dark and full of gloom.
- The loving and Holy Spirit of God teaches us, as we have said, that the perceptive faculty natural to our soul is single; indeed. Even the five bodily senses differ from each other only because of the body’s varying needs. But this single faculty of perception is split because of the dislocation which, as a result of Adam’s disobedience, takes place in the intellect through the modes in which the soul now operates. Thus one side of the soul is carried away by the passionate part in man, and we are then captivated by the good things of this life, but the other side of the soul frequently delights in the activity of the intellect and, as a result, when we practice self-restraint, the intellect longs to pursue heavenly beauty. If, therefore, we learn persistently to be detached from the good things of this world, we shall be able to unite the earthly appetite of the soul to its spiritual and intellectual aspiration, through the communion of the Holy Spirit who brings this about within us. For unless His divinity actively illumines the inner shrine of our heart, we shall not be able to taste God’s goodness with the perceptive faculty undivided, that is, with unified aspiration.
- The perceptive faculty of the intellect consists in the power to discriminate accurately between the tastes of different realities. Our physical sense of taste, when we are healthy, leads us to distinguish unfailingly between good food and bad, so that we want what is good: similarly, our intellect, when it begins to act vigorously and with complete detachment, is capable of perceiving the wealth of God’s grace and is never led astray by any illusion of grace which comes from the devil. Just as the body, when it tastes the delectable foods of this earth, knows by experience exactly what each thing is, so the intellect, when it has triumphed over the thoughts of the flesh, knows for certain when it is tasting the grace of the Holy Spirit; for it is written: ‘Taste and see that the Lord is good’ (Ps. 34:8). The intellect keeps fresh the memory of this taste through the energy of love, and so unerringly chooses what is best. As St Paul says: ‘This is my prayer, that your love may grow more and more in knowledge and in all perception, so that you choose what is best’ (Phil. 1:9-10).
- When our intellect begins to perceive the grace of the Holy Spirit, then Satan, too, importunes the soul with a sense of deceptive sweetness in the quiet times of the night, when we fall into a light kind of sleep. If the intellect at that time cleaves fervently to the remembrance of the glorious and holy name of the Lord Jesus and uses it as a weapon against Satan’s deception, he gives up this trick and for the future will attack the soul directly and personally. As a result the intellect clearly discerns the deception of the evil one and advances even further in the art of discrimination.
- The experience of true grace comes to us when the body is awake or else on the point of falling asleep, while in fervent remembrance of God we are welded to His love. But the illusion of grace comes to us, as I have said, when we fall into a light sleep while our remembrance of God is half-hearted. True grace, since its source is God, gladdens us consciously and impels us towards love with great rapture of soul. The illusion of grace, on the other hand, tends to shake the soul with the winds of deceit: for when the intellect is strong in the remembrance of God, the devil tries to rob it of its experience of spiritual perception by taking advantage of the body’s need for sleep. If the intellect at that time is remembering the Lord Jesus attentively, it easily destroys the enemy’s seductive sweetness and advances joyfully to do battle with him, armed not only with grace but also with a second weapon, the confidence gained from its own experience.
- Sometimes the soul is kindled into love for God and, free from all fantasy and image, moves untroubled by doubt towards Him; and it draws, as it were, the body with it into the depths of that ineffable love. This may occur when the person is awake or else beginning to fall asleep under the influence of God’s grace, in the way I have explained. At the same time, the soul is aware of nothing except what it is moving towards. When we experience things in this manner, we can be sure that it is the energy of the Holy Spirit within us. For when the soul is completely permeated with that ineffable sweetness, at that moment it can think of nothing else, since it rejoices with uninterrupted joy. But if at that moment the intellect conceives any doubt or unclean thought, and if this continues in spite of the fact that the intellect calls on the holy name – not now simply out of love for God, but in order to repel the evil one – then it should realize that the sweetness it experiences is an illusion of grace, coming from the deceiver with a counterfeit joy. Through this joy, amorphous and disordered, the devil tries to lead the soul into an adulterous union with himself. For when he sees the intellect unreservedly proud of its own experience of spiritual perception, he entices the soul by means of certain plausible illusions of grace, so that it is seduced by that dank and debilitating sweetness and fails to notice its intercourse with the deceiver. From all this we can distinguish between the Spirit of truth and the spirit of error. It is impossible, however, for someone consciously to taste the divine goodness or consciously to realize when he is experiencing the bitterness of the demons, unless he first knows with assurance that grace dwells in the depths of his intellect, while the wicked spirits cluster round only the outside of the heart. This is just what the demons do not want us to know, for fear that our intellect, once definitely aware of it, will arm itself against them with the remembrance of God.
- The natural love of the soul is one thing, and the love which comes to it from the Holy Spirit is another. The activity of the first depends on the assent of our will to our desire. For this reason it is easily taken over and perverted by evil spirits when we do not keep firmly to our chosen course. But the love which comes from the Holy Spirit so inflames the soul that all its parts cleave ineffably and with utter simplicity to the delight of its love and longing for the divine. The intellect then becomes pregnant through the energy of the Holy Spirit and overflows with a spring of love and joy.
- Just as a rough sea naturally subsides when oil is poured upon it, so the soul readily grows calm when anointed with the grace of the Holy Spirit. For it submits joyfully to the dispassionate and ineffable grace which overshadows it, in accordance with the Psalmist’s words: ‘My soul, be obedient to God’ (Ps. 62:5. LXX). As a result, no matter how greatly it is provoked by the demons, the soul remains free from anger and is filled with the greatest joy. No man can enter or remain in such a state unless he sweetens his soul continually with the fear of God; for the fear of the Lord Jesus confers a measure of purity on those pursuing the spiritual way. ‘The fear of the Lord is pure, and endures for ever’ (Ps. 19:9. LXX).
- Let no one who hears us speak of the perceptive faculty of the intellect imagine that by this we mean that the glory of God appears to man visibly. We do indeed affirm that the soul, when pure, perceives God’s grace, tasting it in some ineffable manner; but no invisible reality appears to it in a visible form, since now ‘we walk by faith, not by sight’, as St Paul says (2 Cor. 5:7) light or some fiery form should be seen by one pursuing the spiritual way, he should not on any account accept such a vision: it is an obvious deceit of the enemy. Many indeed have had this experience and, in their ignorance, have turned aside from the way of truth. We ourselves know, however, that so long as we dwell in this corruptible body, ‘we are absent from the Lord’ (2 Cor. 5:6) – that is to say, we know that we cannot see visibly either God Himself or any of His celestial wonders.
- The dreams which appear to the soul through God’s love are unerring criteria of its health. Such dreams do not change from one shape to another; they do not shock our inward sense, resound with laughter or suddenly become threatening. But with great gentleness they approach the soul and fill it with spiritual gladness. As a result, even after the body has woken up, the soul longs to recapture the joy given to it by the dream. Demonic fantasies, however, are just the opposite: they do not keep the same shape or maintain a constant form for long. For what the demons do not possess as their chosen mode of life, but merely assume because of their inherent deceitfulness, is not able to satisfy them for very long. They shout and menace, often transforming themselves into soldiers and sometimes deafening the soul with their cries. But the intellect, when pure, recognizes them for what they are and awakes the body from its dreams. Sometimes it even feels joy at having been able to see through their tricks: indeed it often challenges them during the dream itself and thus provokes them to great anger. There are, however, times when even good dreams do not bring joy to the soul, but produce in it a sweet sadness and tears unaccompanied by grief But this happens only to those who are far advanced in humility.
- We have now explained the distinction between good and bad dreams, as we ourselves heard it from those with experience. In our quest for purity, however, the safest rule is never to trust to anything that appears to us in our dreams. For dreams are generally nothing more than images reflecting our wandering thoughts, or else they are the mockery of demons. And if ever God in His goodness were to send us some vision and we were to refuse it, our beloved Lord Jesus would not be angry with us, for He would know we were acting in this way because of the tricks of the demons. Although the distinction between types of dreams established above is precise, it sometimes happens that when the soul has been sullied by an unperceived beguilement – something from which no one, it seems to me, is exempt – it loses its sense of accurate discrimination and mistakes bad dreams for good.
- As an illustration of what I mean, take the case of the servant whose master, returning at night after a long absence abroad, calls to him from outside his house. The servant categorically refuses to open the door to him, for he is afraid of being deceived by some similarity of voice, and so of betraying to someone else the goods his master has entrusted to him. Not only is his master in no way angry with him when day comes; but on the contrary he even praises him highly, because in his concern not to lose any of his master’s goods he even suspected the sound of his master’s voice to be a trick.
- You should not doubt that the intellect, when it begins to be strongly energized by the divine light, becomes so completely translucent that it sees its own light vividly. This takes place when the power of the soul gains control over the passions. But when St Paul says that ‘Satan himself is transformed into an angel of light’ (2 Cor. I 1 : 14), he definitely teaches us that everything which appears to the intellect, whether as light or as fire, if it has a shape, is the product of the evil artifice of the enemy. So we should not embark on the ascetic life in the hope of seeing visions clothed with form or shape; for if we do, Satan will find it easy to lead our soul astray. Our one purpose must be to reach the point when we perceive the love of God fully and consciously in our heart – that is, ‘with all your heart. and with all your soul . . . and with all your mind’ (Luke 10:27). For the man who is energized by the grace of God to this point has already left this world, though still present in it.
- It is well known that obedience is the chief among the initiatory virtues, for first it displaces presumption and then it engenders humility within us. Thus it becomes, for those who willingly embrace it, a door leading to the love of God. It was because he rejected humility that Adam fell into the lowest depths of Hades. It was because He loved humility that the Lord, in accordance with the divine purpose, was obedient to His Father even to the cross and death, although He was in no way inferior to the Father; and so through His own obedience He has freed mankind from the crime of disobedience and leads back to the blessedness of eternal life all who live in obedience. Thus humility should be the first concern of those who are fighting the presumption of the devil, for as we advance it will be a sure guide to all the paths of virtue.
- Self-control is common to all the virtues, and therefore whoever practices self-control must do so in all things. If any part, however small, of a man’s body is removed, the whole man is disfigured; likewise, he who disregards one single virtue destroys unwittingly the whole harmonious order of self-control. It is therefore necessary to cultivate not only the bodily virtues, but also those which have the power to purify our inner man. What is the good of a man keeping the virginity of his body if he lets his soul commit adultery with the demon of disobedience? Or what is the good of a man controlling gluttony and his other bodily desires if he makes no effort to avoid vanity and self-esteem, and does not endure with patience even the slightest affliction? At the judgment what crown will he deserve, when a just reward is given only to those who have accomplished works of righteousness in a spirit of humility?
- Those pursuing the spiritual way should train themselves to hate all uncontrolled desires until this hatred becomes habitual. With regard to self-control in eating, -we must never feel loathing for any kind of food, for to do so is abominable and utterly demonic. It is emphatically not because any kind of food is bad in itself that we refrain from it. But by not eating too much or too richly we can to some extent keep in check the excitable parts of our body. In addition we can give to the poor what remains over, for this is the mark of sincere love.
- It is in no way contrary to the principles of true knowledge to eat and drink from all that is set before you, giving thanks to God; for ‘everything is very good’ (cf Gen. 1:31). But gladly to abstain from eating too pleasurably or too much shows greater discrimination and understanding. However, we shall not gladly detach ourselves from the pleasures of this life unless we have fully and consciously tasted the sweetness of God.
- When heavy with over-eating, the body makes the intellect spiritless and sluggish; likewise, when weakened by excessive abstinence, the body makes the contemplative faculty of the soul dejected and disinclined to concentrate. We should therefore regulate our food according to the condition of the body, so that it is appropriately disciplined when in good health and adequately nourished when weak. The body of one pursuing the spiritual way must not be enfeebled; he must have enough strength for his labors, so that the soul may be suitably purified through bodily exertion as well.
- When, as a result of visits from some of our brethren or some strangers, we are fiercely attacked by thoughts of self-esteem, it is good to relax our normal regime to a certain extent. In this way the demon will be frustrated and driven out, regretting his attempt: moreover, we shall properly fulfill the rule of love, and by relaxing our usual practice we shall keep hidden the mystery of our self-control.
- Fasting, while of value in itself, is not something to boast of in front of God, for it is simply a tool for training those who desire self-restraint. The ascetic should not feel proud because he fasts; but with faith in God he should think only of reaching his goal. For no artist ever boasts that his accomplishment is simply due to his tools; but he waits for the work itself to give proof of his skill.
- When watered in due measure the earth yields a good, clean crop from the seed sown in it; but when it is soaked with torrential rain it bears nothing but thistles and thorns. Likewise, when we drink wine in due measure, the earth of the heart yields a clean crop from its natural seed and produces a fine harvest from what is sown in it by the Holy Spirit. But if it is soaked through excessive drinking, the thoughts, it bears will be nothing but thistles and thorns.
- When our intellect is swimming in the waves of excessive drink, it not only regards with passion the images formed in it by the demons while we sleep, but also itself forms attractive appearances, treating its own fantasies as if they were women whom it ardently loved. For when the sexual organs are heated by wine, the intellect cannot avoid forming in itself pleasurable pictures reflecting our passion. So we must keep due measure and escape the harm that comes from excess. For when the intellect is not affected by the pleasure that seduces it to the picturing of sin, it remains completely free from fantasy and debility.
- People, who wish to discipline the sexual organs should avoid drinking those artificial concoctions which are called ‘aperitifs’ – presumably because they open a way to the stomach for the vast meal which is to follow. Not only are they harmful to our bodies, but their fraudulent and artificial character greatly offends the conscience wherein God dwells. For what does wine lack that we should sap its healthy vigor by adulterating it with a variety of condiments?
- Jesus Christ, our Lord and Teacher in this holy way of life, was offered vinegar to drink during His Passion by those executing the devil’s orders, and thus He left us, it seems to me, a clear example for spiritual combat. Those struggling against sin should not. He says, indulge themselves in agreeable food and drink, but should patiently bear the bitterness of the warfare. Hyssop, too, must be added to the sponge of ignominy (cf John 19:29), so that the pattern of our purification may conform perfectly to His example; for sharpness pertains to spiritual combat, just as purification does to being made perfect.
- No one would maintain that it is strange or sinful to take baths, but to refrain from them out of self-control I regard as a sign of great restraint and determination. For then our body will not be debilitated by this self-indulgence in hot and steamy water; neither shall we be reminded of Adam’s ignoble nakedness, and so have to cover ourselves with leaves as he did. All this is especially important for us, who have recently renounced the vileness of this fallen life, and ought to be acquiring the beauty of self-restraint through the purity of our body.
- There is nothing to prevent us from calling a doctor when we are ill. Since Providence has implanted remedies in nature, it has been possible for human experimentation to develop the art of medicine. All the same, we should not place our hope of healing in doctors, but in our true Savior and Doctor, Jesus Christ. I say this to those who practice self-control in monastic communities or towns, for because of their environment they cannot at all times maintain the active working of faith through love. Furthermore, they should not succumb to the conceit and temptation of the devil, which have led some of them publicly to boast that they have had no need of doctors for many years. If, on the other hand, someone is living as a hermit in more deserted places together with two or three like-minded brethren, whatever sufferings may befall him let him draw near in faith to the only Lord who can heal ‘every kind of sickness and disease’ (Matt. 4:23). For besides the Lord he has the desert itself to provide sufficient consolation in his illness. In such a person faith is always actively at work, and in addition he has no scope to display the fine quality of his patience before others, because he is protected by the desert. For ‘the Lord settles the solitaries in a dwelling’ (Ps. 68:6. LXX).
- When we become unduly distressed at falling ill, we should recognize that our soul is still the slave of bodily desires and so longs for physical health, not wishing to lose the good things of this life and even finding it a great hardship not to be able to enjoy them because of illness. If, however, the soul accepts thankfully the pains of illness, it is clear that it is not far from the realm of dispassion; as a result it even waits joyfully for death as the entry into a life that is more true.
- The soul will not desire to be separated from the body unless it becomes indifferent to the very air it breathes. All the bodily senses are opposed to faith, for they are concerned with the objects of this present world, while faith is concerned only with the blessings of the life to come. Thus one pursuing the spiritual way should never be too greatly preoccupied with beautifully branched or shady trees, pleasantly flowing springs, Iloweiy meadows, fine houses or even visits to his family, neither should he recall any public honors that he happens to have been given. He should gratefully be content with bare necessities, regarding this present life as a road passing through an alien land, barren of all worldly attractions. For it is only by concentrating our mind in this way that we can keep to the road that leads back to eternity.
- Eve is the first to teach us that sight, taste and the other senses, when used without moderation, distract the heart from its remembrance of God. So long as she did not look with longing at the forbidden tree, she was able to keep God’s commandment carefully in mind; she was still covered by the wings of divine love and thus was ignorant of her own nakedness. But after she had looked at the tree with longing, touched it with ardent desire and then tasted its fruit with active sensuality, she at once felt drawn to physical intercourse and, being naked, she gave way to her passion. All her desire was now to enjoy what was immediately present to her senses, and through the pleasant appearance of the fruit she involved Adam in her fall. Thereafter it became hard for man’s intellect to remember God or His commandments. We should therefore always be looking into the depths of our heart with continued remembrance of God, and should pass through this deceitful life like men who have lost their sight. It is the mark of true spiritual wisdom always to clip the wings of our love for visible appearances, and this is what Job, in his great experience, refers to when he says: ‘If my heart has followed my eye . . ‘ (Job 31:7. LXX). To master ourselves in this way is evidence of the greatest self-control.
- He who dwells continually within his own heart is detached from the attractions of this world, for he lives in the Spirit and cannot know the desires of the flesh. Such a man henceforward walks up and down within the fortress of the virtues which keep guard at all the gates of his purity. The assaults of the demons are now ineffective against him, even though the arrows of sensual desire reach as far as the doorways of his senses.
- When our soul begins to lose its appetite for earthly beauties, a spirit of listlessness is apt to steal into it. This prevents us from taking pleasure in study and teaching, and from feeling any strong desire for the blessings prepared for us in the life to come: it also leads us to disparage this transient life excessively, as not possessing anything of value. It even depreciates spiritual knowledge itself, either on the grounds that many others have already acquired it or because it cannot teach us anything perfect. To avoid this passion, which dejects and enervates us, we must confine the mind within very narrow limits, devoting ourselves solely to the remembrance of God. Only in this way will the intellect be able to regain its original fervor and escape this senseless dissipation.
- When we have blocked all its outlets by means of the remembrance of God, the intellect requires of us imperatively some task which will satisfy its need for activity. For the complete fulfillment of its purpose we should give it nothing but the prayer ‘Lord Jesus’, ‘No one’, it is written, ‘can say ‘Lord Jesus’ except in the Holy Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:3). Let the intellect continually concentrate on these words within its inner shrine with such intensity that it is not turned aside to any mental images. Those who meditate unceasingly upon this glorious and holy name in the depths of their heart can sometimes see the light of their own intellect. For when the mind is closely concentrated upon this name, then we grow fully conscious that the name is burning up all the filth which covers the surface of the soul; for it is written: ‘Our God is a consuming fire’ (Deut. 4:24). Then the Lord awakens in the soul a great love for His glory: for when the intellect with fervor of heart maintains persistently its remembrance of the precious name, then that name implants in us a constant love for its goodness, since there is nothing now that stands in the way. This is the pearl of great price which a man can acquire by selling all that he has, and so experience the inexpressible joy of making it his own (cf Matt. 13:46).
- Initiatory joy is one thing, the joy of perfection is another. The first is not exempt from fantasy, while the second has the strength of humility. Between the two joys comes a ‘godly sorrow’ (2 Cor. 7:10) and active tears: ‘For in much wisdom is much knowledge: and he that increases knowledge increases sorrow’ (Eccles. 1:18). The soul, then, is first summoned to the struggle by the initiatory joy and then rebuked and tested by the truth of the Holy Spirit, as regards both its past sins and the vain distractions in which it still indulges. For it is written: ‘With rebukes Thou hast corrected man for iniquity, and made his soul waste away like a spider’s web’ (Ps. 39: n. LXX). In this manner the soul is tested by divine rebuke as in a furnace, and through fervent remembrance of God it actively experiences the joy exempt from fantasy.
- When the soul is disturbed by anger, confused by drunkenness, or sunk in deep depression, the intellect cannot hold fast to the remembrance of God no matter how hard we try to force it. Completely darkened by the violence of the passions, it loses totally the form of perception which is proper to it. Thus our desire that our intellect should keep the remembrance of God cannot make any impression, because the recollective faculty of our mind has been hardened by the rawness of the passions. But, on the other hand, when the soul has attained freedom from these passions, then, even though the intellect is momentarily deprived by forgetfulness of the object of its longing, it at once resumes its proper activity. The soul now has grace itself to share its meditation and to repeat with it the words ‘Lord Jesus’, just as a mother teaches her child to repeat with her the word ‘father’, instead of prattling in his usual way, until she has formed in him the habit of calling for his father even in his sleep. This is why the Apostle says: ‘Likewise the Spirit also helps our infirmities: for we do not know what to pray for as we should, but the Spirit Himself makes intercession for us with cries that cannot be uttered’ (Rom. 8:26). Since we are but children as regards perfection in the virtue of prayer, we have need of the Spirit’s aid so that all our thoughts may be concentrated and gladdened by His inexpressible sweetness, and so that with all our being we may aspire to the remembrance and love of our God and Father. For, as St Paul says, it is in the Spirit that we pray when we are taught by Him to cry without ceasing to God the Father, ‘Abba, Father’ (Rom. 8:15).
- The incensive power usually troubles and confuses the soul more than any other passion, yet there are times when it greatly benefits the soul. For when with inward calm we direct it against blasphemers or other sinners in order to induce them to mend their ways or at least feel some shame, we make our soul more gentle. In this way we put ourselves completely in harmony with the purposes of God’s justice and goodness. In addition, through becoming deeply angered by sin we often overcome weaknesses in our soul. Thus there is no doubt that if, when deeply depressed, we become indignant in spirit against the demon of corruption, this gives us the strength to despise even the presumptuousness of death. In order to make this clear, the Lord twice became indignant against death and troubled in spirit (cf John 12:27, 13:21); and despite the fact that, untroubled. He could by a simple act of will do all that He wished, none the less when He restored Lazarus’ soul to his body He was indignant and troubled in spirit (cf. John 11:33)- which seems to me to show that a controlled incensive power is a weapon implanted in our nature by God when He creates us. If Eve had used this weapon against the serpent, she would not have been impelled by sensual desire. In my view, then, the man who in a spirit of devotion makes controlled use of his incensive power will without doubt be judged more favorably than the man who, because of the inertness of his intellect, has never become incensed. The latter seems to have an inexperienced driver in charge of his emotions, while the former, always ready for action, drives the horses of virtue through the midst of the demonic host, guiding the four-horsed chariot of self-control in the fear of God. This chariot is called ‘the chariot of Israel’ in the description of the taking up of the prophet Elijah (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:12); for God spoke clearly about the four cardinal virtues first of all to the Jews. This is precisely why Elijah ascended in a fiery chariot, guiding his own virtues as horses, when he was carried up by the Spirit in a gust of fire.
- Whoever has participated in divine knowledge and tasted the sweetness of God should not defend himself in law, and still less prosecute, even though someone should go so far as to strip him of his clothes. The justice of the rulers of this world is in every way inferior to that of God or, rather, it is as nothing when compared with it. For what is the difference between the children of God and those of this world, if it is not that the justice of the latter appears imperfect when compared with that of the former, so that we call the one human and the other divine? Thus it was that our Lord Jesus, ‘when He was reviled, did not revile in return; when He suffered. He did not threaten’ (1 Pet. 2:23); He even kept silent when stripped of His clothes and, what is more, prayed to His Father for the salvation of those who were maltreating Him. The men of this world, however, never stop going to court unless, as sometimes happens, they are given out of court more than they are actually claiming, especially if they have already been receiving interest on the sum involved. In such cases, their justice often becomes the occasion for great injustice.
- I have heard certain pious men declare that, when people rob us of what we possess for our own support or for the relief of the poor, we should prosecute them, especially if the culprits are Christians; for, it is argued, not to prosecute might encourage crime in those who have wronged us. But this is simply a specious excuse for preferring one’s possessions to one’s self For if I abandon prayer and cease to guard the door of my heart, and begin to bring cases against those who wrong me, frequenting the corridors of the courts, it is clear that I regard the goods which I claim as more important than my own salvation – more important even than the commandment of Christ. For how can I possibly follow the mjunction: ‘When someone takes away your goods, do not try to recover them’ (Luke 6:30), unless I gladly endure their loss? Even if we do go to court and recover all we claim, we do not thereby free the criminal from his sin. Human tribunals cannot circumscribe the eternal justice of God, and the accused is punished only according to those laws under which his case is heard. It is therefore better to endure the lawlessness of those who wish to wrong us, and to pray for them, so that they may be released from their guilt through repentance, rather than through restoring what they have taken. Divine justice requires that we receive back not the objects of theft, but the thief himself, freed through repentance from sin.
- Once the spiritual way has become a reality for us, we shall find it proper and helpful to follow the Lord’s commandment and sell all our possessions immediately, distributing the money we receive (cf Matt. 19:21), rather than to neglect this injunction on the excuse that we wish always to be in a position to obey the commandments. In the first place, this will secure our complete detachment, and a poverty which is in consequence invulnerable and impervious to all lawlessness and litigation, since we no longer have the possessions which kindle the fire of crime in others. Then, more than all the other virtues, humility will warm and cherish us; in our nakedness she will give us rest in her bosom, like a mother who takes her child into her arms and warms it when, with childish simplicity, it has pulled off what it is wearing and thrown it away, innocently delighting more in nakedness than in pretty clothes. For it is written: ‘The Lord preserves the little ones; I humbled myself and He saved me’ (Ps. 116:6. LXX).
- The Lord will demand from us an account of our help to the needy according to what we have and not according to what we have not (cf. 2 Cor. 8:12). If, then, from fear of God I distribute in a short space of time what I might have given away over many years, on what grounds can I be accused, seeing that I now have nothing? On the other hand, it might be argued: ‘Who now will give help to the needy that depend on regular gifts out of my modest means?’ A person who argues in this way must learn not to insult God because of his own love of money. God will not fail to provide for His own creation as He has done from the beginning; for before this or that person was prompted to give help, the needy did not lack food or clothing. Understanding this, we should reject, in a spirit of true service, the senseless presumption which arises from wealth and we should hate our own desires – which is to hate our own soul (cf Luke 14:26). Then, no longer possessing wealth which we enjoy distributing, we shall begin to feel our worthlessness intensely, because we find we cannot now perform any good works. Certainly, provided there is some good in us, we gladly obey the divine command and, as long as we are well off, we enjoy giving things away. But when we have exhausted everything an ill-defined gloom and a sense of abasement come over us, because we think we are doing nothing worthy of God’s righteousness. In this deep abasement the soul returns to itself, so as to procure through the labor of prayer, through patience and humility what it can no longer acquire by the daily giving of help to the needy. For it is written: ‘The poor and needy shall praise Thy name, Lord’ (Ps. 74:21. LXX). God is not prepared to grant the gift of theology to anyone who has not first prepared himself by giving away all his possessions for the glory of the Gospel: then in godly poverty he can proclaim the riches of the divine kingdom. This is made clear in the Psalm, for after the words ‘0 God, in Thy love Thou hast provided for the poor’, it continues, ‘The Lord shall give speech to those who proclaim the gospel with great power’ (Ps. 68: 10-11. LXX).
- All God’s gifts of grace are flawless and the source of everything good: but the gift which inflames our heart and moves it to the love of His goodness more than any other is theology. It is the early offspring of God’s grace and bestows on the soul the greatest gifts. First of all, it leads us gladly to disregard all love of this life, since in the place of perishable desires we possess inexpressible riches, the oracles of God. Then it embraces our intellect with the light of a transforming fire, and so makes it a partner of the angels in their liturgy. Therefore, when we have been made ready, we begin to long sincerely for this gift of contemplative vision, for it is full of beauty, frees us from every worldly care, and nourishes the intellect with divine truth in the radiance of inexpressible light. In brief, it is the gift which, through the help of the holy prophets, unites the deiform soul with God in unbreakable communion. So, among men as among angels, divine theology â€” like one who conducts the wedding feast – brings into harmony the voices of those who praise God’s majesty.
- Our intellect often finds it hard to endure praying because of the straightness and concentration which this involves: but it joyfully turns to theology because of the broad and unhampered scope of divine speculation. Therefore, so as to keep the intellect from expressing itself too much in words or exalting itself unduly in its joy, we should spend most of our time in prayer, in singing psalms and reading the Holy Scriptures, yet without neglecting the speculations of wise men whose faith has been revealed in their writings. In this way we shall prevent the intellect from confusing its own utterances with the utterances of grace, and stop it from being led astray by self- esteem and dispersed through over-elation and loquacity. In the time of contemplation we must keep the intellect free of all fantasy and image, and so ensure that with almost all our thoughts we shed tears. When it is at peace in times of stillness, and above all when it is gladdened by the sweetness of prayer, not only does it escape the faults we have mentioned, but it is more and more renewed in its swift and effortless understanding of divine truth, and with great humility it advances in its knowledge of discrimination. There is, moreover, a prayer which is above even the broadest scope of speculation: but this prayer is granted only to those who fully and consciously perceive the plenitude of God’s grace within them. 69. At the start of the spiritual way, the soul usually has the conscious experience of being illumined with its own light through the action of grace. But, as it advances further in its struggle to attain theology, grace works its mysteries within the soul for the most part without its knowledge. Grace acts in these two ways so that it may first set us rejoicing on the path of contemplation, calling us from ignorance to spiritual knowledge, and so that in the midst of our struggle it may then keep this knowledge free from arrogance. On the one hand, we need to be somewhat saddened by feeling ourselves abandoned, so that we become more humble and submit to the glory of the Lord; on the other hand, we need to be gladdened at the right time through being lifted up by hope. For just as great sadness brings the soul to despair and loss of faith, so great joy incites it to presumption (I am speaking of those who are still beginners). Midway between illumination and abandonment lies the experience of trial, and midway between sadness and joy lies hope. This is why the Psalmist says: ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; and He heard me’ (Ps. 40: 1); and again: ‘According to the multitude of the sufferings in my heart. Thy blessings have gladdened my soul’CPs. 94:19. LXX).
- When the door of the steam baths is continually left open, the heat inside rapidly escapes through it; likewise the soul, in its desire to say many things, dissipates its remembrance of God through the door of speech, even though everything it says may be good. Thereafter the intellect, though lacking appropriate ideas, pours out a welter of confused thoughts to anyone it meets, as it no longer has the Holy Spirit to keep its understanding free from fantasy. Ideas of value always shun verbosity, being foreign to confusion and fantasy. Timely silence, then, is precious, for it is nothing less than the mother of the wisest thoughts.
- Spiritual knowledge teaches us that, at the outset, the soul in pursuit of theology is troubled by many passions, above all by anger and hatred. This happens to it not so much because the demons are arousing these passions, as because it is making progress. So long as the soul is worldly-minded, it remains unmoved and untroubled however much it sees people trampling justice under foot. Preoccupied with its own desires, it pays no attention to the justice of God. When, however, because of its disdain for this world and its love for God, it begins to rise above its passions, it cannot bear, even in its dreams, to see justice set at naught. It becomes infuriated with evil-doers and remains angry until it sees the violators of justice forced to make amends. This, then, is why it hates the unjust and loves the just. The eye of the soul cannot be led astray when its veil, by which I mean the body, is refined to near- transparency through self-control. Nevertheless, it is much better to lament the insensitivity of the unjust than to hate them; for even should they deserve our hatred, it is senseless for a soul which loves God to be disturbed by hatred, since when hatred is present in the soul spiritual knowledge is paralyzed.
- The theologian whose soul is gladdened and kindled by the oracles of God comes, when the time is ripe, to the realm of dispassion; for it is written: ‘The oracles of the Lord are pure, as silver when tried in fire, and purged of earth’ (Ps. 12:6. LXX). The Gnostic, for his part, rooted in his direct experience of spiritual knowledge, is established above the passions. The theologian, if he humbles himself, may also savor the experience of spiritual knowledge, while the Gnostic, if he acquires faultless discrimination, may by degrees attain the virtue of theological contemplation. These two gifts, theology and gnosis, never occur in all their fullness in the same person; but theologian and Gnostic each marvel at what the other enjoys to a greater degree, so that humility and desire for holiness increase in both of them. That is why the Apostle says:
- ‘For to one is given by the Spirit the principle of wisdom; to another the principle of spiritual knowledge by the same Spirit’ (1 Cor. 12:8).
- When a person is in a state of natural well-being, he sings the psalms with a full voice and prefers to pray out loud. But when he is energized by the Holy Spirit, with gladness and completely at peace he sings and prays in the heart alone. The first condition is accompanied by a delusory joy, the second by spiritual tears and, thereafter, by a delight that loves stillness. For the remembrance of God, keeping its fervor because the voice is restrained, enables the heart to have thoughts that bring tears and are peaceful. In this way, with tears we sow seeds of prayer in the earth of the heart, hoping to reap the harvest in joy (cf Ps. 126:5). But when we are weighed down by deep despondency, we should for a while sing psalms out loud, raising our voice with joyful expectation until the thick mist is dissolved by the warmth of song.
- When the soul has reached self-understanding, it produces from within a certain feeling of warmth for God. When this warmth is not disturbed by worldly cares, it gives birth to a desire for peace which, so far as its strength allows, searches out the God of peace. But it is quickly robbed of this peace, either because our attention is distracted by the senses or because nature, on account of its basic insufficiency, soon exhausts itself. This was why the wise men of Greece could not possess as they should what they hoped to acquire through their self-control, for the eternal wisdom which is the fullness of truth was not at work within their intellect. On the other hand, the feeling of warmth which the Holy Spirit engenders in the heart is completely peaceful and enduring. It awakes in all parts of the soul a longing for God; its heat does not need to be fanned by anything outside the heart, but through the heart it makes the whole man rejoice with a boundless love. Thus, while recognizing the first kind of warmth, we should strive to attain the second: for although natural love is evidence that our nature is in a healthy state through self- control, nevertheless such love lacks the power, which spiritual love possesses, to bring the intellect to the state of dispassion.
- When the north wind blows over creation, the air around us remains pure because of this wind’s subtle and clarifying nature. but when the south wind blows, the air becomes hazy because it is this wind’s nature to produce mist and., by virtue of its affinity with clouds, to bring them from its own regions to cover the earth. Likewise, when the soul is energized by the inspiration of the Holy Spirit, it is freed completely from the demonic mist; but when the wind of error blows fiercely upon it, it is completely filled with the clouds of sin. With all our strength, therefore, we should, try always to face towards the life-creating and puriiying wind of the Holy Spirit – the wind which the prophet Ezekiel, in the light of spiritual knowledge, saw coming from the north (cf Ezek. 1:4). Then the contemplative faculty of the soul will always remain clear, so that we devote ourselves unerringly to the contemplation of the divine, beholding the world of light in an air filled with light. For this is the light of true knowledge.
- Some have imagined that both grace and sin – that is, the spirit of truth and the spirit of error – are hidden at the same time in the intellect of the baptized. As a result, they say, one of these two spirits urges the intellect to good, the other to evil. But from Holy Scripture and through the intellect’s own insight I have come to understand things differently. Before holy baptism, grace encourages the soul towards good from the outside, while Satan lurks in its depths, trying to block all the intellect’s ways of approach to the divine. But from the moment that we are reborn through baptism, the demon is outside, grace is within. Thus, whereas before baptism error ruled the soul, after baptism truth rules it. Nevertheless, even after baptism Satan still acts on the soul, often, indeed, to a greater degree than before. This is not because he is present in the soul together with grace: on the contrary, it is because he uses the body’s humors to befog the intellect with the delight of mindless pleasures. God allows him to do this, so that a man, after passing through a trial of storm and fire, may come in the end to the full enjoyment of divine blessings. For it is written: ‘We went through fire and water, and Thou hast brought us out into a place where the soul is refreshed’ (Ps. 66. 12. LXX).
- As we have said, from the instant we are baptized, grace is hidden in the depths of the intellect, concealing its presence even from the perception of the intellect itself When someone begins, however, to love God with full resolve, then in a mysterious way, by means of intellectual perception, grace communicates something of its riches to his soul. -Then, if he really wants to hold fast to this discovery, he joyfully starts longing to be rid of all his temporal goods, so as to acquire the field in which he has found the hidden treasure of life (cf. Matt. 13:44). This is because, when someone rids himself of all worldly riches, he discovers the place where the grace of God is hidden. For as the soul advances, divine grace more and more reveals itself to the intellect. During this process, however, the Lord allows the soul to be pestered increasingly by demons. This is to teach it to discriminate correctly between good and evil, and to make it more humble through the deep shame it feels during its purification because of the way in which it is defiled by demonic thoughts.
- We share in the image of God by virtue of the intellectual activity of our soul: for the body is, as it were, the soul’s dwelling-place. Now as a result of Adam’s fall, not only were the lineaments of the form imprinted on the soul befouled, but our body also became subject to corruption. It was because of this that the holy Logos of God took flesh and, being God, He bestowed on us through His own baptism the water of salvation, so that we might be reborn. We are reborn through water by the action of the holy and life-creating Spirit, so that if we commit ourselves totally to God, we are immediately purified in soul and body by the Holy Spirit who now dwells in us and drives out sin. Since the form imprinted on the soul is single and simple, it is not possible, as some have thought, for two contrary powers to be present in the soul simultaneously. For when through holy baptism divine grace in its infinite love permeates the lineaments of God’s image – thereby renewing in the soul the capacity for attaining the divine likeness – what place is there for the devil’? For light has nothing in common with darkness (cf 2 Cor. 6:14). We who are pursuing the spiritual way believe that the protean serpent is expelled from the shrine of the intellect through the waters of baptism; but we must not be surprised if after baptism we still have wicked as well as good thoughts. For although baptism removes from us the stain resulting from sin, it does not thereby heal the duality of our will immediately, neither does it prevent the demons from attacking us or speaking deceitful words to us. In this way we are led to take up the weapons of righteousness, and to preserve through the power of God what we could not keep safe through the efforts of our soul alone.
- Satan is expelled from the soul by holy baptism, but is permitted to act upon it through the body for. the reasons already mentioned. The grace of God, on the other hand, dwells in the very depths of the soul – that is to say, in the intellect. For it is written: ‘AH the glory of the king’s daughter is within’ (Ps. 45:13. LXX), and it is not perceptible to the demons. Thus, when we fervently remember God, we feel divine longing well up within us from the depths of our heart. The evil spirits invade and lurk in the bodily senses, acting through the compliancy of the flesh upon those still immature in soul. According to the Apostle, our intellect always delights in the laws of the Spirit (cf Rom. 7:22), while the organs of the flesh allow themselves to be seduced by enticing pleasures. Furthermore, in those who are advancing in spiritual knowledge, grace brings an ineffable joy to their body through the perceptive faculty of the intellect. But the demons capture the soul by violence through the bodily senses, especially when they find us faint-hearted in pursuing the spiritual path. They are, indeed, murderers provoking the soul to what it does not want.
- There are some who allege that the power of grace and the power of sin are present simultaneously in the hearts of the faithful: and to support this they quote the Evangelist who says: And the light shines in the darkness; and the darkness did not grasp it’ (John 1:5). In this way they try to justify their view that the divine radiance is in no way defiled by its contact with the devil, no matter how close the divine light in the soul may be to the demonic darkness. But the very words of the Gospel, show that they have departed from the true meaning of Holy Scripture. When John the Theologian wrote in this way, he meant that the Logos of God chose to manifest the true light to creation through His own flesh, with great compassion kindling the light of His holy knowledge withm us. But the mentality of this world did not grasp the will of God, that is, it did not understand it, since ‘the will of the flesh is hostile to God’ (Rom. 8:7). Indeed, shortly afterwards the Evangelist goes on to say: ‘He was the true light, who illumines every man that comes into the world ‘- meaning by this that He guides every man and gives him life – and: ‘He was in the world, and the world was made by Him, and the world did not know Him. He came to His own, and His own did not receive Him. But to those who received Him He gave power to become the sons of God, even to those who believe in His name’ (John 1:9-12). Paul, too, interprets the words ‘did not grasp it’ when he says, ‘Not as though I had already grasped it or were already perfect, but I press on in the hope of grasping it; for it was to this end that I have been grasped by Jesus Christ (Phil. 3:12). Thus the Evangelist does not say it is Satan who has failed to grasp the true light. Satan was a stranger to it from the beginning, since it does not shine in him. Rather, the Evangelist is censuring men who hear of the powers and wonders of the Son of God, and yet in the darkness of their hearts refuse to draw near to the light of spiritual knowledge.
- Spiritual knowledge teaches us that there are two kinds of evil spirits: some are more subtle, others more material in nature. The more subtle demons attack the soul, while the others hold the flesh captive through their lascivious enticements. Thus there is a complete contrast between the demons that attack the soul and those that attack the body, even though they have the same propensity to inflict harm on mankind. When grace does not dwell in a man, they lurk like serpents in the depths of the heart, never allowing the soul to aspire towards God. But when grace is hidden in the intellect, they then move like dark clouds through the different parts of the heart, taking the form of sinful passions or of all kinds of day-dreams, thus distracting the intellect from the remembrance of God and cutting it off from grace. When the passions of our soul, especially presumption, the mother of all evils, are inflamed by the demons that attack the soul, then it is by thinking on the dissolution of our body that we grow ashamed of our gross love of praise. We should also think about death when the demons that attack the body try to make our hearts seethe with shameful desires, for only the thought of death can nullify all the various influences of the evil spirits by bringing us back to the remembrance of God. If, however, the demons that attack the soul induce in us by this thought an excessive depreciation of human nature on the grounds that, being mortal, it is valueless – and this is what they like to do when we torment them with the thought of death – we should recall the honor and glory of the heavenly kingdom, though without losing sight of the bitter and dreadful aspects of judgment. In this way we both relieve our despondency and restrain the frivolity of our hearts.
- In the Gospels the Lord teaches us that when Satan returns and finds his home swept and empty – finds, that is to say, the heart barren – he then musters seven other spirits and enters it and lurks there, making its last state worse than its first (cf Matt. 12:44-45). From this we must understand that so long as the Holy Spirit is in us, Satan cannot enter the depths of the soul and remain there. Paul too clearly conveys this same spiritual understanding. When he looks at the matter from the viewpoint of those still engaged in the ascetic struggle, he says: ‘For with the inward man I delight in the law of God: but I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my intellect, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members’ (Rom. 7; 22 â€” 23). But when he looks at it from the viewpoint of those who have attained perfection, he says: ‘There is therefore now no condemnation of those who are in Christ Jesus, who do not walk according to the flesh but according to the Spirit. For the law of the Spirit of life in Christ Jesus has freed me from the law of sin and death’ (Rom. 8: I -2). Again, so as to teach us once more that it is through the body that Satan attacks the soul which participates in the Holy Spirit, he says: ‘Stand, therefore, having girded your loins with trath, and having on the breastplate of righteousness, and having shod your feet with the gospel of peace, above all, taking the shield of faith with which you will be able quench all the fiery arrows of the evil one. And take the helmet of salvation and the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph. 6:14-17). Captivity is one thing, battle is another. Captivity signifies a violent abduction, while battle indicates a contest between equally matched adversaries. For precisely this reason the Apostle says that the devil attacks with fiery arrows those who carry Christ in their souls. For someone who is not at close grips with his enemy uses arrows against him, attacking him from a distance. In the same way, when, because of the presence of grace, Satan can lurk no longer in the intellect of those pursuing a spiritual way, he lurks in the body and exploits its humors, so that through its proclivities he may seduce the soul. We should therefore weaken the body to some extent, so that the intellect does not slide down the smooth path of sensual pleasure because of the body’s humors. We should believe the Apostle when he says that the intellect of those pursuing the spiritual way is energized by divine light, and therefore obeys and rejoices in the law of God (cf. Rom. 7:22). But the flesh, because of its proclivities, readily admits evil spirits, and so is sometimes enticed into serving their wickedness. Thus it is clear that the intellect cannot be the common dwelling-place of both God and the devil. How can St Paul say that ‘with my intellect I serve the law of God, but with the flesh the law of sin’ (Rom. 7:25), unless the intellect is completely free to engage in battle with the demons, gladly submitting itself to grace, whereas the body is attracted by the smell of mindless pleasures? He can only say this because the wicked spirits of deception are free to lurk in the bodies of those pursuing a spiritual way; ‘for I know that in me – that is, in my flesh – there dwells nothing good’ (Rom. 7:18), says the Apostle, referring to those who are resisting and struggling against sin. Here he is not merely expressing a personal opinion. The demons attack the intellect, but they do so by trying through lascivious temptations to entice the flesh down the slope of sensual pleasure. It is for a good purpose that the demons are allowed to dwell within the body even of those who are struggling vigorously against sin; for in this way man’s free will is constantly put to the test. If a man, while still alive, can undergo death through his labors, then in his entirety he becomes the dwellmg-place of the Holy Spirit; for such a man, before he has died, has already risen from the dead, as was the case with the blessed Apostle Paul and all those who have struggled and are struggling to the utmost against sin.
- It is true that the heart produces good and bad thoughts from itself (cf Luke 6:45). But it does this not because it is the heart’s nature to produce evil ideas, but because as a result of the primal deception the remembrance of evil has become as it were a habit. It conceives most of its evil thoughts, however, as a result of the attacks of the demons. But we feel that all these evil thoughts arise from the heart, and for this reason some people have inferred that sin dwells in the intellect along with grace. That is why, in their view, the Lord said: ‘But those things which proceed out of the mouth come forth from the heart; and they defile the man. For out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, adulteries’, and so on (Matt. 15:18-19). They do not realize, however, that the intellect, being highly responsive, makes its own the thoughts suggested to it by the demons through the activity of the flesh; and, in a way we do not understand, the proclivity of the body accentuates this weakness of the soul because of the union between the two. The flesh delights endlessly in being flattered by deception, and it is because of this that the thoughts sown by the demons in the soul appear to come from the heart; and we do indeed make them our own when we consent to indulge in them. This was what the Lord was censuring in the text quoted above, as the words themselves make evident. Is it not clear that whoever indulges in the thoughts suggested to him by Satan’s cunning and engraves them in his heart, produces them thereafter as the result of his own mental activity?
- The Lord says in the Gospel that a strong man cannot be expelled from a house unless someone stronger than himself disarms him, binds him and casts him out (cf Matt. 12:29). How, then, can such an intruder, cast out in this shameful way, return and dwell together with the true master who now lives freely in his own house? A king, after defeating a rebel who has tried to usurp his throne, does not dream of allowing him to share his palace. Rather, he slays him immediately, or binds him and hands him over to his soldiers for prolonged torture and a miserable death.
- The reason why we have both good and wicked thoughts together is not, as some suppose, because the Holy Spirit and the devil dwell together in our intellect, but because we have not yet consciously experienced the goodness of the Lord. As I have said before, grace at first conceals its presence in those who have been baptized, waiting to see which way the soul inclines; but when the whole man has turned towards the Lord, it then reveals to the heart its presence there with a feeling which words cannot express, once again waiting to see which way the soul inclines. At the same time, however, it allows the arrows of the devil, to wound the soul at the most inward point of its sensitivity, so as to make the soul search out God with warmer resolve and more humble disposition. If, then, a man begins to make progress in keeping the commandments and calls ceaselessly upon the Lord Jesus, the fire of God’s grace spreads even to the heart’s more outward organs of perception, consciously burning up the tares in the field of the soul. As a result, the demonic attacks cannot now penetrate to the depths of the soul, but can prick only that part of it which is subject to passion. When the ascetic has finally acquired all the virtues – and in particular the total shedding of possessions – then grace illumines his whole being with a deeper awareness; warming him with great love of God. From now on the arrows of the fiery demon are extinguished before they reach the body: for the breath of the Holy Spirit, arousing in the heart the winds of peace, extinguishes them while they are still in mid-air. Nevertheless, at times God allows the demons to attack even one who has reached this measure of perfection, and leaves his intellect without light, so that his free will shall not be completely constrained by the bonds of grace. The purpose of this is not only to lead us to overcome sin through ascetic effort but also to help us advance still further in spiritual experience. For what is considered perfection in a pupil is far from perfect when compared with the richness of God, who instructs us in a love which would still seek to surpass itself, even if we were able to climb to the top of Jacob’s ladder by our own efforts.
- The Lord himself declares that Satan fell from heaven like lightning (cf Luke 10:18): this was to prevent him, in his hideous-ness, from looking on the dwelling-places of the holy angels. But if he may not share the company of the righteous servants of God, how then can he dwell in the intellect of man together with God Himselt7 It will be said that this is possible because God recedes a little and makes room for him. But this explanation is inadequate. For there are two different ways in which God recedes. First He recedes in order to educate us. But this receding does not by any means deprive the soul of divine light. As I have said, all that happens is that grace often hides its presence from the intellect, so that the soul may advance through resisting the attacks of the demons by seeking help from God with great humility and fear; and in this way it gradually comes to know the wickedness of its enemy. A mother does much the same when she finds her child rebellious over feeding: she pushes it away for a moment so that, being alarmed by the sight of some animals or rough-looking men, it will return crying with fright to her breast. The second kind of receding is when God withdraws altogether from the soul that does not want Him; and this indeed delivers the soul captive to the demons. We, however, are not children from whom God has withdrawn – heaven forbid! We believe ourselves to be true children of God’s grace, which nurses us by briefly concealing its presence and then revealing itself once more, so that through its goodness we may grow to our full stature.
- When God recedes in order to educate us, this brings great sadness, humility and even some measure of despair to the soul. The purpose of this is to humble the soul’s tendency to vanity and self-glory, for the heart at once is filled with fear of God, tears of thankfulness, and great longing for the beauty of silence. But the receding due to God’s complete withdrawal fills the soul with despair, unbelief, anger and pride. We who have experienced both kinds of recedmg should approach God in each case in the appropriate way. In the first case we should offer Him thanks as we plead in our own defense, understanding that He is disciplining our unruly character by concealing His presence, so as to teach us, like a good father, the difference between virtue and vice. In the second case, we should offer Him ceaseless confession of our sins and incessant tears, and practice a greater seclusion from the world, so that by adding to our labors we may eventually induce Him to reveal His presence in our hearts as before. Yet we must realize that when there is a direct struggle between Satan and the soul -and I am speaking here of the struggle that takes place when God recedes in order to educate us – then grace conceals itself a little, as I have said, but nevertheless supports the soul in a hidden way, so that in the eyes of its enemies the victory appears to be due to the soul alone.
- When a man stands out of doors in winter at the break of day, facing the east, the front of his body is warmed by the sun, while his back is still cold because the sun is not on it. Similarly, the heart of those who are beginning to experience the energy of the Spirit is only partially warmed by God’s grace. The result is that, while their intellect begins to produce spiritual thoughts, the outer parts of the heart continue to produce thoughts after the flesh, since the members of the heart have not yet all become fully conscious of the light of God’s grace shining upon them. Because some people have not understood this, they have concluded that two beings are fighting one another in the intellect. But just as the man in our illustration both shivers and yet feels warm at the touch of the sun, so the soul may have both good and evil thoughts simultaneously. Ever since our intellect fell into a state of duality with regard to its modes of knowledge, it has been forced to produce at one and the same moment both good and evil thoughts, even against its own will; and this applies especially in the case of those who have reached a high degree of discrimination. While the mtellect tries to think continually of what is good, it suddenly recollects what is bad, since from the time of Adam’s disobedience man’s power of dunking has been split into two modes. But when we begin wholeheartedly to carry out the commandments of God, all our organs of perception will become fully conscious of the light of grace; grace will consume our thoughts with its flames, sweetening our hearts in the peace of unintemipted love, and enabling us to think spiritual thoughts and no longer worldly thoughts. These effects of grace are always present in those who are approaching perfection and have the remembrance of the Lord Jesus unceasingly in their hearts.
- Divine grace confers on us two gifts through the baptism of regeneration, one being infinitely superior to the other. The first gift is given to us at once, when grace renews us in the actual waters of baptism and cleanses all the lineaments of our soul, that is, the image of God in us, by washing away every stain of sin. The second -our likeness to God – requires our co-operation. When the intellect begins to perceive the Holy Spirit with full consciousness, we should realize that grace is beginning to paint the divine likeness over the divine image in us. Artists first draw the outline of a man in monochrome, and then add one color after another, until little by little they capture the likeness of the subject down to the smallest details. In the same way the grace of God starts by remaking the divine image in man info what it was when he was first created. But when it sees us longing with all our heart for the beauty of the divine likeness and humbly standing naked in its atelier, then by making one virtue after another come into flower and exalting the beauty of the soul ‘from glory to glory’ (2 Cor. 3:18), it depicts the divine likeness on the soul. Our power of perception shows us that we are being formed into the divine likeness; but the perfecting of this likeness we shall know only by the light of grace. For through its power of perception the intellect regains all the virtues, other than spiritual love, as it advances according to a measure and rhythm which cannot be expressed; but no one can acquire spiritual love unless he experiences fully and clearly the illumination of the Holy Spirit. If the intellect does not receive the perfection of the divine likeness through such illumination, although it may have almost every other virtue, it will still have no share in perfect love. Only when it has been made like God – in so far, of course, as this is possible – does it bear the likeness of divine love as well. In portraiture, when the full range of colors is added to the outline, the painter captures the likeness of the subject, even down to the smile. Something similar happens to those who are being repainted by God’s grace in the divine likeness: when the luminosity of lo’ e is added, then it is evident that the image has been fully transformed into the beauty of the likeness. Love alone among the virtues can confer dispassion on the soul, for ‘love is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10). In this way our inner man is renewed day by day through the experience of love, and in the perfection of love it finds its own fulfillment.
- If we fervently desire holiness, the Holy Spirit at the outset gives the soul a full and conscious taste of God’s sweetness, so that the intellect will know exactly of what the final reward of the spiritual life consists. But later He often conceals this precious and life-creating gift. He does this so that, even if we acquire all the other virtues, we should still regard ourselves as nothing because we have not acquired divine love in a lasting form. It is at this stage that the demon of hate troubles the soul of the spiritual contestant more and more, leading him to accuse of hatred even those who love him, and defiling with hatred even the kiss of affection. The soul suffers all the more because it still preserves the memory of divine love: yet, since it is below the highest level of the spiritual life, it cannot experience this love actively. It is therefore necessary to work upon the soul forcefully for a while, so that we may come to taste divine love fully and consciously; for no one can acquire the perfection of love while still in the flesh except those saints who suffer to the point of martyrdom, and confess their faith despite all persecution. Whoever has reached this state is completely transformed, and does not easily feel desire even for material sustenance. For what desire will someone nourished by divine love feel for such things? It is for this reason that St Paul proclaims to us the future joy of the saints when he says: ‘For the kingdom of God is not food and drink, but righteousness, peace and joy in the Holy Spirit’ (Rom. 14:17), which are the fruits of perfect love. Those who have advanced to perfection are able to taste this love continually, but no one can experience it completely until ‘what is mortal in us is swallowed up by life’ (2 Cor. 5:4).
- A man who loves the Lord with unflagging resolve once said to me: ‘Because I desired conscious knowledge of divine love, God granted me a full and active experience of such love. I felt its energy so strongly that my soul longed with an inexpressible joy and love to leave the body and go to the Lord, and to become in a sense unaware of this transient form of life.’ Once a man has experienced this love, he does not become angry however much he is insulted and harmed – for one pursuing the spiritual life still suffers such things – but he remains united in love to the soul of the man who has insulted or harmed him. His anger is kindled only against those who injure the poor or who, as the Scripture says, ‘speak iniquity against God’ (Ps. 75:5. LXX), or follow other forms of wickedness. Whoever loves God far more than himself, or rather no longer loves himself but only God, no longer vindicates his own honor: for his sole wish is that the divine righteousness, which has accorded him eternal honor, should alone be held in honor. This he no longer wishes in a half-hearted way, but with the force of an attitude established in him through his deep experience of the love of God. We should know, moreover, that a person energized by God to such love rises, at that moment, even above faith, since by reason of his great love he now senses consciously in his heart the One whom he previously honored by faith. The holy Apostle expresses this clearly when he says: ‘Now there are three things that endure: faith, hope, love; but the greatest of them is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13). For, as I have said, he who holds God in all the richness of love transcends at that moment his own faith, since he is wholly rapt in divine longing.
- When spiritual knowledge is active within us to a limited degree, it makes us feel acute remorse if, because of sudden irritation, we insult someone and make an enemy of him. It never stops prodding our conscience until, with a full apology, we have restored in the person we have insulted the feelings he had towards us before. Even when a worldly person becomes angry with us for no reason, this intense compunction in our conscience fills us with uneasiness and anxiety because, in some way, we have become a stumbling-block to one of those who speak after ‘the wisdom of this world’ (1 Cor. 2:6). As a result the intellect also neglects contemplation: for spiritual knowledge, consisting wholly of love, does not allow the mind to expand and embrace the vision of the divine, unless we first win back to love even one who has become angry with us for no reason. If he refuses to lay aside this anger or avoids the places we ourselves frequent, then spiritual knowledge bids us visualize his person with an overflowing of compassion in our soul and so fulfill the law of love in the depths of our heart. For it is said that if we wish to have knowledge of God we must bring our mind to look without anger even on persons who are angry with us for no reason. When we have done this, not only can our intellect devote itself to theology, but it also ascends with great boldness to the love of God, rising unhindered from the second level to the first.
- To those who are just beginning to long for holiness the path of virtue seems very rough and forbidding. It appears like this not because it really is difficult, but because our human nature from the womb is accustomed to the wide roads of sensual pleasure. But those who have traveled more than half its length find the path of virtue smooth and easy. For when a bad habit has been subjected to a good one through the energy of grace it is destroyed along with the remembrance of mindless pleasures; and thereafter the soul gladly journeys on all the ways of virtue. Thus, when the Lord first leads us into the path of salvation. He says: ‘How narrow and strait is the way leading to the kingdom and few there are who follow it’ (cf Matt. 7:14); but to those who have firmly resolved to keep His holy commandments He says: ‘For My yoke is easy, and My burden is light’ (Matt. I 1:30). At the beginning of the struggle, therefore, the holy commandments of God must be fulfilled with a certain forcefulness of will (cf Matt. 11:12); then the Lord, seeing our intention and labor, will grant us readiness of will and gladness in obeying His purposes. For ‘it is the Lord who makes ready the will’ (Prov. 8:35. LXX), so that we always do what is right joyfully. Then shall we truly feel that ‘it is God who energizes in you both the willing and the doing of His purpose’ (Phil. 2:13).
- As wax cannot take the imprint of a seal unless it is warmed or softened thoroughly, so a man cannot receive the seal of God’s holiness unless he is tested by labors and weaknesses. That is why the Lord says to St Paul: ‘My grace is sufficient for you: for My power comes to its fullness in your weakness’; and the Apostle himself proudly declares: ‘Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my weaknesses, so that the power of Christ may rest upon me’ (2 Cor, 12:9). In Proverbs, too, it is written: ‘For whom the Lord loves He disciplines; He chastens every son He accepts’ (Prov. 3:12. LXX). By weaknesses the Apostle means the attacks made by the enemies of the Cross, attacks which continually fell upon him and all the saints of that time, to prevent them from being ‘unduly elated by the abundance of revelations’, as he says himself (2 Cor. 12:7). Because of their humiliation they persevered still more in the life of perfection, and when they were treated with contempt they preserved the divine gift in holiness. But by weaknesses we now mean evil thoughts and bodily illnesses. In those times, since their bodies were submitted to deadly tortures and other afflictions, men pursuing the spiritual way were raised far above the passions which normally attack human nature as a result of sin. Today, however, since by the Lord’s grace peace prevails in the Church, the bodies of. those contending for holiness have to be tested by frequent illnesses, and their souls tried by evil thoughts. This is the case especially for those in whom divine knowledge is fully and consciously active, so that they can be stripped of all self-esteem and conceit, and can therefore, as I said, receive in their hearts the seal of divine beauty through their great humility. As the Psalmist says, ‘We have been marked by the light of Thy countenance, Lord’ (Ps. 4:6. LXX). We must therefore submit to the Lord’s will thankfully; for men our frequent illnesses and our fight against demonic thoughts will be counted a second martyrdom. The devil, who once said to the holy martyrs through the mouths of lawless rulers, ‘Deny Christ, choose earthly honors’, is now present among us in person constantly saying the same to the servants of God. in times past he tortured the bodies of the saints, inflicting the utmost outrage upon spiritual teachers held in honor by using such people as served his diabolic schemes; and now he attacks the confessors of holiness with the various passions, and with much insult and contempt, especially when for the glory of the Lord they give determined help to the poor and downtrodden. So we should fulfill our inward martyrdom before God with confidence and patience, for it is written: ‘I waited patiently for the Lord; and He heard me’ (Ps. 40: 1).
- Humility is hard to acquire, and the deeper it is, the greater the struggle needed to gain it. There are two different ways in which it comes to those who share in divine knowledge. In the case of one who has advanced halfway along the path of spiritual experience, his self-will is humbled either by bodily weakness, or by people gratuitously hostile to those pursuing righteousness, or by evil thoughts. But when the intellect fully and consciously senses the illumination of God’s grace, the soul possesses a humility which is, as it were, natural. Wholly filled with divine blessedness, it can no longer be puffed up with its own glory; for even if it carries out God’s commandments ceaselessly, it still considers itself more humble than all other souls because it shares His forbearance. The first type of humility is usually marked by remorse and despondency, the second by joy and an enlightened reverence. Hence, as I have said, the first is found in those half-way along the spiritual path, while the second is given to those nearmg perfection. That is why the first is often undermined by material prosperity, while the second, even if offered all the kingdoms of this world, is not elated and is proof against the arrows of sin. Being wholly spiritual, it is completely indifferent to all material glory. We cannot acquire the second without having passed through the first; for unless God’s grace begins by softening our will by means of the first, testing it through assaults of the passions, we cannot receive the riches of the second.
- Those who love the pleasures of this present life pass from evil thoughts to actual sins. Since they lack discrimination, they turn almost all their sinful thoughts into wicked words or unholy deeds. Those, on the other hand, who are trying to pursue the ascetic life, struggle first against external sins and then go on to struggle against evil thoughts and malicious words. So when the demons find such people cheerfully abusing others, indulging in idle and inept talk, laughing at the wrong time, uncontrollably angry or desiring vain and empty glory, they join forces to attack them. Using love of praise in particular as a pretext for their evil schemes, the demons slip into the soul – as though through a window at night – and despoil it. So those who wish to live virtuously should not hanker after praise, be involved with too many people, keep going out, or abuse others (however much they deserve it), or talk excessively, even if they can speak well on every subject. Too much talk radically dissipates the intellect, not only making it lazy in spiritual work but also handing it over to the demon of listlessness, who first enervates it completely and then passes it on to the demons of dejection and anger. The intellect should therefore devote itself continually to keeping the holy commandments and to deep mindfulness of the Lord of glory. For it is written: ‘Whoever keeps the commandment will know no evil thing’ (Eccles. 8:5. LXX) – that is, will not be diverted to base thoughts or words.
- When the heart feels the arrows of the demons with such burning pain that the man under attack suffers as if they were real arrows, then the soul hates the passions violently, for it is just beginning to be purified. It if does not suffer greatly at the shamelessness of sin, it will not be able to rejoice fully in the blessings of righteousness. He who wishes to cleanse his heart should keep it continually aflame through practicing the remembrance of the Lord Jesus, making this his only study and his ceaseless task. Those who desire to free themselves from their corruption ought to pray not merely from time to time but at all times: they should give themselves always to prayer, keeping watch over their intellect even when outside places of prayer. When someone is trying to purify gold, and allows the fire of the furnace to die down even for a moment, the material which he is purifying will harden again. So, too, a man who merely practices the remembrance of God from time to time loses through lack of continuity what he hopes to gain through his prayer. It is a mark of one who truly loves holiness that he continually bums up what is worldly in his heart through practicing the remembrance of God, so that little by little evil is consumed in the fire of this remembrance and his soul completely recovers its natural brilliance with still greater glory.
- Dispassion is not freedom from attack by the demons, for to be free from such attack we must, as the Apostle says, ‘go out of the world’ (1 Cor. 5:10); but it is to remain undefeated when they do attack. Troops protected by armor, when attacked by adversaries with bows and arrows, hear the twang of the bow and actually see most of the missiles that are shot at them: yet they are not wounded, because of the strength of their armor. Just as they are undefeated because they are protected by iron, so we can break through the black ranks of the demons if, because of our good works, we are protected by the armor of divine light and the helmet of salvation. For it is not only to cease from evil that brings purity, but actively to destroy evil by pursuing what is good.
- When the man of God has conquered almost all the passions, there remain two demons that still fight against him. The first troubles the soul by diverting it from its great love of God into a misplaced zeal, so that it does not want any other soul to be as pleasing to God as itself. The second demon inflames the body with sexual lust. This happens to the body in the first place because sexual pleasure with a view to procreation is something natural and so it easily overcomes us; and in the second place it happens because God allows it. When the Lord sees an ascetic maturing in all the virtues. He sometimes allows him to be defiled by this sort of demon, so that the ascetic will regard himself as lower than those living in the world. Of course, this passion troubles men not only after they mature in the virtues, but also before that; in either case the soul is made to appear worthless, however great its virtues may be. We should fight the first of these demons by means of great humility and love, and the second by means of self- control, freedom from anger, and intense meditation on death, until we come to perceive unceasingly the energy of the Holy Spirit within us and rise with the Lord’s help above even these passions.
- Those of us who come to share in the knowledge of God will have to account for all our vain imaginings, even when they are involuntary. ‘For Thou hast marked even my involuntary transgressions’, as Job rightly says (Job 14: 17. LXX). For if we had not ceased from the remembrance of God and neglected His holy commandments, we would not have succumbed to either voluntary or involuntary sin. We must therefore offer to the Lord at once a strict confession even of our involuntary failings in the practice of our normal rule – and it is impossible for a human being to avoid such human failings – until our conscience is assured through tears of love that we have been forgiven. ‘If we confess our sins. He is faithful and just, and will forgive us our sins and cleanse us from all unrighteousness’ (1 John 1:9). We should pay close attention to maintaining inward awareness during confession, so that our conscience will not deceive itself into believing that the confession it has made to God is adequate: for though we may not be aware that we have done anything wrong, the judgment of God is far more severe than our conscience. This is what Paul in his wisdom teaches us when he says: ‘I do not judge myself; for although I am not conscious of anything against myself, yet I am not thereby acquitted. But it is the Lord who judges me’ (ICor. 4: 3-4). If we do not confess our involuntary sins as we should, we shall discover an ill-defined fear in ourselves at the hour of our death. We who love the Lord should pray that we may be without fear at that time: for if we are afraid then, we will not be able freely to pass by the rulers of the nether world. They will have as their advocate to plead against us the fear which our soul experiences because of its own wickedness. But the soul which rejoices in the love of God, at the hour of its departure, is lifted with the angels of peace above all the hosts of darkness. For it is given wings by spiritual love, since it ceaselessly carries within itself the love which ‘is the fulfilling of the law’ (Rom. 13:10). At the coming of the Lord those who have departed the present life with such confidence as this will be ‘caught up’ together with all the saints (cf I Thess. 4:17); but those who feel fear even for an instant at the moment of their death will be left behind with the rest of mankind to be tried by the fire of judgment (cf I Pet. I :7), and will receive from our God and King, Jesus Christ, the lot due to them according to their works. For He is the God of justice and on us who love Him He bestows the blessings of His kingdom through all the ages. Amen.