St. Maximos the Confessor: 3d Century on Love Excerpts #76-100

 Our intellect lies between angel and demon, each of which works for its own ends, the one encouraging virtue and the other vice. The intellect has both the authority and the power to follow or resist whichever it wishes to.

St. Maximos understands both poles and constantly points out the thin and treacherous line between them. This is why he shows compassion for our failings and helps us both envision our destination with the angels and develop simple, practical tools for following the right path and resisting the demons.

An easy slip-up for most of us is to succumb to envy and resentment. This is how St. Maximos defines it:

Resentment is linked with rancor. When the intellect forms the image of a brother’s face with a feeling of resentment, it is clear that it harbors rancor against him. ‘The way of the rancorous

The Greek word for “rancor” is “μνησικακία”—the memory of past wrongs. Being consumed by bitterness and resentment for perceived wrongs and offenses “leads to death,” because ‘whoever harbors rancor is a transgressor’ (Prov. 21:24. LXX).

“Mνησικακία” is devoid of logic and does not always require an actual harmful act committed against us to be triggered. We can bitterly resent someone’s success because we choose to see it as a reminder of our own, perceived “failure.” We may envy someone else’s popularity or talent and resent him for it because believe we should possess them, instead, for our life to be worth living. And we may be especially intolerant of others’ flaws when they remind us of personal weaknesses we are ashamed of.

You will find it hard to check the resentment of an envious person, for what he envies in you he considers his own misfortune.

 In short, we dehumanize others by seeing them as mere commodities to compare ourselves to and benchmark our successes or failures against.  The remedy St. Maximos outlines is to separate the resentment from the thought and view others in the fulness of their humanity rather than through the filter of our passions, thus opening our hearts to compassion and love.

If you harbor rancor against anybody, pray for him and you will prevent the passion from being aroused; for by means of prayer you will separate your resentment from the thought of the wrong he has done you. When you have become loving and compassionate towards him, you will wipe the passion completely from your soul.

How many times, filled with envy and resentment, we secretly delight in another’s failures or find it impossible to be happy for their good fortune. Yet, forgetting ourselves and empathizing with those we resent is what will free us from the tyranny of these passions.

 …You will be able to check it if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves, thus fulfilling St Paul’s words, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep’ (Rom. 12:15).

To choose the path of angels rather than the demons, we cannot be absolved of responsibility even when it is someone else who envies and resents our own successes. Even then,

You must in humility consider him superior to yourself, and always, everywhere and in every matter put his interest above yours…. for you are defending not the passion but the sufferer

In the end, the remedy for envy and all other passions is love:

 …but love, united beyond union with Him who is more than infinite, will remain for all eternity, always increasing beyond all measure. That is why ‘the greatest of them is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13).[V2] 100

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