Next session on Philokalia, Friday, March 15, at noon.
The path to purification and the attainment of dispassion are not linear processes of elimination and decrease. They are rather akin to peeling layers to uncover and free a hidden treasure, far more precious than what these layers contained: true spiritual knowledge and union with God. What’s more, as St. Maximos tells us, this union is not one-dimensional and passive but participatory in that it does not abrogate self-hood. On the contrary, it frees us from distractions and delusions and “reintegrates” us with the true self that we once lost.
It is said that he who does not first reintegrate himself with his own being by rejecting those passions which are contrary to nature will not be reintegrated with the Cause of his being – that is, with God – by acquiring supranatural blessings through grace. For he who would truly unite himself with God must first separate himself mentally from created things.
What then is our true self? When driven by passions we simply do not know. We are trapped by these passions in a dream within a dream and cannot escape. We become attached to our own logic and conceptual images which we superimpose on created things and are unable to discern the underlying principles that reveal their true nature.
It is the devil’s practice maliciously to confound the forms and shapes of sensible things with our conceptual images of them. Through these forms and shapes are generated passions for the outward aspects of visible things, and our intellectual energy, being halted at the level of what pertains to sense-perception, cannot raise itself to the realm of intelligible realities. In this way the devil despoils the soul and drags it down into the turmoil of the passions.
Passions create an ever-widening spiral that increasingly closes in on us. Without discernment, we mistake evil for good. We look for ecstasy in intoxication with wine or drugs instead of a life of virtue that leads to spiritual knowledge.
The vine produces wine, the wine drunkenness and drunkenness an evil form of ecstasy. Similarly the intelligence – which is the vine – when well-nurtured and cultivated by the virtues, generates spiritual knowledge; and such knowledge produces a good form of ecstasy which enables the intellect to transcend its attachment to the senses.
We can only free ourselves by conforming ourselves to God’s will rather than our own, following a life of virtue and detaching ourselves from our own logic and conceptual images of things.
By so doing [one] places himself utterly beyond the reach of everything that seeks to entrap him, and so is not attracted through some sensory image towards the death that lies in the passions.
However, even though “the intellect has by nature the capacity to receive a spiritual knowledge of corporeal and incorporeal things,” we can only receive spiritual knowledge and union with God through Grace
Who is the person who is reintegrated with his true self? It is:
The person who with the clear eye of faith beholds the beauty of the blessings of the age to be readily obeys the command to leave his country and his kindred and his father’s house (cf. Gen. 12:1), and he abandons the flesh, the senses and sensory things, together with passionate attachments and inclinations. In times of temptation and conflict he rises above nature because he has put the Cause of nature first, just as Abraham put God before Isaac