Abba Philimon (part II): Stillness and Warfare

Philokalia, vol. 2, pp. 348, 353

“The only path leading to heaven,” Abba Philimon says, “is that of complete stillness, the avoidance of all evil, the acquisition of blessings, perfect love towards God and communion with Him in holiness and righteousness.”

He recounts the story of an old monk who prayed to God for two years, “unremittingly” and with his “whole heart,” before he was granted the gift of continuous and undisturbed prayer and, through it, stillness.

This is a tall order and there is no shortcut.

What, then, is that precious, hard-fought stillness?

Unlike other meditation techniques, stillness is not simply a state of complete relaxation. It is not an opportunity to cast away worries so that you can appreciate more deeply the sound of raindrops or fragrance of flowers and contemplate the beauty of the world. Philimon, in fact, asks us to do the opposite, admonishing us not to “grow slack” and urging us not to be afraid to face evil and ugliness.

Only in stillness can God dwell within us and our hearts be filled with joy and longing for Him. Instead of lulling us to sleep, however, a life of stillness sheds the scales from our eyes and elucidates a reality we could not perceive before. We are no longer a leaf tossed in the wind but are able to discern our purpose.  

And He will illumine your heart about the spiritual work which you should undertake.

Without the distraction of vain thoughts and our constant struggle to impress and please others, stillness enables us, not only to perceive and participate in God’s greatness, but also to clearly recognize the enemy, and face head on the full extent of his evil. The passage quoted from Job below does not offer us a disembodied concept of evil. On the contrary, it is epic in its scope and detailed in description, personalizing, and capturing, the symbolic and physical impact of evil.   

Burning torches pour from his mouth, he hurls forth blazing coals. Out of his nostrils come smoke of burning soot, with the fire of charcoal. His breath is charcoal, a flame comes from his mouth, power lodges in his neck. Destruction runs before him. His heart is hard as stone, it stands like an unyielding anvil. He makes the deep boil like a cauldron; he regards the sea as a pot of ointment, and the nether deep as a captive. He sees every high thing; and he is king of all that is in the waters’ (Job 4- 1 : 1 3 , 1 9-2 2 , 24, 3 1 -3 2 , 34-·LXX). This passage describes the monstrous tyrant against whom we fight.

It is only by fully perceiving the force and extent of evil that we can defeat it. Yet Philimon sweetens the hardness of the struggle with hope.

First, he reassures us, since we have freed ourselves from attachment to material things, the devil has no purchase on us.

Yet those who lawfully engage in the solitary life soon defeat him: they do not possess anything that is his; they have renounced the world and are resolute in virtue; and they have God fighting for them.

Secondly, God wants us to win and partake of His Kingdom. Spiritual warfare, born of stillness, is a path to salvation.

God wants us to show our zeal for Him first by our outward asceticism, and then by our love and unceasing prayer; and He provides the path of salvation.

Unlike passions that toss us around violently and plunge us into despair and isolation, we are neither alone nor directionless in our fight for God and against his enemies. We become members of an army of brothers and sisters, joined by shared purpose, fighting the same fight and supported by God’s right arm.  

Aware of this, brother. Recognize that you are fighting in the thick of the battle and that many others, too, are fighting for us against God’s enemy. How could we dare to fight against so fearful an enemy of mankind unless the strong right arm of the Divine Logos upheld us, protecting and sheltering us? How could human nature withstand his ploys?

We grow spiritually, when our soul is not allowed to “grow flabby” with passions. While passions deplete our souls and distance us from God, spiritual warfare is in synergy with God since we act on His behalf and with His help.  

Who has turned to the Lord with awe and has not been transformed in his nature? Who has illumined himself with the light of divine laws and actions, and has not made his soul radiant with divine intellections and thoughts? His soul is not idle, for God prompts his intellect to long insatiably for light.”

It is through the constant pursuit of stillness and spiritual warfare that we are continuously transformed and move increasingly closer to God and the salvation of our soul.  It is this pursuit that allows us to fulfill God’s purpose for us and the capabilities He gave us to accomplish it.

God created human nature a partaker of every divine blessing, able to contemplate spiritually the angelic choirs, the splendour of the dominions, the spiritual powers, principalities and authorities, the unapproachable light, and the refulgent glory.

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