FREEDOM AND RESTRAINT (St. Theognostos, Philokalia, vol. 2)

pp. 367-369

# 37-43

We cannot unite with God if we are impure, Theognostos tells us, for “corruption does not inherit incorruption” (1 Cor.)  

To achieve a state of purity requires restraint. “…Without self-restraint, you cannot live with God.”

Theosis, the ultimate union with God, is the purpose and guiding principle of Eastern Orthodox Christians. The fathers of the church do not present theosis as a rational process leading to a body of theoretical knowledge. On the contrary, theosis is a transformative process that leads to a mystical union with God, transcending the limits of human reason and freeing us from the turmoil of passions.

Modern thought tends to associate freedom from limitations with passion, restraint with oppression. Longing is fulfilled by satisfying your passions.

In Christian thought, however, indulgence in passions is slavery and control over them leads to freedom.

Passion is not absent from Christian thought, however. Theognostos blends passionate language, when referring to the longing and love for God,  with a call for restraint.  

Paradoxically, longing engenders self-restraint because the object we long for is worth the self-sacrifice required to attain it.

Chastity and self-restraint arc born of a longing for God combined with detachment and renunciation of the world.

To unite with God necessitates a systematic process of “emptying” oneself to make room with Him. First, we must free ourselves from the tyranny of anger. As we realize all that we have squandered in anger, recrimination, self-pity and self-preoccupation, our tears will flow. With this cleansing and with out transformed perspective, we will grow in humility and our ability for self-control. These, in turn, will bring us inner freedom and, eventually, allow a state of constant prayer, spiritual contemplation, dispassion and discrimination.  These are the essence of inner peace.

…and they are conserved by humility, self-control, unbroken prayer, spiritual contemplation, freedom from anger and intense weeping. Without dispassion, however, you cannot achieve the beauty of discrimination.

Theosis then is not an object or a linear destination. Instead, it is a process of continuous transformation; the re-ordering and redirection of priorities, perceptions, and the gifts that God gave us. The steps of the journey are synergistic, with each step achieved, becoming the gateway to the next. Faith enables spiritual knowledge and spiritual knowledge, love.

 You will not be worthy of divine love unless you possess spiritual knowledge, or of spiritual knowledge unless you possess faith.

Theognostos plunges head on into the question of faith. Faith is not merely theoretical, he tells us:

I do not mean faith of a theoretical kind, but that which we acquire as a result of practising the virtues.”  

Knowledge and faith must be manifested through virtuous action while virtuous action, in turn, will increase faith and spiritual knowledge.

Theognostos warns of “fake” virtues. For him and the other fathers of the church, virtues are not merely mechanical acts of duty but vehicles for continuing transformation and theosis. They are components of a larger synergy between human actions and God’s energy.

We recognize real virtues by the fruit they produce. If they produce no fruit, Theognostos writes, “then we labour in vain, and our apparent virtue is not genuine; for if it were it would have produced fruit as well as leaves.”

Without the right motive, a virtue “is false, a matter of self-satisfaction, or else something feigned in order to gain the esteem of others or from some other motive not in accordance with God’s will. But if we correct our motive, we shall undoubtedly receive the grace of God that bestows both spiritual knowledge and dispassion at the time and in the measure appropriate.”

Seek the knowledge that does not make you conceited but leads you to the knowledge of God. Pray to be released from the tyranny of the passions before you die, and to depart this life in a state of dispassion or – more humbly – of compassion for the sins of others.

In our lifelong journey of ascendance to God, nothing is random, casual or without purpose. “Faith and hope are not merely casual or theoretical matters,” Theognostos says. “Faith requires a steadfast soul, while hope needs a firm will and an honest heart.”

Above all, we cannot achieve unity with God on our own, without God’s grace for “how without grace can one readily believe in things unseen?”  

By committing ourselves to this journey through both faith and action, we lead lives that are whole, free of fragmentation and contradiction. Nothing is random, isolated or meaningless in such lives and, hence, we experience peace, harmony with God and each other.  

Faith and hope, then, require both virtue on our part and God’s inspiration and help. Unless both are present, we labour in vain.”


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