THE DIMMING OF THE LIGHT: Ilias The Presbyter (A Gnomic Anthology Part II,in Philokalia, vol. 3)


Picture our soul the way Ilias describes it, as perched precariously between the senses and the spirit–“between sensible and spiritual light.” Nothing is guaranteed. Finding the proper balance between the two is our responsibility. If we are weighed down by the senses—whether they be greed, the single- minded pursuit of ambition, thoughts of revenge or obsession with material things– we cannot enter the world of spirit and revel in its light.

I used to think that sin entered our lives with a thunder—loud, clearly perceptible and easily distinguishable from the norm of quietness in our homes.

The early Fathers of the church, however, show the devious and beguiling way in which sin enters our intellect as a tiny, barely perceptible thought or image that appears insignificant and harmless. By engaging with it, we allow it to dominate our thoughts until it has become obsessive. We descend into spiritual death once we become so accustomed to it that it becomes part of our “normality,” the way we routinely think and behave.

Becoming a habit and way of life is the most insidious and devious aspect of sin. 

We are surprised that those in dysfunctional families and relationships do not immediately leave at the first sign of abuse or dysfunction. Now we know that after a while, people are not able to discern clearly between health and dysfunction, normalcy and unacceptable living conditions. They become so accustomed to addiction, abuse, hoarding and other unhealthy ways of life that dysfunction begins to appear as the norm rather than the exception.

Ilias reminds us to watch out, not just for obvious transgressions, but for habitual patterns in the way we think that have become second nature to us.

But as a result of man’s inveterate habit of mind, the light of the Spirit has grown dim within the soul, whereas the light of the sensible world shines more brightly within it. Consequently, it cannot fix its attention totally on things divine unless it is wholly united with intelligible light during prayer. In this way, it is compelled to stand midway between darkness and light, linked to spiritual light through participation, and to sensible light by means of the fantasy.

Our gateway to spiritual light is prayer. Yet, “an intellect subject to passion cannot penetrate the narrow gate of prayer until it abandons the cares to which it has attached itself. So long as it remains continually occupied with bodily matters, it will inflict suffering on itself.”

If the intellect lacks prayer,” Ilias continues, “then worldly cares, like ‘clouds driven about by the wind and bringing no rain’ (Jude, verse 12), deprive it of its native luminosity.”

To allow the light to grow within us, requires us to root out habits of thought that drive our lives and submerge us in a world of anxiety and preoccupation with material things. Detachment will enable us to live lives of prayer, and our souls to “rise upwards and realize its true dignity.”

Our goal, Ilias reminds us, should be “the city from which ‘pain, sorrow and sighing have fled away’ (Isa. 35:10. LXX).”

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