WHAT IS FAITH? St. Peter of Damaskos (Philokalia, III)

pp. 164-167

“Faith,” St. Peter tells us, is “the foundation of all blessings, the door to God’s mysteries, unflagging defeat of our enemies.”  He calls it “the most necessary of all the virtues,” and the prerequisite for God to dwell “within our soul.”  

What exactly does faith mean? We commonly think of it as the absolute certainty that there is God. This certainty involves mind and matter. You believe because it has been proven to you, by means you understand and beyond reasonable doubt.

St. Peter does not try to convince us through logical arguments. Instead, he talks about a different, experiential dimension of faith and its role as the requirement for inner stillness and union with God.  

“The man of faith,” he tells us, “acts, not as one endowed with free will, but as a beast that is led by the will of God.”

Is he, then, denying the existence of free will?

St. Peter further explains:   

If it is that I should experience temptation so as to learn humility, again I am with Thee. Of myself, there is absolutely nothing I can do.

Faith here is the belief in a universe inhabited by God in which everything is designed with meaning and purpose, even when these are not immediately apparent to us.

Do what Thou wilt to Thy creature; for I believe that, being good, Thou bestowest blessings on me, even if I do not recognize that they are for my benefit.

This assumption of God’s absolute goodness and higher purpose is a choice rather than a loss of free will. We can always choose to rebel against affliction or to express our pain through vengeance, anger and rejection of God. Yet we choose to believe because we discern His goodness and purpose even if we cannot rationally understand them.

Faith, then, represents a radical acceptance of God’s will.

I do not dare to ask for relief in any of my battles, even if I am weak and utterly exhausted: for I do not know what is good for me.

We cannot despair or become enraged in the face of pain, because we believe deeply that, even if we are not able to detect it, there is a reason and a benefit to be derived even from the greatest sorrow.

Acquiring faith is not akin to becoming unquestioning, zombie-like beings. It involves a continuous process in which, even doubt and struggle are part of the journey.

But in whatever way Thou desirest have mercy on me. I have sinned: have mercy on me as Thou knowest. I believe, Lord, that Thou hearest this my pitiable cry, ‘Help Thou my unbelief’ (Mark 9 : 24),

For St. Peter, there are two types of faith: that of hearsay and that of contemplation.

Faith from “hearsay is derived from our reading and understanding of the scriptures and leads to virtues. From this level of devotion stems a superior faith of contemplation and unity with God.

There is no longer a “we” and “He” because we have return to our true nature and become God-like. We have become who God has always wanted us to be.  

For the Divine is infinite and uncircumscribed, and the intellect that returns to itself must be in a similar state, so that through grace it may experience the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. ‘For we walk by faith, not by sight,’ says St Paul (2 Cor. S : 7).

Through faith we are “united with God spiritually” and can experience “perfect love.” Our faith now requires no effort or physical proof because we inhabit an ecstatic state that does not require the help of visual images, words, senses and motion.

The intellect itself has the sense that it is seen, even though at that time it is utterly impossible for it to see anything, for it is imageless, formless, colourless, undisturbed, undistracted, motionless, matterless, entirely transcending all the things that can be apprehended and perceived in the created world. It communes with God in deep peace and with perfect calm, having only God in mind, until it is seized with rapture and found worthy tb say the Lord’s Prayer as it should be said…

Instead of abandoning free will, we have freely aligned our will with that of God.


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