St John of Damaskos: On the Virtues and the Vices (Part 1)

St. John talks about virtues and vices through an elaborate and precise classification of them and the many interrelationships among them.

The faculties of the soul, he tells us, are, intellect, reason, opinion, fantasy, sense perception. These allow us to cultivate virtues. Cardinal virtues are courage, moral judgment, self-restraint, and justice

These, in turn, give rise to many other virtues that include, faith, hope, love, prayer, humility, gentleness, long-suffering, forbearance, kindness, freedom from anger.

There are also bodily virtues such as, self-control, fasting, hunger, thirst, staying awake, keeping all-night vigils

There is a close interrelationship between bodily and spiritual virtues and vices. While bodily virtues, in themselves, do not bring about salvation they are, nonetheless, “the tools or instruments of virtue. When used with understanding, in accordance with God’s will, and without the least hypocrisy or desire to win men’s esteem, they make it possible to advance in humility and dispassion.

Among the passions of the soul, John includes forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance, and among the passions of the body gluttony, greed, over-indulgence, drunkenness, eating in secret, general softness of living, unchastity.

This is a long and exhaustive list of virtues and vices. As we go down the list, we are struck by the degree of detail and nuance in it.

Virtues, for example, include “eating slowly.” Quite logically, one of the vices is “eating in secret.” Today, we hear a great deal about bulimia and other eating dysfunctions linked to psychological dysfunctions. Yet long before these studies, St. John of Damascus perceived the pace of eating as an indication of one’s spiritual state–either inner restraint or loss of self in passions. Eating in secret is but a sign of complete submission to gluttony, shame, pretense, and isolation from others.

 In the same vein, John goes beyond the “giants” among vices, such as wrath, to delve into their small, daily manifestations that appear at most as minor inconveniences we often just swat away: bitterness, irritability, quarrelsomeness, ingratitude, grumbling.

John demonstrates enormous psychological and spiritual insight in elucidating the gradual process of enslavement in our souls.

Both virtues and vices are interconnected in ways that one generates others who, in turn, produce their own offspring so that they create a snowball effect that overwhelms and enslaves us.

The passions of the soul are forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance. When the soul’s eye, the intellect, has been darkened by these three, the soul is dominated by all the other passions. These are impiety, false teaching or every kind of heresy, blasphemy,

Another example is when St. John explains how al vices are generated by “the three powerful giants, forgetfulness, laziness and ignorance.”  The result is that our intellect thus becomes “dispersed and dissipated,” allowing us to become overpowered by their offspring,such as “frivolous talk and foul language.”

The same process takes place with sensual pleasure. “The roots or primary causes of all these passions are love of sensual pleasure, love of praise and love of material wealth,” St. John says. “Every evil has its origin in these.”

The sources of sensual pleasure, however, come in a variety of forms, many of them are nearly imperceptible:  just an hour longer in bed, a second helping of dinner, “wandering thoughts” about all the ways we could take revenge on someone who insulted us.  It is “when the soul slackens its vigilance and is no longer strengthened by the fear of God” that we begin engaging with such small, seemingly harmless pleasures.

Without vigilance and alertness, it is easy to overlook and minimize the small, everyday pleasures and transgression without realizing how they relate to each other and how the self-sustaining process of one generating another gives rise to an avalanche that overcomes us.

The last step in the process of enslavement is habit. St. John gives us a clear picture of how seemingly harmless indulgences become ensconced in our lives as habits while, at the same time, giving us a glimpse of the hope of breaking away: 

Every attachment to material things produces pleasure and delight in the man subject to such attachment… And if through such senseless attachment some small habit gains the upper hand, the man to whom this happens is imperceptibly and irremediably held fast by the pleasure hidden in the attachment until he breaks free of it.”

ST. Maximos on the Lord’s Prayer: FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS

pp. 299-302

Having united our will with God’s will in the Lord’s prayer (Thy will be done), we ask Him to “give us today our daily bread.”

It is significant to note that the prayer emphasizes, not only the food we are requesting, but the fact that we ask for it for one day: “today.”   By praying “for bread for one day at a time,” we are freed from anxiety about future needs and from preoccupation with bread, itself. In essence, we want to eat to live rather than live to eat. We acknowledge our mortal nature and need for physical sustenance while, at the same time, seeking inner freedom from passions and material attachments: 

…so that we may keep our souls unenslaved and absolutely free from domination by any kind of visible things loved for the sake of the body

The line between seeking sustenance for the present day and becoming solely driven by material things, like food, is thin and can be easily blurred and crossed if we let up on our alertness.

This is why St. Maximos calls for discipline and exactness. Even requesting bread for a second day is enough to begin the downhill spiral of enslavement to material things:

 …and let us be exact in the way we observe this prayer

 The highest level of quest, however, is the quest for the gnostic bread of our souls rather than the literal bread for our bodies:

But seek first the kingdom of God and His righteousness

We are now ready to enter into a closer union with God, by transitioning from requests for sustenance to requests for forgiveness.

Forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors

Yet this is not a passive request but a restatement of our synergistic relationship with God.

God bestows blessings, St. Maximos tells us, but we can only retain them by exercising our own, free will. Likewise, we ask God to forgive us as a corollary of our own willingness to forgive those who sinned against us.

The fullness and unity of our human nature can only be achieved through forgiveness. Without it, we are divided, tearing ourselves away from our shared humanity with others and living in a fragmented universe of “we” and “they.”

Forgiveness takes enormous effort. It requires that we overcome the desire to dwell on, and relitigate, perceived injustices against us. It requires that we set aside our narrative for how people should behave and think.

He must not allow the memory of things that afflict him to be stamped on his intellect lest he inwardly sunders human nature by separating himself from some other man, although he is a man himself. When a man’s will is in union with the principle of nature in this way, God and nature are naturally reconciled; but, failing such a union, our nature remains self-divided in its will and cannot receive God’s gift of Himself.

In forgiveness “man’s will is in union with the principle of nature.”

This is when we will attain peace and receive the gnostic bread of the soul—the kingdom of God.

ST. MAXIMOS ON THE LORD’S PRAYER: THY WILL BE DONE

pp. 294-298

At this point in the prayer we move to a higher level of mystical participation in God. To enable this union with Him, Maximos asks us to “clean ourselves from all pollution of the flesh and spirit.” (2 Cor. 7).

As the first step in the cleansing process, he asks that we abandon all previous, logical frames of reference on which we relied to understand the world and ourselves.  

In God there is unity among elements even in ways that defy logic. Hence we cannot be reconciled and united with God through logic alone.

Christianity is based on trinitarian theology and is, hence, whole and complete. On the contrary, St. Maximos explains, other religions are fragmented and incomplete. The Greeks believe in multiple “ruling principles” while the Jews uphold faith in one single person that is narrow and deprived of Logos and Spirit.

Maximos presents trinitarian theology as true religion.

In Him, there is only the principle of true religion and the steadfast law of mystical theology, that rejects both the dilatation of the Divinity, as in Greek polytheism, and the contraction of the Divinity, as in Jewish monotheism.

We cannot achieve a state of union with God only through things that are visible and understood through linear logic. We must enter this theology mystically. We are, in fact, asked to suspend all relational measures and sequences: one and many; cause and effect, before and after. Mystical theology teaches us by grace that:

“the divinity is not one thing and then another thing: the unity does not differ from the Trinity by distinction of nature; the nature is simple and single in both.

In Divinity, one is not derived from another or is the effect of a cause:

“The Trinity does not derive from the Unity, since it is ungenerated and self-manifested. On the contrary, the Unity and the Trinity are both affirmed and conceived as truly one and the same.”

Secondly, since there are no dividing lines, all men are equal, and Christians cannot base relationships on power of one over another.  

In Christian doctrine there is no male and female, nor Greek and Jew in the proclamation of truth …that is, the deliberate fragmentation of the single nature of human beings…”

Humility and gentleness of heart are key characteristics of the Kingdom.  Humble people are not weak or timid. They simply know how to use the power given to them is ways that do not dominate, embarrass, or humiliate others, and by freeing activities from passions and submitting them to intelligence.  We must enter into a “marriage of the soul with the Logos.”

Having cleansed ourselves and submitted to God, we are ready for the next line in the prayer: “Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven.”  This is no longer a request but a promise on our part. And we fulfill this promise through action rather than words, by incorporating God’s will into our own and imitating God.

To unite our will with God’s means that we submit all our faculties to Him. Our intelligence is no longer driven by passions, such as the desire to impress, control or gain power, but is subservient to God’s will and is motivated by the desire to reach heaven. In essence, we are allowing “God’s will to be done.”

He who worships God mystically with the faculty of the intelligence alone, keeping it free from sensual desire and anger, fulfills the divine will on earth just as the orders of angels fulfill it in heaven.

Our intelligence, in fact, must serve to bring us closer to God and re-order our souls towards an eternal quest for Him.

Let our whole intelligence be moved to seek God.”

We then become like the angels always worshiping God and not being attracted to anything but God.

Give us this day our daily bread.

If we live this way, we will receive our daily bread—nourishment for our souls.

for in this way the food of the bread of life and knowledge will triumph over the death that comes through sin.

ST. MAXIMOS ON THE LORD’S PRAYER: THY KINGDOM COME

pp. 291-294

After we have purified ourselves from passions in previous sections of the prayer, we invoke the kingdom through the Holy Spirit.

“Thy kingdom come”

What does this mean? What are we asking for and what are we promising?

These words represent a new and more intimate level in our relationship with God within the prayer. We are now a step closer to achieving complete union with Him. We are not only asking for the Kingdom to descend on earth but to enter our souls and dwell within us.

St. Maximos tells us that to become the abode of God, we must practice humility and gentleness and detach ourselves from passions. He reminds us that the Lord wanted his disciples to experience the freedom that comes from humility of the soul:

Take my yoke upon you and learn from Me; for I am gentle and humble at heart; and your will find rest for your souls; (Matt. 11:29)

A key characteristic of theosis is complete unity and healing from fragmentation. St. Maximos cautions us that this inner unity must begin within us in order to experience the Kingdom of God.

Fragmentation is an indication that the intellect is still enslaved by passions and that divisions are not yet healed. We are exhausted by our spiritual turmoil. Our vision is blurred, and our perception distorted. Caught between dualities—male and female, anger and desire—we can no longer distinguish good from evil.  

On the first (anger) St. Maximos tells us:

[It] tyrannically perverts judgment and makes the mind betray the law of nature; while the second scorns the one dispassionate cause and nature, that alone is truly desirable, in favor of what is inferior, giving preference to the flesh rather than to the spirit, and taking pleasure more in visible things that in the magnificence and glory of intelligible reality. In this way with the lubricity of sensual pleasures it seduces the intellect from the divine perception of spiritual realities that happens proper to it.

Intelligence is “by nature superior to both praise and blame.”

When the kingdom comes, our intelligence becomes free and the world is restored in its rightful order.

He who already lives and moves and has his being in Christ, has annulled in  himself the production of what is imbalanced and disunited; as I have already said, he does not bear within him, like male and female, the opposing dispositions of such passions…

Once the intellect is free from attachments … this way “it should not be burdened any longer with preoccupations about morality as with a shaggy cloak.”

Unity and freedom of the intellect give us peace. We no longer have to struggle to follow God’s will and bridge our distance from God. God’s will and likeness have been incorporated within us.

…the intelligence urges the soul to conform itself by its own free choice to the divine likeliness…

While, on our part, we invoke the Kingdom and purify our soul so that we can receive it, St. Maximos reminds us that God is not passive. God actively wants us to dwell in his kingdom. He created it for us.

(Matt. 25 : 34) Come, you whom my father has blessed, inherit the kingdom prepared for you from the foundation of the world.

The kingdom coming means that our souls are renewed and reborn in God in a way that is incomprehensible and profound.

In souls such as this Christ always desires to be born in a mystical way, becoming incarnate in those who attain salvation

Petition and Promise: St. Maximos’ Interpretation of the Lord’s Prayer (Part II)

In these lines (pp. 288-291) St. Maximos elucidates the nature of our petitions to God in the Lord’s prayer and our relationship to Him and His creation.

What is it that we are asking of God and how? 

Before we even begin our petitions, we are introduced to the concepts and trinitarian nature of theology: “Our Father who art in heaven.” 

It is significant that we are also immediately placed in a direct line of communication with God as his children. This means that we do not simply ask for, and receive, lists of truths and instructions from a distance, in a top down relationship. Instead, we enter into a dialogue with God as his sons and daughters.

The Lord’s prayer is a dynamic movement from earth to heaven, from solitary existence to unity with others, from passions to purification and restoration of our nature. In the process of communication with our Father, we make requests, but we also open ourselves to growing and becoming transformed, ourselves.

By asking for forgiveness, and promising our forgiveness of others, we partake of God’s nature, experiencing unity between heaven and earth, harmony, and peace. The prayer:

…asks that those in heaven and those on earth may be united in one will.

…lays down that men should be reconciled with one another and unites our nature with itself when we forgive and are forgiven, for then it is not split asunder by differences of will and purpose.

The words of this prayer, we are told, are “precepts of life” and, hence require being applied through actions.

In our petitions, we ask for our daily bread and deliverance from temptation. We also vow to accept God’s will and forgive others. We are, thus, in a synergistic relationship with the Lord in which there is give and take—requests and obligations.

Prayer is “a promise of what men who worship God sincerely resolve to offer Him.”

The more we fulfill our vows to the Lord, the deeper our prayer is a vow, that is:

…a contest of virtue that God welcomes most readily whenever it is offered to Him; and prayer is the prize of virtue that God gives joyfully when the contest is won.

The Lord’s prayer reveals to us mystically what it is to be human in Christ and where we fit in relationship to God, fellow men and the rest of the created universe.

Through these words He has revealed the hidden treasures of wisdom and knowledge that as pure form exist in Him; and in all who offer this prayer He kindles the desire to enjoy such treasures…”

It is through action, however, that we participate in God—allowing these revelations to change our lives and bring us closer to God:

…we strive to stamp our Creator’s qualities in our lives, sanctifying His name on earth……showing ourselves to be his children through our actions…

Through this commitment to the path of theosis that has been laid out for us, we “become a temple of God.”

St. Maximos, On the Lord’s Prayer

What is so distinctive about Maximos’ interpretation of this prayer and why was this essay even included in Philokalia?

Protopresbyter Theodoros Zisis believes that its inclusion has significance unto itself.

The inclusion of this little work in the Philokalia stems from its deep neptic and spiritual character, as well as the unique and interesting way in which Saint Maximos interprets the Lord’s Prayer, the prayer which the Lord Himself taught the Apostles in the Sermon on the Mount…” Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite, writes that he did this, first, because the interpretation of the “Our Father” of Saint Maximos surpasses other similar interpretive works, and second, because it is of great use to its readers” (in the chapter on St. Maximos’ interpretation of the Lord’s prayer in Zisis’ book “Following the Holy Fathers: Timeless Guides of Authentic Christianity” ).

Zisis believes that the use of this work to its readers is nothing short of a path to theosis:

The power of the Lord’s Prayer, the mastery of its hidden and mystical aim, effectively brings about this end [theosis].

For St. Maximos, the Lord’s prayer not only reveals to us the entire mystery of deification, but it helps us enact divine knowledge in real time.

If the purpose of the divine counsel is the deification of our nature, and the aim of the divine counsel is the deification of our nature, it follows that we should both know and carry into effect the power of the Lord’s prayer

In St. Maximos’ interpretation, the Lord’s prayer is not simply a prayer for a specific request or occasion, but a complete universe, containing all that is needed for a person to undertake and complete the journey to deification. 

For hidden within a limited compass this prayer contains the whole purpose and aim of which we have just spoken…

To unlock its larger mystery, St. Maximos breaks it down to 7 significant “sub-mysteries,” contained sequentially in the prayer:  

  1. Theology
  2. Adoption as sons by grace
  3. Equality with the angels
  4. Participation in eternal life
  5. The restoration of human nature when it is reconciled dispassionately with itself
  6. The abolition of the law of sin and
  7. The destruction of the tyranny that hold us in its power through the deceit of the evil one.

Theology: “Our Father who are in heaven”

Through Christ, our mediator, the Trinity of Father, Son and Holy Spirit is revealed in the very first words.

Adoption

By joining the Lord in his prayer to his Father we are permitted to also call Him “Father,” thus becoming His sons and daughters.  We enter the mystery of the prayer through direct communication with God and, hence, as participants rather than passive servants.  

Participation in eternal life

No being comprehends the essence of God,” St. Maximos tells us. Yet because of God’s love for us, he allowed us to participate in His essence “through the grace of the Holy Spirit.”

While we cannot “command” the presence of the Holy Spirit on our own, we are not merely vessels for it but active participants since “… the guarding and preservation of this in God depends on the resolve of those thus born…

Receiving grace is of no value if we are not able to discern it and willing to wage spiritual welfare to guard it and grow it.

Maximos goes even further in defining the nature of our participation, suggesting that, in emptying ourselves of passions, we have the potential of being Christ-like:  We can empty ourselves  “of the passions they lay hold of the divine to the same degree as that to which, deliberately emptying Himself of His own sublime glory, the Logos of God truly became man.”

Christ, through his love for us, actively wants us to participate in, and be one with, Him.

 The Logos enables us to participate in divide life by making Himself our food…” St. Maximos reminds us.

Equality with the angels:Thy will be done on earth as it is in heaven

Zisis sees this line as an indication of “man becoming equal in honour to the angels, as asking for equality with the rational beings.”  Like the angels, we are in harmony, and not in rebellion, with God’s will.  

He restores human nature to itself: “Forgive us our debts as we forgive out debtors.”

We now emulate God on the Cross by loving and forgiving even our enemies. By fighting passions and submitting our entire souls to love, we return to our true, God-given nature.

St. Maximos talks about God’s essence is uniting and ends all contradictions and fragmentation.

…the Logos unites what is separated and that alienation from Logos divides what is united.

…He united heaven and earth in Himself, joined what is sensible with what is intelligible, and revealed creation as a single whole whose extremes are bound together through virtue and through knowledge of their first Cause.”

We are restored to our true nature in which we are whole. We are no longer torn between the dualities of soul and body, passions and God’s will because the two are harmonized and united into one.

“Our will is no longer opposed to the principles of nature” 

Nearing the End of Life: (Wisdom from Mount Athos: The Writings of Starretz Silouan)

In your presence is fullness of joy;

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At your right hand are pleasures for evermore.

(Psalm 16)

Because Silouan has “tasted of the grace of the Holy Spirit” in his soul, he has been able to have glimpses of joy in its fulness before God’s presence. With this knowledge of that indescribable joy that awaits him, he no longer fears death.

Until the coming of God’s grace the soul fears death.

He knows, however, that the state of peace and joy we experience on earth is but momentary and a mere approximation of the happiness we will experience in the presence of the Lord.  As he nears the end of his life, his longing for fulness, permanence and completion increases.  

He no longer makes rational arguments but delves into the mystical experience of union with God and our longing for it.  Like a person passionately in love, perhaps for the first time, his soul is wholly preoccupied with God and can think of little else.  

The soul He suffers to taste of the sweetness of the love of God but is absorbed in God alone and attaches herself to no earthly thing.

As desire intensifies, Silouan’s descriptions use ecstatic terms, beyond reason, sound or sight.

The soul from love of the Lord has lost her wits; she sits in silence, with no wish to speak, and looks upon the world with mazed eyes, having no desire for it and seeing it not. 

Surely, we can relish our families, enjoy the beauty of music and be grateful for our cozy home but, through our love for God,  these do not become preoccupations, sources of passion and envy or the lone objectives of our lives. This “longing for the things of heaven” overshadows longing for material things and puts them in perspective.

My soul is nigh unto death and longs with a great longing to behold the Lord and be with Him forever.

While union with Christ, after death, represents our most cherished goal, permanence and completion, it  is not depicted as stasis or even a finite destination. On the contrary, it is a continuous journey of a much higher caliber than that on earth. Our proximity to God enables a true and profound transformation of our souls. Silouan ends the book, and this chapter, with a vision of the fulness of true joy in Christ and the hope of eternal sweetness and transformation.

One glance at the Lord, and the love of Him will take up its abode in the soul, and from love of God and the sweetness of the Holy Spirit she will be all transformed.

SPIRITUAL WARFARE, PART #2 (from “Wisdom from Mount Athos,” St. Silouan)

Who shall describe the joy of knowing the Lord and of reaching out towards Him day and night insatiably?” asks St. Silouan. The premise of the spiritual warfare is that the beauty and inner peace of the destination make lifelong warfare worthwhile. There is, in fact, “nothing more precious than to know God; and nothing worse than not to know Him.”  

Such overwhelming desire, however, is fraught with danger if it is overtaken by our personal wants and driven by our own will. This is where delusion sets in. Silouan, for example, warns about forcing visions to occur and mistake them for true messages from God.

And I beseech those who see visions and put their trust in them to understand that this is a source of evil pride and, side by side with pride, sweet vanity…

He reminds us that visions cannot be gained by our own will and that “…without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to come to knowledge of what is of heaven.” 

Far from acquiring knowledge of God, acting on our own is, in fact, a type of spiritual materialism –adopting a worldly, materialistic framework in the spiritual realm. It treats deification transactionally, as a precious good we can buy and consume on demand.

The peril of such spiritual materialism is nothing less than the loss of our soul and invitation to the devil.

Silouan, however, does not want us to despair and gives us a map for gaining and restoring union with God.  He reminds us that the antidote to the fallacy of achieving union with God through our own means, is humility.

without humility it is impossible to vanquish the enemy…Only when you humble yourself will you experience “perfect rest.”   And only in a state of inner rest and peace can our prayer be “clear and unsullied.”

The journey back to God starts by putting “one’s trust in your confessor and not in yourself. Thinking that we can wrestle evil on our own is delusional. Obedience is essential to healing and spiritual restoration.”  

Silouan gives us hope in our fallen state by encouraging us not be afraid. In the place of fear, he admonishes calm acceptance of the current state of the soul and repentance.

The soul that has come to know God” does not despair of any beguilement the devil has brought about but accepts it and repents.

Paradoxically, Silouan calls the soul that is humble and obedient “courageous.”  This is because it takes courage to forsake pride, as manifested in daily habits and beliefs.  

The soul.” He tells us, “is a creature of habit.”  It is far harder to overcome habits than it is to argue against a big idea, withdraw support from a political candidate or make life-changing decisions, such as marrying or accepting jobs.

Over time our mental associations, justifications, reactions, tastes and routines become embedded into our daily, default patterns of thinking and acting. We mistake them for our true identity and rarely question them. Vanity, greed and love of material things are hardest to overcome, St. SIlouan tells us.

The hardest thing of all is to subdue the flesh for God’s sake and to overcome self-love.

Yet, Silouan, reminds us that repentance must not lead to self-pity and despair:

 Man must condemn himself in his soul but not despair of the compassion and love of God

Our spiritual warfare takes place at every hour of the day and every day of our lives. It represents the way of life for a Christian. Yet it is not a joyless or pointless effort as we experience moments of true union with God, and the unspeakable delight of inner peace.

So soon as the Lord lays His hand upon my soul, she becomes a new being

St. Silouan ends the chapter with his description of the meaning of spiritual warfare. The relentless struggle to gain true knowledge of God and continuously regain it when we lose it constitutes, in itself, a constant relationship with God and a source of mutual joy:

Thus, the soul spends her whole life waging war. But do you not lose heart over the struggle, for the Lord loves a brave fighter.

OUR WEAPONS OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE (FROM WISDOM FROM MOUNT ATHOS BY STARRETZ SILOUAN)

pp. 115-119

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Spiritual warfare is the very foundation of living as a Christian, according to St. Silouan.

All those who would follow our Lord Jesus Christ are engaged in spiritual warfare

Inner peace and grace are not gained and preserved meekly and timidly but through continuous and ferocious battle against the distractions that derail us. Silouan uses fiery language to describe the nature and intensity of the battle.

Our battle rages every day and every hour

This is necessary considering the constant lapses into passions that, unless we are trained, are the default position of our souls.

Silouan, like other ascetic writers, sheds a bright light on our daily experience of being, and away from abstract theory. He forces us to pause and look under a microscope at the countless harmless little lies, the small indulgences, figures of speech and automatic thinking patterns and reactions that have become habits. He puts us in the uncomfortable position of taking seriously the things we routinely dismiss as small and understandable manifestations of “just being human.”  We did not commit murder or burglary after all. Silouan turns on its head the notion of “sin.”

Passing judgement, envying or belittling others, bragging, looking down on our fellow men, considering our judgment to be infallible,  fantasizing, controlling, following our will, longing for power and influence, reacting through anger, manipulating things to get our way etc. are not harmless little indulgences but drops of evil that increasingly clog our soul and distance us from God. Their everydayness and automatic, unthinking way we employ them make them especially formidable enemies.

This is why our battle must especially intense and “rage every day and every hour.”

The state of inner peace is fragile for all those who have not ascended to the realm of theosis. How many times have you experienced the loss of joy or calmness just because of your perception of one look from another person as disrespectful; a memory of the unfairness of a former boss; the realization that someone, other than you, is the center of attention and garners a group’s admiration, interpreting someone’s silence as rejection, considering your son’s academic failures as a direct mirror of your own worth…

“One unfriendly look,” writes Silouan, “and grace and the love of God is gone.”

Conversely,

Often a single sympathetic greeting will work a happy change in the soul; and contrarywise

This is where hope and the path of salvation lie.

Following this path is not a loose proposition of occasional virtue, avoiding virtue at inconvenient times or following your whim. As Silouan advises:

All things whatsoever the Lord commanded must be fulfilled with exactitude.

These descriptions of ephemerality and unexpectedness of grace sum up Silouan’s prescription for conducting spiritual war. Be alert to the state of your soul in daily experience rather than focus on abstract theory. Battle as fiercely as possible the devil hidden, sometimes, in barely noticeable thoughts and reactions. Look for the grace of small, often dismissed, moments of “a single sympathetic greeting,” a feeling of compassion for the person who offended you, a moment of silence and restraint when faced with someone spouting offensive political opinions, and build  them into your arsenal of spiritual warfare.

Silouan returns to his theme of simplicity and ease from his previous chapters. Upholding virtues and experiencing a state of grace is not difficult or complicated once you are no longer driven by the desire to assert your will and your heart is filled with love.  

St. John the Divine declares that God’s commandments are not grievous but a light burden. But they are light only where there us love—where live is not present everything is difficult.

Yet, actively desiring and willing a state of grace means that your will for control and self-glorification are at work. In that case, the effort weighs you down, disappointment, emptiness, anger and impatience set in and the “burden” is no longer “light.”

Humility here is juxtaposed to the entitlement implicit in our efforts to bring about grace at will.

But do not think about seeing God; rather humble yourself and let your thought be that when you die you will be case into a dark prison, and there languish and pie for the Lord…When we weep and humble our souls the grace of God preserve us, whereas if we forsake weeping and humility we may ne led astray by intrusive thoughts of visions. The humble soul neither has nor desires to have visions, but praus God with an undisturbed mind; while the mid that is puffed up is not free from intrusive thoughts and imaginings…

Silouan sums up the path to grace and most potent weapon in spiritual warfare thus:

Keep thy mind in hell and despair not

FINDING PEACE AND GRACE, PART III (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

109-114

“Adam’s soul,” St. Silouan writes, “was perfect in the love of God and he knew the sweetness of Paradise, but his soul was unpracticed and he did not resist when Eve tempted him as the sorely-afflicted Job resisted when tempted by his wide.”

 Both Adam and Job had experienced the love of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit. They were in fact “perfect.” Yet one lost grace and the other preserved it. Why? Silouan introduces the word “practiced” in order to explain how Job, even while enduring hardships, retained God’s grace.  

Spiritual warfare,” Fr. David noted, “is scientific.” It is not simply basking in God’s love, doing good or preserving the commandments. It is a detailed and systematic process of daily “training” –following the coach’s regiment, practicing, and building the spiritual muscles, skills, speed and “mental toughness” that are essential for victory.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacos illustrates such “scientific” spiritual “training process” through a ladder of 30 steps which, those who wish unity with God, must ascend one-by-one. Each step represents a virtue to be acquired, or a vice to be surrendered.

Like a sergeant training a recruit, Silouan acquaints us with the weapons and tools in our individual arsenal.

In this spiritual warfare of ours we must look to the state of our ammunition and provender. Our ammunition is our humility, our provender—the grace of God.

“Simple,” someone may say. “I’ve heard of this.” Yet Silouan often talks about the difference between abstract knowledge and its embodiment and application. Here he talks about the need for spiritual alertness, discernment, and deployment. How often do we recognize the hidden and underutilized spiritual resources within us? How often do we immediately deploy such God-given abilities (such as for humility) at the moment we become outraged by an insult or scornful toward a different political opinion?  A great deal of “training” is required.

The practiced soul knows well the weapons at its disposal, recognizes when to utilize them and does not allow inflamed passions, distractions, laziness or intimidation to prevent it from their deployment.  

Yet, in spite the rigor and scientific nature of the warfare, there is a clarity and simplicity to it.

Fierce is the war we wage; yet it is a wise was and a simple one. If the soul grows to love humility, then all the snares of our enemies are overturned, and his fortresses taken.

There is a simple choice before us between fighting to get our way and satisfy our wants —prestige, wealth, indulgence of passion, lack or restrictions, etc.—and submitting our will to God to acquire peace.

But if you find fault and are rebellious, if you want your own way, your soul will fail

 It is as simple as this.

Silouan paints vivid pictures of why grace is worth every degree of sacrifice:

When the soul is full of the love of God, out of the infinity of her joy she sorrows and prays in tears for the whole world…

When grace is in us, we are truly humble, wise, submissive, meek and pleasing to God and man; but when we lose grace, we wither away like a shoot but from the vine.

Our lives with grace are simply “easy,” Silouan tells us. We no longer have to struggle to resist temptations and acquire virtues we are not accustomed to live with. We are united with God and now embody the virtues that were once external.

Guard the grace of God; with grace life is easy… When grace is in us, we are truly humble, wise, submissive, meek and pleasing to God and man; but when we lose grace, we wither away like a shoot but from the vine.

The short, temporary satisfaction of getting our way is replaced by true and lasting joy and peace.

With God all is well, all is pleasant and joyous; the soul is at peace in God and walks, as it were, in a fair garden in which live the Lord and the Mother of God.