St. Maximos, 4th Century of Love, #55-74

 St. Maximos here builds a complex of interrelationships that are enabled by love as well as aim at love as the ultimate destination.

The challenge of the quest is to locate and unleash the treasure that lies “hidden in the field of your heart (cf. Matt. 13:44).”  “Christ dwells in our hearts through faith (cf. Eph. 3:17).”

St. Maximos urges us to consider what this means.

If “all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in Him (cf. Col. 2:3), then all the treasures of wisdom and spiritual knowledge are hidden in our hearts.”

Living with Christ in our hears is so precious that were we able to find this “field” within our hearts, our entire life would be transformed and re-directed. Experiencing even a glimmer of this treasure is so sweet that we would eagerly submit to any sacrifice or deprivation to center our lives in it. Missing it or never realizing its existence leaves us bereft and empty, vulnerable to misdirecting our unrequited longing.

“…you have abandoned that field and give all your attention to the land nearby, where there is nothing but thorns and thistles.”

Interestingly, what St. Maximos sees as preventing us from recognizing the treasure within, is “our laziness.”   And here is a series of interrelationships that explain it:

To see Christ in our hearts “and the riches that are in Him” we must purify ourselves “through love and self-control.’  Love in Christ is not the effusion of sentiment we  have come to associate with romantic love, but an imitation of Christ.

Christ, for example, was always conferring blessings on people; He was long-suffering when they were ungrateful and blasphemed Him; and when they beat Him and put Him to death, He endured it, imputing no evil at all to anyone. These are the three acts which manifest love for one’s neighbor. If he is incapable of them, the person who says that he loves Christ or has attained the kingdom deceives himself.

Yet mere knowledge of this spiritual path and the goodness of love is passive. Knowledge becomes holy when it is translated into action and, hence, becomes “active.”

Are you tempted to snap back at an insult, nurse a grudge for an injustice or betrayal against you or indulge in self-pity? These are our default impulses so that giving in to them is easy. This is what St. Maximos calls laziness. To make knowledge active requires hard discipline—a conscious choice of love over resentment.

Imagine if, when overwhelmed by righteous outrage or self-defeating self-pity, we were able to hold back from reacting out of consideration of the effect that these passionate thoughts and actions would have on our souls and relationship with God.  We would concentrate on our inner life rather than on composing the perfect comeback or savoring the remembrance of all the injustices against us. This discipline, stemming from what St. Maximos calls active holy knowledge, would eventually reconcile us with God’s love and allow us to partake of the treasure within.

The purpose of discipline, in fact “the whole purpose of the Savior’s commandments is to free the intellect from dissipation and hatred, and to lead it to the love of Him and one’s neighbor. From this love springs the light of active holy knowledge.”

And, conversely, this holy knowledge is only complete when accompanied, by love.

St. Maximos, 4th century of love, #26-54

There are these moments in our lives, when we are filled with love for a person or the grandeur of the universe around us; when things seem suffused in light and everything appears possible.  Hatred then can only be aroused by the devil since it deprives us of the peace and harmony that love brings to our soul.

  1. Because today an assault of the devil has aroused some hatred in you, do not judge as base and wicked a brother whom yesterday you regarded as spiritual and virtuous; but with long-suffering love dwell on the goodness you perceived yesterday and expel today’s hatred from your soul.

Hatred, and related emotions of irritability, resentment and envy, can be aroused at any time and about anybody—even those we most love, admire or nurture. The solution is not to allow hatred to obscure your experiences of goodness and love

Do not condemn today as base and wicked the man whom yesterday you praised as good and commended as virtuous, changing from love to hatred, because he has criticized you; but even though you are still full of resentment, commend him as before, and you will soon recover the same saving love.

In the end, St. Maximos exhortations for love are not little aphorisms to memorize or rules to passively obey but a make a case for salvation and spiritual survival.

We are to spare no effort in freeing ourselves from hatred because succumbing to bitterness and resentment will strip us from the joy, peace, hope and love we are meant to inhabit and which will unite us with God.  “The deiform soul,” St. Maximos reminds us, “cannot nurse hatred against a man and yet be at peace with God, the giver of the commandments.”

When overwhelmed by resentment, instead of justifying it and fanning the flames, our goal must be to recover the love we once had for that person and for God.

St. Maximos gives many practical tools for quenching resentments against others by directing our efforts at the recovery of love rather than on nurturing thoughts of insult, jealousy and resentment:

If a brother happens to be tempted and persists in insulting you, do not be driven out of your state of love, even though the same evil demon troubles your mind. You will not be driven out of that state if, when abused, you bless; when slandered, you praise; and when tricked, you maintain your affection. This is the way of Christ’s philosophy: if you do not follow it you do not share His company.

What drives us in periods when we seem to be always angry and irritated with everybody, filled with self-pity and resentment? For Maximos, this happens when the pursuit of fame or recognition, obsessions with material things or an outcome we believe we are entitled to achieve, dominate our thoughts.

“The man who still loves empty fame, or is attached to some material object,” Maximos writes, is naturally vexed with people on account of transitory things, or harbors rancor or hatred against them, or is a slave to shameful thoughts.

And the solution is tough and yet uncomplicated:

Stop pleasing yourself and you will not hate your brother; stop loving yourself and you will love God.

St. Maximos, 4th century of love, #1-25

St. Maximos begins the 4th century with contemplation of God’s creation and the humbling of the intellect before it.

 “First the intellect marvels when it reflects on the absolute infinity of God, that boundless sea for which it longs so much. Then it is amazed at how God has brought things into existence out of nothing.”

St. Maximos transitions from the infinity and eternity of God’s creation to us.

We have always existed as potentiality in God’s mind “from all eternity” and

“4. When the Creator willed, He gave being to and manifested that knowledge of created things which already existed in Him.”

So what is our relationship to God’s creation and what is our purpose?

We were endowed with intelligence, he tells us. Yet,

“13. Whether or not a nature endowed with intelligence and intellect is to exist eternally depends on the will of the Creator whose every creation is good; but whether such a nature is good or bad depends on its own will.”

Evil is not “to be imputed to the essence of created beings, but to their erroneous and mindless motivation.” And our “motivation is rightly ordered when its desiring power is subordinated to self-control, when its incensive power rejects hatred and cleaves to love.”

Without love, our purpose cannot be clear and our intelligence will be diverted by evil, self-serving motivations rather than advance toward God “through prayer and spiritual contemplation.”

Take suffering, for example. How many times have times of suffering produced in us anger, self-pity, envy for others or despair that, in themselves, cut us off from love, gratitude and hope, causing us more harm than the cause of suffering itself? This is maintaining love in the face of suffering is the most important example of our ability to exert our will to make our God-given nature good as opposed to evil.

“16. If in time of trial a man does not patiently endure his afflictions, but cuts himself off from the love of his spiritual brethren, he does not yet possess perfect love or a deep knowledge of divine providence.

Thus, he who does not resolutely bear trouble, endure affliction, and patiently sustain hardship, has strayed from the path of divine love and from the purpose of providence.”

Then, there are our relationships with others. How much of our daily life is consumed by envy of others, hurt feelings from perceived insults, fears of rejections and loss of control, blame and recriminations?   Yet what use is “victory”—surpassing others in status, getting validation for wrongs against you or “putting someone in his place”—when our lives are filled with fractured relationships, anger and hatred and deprived of love?

“Has a brother been the occasion of some trial for you and has your resentment led you to hatred?’ St. Maximos asks. “22. Do not let yourself be overcome by this hatred, but conquer it with love. You will succeed in this by praying to God sincerely for your brother and by accepting his apology; or else by conciliating him with an apology yourself, by regarding yourself as responsible for the trial and by patiently waiting until the cloud has passed.”

He concludes: “18. If ‘love is long-suffering and kind’ (1 Cor. 13:4), a man who is fainthearted in the face of his afflictions and who therefore behaves wickedly towards those who have offended him, and stops loving them, surely lapses from the purpose of divine providence.”

Ultimately,

“17. The aim of divine providence is to unite by means of true faith and spiritual love those separated in various ways by vice. Indeed, the Savior endured His sufferings so that ‘He should gather together into one the scattered children of God’ (John 11: 52).”

The section ends with a seemingly simple truth that encompasses all the complex relationships between the creator and the created universe that St Maximos details in the preceding pages and the gist of his centuries of love: “Do not lightly discard spiritual love: for men there is no other road to salvation.”

St. Maximos the Confessor: 3d Century on Love Excerpts #76-100

 Our intellect lies between angel and demon, each of which works for its own ends, the one encouraging virtue and the other vice. The intellect has both the authority and the power to follow or resist whichever it wishes to.

St. Maximos understands both poles and constantly points out the thin and treacherous line between them. This is why he shows compassion for our failings and helps us both envision our destination with the angels and develop simple, practical tools for following the right path and resisting the demons.

An easy slip-up for most of us is to succumb to envy and resentment. This is how St. Maximos defines it:

Resentment is linked with rancor. When the intellect forms the image of a brother’s face with a feeling of resentment, it is clear that it harbors rancor against him. ‘The way of the rancorous

The Greek word for “rancor” is “μνησικακία”—the memory of past wrongs. Being consumed by bitterness and resentment for perceived wrongs and offenses “leads to death,” because ‘whoever harbors rancor is a transgressor’ (Prov. 21:24. LXX).

“Mνησικακία” is devoid of logic and does not always require an actual harmful act committed against us to be triggered. We can bitterly resent someone’s success because we choose to see it as a reminder of our own, perceived “failure.” We may envy someone else’s popularity or talent and resent him for it because believe we should possess them, instead, for our life to be worth living. And we may be especially intolerant of others’ flaws when they remind us of personal weaknesses we are ashamed of.

You will find it hard to check the resentment of an envious person, for what he envies in you he considers his own misfortune.

 In short, we dehumanize others by seeing them as mere commodities to compare ourselves to and benchmark our successes or failures against.  The remedy St. Maximos outlines is to separate the resentment from the thought and view others in the fulness of their humanity rather than through the filter of our passions, thus opening our hearts to compassion and love.

If you harbor rancor against anybody, pray for him and you will prevent the passion from being aroused; for by means of prayer you will separate your resentment from the thought of the wrong he has done you. When you have become loving and compassionate towards him, you will wipe the passion completely from your soul.

How many times, filled with envy and resentment, we secretly delight in another’s failures or find it impossible to be happy for their good fortune. Yet, forgetting ourselves and empathizing with those we resent is what will free us from the tyranny of these passions.

 …You will be able to check it if you rejoice with the man whom you envy whenever he rejoices, and grieve whenever he grieves, thus fulfilling St Paul’s words, ‘Rejoice with those who rejoice, and weep with those who weep’ (Rom. 12:15).

To choose the path of angels rather than the demons, we cannot be absolved of responsibility even when it is someone else who envies and resents our own successes. Even then,

You must in humility consider him superior to yourself, and always, everywhere and in every matter put his interest above yours…. for you are defending not the passion but the sufferer

In the end, the remedy for envy and all other passions is love:

 …but love, united beyond union with Him who is more than infinite, will remain for all eternity, always increasing beyond all measure. That is why ‘the greatest of them is love’ (1 Cor. 13:13).[V2] 100

St. Maximos, 3d century of love, #52-76

We know that the Fathers consider thoughts the source of all passions. St. Maximos gives us a detailed example here:

…as the body fornicates with the body of a woman, so the intellect, forming a picture of its own body, fornicates with the conceptual image of a woman. For in the mind it sees the form of its own body having intercourse with the form of a woman.

But surely most of us think that some situations naturally deserve to occupy our thoughts: a heinous act committed by a criminal, for example; a neighbor’s outrageous behavior; our outrage at ISIS…

St. Maximos makes no exception and warns us of the danger of becoming overtaken by passionate thoughts. First of all, our own thoughts—noble or vile, justifiable or unjustifiable—hold an appeal for us. Let’s face it, it is intoxicating to indulge in our own fantasies, ruminations, memories or fears and speculations. St. Maximos compares our relationship to our own thoughts to that between parents and children:

 … Just as parents have a special affection for the children who are the fruit of their own bodies, so the intellect naturally clings to its own thoughts. And just as to passionately fond parents their own children seem the most capable and most beautiful of all – though they may be quite the most ridiculous in every way – so to a foolish intellect its own thoughts appear the most intelligent of all, though they may be utterly degraded.

 Secondly, just like addiction becomes central to our lives, stripping away all things that truly matter and the person we once were, so does indulgence in our thoughts replace alertness, inner stillness and contemplation of God with fantasy:

He who busies himself with the sins of others, or judges his brother on suspicion, has not yet even begun to repent or to examine himself so as to discover his own sins, which are truly heavier than a great lump of lead; nor does he know why a man becomes heavy-hearted when he loves vanity and chases after falsehood.

 These passions, then, tie the intellect to material things and drag it down to earth, pressing on it like a massive stone, although by nature it is lighter and swifter than fire.

St. Maximos has practical advice for avoiding attachment to our own thoughts:

  It is precisely when he feels convinced that they [thoughts] are true and good that he most distrusts his own judgment. He makes other wise men the judges of his thoughts and arguments – lest he should run, or may have run, in vain (cf. Gal. 2:2) – and from them receives assurance.

St. Maximos does not stop with this advice. This is where these pages get deeper and more complex.

 “Passion-free knowledge of divine things,” he admits, “does not persuade the intellect to scorn material things completely; it is like the passion-free thought of a sensible thing. It is therefore possible to find many men who have much knowledge and yet wallow in the passions of the flesh like pigs in the mire.”

St. Maximos goes beyond theory and analysis of the thought process to delve into the dynamics of human motivation and peel back the many layers of truth and faith.

Through diligent work, he says, people “temporarily cleanse themselves and attain knowledge, but then they grow negligent.”  It is not logical persuasion but the fullness of love that will give us the focus, motivation and consistency of passion-free knowledge and understanding:

 For in this world truth exists in shadows and conjectures. That is why there is need for the blessed passion of holy love, which binds the intellect to spiritual contemplation and persuades it to prefer what is immaterial to what is material, and what is intelligible and divine to what is apprehended by the senses.

St. Maximos on Love: Third Century, #26-51

 Stuck on obsessive thoughts like how to change someone’s behavior? Tired of dwelling on a perceived insult against you or sinking into self-righteousness and self-pity?   Going in circles without a clear path out?  St. Maximos totally gets you and has some answers for you.

Mental dysfunction of any kind occurs when we misuse and distort these powers against their nature. The hopeful message here is that restoring them to their natural state is within our control. Both the descent into dark passions and healing are matters of choice.   The soul functions in accordance with nature when its passible aspects – that is, its incensive power and its desire – remain dispassionate in the face of provocations both from things and from the conceptual images of these things.

It is not the external triggers that darken our souls but the passionate thoughts about them that we allow to take root within us.  Our weapon is “love and self-control” that keep the intellect dispassionate in the face both of things and of the conceptual images we form of them.”

Like the other Fathers, Maximos repeatedly conveys our vulnerability to passions and the implicit need to admit our powerlessness, as 12-step programs have found out. Only this awareness will keep us engaged in active warfare every minute of our day.

Yet it is a waste to expend our resources on fighting the triggers of our passions. Here is what St. Maximos advises us on how to conduct effecting warfare:

The intellect of a man who enjoys the love of God does not fight against things or against conceptual images of them. It battles against the passions which are linked with these images. It does not, for example, fight against a woman, or against a man who has offended it, or even against the images it forms of them; but it fights against the passions which are linked with the images.

If you are looking for a “trick”—a practical tool you can apply the moments that passionate thoughts begin to form in your mind, Maximos readily provides you with concrete tools.

When consumed by desire, envy or anger, for example, we should first separate our own impassionate thoughts from the objects that triggered them. Instead of becoming consumed with plans for witty comebacks to insults or self-pity for our inability to make our children choose the path we believe is right for them, for example, we should examine the real roots of our passions and our acquiescence to their dominance.

The whole purpose of the monk’s warfare against the demons is to separate the passions from conceptual images. Otherwise he will not be able to look on things dispassionately.

A thing, a conceptual image and a passion are all quite different one from the other. For example, a man, a woman, gold and so forth are things; a conceptual image is a passion-free thought of one of these things; a passion is mindless affection or indiscriminate hatred for one of these same things. The monk’s battle is therefore against passion.

St. Maximos, Second Century on Love (Feb. 24, 2017), Sections #26-51

Have you ever felt a sense of emptiness? Perhaps it was after bouts of anger, years of resentment or struggles to control spouse, children’s behavior others’ perceptions of you, etc. Eventually, you may have experienced the kind of hollowness that can potentially lead to despair or resignation.

St. Maximos sees this as the desolation left by sin.

First the hidden passions within us begin to surface in our thoughts. He gives examples of passions that impel us toward evil and are, hence, synonymous to sin: desiring something beyond reason; becoming consumed by anger or irritability. If they are not stopped, these thoughts become incessant, overcome the mind, turn into fantasy and eventually into action.

Then, fighting the intellect through these thoughts, they force it to give its assent to sin. When it has been overcome, they lead it to sin in the mind; and when this has been done they induce it, captive as it is, to commit the sin in action.

This is when desolation sets in. Beyond violating the sanctity of human intellect, the memory of sin remains in our soul, becoming an “idol.”

Having thus desolated the soul by means of these thoughts, the demons then retreat, taking the thoughts with them, and only the specter or idol of sin remains in the intellect. Referring to this our Lord says, ‘When you see the abominable idol of desolation standing in the holy place (let him who reads understand) . . .’(Matt. 24:15). For man’s intellect is a holy place and a temple of God in which the demons, having desolated the soul by means of impassioned thoughts, set up the idol of sin.

The opposite of this desolation brought about by passions, is perfect love.

Neither the practice of virtues nor contemplation alone can bring us to perfect love and perfect union with God without a mystical and total immersion in love for God. When we are in this state of perfect love, we are able to discern God in everything around us— not to “descry God’s inmost nature,” which is not possible, but “to discern, as far as possible, the qualities that appertain to His nature – qualities of eternity, infinity, indeterminateness, goodness, wisdom, and the power of creating, preserving and judging creatures, and so on.”

St. Maximos sums up a compelling picture of a world driven by perfect love, absent all the categories that divide us.

For him who is perfect in love and has reached the summit of dispassion there is no difference between his own or another’s, or between Christians and unbelievers, or between slave and free, or even between male and female. But because he has risen above the tyranny of the passions and as fixed his attention on the single nature of man, he looks on all in the same way and shows the same disposition to all. For in him there is neither Greek nor Jew, male nor female, bond nor free, but Christ who ‘is all, and in all’ (Col. 3:11; cf. Gal. 3:28).

Maximos sees the Trinity as the manifestation of such harmony.

When our Lord says, ‘I and My Father are one’ (John 10:30), He indicates their identity of essence. Again, when He says, ‘I am in the Father, and the Father in Me’ (John 14:11), He shows that the Persons cannot be divided.

The nature of love is the nature of God and the nature of God is unity rather than fragmentation.

St. Maximus: First Century on Love, Sections #79-100

“When a sparrow tied by the leg tries to fly, it is held back by the string and pulled down to the earth. Similarly, when the intellect that has not yet attained dispassion flies up towards heavenly knowledge, it is held back by the passions and pulled down to the earth.”

Unless we achieve dispassion, St. Maximos tells us, we will be flapping our wings vainly— longing to fly but remaining stuck in place.  To achieve this dispassion,  he admonishes us to

‘Put to death therefore whatever is earthly in you: unchastity, uncleanliness, passion, evil desire and greed’

Maximos does not simply give us lists of sins to avoid and commandments to obey. He seems to be the master of nuance in drawing out cause and effect relationships among passions and  elucidating the dynamics of our perception and association with them.

Not all passions are the same. Maximos points to a synergistic relationship among them and a progression toward total immersion to sin..

Greed is the chief enabler among them and opens the floodgates for the rest of them.

Thoughts are the subtlest and, hence, most dangerous of the demons assailing us. “For the war which the demons wage against us by means of thoughts is more severe than the war they wage by means of material things.”

“Unchastity is his [St. Paul’s] word for the actual committing of sin. Uncleanness is how he designates assent to sin. Passion is his term for impassioned thoughts.”

Maximos points to our role in allowing sin into our souls by first “assenting to it, before actually committing it. .

“By evil desire,” he explains, “he [St. Paul] means the simple act of accepting the thought and the desire. And greed is his name for what generates and promotes passion.”

How many times have you caught yourself justifying something in your head or deciding to minimize its importance before you actually engage in it. “Probably health reports exaggerate the harm of smoking.”  “I know that technically the church considers it a sin but times have changed and we don’t live in the 1st century anymore.”  “It’s not the end of the world to tell a harmless little lie.”

“When the passion is not eradicated, it persuades the intellect to assent to it. Once this assent is given, the actual sin is then committed.”

Maximos then goes on to describe how our intellect will see the world when it is free of passion and “proceeds un-distracted to the contemplation of created beings, making its way towards knowledge of the Holy Trinity.”

It seems that when we are weighed down by passions, we are unable to see the true nature of things. Our r vision is blurred and often deluded. But when we reach a “pure state, the intellect, on receiving the conceptual images of things, is moved to contemplate these things spiritually.”

What does this mean? “He who has succeeded in attaining the virtues and is enriched with spiritual knowledge,” Maximos says, “sees things clearly in their true nature. Consequently, he both acts and speaks with regard to all things in a manner which is fitting, and he is never deluded.”

In other words, that which we perceive through our senses and influence by thoughts that obsess us and habitual patterns of thinking, is not true or whole. It is only “spiritual contemplation of things visible” that “casts off impassioned conceptions of such things.”

Free of passions, our intellect “…searches out either the natural principles of these things or the spiritual principles which they reflect, or else it seeks their original cause.”

Could it be then, that when we see suffering and injustice around us as irreconcilable with God’s goodness, we are not seeing the spiritual principles and true nature of things? St. Maximos tells us that in a state of perfect love our “intellect is absorbed in the contemplation of things invisible” beyond what we see or hear with our senses. Instead of doubt, envy, fear or despair, “it seeks their natural principles, the cause of their generation and whatever follows from this, as well as the providential order and judgment which relates to them.”

Notice that the topic of this essay is love and yet nowhere in these pages does one find the kind of love we recognize as love, and that is “love” as emotion. Perfect love comes out of dispassion; the absence of personal agendas, the desire to control or manipulate or the delusion of senses.  It can occur when we can finally see the true nature of things and recognize God’s light in everything around us.

When the sun rises and casts its light on the world, it reveals both itself and the things it illumines. Similarly, when the Sun of righteousness rises in the pure intellect. He reveals both Himself and the inner principles of all that has been and will be brought into existence by Him.

St. Maximos the Confessor: 400 texts on love, Sections: # 41-79

The Message: Opening or Closing the Door to Perfect Love

“For I am convinced,” St. Maximos tells us in these pages, “that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other created thing, can separate us from the love of God that is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

This is God’s promise to us and the ultimate source of hope in our lives.

Yet, while the most unsurmountable physical obstacles cannot prevent us from God’s love, the obstacles that lie within us—thoughts and passions— can eventually take control of our lives and drive away God from our lives.  Dispassion is the only pathway to God’s love.

If you are not indifferent to both fame and dishonor, riches and poverty, pleasure and distress, you have not yet acquired perfect love. For perfect love is indifferent not only to these but even to this fleeting life and to death.

To be united to God, we must follow the commandments—“living  the angelic life on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, praying and singing psalms and always thinking good of every man.”

This is the synopsis of St. Maximos’ message here. Yet his focus is on how to convert this message into practice and implant it in our thoughts.  To this end, he addresses head on our possible objections and delves into human psychology, starting with motivation.

How realistic is it to love our enemies?.

St Maximos anticipates our resistance to God’s commandment to “love your enemies … do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who mistreat you’ (Matt. 5:44).”  How can this be possible in real life? Could we really love the boss who fired us? The ex-husband who abused us? Corrupt politicians? How about Hitler?

St. Maximos asks the question before we do, acknowledging its “irrationality” by flawed, human standards: ‘Why did He command this?” The answer he provides is simple and commonsensical:

To free you from hatred, irritation, anger and rancor, and to make you worthy of the supreme gift of perfect love.

He continues with a reference to Matthew:

And if anyone sues you in the courts, and takes away your coat, let him have your cloak also. And if anyone forces you to go a mile, go with him for two miles’ (Matt. 5:39-41).

Why did God say this?  St. Maximos asks again and answers:

Both to keep you free from anger and irritation, and to correct the other person by means of your forbearance, so that like a good Father He might bring the two of you under the yoke of love. by

And he puts love in perspective reminding us:

St Paul says that, if we have all the gifts of the Spirit but do not have love, we are no further forward (cf. 1 Cor)

From a passion-dominated life to a life ruled by God.

Do we remember instances when we were ruled by passions such as cutting ourselves off from others because our hearts were filled with anger and resentment? When our sense of entitlement and self-pity led to depression and listlessness?  Or when we couldn’t relish the beauty of a spring day or rejoice in a child’s smile because our thoughts were obsessed with memories of offenses against us and plots of revenge?  This is the face of a life dominated by passions and cut off from love.  And it happens “when the intellect associates with evil and sordid thoughts it loses its intimate communion with God.”

 “…Fighting against the thoughts of things, St. Maximos tells us, “is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.’

It is in our thoughts where the transition from passion-driven to God-ruled lives begins. And St. Maximos’ advice gets to the heart of the, usually unacknowledged or hidden, battles we fight daily, starting with our fragile egos and distorted perceptions of offence:

 Shun all suspicions and all persons that cause you to take offence. If you are offended by anything, whether intended or unintended, you do not know the way of peace, which through love brings the lovers of divine knowledge to the knowledge of God.

St. Maximos delves even deeper, striking at our very definition of personhood.

“You have not yet acquired perfect love if your regard for people is still swayed by their character,” he says. He continues: “for example, if, for some particular reason, you love one person and hate another, or if for the same reason, you sometimes love and sometimes hate the same person.”

At first, this is stunning. For most of us “character” is synonymous to personhood. St. Maximos corrects us, asking us to go beyond character to the image of God in all of us.

“ Perfect love does not split up the single human nature, common to all, according to the diverse characteristics of individuals; but, fixing attention always on this single nature, it loves all men equally.

And you cannot attain such love if you do not imitate God and love all men equally. For God loves all men equally and wishes them ‘to be saved and to come to the knowledge of the truth’ (1 Tim. 2:4).”

St. Maximos the Confessor: 400 texts on love, Excerpts #1-41

St Maximos the Confessor (c. 580 – 662) (Volume 2, pp. 48-305) a well-educated member of the aristocracy who first served in the civil service before he became a monk around 614. From 633-4 onwards. He played a leading part in opposing the heresies of Monoenergism and Monotheletism, and because of this he was arrested in 653 by the imperial authorities, brought to Constantinople for trial, and sent into exile where he died as a result of torture.   

 St. Maximos begins this first essay with a definition of love:

Love is a holy state of the soul, disposing it to value knowledge of God above all created things.

Achieving such love is not the result of any one action but a balanced and orderly sequence of multiple forces that make our souls whole.

First comes fear of God that is “the result of faith in God.” Everything hinges on faith and is built on its foundation: Fear of punishment motivates us to control passions.  Once we, and not our passions, are in control, we can “accept affliction patiently, and through such acceptance …[we] acquire hope in God.” Hope in turn, “engenders dispassion;” and “dispassion engenders love.”

What allows us to extract and apply lessons learned and exercise discernment is our intellect. But this is only true when the intellect has the right place in the larger order and is rooted in faith.

Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty… When your intellect is concentrated on the love of God you will pay little attention to visible things and will regard even your own body as something alien.

In the same vein, faith is nothing in itself if disconnected from love.

Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

 Just like individual dance steps, cut off from the larger choreography, do not constitute a dance, isolated virtues or actions do not lead to the experience of divine love. It is the constant motion of keeping in step, connecting each step to the next, maintaining balance and coordination with other dancers that constitute a dance. And it is through a similar continuous movement toward balance and integration that one experiences love.

Dispassion is a fundamental piece in this choreography and St. Maximos has the clearest and most succinct definition I have ever read.  “Dispassion,” he says simply, “is a peaceful condition of the soul in which the soul is not easily moved to evil.”   He gives us several examples. We can easily, and usually imperceptibly, allow our passions to move us to places of darkness and inner turmoil when:

  • A soul is “filled with thoughts of sensual desire and hatred”
  • There is “any trace of hatred in our hearts against any man whatsoever for committing any fault”
  • Our heart is overwhelmed with feelings of anger or irritation because of perceived insults and humiliations from others

Think of what large percentage of our days and lives is spent on ruminating over perceived insults or injustices, worrying about winning arguments or making the right impression, trying to impose our own agenda on the world around us or resenting our lives and coveting others’ lives?  These are the “worldly things” that Maximos describes as rendering us “utterly estranged from love for God,” isolate us and “place [us] in the realm of hatred.”

On the contrary, “he who has genuinely renounced worldly things, and lovingly and sincerely serves his neighbor, is soon set free from every passion and made a partaker of God’s love and knowledge.”

Maximos gives us a lyrical description of what it means to become “partaker[s] of God’s love and knowledge,” and to be free from anxieties over worldly things, personal “agendas“ and worries about others’ opinions of us.

When the intellect is ravished through love by divine knowledge and stands outside the realm of created beings, it becomes aware of God’s infinity. It is then, according to Isaiah, that a sense of amazement makes it conscious of its own lowliness and in all sincerity, it repeats the prophet’s words: ‘How abject I am, for I am pierced to the heart; because I am a man of unclean lips, and I dwell among a people of unclean lips; and my eyes have seen the King, the Lord of hosts’ (Isa. 6:5).

And he reminds us the Lord’s commandment:

He who loves Me, says the Lord, will keep My commandments (cf. John 14:15, 23); and ‘this is My commandment, that you love one another’ (John 15:12).