Let your servant go in peace

“In the words of the psalmist, ‘As you lie in bed, repent of what you say in your heart’ (Ps. 4:4 LXX), that is, repent in the stillness of the night, remembering the lapses that occurred in the confusion of the day and disciplining yourself in hymns and spiritual songs (cf. Col. 3:16) – in other words, teaching yourself to persist in prayer and psalmody through attentive meditation on what you read. For the practice of the moral virtues is effectuated by meditating on what has happened during the day, so that during the stillness of the night we can become aware of the sins we have committed and can grieve over them.”  —St Peter of Damaskos ‘Philokalia’

The enemy pursues my soul; *
he has crushed my life to the ground;
he has made me dwell in darkness *
like the dead, long forgotten.
Therefore my spirit fails; *
my heart is numb within me.

Psalm 143


Middle ground

Each virtue lies between two unnatural passions. Moral judgement lies between craftiness and thoughtlessness; self-restraint, between obduracy and licentiousness; courage between overbearingness and cowardice; justice between overfrugality and greed. The four virtues constitute an image of the heavenly man, while the eight unnatural passions constitute an image of the earthly man. –St Peter of Damaskos


Refuge to struggle

Stillness, which is the basis of the soul’s purification, makes the observance of the commandments relatively painless. “Flee,” it has been said, “keep silence, be still, for herein lies the roots of sinlessness.” Again it has been said: “Flee men and you will be saved.” For human society does not permit the intellect to perceive either its own faults or the wiles of the demons, so as to guard itself against them. Nor, on the other hand, does it allow the intellect to perceive God’s providence and bounty, so as to acquire in this way knowledge of God and humility. –St Peter of Damaskos ‘Philokalia’


Dismissive words

If during periods of temptation and trial you refrain from natural contemplation and hold fast to prayer, withdrawing your intellect from all things and focusing it on itself and on God, you will put to death the inward disposition which produces evil and you will send the devil packing with his tail between his legs. For it was the devil who insinuated this habit into you and, relying on it, he boastfully approached your soul, vilifying truth with proud thoughts. David who had vast experience in the front line of every kind of spiritual battle, was most likely not simply familiar with these tactics but actually put them into practice: for he says: ‘While the wicked one stood before me I was dumb and humbled myself and refrained from uttering even good words’ (Ps. 39: 1-2. LXX). Jeremiah, in the same spirit, warned the people not to go out of the city because the sword of the enemy lay about it (cf. Jer. 6:25).

We may apply this also to Cain and Abel (cf Gen. 4:8). Cain is the law of the flesh, and the field into which Cain and Abel went is the realm of natural contemplation. Had Abel kept guard over himself and had he not gone out with Cain into the field before attaining dispassion, then the law of the flesh would not have risen up and killed him, cleverly deceiving him when he was engaged in the contemplation of created beings before being fully prepared.

Similarly, if Dinah the child of Jacob had not gone out to the daughters of the land – that is, into the world of sensible images – Shechem the son of Hamor would not have risen up and humiliated her (cf. Gen. 34:1 -2).

We should abstain from natural contemplation until we are fully prepared, lest in trying to perceive the spiritual essences of visible creatures we reap passions by mistake. For the outward forms of visible things have greater power over the senses of those who are immature than the essences hidden in the forms of things have over their souls. Of course, those who confine their minds Judaic -wise to the letter alone expect the promises of divine blessings to be fulfilled m this present age, for they are ignorant of the qualities naturally inherent in the soul.  —St Maximos the Confessor ‘Philokalia’


Proper fear

Sound moral judgement has the same effect as wisdom, and is a most powerful factor drawing us upwards.  Hence it too has its part to play.  For the knowledge of the virtues involves the most scrupulous discrimination between good and evil; and this requires sound moral judgement.  Experience and the struggle with the body teaches us how to use such judgement in our warfare.

Fear also comes, into the argument.  For the greater our longing for God the greater grows our fear; and the more we hope to attain God, the more we fear Him.  If we are wounded by divine love, the sting far exceeds that of a thousand threats of punishment.  For as nothing is more blessed than to attain God, so nothing is more terrible than this great fear of losing Him.  —Theoretikon ‘Philokalia’


Combined effort

No one among us can prevail by his own unaided strength over the devices and wiles of the evil one; he can prevail only through the invincible power of Christ. Vainly, therefore, do conceited people wander about claiming that they have abolished sin through their ascetic accomplishments and their free will. Sin is abolished only through the grace of God, for it was made dead through the mystery of the Cross. This is why that luminary of the Church, St. John Chrysostom, says: ‘A man’s readiness and commitment are not enough if he does not enjoy help from above as well; equally help from above is no benefit to us unless there is also commitment and readiness on our part. These two facts are proved by Judas and Peter. For although Judas enjoyed much help, it was of no benefit to him, since he had no desire for it and contributed nothing from himself. But Peter, although willing and ready, fell because he enjoyed no help from above. So holiness is woven of these two strands. Thus I entreat you neither to entrust everything to God and then fall asleep, nor to think, when you are striving diligently, that you will achieve everything by your own efforts. –St Theodoros the Great Ascetic ‘Philokalia’


Quips from a desert father

Desire that has its origins in the mind is the source of dark passions. And when the soul is engrossed in such desire, she forgets her own nature, that she is the breath of God, and so she is carried away into sin in her folly, not considering the evils that she will suffer after death.

Godlessness and the love of praise are the worst and most incurable disease of the soul and lead to her destruction. The desire for evil signifies a lack of what is good. Goodness consists in doing with all our heart whatever is right and pleasing to the God of all. –St Antony the Great ‘The Philokalia’