July 31

Spiritual struggles and labors generate gladness in the soul, so long, that is, as the passions have been stilled; for what is difficult for those who are still dominated by the senses, is easy and even delightful for an aspiring soul that through its holy exertions has acquired a longing for God and is smitten with desire for divine knowledge.

For the sense-dominated, the labors and struggles for virtue, opposed as they are to bodily ease and indulgence in sensual pleasure, are difficult and seem very harsh, for in such people the brackish taste of pleasure has not yet been washed away by the flow of tears. But the soul that abominates pain-inducing pleasure, and has rejected comfort along with the self-love of the body, feels the need for and embraces such labor and struggles. One thing alone distresses it: slackness in its labors and indolence in its struggles.

Thus what for those still dominated by the senses is the source of bodily content, is for the soul that aspires to what is divine a cause of distress. And what for the aspiring soul is a cause of spiritual gladness, is for the sense-dominated the cause of pain and anguish.

~Nikitas Stithatos

July 30

Unless through the labor of repentance and assiduous ascetic practice we first restore the soul’s powers to the state in which they were when God originally formed Adam and breathed into him the breath of life (Genesis 2:7), we will never be able to know ourselves; nor will we be able to acquire a disposition that is master of the passions, free from arrogance, not over-curious, guileless, simple, humble, without jealously or malice, and that takes every thought captive and makes it obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Nor will our soul be enkindled with God’s love, never transgressing the bounds of self-control, but content with what is given to it and longing for the serenity of the saints. And if we do not achieve such a state we can never acquire a heart that is gentle, peaceful, free from anger, kind, uncontentious and filled with mercy and joy; for our soul will be divided against itself and because of the turbulence of its powers will remain impervious to the rays of the Spirit.

~Nikitas Stithatos

July 29

To master the mundane will of the fallen self you have to fulfill three conditions. First, you have to overcome avarice by embracing the law of righteousness, which consists in merciful compassion for one’s fellow beings; second, you have to conquer self-indulgence through prudent self-restraint, that is to say, through all-inclusive self-control; and third, you have to prevail over your love of praise through sagacity and sound understanding, in other words through exact discrimination in things human and divine, trampling such love underfoot as something cloddish and worthless.

All this you have to do until the mundane will is converted into the law of the spirit of life and liberated from domination by the law of the outer fallen self. Then you can say, “I thank God that the law of the spirit of life has freed me from the law and dominion of death” (Romans 8:2).

~Nikitas Stithatos

July 28

Through the intellect, beholder of the light of divine life, we receive knowledge of God’s hidden mysteries. Through the soul’s faculty of judgment we winnow in the light of this knowledge the thoughts that arise within the heart, distinguishing the good from the bad.

Through the discrimination of the intelligence we savor our conceptual images. Those that spring from a bitter root we transform into sweet nourishment for the soul, or else we reject them entirely; those that spring from a virtuous and vigorous stock we accept. In this way we take every thought captive and make it obey Christ (2 Corinthians 10:5).

Through the understanding of the intellect we smell the spiritual unguent of the grace of the Holy Spirit, our hearts filled with joy and gladness. Through the watchfulness of the heart we consciously perceive the Spirit, who refreshes the flame of our desire for supernal blessings and warms our spiritual powers, numbed as they have been by the frost of the passions.

~Nikitas Stithatos

July 27

As soon as the bridle of the higher senses is removed, our passions at once revolt and the baser, more slavish senses are stirred into action; for when these latter in their mindlessness are loosed from the bonds of self-control, their habit is to light upon the sources of the passions and to feed on them as upon poisonous weeds. And the longer the laxity continues, the more they do this. For such being their natural appetite they cannot refrain from indulging it once they are free to do so.

~Nikitas Stithatos

July 26

When we build a house we do not put on the roof before laying the foundation–this is impossible. We first lay the foundations, then build the house, and finally put on the roof. We must do the same in relation to spiritual matters. First we must lay the spiritual foundations of the house, that is to say, we must watch over the heart and curtail the passions arising from it. Then we must build the walls of the spiritual house, that is to say, through the second form of attentiveness we must repulse the turbulence of the evil spirits that fight us by means of the external senses, and must free ourselves as quickly as possible from their attacks.

Then we must put on the roof, that is to say, detach ourselves entirely from all things and give ourselves wholly to God. In this way we complete our spiritual house in Christ Jesus our Lord, to whom be glory throughout all the ages. Amen.

~St Symeon the New Theologian

Paths (Part 58: The Joyful Path)

What is the quality of this light, the light of God, which increasingly shines within us, as we give ourselves to Him, to do His will? It is a joyful light; a light of peace radiating joy, overcoming the darkness which has ruled within us. Though at first, we might approach this light with fear and trembling, by His mercy, we can be transformed, so that in place of fear we find love, and in place of trembling we find courage. Even repentance, that first step we take when we turn away from all that has kept us distant from Him, is sprinkled with joy. At first, as we approach Him with our burdens of sin, all we may see is the shame that we carry, or the weight of past accusations and remorse, but as we sacrifice these things to His light, our burden is lifted, and He encourages us with joy, to continue on our journey into His Kingdom; so that, in time, we make this journey our life’s purpose, and greet joy as our constant companion.

I left the paths that lead to nowhere, for the path that never ends. It is a difficult path, yet it is an easy path; and it is a joyful path. Jesus tells us the gate is narrow, and the way is difficult which leads to life, and few find it (Matthew 7:14) yet He also tells us that when we come to Him, our labors and heavy burdens will be lifted, and we will find rest from them all; because His way is easy and His burdens are light (Matthew 11:28-30). I have experienced both of these aspects of His way. I know the difficulty of leaving one track behind, and climbing onto another; of reversing all of the inertia built up from a life given over to hollow pursuits, and I have felt the narrowness of the new gate, which can at first appear so lonely, and too costly to enter. However, I have also tasted the joy that He gives us as we continue on the way, as He lightens our burdens, and the way is made easier.

In our world of constant motion and endless activity, it is a difficult thing to enter the peaceful gate, and to dwell with God. He tells us, “Be still, and know that I am God.” By giving up our endless activity and our swirling thoughts, and by making stillness a daily practice, in time, we can begin to see glimpses of the heavenly kingdom prepared for us. And we must leave behind so much, forsaking things we are attached to, or to which we have grown accustomed—whether they are outside of us in the world of our senses, or inside of us in the world of our thoughts—in order to be made anew, transformed, and given a foretaste of the Kingdom of God on earth. Just as Christ sacrificed Himself for us, He asks us to sacrifice ourselves for Him. What we give up however, is nothing compared with what He gives us in return; we will lose the worldly paths, but we gain the heavenly one, and in so doing, He restores us to our rightful selves, heals us of all brokenness, and makes us whole—at peace and in joy eternal.

The End