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


July 25

Christ takes on the appearance of each of the poor and assimilates Himself to all of them so that no one who believes in Him will be arrogant towards his fellow being. On the contrary, he will look on his fellow being and his neighbor as his God, regarding himself as least of all in comparison just as much with his neighbor as with his Creator, honoring his neighbor as if he were his Creator, and exhausting his all in his service, just as Christ our God poured out his blood for our salvation.

~St Symeon the New Theologian

July 24

What is the purpose of the Incarnation of the Divine Logos which is proclaimed throughout the Scriptures, about which we read and which yet we do not recognize? Surely it is that He has shared in what is ours so as to make us participants of what is His. For the Son of God became the Son of man in order to make us human beings sons of God, raising us up by grace to what He is by nature, giving us a new birth in the Holy Spirit and leading us directly into the kingdom of heaven.

Or rather, He gives us the grace to possess this kingdom within ourselves (Luke 17:21), so that not merely do we hope to enter it but, being in full possession of it, we can affirm: ‘Our life is hid with Christ in God’ (Colossians 3:3).

~St Symeon the New Theologian

Paths (Part 57: Catching A Demon With His Pants Down)

Usually when we think of a destination we think of a place up ahead, a place we are moving towards and one that we will reach in the future. As a spiritual seeker, this had always been the nature of the paths I had known, and defined the limits of my journey. I was always looking to the future, to the next location, or the next moment, and hoping I might find what I was looking for, a resting place for my soul. Yet, while these paths were often exciting, the peace I sought was always fleeting, the destination was always still up around the next bend; always up ahead but never attained.

In the case of this spiritual destination, however—salvation in the Kingdom of God—it is immediately at hand, present now within our very heart. As Christ proclaims, “Repent, for the Kingdom of Heaven is at hand!” His Kingdom is at hand, however, not all of us enter it now. The gift and power of God acting in our lives is a mystery that is beyond my understanding, though I can say that He changed me after my baptism and chrismation. The Holy Spirit, the gift and person that Christ promises us, which He gives for comfort and to enable us to do His will, is surprisingly real and life-changing. The Holy Spirit enables us finally to do our part, giving us the power to fulfill the human aspect involved in entering this Kingdom, which includes doing all of the commandments of our Lord, our faith in action, if we desire it.

I remember back to the river adventure I had experienced while in the community with MD. Beneath the surface turbulence of the river, there was a strong underlying current, a power carrying me along. I couldn’t see it, though I could feel it; the waves obscured any vision into the water’s depths. Similarly, though the light of God is always present and available to shine into my own depths, I cannot see into these depths because of the turbulence I allow to confuse and agitate my inner being, because of my attachments in this world, my idols, my loves apart from that for God alone; and because of my passions, my vices which stir up the waters of my inner life, making them murky and impenetrable to the light of God. Through inner warfare with all of these things, I can turn from them, control them or destroy them, and bring light into my soul. Using the name of our Lord, Jesus Christ, and with faith in His power, I can with the tool of prayer, sweep my inner dwelling clean, and make it a place for Him to dwell.

I have two little examples to share about this warfare, and the use of prayer in gaining victory over the things that stir up our inner kingdom of sin, and keep us from dwelling in the true Kingdom. One is an observation of impure inner thoughts and how they link together to form battalions of vice which work mischief inside us, and desire our destruction. Hopefully I can communicate this idea clearly enough to be useful; I call this observation, “Catching a Demon with His Pants Down”:

I was walking to my truck today and as I passed another man on the sidewalk, we said hello to one another and continued on our way. He looked me in the eyes and in a subtle flash of a moment I noticed that something inside me averted my eyes, and didn’t want to be seen. His gaze, like headlights—my lies and deceits, like a deer—stood frozen for a quick moment, exposed and afraid under his momentary gaze, until this something inside me convinced me to look away.

Who was that, what was that within me? There was no specific shame, no specific thought or image that ran for shelter inside me, but a general fright caused this little panic, and caught my interest. As I continued walking, I decided not to let this little shifty creep off the hook, I decided to pursue this poltergeist within me to see of what it is made, from where it came, and to where it fled.

And here’s how to catch a demon with its pants down. They first and foremost don’t want to be seen, as they do their dirty work. So if you catch them, don’t let them hide. Keep them under the bright light of scrutiny until they melt away. To do this I considered, ‘what was it that caused me to look away just now’ and coupled with that consideration, I used imagination to consider, ‘what would have to be different inside me in order to not feel the impulse to look away’, and by this method I triangulated the tiny monster and exposed him briefly in my mind’s eye—he was Judgement I have against other people, not against this man I met on the sidewalk in particular, but general judgement I hold towards life, as if to say, “I could do the world better”. 

And this realization then exposed Judgement’s comrade, Pride, which then showed me Complaint and Selfishness as well. They were all there, like a haze covering my vision, or like scales over my eyes. They hated to be seen; and I saw how they pulled the strings behind the scenes, distorted my vision of life, and caused me intuitively to feel ashamed, due to the knowledge that my vision is distorted because of them, and I’m not as I should be, so long as they act with impunity in the shadows within me.

Then I envisioned what I would be if I was without them, and extrapolated that out to imagine what would the world be without them? And this led to a prayer, a request and desire, written as a poem, for just this type of me, and this type of world:

An Economy of Purity

 I don’t want to be a purveyor of judgement;

a vendor of complaints.

 Nor do I wish to do business in arguments;

making transactions in rights and wrongs—

 Or assessing the value of others,

based on their utility for me.


 I wish to see into your eyes,

and have you look into mine;

trading in trust and purity,

exchanging understandings—

 Making our livings

by love.

 And by this method, and similar ones, we can catch the demons with their pants down, and make the world a better place within us.

We are told in Scripture to bring every thought within us captive, because in the light of day these thoughts can’t act out, and once light is shone upon them, then we are able to turn from them, or destroy them, or refute them until they go away; and once they are gone, we gain a little more of ourselves, carve out a little more peace and stillness inside for the indwelling of holiness, and the life of God within us.

This second observation came about as I watched my attachment to things in the world; how I make idols of creation, and draw myself away from God. I find that prayer is a powerful way to overcome this tendency, and realign myself again with the Lord. Again, I hope to be able to communicate something elusive here, in a way that has some benefit:

Where does your mind wander? Have you ever witnessed your consciousness extending out beyond yourself, becoming lost in the world of what you see, and what you hear, taste, touch or smell? Have you noticed? Have you watched this as it happens, been attentive to the way you lose yourself in your thoughts throughout the day?

And what happens when you pray, can you find yourself again? Have you felt your consciousness return to you when you walk alone beneath the trees, or when you meditate upon the truth of Love? What peace do you feel, when all that you’ve scattered abroad in this wide world comes back to you and rests safely again within your heart? You are yours once more…

I saw myself leave myself today; extending my thoughts to the objects of my love, reaching out with my soul, dissipating my concentration and my energy just a little bit; so I prayed with thanks to God for all things, and called upon His mercy.  As I prayed, I felt myself returning to myself, and I felt peace; and I saw more clearly the objects of my love, as they exist outside of myself, but didn’t allow myself to be drawn out of my heart by any of them. As I prayed, I could love them without strings attached; simply with freedom and in purity.

When you lose yourself, if you do, have you ever tried to make prayer your constant companion; letting the words of your prayer and the meaning beneath the words permeate you, protect you, and draw you back in again? Do you call upon God’s grace continually, or struggle towards that goal? It is a difficult habit to inculcate but one that promises to add peace to our steps.

(to be continued)