November 30

The cardinal virtues are four: courage, sound understanding, self-restraint and justice. There are eight other moral qualities, that either go beyond or fall short of these virtues. These we regard as vices, and so we call them; but non-spiritual people regard them as virtues and that is what they call them. Exceeding or falling short of courage are audacity and cowardice; of sound understanding are cunning and ignorance; of self-restraint are licentiousness and obtuseness; of justice are excess and injustice, or taking less than one’s due.

In between, and superior to, what goes beyond or what falls short of them, lie not only the cardinal and natural virtues, but also the practical virtues. These are consolidated by resolution combined with probity of character; the others by perversion and self-conceit.

That the virtues lie along the midpoint or axis of rectitude is testified to by the proverb, ‘You will attain every well-founded axis’ (Proverbs 2:9 LXX). Thus when they are all established in the soul’s three faculties in which they are begotten and built up, they have as their foundation the four cardinal virtues, or rather, Christ Himself. In this way the natural virtues are purified through the practical virtues, while the divine and supranatural virtues are conferred through the bounty of the Holy Spirit.

~St Gregory of Sinai

November 29

According to St Paul (cf. Romans 15:16), you ‘minister’ the Gospel only when, having yourself participated  in the light of Christ, you can pass it on actively to others. Then you sow the Logos like a divine seed in the fields of your listener’s souls. ‘Let your speech be always filled with grace’, says St Paul (Colossians 4:6), ‘seasoned’ with divine goodness. Then it will impart grace to those who listen to you with faith.

Elsewhere St Paul, calling the teachers tillers and their pupils the fields they till (cf. 2 Timothy 2:6), wisely presents the former as ploughers and sowers of the divine Logos and the latter as the fertile soil, yielding a rich crop of virtues. True ministry is not simply a celebration of sacred rites; it also involves participation in divine blessings and the communication of these blessings to others.

~St Gregory of Sinai

November 28

Nothing so makes the soul of those striving to advance on the spiritual path sluggish, apathetic and mindless as self-love, that pimp of the passions. For whenever it induces us to choose bodily ease rather than virtue-promoting hardship, or to regard it as positive good sense not willingly to burden ourselves with ascetic labor, especially with respect to the light exertions involved in practicing the commandments, then it causes the soul to relax its efforts to attain a state of stillness, and produces in it a strong, irresistible sense of indolence and slackness.

~St Gregory of Sinai

November 27

At the time of prayer, we should expel from our heart the provocation of each evil thought, rebutting it in a spirit of devotion so that we do not prove to be speaking to God with our lips, while pondering wicked thoughts in our heart. God will not accept from the hesychast a prayer that is turbid and careless, for everywhere Scripture tells us to guard the soul’s organs of perception. If a monk submits his will to the law of God, then his intellect will govern in accordance with this law all that is subordinate to itself. It will direct as it should all the soul’s impulses, especially its incensive power* and desire, for these are subordinate to it. We have practiced virtue and done what is right, turning our desire towards God and His will, and directing our incensive power, or wrath, against the devil and sin. What then do we still lack? Inward meditation.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 27-28)

 

*Incensive Power-one of three aspects of the soul (along with the intelligent aspect and the appetitive aspect), the force that provokes strong feelings such as anger and desire, all three aspects of the soul can be used positively in accordance with God’s will or negatively, against nature, sinfully.

 

How can we practice inward meditation and find the stillness deep within our heart that we seek if we are preoccupied with the winds and turbulence that blow across the surface of our minds, and keep our souls stirred up and cloudy? Train the mind in devotion to God, by some means such as The Jesus Prayer, and hold fast to it.

Allow no room for evil thoughts to enter, yet if they do, rebuke them with the name of the Lord and carry on in devoted prayer. Obedience to God’s law and commands clears the way for the intellect to act freely in accordance with God’s will, bringing the powers of the soul under proper authority and control.

Obedience will make us perfect and whole, as Jesus commands “Therefore you shall be perfect, just as your Father in heaven is perfect” (Matthew 5:48). As obedience perfects us, we will find that the turbulence of our lives begin to calm naturally, we turn our whole being towards God and away from the world, we resist the enemy, and all of this then creates a state within us which is conducive to stillness, meditation, and union with God.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 26

The first virtue is detachment, that is, death in relation to every person or thing. This produces the desire for God, and this in turn gives rise to the anger that is in accordance with nature, and that flares up against all the tricks of the enemy. Then the fear of God will establish itself within us, and through this fear love will be made manifest.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 27)

 

We all are easily prone to misuse the gifts of this life, making idols of ourselves, our relations, the material things that we have been given by God, and the talents with which we have been blessed. As Christians we know our salvation and life is with Christ, and He himself has told us that we need to have no love greater than our love for Him.

He commands this in fact, and since His commandments are for our benefit, and by following His commands we show our love for Him, it is essential that we understand this command and follow it. Nevertheless it is not easy to detach from the world and all of the people and things we have grown accustomed to enjoying. This is why the ascetic disciplines, such as prayer and fasting, vigils and spiritual reading, can be of such great help to us as we work to create new habits of devotion to God.

Even living as people in the world, it is possible to devote ourselves to the Lord, living in the world but not of it, and dedicating our hearts to His service, praying at all times, cultivating our hearts to desire Him above everything else.

Our love of this world and everything in it blinds us to the deeper spiritual realities and obscures the clear vision that God intends for us. As we take steps to detach from this world we can begin to gain clarity, seeing the deceptions that hold us attached to it. Only after we create some distance between ourselves and the world can we begin to see it for what it is, and observe the myriad ways the devil and his servants manipulate us and enslave us. A natural anger will allow us to fight these tricks and, by the grace of God, win our way to freedom. Then we begin to see things as they are, ourselves as we are, and begin to see God as He is, which can only  lead us to a merciful fear leading to love, such as the kind Isaiah had in God’s throne room when he said, “Woe is me, for I am undone!”

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 25

In storms and squalls we need a pilot, and in this present life we need prayer; for we are susceptible to the provocations of our thoughts, both good and bad. If our thought is full of devotion and love of God, it rules over the passions. As hesychasts*, we should discriminate between virtue and vice with discretion and watchfulness;* and we should know which virtues to practice when in the presence of our brethren and elders and which to pursue when alone. We should know which virtue comes first, and which comes second or third; which passions attack the soul and which the body, and also which virtues concern the soul and which the body. We should know which virtue pride uses in order to assault the intellect, and which virtue leads to vainglory, wrath or gluttony. For we ought to purify our thoughts from “all the self-esteem that exalts itself against the knowledge of God” (2 Corinthians 10:5).

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 27)

 

*Hesychast-one who pursues relationship with God through stillness, inner attentiveness and prayer.

 

*Watchfulness-spiritual vigilance and alertness, attentiveness to our thoughts, emotions and fantasies, and guarding the heart and intellect from their adverse effects.

 

Prayer draws us into the presence of God. Through the continual practice of prayer, stillness and watchfulness we purify ourselves as Christ commanded us to do, and we make ourselves receptive, by the grace of God, to the knowledge of God which illumines us and brings us into divine union.

The knowledge of God will teach us discrimination and help us to understand the good from the bad, and what is appropriate in all circumstances. Reading scripture and spiritual books is important, and feeds our minds, and gives us direction, but it is the inner practice of prayer that creates a living dwelling place for God within us, and from which we participate in the life of Christ.

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

November 24

Be attentive to yourself, so that nothing destructive can separate you from the love of God. Guard your heart*, and do not grow listless and say: “How shall I guard it, since I am a sinner?” For when a man abandons his sins and returns to God, his repentance* regenerates him and renews him entirely.

~St Isaiah The Solitary (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 26)

 

*Heart-the spiritual center of man’s being, his deepest and truest self, where man finds union with God.

 

*Repentance-a change of mind or intellect, involving sorrow, contrition and regret but more importantly the conversion of our whole being, and a turning to God.

 

With Christ all things are possible and there is always hope. Everyone has sinned, and likewise everyone can turn from sin towards God, and start anew. The enemy sows seeds of despair within us, when we see ourselves having sinned, imagining ourselves to be overwhelmed by our sin and without hope. But this is never the case, for we always have hope in Christ and can call upon Him out of the simplicity of our repentance.

 

For more on the power of repentance read, Turning the Heart to God by St Theophan the Recluse.

 

When the enemy insinuates sin into our heart we must be attentive to his suggestions, and on guard to resist him, by keeping our focus always on God. This is attentiveness, keeping watch over our thoughts and our fantasies, capturing them and bringing every one of them to the feet of Christ, as St Paul says, “For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled” (2 Corinthians 10:4-6).

 

 

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.