January 31

Patient endurance is the fruit of love, for “love patiently accepts all things” (1 Corinthians 13:7)….

A great teacher has said that after the fall our inner being naturally adapts itself to outward forms. When, then, someone is striving to concentrate his intellect in himself so that it functions, not according to the direct form of movement but according to the circular, delusion-free form, how could he not gain immensely if, instead of letting his gaze flit hither and thither, he fixes it upon his chest or his navel as upon a point of support? Outwardly curling himself–so far as is possible–into the form of a circle, in conformity with the mode of action that he tries to establish in his intellect, he also, through this same position of his body, sends into his heart the power of the intellect that is dispersed outwardly when his gaze is turned outward.

~St Gregory Palamas (Philokalia, vol.4, p.338)

January 30

“A hesychast is one who tries to enshrine what is bodiless within his body.”…Do you see how St John [Klimakos] has shown, not simply from the spiritual but even from a human point of view, how vital it is for those who seek to be true masters of themselves, and to be monks according to their inner self, to install or possess the intellect within the body?

Nor is it out of place to teach beginners in particular to look within themselves and to bring their intellect within themselves by means of their breathing….Since the intellect of those recently embarked on the spiritual path continually darts away again as soon as it has been concentrated, they must continually bring it back once more; for in their inexperience they are unaware that of all things it is the most difficult to observe and the most mobile. That is why some teachers recommend them to pay attention to the exhalation and inhalation of their breath, and to restrain it a little, so that while they are watching it the intellect too may be held in check.

This they should do until they advance with God’s help to a higher stage and are able to prevent their intellect from going out to external things, to keep it uncompounded, and to gather it into what St Dionysios calls a state of “unified concentration”.

This control of the breathing may, indeed, be regarded as a spontaneous consequence of paying attention to the intellect; for the breath is always quietly inhaled and exhaled at moments of intense concentration, especially in the case of those who practice stillness both bodily and mentally.

Such people keep the Sabbath in a spiritual fashion and, so far as is possible, they rest from all personal activities; they strip their soul’s powers free from every transient, fleeting and compound form of knowledge, from every type of sense-perception and, in general, from every bodily act that is under our sway, and so far as they can, even from those not entirely under our sway, such as breathing.

~St Gregory Palamas (Philokalia vol.4, pp.336-337)

Remembering God

To remember God is to forget ourselves, in every good way. Remembering God is the end of sadness, when we put to rest our attachment to everything fleeting and passing, and find eternal life within our Source. It is the end of striving, and we find our ambitions satisfied, and our desires fulfilled. It is the death of melancholy and boredom, when His life fills us with purpose and vitality. Remembering God causes courage to blossom, and fear to wilt; it is the revelation of unity and the vanishing of division. Anger towards our brother and sister, or towards the world in general, dissipates, as our eyes are fixed only on our destination in God. Remembering God deflates our ego, and the false belief in our own autonomy and power, as we come to our senses and recognize our true source of existence, from which every power and gift flows. Remembering God is the beginning of self-control in all things, as His peace fills our soul, and the ragings of our appetites are weaned. Remembering God is the life’s work of our soul; it is the occupation of our mind, our body, and our heart every moment of every day. It is the fulfilling of His commandments and the beginning of love. Remembering God is our beginning and our ending; it is our life and it is our salvation.

~FS

January 28

Thirdly, grief also arises from the shedding of possessions…this, we said, is to be conjoined with poverty of spirit, for it is only when all types of poverty are practiced together that they are perfected and pleasing to God….when a person bids farewell to all things, to both money and possessions, either casting them away or distributing them to the poor according to the commandment (cf. Luke 14:33), and weans his soul from anxiety about such things, he enables it to turn inwards to self-scrutiny, free now from all external attachments….

and whenever the intellect withdraws itself from all material things, emerges from the turbulence they generate, and becomes aware of our inner self, then first of all it sees the ugly mask it has wrought for itself…then the intellect withdraws untroubled into its true treasure-house and prays to the Father “in secret” (Matthew 6:6). And the Father bestows upon it peace of thoughts…then He makes it perfect in humility, which is the begetter and sustainer of every virtue…

The shedding of possessions gives birth to freedom from anxiety, this freedom to attentiveness and prayer, while attentiveness and prayer induce grief and tears. Grief and tears expunge passion-imbued predispositions. When these are expunged the path of virtue is made smooth, since the obstacles are removed, and the conscience is no longer full of reproach. As a consequence joy and the soul’s blessed laughter break through.

~St. Gregory Palamas (Philokalia vol.4, pp.314-315)

January 27

The goal of a physician is not to avenge himself but to draw us towards himself. A physician is neither offended nor upset by the insults of the sick who rave in delirium and leaves no stone unturned in his efforts to prevent them from demeaning themselves, considering not his personal gain, but theirs. If they regain but a bit of their good sense and their calm, his heart is filled with satisfaction and joy; he increases his care and remedies. Far from taking vengeance on their insults, he adds kindness to kindness until he succeeds in restoring them to health. So too, when we have fallen into utter madness, God–without thinking of avenging the past–says and does nothing that would not aim at healing us of our illness.

~St John Chrysostom

January 26

…if you do not keep an intelligent control over sensual pleasures and pains but, rather, allow yourself to be dominated by them through the misuse of your intelligence, you wrongly and profitlessly multiply them, even causing yourself great injury. For thereby you give sure and self-accusing evidence that you do not firmly adhere to God’s Gospel and to the prophets who preceded Him, and to those who came after Him and were His disciples and apostles. For these all teach that inexhaustible riches come through poverty, that ineffable glory comes through simplicity of life, that painless delight comes through self-control, and that through patiently enduring the trials and temptations that befall us we are delivered from the eternal tribulation and affliction held in store for those who choose an easy and soft life in this world instead of entering by the strait and narrow gate (cf. Matthew 7:14).

~St Gregory Palamas (Philokalia vol.4, p.319)

Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses: An Introduction to the Ascetic Tradition of the Orthodox Church: (Book Review)

Quite often, after I’ve completed reading a book, I’ll exclaim to my wife something to the effect that, “This is the best book ever!” To which she will roll her eyes and yawn. So it is understandable if she feels I am somewhat crying wolf here.
 
Nevertheless, I just completed volume one of a three volume set entitled, Therapy of Spiritual Illnesses: An Introduction to the Ascetic Tradition of the Orthodox Church, by Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet, and I have to exclaim that it is one of the very best books I have ever read!
 
It is riveting and compelling for anyone who has an interest in details about the original spiritual health of man in Paradise, the fall of man, and the details of how the fall manifests in our daily lives today. It offers a very clear summary of the thoughts of the Church Fathers on the topic of the primary passions (self-love, gluttony, lust, love of money and greed, sadness, acedia, anger, fear, vainglory and pride), how they came about, how they draw us away from God, the role of the devil and demons in the fall and how they incite our passions through deception and other activity.
 
The particular beauty of this book is how clearly it describes these things, and how succinctly it describes very difficult ideas and concepts, which led me to many ‘lightbulb’ or ‘ah-hah’ moments, in which complex ideas from Scripture, from the liturgy, and from the writings of the Church Fathers, suddenly made more sense and came clear, due to the clarity and simplicity of the authors writing.
 
In some respects it is a terrifying book to read because it brings to light, and describes so clearly, the overwhelmingly desperate plight of mankind, if he chooses not to turn to Christ for healing, or salvation. It doesn’t allow the reader to claim ignorance any longer, or to hide from the reality of life in a fallen world, and a fallen self. In many respects it is a startling book because of the way it brings these realities to light, which, at least for me, had previously remained somewhat obscured, due to the complexity of them, and my own dullness of mind.
 
Since it is the first book in a series of three, it only tells part of the story, by explaining the problem, and setting up the reader to learn about the solution in the following volumes.
 
Volume two focuses on Christ as our physician, the sacraments as therapy, the role of the individual through their faith, desire for healing, repentance, prayer, the following the commandments, and hope; and further discusses the role of ascetic disciplines and inner warfare in battling our thoughts.
Volume three finally describes spiritual therapies which address each of the passions specifically, as outlined in the first volume, and concludes with a discussion of our return to spiritual health—free of the passions, in love and knowledge of God.
 
~FS