March 2

[One] should always act as if [they] were going to die tomorrow; yet [they] should treat [their] body as if it was going to live for many years. The first cuts off the inclination to listlessness, and makes [one] more diligent; the second keeps [one’s] body sound and [their] self-control well balanced.

~Evagrios Pontikos (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 53)

 

With our being focused on God, we can more easily entertain the inevitability of our mortality, and by allowing this to shape our actions and our thoughts every day it can stimulate us to take our lives more seriously—considering how we spend our time, what we think about, how we react to others, and whether we are living to make our home and build our treasures here in this life, or preparing for our heavenly home and placing our treasures with God.

Acknowledging that our death is imminent can bring us into much greater intimacy with our Creator; it acknowledges the truth that this life, no matter how many years we are given, is just a shadow and we don’t have the luxury of putting off the things that truly matter. The day of our death, whether it is literally tomorrow or fifty years from now, will be upon us and we should be prepared.

As for our bodies, the Lord is greatly concerned with these as well as our souls, otherwise the Apostle never would have said, “Or do you not know that your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit who is in you, whom you have from God? You are not your own, for you were bought with a price. Therefore glorify God in your body and in your spirit, which are God’s” (1 Corinthians 6:19-20) or, “Now may the God of peace Himself sanctify you completely, and may your whole spirit, soul and body be kept blameless at the coming of our Lord Jesus Christ” (1 Thessalonians 5:23).

Therefore, if God cares for it, and He has plans for it even into eternity, then we must also care for it. However, not as the world cares for it, enslaved to our body’s appetites or lost in devotion to it, but rather caring for it in a spiritual manner, bringing it under the direction and control of our intellect, so that it is given what it needs for its ongoing health and vitality.

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

~FS

March 1

In the whole range of evil thoughts, none is richer in resources than self-esteem; for it is to be found almost everywhere, and like some cunning traitor in a city it opens the gates to all the demons. So it greatly debases the intellect of the solitary, filling it with many words and notions, and polluting the prayers through which he is trying to heal all the wounds of his soul. All the other demons, when defeated, combine to increase the strength of this evil thought; and through the gateway of self-esteem they all gain entry into the soul, thus making a man’s last state worse than his first (cf. Matthew 12:45). Self-esteem gives rise in turn to pride, which cast down from heaven to earth the highest of the angels, the seal of God’s likeness and the crown of all beauty. So turn quickly away from pride and do not dally with it, in case you surrender your life to others and your substance to the merciless (cf. Proverbs 5:9). This demon is driven away by intense prayer and by not doing or saying anything that contributes to the sense of your own importance.

~Evagrios Pontikos (Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 46-47)

 

Self-esteem, or vain-glory, is subtle and devious in the way that it turns the mind of its victim away from God, and towards him or herself. It can use nearly every aspect of one’s life as its raw materials for elevating the self, making it glory in itself apart from God, and even in place of God. Like the Pharisee it makes one proud of their accomplishments, or the gifts given them by God, and unlike the Publican it prevents one from humbling themselves and repenting before God, which is a necessary prerequisite for coming into genuine relationship with Christ, and for being healed of our spiritual diseases and attaining salvation.

Have you conquered gluttony, are you no longer attached to possessions, have you attained peace and freedom from disputes and confrontations with others, do you follow Christ’s commands—if you have achieved any of these and yet believe that you have done something yourself, you are in danger of self-esteem and losing the victory in Christ. Vain-glory works along with pride to delude the mind of those who trust in its lies, tricking the mind into believing in its own powers, and divorcing the soul from its marriage with God.  Constant prayer, determined prayer, prayer with attention and effort reunite the soul with God, restore the proper humility within the soul, turning it away from itself, and reorienting it towards the Lord.

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

 

~FS

February 28

Man cannot drive away impassioned thoughts unless he watches over his desire and incensive power. He destroys desire through fasting, vigils and sleeping on the ground, and he tames his incensive power through long-suffering, forbearance, forgiveness and acts of compassion. For with these two passions are connected almost all the demonic thoughts which lead the intellect to disaster and perdition. It is impossible to overcome these passions unless we can rise above attachment to food and possessions, to self-esteem and even to our very body, because it is through the body that the demons often attempt to attack us. It is essential then, to imitate people who are in danger at sea and throw things overboard because of the violence of the winds and the threatening waves. But here we must be very careful in case we cast things overboard just to be seen doing so by men. For then we shall get the reward we want; but we shall suffer another shipwreck, worse than the first, blown off our course by the contrary wind of the demon of self-esteem.

~Evagrios Pontikos (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 39)

 

*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, all three aspects of the soul can be used positively in accordance with God’s will or negatively, against nature, sinfully.

 

Impassioned thoughts are the myriad of thoughts that draw us away from God and draw us into every sort of trouble, difficulty and destruction. Evagrios shines light here on the fact that most of this sort of thinking derives from a misuse of the faculties of the soul connected to our desire and our anger. Desire should be directed towards God and not towards food and things; and anger should be directed against anything that comes between our relationship with God and in defense of virtuous conduct, not against other people or in defense of our selfishness.

In order to drive away sinful thinking, and destroy wrongly directed desire and anger, we have practical steps of ascetic practice that can help us, by loosening our attachment to the thoughts within us, and things outside of us, that keep us disoriented; rather helping us to focus in the proper spiritual direction aimed toward God.

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

 

~FS

January 3

Of the demons opposing us in the practice of the ascetic* life, there are three groups who fight in the front line: those entrusted with the appetites of gluttony, those who suggest avaricious thoughts, and those who incite us to seek the esteem of men. All the other demons follow behind and in their turn attack those already wounded by the first three groups. For one does not fall into the power of the demon of unchastity, unless one has first fallen because of gluttony; nor is one’s anger aroused unless one is fighting for food or material possessions or the esteem of men. And one does not escape the demon of dejection, unless one no longer experiences suffering when deprived of these things. Nor will one escape pride, the first offspring of the devil, unless one has banished avarice, the root of all evil, since poverty makes a man humble, according to Solomon (cf. Proverbs 10:4 LXX). In short, no one can fall into the power of any demon, unless he has been wounded by those of the front line. That is why the devil suggested these three thoughts to the Savior: first he exhorted Him to turn stones into bread; then he promised Him the whole world, if Christ would fall down and worship him; and thirdly he said that, if our Lord would listen to him, He would be glorified and suffer nothing in falling from the pinnacle of the temple. But our Lord, having shown Himself superior to these temptations, commanded the devil to ‘get behind Him’. In this way He teaches us that it is not possible to drive away the devil, unless we scornfully reject these three thoughts (cf. Matthew 4:1-10).

~Evagrios Pontikos (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 38)

*Ascetic Life-all Christians are called to a life of self-control and the restraint of our carnal passions or impulses, for the purpose of living spiritually, not carnally.

Jesus Christ is our example and our strength. We can accomplish all things through Christ, and like St Paul, we can be alike in prosperity and in poverty (cf. Philippians 4:12), not allowing either to destroy us—having but not possessing, or in need but content and not despondent.

Resist the devil and make him flee from you by practicing ascetic discipline, and gaining ability and strength in resisting these three temptations. Remember that for true life we need the things of God, not the things of this world. Cultivate humility, the poverty of spirit which leads to the Kingdom of Heaven (cf. Matthew 5:3).

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

January 2

If you are disheartened, pray, as the Apostle says (cf. James 5:13). Pray with fear, trembling, effort, with inner watchfulness* and vigilance. To pray in this manner is especially necessary because the enemies are so malignant. For it is just when they see us at prayer that they come and stand beside us, ready to attack, suggesting to our intellect* the very things we should not think about when praying; in this way they try to take our intellect captive and to make our prayer and supplication vain and useless. For prayer is truly vain and useless when not performed with fear and trembling, with inner watchfulness and vigilance. When someone approaches an earthly king, he entreats him with fear, trembling and attention; so much the more, then, should we stand and pray in this manner before God the Father, the Master of all, and before Christ the King of Kings. For it is He whom the whole spiritual host and the choir of angels serve with fear and glorify with trembling; and they sing in unceasing praise to Him, together with the Father who has no origin, and with the all-holy and coeternal Spirit, now and ever through all the ages. Amen.

~Evagrios Pontikos (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 37)

*Watchfulness-spiritual vigilance and alertness.

*Intellect-the nous, the organ of contemplation, the innermost aspect of the heart, through which, when purified, man can know God. Not to be confused with reason.

When we are disheartened, or suffering, it can be difficult to pray, yet through prayer we come before the One able to heal us. Often, in fact, it is because of this very suffering that we are more likely to seek God, than we otherwise would be; and while no suffering is pleasant while we are enduring it, in the end it can train us in righteousness and lead us to peace (cf. Hebrews 12:11).

The enemy will do all he can to keep us from our source of healing; and so we must pray with effort and diligence if he makes us feel tired, or lazy or bored while praying. In fact, by continuing to pray, even while we feel no results, we are acting out our faith and demonstrating our trust in God. Like the woman with the flow of blood, who approached Jesus, with fear and trembling, we come before the only one who can say, “…your faith has made you well. Go in peace, and be healed of your affliction” (Mark 5:34).

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