Reading the Philokalia is, at best, a daunting task. Where to begin? The following is a very useful section, drawn from the writings of St. Peter of Damascus in the Philokalia. It has been edited by Fr. Thomas Hopko. I am indebted to one of his many spiritual children for this copy.
We should not be distracted by anything; neither by dreams, whether evil or seemingly good, nor by the thought of anything, whether good or bad, nor by distress or deceitful joy, nor by self-conceit or despair, nor by depression or elation, nor by a sense of abandonment or by illusory help and strength, nor by negligence or progress, nor by laziness or seeming zeal, nor by apparent dispassion or passionate attachment. Rather with humility we should strive to maintain a state of stillness, free from all distraction, knowing that no one can do us harm unless we ourselves wish for it.
Because of our conceit and our failure constantly to have recourse to God, we should cast ourselves down before Him, asking that His will should be done in all things and saying to every thought that comes to us: I do not know who you are; God knows if you are good or not; for I have thrown myself, as I shall continue to throw myself, into His hands, and He looks after me. (1Pet 5.7) […]
If we do not have anyone to advise us, we should take Christ as our counselor, asking Him with humility and through pure heartfelt prayer about every thought and undertaking. […] If our sole purpose is to do God’s will, God Himself will teach us what it is, assuring us of it either directly, through the mind, or by means of some person, or of Scripture. And if for God’s sake we cut off our own will, God will enable us to reach, with inexpressible joy, a perfection we have not known; and when we experience this we will be filled with wonder at seeing how joy and spiritual knowledge begin to pour forth from everywhere. We will derive some profit from everything and God will reign in us, since we have no will of our own, but have submitted ourselves to the holy will of God. We become like kings, so that whatever we desire we receive effortlessly and speedily from God, who has us in His care.
This is the faith with which the Lord said it is possible to move mountains (Mt 21.21); upon it, according to St. Paul (1Cor 1.23) the other virtues are founded. For this reason the enemy does everything he can to disrupt our state of stillness and make us fall into temptation. And if he finds us in some way lacking in faith, wholly or partially trusting in our own strength and judgment, he takes advantage of this to overcome us and to take us captive, pitiful as we are. […]
Then (following the path of stillness with resolute faith), Christ takes the place of all things for us, in this world and in the age to come…. Christ feeds us, clothes us, brings us joy, encourages us, gladdens us, gives us rest, teaches and enlightens us. In short, Christ cares for us as He cared for His disciples…[…] We sit…and we await our Teacher….so that we may be helped to rise spiritually from the passions and be given peace….”
St. Peter of Damascus
A Treasury of Spiritual Knowledge
The Philokalia, III, p. 149-15.
Edited by Fr. Thomas Hopko
The picture is of three prominent peaks in Zion National Park. Originally named by a methodist minister and explorer, they are called the three patriarchs: Abraham, Isaac and Jacob.
Father Stephen, I would appreciate any further thoughts of yours on the subject of the passions. It seems to me that the negative language used about them could give the impression that simply having emotions is somehow wrong in and of itself. As someone hoping for fullness of humanity in the Life of God, I hope that this is not what is meant…
Thank you in advance. Grateful to you & the Lord for your blog.
I am certainly one for whom distractions pose no small barrier to success, academically and spiritually.
Achieving humility, putting my ever-present pride in its proper place is my daily struggle. It is one thing to say my soul purpose is to do God’s will and quite another thing get myself out of the way.
Emotions and the passions are not exactly synonymous. Some, like anger, have components that are among the passions. The emotions are just part of us like almost everything else. The passions, at least as written about in the fathers, refer to disordered matters (I would call them “energies” if this is not confused with something else). Our emotions are frequently as disordered as is our minds and the rest of us, and in need of healing. The freedom or healing of the passions is not about getting rid of emotions, but putting things in right order with ourselves and with God.
Imagine a human being without emotions. It would be a cyborg, or some caricature. Wholeness necessarily involves whole emotions. It’s just that we don’t often get to see them in their proper context.
That helps my understanding. Thanks again.
Father, this is off topic, but I ask prayers for Serbian Christians whose future appears very dark in Kosovo.
I’ve been wondering about this kind of thing lately a lot: Where does leisure fit in to a Christian’s life? Sometimes I dream about lazing away an afternoon in the sun with the New York Times Book Review, which of course would then put a desire for more reading in my mind., most of it leisure, I would say. What about the so-called “voracious reader,” I like Father Stephen’s encouragement recently (in comments somewhere) to pray more than I read (in reference to spiritual reading at the time), but how much room is there for reading for pleasure and other leisure activities?
Probably impossible to answer, but it’s on my mind so I thought I’d throw it out there.
You should have fun or you’ll go crazy. One Orthodox theologian has said that “Orthodoxy is the absence of one-sidedness.” If you have no fun, you’ll be too one-sided. Enjoy.
Thanks Fr Stephen. That’s simple yet liberating advice. I can think these things through too much and I have to have a reminder like yours every year or so.