More thoughts on the struggle with the passions:
One of the essential understandings of the passions within the fathers of the Church is that they are not inherently evil. Gluttony may be a passion, but the desire to eat is a gift of God. Fornication is a sin, but the marriage bed is blessed, etc. Passions are our natural desires manifested in a disordered state. This is an important understanding – for it keeps us from the delusion that the sins that result from the passions not to be blamed on someone else – they are our own.
It is true, of course, that we are also tempted by the evil one, but his strength lies in our own willingness to entertain the temptation.
The question was asked, “Why would someone want to be whole?” The Scriptures tell us that it is the Holy Spirit that works in us both to will and to do of God’s good pleasure. Our healing, even our desire for healing, is a gift from God. We can surely cooperate with that desire and add our own feeble desire as well – with great benefit. We were not created for sin – and there is within us a desire to be whole, even if it has been neglected or ignored.
Some of the fathers describe three levels of Christian motivation. The first is the simple fear of punishment, fear of hell. This is described as the mentality of a “slave.” It is not the best and most salutary motivation, but for some, it is a place to begin. I recall a friend who joined Alcoholics Anonymous because, he said, “I was sick and tired of being sick and tired.” The misery of our brokenness is indeed a motive to do something different.
The second level is described as that of a “mercenary,” when we seek to follow the commandments of Christ for the sake of a reward.
The third level is that of a “son,” when we serve God for love alone. St. Anthony the Great said, “I know longer fear God, for perfect love casts out fear.”
Our daily battle with the passions, with our own disordered desires and the misery they breed often has one or more of these elements about it. God grant us the grace of a good battle – ultimately not to fight either as slaves or mercenaries, but finally in the unquenchable love that has been shed abroad in our hearts by the Holy Spirit.
Thank you for this Fr. Stephen… a great reminder… what Fathers speak of it this way? An abbess told me the same three steps but I did not think to ask her where she learned this… 🙂
It is described in the Way of a Pilgrim.
Thank you , Father Stephen for your way of giving us just what we need
at the time we need it.
Thank you Fr. Stephen for giving us just what we need just at the time we need it.
A good exposition of the three levels by St John Cassian.
Father Bless! Thank you Fr. Stephen… the same Abbess told me to read this book; I see why now… 🙂 Thanks again…
Your post reminded me of St Gregory of Nyssa’s closing words in his “Life of Moses”…
This is true perfection: not to avoid a wicked life because like slaves we servilely fear punishment, nor to do good because we hope for rewards, as if cashing in on the virtuous life by some business-like and contractual arrangement. On the contrary, disregarding all those things for which we hope and which have been reserved by promise, we regard falling from God’s friendship as the only thing dreadful and we consider becoming God’s friend the only thing worthy of honour and desire. This, as I have said, is the perfection of life.
An excellent exegesis Father, thank you for posting it.
Fr., Bless. I’m not sure what you mean by saying that a proper understanding of the passions “keeps us from the delusion that the sins that result from the passions are *not* someone else’s fault.” Would not the delusion be that the passions *are* someone else’s fault? As in, we should be careful to remember that the enemy’s “strength lies in our own willingness to entertain the temptation,” and, thus, our passions *are* our own fault?
Forgive me if this is a pedantic pointing-out of a simple typo; I just wanted to know if I misunderstood your thoughts here.
Nice post. Re: the love of God, there’s a beautiful point in the book of Exodus (chapter 33 or 34, I forget…) where Moses says to God: if you don’t go with us, don’t make me leave here. I’m paraphrasing, of course, but I remember being moved almost to tears by that during a Vespers reading. It illustrated so succinctly what motivated Moses for all those years: love.
And the Fourth Level . . . Peace
Knowing to some degree the extent of my sinfulness and weakness, I have to wonder if my identifying with St. Anthony’s words is little but presumption. In general, what do you think, Father Stephen?
Just another sinner,
I could not possibly judge.
David – thanks.
A really wonderful piece I can’t help but notice that so much of American Christianity is composed of fear (old fashioned fundamentalism with its Calvinist tinge) or desire for reward (the health and wealthism of the prosperity gospel). I wish there was some way that every person in America could read the simple message of this post…
I found your blog searching for resources on Orthodoxy and have throughly enjoyed reading it so far. My husband has been drawn to the Orthodox faith for some time and your entries have sparked many interesting and fruitful conversations in our home. Your point that we were not created for sin and the Orthodox focus on healing generally is something I find quite refreshing, indeed, deeply moving (I have been exposed to a lot of total depravity Calvinism which never rang true, as I have and do feel that desire for wholeness). Thank you for providing a gateway to this wonderful tradition.
Sorry, that should read ‘have felt and do feel.’ That’s what I get for staying up past bedtime!
Bless! Thank you for another wonderful post. In reference to what Just another sinner asked, I’m curious about the same thing, and I wonder if perhaps one can experience these three stages at once? Not in equal measure perhaps, but in a fearful and/or mercenary soul cannot also a little spark of genuine love reside? That’s how I was reading these stages, not as a strict chronological arrangement, but three levels of the experience of God’s Grace.
Yes. The stages are not utterly sequential.