Sunday, April 27, 2014

Doctor of our souls

Cassian, the great teacher that he is, makes it clear that both internal and external disciplines are needed in the spiritual life and the quest for purity of heart.  Above all, humility stands above all the rest because it leads us to distrust the self and place ourselves completely in the care of the "Doctor of our souls." 

Bodily fasting alone is not enough to bring about self-restraint and true purity; it must be accompanied by contrition of heart, intense prayer to God, frequent meditation on the Scriptures, toil, and manual labor. These are able to check the restless impulses of the soul and to recall it from its shameful fantasies. Humility of soul helps more than anything else, however, and without it no one can overcome unchastity or any other sin. In the first place, then, we must take the utmost care to guard the heart from base thoughts, for, according to the Lord, “Out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murder, adulteries, unchastity, and so on” (Matthew 15:19).

The Doctor of our souls has also placed the remedy in the hidden regions of the soul, recognizing that the cause of our sickness lies there when he says: “Whoever looks at a woman with lust has already committed adultery with her in his heart” (Matthew 5:28). He seeks to correct not so much our inquisitive and unchaste eyes as the soul that has its seat within and makes bad use of the eyes that God gave it for good purposes. That is why the book of Proverbs in its wisdom does not say, “Guard your eyes with all diligence” but “Guard your heart with all diligence” (Proverbs 4:23), imposing the remedy of diligence in the first instance upon that which makes use of the eyes for whatever purpose it desires.

St. John Cassian
I, On the Eight Vices”

The Unending Battle

Watchfulness of heart must be constant because the demons never sleep and are relentless to gain possession of what belongs to God alone.  We must keep a guard over our senses, in particular, given the fact that through them we are in a constant state of receptivity.  Once one is able to discern the true nature of his thoughts and how they defile, he can remain calm and peaceable even in the midst of attacks.  However, no matter what level of discernment we may have achieved, the battle remains until the end of our lives.  We must have no confidence in ourselves but cast ourselves upon the mercy of God.

The demons cunningly withdraw for a time in the hope that we will cease to guard our heart, thinking we have now attained peace; then they suddenly attack our unhappy soul and seize it like a sparrow. Gaining possession of it, they drag it down mercilessly into all kinds of sin, worse than those that we have already committed and for which we have asked forgiveness. Let us stand, therefore, with fear of God and keep guard over our heart, practicing the virtues that check the wickedness of our enemies.

Stand guard, then, over your heart and keep watch on your senses; and if the remembrance of God dwells peaceably within you, you will catch the thieves when they try to deprive you of it. When a man has an exact knowledge about the nature of thoughts, he recognizes those that are about to enter and defile him, troubling the intellect with distractions and making it lazy. Those who recognize these evil thoughts for what they are remain undisturbed and continue in prayer to God.

I entreat you not to leave your heart unguarded, as long as you are in the body. Just as a farmer cannot feel confident about the crop growing in his fields, because he does not know what will happen to it before it is stored away in his granary, so a man should not leave his heart unguarded as long as he still has breath in his nostrils. Up to his last breath he cannot know what passion will attack him; as long as he breathes, therefore, he must not leave his heart unguarded, but should at every moment pray to God for his help and mercy.

St. Isaiah the Solitary

New podcast up!: Cassian on Renunciation

Cassian takes up the theme of the three sources of one's calling to the monastic life or to conversion (God, the example of others, need) and the three types of renunciation essential for living a life of deep conversion (detachment from worldly goods, one's passions, and from all things that prevent theoria or contemplation.)  Discussion ensued about compunction, conversion in one's daily life, and embracing a spirit of renunciation in the modern world.

Monday, April 14, 2014

Fall from grace

Through holy baptism we are granted remission of our sins, are freed from the ancient curse, and are sanctified by the presence of the Holy Spirit. But we do not as yet receive the perfection of grace … for that is true only of those who are steadfast in faith and have demonstrated this through what they do. If after we have been baptized we gravitate toward evil and foul actions, we lose the sanctification of baptism completely. But through repentance, confession, and tears we receive a corresponding remission of our former sins and, in this way, sanctification accompanied by the grace of God.

St. Symeon the New Theologian

Sunday, April 13, 2014

Repentance Refined and Perfected

First the soul has to surmount afflictions embraced willingly, thereby learning to spurn sensual pleasure and self-glory; and this in its turn will permit us readily to bear the afflictions that come unsought. If for the sake of poverty of spirit you spurn each pleasure and self-glory, and also regard yourself as deserving the more drastic remedy of repentance, you will be ready to bear any affliction and will accept any temptation as your due, and you will rejoice when it comes, for you will see it as a cleansing agent for your soul.

St. Gregory Palamas

Friday, April 11, 2014

Forged in the Fire of Ascetic Struggle

The purgative stage pertains to those newly engaged in spiritual warfare. It is characterized by the rejection of the materialistic self, liberation from material evil, and investiture with the regenerate self, renewed by the Holy Spirit (Colossians 3:10). It involves hatred of materiality, the attenuation of the flesh, the avoidance of whatever incites the mind to passion, repentance for sins committed, the dissolving with tears of the bitter sediment left by sin, the regulation of our life according to the generosity of the Spirit, and the cleansing through compunction of the inside of the cup (Matthew 23:26)—the intellect—from every defilement of flesh and spirit (2 Corinthians 7:1), so that it can then be filled with the wine of the Logos that gladdens the heart of the purified (Psalm 104:15), and can be brought to the King of the celestial powers for him to taste. Its final goal is that we should be forged in the fire of ascetic struggle, scouring off the rust of sin, and steeled and tempered in the water of compunction, so that swordlike we may effectively cut off the passions and the demons. Reaching this point through long ascetic struggle, we quench the fire within us, muzzle the brutelike passions, become strong in the Spirit instead of weak (Hebrews 11:33–34), and like another Job conquer the tempter through our patient endurance.

Nikitas Stithatos

Thursday, April 10, 2014

The Desert within . . .

I have heard people say that one cannot achieve a persistent state of virtue without retreating far into the desert, and I was amazed that they should think the unconfinable could be confined to a particular locality…. Such a state is not achieved adventitiously, by external influences; it is implanted within us at our creation by virtue of our endemic divine and spiritual consciousness. And when we are impelled by this inner consciousness in accordance with our true nature we are led into the kingdom of heaven, which in our Lord’s words, is “within us” (Luke 17:21). Thus the desert is in fact superfluous, since we can enter the kingdom simply through repentance and the strict keeping of God’s commandments. Entry into the kingdom can occur, as David states, “in all places of His dominion”; for he says, “In all places of His dominion bless the Lord, O my soul” (Psalm 103:22).

Nikitas Stithatos”

Wednesday, April 9, 2014

Tears of repentance and tears of divine compunction

Sometimes the flow of tears produces an acrid and painful feeling in the heart’s organ of spiritual perception; sometimes it induces delight and a sense of jubilation. Thus, when through repentance we are in the process of cleansing ourselves from the poison and stain of sin and, enkindled by divine fire, hot tears of repentance flow from us, and when our conscience is, as it were, smitten by the heart’s anguish, then we experience this acrid feeling and painfulness both spiritually and perceptibly. But when we have been largely cleansed by such tears and have attained freedom from the passions, then—refreshed by the Divine Spirit, our heart pure and tranquil—we are filled with inexpressible tenderness and delight by the joyous tears provoked by compunction.

Tears of repentance are one thing, tears that flow because of divine compunction another. The first are like a river in spate that sweeps away all the bastions of sin; the second are to the soul like rain or snow to a field, making it yield a bountiful crop of spiritual knowledge.

Nikitas Stithatos

Do not abandon your Physician in despair

It is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. “You fell,” it is written, “now arise” (Proverbs 24:16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all of your salvation, no matter what happens. As long as you do not surrender yourself willingly to the enemy, your patient endurance, combined with self-reproach, will suffice for your salvation. “For at one time we ourselves went astray in our folly and disobedience,” says St. Paul. “… Yet he saved us, not because of any good things we had done, but in his mercy” (Titus 3:5). So do not despair in any way, ignoring God’s help, for he can do whatever he wishes. On the contrary, place your hope in him and he will do one of these things: either through trials and temptations, or in some other way which he alone knows, he will bring about your restoration; or he will accept your patient endurance and humility in the place of works; or because of your hope he will act lovingly toward you in some other way of which you are not aware, and so will save your shackled soul. Only do not abandon your Physician.

St. Peter of Damaskos

Tuesday, April 8, 2014

Marvel at God's Compassion

“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding him in your ignorance as powerless? Is he, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as his incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and he will receive your repentance, as he accepted that of the prodigal son (Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (Luke 7:37–50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion.

St. Peter of Damaskos