Love of the Beautiful: An Introduction to the Writings and Spirituality of the Philokalia
Love of the Beautiful: An Introduction to the Writings and Spirituality of the Philokalia
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Twenty-one
Tonight we read the 21st letter of the Saint to the young Anastasia. In many ways this is the most touching and beautiful of letters and yet also the most simple in its content. St. Theophan lays out for Anastasia the path that God has opened for us to reunion. He want her to understand that everything has already been set before us. We do not, and must not, seek to fashion a path for ourselves or devise a plan of our own hands. It is His yoke and burden that we must take upon ourselves because it alone is perfectly fit to lift us up and heal us. God has given us all. Better yet, He has given us everything – the perfect love of His only begotten Son and the gift of His own Spirit. We are given something far greater than the original innocence of Adam and Eve. We are given a share in the very life of God and all that He asks is that we receive it with humility and gratitude. Our responsibility is simply to embrace His will and providence and to remove any obstacles that may be an impediment to the work of this grace in our lives. If one were to sum up this letter it would be “All is Grace” - grace that must be received with a childlike faith.
Text of chat during the group
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: regarding eastern Christian use of the word "passion". In 375 AD, Archdeacon Evagrius of Pontus (c. 346-399) developed a comprehensive list of eight evil assaulting “thoughts” (Greek: logismoi). Through the centuries this was systematized in the East by various saints, mostly St. Maximos the Confessor (590-662). The assaulting “thoughts” act on and overcome people, becoming habits or compulsions of thinking, feeling-willing, and desiring over which we end up having little or no control. At this point, the “thoughts” are said to have become “passions” (Greek: pathеа). A “passion” (from pathos in Greek) is any deadly obsession that seems to be beyond our ability to control, let alone to recognize, in ourselves. Thus, a passion is any spiritual “cancer”, or “death-bearing” and “soul-corrupting” sin. The Greek word “pathos” can also mean - and be translated as - “suffering, desire, energy, zealous activity, craving”, depending on its context.
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: In the East, the passions are a distortion, deprivation or misdirection of the intellective, appetitive and incensive powers of the soul. See Tables at: http://ocampr.org/wp-content/uploads/2011/03/the-christian-ascetic-tradition-on-dejection-and-despondency-david-holden-2004.pdf. The “passions” enslave us and thereby are the chief cause of our sufferings. In liberating us from sin and the effects of sin, our Lord delivers us from our passions as well as the pain which they cause.
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: St. Gregory the Dialogist (Pope of Rome from 590-604) would revise Evagrius’ list to form what, in the West, is today more commonly known as “the Seven Deadly Vices”, or Sins. [Also in the West, the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example §1767, uses the word “passion” to indicate something that is morally neutral, merely a strong feeling or emotion, and thus not sinful - unlike the way that the word “passion” is used in the East.] Those Eastern Church Fathers, whose works were written between the 4th and 15th centuries and collected and published in the Philokalia-Добротолюбіє, list “by name a total of 248 passions and 228 virtues” (see English language edition, page 205, Volume 3).
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: St. John “of the Ladder” (Climacus, 579-649) was of the opinion that although the passions (пристрасті) were not directly created by God, they are still naturally good, except for akedia-listlessness, despondency. In Step 26, 156, of his Ladder of Divine Ascent, he writes: “Nature gives us the see
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Twenty
Tonight we concluded letter 20, where the Saint leads the young Anastasia to a deeper understanding of the nature of the Fall and the illness that arises from it. Again St. Theophan reflects with her on the experience of Adam and Eve. They turn away from God in a way that is blasphemous and hostile. They deny His benevolence and seek for themselves self-rule; embracing the illusion that they can become gods. St Theophan tells Anastasia that God will not violate their self-rule but rather allow them to experience the consequence of their own freedom. They become self-absorbed and for the first time the phrase “I myself” is used. The order of life and the order within the soul is perverted. The passions become, as it were, inbred and take over the soul like a horde of approaching enemies. We must have no illusion that this is anything but an illness. Furthermore, we must understand that we’ve been overcome by alien tyrants and we set aside our dignity for the worst kind of slavery. We have set aside hope and joy for what promises only darkness and sorrow.
Text of chat during the group:
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: The Struggle With Passions by I.M. Kontzevich
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: describes the stages from first being a thought to becoming a passion or vice.
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: you can access it at http://orthodoxinfo.com/praxis/struggle.aspx
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: the official catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Christ Our Pascha identifies five stages but numbers and discusses them slightly differently than I M Kontsevich above. this catechism can be accessed at
http://catechism.royaldoors.net/catechism/ see paragraphs 788 thru 795
Wayne Mackenzie: That we might spend the rest of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask the Lord. from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom
Mary McLeod: Aquinas also describes the punishment for the fall very similarly (Summa II-II): But inasmuch as through sin man's mind withdrew from subjection to God, the result was that neither were his lower powers wholly subject to his reason, whence there followed so great a rebellion of the carnal appetite against the reason: nor was the body wholly subject to the soul; whence arose death and other bodily defects. For life and soundness of body depend on the body being subject to the soul, as the perfectible is subject to its perfection. Consequently, on the other hand, death, sickness, and all defects of the body are due to the lack of the body's subjection to the soul. It is therefore evident that as the rebellion of the carnal appetite against the spirit is a punishment of our first parents' sin, so also are death and all defects of the body.
Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: in his work On the Incarnation St Athanasius the Great was of the opinion that humanity would devolve figuring out new and better ways of sinning, ways for the body and soul to rebel against the God-intended ascendency of the spirit.
Wayne Mackenzie: Gender Ideology is a good example.
Joe and Larissa: Bl Fr Alexander Schmeman. - life is about how we deal with what we are dealt
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Nineteen
Tonight we read the 19th letter of the Saint to the young Anastasia and the beginning of the 20th. Theophan finally comes to the point of describing for her the seed of inner confusion that we experience as human beings, our ancestral sin. We struggle with a disordered state, a disease, that has become deeply rooted within us and given rise to the worst of destructive forces - the passions. It is not natural! In other words, God has not created us in this fashion. Our forebearers took a path that led them away from God and, as it were, casts the gifts that He had bestowed upon them back in His face. They treated God not as benevolent and loving but as an obstacle to their happiness. The loss was immeasurable. Theophan wants Anastasia to have as her deepest conviction the fact that this disorderliness is not what God intended. She must fight against the view that there is no hope for a cure, that there is no hope for the dignity of the humanity to be restored. This must be our fight as well. The passions destroyed our consciousness of self and freedom. In the face of this we must make our one goal in life to abide in God in every way and to rejoice in Him alone.
Text of chat during the group:
00:47:43 Mary Schott: Is it not "natural" because the loss of preternatural gifts?
00:52:24 Eric Williams: If you want to read a saint who doesn't make *anything* sound easy, I highly recommend Ephraim the Syrian. :)
00:59:46 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: I think that "loss of preternatural gifts" is a western term or concept. Generally speaking Eastern Christian authors speak or write from the point of view that sin makes us sub-natural whereas holiness is natural to the human condition. One has to translate in the back of one's mind ... in the west the term "supernatural" is used where Easterners use "natural", and the western "natural" is "sub-natural" in the East.
01:08:45 Joe and Larissa Tristano: Fr John, agreed, amartyia, Greek for sin means to “miss the mark” - the passions are birth defects of the soul
01:08:53 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: ...and so, in the East, a "sub-natural" human being is thus "sub-human" or "inhumane", and the holy person is "natural" and "human".
01:09:10 Joe and Larissa Tristano: Yes! Christ being THE Human!
01:09:19 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: exactly!!!
01:15:09 carolnypaver: Holy gifts to holy people….
01:21:18 Mary McLeod: Thanks everyone!
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Eighteen Part II
Tonight we concluded letter 18 to the young Anastasia. The Saint works very hard to help her understand what the “one thing needful” for us is as Christian men and women. We must subordinate all things to the spiritual and in doing so this brings about a kind of harmony within the person; a harmony of thoughts, feelings, desires, undertakings, relationships, and pleasures. Simply put the St. Theophan tells us, this is “Paradise”. It is to live in the peace and the love of the kingdom. It is this that we must guard and protect and we must learn the ways that such harmony can devolve into disorder. While there can be external influences that disrupt our lives, Saint Theophan warns Anastasia this sympathy for the things of the world already exists within us in a subtle fashion. The disorder and confusion that we experience within is fed by the turbulence of the world and then once again re-enters the human heart. But make no mistake, he states; it begins within and with a predisposition toward sympathy with the things of the world. It is the nature of the interior disposition and its origin that Theophan will discuss in the next letter.
Text of chat during the Zoom meeting:
01:04:21 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: just a reminder: "how to form an orthodox Christian conscience" would help us to understand the things that St Theophan and his contemporaries would have taken for granted as familiar to members of a a devout Christian family.....
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Seventeen Part II and Letter Eighteen Part I
Tonight we completed letter 17 and began letter 18 of the Saint to the young Anastasia. Once again St. Theophan works very hard to keep the young woman focused, so that she does not lose sight of the simple yet comprehensive view of the Christian life and fidelity to the gospel.
God is served and loved in what is right before us and in those that He has put along our path. There is no station in life, no set of circumstances where God is absent. We must not think in an abstract way about our faith but rather seek to embrace the smallest things with love, seek to receive the grace of God in the smallest actions with gratitude. As the Gospel tells us, God entrusts us with small things and when we have embraced these with love and fidelity only then will He entrust us with greater things. There’s a kind of hubris that we fall into as Christians in imagining ourselves doing great things or extraordinary things as the Saints. We don’t realize that the sanctity is found simply in mortifying our own will, and setting aside our ego. Love begins at home and in caring for those standing before us.
All of us must hold onto the “one thing needful” - to subordinate all things to the spiritual. It is the love of God that orders all loves. It is the desire for God that orders all other desires and brings us to experience the joy of the kingdom.
Text of chat during the Zoom meeting:
00:34:10 Eric Williams: Theophan's description of individuals doing what they ought having great effect in aggregate reminds me of Smith's Invisible Hand acting in markets. "By pursuing his own interest [an individual] frequently promotes that of the society more effectually than when he really intends to promote it. I have never known much good done by those who affected to trade for the public good."
00:38:12 Louise Alfer: Some of the greatest saints were porters...St. Andre and Solanus Casey
00:39:59 Eric Ash: I remember also reading of saints in Europe that dreamed of being sent to mission in the New World but were kept to minister in their home countries instead. Seems to have worked out, they became saints after all
00:45:55 Eric Williams: "But seek ye first the kingdom of God, and his righteousness; and all these things shall be added unto you."
00:47:54 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: Eric, that was the gospel last sunday in the Byzantine lectionary (Third Sunday after Pentecost) with the epistle from Romans helping to define God's righteousness.
00:57:48 Eric Ash: Maybe I'm the only ignorant one that had to look it up but darning a sock is to repair a hole usually by sewing by hand.
00:59:25 Natalia Wohar: On this topic of saints, I recommend a recently released movie called A Hidden Life about Blessed Franz Jagerstatter : )
01:04:20 Ren's Kingdom of Neatness and Organization: Active love is a harsh and fearful thing compared with love in dreams. Love in dreams thirsts for immediate action, quickly performed, and with everyone watching. Indeed, it will go so dar as the giving even of one’s life, provided that it does not take long but is soon over, as on stage, and everyone is looking on and praising. Whereas active love is labor and perseverance, and for some people, perhaps, a whole science. - Father Zosima, The Brothers Karamazov, Fyodor Dostoyevsky
01:04:42 Eric Williams: Who says we don't run out screaming? ;)
01:07:46 Eric Williams: Man, this group really serves as a necessary examination of conscience. Being patient and gentle, loving people who are difficult to love, is a major struggle for me. As anyone who knows me is aware, so is biting my tongue.
01:08:26 carolnypaver: Group Spiritual Direction.
01:17:48 Katharine: P.S. I'm guessing the bookbinder girls were doing pro bono (or very poorly paid) work to manufacture pamphlets or tracts containing progressive ideas/propaganda instead of supporting their mothers.
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Sixteen Part II and Letter Seventeen Part I
More than anything, letters 16 and 17 reveal to us the heart of St. Theophan. He wants the young Anastasia to be free and her heart to be filled with the peace, the complete peace of the kingdom. Before he teaches her anything about the life of prayer or establishes any rule for her to follow, he wants her to grasp the fact that God is part of her life at every single moment and everything that she does, no matter how small, so long as it is done in love, is pleasing in the eyes of God. How different our lives would be if we could even live this for a single day and taste the sweetness of this peace! How full our lives would be if we could engage even in the most menial tasks with the freedom of love, eternal love!
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