The first is the practical phase of doing things.
The practicle phase, that of doing things, is intended to raise the beiever's nature from the state subject to the passions and to elevate it to and by, the steps of virtues, until it reaches love.... The purpose of this phase is the liberation of man from the passions.The scond is the contemplative phase.
The contemplative pahase represents it reintegration, unity and simplicity, and its exclusive focus on God, the One and Infinite. ...
Only he who has cleansed the mind through dispassion can go on to knowledge or contemplation.... Only a clean soul is a shinny mirror, unspotted by passionate attachment to the things of the world, capable of receiving divine knowledge.We can identify a third phase of mystical knowledge.
The holy Fathers strictly distinguish this gnosis or contemplation, from the spiritual knowledge of the world aided by divine grace, which itself is distinguished from profane knowledge.Saint Maximus the Confessor described these phases in this way:
Of the three steps, the first is that of beginners, who must strive to become proficient in the virtues. The virtues are seven in number*. At the beginning stands faith; at the end love, immediately preceded by dispassion. Love concentrates all the virtues in it and carries man to the knowledge or contemplation. The final step is mystical knowledge, no longer concerned with the reasons of things but with God Himself... this knowledge of God is an ecstasy of love, which persists unmoved in a concentration on God. It is reached in the state of the deification of man, or of his union with God.
Dionysius the Areopagite described the phases as Purification, Illumination and Perfection. For most of us we are most concerned about the first stage of purification. It's important to recognize our level in our spiritual development. Many writings are aimed at aspirants at the highest levels of spirtual development. Following advice intended for one at a higher level can be detrimental to your progress. It is essential to have a spiritual Father to guide you.
* Faith, fear of God, self-restraint, patience, hope, dispassion, and love.
Reference: Orthodox Spirituality pp 69 - 73.