Thursday, March 31, 2011

Controlling Passions

4211456-a-vigilant-wild-rabbit-at-the-beach.jpgWhen we engage in a war against our passions, we find that we cannot eliminate them completely.  The warfare involves our personal commitment to please God alone, and act of denying our selfish desires.  When we make this commitment we find that most of the passions lose their power over us.  We find we are better able to make choices in our life that are consistent with the values God teaches us to live by. But inevitably they will raise their head again and again.  Since we have made an effort to control them based on our love for God, we know they are there.  So we now recognize them when they try and assert their control again.

In the past we acted in accordance with them without even knowing we were doing this, but now it is different because we know what they are and how they can control us.

In my case, one of my many passions is being judgmental.  One day when I was amongst friends I declared to them, probably in an act of being self-righteious, "please show me when I judge people."  That very next day my friend said to me, "You know, when you criticize those politicians you heard on the radio or the TV you are being judgmental.  We never know if we are being judged in the same way."  "Wow", I thought.  I didn't even know when I was under the control of this passion and how it impacted others.  But, now I knew.  It was a key revelation so I could now watch for it and gain control over it, something I still need to watch carefully.  This event is one I cannot forget.

We read in Scripture "Be sober, be vigilant" (1Peter 5:8) and "Take head, watch and pray" (Mark 13:33).  Saint Theophan helps give meaning to these words.
Watch carefully that some passion does not sneak up, and be careful that it does not deceive you and compel you to do something, whether great or small, to please it.... To watch and be vigilant means not to sleep, not to give yourself over to negligence, but instead to keep your body and soul in a state of alertness. To be sober means not to put your heart into anything else except God... To take head means to watch carefully, so that nothing appears in the heart.
In dealing with our passions the first thing is to identify them and learn how they do control us.  Then we can control them by being watchful and  sober.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 227-230

Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Passions as Damp Wood

fire3.jpgWhen we have the Holy Spirit burning within us we experience a Divine Warmth.  This is often referred to as a flame.  It is a peaceful feeling of warmth in the center of our being.  There is an intensity which goes with it but it does not make us tense. It is comforting and enabling. 
This “flame will not appear as long as we are under the control of our passions.  Saint Theophan uses the analogy with damp firewood.  He says,
Passions are like dampness in firewood.  damp firewood does not burn.  It is necessary to fetch dry logs from somewhere and kindle them.  Once they start burning, they begin drying out the dampness, and, depending on how much they are able to dry the damp firewood, they set it afire… Our fire wood consists of all the faculties of our souls and  all the functions of our bodies.  All of these, so long as the  person does not pay attention to himself, are saturated  with dampness––with passions, that is, and, until these passions are driven away, they stubbornly resist the spiritual fire.
We must seek the Holy Spirit which is the dry log that can help dry the dampened logs of the passions within us.  With faith and fear of God we pray for the Holy Spirit to help us and we participate in the holy sacraments of the Church.  We constantly seek His help and guidance opening the door of the Spirit to come in and work though us.
As Saint Theophan puts it,
You stand on the side of God consciously and through free will.  You want to belong to God and to please Him.
The passions are the blocks we need to remove from our pathway to God.  We must know them well and learn how to disarm them.  With dry wood, the flame burns with ease and intensity.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 224-227

Thursday, March 10, 2011


What does it mean to be joyful? What makes you happy?  Do you find a endless cycle of happiness and joy followed by sadness, sorrow, pain or even despair.  This is the normal pattern in today's life.  We gear ourselves up for a big event, a dinner out, a sports activity, and achievement of a new position or rank, an increase in salary, then, once we have experienced this that we anticipated with such eagerness, have experienced the joy of it, we are left feeling a bit empty.  This kind of joy does never lasts.

Monk Moses the Athonite tells us,
Some think that joy will be found in unbridled fun, shameless revels, the overnight hunt for pleasure, the celebration of drunkenness, the drunkenness of luxury, extravagance and indulgence. If one could photograph the depths of the hearts of these patrons of so-called entertainment centers, we would observe an abyss of pain, desolation, coldness and hard loneliness. Joy is not sold in any store nor bought with little or much money..... They return from secular entertainment jaded, downcast, sad, more alone. Some think that all rich people are quite happy. This is a big lie, which often is confirmed by the same. 
Our self-efforts to create happiness are all in vain.  What ever we seek through our own will is temporary.  In the end it does not satisfy.  Our souls seek more,  something that is beyond our own will.  True and lasting joy only comes from God.  It comes when we are in touch with what is divine and above our human will.  It brings us lasting life-giving warmth, peace, inner cheerfulness, and an unbothered conscience.  True joy is liberating.

Monk Moses says,
Wanting to become independent and self-deified, he became estranged automatically from the source of his great joy. Joy is for the soul of man what bread and water is for his body. Joy is divine inspiration, life-giving warmth, the mother of health and sister of wonderful consolation.... Joy is the light of the virtuous. It springs from the depths of existence. It is not something make-believe, exterior, illusory, but something quite profound and certainly more important. 
One who does not seek God, and act willfully through His grace, cannot experience lasting joy.

Moses the Monk tells us,
Basil the Great points out that an ungodly person cannot be completely and truly joyful. Sophocles in Antigone will say: "Man without God is a seafaring pauper." Saint John Chrysostom says that good will and true joy do not come with the size of one's possessions, nor the amount of one's money, nor the size of one's sovereignty, nor physical strength, nor luxurious tables, nor fashionable clothing, but only in spiritual accomplishments and a good conscience.
The endless food of joy is virtue. The selfish, the individualist, the miser, the hater cannot be happy. Joy cannot be jealous of anyone, nor hostile nor hateful. One's joy is gained with humility, patience, truth, freedom and love. True joy comes lovingly to every sincere, honorable, heroic and saintly person. Our age suffers from a lack of true joy, and sorrow is at a surplus through evil and dishonor. The option is open for the acquisition of true joy indeed.


Wednesday, March 2, 2011

How to Enter into Paradise a Bit Sooner

Saint Theophan gives us an incredible opportunity.  He asks, “Would you like to enter into this Paradise a little sooner?"  This  paradise is the warm feeling that one feels towards God when He begins to operate inside of us. This results once you are able to keep the awareness of God in your heart at all times. Here's what he says about how we can enter into this paradise a little bit sooner.
When you pray, do not stop praying until you have aroused some sort of feeling towards God in your heart. This can be reverence, or devotion, or thanksgiving, or praise, or humility and contrition, or trust and hope. Do this also when you begin reading during your devotions; do not stop reading until you have felt the truth that you have read. And if you pay attention to yourself, these two feelings, by warming you up, are capable of keeping you under their influence all day...
 When something is out under the sun's rays for a long time, it gets very warm; the same thing will happen for you. By keeping yourself under the rays of remembrance of God and your feelings towards him, you will be warmed more and more with the unearthly warmth, and then you will become completely fiery, not just fiery, but ablaze.
This is a glorious challenge to all of us. With faith, love, dedication, and our best efforts, we all can focus our attention continually upon our God. When we put our whole effort into this, we can feel the warmth of Him in our heart. It is this warmth that gives us the intensity and the desire to remain focused on God no matter what is happening around us. It is uplifting, hopeful, and comforting.

Pray, read the Scriptures, study the church fathers, attend church services regularly, and do all of these things with great sincerity and with your full attention. Then, you, as Saint Theophan  advises, will feel the loving warmth of Christ our God in your heart.

Reference, The Spiritual Life, p 222-224

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Transforming Daily Activities of LIfe into Spiritual Lessons

We often feel as if our daily life distracts us from having thoughts of God.  This is a trick of our mind that we must learn to change.  Our sense take inputs from our surroundings and interpret them in terms of our well being automatically. Thus the real essence of everything we see is separated from any spiritual significance. To change this so that everything brings us greater awareness of God requires effort on our part to lift our awareness so we always seek a spiritual meaning for what we observe through our senses.

Here is some advice for Saint Theophan the Recluse.
It is necessary for you to reinterpret everything that comes before your eyes in a spiritual sense.  This reinterpretation must fill your mind to such an extent that when you look at something, your eyes see something sensual, but your mind contemplates a spiritual truth.  For example, you see a stain on a white skirt and sense that it is unpleasant, a shame to have happen.  Reinterpret this as to how unfortunate and unpleasant it must be for the Lord, angels, and saints to see the stain of sin on our souls, pure from creation in the Divine image, renewed in the font of Baptism, and cleansed in the tears of repentance.  You see how small children, when left by themselves, run around making noise and raising a fuss.  Reinterpret this as to how our souls make noise and raise a fuss when their attention falls away from God and the fear of God.
We can see that almost any event can be seen as a lesson for our spiritual benefit.  You can begin to examine all things around you and consciously seek a spiritual interpretation that keeps the memory of God in front of you all the time.  Examine you surroundings and begin to give them spiritual significance.

Saint Theophan says,
When you do this each thing will be like a holy book or an article in a holy book for you.  Each thing will lead you to a thought about God,... Everything will speak to you of God and keep your attention on Him.

Reference: The Spiritual Life, pp 219-221