Monday, May 17, 2010

Major Steps of the Spiritual LIfe

There are two basic phases in our path of spiritual growth described by Dimitru Staniloae.

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.


  1. These are helpful thoughts.

    Question. Spiritual Fathers are difficult to find. Any suggestions on finding one?

  2. I agree, a posting on finding a spiritual elder would be helpful.

  3. Pray, be watchful, and you will be given what you need.

    Here is a posting from Fr. Moser
    "Do not go in search of a "spiritual father" God has put you in a parish with a priest whom you call "father" You call him such not out of idle talk, but because he is indeed the father of the parish family. While he might not be the equal of the great saints, he does have something very important - he has the grace of the priesthood. One of the effects of that grace is for the guidance of spiritual children. You say that you are only Orthodox 3 years. This is almost no time at all, you are yet an infant, barely able to speak - a "toddler" in the faith. Surely your parish priest (who one would assume has been in the Church somewhat longer) can guide you for now. Should the need arise for someone to guide you who is more accomplished in the faith, then trust in the providence of God to bring such a person to you - do not go and seek someone.

    Why do I say do not go out and seek someone? It is because there are many in this world who call themselves "spiritual fathers" or "elders" who have taken this role upon themselves. St Iganatii Brianchaninoff warns against such persons with great vehemence. In this manner, I strongly suggest to you that you read "The Arena; An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism" (I've not found it online, but read a review here) and especially Chapters 12 and 13 "Concerning Life in Obedience to an Elder" and "Concerning Consellors and Counselling and Concerning Life Under Spiritual Direction" St Ignatii makes the point that it is nearly impossible to find a true spiritual father, but that the impostors are easily found and following them is detrimental to the soul. Therefore, he says, that in lieu of a true spiritual father, it is more beneficial for us to spend our time searching the Scripture and the writings of the Holy Fathers to follow their lives. The Athonite Elder Porphyrios also says that we must examine the lives of the saints in order to "steal" their secrets for living the spiritual life (in other words by spending our time searching the lives of those we know to be holy, we then imitate them).

    When (and if) you need a real live flesh and blood holy elder, God will send him to you (or you to him). In the meantime, search the lives and writings of the saints and order your life according to theirs.

    Fr David Moser

  4. Thank you. That was helpful.

  5. Thank you for the post. In this day and age I believe it is also possible to obtain spiritual insight by reading Blogs like these on a daily basis. "When the student is ready, the master shall appear."

  6. Fr Dimitru is an excellent teacher. Be wary though as we proceed with his teaching as he will most likely go beyond where each of us is on our spiritual journey. I key discernment we all need to make is to recognize our level of development and work on that with great patience. Then the higher levels will follow. For most of us it is at this first step of purification where we work on our passions. Prayer, fasting , participating the sacraments, reading Scripture, and practicing virtues (putting others first) is what we need to do. Each day we need to work on this and gradually do a little bet more in each area.
    See Ten points for an Orthodox Way of Life at

  7. Thank you for this guidance.


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