According to St. John Cassian, those who are married must embrace the spiritual disciplines that foster chastity; for many are not lovers of marriage but slaves of lust. Marriage in and of itself is not a cure of the passions and spouses who neglect the spiritual life may endlessly continue in the struggle against themselves for purity of heart. Within them may remain the conflict between sexual habit and continence of heart. In many ways sexuality is a perfect mirror of the human self and a lens through which we see the contortions and distortions of human motivation. The desire for chastity must precede the bond of marriage and continue to grow by the grace of God into the perfection of love and purity. Indeed, the desire for chastity and its pursuit should only lead spouses to embrace married love and each other with still greater affection. Through it one comes to recognize and experience one's spouse as helpmate. Couples must strive then not to see the sacrament of matrimony as given to them as making the passions licit and so a means of defrauding themselves of the salvation offered them in Christ. The law commands that marriage be pursued as a great good. Yet, grace encourages us to an everlasting and incorrupt purity and chastity in every state of life.
Whoever, then, mounts to this summit of gospel perfection is, by reason of his great virtuousness, raised far above the whole of the law. Despising everything that Moses commanded as insignificant, he knows that he is solely under the grace of the Savior, by whose help he realizes that he has arrived at this most sublime condition. Sin, then, has no dominion over him, `because the love of God that has been poured out in our hearts by the Holy Spirit, who has been given to us,' excludes every disposition of any other kind. Nor can he desire forbidden things or disdain things that are commanded, since all his concentration and all his longing are constantly fixed upon the divine love, and to such a degree does he not take delight in base things that he does not even make use of those things that have been conceded him. In the law, however, in which the rights of spouses are observed, it is impossible for the stings of carnal desire not to flourish, even though a roving lasciviousness is restrained and given over to only one woman. It is difficult for the fire, to which fuel is purposely added, to stay within defined limits such that it does not break free and set ablaze whatever it touches. Even if there is always something to block it, so that it is not permitted to flare up outside, it still burns while restrained, because the will itself is guilty and its familiarity with sexual intercourse quickly carries it away to the excesses of adultery. But those whom the grace of the Savior has inflamed with a holy love of incorruption burn up all the thorns of carnal desires with the fire of the Lord's love, such that a dying ember of vice does not diminish the coolness of their integrity.
Tuesday, April 5, 2016
Sunday, November 30, 2014
As with fasting, praying at night humbles the mind and body so as to make the heart more still and attentive to God. For this reason, vigils are a special blessing to the ascetic not to be neglected.
The best, most graceful time for a monk's spiritual exercises is at night. As the holy Fathers said: "It is during nighttime that the monk must best be engaged in his work." Blessed Philotheus of Sinai teaches that the mind is purified best at night. And St. Isaac the Syrian says: "Consider every prayer which we offer up in the night to be more important than all our daily actions. For the sweet consolation which the one who fasts receives during the day comes out of the light received during the monk's nocturnal exercises."
If we understood the value of our souls and could see the preciousness of the gifts that God has given us we would labor to deepen and preserve them. No amount of ascetic labor would, so long as suited to our station in life, seem excessive or beyond our strength. Sorsky exhorts us not to make asceticism and the spiritual disciplines something of the past and not necessary for ourselves. We have received the same call to holiness. The only thing that makes it impossible is the lack of a serious desire to repent.
We can at least be conscious of the folly that engrosses us, of how we throw away our talents in the pursuit of material things as we give ourselves over to cares and anxieties that are harmful for our souls. And we regard all such pursuit as good and praiseworthy! But woe to us! We do not understand the worth of our souls. We do not understand that we have not been called to live such an evil life, as St. Isaac says. Woe to us if we think our life in this world - its sufferings, its joys, its rest - have importance for us! Woe to us if by the life of our soul, so weighted down by laziness, worldly curiosity, and lack of concern, we should be convinced that the style of life that was proper to that lived by the ancient saints is no longer necessary for us nor is it possible for us to live such ascetical exploits. No, this cannot be so, in no way! Such practices are not possible only for those who are immersed by self-indulging passions because of their own free will who do not seriously desire to repent, namely, to truly come under the guidance of the divine Holy Spirit, but who are given over to useless, worldly cares.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Sorsky encourages the pray-er to hold fast to silence and when it has been achieved in the mind and heart not to seek that which is of lesser value. We must come to seek out the silence of prayer as the most sublime gift we could receive and as that which fills us with the greatest joy. Let go of the trivial matters of the world and the trivial nature of your thoughts and meet God who is peace and tranquility.
. . . to leave God within you in order to seek him from outside is like leaving him from the heights to call on him by stooping lower. But when you allow any distraction to disturb the mind, such draws the mind away from silence. For silence is had only in peace and tranquility, since God is peace and is beyond all agitation and noise.
For the minds of those who idly turn away from the remembrance of God and busy themselves with trivial matters commit spiritual adultery. St. Isaac writes sublimely on such matters and insists on this: "When such person possess such unspeakable joy, it cuts away any lip-prayer. Then the mouth and tongue become silenced. Also the heart is silenced, which stands as a guard over fantasies along with the mind which directs the feeling senses and controls the thoughts that are like swift and bold flying birds."
. . . even though there are many good works, their value is only a partial good. The prayer of the heart is the source of all good and is likened to gardens that are refreshed by water, so does this prayer of the heart refresh the soul . . .
Blessed is the person who seriously meditates on the Writings of all the Spirit-filled Fathers and follows their teachings and examples. Such a person is completely taken up with this prayer and is able to overcome always every kind of thought, not only an evil one, but also one that seemingly is a good one. And in this manner, he attains perfect silence even in his thoughts, for the prayer is the peak and crown of all ascetical practices. For Symeon the New Theologian teach that true silence and tranquility (hesychia) is to seek the Lord in the heart, that is, to push the mind into the heart consciously and to pray and be concerned only with this.
Monday, May 5, 2014
St. Theodoros the Great Ascetic
II, A Century of Spiritual Texts, sec. 94”
Friday, May 2, 2014
Our Lord tells us there is more joy in heaven over one sinner who repents than over ninety nine others who have no need of repentance. It may seem strange to us to imagine the existence of such a joy, especially in regard to ourselves. Perhaps very few of us allow ourselves to weep true tears of repentance, to experience true sorrow for our sins, and so never come to know that heavenly joy. Tears that emerge from eyes that gaze upon Christ are the prelude to the loving embrace of the Heavenly Bridegroom.
If there is one thing the devil would want to prevent it is this movement from sorrow to joy, from repentance to intimacy. He would keep us in the despair of our own wretchedness, despondent through lack of hope in forgiveness or convince us that our sins are of no account - such that our repentance produces no tears, internal or external. In both cases, we see only the light of salvation fade and the heart grow cold.