The first renunciation is the renunciation of the world. The second renunciation is the renunciation of our passions: we change so as to become virtuous. In the West this is called the ‘conversion of morals’. In the West, the ‘conversion of morals’ is taken from the second renunciation of St John Cassian. We are here following Cassian’s teacher, Evagrius, in our formulation of the three renunciations.
What is the second renunciation, the conversion of morals? Both in our behaviour and in our thoughts, we purify our soul from the tendencies to sin we have inherited from Adam. We are given Grace in Baptism, but our passions, our tendencies to sin, have not been completely eliminated. We ourselves must work on eliminating our passions, on changing our habitual tendencies to sin to habitual tendencies to virtue. This requires both our own efforts and the Grace of Jesus Christ, the grace of the Holy Spirit. It requires that we be baptized, so as to receive the Comforter, the Holy Spirit.
This active purification of the soul from the passions for the acquisition of virtue is the basis of all our asceticism. However, seen from this point of view, our asceticism is no longer pointless or aimless: we can consciously discuss or discern what our passions might be; we can discuss or discern how we might then eliminate those passions. This elimination of the passions and this acquisition of virtue is our pilgrimage to God. There is another stage of the pilgrimage, the stage of contemplation. This is the third renunciation. We will discuss it another time.