Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.
We will be posting over the next while, as the Spirit moves us, the long-promised commentary on Diadochos of Photiki. The text we are using is our revised translation, somewhat different from the one that we previously posted but not grievously so. Our comments are in blue; we hope that it shows well enough on everyone’s browser for the commentary to be read while at the same time making it clear what is text and what is commentary.
Our purpose is to make clear just what (we think) the Saint is trying to say—that is, to reveal the underlying meaning of the text for those of our readers who practise the Jesus Prayer. The text is one of the fundamental texts on the practice of the Jesus Prayer in the tradition of the Philokalia.
We have left the footnotes that we put into the final form of the translation ‘as is’, so there might be a bit of repetition. However, the footnotes are narrowly intended to explain our rendition of the text. The commentary is more intended to explain what the text in our view really means.
While we are using a critical edition, as shown below, it is clear that there are places where the text is corrupt.
Diadoque de Photicé, Œuvres Spirituelles
Introduction, texte critique, traduction et notes de
Édouard des Places, s.j.
Source chrétiennes 5 bis
Les Éditions du Cerf, Paris, France, 1955.
Diadochos of Photiki
Diadochos, Bishop of Photiki in
, 100 Gnostic Chapters Epirus
Definition 1: Faith. Dispassionate thought of God.
Definition 2: Hope. Departure of the mind in love towards those things which are hoped for.
Definition 3: Patience. To persevere in seeing unceasingly with the eyes of the intellect the invisible as visible.
Definition 4: Freedom from avarice. To want not to have just as someone wants to have.
Definition 5: Knowledge. To ignore oneself in ecstasy in God.
Definition 6: Humility. Forgetfulness of those things accomplished with care.
Definition 7: Lack of Anger. Great desire not to get angry.
Definition 8: Purity. [Spiritual] perception ever glued to God.
Definition 9: Love. Increase of friendship towards those who are insulting.
Definition 10: Perfect transformation. In the pleasure of God, to consider the sourness of death as joy.
It is not clear to us that the above definitions are really by St Diadochos, in part because their style does not seem to be his and in part because they appear before the extended title of his work, below.
Words of judgement and discernment of Diadochos, Bishop of Photiki in
. Through what quality of gnosis to arrive at the previously declared perfection, the Lord guiding us, so that each of us bring to fruition the seed of the word in accordance with the sense of the liberating parable. Epirus
It is also not clear to us that the extended title is from St Diadochos.
Brothers, let faith, hope and love guide every spiritual contemplation, above all love. The first two teach us to despise those goods which are visible; love, however, joins the soul to the virtues of God in tracking out with a spiritual sense that which is invisible.
St Diadochos starts by orienting his contemplative system to the three cardinal virtues of faith, hope and love, and indeed he strongly emphasizes love. He retains the basic dichotomy of Evagrian mysticism between those things which are visible—the material world—and those spiritual things which are invisible. Note that while faith and hope teach us to go beyond the material world to the spiritual, it is love that joins us to the virtues of God. This is a spiritual love, a fruit of the Holy Spirit.
St Diadochos introduces his concept of the ‘spiritual sense’. It is not easy to understand what the Saint means by the spiritual sense. It is a spiritual perception of spiritual realities given by the Holy Spirit. It is not sentimental. It is here that we see the fundamental divergence between Orthodox spirituality and Protestant pietism.
Only God is by nature good. A man also becomes good through him who is in reality good, changed into that which he is not, by the care he bestows on his ways when, through that care bestowed on the good, the soul becomes as much in God as the power of that care wishes. For he says: ‘Become good and merciful as your Father who is in the Heavens.’
The first sentence is an allusion to the word of our Saviour in the Gospel. The second sentence emphasizes that it is up to us to make our own efforts to become good. As will become evident, this statement does not suppose a ‘do-it-yourself’ Pelagianism whereby our own efforts are sufficient in the way that many people understand that yoga teaches. St Diadochos is clear on the importance of the Holy Spirit given in Christian Baptism in the ascetical ascent to God. However, in common with the whole Orthodox Tradition, he emphasizes that we ourselves must make an effort. There is nothing here of being saved by imputed justification: The Gospel of John states that Jesus gave those who believed in his name the authority to become children of God. This means that the door was opened to us. St Diadochos is saying that it is for us to walk through that door. This is consistent with the word of our Saviour that from now the
is assaulted and those who assault it seize it. Kingdom of God
Neither does evil exist in nature nor is anyone evil by nature. For God did not make an evil thing. But when in the desire of the heart someone brings into appearance that which does not exist in essence, then there begins to exist just that thing that the person making it might want. It is therefore obligatory to neglect the habit of evil through the care bestowed on the memory of God; for the nature of the good is stronger than the habit of evil because the former exists while the latter does not exist except by being practised.
This is an important statement of the Christian understanding of the nature of evil. By itself evil has no existence as a thing in nature; it’s not something ‘out there’ existing on its own; and there is no one, not even the Devil, which is evil by nature. The reason? God did not make anything that was evil: ‘And God saw what he had made and it was good.’ St Diadochos proceeds to explain this in terms of human psychology, using a bit of philosophy.
I think that it would be nice to write a commentary on Diadochos. That commentary doesn’t exist. I haven’t written it. However, I sit down and begin to write what I would like to say. I am bringing the commentary into existence according to the thought I have in my mind. This is what the Saint is discussing. In the desire of my heart I bring something into existence that did not formerly exist. The Saint then goes on that I have to be careful not to bring evil things into existence—let us say, I have to be careful not to write pornography.
Note that the Saint says that I have to ‘neglect the habit of evil’. What he is driving at is that evil is a matter of an evil intention exercised in practice: I choose to do something bad, for example to write pornography. Not only that, but I choose to write pornography every day. It becomes a habit. What the saint is saying is that evil does not exist by nature, but I bring it into existence by exercising my intention in practice and making of it a habit. What I should be doing is exercising my intention to maintain the memory of God—let us say, by writing a commentary on Diadochos. Good does exist by nature but evil does not. Evil is brought into existence by the exercise of the intention, especially repeatedly.
How does our intention get assessed as evil? In its simplest formulation, it is because what we want to do is against the law of God. In the deeper formulation, it is because rather than fulfil the commandments to love God and love our neighbour, we want to satisfy our passions, which are our emotional tendencies toward sin.
We are all men in the image of God. To be in the likeness of God, however, is only of those who through much love enslave their freedom to God. When we are not of ourselves then we are of him who reconciled us to himself through love, which very thing one will not attain unless he has convinced his soul not to be shaken by the easy glory of this life.
This is a fundamental distinction in Orthodox spiritual theology, although it is not made by all Orthodox writers. It is the distinction between being in the image of God (kat’ eikona) and being in the likeness of God (kath’ homoiosin). Contrary to the Calvinist point of view, we are not born depraved. The Orthodox understanding is that the image of God—the fundamental resemblance of man to God; what makes him different from the animals; what allies him to the angels; why it was not preposterous for the Word of God to become man—is distorted by sin both original and personal but is never completely erased in any man. However, the resemblance to God in virtue—one has to have met a Spirit-bearing Elder to understand this—is something that we have to work on. The Saint emphasizes in very strong language that to attain to the likeness to God in virtue we must enslave our freedom to God. We always have free will. God does not want robots. He wants loving children. However, we must enslave ourselves to God. By this practice of self-abnegation, we pass from being isolated individuals, the grain of wheat, to being united to Jesus who reconciled us to himself through love, so that no longer alone, we bear much fruit of love. However, the Saint says, this is impossible unless the person has convinced his soul not to be shaken by the ‘easy glory of this life’. We have to turn away from the tinsel of this life to the true silver of the love of God.
Free will is the will of a rational soul readily moved to whatever it might wish. Let us persuade that soul to be readily disposed only towards the good, so that in good thoughts we ever consume the memory of evil.
This is a somewhat awkward definition of free will. What the Saint is getting at is this. He has just emphasized that evil is a matter of practising evil intentions, that evil is not something that exists in and of itself in nature but is an act of the will. What he must do now is explain what free will is, and how it gives rise to evil. What he emphasizes is the freedom of the will. We can choose to follow God or to follow our passions. We must make an effort, he says, to persuade ourselves to be disposed only towards the good, so that in practising good works— here this has a broader meaning than ‘acts of virtue’—we consume the memory of evil. By the ‘memory of evil’ the Saint means two things: the memory of things we have actually done; and the thoughts which arise in our mind on account of our passions. What he has in mind is that by training ourselves to practise the good, we obliterate our memories related to the sins we have committed—and who has not committed sins?—; and we conquer the thoughts which arise in our mind on account of our passions calling us to new sins.
The light of true gnosis is faultlessly to discern good from evil. For then the road of justice leading the mind to the Sun of Justice introduces the mind into the infinite light of gnosis, the mind with boldness thenceforth seeking love. It is therefore obligatory to seize with wrathless anger that which is just from those who dare to insult it; for the piety’s zeal, not hating but rebuking, shows the victory.
The Saint here explains a little about how he understands the spiritual sense. He says that the light of true gnosis—this is true spiritual knowledge of God given by the Holy Spirit—is faultlessly to discern good from evil. Here we can see that although evil in its essence is a free act contrary to the law of God, it is possible to have our conscience discern faultlessly between good and evil not by a reasoning process but by the light given by the true knowledge of God. This is the basis of the charism of ‘Eldership’ in the Orthodox Church: the Elder is the person who has the ability to discern good from evil based on the light of true gnosis. It is why St Seraphim of Sarov remarked that when he spoke from himself he often made errors but when he spoke from the Holy Spirit, he didn’t. This is not so much a matter of native intelligence but of a charism of the Holy Spirit. It should also be pointed out that no one is infallible and that this charism of discernment is relative to the spiritual attainment and charism of the Holy Spirit. That is why Elder Paisios Eznipedes (1924 – 1974) could say of Elder Porphyrios Baïraktares (1906 – 1991): ‘I have black and white television, but Elder Porphyrios has colour television.’
However, what here interests the Saint is the role this discernment plays in the personal spiritual life of the ascetic. This discernment guides the ascetic to Jesus, the Sun of Righteousness, introducing the ascetic’s mind into the boundless light of gnosis. This boundless light corresponds well to the Uncreated Light of later Orthodox Hesychasm. The Saint emphasizes that the result of this illumination is that the ascetic henceforth seeks love. Does this make his mysticism an ‘affective mysticism’? Yes and no. St Diadochos strongly emphasizes love throughout his work, but this is a spiritual love, not a sentimental affection for man or God. Moreover, the attainment to this love is given in a mystical experience of illumination of the mind by the Holy Spirit. Hence, it would be wrong to see here an emphasis on the cultivation of affective states.
Spiritual discourse gives inner spiritual assurance to the spiritual sense for it is borne from God by the activity of love, for which very reason our mind also sojourns uninjured in the movements of theology. For the mind does not then suffer hunger, which brings care, being broadened in contemplations as much as the activity of love wishes. Therefore it is good ever to await with faith acting through love the illumination of what to say; for there is nothing poorer than an intellect outside of God philosophizing the things of God.
By ‘spiritual discourse’ the Saint means speaking on spiritual things, or perhaps writing on spiritual matters. What he is saying is that whenever we proceed according to God in speaking of spiritual things, then our conscience, discernment or spiritual sense receives an assurance that we are proceeding in ways pleasing to God. The Saint goes on that for this reason we can also occupy ourselves with theology, by which he means meditating on the Word of God in Scripture and the Fathers of the Church. He points out that in these cases, the ascetic can proceed for much time without experiencing hunger, according to the capacity of his love. This is an extraordinarily broad and open approach: assured by his God-given discernment, the ascetic broadens out into the study of the Word of God as much as his original impulse of spiritual love gives him impetus. The Saint then points out that it is better to wait on God for illumination what to say because there is nothing worse than a mind speaking of God without the assistance of God. Here one might recall an episode in the life of St Silouan as recounted by Elder Sophrony. A great ascetic comes from the
Caucasus. He speaks, sometimes from himself and sometimes from the Holy Spirit. St Silouan teaches him to speak only as the Holy Spirit gives him utterance, to wait for the birth of the word in his heart.
Neither should one throw oneself unilluminated into spiritual speculations nor should he come to speak when richly shone upon by the goodness of the Holy Spirit. For wherever poverty is, it brings ignorance; but wherever wealth is, it does not permit speech. For then the soul, drunk with the love of God, wishes to enjoy with silent voice the glory of God. It is therefore necessary to come to divine words in guarding the mean of this activity. For this measure grants a certain form of glorious words. The wealth of enlightenment, however, nourishes the faith of him who speaks in faith, so that he who teaches first tastes the fruits of gnosis through love. For he says: ‘The farmer who toils should first partake of the fruit.’
The Saint continues in the same vein. One should not try to pry into things which are beyond one’s spiritual attainments and beyond what the Holy Spirit is willing to reveal to one. Moreover, neither should one try to speak when one is immersed in the illumination of the Holy Spirit. If we have nothing, then we should admit our poverty and forbear speaking, since we have nothing authentic to say. However, when we experience a wealth of illuminative Grace, then we cannot speak. The reason? For then the soul, drunk with the love of God, wishes to enjoy with silent voice the glory of God. This is an image of the contemplation of God. The implication, the Saint says, is that we should approach the study and teaching of the Word of God when we are in a middle state—neither impoverished by a lack of illumination nor in the midst of divine illumination. The Saint ends by remarking that a wealth of illumination first nourishes the faith of him who speaks, so that the teacher before he teaches is himself nourished by the fruits of gnosis. So not only is it a matter of being unable to speak but of first being nourished before given nourishment to others.
The charisms are of the one Holy Spirit; however, wisdom and gnosis, just as all the divine charisms, each have their proper activity. For the Apostle bears witness that to one is given wisdom and to another gnosis according to the same Spirit. For gnosis joins a man to God by experience, not moving the soul to speech about these things. Therefore some of those who lead a life of monastic asceticism are sensibly illuminated by gnosis yet do not come to speak divine words. Wisdom, if in fear it is given with gnosis to someone (this is rare), manifests the very activities of gnosis, since the latter is accustomed to illuminate in activity, the former in word. But the prayer and much stillness in complete freedom from care bring gnosis, whereas meditation free of vainglory on the sayings of God and, first of all, the Grace of God who gives, bring wisdom.
The Saint wishes to explain the difference between the charism of wisdom and gnosis (i.e. knowledge). First he remarks that there is one Holy Spirit which is the source of all the charisms. As we know from Scripture, the charisms are given by the Holy Spirit in its sovereign authority for the benefit of the Church and for the benefit of the persons to whom they are given. The charisms are given in love and wisdom by the Holy Spirit, according to the capacity and wisdom and humility of the recipient. They are not given for the destruction of the person or the Church.
To return to the Saint, he defines the charism of gnosis as the mystical knowledge of God pure and simple. There is no impulse to speak in this charism. The recipient may by experience know many things of God and say nothing. Not only that, he may be unable to communicate what he has experienced, even beyond the fact that the things of God are very often by their nature incommunicable: he just may not have the ability to communicate what he has experienced.
The saint goes on that if along with the charism of gnosis, the charism of wisdom is given with fear—with a holy fear—to someone (something the Saint acknowledges is rare), then that person is able to communicate his experiences of mystical gnosis to others either orally or through the written word. The reason is that the nature of the charism of gnosis is to provide experiential knowledge of God whereas the nature of the charism of wisdom is to illuminate the recipient with words to say to others.
Why doesn’t the Holy Spirit give the two charisms together more often? That is the judgement of the Holy Spirit. Who are we to question his judgements?
The saint goes on that the road to gnosis is the Jesus Prayer whereas the road to wisdom is meditation without vainglory on the Word of God, and above all the Grace of God.
It might be wondered if the Saint really means the Jesus Prayer, or just any old prayer. By the time we have finished this commentary it should be clear that he means the Jesus Prayer. This is the first text in the history of Christianity (c. 450 ad) to refer unambiguously to the Jesus Prayer and its practice. However, the Saint never gives a formula to be repeated.
 Greek: apathes.
 Greek: agape.
 Greek: aisthesei noera. This could be translated ‘mental sense’. The ‘spiritual sense’ or ‘mental sense’ is a faculty of the mind or nous by means of which one perceives spiritual things.
 Greek: eidos. This is an indication, if one is needed, of Diadochos’ education. He is contrasting ousia, essence, with eidos, form, appearance. Eidos applies to the multiplicity of actual objects that exist in the world. Hence, what Diadochos is saying is that the object that the technician wishes to make does not exist in essence, but the technician conceives it in his heart and then brings it into being through his art as eidos, one of the manifold objects existing in the world. Similarly evil has no essential existence, since all that God made is good. Evil exists only as the consequence of the exercise of free will; that is the significance of ‘habit (Greek: exis)’ and ‘practised’. Habit is a pattern of acts of the free will; ‘practised’ means ‘done by the will’.
 Greek: homoiosin.
 The Greek word gnosis means knowledge. In this work there is a clear distinction between intuitive knowledge and knowledge arrived at through reasoning or books. In this and similar passages, the author is referring to intuitive spiritual knowledge.
 Greek: nous. This is the created spirit of man, his innermost being.
 I.e. it is necessary to be zealous for what is true and just.
 Greek: noeran.
 Greek: theologia. In this epoch (mid-5th Century), theologia is used to refer not to academic theology but to words spoken about God based on experience of God. It is also used in this school of mysticism for mystical union with God.
 Greek: dianoia. This is the conscious aspect of the human mind, including its ability to reason.
 The Greek word literally means ‘contemplations’, but in the sense of words spoken in academic theology, not in the sense of visions of God.
 I.e. neither in ignorance of God nor when full of divine illumination. In Greek philosophy virtue is a mean between two extremes.
 Greek: energeies. Similarly for the singular.
 Greek: euche. It will be clear that St Diadochos means the Prayer of Jesus, which he will proceed to discuss.