Friday, 27 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 65 -67

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

Once we have come to know the road of piety it is most appropriate, and beneficial in every respect, immediately to sell all our goods and to distribute the proceeds from them in accordance with the commandment of the Lord, and not to disobey the salvific order with the excuse that we want always to keep the commandments.[1] For from this there will be for us first that good freedom from care and, further on account of that, an uncrafty poverty minded above every injustice and every law-suit, since we no longer have the fire kindled of those that covet matter. Then, more than the other virtues, humility warms us round and gives us repose in its bosom because we are naked, like a mother who takes up and completely warms her own child in her arms when in its childish simplicity it has taken off and thrown somewhere far away its own clothing, on account of great guilelessness enjoying nakedness rather than the diverse colours of the clothing. For he says: ‘The Lord guards the infants; I humbled myself and he saved me.’
The underlying meaning of this chapter is quite straightforward. When we have elected to become monks or nuns, then we should give all our goods to the poor, not keeping anything back. Not only are we keeping the Gospel commandment in so doing but we have a freedom from care and no further excuse to get mixed up with lawsuits.
The result of course is that we are now poor. Who is going to take care of us? Here, St Diadochos follows a point of view that is usually associated with Syrian monasticism: God will take care of us. He does not spend any time talking about how the monk or nun will have a money-making activity such as weaving mats or baskets.
It must be said that this advice was easier to apply in the 5th Century than in the 21st Century. The way people live today is completely different. Then, people lived a much simpler life that was much closer to nature, so that giving everything up did not induce such a great difference with the way people nearby lived. Today however in the United States? Often the only way to go anywhere is by freeway. But that demands an automobile. And that demands gasoline and oil. We live in a much more technological society that requires much more money to subsist in than was the case in a 5th Century economy.
If we live in a part of the world that has severe winters—or even severe summers—then we are going to need heating or air-conditioning. But again that means that we need money. It’s just not practical for us to live in an igloo. Is it practical for us to live in an adobe house in the desert?
It should be understood that while it technically might be feasible for us to live in an adobe house in the desert, we do not have infinite psychological plasticity. Just as St Arsenios the Great needed a bit of relaxation from the austerity of the Egyptian desert because of his background in the Royal Palace, we might not find it psychologically easy to adapt to the adobe house in the desert having grown up in a middle-class suburb in Maryland. Perhaps that was one of the reasons the ’60’s communes failed: the attempt was quixotic from the point of view of the ability of the hippies to make a permanent psychological adaptation to a way of life so radically different from what they knew when they were growing up. Of course there were other reasons the communes failed, some of them very important; we are merely pointing out this aspect of the matter to help the reader understand what the issue is in making a radical break with the way one grew up: in the beginning it might seem a good thing to do romantically but over the long term it might turn out to be very difficult psychologically.
Nowadays, it is assumed that the postulant entering a cœnobion will give his property to the cœnobion. However, this requires discernment on the part of the abbot, for as St Benedict remarks in his Rule the matter often ends up in court: what happens if the postulant gets tired of things and leaves the monastery, demanding his property back?
The Lord will at all events demand of us an account of our almsgiving according to what we have, not according to what we have not. If therefore because of fear of the Lord I scatter in a little time in a goodly way whatever I had to give over many years, concerning what will I who have nothing still be arraigned? But someone will say: ‘Whence then will those poor be shown mercy who were customarily managed bit by bit from our own mediocre means?’ Let such a person learn not to upbraid God in the pretext of his own love of money. For God will not lack the means to manage his own creature as from the beginning. For neither before this or that person rose up in charity did the poor lack for food or clothing. It is good, therefore, in accordance with this very knowledge[2] to cast off with a good ministry the irrational boast that arises from wealth, hating our own desires, (which very thing is to hate one’s own soul), so that we no longer hold our soul in great contempt as working nothing of the good things because we rejoice over the scattering of money. For as long as we are somewhat well-provided with goods, we rejoice greatly over their scattering (if indeed there is in us an activity of the good), as cheerfully ministering to the divine commandment; but when we have exhausted our goods, then limitless sorrow and lowliness secretly enter in to us as practising nothing worthy of righteousness. Whence thereafter the soul returns to itself in great humility so that what it is not able to acquire every day by means of almsgiving it take a care to in itself with the assiduous prayer[3] and the patient endurance and the humility. For he says: ‘The poor and the indigent will praise your name, Lord.’ For the charism of theology[4] is not made ready by God for someone if he does not prepare himself, divesting himself of all the things that belong to him for the sake of the glory of the Gospel of God, so that he preach the wealth of the Kingdom of God in a God-loving indigence. For he who said, ‘You have prepared for the poor man in your goodness, O Lord;’ and added, ‘God will give speech in great power to those who preach the Gospel;’ clearly means this very thing.
Again the basic meaning of this chapter is clear. The author evidently foresees prosperous postulants, arguing that we should not argue that we need to keep our wealth so as to have something to give to the poor whom we previously helped. The author thinks this argument is specious.
The author makes the important point that God judges our fulfilment of the Gospel commandment to give alms—note that in the Antique Age almsgiving was taken quite seriously by Christians—according to what we have and not according to what we have not. God judges the almsgiving of the poor man differently from the almsgiving of the wealthy man, not demanding of the poor man what he does not have. It is out of our abundance that we give alms. In any event, the author makes the point that God took care of the poor man before the particular Christian who wishes to give alms arose and will take care of him after that alms-giving Christian is gone—so the Christian should not worry about what is going to happen to the poor man if he gives all this goods away to become a monk, not keeping anything to provide for the poor man.
The author then proceeds with a very shrewd analysis of the psychology of wealth and almsgiving. When we are wealthy, almsgiving makes us rejoice; when we become poor having given our goods away, then we get depressed that we are not doing anything pious. Although the author does not really address the issue, it seems clear that the joy when we give alms and the depression when we have nothing more to give is not entirely holy: it is to a certain extent egotistical. This is a self-aggrandizing almsgiving.
The author goes on that when the soul has become depressed over its inability to give alms then it must turn to the practices of monasticism: ‘the assiduous prayer and the patient endurance and the humility’. This is monasticism that has ceased to be a game: The poor monk must start to pray. He must exercise patient endurance, especially in regard to his deprivation. He must learn humility. This can be quite difficult. The monk might get discouraged at the trial.
The author then goes on to discuss the charism of theology, which he understands to be the charism of being able to discuss theological issues with the illumination of the Holy Spirit. Here, he says, it must be understood that theology is prepared for the poor man, so that he preaches with the charism of the Holy Spirit, not with the prosperity that he once had.
Monastic poverty properly addressed centres the monk or nun in God. That is what the author is trying to convey. When you have to depend on the providence of God for your next meal, you have to be centred in God.
The author then turns in the next chapter to discuss the charism of theology.
On the one hand all the charisms of our God are exceedingly good[5] and provide every goodness, but on the other hand nothing kindles and moves our heart to the love of his goodness so much as theology. For being the early offspring of the Grace of God it even grants to the soul gifts that are in every way first. First it prepares us to despise with joy all the friendships of this life since we have instead of corruptible desires the unspeakable wealth of the sayings of God. Next it illuminates our mind with the fire of change[6], whence it even makes the mind a companion of the ministering spirits.[7] Therefore, beloved, let us who have been prepared for it genuinely desire this virtue, this comely virtue, this virtue which sees all, this virtue which provides every freedom from care, this virtue which nourishes the mind in the words of God in a dawn of light and, not to go on at length, this virtue which harmonizes the rational soul by means of the holy Prophets towards an inseparable communion with the Word of God, so that even among men—Oh the wonder!—the divine leader of the bride[8] harmonize the godly[9] voices singing clearly the mighty deeds of God.[10]
This chapter is quite clear. The final image is a little difficult. What the author seems to have in mind is an image of the soul of the ascetic joining, while still on earth, into the celestial choir of angels and saints in the praise of the mighty deeds of God. The way the ascetic comes to this is through reading Scripture—particularly the Prophets—so as to enter into a communion with the Word of God. We have taken this to refer to Christ, but the author might just as easily be referring to the word of God in Scripture. The saint treats the Holy Spirit as leading the bride, the soul, to marriage with God in the way that a certain functionary led the bride in an ancient wedding. What the author means with this metaphor is that the Holy Spirit integrates the soul into spiritual participation in the celestial choir of angels and saints while it is still on earth.
The author goes on in the next chapter to discuss the difference between theology and the lived experience of Hesychast prayer.

[1] I.e. the author is counselling us to sell our goods and give the money away immediately, not to keep the money ‘for a rainy day’ with the excuse that we want to be able always to fulfil the commandment to help the poor.
[2] Cf. the beginning of Chapter 63.
[3] I.e. through the assiduous practice of the Jesus Prayer.
[4] In this chapter the charism of theology seems to be the preaching of the Gospel.
[5] Greek: kala lian, in an allusion to the Genesis account of Creation (Septuagint).
[6] Greek: allage. The use of this word might seem a little imprecise for someone of St Diadochos’ literary stature, but there is probably a reference here to a phrase from the Psalms in the Septuagint: ‘This change is of the right hand of the Most High.’
[7] I.e. the angels.
[8] I.e. the soul is here treated as the bride of God being led to marriage with God.
[9] Greek: theodous.
[10] The text is a little ambiguous. The author seems to mean that the Holy Spirit, as the leader to God of the soul as bride, harmonizes here on earth the spiritual voice of the soul with that of the angels and Prophets singing the praises of God in Heaven.

Thursday, 26 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 63 -64

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

He who partakes of holy gnosis and tastes the sweetness of God ought neither to sit in judgement[1] nor bring a law-suit against anyone even should someone take those very things in which he is clothed. For the righteousness of the rulers of this world is at all events defeated in the righteousness of God or, rather, is nothing compared to God’s right. For what difference would there be between those who are nourished by God and those who are nourished by this Age[2] if not that the right of the latter would seem imperfect compared to the righteousness of the former, so that the one be called human right and the other divine righteousness? Thus our Lord Jesus neither upbraided in return when he was upbraided, nor threatened when he was suffering, but endured in silence even the removal of his clothes and, to say the great thing, asked the Father for the salvation of the wrongdoers. However, the men of this world do not cease to go to law, unless, occasionally, they recover [beforehand] with something extra the things for which they are going to law,[3] and certainly when the interest is received before the principal[4]—so that their right often becomes the beginning of a great injustice.
The advanced practitioner of the Jesus Prayer, he who has had a genuine spiritual experience of the spiritual knowledge of God through the spiritual sense should neither sit in judgement nor bring a law-suit. When the author says ‘sit in judgement’ he really means ‘act formally as a judge in a court’. Since he was a Bishop, he might have had experience of such a thing. Recall that St Isaac the Syrian was the Bishop of Nineveh and that he resigned his bishopric when he was obliged to judge a dispute between two Christians and found that one of them at least was indifferent to the demands of the Gospel in the matter. He got fed up and went to a cave to save his soul.
The next point that the author makes depends on a contrast between human justice and the justice of God. The justice of God in incomparable to human justice.
The rest of the chapter should be clear.
One must not, I have heard certain pious persons say, allow just anyone at all to seize those very things which we have for our own administration or for the repose of the poor, and certainly if we suffer this from Christians—so that we not become occasions of sin to those who are doing us an injustice by means of those things towards which we are showing long-suffering.[5] This is nothing more than to want our goods rather than ourselves coupled with an illogical excuse. For if abandoning prayer and attention to my own heart I begin to file law-suits against those who wish to use me badly, and to sit in the corridors outside the law-courts, it is obvious that I consider the things that are being sought greater than my own salvation, not to say greater than that salvific command. For how will I follow the evangelical command which orders me, ‘And do not demand your things from him who takes them;’ unless in accordance with the Apostolic saying I endure with joy the seizure of those things which belong to me, whereas once one had gone to law and recovered as much as he wanted, he still would not have freed the avaricious person from his sin?[6] The corruptible courts are not able to delimit the incorruptible court of God for at all events the accused satisfies fully only those laws before which he happens to defend himself concerning the accusation.[7] So it is good for us to bear the violence of those who wish to commit an injustice against us and to pray for them, so that through repentance, and not through the restitution of our things which they have seized, they be freed from the crime of avarice. For this is what the righteousness of the Lord wishes, that we at some time render free of sin through repentance not the person against whom was committed the act of avarice but the person who was avaricious.
This chapter continues the thought of the previous one. The problem that the author wishes to address is the argument made by some Christians that it is better to go to law against someone who is doing them wrong than it is to let him be because they are letting the person continue in sin if they let him be. The author thinks that this argument is specious. It puts the goods lost by the person above the person himself, since spending all his time with lawyers and in the courthouse the person is not following the Gospel commandment to endure injustice, thus losing his salvation while regaining his goods. Moreover, the author says, even if you regain your goods, you still haven’t freed the avaricious fellow from his sin. Moreover, the author goes on, a human court is not able express the justice of God in its fullness. The way the author expresses himself so as to give the reason is a little difficult to understand: a human court applies only certain specific human laws and calls the accused to answer only to those laws whereas the justice of God is universal, seeing everything and judging the person globally. If we consider that in today’s legal system, the accused fellow might plea-bargain, pleading guilty to a lesser crime because he’s worried he might be convicted of a more serious crime entailing what he considers to be an unacceptable punishment, we can see what the author is driving at: human justice is an imperfect human social system that comes up with a human arrangement concerning the crime or tort, whereas the justice of God is infallible and takes everything into account. The justice of God might be even more severe than human justice. It might just as well be more lenient. Who is capable of prying into the judgements of God and weighing whether God is judging another person correctly?

[1] Thus the text.
[2] I.e. by the world.
[3] I.e. they settle out of court advantageously.
[4] I.e. the payments are first applied to interest owed and then to principal.
[5] I.e. We are now showing long-suffering in the seizure by others, especially Christians, of our goods rather than preventing it or prosecuting them but supposedly we would prevent these persons from sinning if we were to take them to court (through the fear of the gendarme).
[6] This abrupt change from the first to the third person is in the text here and elsewhere.
[7] I.e. the court narrowly considers only the specific laws which apply to the matter at hand whereas the justice of God considers the whole situation, including the whole person involved.

Wednesday, 25 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 56 - 62

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

That sight and taste and the remaining senses disperse the remembrance of the heart when we make use of them beyond measure—Eve first speaks to us of such a thing. For as long she did not look with pleasure on the tree of the commandment, she kept in careful remembrance the commandment of God. For which very reason she was as it were still covered by the wings of divine Eros[1] and, because of this, ignorant of her own nakedness. But because she looked at the tree with pleasure and touched it with great desire and, further, tasted the fruit of it with a certain active pleasure, she was immediately allured to bodily intertwining, since, naked, she had been joined to the passion. She then gave her whole desire over to the enjoyment of present things and through the sweet-appearing fruit mixed Adam with her own transgression, for which very reason thenceforward the human mind is only with difficulty able to keep God and his commandments in remembrance. Therefore let us who ever look into the depths of our heart with the ceaseless remembrance of God pass this deceitful life with eyes that are as it were blind.[2] For it really is the property of spiritual philosophy ever to keep unwinged the Eros for things seen.[3]
To understand this chapter, which is really aimed at the advanced Hesychast, the reader has to understand the problem that St Diadochos is addressing. Let us suppose that we are praying the Jesus Prayer continually, as the author has already indicated he foresees. Our mind, our consciousness, is, let us suppose, in our heart and focussed on the recitation of the words of the formula. Although, as the Saint has pointed out, we do not have images and visions of God, the angels and the saints to keep us company—for these are clearly deceptions of the Devil—we do have to some degree a consciousness of the presence of the Holy Spirit through the spiritual sense. Now the beginner might think that all is well. However, things are not so simple. We are going to get tired because this is an activity that we must exercise our will to continue. That is, we must make an effort to keep this practice up over the course of the day, over the course of the several hours each night that we practice the Jesus Prayer in this intensive way, all depending on our level of spiritual development and our actual program.
Now it can be understood what the author is driving at. Since keeping consciously focussed on the automatic repetition of the formula requires an act of will, it is quite possible that we will allow our mind, which is ceaselessly active, to move on to other things. Those things include the data of sense. So what we might do is give ourselves over to the pleasure of sense experience. Rather than keeping our mind in our heart focussed on the words of the formula, we might turn to looking at the trees in the forest outside our cave—or worse. The rest of the chapter should now make sense.
He who ever sojourns in his own heart is in every way abroad from the fine things of life. For walking in the Spirit he is unable to know the desires of the flesh. Since such a person henceforward takes his walks in the fortress of the virtues, having those very virtues as sorts of door-keepers of the city of his purity, then henceforward the war-machines of the demons become unable to accomplish anything even should the arrows of vulgar Eros to a certain extent reach right up to the windows of nature.[4]
This chapter continues the thought of the previous chapter. The ascetic, by focussing his mind in his heart on the recitation of the formula, is walking in the Spirit: this is the communion with the Holy Spirit by means of the spiritual sense that the author has discussed. Moreover, the author now introduces the concept of walking in the fortress of the virtues. Recall that contrary to the virtues are our passions, our emotional tendencies to sin, of which there are eight. The virtues, while we must make an act of the will to practise them, are infused into us by the Holy Spirit. Hence, these virtues, as energies of the Holy Spirit, protect the ascetic, acting as door-keepers of his purity. To understand the imagery, one must consider that the ascetic has his mind in his heart, so that he is consciously centred in his heart, and that the material world outside him can be understood by him to be the world outside the fortress or city of his purity. Moreover, the demons themselves, the author insists, are outside the person and therefore outside this city. He sees their demonic energies of temptation as arrows shot from outside the city—i.e. from outside the body—toward the centre of the city, the heart. It is the infused virtue of the Holy Spirit, which the ascetic senses with his spiritual sense, that preserves the ascetic from the arrows of the demons. This infused virtue acts as a watchman or door-keeper of the inner spiritual world of the ascetic. As we have already pointed out, this inner world is centred on the recitation of the Jesus Prayer in the heart of the ascetic, the citadel of the inner city of the ascetic’s being.
When our soul begins no longer to desire the fine things of the earth then a certain mind of accidie[5] usually enters into it, neither allowing it to minister willingly in the service of the word nor leaving to it the intense desire of future things; but even devaluing exceedingly this temporal life as not having a work worthy of virtue; and despising this very gnosis, either as having already been granted to many others or as promising to signify to us nothing perfect. We will escape from this tepid passion which makes us sluggish if we set up very narrow limits to our intellect, gazing only towards the remembrance of God. For only thus would the mind, running back to its own warmth, be able to depart from that irrational dispersion.[6]
The author now turns to another temptation of the Hesychast who is practising the Jesus Prayer at the level discussed in the commentary on the previous chapter. Here, he says, when the ascetic has begun to break away from his attachment to the material things of this earth, then he is subject to the accidie or sloth described in this chapter. The solution that the author presents is important for an intellectual understanding of Hesychasm: we must focus ever more restrictedly on the words of the formula as they are automatically repeated in our heart. Needless to say this is difficult in the face of a serious accidie. It takes a real man to do this.
When we have blocked all its exits with the memory of God, our mind at all events demands of us a work that must give assurance to its aptitude. It is therefore necessary to give it the ‘Lord Jesus’ in complete occupation towards the goal.[7] For he says: ‘No one says Lord Jesus except in the Holy Spirit.’ But let this saying always be considered narrowly in the treasure-rooms of the self so that one not be turned aside into certain fantasies. For those who meditate unceasingly in the depth of their heart on this holy and glorious name are able to see at some time the light of their own mind. For when this name is kept with narrow care by the intellect it burns up with sufficient [spiritual] perception all the filth that floats in the soul, for also: ‘Our God is a consuming fire.’ Whence, henceforward the Lord calls the soul to much love of his own glory. For when that glorious and much-longed-for name becomes chronic[8] through remembrance by the mind in the warmth of the heart, it at all events creates in us the habit of loving his goodness, henceforward there being nothing which impedes this. For this is the valuable pearl which, selling all his property, one can acquire so as to have unspeakable joy over his find.
The author here discusses the relation between the Jesus Prayer and what he has just been saying about the very intense and narrow focus of the Hesychast on the ‘memory of God’ in the heart. The most important point is that the mind must be doing something worthy of its nature. It cannot be idle. That something is the repetition of the words of the formula. But, the author says, when one refers to giving one’s mind the ‘Lord Jesus’ as an occupation, this is to be construed narrowly: there is the danger that we will engage in fantasies about the Lord Jesus, which will be destructive. No, he says, what we must do is narrowly focus on the repetition of the formula in our heart. It is this practise which will lead to an experience of the light of one’s own mind through the spiritual sense. Moreover, this narrow, focussed repetition of the formula in our heart will burn up all the garbage in our soul. Then the Lord will call us to much love of his glory: we will begin to love the Lord. Is this light of the mind and call to a love of the glory of the Lord a foreshadowing of the Uncreated Light of St Gregory Palamas? We think not. The light of one’s mind is found in Evagrius and it is clear that there it is not the same as the light of the Holy Trinity. Moreover, the present author, St Diadochos, develops later in this treatise the theme of the light of God which completes the illumination of the Hesychast.
It should be obvious that this is not for beginners, but for advanced monks and nuns. A beginner will get into big trouble through presumption proceeding along this road without a guide.
One thing is introductory joy and another thing perfecting joy. For the former is not free of fantasy while the second has the power of humility; between these is god-loving sorrow and painless tears. For: ‘In an abundance of wisdom is really an abundance of gnosis;’ and: ‘He who has added gnosis will add pain.’ On account of this, therefore, one must with the introductory joy first call the soul to the struggles, then the soul must be cross-examined and tested thenceforth by the light of the Holy Spirit concerning the evils that it has done or even concerning the vain imaginings that it still does. For he says: ‘In rebukes concerning lawlessness you have instructed a man and you have caused his soul to melt like a spider’s web;’ so that once the divine cross-examination has tried the soul, in the warm remembrance of God the soul receive the joy which is free of fantasy.
This is an interesting discussion of the stages of joy of the Hesychast. The beginner has an introductory joy. It is not free of fantasy. That means that it is not a pure spiritual joy but has elements of the flesh mixed into it. Despite that, it is something that must occur. It is this introductory joy that will motivate the soul to commence and continue the struggle of purification.
Then there is the cross-examination and testing by the light of the Holy Spirit ‘concerning the evils that [the soul] has done or even concerning the vain imaginings that it still does’. This is a little unclear to us. Is this a single intense experience, or a stage of spiritual growth that can last for some time, even for several years? We are not sure how the author intends what he is saying. However, it is true that there is an intense experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit that is after a fashion intensely ‘unpleasant’ in a holy sort of way because the person is made to realize just how impure he or she is. Indeed, the soul tends ‘to melt like a spider’s web’ in this experience. Of course, there is also the lengthy process of purification during which the ascetic experiences the presence of God as fire. In some respects, this is something like what St Seraphim of Sarov went through praying 1000 days for mercy on the rock in the wilderness during the day and on the rock in the hut during the night. He remarked later that such a practice was impossible without the direct help of God.
However the author wants us to take what he is saying, though, after this purification of the soul, which might include an intense experience of the presence of the Holy Spirit showing to the soul its impurity in a global way, the ascetic attains to a joy which is free of fantasy. This means both that it is a joy unmixed with images related to the passions, which images are sown by the demons, and that it is more generally unmixed with elements of the flesh. It is a pure Christian joy.
When the soul is agitated by anger or made turbid by drunkenness or troubled by severe despondency, then as much as one might press the mind, the mind is unable to become master of the remembrance of the Lord Jesus. For having become wholly darkened by the terribleness of the passions, the mind becomes completely estranged from its native [spiritual] sense; and for that very reason it does not have anywhere for its desire to imprint the seal so that it bear unforgettably the form of the meditation, the memory of the intellect having become hard from the rawness of the passions.[9] If, however, the mind should be beyond these things, then even if the desired one[10] be stolen for a little by forgetfulness, immediately the mind, making use of its natural aptitude, lays hold again of that highly desired and salvific prey. For in itself the soul has Grace itself meditating together with it and crying the ‘Lord Jesus’ together with it, just as a mother might teach her own infant the father’s name, and, again, meditate on that name together with the infant right up to the time that she guide her infant into the habit of calling on the father even in sleep, to the exclusion of any other infantile speech at all.[11] For this reason the Apostle says: ‘Similarly, then, the Spirit helps our weakness; for we do not know what to pray as it should be; but the Spirit intercedes for us with unutterable sighs.’ For since we are infants with regard to the perfection of the virtue of prayer, we have at all events need of the assistance of the Spirit so that, all our thoughts having been recollected and completely sweetened by the Spirit’s unspeakable sweetness, we be set into motion from our whole disposition towards the memory and love of God the Father. For when we are regulated by the Spirit unceasingly to call on God the Father, we cry in the Spirit, as again the divine Paul says: ‘Daddy, Father.’[12]
The author now discusses problems in the continuous repetition of the Jesus Prayer in the heart. In other words, having discussed why we pray the Jesus Prayer in the heart, and how we are to do it, and how we are to avoid being distracted from the prayer to the beauties of the physical creation, he turns to issues of how the practice can be disturbed. He lists three reasons why we might find it difficult to continue the practice: anger, drunkenness and sorrow. The underlying meaning of the chapter is quite clear although the language that the author uses is a little difficult to construe. He is saying that when we have any of the three conditions he has listed, then our consciousness—our inner world; the world that is at the centre of the spiritual city centred on our heart—is made hard by the rawness of the passions, so that we cannot focus our mind on the repetition of the formula. While it is hard to explain logically what the author means, the condition he is describing is very easy to understand for someone who has had their mind in their heart and who has found that he or she cannot continue with the prayer because of one of the three conditions the author has listed.
The author contrasts this unfortunate condition of an inability to pray the Jesus Prayer on account of one of these three passions, with the condition of the person praying the Prayer properly but who has been distracted. In that case, the person finds it relatively easy to return to the proper practice of the Jesus Prayer, just as the hunter finds it easy to capture the prey. Note that the description of the prey as ‘highly desired and salvific’ means that what we are really capturing is not a practice of yoga. We are capturing God himself. The prey is God.
The next part of the chapter is very important. It is well to recall here that this work was written in the middle of the 5th Century. The practice of the Jesus Prayer is very ancient.
The author commences to make some very important points. First of all, when the person is praying the Jesus Prayer properly, then he has the Grace of the Holy Spirit assisting him. This is important for a number of reasons. First, this emphasis on the Grace of the Holy Spirit declares the Jesus Prayer to be a Christian practice, not a universal form of yoga that the Orthodox monks happened to pick up in the 14th Century.
Next, this emphasis on the Grace of the Holy Spirit says that the reason that a text written in the middle of the 5th Century can be relevant to the practice of the Jesus Prayer in the 21st Century is that the Holy Spirit was helping in the 1st Century, in the 5th Century, in the 14th Century and today too. What the author is describing in this treatise is something that happens in the cooperation of the ascetic with the Holy Spirit. But that means that if you do not have the Holy Spirit, you are going to have a problem praying the Jesus Prayer properly. The author presupposes that you have the Holy Spirit—through Baptism, as he later discusses.
Next, the continuousness of the repetition of the Jesus Prayer is considered to be due to the assistance of the Holy Spirit. It is not something that happens naturally or because of something like auto-hypnosis.
This leads to an interesting question for our readers to consider. If all this is so, why is it that the Jesus Prayer is found only in the Orthodox Church? Why has the Jesus Prayer historically never been found in other Christian denominations? It is true that in recent times there has been an interest in the Jesus Prayer among Roman Catholics and Protestants. However, it is not part of their own tradition. Why might this be so?
Anger has the custom to agitate and confuse the soul more than the other passions; however, there are occasions when it is of the greatest benefit to the soul. For whenever we make use of anger without agitation against those who are acting impiously or in any way immorally we provide an addition of meekness to the soul. For in every way we thus concur with the goal of the righteousness and the goodness of God, and when we are heavily angered against sin we also often make manly the womanishness of the soul. It must also not be doubted that when we rebuke the demon of corruption even though we are in great despondency we are minded above the boast of death. So that he teach us this very thing, the Lord, twice rebuking Hades in the Spirit and agitating himself—although doing everything that he wanted without agitation, by an act of the will only—, thus restored the soul of Lazarus to the body, so that prudent anger[13], it seems to me, has been given to our nature rather as a weapon by God who created us. If Eve had made use of this very anger against the serpent she would not have been set into activity by that impassioned pleasure. It therefore seems to me that he who on account of a zeal for piety prudently[14] makes use of anger will in every respect be found in the scale of recompenses[15] to be more tried and tested than he who is never moved at all to anger on account of an inertia of mind. For the latter seems to have the rein of the human wits[16] unexercised whereas the former is ever brought for battle on the horses of virtue into the midst of the battle-line of the demons, fully exercising the four-horse chariot of temperance[17] in the fear of God. We find this very thing spoken of by Scripture in the ascension of the divine Elias as ‘the chariot of Israel’, for first to the Jews God seems to speak in various ways concerning the four virtues. For indeed this one who was nourished so much in virtue was wholly taken up on a chariot of fire, the prudent one[18] making use, it seems to me, of the virtues as horses, in the Spirit which ravished him in a breeze[19] of fire.
The author’s position in this chapter is not shared by all writers on Orthodox Christian asceticism. Generally the writers try to avoid anger completely, following Evagrius’ emphasis on the destructive effects of anger on the condition of the ascetic’s mind whatever the reason for the anger. The one exception in the Evagrian tradition is anger against the demons. Indeed, if one were to read ‘whenever we make use of anger without agitation against those who are acting impiously or in any way immorally’ as referring to anger against the demons and the temptations sown by them, and only against the demons and their temptations, then this chapter would be completely within the tradition of Orthodox asceticism. It is only when we construe the author to be referring also to men and women who are acting wickedly, in addition to the demons and their works, that we have a position that is not shared by all Orthodox writers. Let us first read the text as referring only to anger against the demons and their works.
First of all, let us note that the anger is to be without agitation. It’s a bit like the martial arts: the ascetic uses his mind and not his fist, but in the same way that the martial artist punches with a controlled force without losing his temper, the ascetic punches the demon with his mind without losing his temper and without getting agitated. The ascetic does this by using a natural force of his soul, the temper. He is able to make use of his temper as a weapon, guiding it and controlling it, just as the karate master guides and controls his punch.
Next, the author asserts that it is much better for the ascetic to make use of this anger against sin than not to. Here the author writes that it is more manly and less womanish to do this. Women ascetics should be doing this too; the author certainly believes that in the scale of things, men and women should all be manly rather than womanish. This is an important point about how the author—and other authors like him—understand the psychology of the Jesus Prayer. It is not a sentimental activity. It is an activity that requires certain dispositions of the soul that the author finds convenient to call manly and not womanish. We are sure that our readers will understand intuitively what the author is driving at. This attitude of manliness is very important: the Christian is not to be wishy-washy, and certainly in regard to temptation. He is to have a robust attitude to defeating sin and keeping the commandments.
The author next makes the observation that using this anger against the demon of sorrow that brings us to despondency will show us to be above the boast of death—above the temptation that makes us forget our Christian vocation and instead despair of what we are doing in the Hesychast cave. Note that he considers it quite possible that the Hesychast will be tempted in this way. No one should think that the Hesychast has it easy in his cave in the forest. It is hard work full of temptations.
The author next uses a rather forced reading of the Gospel episode of the raising of Lazarus to assert that Jesus rebuked his own spirit so as to show us how by rebuking ourselves we must become more manly and less womanish in the face of ‘the boast of death’.
The author then returns to the theme of a ‘prudent anger’ given to man as a weapon against sin. In this he is following Evagrius. He suggests that Eve should have used this anger against the temptation proffered by the Devil through the serpent to disobey God and eat the fruit of the tree of knowledge. This is clearly offered as a model of how we should act in the face of temptation. Normally, however, the ascetic on the one hand avoids agitation and rage and on the other hand avoids damaging the humans who are the agents of temptation—normally we do not pull out a pistol and kill the fellow human being who is tempting us. This is what it means for the ascetic to use anger as a weapon in a prudent way. It is very important for the ascetic who would like to implement this doctrine of the prudent use of anger to have a guide who will teach him the proper way to use anger in a way that is not impassioned. Not only might the ascetic sin against his fellow human being if he uses an uncontrolled anger but he also might do serious spiritual and psychological damage to himself using this anger only against the demons but in the wrong way.
The author now returns to the argument that it is far more spiritually mature to use anger in this way than it is to exercise indifference to the temptations that come. Of course, there is the issue of the spiritual maturity of the ascetic, since the beginner will never be in a position to apply this doctrine of the use of anger against temptations. But the author wants to insist that it is far more manly and spiritually mature to fight sin in this way. He then proceeds to use a rather laboured metaphor of the warrior on the chariot to illustrate his point. The main point to understand is that temperance is considered here to be a general virtue that integrates the four basic virtues into a psychological and spiritual wholeness. (Justice plays this role in Evagrius, who is following, he says, St Gregory the Theologian.) St Diadochos is arguing that one aspect of achieving this emotional integration is to fight against sin using anger in the dispassionate manner that he is suggesting. This is not quite the model of psychological integration that psychologists have, especially in the United States. Those of our readers who are involved in psychology might wish to consider this difference and its implications for their model of psychological health and integration.
It does not seem necessary to us to explain the allusion to Elias’ ascension to Heaven. It seems clear enough on the basis of the foregoing.
So what are we to make of the possibility that the author also considers that we might use anger against humans who are sinning? We are reserved about this use but we leave the reader to think about it. The greatest danger is going against the Gospel and spending more time taking the mote out of our brother’s eye than the beam out of our eye, not to mention falling into the serious sin of judging others: we might spend more time thinking we know what’s good for our neighbour than in cultivating humble repentance. And that is the topic of the next chapter.

[1] I.e. Eve’s ardent love for God hid her nakedness from her own eyes.
[2] I.e. to material beauty.
[3] This chapter is easier to understand if one considers that it is speaking to someone accustomed to practising the Jesus Prayer in the depths of his heart. The tension that it describes is between continuing to recite the prayer in the depths of the heart versus the temptation to look out at the things of physical beauty around one. This is continued in the next chapter.
[4] The basis of this chapter is the ascetic who maintains his mind within his heart. Doing so, he has the virtues as the custodians of the citadel of his chastity—that is, of his inner world where he has his mind. In such a case the arrows of the demons can do him no harm, even if they should to a certain extent reach right up to the windows of nature—that is, even should the demons, which, as the author will develop, are outside the city trying to get in (i.e. outside the person tempting him), arrive at exciting the ascetic’s very flesh.
[5] I.e. sloth.
[6] This is an instruction for an advanced Hesychast.
[7] This very important passage establishes that because it is the nature of the mind to be occupied with something, then when we have withdrawn our mind within ourselves in the remembrance of God, we must nonetheless give the mind something to do. This something is precisely the Jesus Prayer—and only the Jesus Prayer: we must not allow the mind to wander to other thoughts and fantasies. These are instructions mainly for advanced Hesychasts.
[8] Not in a negative sense but in the sense of something that continues over a long time.
[9] What the author means is that because of the harshness of the passions that he lists, the mind in such a condition is unable, even if it wants, to imprint the words of the Jesus Prayer its consciousness so that the words become a conscious mental habit imprinted on the ascetic’s consciousness to which the ascetic attends.
[10] I.e. Jesus Christ.
[11] This is a very important, if succinct, description of how through the action of Grace the mind is led to the automatic repetition of the formula of the Jesus Prayer even in sleep.
[12] Greek: Abba o pater. Of course, Abba is the Aramaic familiar term for one’s own father that Jesus himself is recorded in the Gospel as having used for his Heavenly Father.
[13] ‘Prudent anger’: Greek: sophrona thumo. It is hard to convey the nuance of this phrase in context. The author wishes to refer to an anger that is of sound mind, in its senses, prudent, chaste; not an anger that is extreme, uncontrolled or impassioned. There are many repetitions of sophron in its various cognate forms in this chapter.
[14] ‘In a prudent way’. Greek: sophronos.
[15] I.e. at the Last Judgement.
[16] ‘Wits’: Greek: phrenes. This word is a cognate of sophron, which is derived etymologically from ‘having the wits whole or sound’.
[17] Recall that the author has already established that ‘temperance’ is the common name of all the four virtues. Hence, he is now drawing an extended metaphor between the four virtues and the four-horse chariot on which the Prophet Elias ascended.
[18] ‘The prudent one’. Greek: o sophron.
[19] Greek: aura. This is the word used in the Septuagint not for Elias’ ascension but for the theophany on Horeb: God appeared to him there not in the earthquake or storm but in the fine breeze (lepte aura). Whether this is to be taken as an inadvertence on the part of the author or as a subtle allusion would depend on each reader’s judgement.

Tuesday, 24 March 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 37 - 55

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

The dreams that appear to the soul in the love of God are undeceiving accusers of that soul which is to a certain extent healthy. For that very reason they[1] are neither transformed from one shape to another,[2] nor do they suddenly shake the [spiritual] sense, nor do they laugh or suddenly take on a gloomy air, but they approach the soul with every clemency, completely filling it with every spiritual gladness. Whence, once the body has awoken the soul seeks the joy of the dream with great longing. But the fantasies of the demons are in every respect the opposite. For they[3] neither remain in the same shape nor show for very long an undisturbed form. For that which they do not have of their own free will but only make use of from their own deception is unable to suffice them for very long;[4] moreover, they also say grandiose things and very often threaten, often shaping themselves into the appearance of soldiers; occasionally they chant to the soul with shouting. Whence, once it has been purified, recognizing them clearly the soul that has been subjected to the fantasy awakens the body;[5] there is also the case where it even rejoices at having been able to recognize clearly the ruse of the demons. For which reason, having reproached the demons in the very dream, the soul moves them to a great anger.[6] Yet there is also the case where the good dreams do not bear joy to the soul but create in it a sweet sorrow and painless weeping. This occurs to those who make great progress in humility.
The author writes ‘the dreams that appear to the soul’ if we assume that the text is not corrupt at the word rendered ‘dreams’. What he really means, as is evident from the text, is ‘the images of persons that appear to the soul in dreams’. What is at issue here is the discernment of the origin of dreams. In the late Antique Age, some dreams were thought to have a supernatural origin, as is obvious from such authors even as Homer. Hence, the issue for the author is how to assess the origin of a particular supernatural dream that we have had. That is not to say that all dreams are supernatural in origin, as the author himself goes on to say in the next chapter.
First of all, the author takes the position that a good supernatural dream—a dream from God or an angel—will first of all tend to accuse the (impure) soul. It will not necessarily bring consolation to the soul.
Next, he introduces a very important criterion of the recognition of demonic activity in dreams. The demons are continually changing form. A good dream will not have this characteristic: the images in the dream of persons (perhaps of angels; perhaps of saints) who are having a dream with a good supernatural origin will be stable. The instability of the demons in dreams can be experienced in the hypnagogic reverie that we discussed earlier.
The next point that the author makes is that dreams with a good origin will not disturb or shake the spiritual sense. Since the demons are intrinsically opposed to God, the Holy Trinity, their presence can only disturb or agitate or shake the spiritual sense. This is a second important criterion for the discernment of demonic activity, not only in dreams but in other spiritual contexts: the demon always brings agitation or disturbance—although sometimes in very subtle ways that the inexperienced might not understand to be demonic.
Next the author asserts that the figures in dreams of a good supernatural origin do not laugh or suddenly take on a gloomy air. One might think of it this way: if the dream is of good supernatural origin, then it is blessed by God. In such a case, the figures in the dream will act according to the grace of the Holy Spirit. They will neither laugh—something very seldom associated with the presence of the Holy Spirit although not completely excluded in certain rare cases—nor be gloomy. Instead, the author says, in keeping with the nature of the Holy Spirit the figures in a dream with a good supernatural origin approach the soul with every clemency (recall that one of the most important images for the Holy Spirit in Scripture is the dove) completely filling it with spiritual gladness (recall that the Holy Spirit is the Comforter).
The author then describes in more detail the actions of demons in dreams. The demons do not maintain the same form for very long; following Evagrius the author explains that since they are only borrowing (or, imitating) the forms that they manifest, they cannot be satisfied with those borrowed forms for long.
The author continues that the demons are often aggressive and threatening, often gross and given to ‘shouting’—to aggressive excess of all kinds. The Fathers treat the demons as fallen minds. Hence what the author is describing is how these fallen minds present themselves to a person who is having a dream.
The author goes on that once the soul has been purified (where one of the main means of purification is the fear of God in stillness), then within the dream the soul recognizes the demons and awakens the body. Indeed, the soul may even rejoice at having seen through the ruse of the demons. The author is clearly writing from personal experience.
The author goes on to point out that the soul may rouse the demons to great anger by its reproaches of them within the dream. Here we have a dream universe which the author, in common with the Fathers, takes to have a real substrate that is more than just the unconscious complexes of the person dreaming. Real fallen minds appear to the soul in the dream while the body is sleeping; the soul reproaches those demons; the demons are moved by these reproaches to great anger.
The author ends by describing another situation where the dream is from a good supernatural origin: the dream bears ‘sweet sorrow and painless weeping’, this happening in the case of those who have made great progress in humility.
The author goes on in the next chapter to make a very serious point about dreams.
We ourselves have said what we have heard from those who have come to experience: the discernment of good from bad dreams. For the sake of great virtue, however, let it be sufficient for us not to be in any way persuaded by any fantasy at all. For dreams are for the most part nothing other than the phantoms of deluded thought or again, as I said, the mockery of demons. So if sometime there would be sent to us a vision from the goodness of God and we did not accept it, our most longed-for Lord Jesus would not grow angry with us on account of this. For he knows that we come to this on account of the ruses of the demons. For the aforesaid discernment is exact but it also happens that through the plundering of something imperceptible the soul which has been made filthy—no one is exempt from this, I think—loses the trace of exact discernment and believes in things which are not good as if they were good.
The author says that he is transmitting what he has heard concerning the discernment of good dreams from bad dreams. He clearly thinks his disciples should know what he has written in the previous chapter. But he also thinks that the more prudent course for them is not to trust any dream at all. This is sound advice in our day and age too.
The author now shows that he is not a deluded freak from the Fifth Century: he is clear that dreams are for the most part ‘phantoms of deluded thought’—that is, garbage washed up onto the shore of consciousness from our unconscious—or even demonic mockery. In the case that God actually sends us a vision in a dream, the prudent thing, he says, is not to accept it. God will not mind, because he realizes that we are afraid of being deceived by demons. Sound advice. Usually today, the person having a dream that he thinks might be of good supernatural origin mentions the dream to his Elder and does exactly what his Elder says to do about it.
The author then makes a very shrewd remark: the previous chapter contained an exact description of the discernment of supernaturally good from supernaturally bad dreams, but sometimes we do not have the spiritual sense in perfect working condition because of a fault which is imperceptible to us, so that we are liable to believe in things which are not to be believed, to our cost. This is very important. Don’t believe in dreams. You’re going to end up in the mental hospital.
As an example of this, let there be for us the servant who is hailed by night by his master from in front of the yard of the house after a long absence abroad. To whom the servant absolutely refuses the opening of the doors. He has been frightened lest, plundering him, the similarity of voice prepare him to become betrayer of the things that were entrusted by the master. With whom his lord is not angry once it has become day but finds him worthy of many praises, for he thought that even the voice of the master was a deception, not wanting to lose any of the master’s goods.
This seems straightforward.
It must not be doubted that when the mind begins densely to be acted upon by the divine light it becomes somewhat transparent so that it richly sees its own light, and [it must also not be doubted] that this word will come to pass when the mind has dominated the passions. That whatever appears to the mind with shape[7], either as light or as fire, occurs through the evil art of the Enemy, the divine Paul teaches us clearly, saying that he[8] is transformed into an angel of light. Therefore one must not undertake the ascetic life with this hope, so that Satan not find the soul ready for plunder on account of it, but only so that we arrive at loving God in every [spiritual] perception and inner spiritual assurance of heart, which very thing is the ‘with the whole heart and with the whole soul and with the whole intellect’. For he who is acted upon by divine Grace to this degree departs from the world even if he should still be present in the world.
This is a very important chapter. The author is clear that it is with a spiritual sight that the advanced ascetic begins to see the spiritual light of his own mind. The author then remarks, following Evagrius, that this can only occur when the mind has dominated the passions—when it is no longer enslaved to its emotional tendencies to sin. The author now repeats himself that this spiritual vision of the light of one’s own mind, and by extension this spiritual vision of the light of God, has nothing to do with shapes that the mind might see of light or fire. These, he says, are deceptions of the Devil. He refers to the Apostle Paul’s remark that even Satan is transformed into an angel of light.
The author now goes on to make a very serious point. If we begin the spiritual life expecting visions we are as it were advancing into battle without weapons and without a shield. The only thing we can expect is to be slaughtered by the enemy, the demons. They will be only too happy to provide us with a supermarket full of false visions, as an Athonite Elder has once remarked. This quest for ‘spiritual experience’ is the temptation of beginners, and a serious one for those of us who do not have an Elder to guide us on a daily basis. We have to change our way of thinking so that we do not orient ourselves to visions—and certainly when we think that we are deserving of such visions because of our great importance. As another Athonite Elder once remarked, God cannot stand the conceited soul and he allows it to be overtaken by spiritual disaster from the demons that provide it with false visions and revelations. This is the road of disaster and it is very difficult for someone who has fallen in this way to be healed.
Instead, the author says, we must aim to love God in full spiritual assurance of heart. This is not a sensible experience. It is a spiritual assurance. Moreover, the author says, to the extent that the person increases in this love of God in spiritual assurance, to that extent he departs from this world—not in such madness as astral projection; that is not what the author means; but by being loosed from spiritual attachment to this world.
Here it must be said that it might be difficult to understand just what the difference is between the two approaches to the spiritual life. In this case, the only solution is for us to humble ourselves. If at all possible we should find an Elder who can guide us and form us spiritually, so that we proceed on the right spiritual road.
Two things which are quite dangerous: To think that we beginners have spiritual charisms that make us great, just so long as we find an Elder to iron out the few small details. To think that we have the right to make spiritual progress. The only right we have is to repent and to love God and our neighbour.
The author goes on to explain how the beginner avoids the trap he has been discussing, in the next chapter.
Obedience is known to be the first good among all the introductory virtues, for, to begin with, it sets aside our conceit, and then it begets in us humility. Whence it also becomes a gate of love in God among those who gladly sustain it. Having set this aside, Adam slipped away into the Tartarean deep. Having, in the word of the Dispensation[9], loved this up to the Cross and death, the Lord was obedient to his own Father (and this even though he was in no way less than the Father’s greatness), so that having paid in full[10] the crime of Mankind’s disobedience through his own obedience he lead again to the blessed and eternal life those who have lived in obedience.[11] Therefore those who sustain a battle against the conceit of the Devil must first take a care to obedience, for as we progress it will show us without deception all the paths of the virtues.
It is clear that the author thinks that the primary virtue of the beginner is obedience. Since he surely does not mean ‘obedience of the beginner to him- or herself’, he must mean that the beginner should have a guide. The author gives a very important reason why the beginner should start with obedience: obedience sets aside our conceit and begets humility in us. If you don’t have humility on the spiritual path, you are a disaster waiting to occur. The only solution is to enter into obedience. St John of Sinai has much on the spiritual life at this level, in the Ladder of Divine Ascent. The author continues with a discussion of the salvific role of obedience in the Life of Christ, in contradistinction to the disaster that disobedience wrought in the life of Adam and Eve and thus the whole human race.
Temperance is the common title of all the virtues. Therefore he who is keeping temperance must be temperate in everything. For just as whatever smallest member of a man that is removed disfigures the whole of the man, however insignificant the part that is missing from the figure, thus he who neglects one of the virtues loses the whole dignity of temperance in a way that he does not know. One must therefore apply himself not only to the bodily virtues but also to those which are able to purify our inner man. For what profit is it to someone who keeps the body in virginity if the soul has committed adultery with the demon of disobedience? Or how will he who has refrained from gluttony and every bodily desire but who has not taken a care to conceit and ambition, neither sustained a slight affliction, be crowned when the scales will counterbalance the light of justice to those who are practising the works of justice in a spirit of humility?[12]
To understand this chapter, we must grasp that the author is speaking to a milieu where there was a great emphasis on bodily asceticism, primarily fasting. What he is trying to argue is that the person who is temperate in a bodily way—that is, exercises self-control in a bodily way—must also exercise more spiritual virtues in order to get anything out his bodily asceticism.
Those engaged in ascetic struggles must take a care to hate all the irrational desires in such a way as to acquire hatred for them as a habit; however, it is necessary to preserve temperance in regard to foods in such a way that one does not ever come into a loathing for any of them, for this is both accursed and completely demonic. For we do not abstain from any of them because they are wicked—may it not be so!—but so that, breaking ourselves off from the many and good foods, we moderately mortify the inflamed parts of the body, and, further, so that our abundance become a sufficient provision for the poor, which very thing is the identifying mark of true love.
The Saint is arguing for a moderate bodily asceticism: not because the irrational desires are good but because we must never come to believe that any food is in itself bad (this is a dogmatic error) do we engage in only a moderate bodily asceticism so as to mortify the desires of the flesh. Moreover, he says, exercising a moderate bodily asceticism gives us something left over to give to the poor, which is a sign of true Christian charity.
To eat and drink from all those things which are served or mixed,[13] giving thanks to God, in no way battles against the rule of gnosis,[14] ‘for all things were exceedingly good.’ To abstain willingly from the tasty and the many is both most discerning and more gnostic,[15] for we would not willingly despise the tasty foods which are present if we have not tasted the sweetness of God in every [spiritual] perception and inner spiritual assurance.
Here the author again insists that we are not to refuse foods because they are bad (unless, of course, we have a medical problem which prevents us from eating a certain food). However, he says, to abstain willingly from tasty foods and from eating in great quantities is more spiritual. St John of Sinai, the author of the Ladder, had this approach: a great Hesychast, when he was the Abbot of St Catherine’s in Sinai he ate from all the foods provided for in the monastic typikon, but very little. This also helps humility because it prevents an arrogant ‘I don’t eat such foods because I am too spiritually advanced’ attitude.
In the same way that weighed down by a multitude of foods the body makes the mind to be somewhat timid and slow-moving, so, weakened by much temperance, the body renders the contemplative part of the soul[16] gloomy and indisposed to letters. It is therefore necessary to prepare the foods in accordance with the movements of the body, so that when the body is healthy it be mortified appropriately but when it is weak it be fattened moderately. For he who is waging ascetic struggles should not weaken the body [completely], but only so much that it will still be able to suffice for the struggle, so that even in labours of the body[17] the soul might be appropriately purified.
Here the Saint is arguing that just as there is excessive eating, there is also excessive fasting. We must tailor our ascetical program to our actual bodily and spiritual condition.
When vainglory is greatly inflamed against us, finding a pretext for its own evil in the sojourn of certain brothers or of any strangers at all, it is good to permit the moderate relaxation of the customary diet. For then we will send the demon[18] away not having accomplished anything and rather mourning the endeavour; moreover, we will fulfil the institution of love in an acceptable way while we will, by means of the condescension, preserve the mystery of temperance free from ostentation.
Let us suppose that today’s Bishop of Photiki comes by our Hesychasterion. Rather than insist on maintaining our customary ascesis, which can lead to vainglory because we are pretending to be great monks in front of the Bishop, we should relax our customary rule of fasting and eat foods with the Bishop that are more suitable to the Bishop’s status.
Fasting has a boast in itself but not towards God, for it is a tool which trains in chastity those who wish. Therefore those who struggle for piety should not think great things of fasting but should await in the faith of God our completion of the goal, for no masters at all of any of the arts boast of the results of their profession from the tools, but each of them awaits the final form of the endeavour so that from that the exactness of the art be exhibited.[19]
The author is here insisting that fasting is a tool to control bodily desire, not an end in itself.
In the same way that the earth, moderately watered, sends forth pure and greatly increased the seed which has been sown in it, but, becoming drunk from the many rains, bears only thistles and thorns, thus also the land of the heart, if we should make moderate use of wine, gives forth pure its natural seeds and brings forth greatly thriving and very fruitful that which has been sown in it by the Holy Spirit, but if it should become soaked from much drinking it really bears all its thoughts as thorns and thistles.
This is not an attitude which has taken complete hold among ascetics. Generally they completely avoid drinking, but there are certainly exceptions.
When our mind swims in the wave of much drinking, it not only sees in its sleep the impassioned phantoms figured by the demons but moulding in itself certain fine apparitions also makes ardent use of its own fantasies as loved ones of a sort. For when the organs of intercourse are warmed by the heat of the wine, there is every need for the mind to present to itself a voluptuous shadow of the passion. Therefore, making use in moderation we should avoid the damage from excess. For when the mind does not have the pleasure dragging it down to paint the picture of sin, it remains completely without fantasy and, what is better, without effeminacy.
The author is giving a penetrating psychological analysis how it is that excessive drinking leads to nocturnal emissions. The author also thinks that effeminacy is a result of excessive drinking. What could be understood here is the author’s analysis of the interior disposition of the mind of someone who is drunk: effeminacy is a lack of spiritual sobriety—something masculine—connected to the presence of fantasies in the mind.
All the manufactured drinks, which nowadays are called aperitifs by the artisans of this invention, on account of the fact, so it seems, that they guide the multitude of foods into the stomach, must not be pursued by those who wish to mortify the parts of the body that swell. For not only does the quality of these things become damaging to the ascetically struggling bodies, but their absurd manufacture itself also wounds the God-bearing conscience. For what is it that is lacking in the nature of wine, then, that by the mixture of various condiments its firmness should be made effeminate?
The author thinks that aperitifs and liqueurs are effeminate and conducive to over-eating. Moreover it is clear that he thinks that they have a bad effect in regard to the control of bodily desire. Moreover, he says, their manufacture is not something that is borne witness to in the conscience by the Holy Spirit. As they say—it’s not a monastic sort of thing to do to manufacture such concoctions.
Our Lord and Teacher of this our sacred way of life, Jesus Christ, was given vinegar to drink in the Passion by the ministrants of the diabolical commands so that, it seems to me, he leave us a clear model of the [proper] disposition towards the sacred [ascetic] struggles. For those who are struggling against sin must not make use of tasty food and drink but rather sustain the bitterness of the [ascetic] struggles. Let the hyssop also be added to the sponge of contempt so that the figure of our purification be brought into the model perfectly. For acridity is the property of struggles whereas that which purifies[20] is at all events the property of perfection.
This extended metaphor seems rather strained. What the author wants to say is that those who are struggling for virtue should indeed avoid tasty food and drink and rather put up with the bitterness and difficulty of asceticism. Moreover, we must also experience contempt and other such things so that our soul be purified in addition to our body. There is a purification that the ascetic must go through to attain to God in the spiritual assurance that the Saint has discussed; this is symbolized by bitterness and acridity not by sugar and tasty food and spiced liqueurs.
Let no one proclaim that going to the bath[21] is sinful or absurd; however, I say that to abstain from this is both manly and most prudent. For then neither does that pleasurable moisture render our body effeminate nor do we come into recollection of that inglorious nakedness of Adam, so that we take a care to the leaves of Adam so as to cover the second-rate excuse of shame;[22] and certainly we who have just jumped out of the utter destruction of worldly life ought to unite the purity of our body to the beauty of chastity.
The Saint makes the point that there is nothing dogmatically wrong with washing but that it is better for us to avoid bathing so as to avoid effeminacy. Nowadays, various Elders have various views on this subject, ranging from a bath once a week to no bathing at all. It is true that as the person becomes more purified and more spiritual he has less need of bodily baths. However, it is also true that those of us who are not so spiritual will be difficult to be around unless we wash every so often.
There is nothing that impedes calling doctors in the time of illnesses. For since at some time the art was going to be gathered by human experience,[23] for that reason the medicines also pre-existed. Still, we must not have our hope of healing in doctors but in our true Saviour and Physician, Jesus Christ. I say these things to those who are accomplishing the goal of temperance in cœnobia[24] and in cities, on account of the fact that due to conditions they are unable to have the ceaseless activity of faith [working] through love, and moreover so that they not fall into vainglory and the temptation of the Devil. For some of these proclaim among the many that they have no need of doctors. If someone should be accomplishing the life of solitude in more deserted places among two or three brothers with the same way of life, then let him bring himself in faith only to the Lord, him who heals our every illness and infirmity, whatever sort of illnesses he should fall into at all. For after the Lord, he has the wilderness as sufficient consolation for the illnesses. Whence, neither does such a person ever lack the activity of faith, and certainly since, making use of the wilderness as a good screen, neither does he find anywhere to exhibit his virtue of patient endurance.[25] For because of this, ‘The Lord makes solitaries to dwell in a house.’
The point that the author is making is that ascetics who live in the city or in cœnobia do well to make use of the services of a physician when they are ill. Among other things this prevents them from falling into vainglory over their supposed lack of need for human medical care. Along these lines, Elder Porphyrios once remarked that some people who came to him wanted to be healed only by a miracle; they were too vainglorious and proud to go to a human doctor. However, the author also points out that the ascetics who are in the city or in cœnobia do not have the spiritual attainment necessary to be able to dispense with human medicine. However, the Saint says, those who are living as hermits should turn to the Lord and place all their hope in him. That is good in this case, the author says, for the following reasons. The first reason: the hermit has the wilderness as consolation after the Lord. The author clearly thinks that living in nature is very consoling to the spirit. Given that there was much less difference between the city and the forest in his day than today, how much more true is this today if the hermit is living in the true wilderness? Next reason: the hermit has the spiritual attainment to be able to turn directly to Christ with his affliction. Next reason: the affliction allows the hermit to exercise the virtue of patient endurance. The author then concludes with the point that because of the virtue of patient endurance that the hermit exercises the Lord makes him to dwell in a (spiritual) house: what the author is implying is that the hermit becomes united to the Lord in a union that the hermit senses with the spiritual sense on account of his patient endurance.
When we are greatly disgusted with the bodily anomalies that occur to us,[26] it must be known that our soul is still enslaved to the desires of the body. For just that reason the soul, longing for material well-being, does not wish to depart from the good things of life but also considers it a great lack of leisure not to be able, on account of the illnesses, to make use of the fine things of life. But if with thanksgiving the soul accepts the troubles that arise from the illnesses, it is known not to be far from the boundaries of dispassion, whence it even then accepts death with joy, as being, rather, the occasion of true life.
Let us suppose that we have become paralyzed in an accident. We cannot take care of ourselves. What the author is saying is that in this and similar cases if we are disgusted by our condition then our soul is still enslaved to our passions: our soul still longs for well-being of the flesh and not for spiritual attainment. If, however, our soul attains to a condition where it even gives thanks for the bodily paralysis, say, then the soul is close to the boundaries of dispassion. And the author has already explained that dispassion, the liberation of the soul from the domination of the passions, is the foundation of the spiritual sense which unites the ascetic to God in a conscious way. Moreover, because of the dispassion, the soul even accepts death with joy, realizing that bodily death is the gate to spiritual life.
The soul would not desire to depart from the body unless its disposition towards this air become without quality to it.[27] For all the senses of the body are opposed to faith, since the former occur in connection with present things while the latter proclaims only the extravagance of future goods. It therefore befits the struggler in asceticism never to recall certain trees with fine branches, or arbours, or fine-flowing fountains, or various meadows, or comely houses or discussions with relatives, neither then to remember honours which might have occurred at the festivals, but to make use of necessary things with thanksgiving and to consider life to be a foreign road bereft of every fleshly disposition.[28] For only thus, wholly restricting our very intellect, might we return to the trace of the eternal road.[29]
What the author means (assuming that ‘air’ is not a corruption for ‘life’) is that the soul will not reach the very holy state of desiring to depart from the body to be with Christ unless it first loses all its attachment to this life. For, the author says, faith is opposed to the senses and the passions of the body: the body is for the here and now; the faith of the soul is for the hereafter. Therefore, it does not do for the ascetic to spend his time thinking about the fine things of this life, including gardens and parks and relatives, that he has left behind in order to engage in the life of asceticism.
Moreover, as the rest of the chapter makes clear, the author is aiming his discussion to the Hesychast who is able to contemplate God and giving him instructions on how to keep his mind on the contemplation of God, not letting it wander to thoughts of a more earthly nature. We point this out in the footnotes to this chapter. The author in the next chapter continues with instructions to the Hesychast who is able to contemplate God on how to avoid dispersing his contemplation through the sight of earthly beauties.

[1] I.e. the personalities in the dream.
[2] It is a staple of Christian demonology that the demons cannot maintain the same form very long but are always being transformed from one shape to another.
[3] I.e. the demons.
[4] This is a key characteristic of the demons: because, for example, they do not have virtue they can only present the appearance of virtue on the basis of their own delusion. But this masquerade cannot suffice them for very long, so they change shape and appearance. This characteristic is expressed by saying that what is demonic is ‘anhypostato’—lacking in substantial existence. In Greek philosophy this is the opposite of having a substantial existence as an essence instantiated in matter.
[5] Once the soul is purified, then in sleep it both recognizes the onslaught of the demons in the dream and awakens the sleeping body because of it. Sometimes it even rejoices at having found out the ruse of the demons.
[6] I.e. in the dream itself the mind converses with the demons—fallen angels with actual personality—and by reproaching them provokes them to great anger.
[7] Greek: schema. This means ‘shape, form or figure’.
[8] I.e. Satan.
[9] Given that he continues with a quotation from Paul, the author seems to mean ‘according to the New Testament’.
[10] Greek: eklusas. This verb takes on a variety of meanings and our rendition should not be taken as establishing St Diadochos’ position on the nature of Christ’s redemptive act on the Cross.
[11] The author’s intended audience is persons living or desiring to live the monastic life of asceticism.
[12] The Greek isn’t entirely clear. However, he is clearly referring to the Last Judgement.
[13] It is difficult to convey it simply, but in St Diadochos’ day foods were served and drinks—especially wines—were mixed.
[14] I.e. the monastic rule, whose goal is gnosis.
[15] More gnostic. Greek: gnostikoteron. I.e. showing more experience of gnosis.
[16] This is the mind.
[17] I.e. in manual labour.
[18] I.e. the demon of vainglory.
[19] The author has in mind the sculptor, say, who does not boast of his hammer and chisel, but waits to see the final result of his art, so that from the final product the exactness of his representation might be demonstrated (recall that in the ancient world, the artist attempted to portray nature, not to create an autonomous work of art divorced from nature, as today).
[20] I.e. the hyssop. The author’s metaphor is not completely clear.
[21] While this chapter was written at a time when the baths were public—with all the potential for scandal that that entailed—it clearly applies to more modern conditions where the bath might be more private.
[22] This expression is unclear as regards ‘second-rate’.
[23] The author has in mind the plants that anciently were collected for use in medicine. He is saying that since this was going to happen, God made sure that the appropriate plants pre-existed.
[24] I.e. monasteries.
[25] I.e. the wilderness acts as a good screen between the hermit and the world, hiding him from others, and the illness allows him to exhibit his virtue of patient endurance which he would not otherwise be able to exhibit because of his isolation.
[26] I.e. in an illness, especially a terminal illness such as cancer.
[27] I.e. the soul would not wish to depart from the body unless it loses its taste for the very air of this life.
[28] I.e. every fleshly psychological orientation.
[29] This is an instruction for the advanced Hesychast to keep his mind on the contemplation of God, not letting it wander to thoughts and memories of earthly beauties and honours.