Sunday, 26 April 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 76 - 78

  Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

Certain men[1] have supposed that among the baptized Grace and sin, that is, the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of deception, are hidden in the mind at one and the same time. Whence, they say, the one person[2] calls the mind to the good things whereas the other directly calls the mind to the opposite things. From the Holy Scriptures and from the actual [spiritual] sense[3] of the mind, however, I have comprehended that before Holy Baptism, Grace urges the soul towards the good things from the outside, whereas Satan lurks in the depths of the soul attempting to block all the exits of the mind that tend to the right[4]. But from the very hour that we are reborn[5] the demon comes to be outside and Grace inside. Whence we find that as deception reigned over the soul before [Baptism], so Truth reigns over it after Baptism. Nevertheless, after this, Satan is also active in the soul just as before (and worse, most often) yet not as present together with Grace—may it not be so!—but as it were rather fumigating the mind with the sweetness of the irrational pleasures by means of the moisture of the body.[6] God allows this to occur so that through the storm and fire of trial the soul come to be, if it wishes, in the enjoyment of the Good. For he says: ‘For we have passed through fire and water and you have led us out into refreshment.’
This chapter begins a very important discussion of both the nature of Orthodox Baptism and the relation between that Baptism and the practice of the Jesus Prayer. The author commences by stating that some people—we are not aware of the source of this teaching that the author is at great pains to combat; perhaps it was the Messalians—believe that after Orthodox Baptism, the Holy Spirit and the spirit(s) of deception co-exist in the nous—the mind, the created spirit of man—of the person baptized. No, the author says, what happens is that before Orthodox Baptism, the Holy Spirit urges the person from outside of him or her to orient his or her actions towards the Good, ultimately towards the Gospel. However, when the person is still unbaptized, then the unclean spirit(s) lurk in the depth of the person’s soul trying to block all such movements of the person’s created spirit or mind towards the Good. Implicit in what the author is saying is that these unclean spirit(s) are unable to block the person’s free will completely. Moreover, although the author does not say so, it is a teaching of the Gospel, that the Grace of God assists the person to come to the Good not only from the outside but from the inside too.
However, the author states, once we come to be baptized, the positions of the Holy Spirit and the spirit(s) of deception with regard to their presence in us are reversed: the Holy Spirit comes to be inside us and the spirit(s) of deception come to be outside.
The author continues that the spirit(s) of deception continue to influence the person ‘fumigating the mind with the sweetness of the irrational pleasures by means of the moisture of the body’. What he means is that the spirit(s) of deception ‘colour’ the consciousness of the person by the anticipation of the pleasure to come from the satisfaction of the bodily desires, which have their origin in the physiology of the man or woman. The reason God allows this to be so, the author says, is that God wants to test our free will, so that after Baptism we might earn, through our conscious choice of Good over Evil, the ‘enjoyment of the Good’—the states of Grace that he has already referred to and will continue to discuss further on in his treatise.
There is now the question of the status of non-Christians such as Buddhists or Hindus or Muslims in regard to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. It should be obvious to our readers that members of these three religions have practices which morphologically correspond to the Jesus Prayer. Buddhists have various mantra meditations; Hindus have their mantra meditations; and Sufis have their dhikr, their repetition of the Shahada (the Muslim confession of faith). Implicit in what the author is saying is that while these members of non-Christian religions have practices which resemble the Jesus Prayer, they do not have the Holy Spirit, which comes to them only through Orthodox Baptism. So while these persons might practise the Jesus Prayer as an interesting mantra, or recommend the practice of the Jesus Prayer to Westerners as a more culturally accessible mantra meditation, the issue arises of what spirit they and their Western adherents have in their nous or mind or created spirit when they are practising the Jesus Prayer. For if they had the Holy Spirit, then they would be Christians, for the Holy Spirit bears witness to Jesus Christ, the Son of God. What these persons might have is a spirit that is willing to accept Jesus Christ as a bodhisattva, as one avatar among many, or as a prophet—or even as an ‘ascended master’ or member of the ‘Great White Brotherhood’. In other words, in the absence of Orthodox Baptism (and, it must be said, correct faith), something else is going on with the practice of the Jesus Prayer than is going on with the Orthodox Christian’s practice of the Jesus Prayer. Recall that the Jesus Prayer is an appeal to Jesus Christ, not just the repetition of an interesting formula.
Another way to look at the issue is this. Let us suppose that the Buddhist has a spirit—for it is evident that the Buddhist texts refer to the grace of the Guru as assisting the person in his spiritual journey to the proper levels of Samadhi, or Buddhist contemplation and altered states of consciousness. Since this spirit is not the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ, it is going to lead the person in other directions from the directions that the Holy Spirit would lead the person, even if the person is reciting an invocation to Jesus Christ.
That this is so can be seen from the fact that Orthodox Christians with the Holy Spirit have Orthodox Christian spiritual experiences while Buddhists tend to have Buddhist spiritual experiences: this is not merely culturally determined, but also due to the activity of the particular spirit that the person has. And similarly for practitioners of other religions. So it is not just a matter of reciting a Christian formula, but of being assisted by the Holy Spirit or by another spirit.
Moreover, this is why the particular formula is not of the essence in the Orthodox practice of the Jesus Prayer: The formula should be tailored spiritually to the particular person; this is something that ideally an Elder with the charism of clairvoyance passes judgement on in each individual case. It is ultimately the assistance of the Holy Spirit that causes the person to make progress, as the author himself will develop later on in his treatise. Hence, what is important is to have the Holy Spirit, not to spend too much time on the exact wording of the formula which one should use.
What the author is saying is that we receive the Holy Spirit in Orthodox Baptism and that the act of Baptism not only brings the Holy Spirit into our nous or mind or created spirit but also removes all other spirits. So if a Buddhist, say, who was practising the Jesus Prayer with a Buddhist spirit were to come to Orthodox Baptism, then the Buddhist spirit would leave that person’s nous to be replaced by the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ (assuming that the Buddhist came to Orthodox Baptism in good faith and properly catechized). Thenceforward, the former Buddhist would be ‘on a different wavelength’ when he practised the Jesus Prayer. However, the old spirit, the Buddhist spirit, would be outside that person and still able to suggest to the person Buddhist ideas and ideals and aspirations, and so on and so forth. It is because of this fact that as a pastoral matter, when a person practising the Jesus Prayer as an element of a non-Orthodox-Christian religious commitment comes to be baptized, then some care has to be taken if the person continues to practise the Jesus Prayer, since he will have the previous religion’s spirit making suggestions to him, in addition to his memories of his old practice of the Jesus Prayer, as influenced by the old spirit. In such cases there is a need for purification that may require the temporary discontinuance of the practice of the Jesus Prayer until the person becomes properly equilibrated through attendance at the Orthodox Mysteries (Holy Communion, Confession, Euchelaio and so on) and so that when he practises the Jesus Prayer he no longer is in serious danger of being tempted by the old spirit.
There are some related issues here. When a baptized member of the Orthodox Church joins another religion then he loses the Holy Spirit: he has denied Christ. That is why the practice of the Orthodox Church has always been to receive such persons back into the Orthodox Church, if they desire to return to the Church, by means of Chrismation: this Mystery is ordinarily given once only, immediately after Baptism, for the reception of the Holy Spirit. Although this mystery is given for the reception of the Holy Spirit as on the Day of Pentecost, that does not negate what the author and the Church teaches about the reception of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
It should also be noted that members of the Orthodox Church who convert to another religion and then return to Orthodoxy are normally forbidden from the priesthood and indeed normally denied communion in the Mysteries of Christ until they are on their deathbed. That is why it is usually recorded in the life of the New Martyrs—those who converted to Islam and then returned to Orthodoxy, subsequently being martyred for their confession of Christ—that someone assured their communion just prior to their martyrdom.
Now, let us consider the matter of the effects of non-Orthodox religious experience. These experiences have an effect on the nous of the person. The nous is the centre and source of consciousness of the person, so that if he has a religious experience, then his nous is affected. If the experience is demonic, such as with black magic, then the nous can be seriously damaged. Although the author teaches that the image of God is restored to the nous in Orthodox Baptism that does not necessarily mean that all the damage that the person has caused to his own nous through his non-Orthodox religious practices has immediately been healed.
It is similar to having broken your leg through your own negligence prior to Orthodox Baptism. It does not follow immediately that your leg will be completely and immediately healed just because you have been baptized. So it is with the nous: if you have damaged your nous, it is not automatic that Orthodox Baptism will heal it completely the moment you are baptized.
So there are two issues: the first is the condition of the person who has passed through a number of non-Orthodox religions and come to Orthodoxy. In these cases, there may well be a problem after Baptism not only with temptations from the spirits associated with the previous religious commitments, but also with damage to the nous. It may take decades for this damage to the nous to be completely healed: since this damage is to the spiritual centre of the person, it will take considerable spiritual progress for the person’s spiritual identity to be completely equilibrated, until all the ‘pleats’ have been removed from the fabric of the person’s consciousness.
Secondly, if the person is Orthodox and enters another religion, there may well be damage, even after the person has returned to Orthodoxy and made a complete confession and been received by Chrismation. In the lives of many of the New Martyrs there is evident mental instability after their return to Orthodoxy. It appears to us that this is an example not of an underlying condition that pre-existed before the person converted to Islam, but of the effect of the spirit of Islam on the Orthodox person’s nous. In simple language, the conversion of a baptized Orthodox to Islam and then the return to Orthodoxy is too much for the nous.
It is because of the above considerations that some Orthodox consider that Christians who have previously received a non-Orthodox Baptism should be received into the Orthodox Church by means of a full Orthodox Baptism, and not by other means such as chrismation. They consider that because it is a dogma of the Orthodox Church that the Orthodox Church is the one true Church and the Ark of Salvation, and because the canons of the Church (considered inspired by the Holy Spirit) state that with certain few exceptions, non-Orthodox Christians are to be received by Baptism, then this is the proper way to receive non-Orthodox Christians. Some Orthodox further believe that it is in only this way that the person entering the Orthodox Church can ensure that he receives the full transformation that the author of this treatise has begun to discuss, and will continue to discuss in subsequent chapters.
Grace, as I said, is hidden in the depth of the mind from the very instant in which we are baptized, hiding, however, the actual [spiritual] perception of its presence. However, whenever one should begin ardently to desire God from his whole intention, then by means of the sense of the mind, Grace, using a certain unspeakable word, begins to speak to the soul a certain part of its goods.[7] Whence, thenceforward he who wholly wishes to hold on to this discovery securely comes to a desire of divesting himself with great joy of all present goods, so that, really, he acquire the field in which he has found the hidden treasure of life. For when one divests himself of all the wealth of this worldly life then he finds the place[8] where the Grace of God is hidden. For the Divine Gift[9] also shows its own goodness to the mind in accordance with the progress of the soul. Nonetheless, the Lord then allows the soul to be afflicted thereafter by the demons, so that he teach it the discernment of good from evil and make it more humble on account of the great shame that occurs to it, when it is being purified, from the filthiness of the demonic thoughts.[10]
The author now begins to speak about the felt presence or absence of Grace. It should be understood here that he is not committing some theological sleight-of-hand to explain away why some people have no felt experience of Grace. He is someone that has had personal experience of the Holy Spirit. He sees what happens with others by means of the charisms he has. What he is saying is that, yes, the Holy Spirit is in the depths of the person’s nous or mind or created spirit from the instant of Orthodox Baptism but however it hides from the person the felt experience of its presence. St John Chrysostom remarks somewhere that we feel the presence of the Holy Spirit for three days after Baptism and then we lose that feeling because of our sins. Here, St Diadochos is being less rhetorical and more precise: the Holy Spirit hides its presence, because it wants to see what we will do with our free will.
When the person—whether baptized three days or three decades ago—begins to show zeal for God from his whole being, then the Holy Spirit begins to speak to his or her soul not in words but in a certain ineffable manner that conveys to the person a conscious experience of the presence of Grace. The result is that the person becomes ever more zealous to divest himself of all his possessions to follow Christ—because he has found the Pearl of Great Price of the Gospel, here understood to be the conscious experience of the Holy Spirit. In this one might consider the teaching of St Seraphim of Sarov on the acquisition of the Holy Spirit. However, from what the author has already said it is clear that this is a beginner’s Grace, that the beginner needs this Grace in order to commence the road, but that the road is very long.
We are in the image of God in the mental[11] movement of the soul; the body as it were is the house of the soul. Therefore, since not only were the lines of the portrait[12] soiled through the transgression of Adam but also our body fell under corruption, for this reason the Holy Word of God was incarnated, as God granting to us by means of his own Baptism the water of salvation for the sake of our rebirth. For we are reborn by means of the water[13] in the activity of the Holy and Vivifying Spirit, whence we are purified directly both in soul and in body (if someone should come forth to God out of his whole disposition), the Holy Spirit sojourning in us and sin being driven away by it.[14] For it is not possible, the nature[15] of the soul being one and simple, for two persons[16] to be present in it as some have thought. For when in a certain limitless affection the Holy Spirit attaches itself closely to the lines of the ‘according to the image’,[17] in a pledge[18] of the likeness,[19] where is it possible that the person of the Evil One might find place, there certainly being no communion at all between light and darkness? We believe, therefore, we the runners in the sacred games,[20] that the multiform serpent is expelled from the treasure-rooms of the mind by means of the bath of incorruption. And let us not wonder for what reason after Baptism we again think bad things with the good. For on the one hand the bath of holiness completely removes the stain of sin from us but on the other hand it does not now change the duality of our will,[21] nor certainly does it impede the demons from warring against us or speaking to us words of deceit. This is so that those very things that we did not observe when we were ‘psychic’[22], we [henceforth] guard taking up the weapons of righteousness in the power of God.
The author now turns to an explanation of the necessity of Baptism. First of all, he indicates that the image of God in Man is the nous, the mind or created spirit. Here it should be understood that this nous is not merely our ability to reason, but, fundamentally, our ability to know God. The author asserts that the body is merely the house of the soul. However, he continues, the nous was disturbed by the sin of Adam. He is using a visual metaphor of the portrait of God that the nous was in Adam and Eve before the Fall. This ultimately depends on the Scriptural notion that Man is created in the image of God.
The author uses a much extended metaphor throughout his treatise as to the relation between image and likeness, and as to how we restore the image in Baptism and then commence to attain to the likeness to God. Here, however, he is saying that the image of God was disturbed by the transgression of Adam. Note that he has no notion that Man’s nous was completely corrupted by the transgression of Adam. That is a Western notion, particularly Calvinist. The Orthodox have a more moderate view of what happened in the Fall.
The author goes on, following St Paul, that our body also fell under corruption because of the transgression of Adam.
Because of these things, the author says, the Word of God was incarnated. He now proceeds to an Orthodox statement that doesn’t fit into Western arguments about the nature of justification: the water for our Baptism was provided by Jesus in his own baptism by John in the Jordan. That act of Jesus sanctified the water of our own baptism. Moreover, it should be understood that the prayers for the Great Blessing of the Waters on the Theophany (the commemoration of the baptism of Jesus in the Jordan by John) are virtually identical to the prayers for the sanctification of the water for a person’s actual baptism.
The author continues to explain what happens in Baptism. By means of the water that Jesus ultimately sanctified with his baptism by John in the Jordan, we are reborn in the activity of the Holy Spirit so that we are purified in both soul and body (if we come to our baptism with the proper disposition), the Holy Spirit taking up its abode in us and sin being driven away from us, as the author has already discussed.
The author now begins to introduce his terminology of the image and likeness. What he is saying is that the image of God is restored in Baptism, the Holy Spirit granting us at the same time the pledge—the surety, the down payment—of the likeness. He will explain the difference between image and likeness as he goes, again using his extended metaphor from portraiture.
The rest of the chapter should now be quite clear.

[1] I.e. the Messalians.
[2] Greek: prosopon. This would be the Spirit of Truth and the spirit of deception.
[3] Greek: aistheseos. This would be the spiritual sense that the author has discussed.
[4] Greek: dexias. I.e. to the good.
[5] I.e. in Baptism.
[6] The author seems to have in mind the image of the vapour bath.
[7] It is important to understand that this is not a matter of hearing words spoken either out loud or silently in the mind. Rather it is a matter of a non-verbal illumination by the Holy Spirit of the mind (the created spirit of man). It should also be apparent that this word spoken to the soul by the Holy Spirit has nothing to do with emotional states, especially states of enthusiasm or elation. What the author is describing is ordinarily called a plerophoria—an inner spiritual assurance conveyed non-verbally to the mind by the Holy Spirit. It is a matter of the charism of discernment for an Elder to discern whether an experience of this type is indeed from the Holy Spirit or not.
[8] As should be evident this is the place in the mind where Grace has hidden since Baptism.
[9] I.e. the Holy Spirit received in Baptism but hidden since then.
[10] ‘Demonic thoughts’: daimonikon logismon.
[11] Greek: noero. This could well be translated ‘spiritual’.
[12] Greek: charakter.
[13] I.e. of Baptism.
[14] It should be evident that for St Diadochos this ‘sin’ is the spirit of sin, not just a juridical notion of original sin and personal sins committed.
[15] Greek: charakter.
[16] I.e. the Holy Spirit and the spirit of sin.
[17] I.e. to the soul or, more precisely in this school of mysticism, to the mind, the created spirit of man.
[18] Greek: arraboni. This is the engagement pledge of two who are betrothed to be married.
[19] As the author will discuss, by this act of the Holy Spirit Baptism restores the ‘according to the image’ but the baptized person then has to work, with the assistance of the now-indwelling Grace, on restoring the ‘according to the likeness’. However, the author is saying that this ‘according to the likeness’ is already present in potential (‘pledge’) through the act of the Holy Spirit in Baptism.
[20] The author and his kind are being compared to runners competing in the sacred games.
[21] I.e. we still have free will. The ‘now’ indicates that after the General Resurrection we will not be able to sin any more, this duality having been abolished.
[22] Greek: psychikoi. The author provides an interpretation of this mysterious usage of St Paul: he treats the ‘psychic’ person that Paul refers to as the person before Baptism, and the spiritual person that Paul refers to as the person after Baptism. An interesting interpretation.

Friday, 10 April 2009

Commentary on Diadochos 68 - 75

Update March 1, 2012: Please see this post.

Our mind is for the most part vexed in regard to the prayer[1] because of the very straitened and secretive character[2] of the virtue of prayer;[3] however it rejoices to give itself over to theology because of the diffuse and released nature of the divine contemplations.[4] Therefore, so that we do not give a road to the mind to want to speak much, or even allow it in its great joy to take wing beyond its measure, let us for the most part spend our time in prayer and psalmody and the reading of Holy Scripture, not overlooking the contemplations[5] of learned men whose faith is recognized through their words.[6] For doing this very thing, neither will we prepare the mind’s own words[7] to be mixed with the words[8] of Grace nor will we allow the mind to be dragged under by vainglory, the mind having been dissipated through the great joy and much speech; but we will guard the mind free of fantasy in the time of contemplation[9], and we will take care of it so that almost all its thoughts be full of tears[10]. For reposing in the times of stillness[11] and deeply sweetened by the sweetness of the prayer[12], the mind does not only come to be outside of the aforementioned faults but is more and more renewed in applying itself to the divine contemplations[13] and in progressing in much humility in the contemplation[14] of discernment. However, it must be known that there is a prayer[15] which is above every diffuseness. This is only of those who are filled with divine Grace in every [spiritual] sense and inner spiritual assurance.
The first clause of the first sentence makes a very important observation about the Hesychast practice of the Jesus Prayer: ‘Our mind is for the most part vexed in regard to the prayer because of the very straitened and secretive character of the virtue of prayer.’ What the author means is that one must constrain one’s mind to pray the Jesus Prayer. One must focus; one must keep one’s mind inside one’s heart; one must ‘hide’ the prayer from others (beware of ‘Hesychasts’ who parade their Jesus Prayer). This can be quite tiring. It ultimately has a payoff, but here we are far beyond the consolations of the beginner: the payoff might come after death; it might come tomorrow; it might come years from now. But still we must constrain our mind to the words of the Prayer in the middle of our heart without expectation of ‘reward’. ‘However it rejoices to give itself over to theology because of the diffuse and released nature of the divine contemplations.’ Here ‘theology’ must be understood as a somewhat speculative ‘rambling’ of the mind over the data of faith. One might read Scripture; one might read the Fathers. The mind is released from the onerous constraint imposed on it by the Jesus Prayer. What the author says, however, is that giving our mind over to these diffuse contemplations of theology has dangers: ‘so that we do not give a road to the mind to want to speak much, or even allow it in its great joy to take wing beyond its measure…’ The mind will want to take flight into speculation, some of it holy (recall that the author treats ‘theology’ as a charism). However, we must tether the mind and not allow it to go far: ‘let us for the most part spend our time in prayer and psalmody and the reading of Holy Scripture, not overlooking the contemplations of learned men whose faith is recognized through their words.’ This will keep us on the Hesychast track. It should be understood that these are the sorts of instructions that would be given to a monk on Mt Athos who was practising the Jesus Prayer seriously. The ‘contemplations of learned men’ are of course the writings of the Fathers of the Church, including and especially the Ascetical Fathers. The author qualifies these Fathers thus: ‘whose faith is recognized through their words’. What the author means is that the Hesychast is to read works of Fathers, including Ascetical Fathers, whose soundness he can discern spiritually in their actual writings using the spiritual sense that the Saint has spoken of: the ascetic is not to read at random whatever he comes across in the monastery, skete or university. Those who are not so advanced as the author is expecting here would read what their Elder directed them to read. At the level the author here presumes the ascetic to be, either the ascetic would have the spiritual sense and be able to make the discernment, or he would be under the direct guidance of an Elder who would make the recommendation what he should be reading.
The author then lists the benefits in a very good and useful, but very compressed, sentence. First, the ascetic will in this way avoid mixing his own words with the words of Grace. What does the Saint mean? He means, just as Elder Sophrony writes concerning St Silouan’s discussion with the Elder from the Caucasus who spoke sometimes from Grace and sometimes from himself, that in this way the ascetic will speak only when Grace gives him utterance: he will not mix human reasoning with the words of Grace that are revealed to him for the sake of the other. Next, the author asserts that thus the ascetic will avoid vainglory: obviously, for the ascetic to speak or preach to others without an immediate revelation from Grace what to say is to expose himself to the operation of the passion (and demon) of vainglory. The author indicates that a presupposition of this exposure to vainglory is that the ascetic’s mind has been dissipated through much joy (it is not clear whether the author understands this to be a holy joy) and much speaking. What the author means is that by releasing his mind from the constrained activity of the Jesus Prayer through much speaking, preaching and theologizing, the ascetic dissipates his mind with the excessive mental activity and also with the very joy that the activity gives him.
The author then goes on to say that if we follow his advice, then two benefits will accrue to us: First, ‘we will guard the mind free of fantasy in the time of contemplation.’ What this means is that once we have returned to the Jesus Prayer from this excessive theologizing, then we will find it rather confused and full of images—fantasies in other words. Exercising restraint in the practice of theology protects us from this. Next, ‘we will take care of [the mind] so that almost all its thoughts be full of tears.’ Here it is clear that the author believes that a Hesychast who is following his prescriptions, and who is at the level he is describing, will be shedding tears. It should be understand that these tears are themselves a charism of the Holy Spirit and that an Elder can turn them on and turn them off at will. However, if the Hesychast’s mind has been dispersed in the way indicated, not only will he be subject to fantasies, but he will not be able the exercise his gift of tears properly: the diffusion will prevent him from having tears accompany his thoughts. This is both in the sense that the charism of tears will be rather more difficult to set into motion because of the mental confusion, and in the sense that the ascetic’s thoughts are no longer so pious and contrite (recall that he has subjected himself to a temptation to vainglory).
The author then goes on to assert that if the Hesychast avoids excessive theologizing then he will be sweetened by the practice, remain outside the faults mentioned previously by the author and also make progress in the ‘contemplation of discernment’. This ‘contemplation of discernment’ is a little difficult to understand. It appears to be the ability to size things up spiritually: the spiritual sense will become more subtle.
The author then goes on to say that in those who are perfect and who have experienced divine illumination, there is a prayer which above every diffuseness. But this is only for those who have the Holy Spirit and know it—without having been deceived, of course; that is why Hesychasts always verify their mystical experiences with the Church in the form of a confessor or Elder or even the Orthodox carpenter fixing the roof.
In the beginning Grace has the custom to illuminate the mind with it’s[16] own light in much [spiritual] perception, but when the [ascetic] battles progress it for the most part sets its own mysteries into action in an unknown manner in the theological soul[17], so that in the first case it loose us rejoicing on the trace of the divine contemplations[18],[19] whereas in the middle of the [ascetic] struggles it preserve our gnosis free from vainglory. We must therefore be sorrowed moderately as having been abandoned (so that we be humbled more and submit more to the glory of the Lord), yet occasionally rejoice having been given wing in the good hope.[20] For just as much sorrow envelops the soul in despair and lack of faith, so much joy provokes it to conceit—I am speaking of those who are still in a state of [spiritual] infancy—, for the mean of illumination and abandonment is experience whereas the mean of sorrow and joy is hope.[21] For he says: ‘Waiting patiently, I patiently awaited the Lord and he took heed to me;’ and: ‘In accordance with the multitude of the pains in my heart, your consolations have gladdened my soul.’
The author is here addressing the issue of the beginner's joy followed by a lack of obvious consolation as he progresses. The points that the author makes are that the beginner’s joy is necessary for us so that we be motivated to start on the way, whereas the ‘silent’ aspect of grace as we progress is necessary so that we not succumb to vainglory but instead promote in ourselves humility. However, he says, we must occasionally experience joy so as to be able to continue our road.
The author defines two means of virtue that he wants the more mature Hesychast, before his final illumination, to maintain. (Of course the virtuous mean between two extremes is basic in Greek ethics.) The first is experience as a mean between illumination and abandonment. This abandonment is the feeling that God has forsaken us. Other ascetical authors analyze it in detail, providing a number of possible causes; let us simply remark here that there is the abandonment that is real and due to our sin and there is the apparent abandonment that, much as the author writes in the chapter, is intended to help us progress spiritually. The illumination that is meant here is the conscious experience of the Holy Spirit—perhaps as light, as the author later develops. What the author is saying is that the mean proper to the Hesychast who is neither a beginner nor perfect is the experience that lies between abandonment and illumination.
The second mean is that between sorrow and joy. It is hope. Sorrow is associated with despair and abandonment and can become quite serious if it abides: too much sorrow can kill. However, the introductory consolatory joy is now a thing of the past because the Hesychast must mature. Hence, he must place his hope in hope, if we might be permitted a play on words.
It should be noted that the author takes it for granted that the beginning Hesychast has a personal experience of Grace. The author does not think that he is writing fairy tales about subjective emotional states: he himself really has experienced the Holy Spirit of Jesus Christ and really has something to say about how the Holy Spirit acts in both beginners and the more advanced.
Just as when they are open the doors of the baths quickly propel the inner warmth towards the outside, thus also the soul disperses its own remembrance through the gate of the voice when it wishes to speak much, even if it should say all things well. Whence the soul is thenceforth deprived of seasonable thoughts[22] and speaks the clashing of its thoughts[23] more or less in a mob[24] to those who happen to be there, because thenceforward it does not have the Holy Spirit preserving it so that it have an intellect free of fantasy. For the Good, being foreign to agitation and every fantasy, ever flees garrulousness. Therefore silence is good in its proper time, being nothing other than the mother of the wisest thoughts[25].
This chapter should now be clear. In the case that the ascetic practising in a serious way the Jesus Prayer gives himself over to much talking, he will lose the recollection of his thoughts, even—the author emphasizes—if he should say all things well. The result is that the ascetic has great personal confusion because he has lost the unifying and integrating presence of the Holy Spirit. Then he speaks his thoughts in a jumble to whoever is standing by. The author’s image is a little difficult to parse but he means that the ascetic’s thoughts become like a disorderly mob in the ascetic’s head, and the ascetic pours these thoughts out to whoever is standing by. The author closes by emphasizing the value of silence in its proper time. He does not mean that the ascetic is to keep a ‘vow of silence’ and that is why he adds the phrase ‘in its proper time’: when it’s time to speak, the ascetic will speak.
The word of gnosis teaches us that in the beginning many passions annoy the theological soul, most of all anger and hatred. Such a soul suffers this not so much on account of the demons that bring these things into activity as on account of its own progress. For as long as the soul is carried off with the mindedness of the world, even if it should see its right trampled upon by certain people it remains unmoved and undisturbed. For taking a care to satisfy its own desires, it does not keep in view the right of God. But when it starts to be above its own passions, then because of the contempt for present things and because of the love of God it does not bear even in dreams to see the right set aside but becomes choleric with the wrong-doers and agitated until such a time as it sees those who are insolent against righteousness to have become defendants with pious attitude[26] before the dignity of righteousness. For this very reason, therefore, it hates the unrighteous and has an exceedingly great love for the righteous. For the eye of the soul[27] becomes completely undespoiled when the curtain, the body I mean, is woven into great fineness by means of temperance. However, it is much better to weep for the insensibleness of the unrighteous than to hate them. For even if they should be worthy of hatred the word [of gnosis] does not want the God-loving soul to annoyed by hatred, because whenever there is hatred in the soul, gnosis is not active.[28]
The ‘word of gnosis’ is the intuitive knowledge that the author has received from the Holy Spirit about the spiritual path, which intuitive knowledge forms the basis for what he wants to say in this chapter.
The author says that once a soul has progressed enough that it can practise the charism of theology as he has defined it, then that soul is subject to various passions, above all anger and hatred not so much because the demons are standing by to tempt that soul but for other reasons the author wishes to discuss.
His basic message is that as long as we are still worldly, we really don’t bother about the higher things. However, when our soul has made some progress and begins to stand above its passions—while the author seems to suggest that this is not really very far on the spiritual road, it is really quite far—then our soul becomes much more zealous for the higher things such as the justice and right of God.
What the author is referring to is this. While the soul is still worldly, it really doesn’t care, and in its dreams consorts with the demons without ‘giving it much thought’. However, once the soul has been somewhat purified and is approaching the realms of dispassion, then in its dreams it starts to take issue with the demons that present themselves to it in the dreams, while at the same time having a great love for the righteous. The soul develops a sort of zeal that expresses itself in its dreams. Evagrius discusses the situation that the author is discussing. The author appears to be following Evagrius.
The author then jumps to the observation that when we have refined the material body through much fasting, then the ‘eye of the soul’—the ability of our soul to see spiritual realities—becomes much more seeing. The point he is making is that, especially in dreams, the soul begins to see things as they really are; that is why the soul waxes wroth with the demons in its dreams while at the same time loving the righteous.
The author then remarks that it is much better to pity the unrighteous than to hate them. Recall that St Isaac the Syrian writes of arriving at a spiritual summit from which he looked even at the demons with pity. One of the reasons the author gives for this preference for pity over hatred—apart from the fact that it is more Christ-like—is that the presence of hatred in the soul interferes with the presence of the Holy Spirit, which is foreign to hatred.
On the one hand the theologian, deeply sweetened and enflamed by the very sayings of God, after certain seasons sends his soul towards the breadths of dispassion[29]. For he says: ‘The sayings of God are pure sayings, fired silver tried in the earth.’ On the other hand the gnostic, established from his active experience, comes to be above the passions. The theologian, if indeed he disposes himself to be more humble, also tastes the experience of the gnostic; and the gnostic, if indeed he has the discerning part of the soul faultless, tastes for a little time the virtue of contemplation.[30] For it does not happen that the two charisms are given in their entirety to each, so that, both of them being in wonder at what each has in excess of the other, humility be multiplied in them together with a zeal for righteousness. For this reason the Apostle says: ‘To one is given the word of wisdom through the Spirit; to another is given the word of knowledge according to the same Spirit.’
The author is making a parallel construction contrasting the roads of the theologian and the gnostic. The theologian could here be considered to be an academic theologian with an intense experience of prayer, whereas the gnostic the author is referring to is the Hesychast in his cave.
What the author says is basically this. The theologian deals with words and meanings; however, because his is a true charism of the Holy Spirit and because he has an intense spiritual life, then at some point he will enter into the dispassion (freedom from emotional tendencies to sin coupled with the fullness of virtue) that is the road and main accomplishment of the Hesychast.
Correspondingly, the Hesychast will—if he has the eye of his soul faultless—occasionally enter into theological contemplation. It should be understood that the Hesychast will have entered into more non-verbal contemplations, including of the Uncreated Light of the Holy Spirit. Here the author means, ‘into the contemplative verbal realms normally reserved for the pious academic theologian’.
The author insists, following Evagrius, that the two charisms are rarely given together.
When the soul should be in the abundance of its natural fruits,[31] it both makes the psalmody in a louder voice and wishes to pray[32] vocally. When, however, it is put into activity[33] by the Holy Spirit, with every comfort and sweetness it chants and prays[34] only in its heart. There follows on the former disposition a joy which has been suffused with fantasy; there follows on the latter, spiritual weeping and, after that, a certain rejoicing of heart that loves stillness. For by means of the moderation of voice that has been maintained, the warm remembrance at all events prepares the heart to bear certain tearful and mild thoughts[35].[36] Whence it is possible, really, to see the seeds of the prayer[37] sown with tears in the ground of the heart in the hope of the harvest of joy. When, however, we are weighted with great despondency, we must for a little make the psalmody in a louder voice, striking the strings of the soul in the joy of hope up to the time that that heavy cloud is dispersed by the winds of melody.
This is a very interesting observation about the nature of natural (bodily) charisms and charisms from the Holy Spirit. The natural charisms of the soul—those we were born with—move us to chant the psalms in Church in a loud voice and to pray out loud. However, the activity of the Holy Spirit is quite different: when we are moved by the Grace of the Holy Spirit, we want both to chant and to pray quietly in our heart. This seems to be a long way from rock Pentecostalism.
The author then makes the following further observations. The loud chanting and vocal prayer lead to a joy suffused with fantasy. This joy is not a pure state, although, as the author has made clear, the necessary beginner’s joy always has this admixture of fantasy. Fantasy is a bad thing in Orthodox asceticism; it is tolerated in the beginner only because the beginner is a beginner. We could observe here that given that rock Pentecostalism is more extreme that the chanting of the psalms moved by our natural gifts that the author is speaking of, the resulting emotional ‘high’ that the Pentecostalist experiences in his rock worship should be even more suffused with fantasy than what the author has in mind here. Rock Pentecostalism would seem to be the wrong road for what the author is promoting in this treatise. What the author expects from the actual presence of the Holy Spirit is a tendency to chant and pray silently in the heart followed by spiritual tears and then a love of silence.
The author now makes a very interesting point. If we maintain moderation in our chanting of the psalms—in our execution of the Church services—then our ‘warm remembrance’ (our warm spiritual attention to the invisible God) will dispose properly us to have certain spiritually tearful and mild thoughts. How far this is from the practice of arena-rock Pentecostalism! We must never lose self-control. If we do, then we will find that we at the very least have damaged the composure of our minds, and perhaps even have damaged ourselves psychologically by engaging in an extreme. Recall that underlying Greek thought is the maxim that moderation is the best in all things.
However, the author says, when we have been afflicted by despondency—what we would today call depression—then we must chant the psalms out loud with more vigour until the music disperses our despondency. It might be thought that this is a justification for arena-rock Pentecostalism, but again, the Greek would never go to an extreme. The author himself now makes reference to pagan Greek thought, in the next chapter.
Whenever the soul comes to be in deep knowledge of itself,[38] it brings out of itself a certain God-loving warmth. For not being confused by the cares of worldly life, it acquires a certain Eros moderately seeking the God of Peace. But this is rapidly dissipated either because the remembrance is betrayed by the senses[39] or because nature quickly consumes its own good on account of indigence.[40] Whence the wise men of the pagans did not have as it should have been whatever they thought they had attained by means of temperance, because their mind was not set into activity by the eternal and completely true Wisdom. However, the warmth which is brought to the heart by the Holy Spirit is, first, completely peaceful and unwavering. It invites all the parts of the soul to a longing for God, not being fanned outside the heart;[41] and by means of it[42] the whole man is brought rather into deep rejoicing for the sake of a certain limitless love and joy.[43] Therefore one must know the former warmth and arrive at the latter. When through temperance nature[44] is more or less healthy, there exists as a characteristic sign, natural love; but this natural love[45] is never able to make the mind good[46] up to the level of dispassion the way that spiritual love can.
The author is here essentially dealing with non-Christian forms of meditation. He says that if a non-Christian were to lead a tranquil life of stillness in the mountains, like a Zen poet, say, then he would acquire a certain ardent love for God (or, let us say, for the Dharma). But, the author says, this is quickly dissipated for either of two reasons: either the data of sense interfere—watching the sunrise, listening to the nightingale and so on—or the person exhausts his or her store—the acquired peace is finite and can only produce a finite warmth for the Good.
The author then goes on to say that the wise men of the pagans—note that he recognizes that they were not all brutes—did not have correctly whatever they thought they had acquired through their asceticism. In other words, yes, they got somewhere, but they really didn’t have in the right way whatever they thought they had acquired through their temperance. The reason? Their mind—their human spirit, their highest part of their soul, their nous—was not set into motion by the Holy Spirit. This argument holds even today. Since human beings are the same the world over, there is a natural ability to engage in asceticism and, the author says, certain results will come of this asceticism. But if you don’t have the Holy Spirit, then things don’t go the way they should—and certainly, not the way they go with Orthodox Christians. In those who have the Holy Spirit, the author says, the warmth brought into the heart by the Holy Spirit is completely stable and serene—unwavering. It is not a ‘here-today-gone-tomorrow’ phenomenon (although there are certainly movements of the Holy Spirit to hide itself in accordance with the motifs of the Song of Songs). Moreover, the author says, making an extremely important point, the warmth given by the Holy Spirit is not fanned from outside the heart but arises from within the heart. He will begin to explain what he has in mind in the next chapter. Moreover, this God-given warmth progresses to a deep and limitless rejoicing that begets love and joy.
However, the author says, we must through our residence in the mountain forest and valley cultivate the first, natural warmth of soul so that we can attain through the Grace of the Holy Spirit to the second spiritual warmth of soul.
The author then makes a rather compassionate remark: when through asceticism we have attained a natural health of soul, then we have as a result a natural love for the Good and for our fellow man. However, he says, this natural goodness of our mind can never engender dispassion—complete virtue and a corresponding freedom from our emotional tendencies to sin—the way that the spiritual love can that we ultimately attain to through the Holy Spirit. The author speaks the truth to the non-Christian: yes, you have something, but it can never attain to the heights that the Holy Spirit gives.
This air around us remains clear when the north wind is blowing in creation because of the certain subtle nature of that wind which brings a clear sky, but when the south wind is blowing the whole air is as it were made thick and overcast by the mist-producing nature of that wind, which from a certain relatedness bears out of its own parts clouds over the whole inhabited world. Thus also, when the soul is set into activity by the inspiration of the True and Holy Spirit it finds itself to be wholly outside the demonic mist, but when it is greatly inspired by the spirit of deception[47] it is wholly covered over by the clouds of sin. Therefore, with all our strength we must ever return our intention to the vivifying and purifying breeze of the Holy Spirit—that is, towards the Spirit[48] coming from the north that the Prophet Ezekiel saw in the light of gnosis. Then, if we do that the contemplative part of our soul will certainly ever remain clear[49] in order that we may then attend to the divine contemplations[50] without deception, seeing in an air of light those things that belong to the light. For this is the light of true gnosis.
The author wishes in this chapter to describe the problem of the ascetic who at one time is suffused with the light of the Holy Spirit and at another time has his spiritual world overcast by the mists of the demons. The author is addressing real issues that the Hesychast will face: it is not always Sunday, but sometimes a day of trial. His solution is for us ever to force ourselves to turn to God, away from the oppressive and tempting mists of the demons. This requires an act of will in the face of the demonic oppression.
The author now proceeds to a very important and very complex discussion of the connection between Baptism and the ascetical life. The connecting link? The Holy Spirit given in Baptism.

[1] This would be the Jesus Prayer. The author is saying that to concentrate the mind on the words of the Jesus Prayer, and especially so with the mind and the words of the Prayer focused in the heart, is actually quite vexing to the mind.
[2] The author is referring to the very concentrated, secret, private and silent practice of the Prayer of Jesus in the heat. Everything is focused there. It is terribly hard.
[3] Greek: euktikes aretes. This should not be understood in a vague sort of way as the moral virtue of praying often (not that that is not a virtue) but more specifically to the practice of the Hesychast form of the Jesus Prayer.
[4] Greek: theoremata. This normally refers to a speculative contemplation in the nature of ‘thinking about with words’, not an intuitive rapture of the mind into God. The author is contrasting the very difficult focused nature of the Prayer of Jesus as practised by the Hesychast he is addressing, and the release of the built-up mental tension of the Prayer in the practice of the speculative contemplations of theology. Again, however, this theology is already defined by the author as a charism. It is not academic theology.
[5] Greek: theoremata. I.e. speculative theology.
[6] I.e. we will know that the speculative theologian is sound if what he says is sound.
[7] Greek: remata.
[8] Greek: logois.
[9] Greek: theoria. This is direct intuitive sight of spiritual things.
[10] This is the Hesychast’s charism of tears.
[11] Geek: hesychias.
[12] Greek: euche. This would again be the Prayer of Jesus repeated constantly.
[13] Greek: theoremata. These would be speculative contemplations again.
[14] Greek: theoria. This would be intuitive knowledge again.
[15] Greek: euche. The author is referring to a certain high stage in the practice of the Jesus Prayer in Hesychasm.
[16] ‘It’s’. This refers to Grace not to the mind.
[17] ‘Theological soul’. This would refer to the stage of the Hesychast who now enjoys the charism of theology that the author discusses in the previous chapters.
[18] Greek: theoremata. These are the discursive contemplations of theology.
[19] The image here seems to be of the dogs let loose with joyous barking on the trail of the quarry.
[20] This sentence is a capsule description of the spiritual state of an advanced Hesychast.
[21] The author is using the schema of traditional Greek philosophy: a virtue is a mean between two extremes.
[22] Greek: ennoion.
[23] Greek: logismon.
[24] ‘More or less in a mob’. This is somewhat difficult to convey. The author is portraying a psychological state of a person who, lacking Grace, no longer can control his thoughts but speaks in a jumble whatever comes into his mind to whoever happens to be there. The phrase noted modifies the clashing of the thoughts: the thoughts tumble out more or less in a mob.
[25] Greek: ennoion.
[26] Greek: logismo.
[27] On the one hand the ‘eye of the soul’ is usually considered, especially in St John of Damascus (admittedly many centuries later), to be the mind or nous. Here however, it is a matter of the faculty of the soul that the author has referred to as the spiritual or mental sense. Hence what the author has in mind here is that in the present spiritual condition, the ascetic actually sees quite clearly ‘what is going on spiritually’ so as to be able to discern the good spirits from the bad even in dreams—and to be enraged by the behaviour of the bad spirits in those dreams. Of course, this also might also apply to actual persons that the ascetic might meet or hear of.
[28] The author gives a practical reason not to be enraged by evil. Such a condition is incompatible with contemplation.
[29] Greek: apatheia. It is not clear here precisely what the author wishes to say. Ordinarily, dispassion is the virtue of the gnostic not of the theologian. That would suggest that the text means that the theologian passes for a time from theology to dispassion. However, the parallel structures that the author is using would then want something more for the gnostic than merely that he comes to be above the passions. This is quite true, certainly, but we would expect the author to continue with something about the gnostic and theology, as he does further on. Although the author is erudite there are a number of such ‘defects’ in the text as we have it—weaknesses in style. We do not of course know why.
[30] ‘Virtue of contemplation’: Greek: theoretikes aretes. Here, given the context, the author must mean the charism of speculative theology.
[31] Recall that the author contrasts the fruits which belong naturally to the soul with the charisms that accrue to it from the Holy Spirit.
[32] Greek: proseuchesthai. This word is ordinarily used for discursive intercessory prayer.
[33] Greek: energeitai.
[34] Greek: euchetai. This word ordinarily applies to the Jesus Prayer.
[35] Greek: ennoias. This might also be translated ‘ideas’ or ‘meanings’ or ‘conceptions’. Implicitly, the ennoias are spiritual. The word is to be contrasted with logismous, which is also translated ‘thoughts’ but which is used for more vulgar thoughts, even thoughts sown by the demons.
[36] In more Western terms, the voice having been kept moderate, the activity of the Holy Spirit brings the soul to a state of still, quiet and tearful compunction.
[37] Greek: euche. I.e. the Prayer of Jesus as prayed in this context.
[38] As the author develops, this is a natural activity of the soul, not something arising from the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
[39] I.e. the bodily senses.
[40] I.e. this being a natural charism, it is quickly consumed.
[41] This means that the warmth of the Holy Spirit does not spread to the other parts of the body to excite them. This is an important principle of discernment.
[42] I.e. the warmth brought to the heart by the Holy Spirit.
[43] This sentence seems to be corrupt. We have construed it as we could.
[44] I.e. the soul in its natural attributes.
[45] The text has ‘it’ here. It is not entirely clear what the referent for this ‘it’ is. In general, the syntax of this chapter seems somewhat confused.
[46] Greek: agathon. This word is used for moral goodness.
[47] Greek: pneumatos tes planes.
[48] Greek: pneuma. This could also mean wind, although the word used previously in this chapter for wind was anemos.
[49] Greek: aithrion. I.e. clear just as the sky is clear.
[50] Greek: theoremata. While this word is usually used for discursive contemplations, here the author seems to mean intuitive contemplations of God and the things of God.