The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality

monk3The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality is not the Philokalia but a book about it. Published a little over a year ago, this book is a collection of essays discussing the history, theology and spirituality, anthropology, and major themes of the Philokalia. Its authors include Met. Kallistos Ware, Fr. Anthony McGuckin, Fr. Andrew Louth, Fr. John Chryssavgis, and fourteen others. Look for a review of the book in the next issue of In Communion.
Below are a few excerpts from both books that address the overarching theme of this issue of In Communion: the links between sin and violence and the remedy of Love acquired through prayer, confession and repentance, humility, and self-sacrificial action:

From The Philokalia: A Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality:
“If the Philokalia has an important value for the moral and spiritual edification of the modern age, it does so because its various authors provide us with a radical perspective: the authentic encounter of God dissolves all utopian desires to build a paradise on earth. The sphere of immanence cannot replace the heavenly kingdom, which must be taken by force (Matthew 11:12). To die together with Christ on the Cross means to pay by way of repentance an expected visit to our inner hell—that is, to descend into our darkest self, and from there to recognize the imperative need for healing, transformation, and redemption….

“The Philokalia reminds every revolutionary that no human being can bring about more than a very limited amount of good into the world. Most of the time, we betray ourselves and fail to meet the best expectations entertained by our friends, colleagues, relatives, and neighbors. The remedy for the earliest symptoms of self-delusion is contained in humility and continued penance. More than an exercise in sincerity and an experience of public shame (occasioned by the presence of the Other), the act of confession builds up courage and boldness….

“The power to confess one’s sins also demonstrates the saintly transparency of the true Christian soul. Those who have overcome the temptation of vanity have nothing to hide. Rivalry and hypocrisy, however, are the most widespread currency in worldly affairs, from which divine love and genuine desire to communicate with the neighbor are absent” (The Philokalia: a Classic Text of Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 67 & 68).

“Beguiled from their original state, in which their whole selves, soul and body, would find true delight and genuine satisfaction through communion with God, Adam and Eve chose death rather than true life. The craftiness of the Devil, which deceived Adam and Eve in a malicious and cunning way, provoked them through self-love to sensual pleasure, leading to the disordering of their original state. This disruption of humanity’s original condition, in which love for God and love for neighbor preserved harmony in creation, was the result of a trio of evil instigators: ignorance, self-love, and tyranny. Maximus says from ignorance comes self-love, and from self-love comes tyranny over one’s own kind….

“Exploiting the will, Maximus argues, the Devil provoked human beings through self-love to the pursuit of sensual pleasure. As a result, human beings are separated in their wills from God and from one another. Humanity has been divided into many opinions and deluded by many fantasies. If human beings had obeyed God’s command from the beginning, then virtue would have naturally flowered in the human heart, and union with God through love would have been realized. Instead, disobedience brought about a cosmic breach, a series of divisions between creatures, and between creatures and Creator. Along with these rifts resulting from human disobedience, the Fall misaligned the human faculties that were designed to contemplate spiritual realities and lead to union with God. Because of the Fall, Maximus asserts, the Devil riveted the attention of these faculties to visible things, so that human beings were preoccupied with sensible things and acquired no understanding of what lies beyond the senses. This misuse of free will, leading to deceit and self-absorption, is healed by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The Spirit breaks the unhealthy attachment of the faculties to material things and restores them to their original state. Only then are men and women enabled to move beyond being captivated by visible things, to search out divine realities, and to fulfill their vocation as human beings. Moreover, because of humanity’s microcosmic and mediatory role in the universe, as composite beings consisting of body and soul (or matter and spirit), the consequences of the Fall spread through the created order. The disobedience of man and woman brought about the sentence of death on all nature. Human beings were intended to bring all created things into harmony and union with God, but now human beings, apart from divine grace, lead created things toward death. By succumbing to and cooperating with the deceit and trickery of the Devil, human beings take part in destroying the works of God and dissolving what has been brought into existence” (The Philokalia pp. 147 & 148).

“What, then, is the nature of the pathology that the Philokalia diagnoses? Fundamentally, the passions are themselves, collectively and individually, understood as being a kind of disease, or sickness, of the soul….
These Philokalic references to sickness and disease show great diversity. However, they also show a more or less consistent understanding of the human condition as giving evidence of a kind of pathology of the soul….

“In fact, even if these explicit metaphors were not used, the account of the passions provided by the Philokalia would arguably invite the use of medical metaphors such as disease, sickness, and illness. The passions are portrayed as causing pain and dysfunction in the spiritual life, as being contrary to nature, and as leading to death if left untreated….

More generally, healing of the soul is described as being brought about through meditation and prayer, the compassion of God, pain and suffering, the passion of Christ, wisdom, and reproof. Specific remedies for specific passions include almsgiving for the healing of the soul’s incensive power, spiritual knowledge for the healing of mental dejection, humility for envy and self-conceit, solitude for conceit and vanity. But again the whole tenor of the Philokalia is one of healing of the human condition and even where this is implicit rater than explicit, or where other kinds of metaphors are used, it would still seem appropriate to understand the Philokalia as offering a kind of therapeutic repertoire, or pharmacopoeia, for the treatment of the soul afflicted by the passions. Thus ascetic discipline, prayer (including the Jesus prayer), psalmody, and guarding of the heart might all be understood as therapies for the soul” (The Philokalia pp. 230 & 231).

From the Philokalia:
“It is always possible to make a new start by means of repentance. ‘You fell,’ it is written, ‘now arise’ (Prov. 24:16). And if you fall again, then rise again, without despairing at all for your salvation, no matter what happens. So long as you do not surrender yourself willingly to the enemy, your patient endurance, combined with self-reproach, will suffice for your salvation. ‘For at one time we ourselves went astray in our folly and disobedience,’ says St. Paul. ‘…Yet He saved us, not because of any good things we had done, but in His mercy’ (Tit. 3:3, 5). So do not despair in any way, ignoring God’s help, for he can do whatever He wishes. On the contrary, place your hope in Him and He will do one of these things: either through trials and temptations, or or in some other way which He alone knows, He will bring about your restoration; or He will accept your patient endurance and humility in the place of works; or because of your hope He will act lovingly towards you in some other way of which you are not aware, and so will save your shackled soul. Only do not abandon your Physician, for otherwise you will suffer senselessly the twofold death because you do not know the hidden ways of God….

“Even if you are not what you should be, you should not despair. It is bad enough that you have sinned; why in addition do you wrong God by regarding Him in your ignorance as powerless? Is He, who for your sake created the great universe that you behold, incapable of saving your soul? And if you say that this fact, as well as His incarnation, only makes your condemnation worse, then repent; and He will receive your repentance, as He accepted that of the prodigal son (cf. Luke 15:20) and the prostitute (cf. Luke 7:37-50). But if repentance is too much for you, and you sin out of habit even when you do not want to, show humility like the publican (cf. Luke 18:13): this is enough to ensure your salvation. For he who sins without repenting, yet does not despair, must of necessity regard himself as the lowest of creatures, and will not dare to judge or censure anyone. Rather, he will marvel at God’s compassion, and will be full of gratitude towards his Benefactor, and so may receive many other blessings as well. Even if he is subject to the devil in that he sins, yet from fear of God he disobeys the enemy when the latter tries to make him despair. Because of this he has his portion with God; for he is grateful, gives thanks, is patient, fears God, does not judge so that he may not be judged. All these are crucial qualities. It is as St. John Chrysostom says about Gehenna: it is almost of greater benefit to us than the kingdom of heaven, since because of it many enter into the kingdom of heaven, while few enter for the sake of the kingdom itself: and if they do enter it, it is by virtue of God’s compassion. Gehenna pursues us with fear, the kingdom embraces us with love, and through them both we are saved by Christ’s grace” (St. Peter of Damascus, Philokalia, vol. 3, pp. 160 & 170).

“If a man disregards the commandment about prayer, he then commits worse acts of disobedience, each one handing him over to the next like a prisoner….

“He who accepts present afflictions in the expectation of future blessings has found knowledge of the truth; and he will easily be freed from anger and remorse.
He who fights against others out of fear of hardship or reproach will either suffer more harshly through what befalls him in this life, or will be punished mercilessly in the life to come….

“Do not be overcome by the anger which causes you to hate your brother and for some pathetic reason to inflict and suffer pain, leading you to store up malicious thoughts against your neighbor and to turn away from pure prayer. Anger enslaves the intellect, and makes you regard your brother with bestial cruelty; it fetters the conscience with uncontrolled impulses of the flesh, and surrenders you for a time to be chastised by the evil spirits to whom you have yielded….

“Eventually your intellect, at a loss where to turn, is overwhelmed by dejection and laziness and forfeits all its spiritual progress. Then in deep humility it sets out once more on the path of salvation. Laboring much in prayer and all-night vigils it uproots the causes of evil within itself through humility and confession before God and our neighbor. In this way it begins to regain the state of watchfulness and, illumined with divine grace and understanding of the Gospels, it perceives that no one can become a true Christian unless he gives himself up completely to the cross in a spirit of humility and self-denial, and makes himself lower than all, letting himself be trampled underfoot, insulted, despised, wronged, ridiculed, and mocked; and all this he must endure joyfully for the Lord’s sake, not claiming for himself in return any human advantages; glory, honor, or praise, or the pleasure of food, drink, or clothes….

“Such are the contests and such the prizes that lie before us” (St. Mark the Ascetic, Philokalia, vol. 1, pp. 139-40, 149). IC