Now, it is certainly required that what is subject to change be in a sense always coming to birth. In mutable nature nothing can be observed which is always the same. Being born, in the sense of constantly experiencing change, does not come about as a result of external initiative, as is the case with the birth of the body, which takes place by chance. Such a [spiritual] birth occurs by choice. We are in some manner our own parents, giving birth to ourselves by our own free choice in accordance with whatever we wish to be … moulding ourselves to the teaching of virtue or vice.
~ St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses, 2.3
Birth is a common spiritual metaphor, but—at least in my own case—I do not think the depth of this metaphor is contemplated often enough. Continue reading
There are a few similar sayings from the desert fathers to the one below, but I think it might be the most expansive. In any case, I think it stands alone just fine—one could consider every post on this blog as commentary on this one saying. It is an epitome of the ascetic life. The part that sits with me the most right now is “in deep humility.” Those three words are profound enough for me. Continue reading
Abba John the Short said: “If a king wants to take a city whose citizens are hostile, he first captures the food and water of the inhabitants of the city, and when they are starving subdues them. So it is with gluttony. If a man is earnest in fasting and hunger, the enemies which trouble his soul will grow weak.”
~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers, 4.19
Evagrios calls gluttony one of three “frontline demons.” Here Abba John the Short uses military imagery as well, except he highlights the proper countermeasure that we ought to take against this frontline enemy: fasting. Continue reading
[W]orldly literature has never understood the spirit of Christian asceticism, and … this literature has called Christian asceticism superficial and unjustifiable. When worldly writers write about spiritual exercises, their words are, in the overwhelming majority of cases, pitifully meager. But this is partly because of the lack of skill of their ecclesiastical opponents and partly because it is impossible to speak about ascetic experience outside of the experience itself.
~ Pavel Florensky, “Letter 9: Creation,” The Pillar and Ground of the Truth
In the midst of researching for a conference paper to be presented this summer, I came across some wonderful reflections on asceticism by Pavel Florensky, the Russian Orthodox priest, philosopher, mathematician, et al., who was martyred for his faith by the Soviets in 1937. The following are some of his reflections on asceticism from his work, The Pillar and Ground of the Truth: Continue reading
Man’s will, out of cowardice, tends away from suffering, and man, against his own will, remains utterly dominated by the fear of death, and, in his desire to live, clings to his slavery to pleasure.
~ St. Maximus the Confessor, Ad Thalassium 21
I previously mentioned this pointed and insightful saying of St. Maximus in an earlier reflection, but it is one about which I could probably write 100 posts. I have found no more succinct, clear, and comprehensive statement of the human condition. Death, that ultimate evil, that anti-natural state of being, casts a dark shadow over all our actions, though we seldom are conscious of it. We suffer and, out of fear of the direction suffering appears to lead—death—we cling in desperation to fleeting pleasures, which run like water through our hands. And when those pleasures die, as all such pleasure does (as opposed to true joy, which is eternal), we once again suffer, and suffering we fear, and fearing we desire, and desiring we enslave ourselves, against our own will to live, to pleasures that so assuredly pass away. It is a vicious spiral, always increasing the magnitude of the pleasure needed to distract ourselves from our suffering, which, in turn, always increases the magnitude of our suffering once it comes. Continue reading