Tag Archive: way of life


The Art of Eternal Life

[Abba Isaac said:] “St. Antony … uttered this heavenly, inspired, saying on the end of prayer: ‘That prayer is not perfect in which the monk understands himself and the words which he is praying.'”

~ Conferences of Cassian, 9.31

In all our striving for the right method of spiritual progress, sayings like this one can be both comforting and conflicting. Continue reading

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Psalm 14 in Rhyme, with Commentary

[I]f we have the same attitudes of heart wherein the Psalmist wrote or sang his psalms, we shall become like the authors and be aware of the meaning before we have thought it out instead of after. The force of the words strikes us before we have rationally examined them. And when we use the words, we remember, by a kind of meditative association, our own circumstances and struggles, the results of our negligence or earnestness, the mercies of God’s providence or the temptations of the devil, the subtle and slippery sins of forgetfulness or human frailty or unthinking ignorance. All these feelings we find expressed in the psalms. We see their texts reflected in the clear glass of our own moral experience. And with that experience to teach us, we do not hear the words so much as discern the meaning intuitively. We will not merely recite them like texts committed to memory, but bring them out from the depths of the heart as an expression of moral reality.

~ Abba Isaac in The Conferences of St. John Cassian, 10.11

The saying of the psalms is central to Orthodox monastic piety. And the Divine Liturgy and other services are full of verses and references to the psalms. I used to have quite a few memorized, 14 or 15, but now what I remember is more like 5 or 6. Reciting the few I retain is still part of my daily rule though—such “meditative association” can be highly beneficial to the soul. Continue reading

The Angelic Life

John the Less of the Thebaid, a disciple of Abba Ammonius, was said to have lived for twelve years ministering to an old man who was ill, and sitting on a mat near him. But the old man was always cross with him; and although John worked a long time for him, he never said: “May it be well with you.” But when the old man was on his death-bed, in the presence of the elders of that place, he held John’s hand and said: “May it be well with you, may it be well with you.” And the old man commended John to the old men, saying: “This is an angel, not a man.”

~ Sayings of the Desert Fathers 16.4

John the Less (not to be confused with John the Short) lived, according to this story, “for twelve years ministering to an old man who was ill.” And yet, not once did he hear from the old man, “May it be well with you.” I think that there are many in John’s situation in the world today—serving others thanklessly for years and years. Yet how many of us have eyes to see: “This is an angel, not a man [or woman].” How many of them know what saints they are? Continue reading

From Death to Life

691px-Der_Kreislauf_des_Lebens,_Hans_CanonMan’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