At the beginning of our communal monastic life in 1968, Elder Paisiow had said to us, "Humility is the single most important virtue; but since this is not easily understood, then I would also add love. Yet, doesn't one who has humility, also have love?" These two "sister virtues", as the Elder characterised them, constitute the foundation of spiritual life, as they attract the Grace of God and give birth to all the other virtues. "Cultivate, with simplicity, humility and love," he used to say to us, "and as soon as these virtues are developed, pride and evil will be crushed and the passions will begin to perish."
In the present Fifth Volume -published with the blessing of our Chief-Shepherd Nicodemos, the Mostreverend Metropolitan of Kassandreia- we have included the counsels of the Elder related to the passions and the virtues. These counsels do not constitute a systematic teaching on the subject, nor do they refer extensively to all the passions and the virtues; they have been compiled from answers provided by the Elder to our questions regarding the diagnosis of and therapy for the passions, as well as the work required in developing the virtues. These answers are significant not only to monks and nuns, but to every person who has "good restlessness"1 over the cultivation of virtue. The Elder, with his wellknown pastoral counselling and care, pointed examples, and innate sense of humour creates spiritual "sunshine" which produces favourable conditions in our souls so that the blossoms of repentance open and we may bring forth fruits of virtue. He encourages us to look at our old self candidly, so that we may loathe its "repulsive mask" and discard it. We believe that the simple and enlightened word of the Elder will further strengthen our struggle so that we may be freed from the slavery of the passions and live in the freedom of Christ.
The Elder used to say that "God does not endow man with weaknesses, but with powers. Depending on how man will utilise these powers, he can become good or evil." In other words, if we utilise these powers in accordance with the will of God, then we draw close to God, and by Grace, become similar to Him. If we utilise them according to the will of the old man within, we become slaves of the passions and distance ourselves from God. In order to acquire the nature of the "new man", we need to make our will identical with that of God, as expressed by His holy commandments. "By observing the commandments of God," the Elder used to say, "we practice virtue and acquire the health of the soul."
The Elder emphasised that divine Grace ceases to be active in one who is enslaved to his passions. For this reason, when someone would confide in him of being victim to a particular passion, he would say, "Be careful, because you are dispelling the Grace of God." And when we asked him how one can acquire the Grace of God, or how one can become akin to God, sometimes he would say: with humility; sometimes: with love and a noble spirit; other times: with sacrifice and philotimo,2 and at still other times, he emphasised the casting our of our self: for all of these are characteristics of the "new man", the one who has been delivered from the passions. "When I say, 'to cast out our self'," the Elder would remind us, "I mean to throw away our passions, to divest our self of the old man within... If we throw away our old self, and evict the 'bad tenant', the old man within, then the vacuum of the heart will be occupied by the 'new man' of the New Testament."
This volume contains two units, each of which is divided into four parts. The first unit refers to the passions and the second to the virtues.
The first part of the passions unit refers to self-love,3 as the "mother of passions", since all the passions -those of the body, such as gluttony and fondness for sensual pleasure, as well as those of the soul, such as pride and envy- "originate from self-love".
The second part discusses pride, the "Staff General of all passions," as the Elder had characterised it. We could say that as "there is only one virtue, humility", there is also only one passion, pride, since "it is pride which cast us out of Paradise to earth and pride which is trying to send us from earth to Hell."
The third part refers to judging and censuring others, which stems from pride and is "full of injustice". Man, to whom God gave the gift of judgment so that he could discern good from evil, has twisted it into the passion of censure, from which God turns decisively away.
The fourth part addresses the passions of envy, anger and sorrow, which also constitute a disrortion of the powers of the soul and an abuse of the corresponding talents. We have distorted the power of desire in the soul4 -given to us by God in order to long for virtue- into jealousy and envy, while we turn the innate incensive power5 in the soul -which we should use to struggle with manliness and courage against evil- against our fellowman. Finally, the passion of sorrow deprives us of the power to rejoice in the abundant blessings of God and weakens us spiritually. The Elder juxtaposes this sorrow with the sorrow in God, which springs from repentance and fills the soul with a sweet consolation.
The unit on the virtues begins with "exalted" humility. Without humility, our virtues are "toxic": patience can hide grumbling or hypocrisy; simplicity can be diverted into impudence and deviousness; joy may not emanate from spiritual exaltation but secular satisfaction. "Those who have found the path of humblemindedness," the Elder used to say, "advance in the spiritual life quickly, steadily, and without toil." And, of this, in one of his letters, he wrote: "The most direct, secure and easy way to the heavenly Jerusalem is humility."
The second part refers to love which is to be "shared" properly with God, our fellow man and all creation. Love for God is inseparably tied to love for one's fellow man, leading the soul to divine eros, divine madness, divine inebriation. True love for one's fellow man is the "priceless, spiritual love" one has when he "removes the self from his love", that is, when one does not seek his own benefit. And the love for all creation is the overflow of the "general" love that a spiritual person possesses.
The third part refers to nobility and philotimo, which constitute main pivotal points in the teaching of the Elder. The Elder often noted, "Nobility of spirit is all-encompassing; it has philotimo; it has humility and simplicity; it has selflessness, honourability... it even has the greatest joy and spiritual exultation." Without diminishing the value of ascetic discipline, the Elder placed nobility and philotimo above every ascetic struggle, for, if there is no nobility of spirit, all the spiritual efforts -fasting, all night vigils, prostrations and so forth- are, as he said, "scarecrows", that is, "they can only scare away the crows and not the demons."
In the fourth part, reference is made to simplicity, "the first offspring of humility," to faith, as well as to hope in God, which is "the greatest assurance for man," to patience, which "sorts out many things and brings divine results," and to spiritual joy, which "comes about with the inner settling of things and provides wings for the soul." Finally, the Elder speaks about discernment, "the crown of the virtues." Discernment "is not simply one of the virtues;" it is not a step towards spiritual progress; it is its result and its assurance. It is "the steering wheel which guides the soul securely, not allowing it to stumble, by turning either to the right or to the left," but to continue steadily on the royal path of the virtues and avoiding the extremes which belong to the demons.
As an epilogue to the volume, the counsels of the Elder regarding the "good restlessness" have been added, "the good agony for the good struggle", as he called it. He used to say, "This good restlessness is the fluttering of our wings. It gives the soul leventia,6 liveliness; it does not cause anxiety and distress, but consolation; it is not labour; it is not agony, but zeal for struggle."
May this spiritual zeal be kindled in all of us that we may struggle to divest ourselves of the old man within, and be clothed with humility, so that Love, Christ Himself, dwells in our hearts.
September 26, 2006
The Transference of the Apostle and Evangelist
Saing John the Theologian
The Abbess of the Holy Hesychasterion
and the Sisters in Christ with me
1. Positive or good restlessness is the good concern and anguish for the "good fight". The person struggles, observes himself, recognises what obstructs his spiritual progress, expresses concern, asks for help and does spiritual work.
2. Philotimo, according to Elder Paisios, is the spontaneous, self-sacrificing love shown by humble people, from whom every trace of self has been filtered out, full of gratitude towards God and their fellow men. Philitimo comes from a deep, abiding connection with God, so that one is constantly moved to do and seek that which is good, right, and honourable. Out of spiritual sensitivity, such people try to repay the slightest good that others do for them.
3. Self-love is an impassioned, mindless love for one's body. A man dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions.
4. Power of desire in the soul (Επιθυμητικόν: to epithymitikon): one of the three powers of the soul according to the Fathers of the Church. It means, desiring, endowed with desire. It should be detached from material things and long with eagerness for God.
5. Incensive Power (Θυμικόν: to thymikon): second power of the soul; manifests itself as wrath or anger; more generally, the force provoking vehement, irascible feelings. It should be used to repel temptations and evil.
6. Leventia: "spiritual manliness", which means generosity of heart coapled with pluck.