My beloved brothers and sisters in Christ God,
Christ is in our midst! He was, is, and ever shall be.
CONFRONTING THE PASSIONS
"…But sin, taking opportunity by the commandment, produces in me all manner
of evil desire… For what I am doing, I do not understand. For what I will to do, for
I do not practice; but what I hate I do…But now, it is no longer I who do it, but
sin that dwells in me" (Romans 7: 8-17). "…For the good that I will to do, I DO NOT
DO; BUT THE EVIL I WILL NOT TO DO, THAT I PRACTICE" (Romans 7:19).
Confronting the passions, my brothers and sisters in Christ God are never easy. Understanding them and their purpose and controlling them, is even harder. Holy men and women, ascetics, hermits, apostles, righteous, and confessors, faced them too. Theodore of Mopsuesstia wrote: "We often covet the things of this life, not merely food and drink and sex but fame and fortune as well. We have these desires inside us and would never know there was anything wrong with them unless the law told us so."
Saint John Chrysostom states, "…For when we desire something but are prevented from obtaining it, all that happens is that the flame of our desires increased. It was not the law’s fault, because the law hindered us and did what it could to keep us away from desire. It was sin, i.e., our own laziness and bad disposition, which used what was good for the opposite. It was not the fault of the physician but rather of the patient who used the medicine wrongly."
One of the great desert Fathers of the Church, Saint Anthony the Great says, "Learn to love humility, for it covers all of your sins. All sins are repulsive before God, but the most repulsive of all IS PRIDE OF THE HEART. Do not consider yourself learned and wise, otherwise, all your efforts will be destroyed, and your boat will reach the harbor empty. If you have great authority, do not threaten anyone with death. Know that according to nature, you too are susceptible to death, and every soul sheds its body as its final garment."
It is very true that "Pride is the passion that can lead each of us TO SPIRITUAL DEATH. It introduces strife between me and my neighbor, as well as SEPERATION BETWEEN THE LOVE OF GOD AND ME. We, therefore, should acquire HUMILITY and be like the Lord Christ Himself, so that we may eradicate all traces of pride from our souls."
Saint Theophan the Recluse advises the following: "If you want to attain salvation, learn and keep all that the Holy Church teaches and receiving heavenly power from the Mysteries of the Church, walk the path of Christ’s Commandments under the direction of lawful pastors, and you will undoubtedly attain the Heavenly Kingdom and be saved. All of this is naturally necessary in the matter of salvation, necessary in it and for all. Whoever rejects any part of it has no salvation."
The Holy Fathers of the Church teach that we conquer another powerful passion, the passion of lust by prayer and fasting. You won’t purify yourself right away, you won’t become an angel after one fast, but you have to purify yourself gradually. Saint Mary of Egypt came to the desert, suffered, and struggled there for seventeen years. The passions attacked her like wild beasts. She endured patiently and prayerfully and warred with them, and the Lord cleansed her. By the end of her ascetic labors, Saint Mary had already found peace in her soul, tranquility, and she rejoiced in her life in the desert. It is the same with a person who, gradually, from fast to fast, from fast day to fast day, strives to restrain himself, to keep himself within the framework of Divine Law, and finally reaches the measure of perfection."
Saint Maximos the Confessor states: "Passion is an impulse of the soul contrary to nature, as in the case of mindless love or midless hatred for someone or for some thing."
The more familiar passions are seven: Gluttony, lust, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness and pride. All of these passions lead us to sin, but with proper spiritual discipline and prayer is offset by virtues.
On the other hand there are the virtues. Virtuous acts are the fruit of ascetic discipline and they only come by grace (1 Cor. 3:6). "According to the grace of God, which was given to me as a wise master builder, I have laid the foundation and another builds on it. But let each one take heed how he builds on it" (1 Corinthians 3:10).
The Virtues are: Temperance, chastity, generosity, mildness, happiness, diligence and humility. Those of you who study the lives of the Saints, who are people who lived virtuous lives, we find that they fast, engage in vigils, read the writings of the Church Fathers, attend divine services and participate in the Mysteries frequently.
After having attempted to inform you all of the spiritual challenges facing all of us regarding the passions, I still feel somehow that I need to explain them more clearly to you and in a more familiar manner. When my family and I lived in Florida I was exposed to fishing vessels or boats owned by my parishioners. I was taught by them that the owner of a boat bears a great responsibility to maintain and to keep his boat always in good condition. That every owner needs to keep it clean and free of any barnacles so as to function properly in a consistent way. Barnacles are a serious and one of the most pressing problems facing a boat owner. When barnacles attach themselves on one’s boat, they present a real danger and are tough to scrape off. However, all boat owners need to be aware, because removing them can be a labor-intensive process that could cause further damage to the boat. If you are experienced in keeping your boat clean it may not be as burdensome. The more often one cleans and clears the barnacles from the boat, the less difficult the job will be. It takes a great deal of effort, time, strength, and patience, to remove all the barnacles from his fishing vessel. There is a lot of scraping and power washing. It takes a grat deal of care not to damage one’s boat in the process and one must be cautious while working in small areas and corners in the attempt to remove all of them.
Well, there are many similarities between removing and cleaning one’s passions from one’s soul and heart, and the removal of the hard barnacles under the boat, which if not removed, threatens and obstructs its operation. People who truly love their souls must be as diligent as these boat owners , if not more. Of course, we cannot equate the value of the soul with that of a boat. Our soul is priceless and more precious, but just like the barnacles under the boat, sins do attach themselves to it and can eventually kill it. We all know that there is nothing more precious in the world than one’s soul. Jesus Christ Himself says to us: "For what profit is it to a man if he gains the whole world, and loses his own soul? Or what will a man give in exchange for his soul?" (Matthew 16:26). Nevertheless, if we are to save and protect anything of value, there is need to work hard, to protect, to keep clean, and to make the needed sacrifices.
The spiritual barnacles of the soul are the passions and sins that attack and attach themselves to it. One very successful way of cleaning and removing our spiritual barnacles, our sins, is to first acknowledge that we indeed have committed them, and to repent of them through our participation in the sacrament of reconciliation and confession. Secondly, we wash away our sins, which cling to our souls, by the grace of God and through our obedience to our Savior, by our adherence to His Divine commandments, by our willingness to resist repeating them over and over again, by self-denial, and through the cleansing that comes from tears, sincere humility, and love.
It is expected for people to believe that life in Christ is too difficult and perhaps impossible. However, in the Orthodox Church we have a plethora of men, women, and children, who were successful in their spiritual quest and, by the grace of God, became holy and revered as saints by the Church. We also need to remember the Divine words of our Lord Christ who said: "With men this is impossible, but with God all things are possible" (Matthew 19:26). Everything must be done by prayer and fasting. So, please don’t be afraid or discouraged, but begin the effort and build up your spiritual life. Invite our Lord Jesus Christ into your life and seek His aid, strength, patience, enlightenment, courage, and most of all, faith.
"Glory Be To GOD
– Saint John Chrysostom
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With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry)
The sinner and unworthy servant of God
+ Father George