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The Philokalia

The Philokalia: The complete text compiled by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth.
G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, Kallistos Ware, translators and editors.
4 volumes.
Faber and Faber.

Vol 1, copyright 1979; Vol 3, copyright 1984.

What is the Philokalia? It is a collection of writings of monks from the 4th through at least the 11th century. It is writings more known to the Orthodox churches than to the west, at least until recently.

Of course it is written by celibate, heterosexual men to other celibate, heterosexual men, but it is rather easy to generalize or translate its wisdom for all of us. See commentary on some of the saying below for how it looks at issues of tension between the genders.

The issue always returns to love of God and the constant, moment by moment choice to turn to God or to turn away from God. While the standard asked is high, there is much compassion expressed as well.

As [Christians] we should discriminate between virtue and vice with discretion and watchfulness; and we should know which virtues to practice when in the presence of our brethren and elders and which to pursue when we are alone. We should know which virtue comes first, and which second or third.
-- St. Isaiah the Solitary, v.1, p. 27

Discernment is a specific spiritual gift and skill. It is the ability to see clearly, to tell good from evil. Not everyone has this gift.

Just as it is possible to think of water both while thirsty and while not thirsty, so it is possible to think of gold with greed and without greed. The same applies to other things.
-- Evagrios the Solitary, v1, p.40

Scripture does not forbid anything which God has given us for our use; but it condemns immoderation and thoughtless behavior. For instance, it does not forbid us to eat, or to begat children, or to possess material things and to administer them properly. But it does forbid us to be gluttonous, to fornicate and so on. It does not forbid us to think of these things - they were made to be thought of - but it forbids us to think of them with passion.
-- St. Maximos the Confessor, v2, p.108

For it is not food, but gluttony, that is bad; not money, but attachment to it; not speech, but idle talk; not the world's delights, but dissipation; not love of one's family, but the neglect of God that such love may produce; not the clothes worn only for covering and protection from cold and heat, but those that are excessive and costly .... not woman, but unchastely; not wealth, but avarice; not wine, but drunkenness; not anger used in accordance with nature for the chastisement of sin, but its use against one's fellow-men.
- St. Peter of Damaskos, v. 3. p. 156.

There is nothing in the entire set of writings, by the way, that is anti-women. No screeds about women as vessels of corruption, etc. Instead, the writing makes clear at several points - here are some examples - that if, as a man, you cannot control your thoughts about women, that is your problem, and not the woman's.

Do you desire, then, to embrace this life of solitude, and to seek out the blessings of stillness? If so, abandon the cares of the world, and the principalities and powers that lie behind them; free yourself from attachment to material things, from domination by passions and desires, ... so you may attain true stillness.
--Evagrious the Solitary, v1. p.32

A monk should always act as if he was going to die tomorrow; yet he should treat his body as if it was going to live for many years.
-- Evagrious the Solitary, v1., p.53

St. Dionysios the Areopagite says that God is praised through justice.
-- St. Peter of Damaskos, v. 3., p. 258

I have seen unlearned men who were truly humble, and they became wiser than the wise. Another unlearned man, upon hearing them praised, instead of imitating their humility, prided himself on being unlearned and so fell into arrogance.
-- St. Mark the Ascetic, v1, p.115


...let us lead our life with self-control, especially in regard to food. Let us accustom our body to virtuous and orderly habits, nourishing it with moderation. For in this way the upsurges of the soul's desiring power are more easily calmed, and subdued by its sovereign aspect, the intelligence; and in fact the same is true where the soul's incensive power is concerned, as well as our other faults.
- St. Philotheos of Sinai, 9th or 10th century, v. 3, p. 21

...whoever wishes to travel the shortest road to Christ - the road of dispassion and spiritual knowledge - and joyfully to attain perfection, should not turn either to the right or to the left, but in his whole way of life should journey diligently along the royal way. He should steer a middle course between excess and insufficiency, as both engender pleasure. He should not obscure the intellect with excessive food and conviviality, making himself blind through such distractions; but neither should he cloud his mind through prolonged fasts and vigils.
- St. Peter of Damaskos, v. 3, p. 88

In these quotes we see the concern for balance. Too much of something is a problem, but too little is also dangerous.

A truly merciful person is not one that deliberately gives away superfluous things, but one that forgives those who deprive him of what he needs.
- St. Ilias the Presbyter, 11th Century, v. 3, p. 37

Why, as we know, soldiers and thieves suffer simply trying to get food, travelers and sailors are absent from home for long periods, and people endure great trials quite apart from any hope of the kingdom of heaven, often indeed failing to achieve whatever it is they struggle for. But we are unwilling to endure even slight hardship for the sake of the kingdom of heaven and eternal blessings.
- St. Peter of Damaskos, v. 3, p. 230

I marvel at God's wisdom, at how the most indispensable things ... are readily available to all. And not simply this, but things conductive to the soul's salvation are more accessible than other things, while soul-destroying things are harder to come by. For example, poverty, which anyone can experience, is conducive to the soul's salvation; while riches, which are not simply at our command, are generally a hindrance. It is the same with dishonor, humiliation, patience, obedience, submission, self-control, fasting, vigils, the cutting off of one's will, bodily enfeeblement, thankfulness for all things, trials, injuries, the lack of life's necessities, abstinence form sensual pleasure, destitution, forbearance - in short, all the things conductive to the spiritual life are freely available. No one fights over them.
- St. Peter of Damaskos, v. 3, p. 157.
An example of the inversion of things that occur when you are inside the life with Christ.

Last updated 11/28/03; first posted 7/9/99; © 2003 John P. Nordin