|A collection of writings that is a treasury of spiritual advice ... if you're willing to dig.|
Philokalia: The complete text compiled
by St. Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St. Makarios of Corinth.
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.
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
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.
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.
|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.
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.
St. Dionysios the Areopagite
says that God is praised through justice.
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.
...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.
...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.
|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.
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.
|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.|