We continued reading and discussing the 12th letter of St. Theophan the Recluse to the young Anastasia. He works very hard to show her that the illness that we struggle with is universal but it is also something that is willfully contracted. We all act in an unnatural way when we fail to subordinate the intellectual and carnal aspects of our being to the spiritual. Theophan makes it clear to Anastasia that there is nothing inherently sinful or evil about the intellectual or carnal but sin comes into play when they take supremacy over life in the Spirit and so make the self and our desire idols. We become less than human.
When we give ourselves over to the thoughts and desires associated with these aspects of ourselves we are easily drawn into sin and it can quickly drag us down like a whirlpool. Often it is very difficult to overcome such sin when it becomes habitual, or becomes a passion. In fact Theophan tells the young woman that sometimes we can remain fixed in the passion permanently.
However, Theophan assures Anastasia that even the most dedicated individual struggles with irrepressible thoughts. One should not become disheartened or despondent in the struggle. Anastasia has already made the first step in acknowledging the illness and the need for healing. What is most important now is that she guards her virtue and that she remains ever vigilant in subordinating all things to the spiritual life.
Referenced in the recording, the text offered to the group from Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky by way of chat during the group is copied below:
Generally speaking, there is the western Christian definition, for example CCC 1773, where “passion” is a morally neutral concept. In reading St Theophan we need to remember his background wherein there is Eastern Christian definition, for example COP 795, where “passion” is always a vice, one of the capital sins - something that is cancerous and death bearing to the spiritual life. St John Climacus was of the opinion that each of the passions was originally something that God made as good and our sin perverted its purpose. Anger was given that we may hate the evil one and sin, but we use it to hate one another. St. John of the Ladder was of the opinion that only akedia had no good origin with God.
COP is Christ Our Pascha the official catechism of the Ukrainian Greco-Catholic Church.
In the East, all sin is missing the mark, and so death-bearing, we do not distinguish between mortal and venial sins.
The link to the English version of COP is available for reading online on the St Josaphat Eparchy's web site. You can also purchase it there.
In the East we also distinguish stages from getting from a thought to a passion. Search the internet for “The Struggle With Passions”, by I.M. Kontzevich. COP has a simplified version in paragraphs 790 and following. These stages of temptation are provocation, conjunction, joining, struggle, habit and finally passion. Technically, sin is born somewhere between conjunction and joining.
Here is a short summary of Kontzevich's description: In “The Struggle With Passions”, by I.M. Kontzevich,Also COP, 790, we read:
1. PROVOCATION (SUGGESTION) прилог, приложитиCOP, 791By impression, memory or imagination a thought, if it is not invited consciously and voluntarily, and if a person is not negligent about it, presents itself to us. This is the touchstone for testing our will, to see whether it will be inclined towards virtue or vice. It is in this choice that the free will manifests itself.
2. CONJUNCTION (sochetanie-поєднання) and 3. JOINING (slozhenie-складання) In COP, 792…2 and 3 are called (internal conversation)In short, the thought is conjoined to the feeling and they in turn are joined to the will.The thought produces a feeling. This determines whether the thought stays or leaves. If our feelings do not “hate” the thought but “like” the thought, the thought then enters into our consciousness. We begin paying attention to it. We begin delighting in it. AT THIS POINT there is a conjunction-поєднання between the thought and me. But sin does not yet exist. In order to cut off the sequence of notions, to remove it from my consciousness, and to terminate the feeling of delight, I need to distract my attention. I must actively and firmly resolve to rebut the images of sin assailing me and not return to them again. But, if I become inclined to act upon what the thought tells me and to get the satisfaction of partaking of it, then the equilibrium of my spiritual life is DESTROYED. My willpower is now cooperating with the thought. This is called: JOINING-складання. “This state is already "approaching the act of sin and is akin to it" (St. Ephraim the Syrian). There comes the willful resolve to attain the realization of the object of the passionate thought by all means available to man. In principle, the decision has already been made to satisfy the passion. Sin has already been committed in intention. It now remains to satisfy the sinful desire, turning it into a concrete act.”
4. STRUGGLE Christ our Pascha: 793: “A thought that has penetrated the heart through conversation is difficult to dismiss. A person cannot be rid of it without struggle and effort. The Word of God and prayer assure victory in this battle” Kontzevich: “Sometimes, however, before man's final decision to proceed to this last moment, or even after such a decision, he experiences a struggle between the sinful desire and the opposite inclination of his nature”.
5. HABIT- звичка, (Assent-згода, зволення)Christ our Pascha: 794: “acceptance of an evil thought, which is equivalent to defeat in battle. By making an evil thought one’s own and deciding to make it a reality, a person has already sinned, even if the evil intention is not [sic: be] acted upon.”Kontzevich: there is still “an unstable vacillation of the will between opposing inclinations” and “a sinful inclination has not yet deeply penetrated man's nature and become a constant feature of his character, a familiar element of his disposition, when his mind is constantly preoccupied with the object of the passionate urge, when the passion itself has not yet been completely formed.”
6. CAPTIVITY (Passion-пристрасть) Christ our Pascha: 795: “The final stage is the actual passion. This is a state of captivity that results from sinful activity. A person given over to passion experiences a constant inclination towards evil. The inclination can become so powerful that a person loses the strength to resist, becomes addicted to evil, and a slave to passion.”Kontzevich: “It is no longer the will that rules over sinful inclinations, but the latter rule over the will, forcibly and wholly enticing the soul, compelling its entire rational and active energy to concentrate on the object of passion. This state is called captivity (plenenie-полон). This is the moment of the complete development of a passion, of the fully established state of the soul, which now manifests all of its energy to the utmost.”