Philokalia Ministries
Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Twenty-one

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Twenty-one

July 23, 2020

Tonight we read the 21st letter of the Saint to the young Anastasia. In many ways this is the most touching and beautiful of letters and yet also the most simple in its content. St. Theophan lays out for Anastasia the path that God has opened for us to reunion. He want her to understand that everything has already been set before us. We do not, and must not, seek to fashion a path for ourselves or devise a plan of our own hands. It is His yoke and burden that we must take upon ourselves because it alone is perfectly fit to lift us up and heal us. God has given us all. Better yet, He has given us everything – the perfect love of His only begotten Son and the gift of His own Spirit. We are given something far greater than the original innocence of Adam and Eve. We are given a share in the very life of God and all that He asks is that we receive it with humility and gratitude. Our responsibility is simply to embrace His will and providence and to remove any obstacles that may be an impediment to the work of this grace in our lives. If one were to sum up this letter it would be “All is Grace” - grace that must be received with a childlike faith.



Text of chat during the group

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: regarding eastern Christian use of the word "passion". In 375 AD, Archdeacon Evagrius of Pontus (c. 346-399) developed a comprehensive list of eight evil assaulting “thoughts” (Greek: logismoi).  Through the centuries this was systematized in the East by various saints, mostly St. Maximos the Confessor (590-662).  The assaulting  “thoughts” act on and overcome people, becoming habits or compulsions of thinking, feeling-willing, and desiring over which we end up having little or no control.  At this point, the “thoughts” are said to have become “passions” (Greek: pathеа).  A “passion” (from pathos in Greek) is any deadly obsession that seems to be beyond our ability to control, let alone to recognize, in ourselves.  Thus, a passion is any spiritual “cancer”, or “death-bearing” and “soul-corrupting” sin.  The Greek word “pathos” can also mean - and be translated as - “suffering, desire, energy, zealous activity, craving”, depending on its context.

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: In the East, the passions are a distortion, deprivation or misdirection of the intellective, appetitive and incensive powers of the soul.  See Tables at:  The “passions” enslave us and thereby are the chief cause of our sufferings.  In liberating us from sin and the effects of sin, our Lord delivers us from our passions as well as the pain which they cause. 

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: St. Gregory the Dialogist (Pope of Rome from 590-604) would revise Evagrius’ list to form what, in the West, is today more commonly known as “the Seven Deadly Vices”, or Sins.  [Also in the West, the current edition of the Catechism of the Catholic Church, for example §1767, uses the word “passion” to indicate something that is morally neutral, merely a strong feeling or emotion, and thus not sinful - unlike the way that the word “passion” is used in the East.]  Those Eastern Church Fathers, whose works were written between the 4th and 15th centuries and collected and published in the Philokalia-Добротолюбіє, list “by name a total of 248 passions and 228 virtues” (see English language edition, page 205, Volume 3).

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: St. John “of the Ladder” (Climacus, 579-649) was of the opinion that although the passions (пристрасті) were not directly created by God, they are still naturally good, except for akedia-listlessness, despondency.  In Step 26, 156, of his Ladder of Divine Ascent, he writes: “Nature gives us the seed for childbearing, but we have perverted this into fornication.  Nature provides us with the means of showing anger against the serpent, but we have used this against our neighbour.  Na¬ture inspires us with zeal to make us compete for the virtues, but we compete in evil.  It is natural for the soul to desire glory, but the glory on high.  It is natural to be over¬bearing, but against the demons.  Joy is also natural to us, but a joy on account of the Lord and the welfare of our neighbour.  Nature has also given us resentment, but to be used against the enemies of the soul.  We have received a desire for food, but not for profligacy.”  

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: It is when we use our free will to misdirect the passions from the good towards the evil, that we allow the passions to gain control over us.  This, in turn, is how the thieves, or demons, are empowered by us to rob us of eternal life.  A helpful passage on this latter point regarding what demons do, is to be found in the homily at:

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Twenty

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Twenty

July 16, 2020

Tonight we concluded letter 20, where the Saint leads the young Anastasia to a deeper understanding of the nature of the Fall and the illness that arises from it. Again St. Theophan reflects with her on the experience of Adam and Eve. They turn away from God in a way that is blasphemous and hostile. They deny His benevolence and seek for themselves self-rule; embracing the illusion that they can become gods.  St Theophan tells Anastasia that God will not violate their self-rule but rather allow them to experience the consequence of their own freedom. They become self-absorbed and for the first time the phrase “I myself” is used.  The order of life and the order within the soul is perverted. The passions become, as it were, inbred and take over the soul like a horde of approaching enemies. We must have no illusion that this is anything but an illness. Furthermore, we must understand that we’ve been overcome by alien tyrants and we set aside our dignity for the worst kind of slavery. We have set aside hope and joy for what promises only darkness and sorrow.


Text of chat during the group:

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: The Struggle With Passions by I.M. Kontzevich

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: describes the stages from first being a thought to becoming a passion or vice.

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: you can access it at

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: the official catechism of the Ukrainian Catholic Church, Christ Our Pascha identifies five stages but numbers and discusses them slightly differently than I M Kontsevich above. this catechism can be accessed at see paragraphs 788 thru 795

Wayne Mackenzie: That we might spend the rest of our life in peace and repentance, let us ask the Lord. from the Divine Liturgy of St John Chrysostom

Mary McLeod: Aquinas also describes the punishment for the fall very similarly (Summa II-II): But inasmuch as through sin man's mind withdrew from subjection to God, the result was that neither were his lower powers wholly subject to his reason, whence there followed so great a rebellion of the carnal appetite against the reason: nor was the body wholly subject to the soul; whence arose death and other bodily defects. For life and soundness of body depend on the body being subject to the soul, as the perfectible is subject to its perfection. Consequently, on the other hand, death, sickness, and all defects of the body are due to the lack of the body's subjection to the soul. It is therefore evident that as the rebellion of the carnal appetite against the spirit is a punishment of our first parents' sin, so also are death and all defects of the body.

Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: in his work On the Incarnation St Athanasius the Great was of the opinion that humanity would devolve figuring out new and better ways of sinning, ways for the body and soul to rebel against the God-intended ascendency of the spirit.

Wayne Mackenzie: Gender Ideology is a good example.

Joe and Larissa: Bl Fr Alexander Schmeman. - life is about how we deal with what we are dealt


Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Nineteen

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Nineteen

July 9, 2020

Tonight we read the 19th letter of the Saint to the young Anastasia and the beginning of the 20th. Theophan finally comes to the point of describing for her the seed of inner confusion that we experience as human beings, our ancestral sin. We struggle with a disordered state, a disease, that has become deeply rooted within us and given rise to the worst of destructive forces - the passions. It is not natural! In other words,  God has not created us in this fashion. Our forebearers took a path that led them away from God and, as it were, casts the gifts that He had bestowed upon them back in His face. They treated God not as benevolent and loving but as an obstacle to their happiness. The loss was immeasurable. Theophan wants Anastasia to have as her deepest conviction the fact that  this disorderliness is not what God intended. She must fight against the view that there is no hope for a cure, that there is no hope for the dignity of the humanity to be restored. This must be our fight as well. The passions destroyed our consciousness of self and freedom. In the face of this we must make our one goal in life to abide in God in every way and to rejoice in Him alone.


Text of chat during the group:

00:47:43 Mary Schott: Is it not "natural" because the loss of preternatural gifts?

00:52:24 Eric Williams: If you want to read a saint who doesn't make *anything* sound easy, I highly recommend Ephraim the Syrian. :)

00:59:46 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: I think that "loss of preternatural gifts" is a western term or concept. Generally speaking Eastern Christian authors speak or write from the point of view that sin makes us sub-natural whereas holiness is natural to the human condition. One has to translate in the back of one's mind ... in the west the term "supernatural" is used where Easterners use "natural", and the western "natural" is "sub-natural" in the East.

01:08:45 Joe and Larissa Tristano: Fr John, agreed, amartyia, Greek for sin means to “miss the mark” - the passions are birth defects of the soul

01:08:53 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: ...and so, in the East, a "sub-natural" human being is thus "sub-human" or "inhumane", and the holy person is "natural" and "human".

01:09:10 Joe and Larissa Tristano: Yes! Christ being THE Human!

01:09:19 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: exactly!!!

01:15:09 carolnypaver: Holy gifts to holy people….

01:21:18 Mary McLeod: Thanks everyone!


Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Eighteen Part II

Letters of Spiritual Direction to a Young Soul - Letter Eighteen Part II

July 2, 2020

Tonight we concluded letter 18 to the young Anastasia. The Saint works very hard to help her understand what the “one thing needful” for us is as Christian men and women. We must subordinate all things to the spiritual and in doing so this brings about a kind of harmony within the person; a harmony of thoughts, feelings, desires, undertakings, relationships, and pleasures. Simply put the St. Theophan tells us, this is “Paradise”. It is to live in the peace and the love of the kingdom. It is this that we must guard and protect and we must learn the ways that such harmony can devolve into disorder. While there can be external influences that disrupt our lives, Saint Theophan warns Anastasia this sympathy for the things of the world already exists within us in a subtle fashion. The disorder and confusion that we experience within is fed by the turbulence of the world and then once again re-enters the human heart. But make no mistake, he states; it begins within and with a predisposition toward sympathy with the things of the world. It is the nature of the interior disposition and its origin that Theophan will discuss in the next letter.


Text of chat during the Zoom meeting:

01:04:21 Fr. John (Ivan) Chirovsky: just a reminder: "how to form an orthodox Christian conscience" would help us to understand the things that St Theophan and his contemporaries would have taken for granted as familiar to members of a a devout Christian family.....


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