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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.

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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.”

*PLEASE NOTE: Due to a poor internet connection that resulted in choppy audio, the first 20 minutes of the recording were edited out.* 
 
In our first group on The Spiritual Life by St. Theophan the Recluse, we began by looking at his 12th letter to the young woman Anastasia. He firmly emphasizes the supremacy of the spiritual in her and our lives. Our life in Christ and the pursuit of holiness must pervade all that we do. We must keep our lives ordered and directed to the eternal. In so far as we subordinate the spiritual to the intellectual and carnal aspects of our nature we cease to be human. 
 
The proper use of freedom and self-consciousness are the two elements of our lives that must be closely guarded. It is our negligence in this regard that makes us stand guilty before God.  Furthermore we must not be under the delusion that we move with equal ease up and down the degrees of life. In an instant, the choice for and elevation of the carnal brings a fall from the graced life. However, the pursuit of purity of heart and the fruit of Ascetical discipline takes many years. There is no resting from the spiritual life. 
Tonight we concluded homily 71 and began homily 72. Once again Isaac serves us solid food. He presents us with an image of humility and faith perhaps unlike anything that we have ever considered before and calls us not to allow it to become a dead letter but rather something that raises us up to the fullness of life and love.  Can we let go of our worldly knowledge, our natural knowledge that comes through the senses and is shaped by the intellect and rather allow ourselves to comprehend what God reveals through and in faith?  For it means allowing ourselves to become fools in the eyes of the world, to become like children, like infants, unable to communicate clearly but able to receive the love and protection that the Father offers us. 
 
In this we are called to be like Christ himself, who in all things says “Thy will be done.”  Can we entrust ourselves so radically to the providence of God that we lose all fear and anxiety and become aware of Him and Him alone – trusting that we are in His care and allow, as Isaac says, “Grace to hold us in the palm of her hand”?  
 
Unless we live in this radical humility and faith we will have no inkling of the essence of God. But we will know instead is the distorted image of our own minds and imagination. Are we willing to receive the paltry alms that such a limited faith offers?  Do we truly desire and ling for the Heavenly Bridegroom? Do we desire God as He is in Himself?
Tonight we continue to read homily 71. It is probably the deepest and most beautiful section of the text and in many ways we could not have entered into it or understood it without having read Isaac’s homilies over these past four years. We are nourished here on solid food. 
 
Isaac discusses two things: dispassion, or or the state where the soul does not accept the passions and the mind is fixed upon holy things. The mind becomes subtle, nimble, and keen and swiftly moves away from the attack of the passions and temptations through being wholly wrapped in the things of God. Isaac, in fact, tells us that the memory of the passions is blotted out.
 
Isaac then moves on to discuss humility. This, he tells us, is a hiddenness from the world and the self. It is not, however, some kind of extreme introversion or antisocial behavior but rather is the fruit of one whose entire being is directed toward God and shaped by love of Him. One no longer seeks out the distractions of the world but rather to collect the senses, the emotions and the desires in order that all might be directed toward God. Isaac describes humility as a kind of “chastity of the senses”, where all things are rightly ordered toward He who is Love, Life and Truth.
We continued homily 71. Isaac is slowly guiding us through the virtues that bring us to our end point. Tonight we began with his definition of perfection. For Isaac, it is simply to love as Christ loves – a willingness to lay down our lives for others in order that they might come to know the fullness of life and love. Isaac puts forward the examples of Moses and St. Paul who asked God to allow them to be cast off if it would mean that others would be saved. Christ is our teacher in this regard. It is in Him and in His cross that we learn to love and are given the capacity to love.
 
From this Isaac moves on to speak to us about hope. It is an incredibly moving section of Isaac‘s writing. He elevates hope to its proper position in our life. It is one of the three theological virtues and it is precisely its ability to help us to see beyond the things of this world that allows us to love with the perfection that he describes. With hope we can see the promise of life that Christ holds out to us and so we can run with a swiftness. In fact, Isaac describes it as like running on air. No mountain, no river, no obstacle at all prevents an individual with hope from running swiftly toward the kingdom, with a heart aflame for the love of God. Isaac describes it as a kind of shortcut. Hope and its perfection brings together all the virtues. It leads a person to heedlessly give their lives over completely to Christ and allow Him to take up residence within the heart. Hope allows for a kind of holy madness to guide and direct a person’s life. It allows one to cast off any obstacle to living for Christ and living for Him alone.

This evening we continued our reading of homily 71. St. Isaac continues to define for us the essential virtues that lead us to the end of our course. Tonight, however, he not only describes for us and defines for us the nature of prayer and of humility as virtues, but he lays out for us the specific Asceticism of prayer and humility; how we exercise ourselves in faith to set God above all things - most of all above our egos. There’s an absolute quality to this response to God that Isaac puts before us. We have to have both feet within the kingdom, otherwise it is like we are unequally yoked in regards to our desires. We cannot desire God and the things of this world. To do so, even in the most subtle of ways, is to diminish our love for God and fall onto a path of mediocrity. God would have us completely and desires to be the object of the full desire of our hearts.

Isaac continues in homily 70 to instruct us about the nature of temptation and trials. These are not to be something that we fear or avoid. God allows us to be tempted not only to perfect our virtue but in order that we may comprehend something greater. Our participation in the cross through our infirmities or tribulations allows us to experience something of the suffering love of our Lord. If God allows us to experience the rod it is not evidence of punishment or discipline but rather of His desire to draw us closer to Himself. Our souls profit and are made sound through such temptation. Therefore, we are not to allow ourselves to fall into despair. Even if we are afflicted 1000 times we must realize that victory can come in a single moment. God can give us the strength, the courage and heart of a warrior.  And so we must not fear or give ourselves over to negligence or sloth.
 
In homily 71, Isaac begins to define for us three things: repentance, purity and perfection. In each case, the definition that he offers us is not what we might imagine. Isaac seeks to help us measure things in accord with the mind of God. Purity, for example, is the heart’s capacity to show mercy to all creation. Rightly ordered love allows us to see things with the eyes of God and so to see them with compassion and mercy. Repentance is not simply an episodic turning away from or confessing of one’s sin but mourn over it with a heart that understands the wound has been dealt to love. And finally, humility is our willingness to abandon all things visible and invisible. We cling to nothing - not even our thoughts about the things of the world. We cling only to God and seek Him above all things.

Tonight our discussion focused upon the conclusion of homily 69 and the beginning of homily 70. Both present us with an exquisite description of the nature and action of God‘s grace upon the soul; how we experience an alteration in the mind and indeed a struggle with our passions, with temptations and our falls only to be lifted up by the grace of God again. Isaac presents us with a vision of God who is intimately involved in our lives and seeks to draw us from glory to glory into the depths of his own life. He does that, however, within the context of our humanity and understanding that we must be drawn deeper through our struggles to see and comprehend the truth as he seeks to make known. God does not free us from the spiritual warfare and the struggle with temptation; rather He thrusts us into its depths to bring us to greater repentance and draw us back to himself and makes us steadfast in the faith, hope and love.  Our mind must die to the world and to the passions and be transformed by grace. The passions don’t die: we must die to self and sin and put on the mind of Christ. Grace, Isaac tells us, carries us in the palm of her hand. God will never abandon us in the struggle but is ever present to keep us from falling into despair.

As Isaac guides us through the final part of homily 68, he reminds us that the heart must long for converse with God. In this is found the greatest joy of unbroken stillness. He also reminds us that purity of heart is more valuable than all things and that without it all effort is profitless. If we fall into sin through heedlessness, however, we are not abandoned and can return to this unbroken stillness through unremitting vigils with reading and frequent prostrations. We must let the Fathers renew our fervor and we must humble ourselves in mind and body in order that God might lift us up again. When one has obtained this stillness there is little need for persuasive argument for one has come to experience the Truth. 
 
In Homily 69 Isaac makes it very clear that hourly we experience variations within our soul and repentance is a constant need. Downfalls will occur which are opposed even to the will aim. We must not let our soul become despondent or dejected for this is the very course of growth – spiritual warfare as a movement between the struggle with sin in our weakness and the consolation of God‘s grace. He who thinks that he can ever rise above this spiritual warfare becomes even more vulnerable prey for the wolf. As long as we are in this world we are to enter into the fray and fight the good fight of faith. We must not linger in consolation as if it were an end in itself but must remain humble before God 
We continued with our reading of homily 68 tonight. In a most extraordinary section, Isaac emphasizes the need to take heed of ourselves, to acknowledge the importance of being able to discern the most subtle movements of the mind and heart; to see which passion is dominant and the symptoms of its presence. Isaac like no other holds this out as an important competence, if not the most important competence for us to have as Christian men and women. We must be able to discern the passions that act upon us, their kind, how they manifest themselves, and how we are to remedy them. To be able to do this, Isaac tells us, is greater than the ability to raise somebody from the dead. To be able to see one’s sins and so repent and know the healing grace of God is of inestimable value. 
 
Isaac not only speaks to us the struggle that is necessary but the joy that is ours in gaining purity of heart. Our joy becomes that of the kingdom - that makes all things in this world seem as if they are of no account. We are destined for greater things and, when our eyes are open to this reality, we begin to feel as if we are in heaven itself.

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