What are virtues and passions and what is the the relationship between them? I don’t find useful the idea that a passion is just a virtue-gone-wrong, i.e. into its negative mode. I’ve seen many heterodox charts displaying this idea. I prefer to think that virtues aren’t transmutable, as being solely divine energetically, incapable of losing their divine character. I think that divine virtues ground good, downstream moral actions. I’d say virtues are always divine and never human. Using this language, then one won’t make the mistake of considering those purely human, so-called ‘good’ morals (that even atheists and heretics agree upon) to be good in a divine way (that is, there is no imitatio possible in my orthopraxis.) In my orthopraxis, of course we do everything we can. That is no credit to ourselves. We don’t even notice it. It’s automatic. But I ask the Lord to do everything. I don’t even ask the Lord to help me to do things. I just do everything I can, automatically and unthinkingly. I consider my efforts to be nothing. Some people ask the Lord for help and strength in undertaking. That’s fine. I ask the Lord to do everything after I do everything that I can but account it as nothing. The Lord takes all the credit, all the glory, whatever the outcome. It’s His providence. It’s His grace, if He grants it, or grants something else I could not have imagined. The corollary is that I get all the blame if I do not do everything that I can. Immediately, I have no way to avoid this blame and am presented with the necessity to repent, regardless of the outcome. Even if I exert myself fully, repentance is still an outcome of the failure in the shortfall of my efforts exerted to their maximum degree. In simple summary, when virtues are considered to be solely and exclusively divine, and not a humanistic property, then a man will take no credit for any so-called ‘good’ he does.
Someone recently related to me his recollections of Geronda Makarios at skete Marouda on Mt Athos about 10 years ago. Here is what he remembers: I turned up at skete Marouda with a letter of introduction from a Serbian monk who knew Geronda Makarios. I was a novice at that time in Serbia with the blessing to make a pilgrimage to Mt Athos. Geronda Makarios received me graciously. I stayed there for a week or so by his gracious hospitality. He had 2 or 3 monks with him. While I was there, Geronda Makarios was serving at the Protaton in Kareyes. One of his brethren, the young Hieromonk Pavlos, stayed behind at the skete to do the services while Geronda was away. Fr Pavlos was of a very quiet and self-controlled disposition. He had the unusual blessing to go unshod, in any weather, including snow. His feet were in terrible condition and looked like cauliflowers. The other young novice brother, forgive me, whose name I forget, was required by Geronda to telephone his mother. This was clearly extraordinary, but that day was his mother’s birthday. He clearly didn’t ask for this blessing on his own behalf, but also clearly obeyed Geronda with unquestioning alacrity. It seemed like Geronda was sensitive to the psychological bond between such a young novice and his presumeably pious mother. Geronda Makarios was extremely popular with the troubled youth of Greece, especially those mixed up by and recovering from the disturbances of hedonistic life. His skete was full of young, urban men seeking his guidance. They were clearly able to find a way out of the mess of their lives by his counsel. They also gladly lent their strength to the labours of construction at the skete, as a new chapel was being built at that time. Constructive, physical work as an indispensible accompaniment to repentant prayer is ideal for men, especially young, modern men who often lack such opportunities in typical city life. Geronda’s disposition was very quiet and he had a direct way of listening. When he spoke, he was very frank and matter of fact, often with a light touch of humour that dispelled anxiety. He always quickly found a point of view that psychologically pierced the heart of the matter. He seemed to dispense with worries that were of a neurotic concern, say, with social pressures within Church life, etc. His fluency in English displayed a high degree of functionality. I understood that he entered monastic life on Mt Athos when he was 17 years old. I wondered how he could develop such fluency in language except by the Lord’s providence and grace. One felt an ease of expression and communication with him. This aspect no doubt contributed to his popularity as a confessor and spiritual guide. Geronda hardly seemed to eat yet was solicitous of his guests and brethren at trapeza. He was as generous with his food, time, hospitality and counsel as he was in strict in ascesis towards himself. He tried not to draw attention to his oikonomia towards others and his akrivia towards himself but it is something that a novice like myself who was seeking to learn from the example of his elders would definitely notice. Geronda’s quietness and brevity of speech was reflected in the disposition of his few brethren. In spite of the sheer number of visitors, the brethren were themselves very laconic and able to guard their inner solitude. Their love and obedience to their elder was palpable. They knew what was needed of them at any time, seemingly without ever being told. They seemed to be able to practise their inner quietness even while the skete was full of guests and visitors. This is not an easy thing to do. I think that maybe the Lord rewarded Geronda’s disciples with this grace of inner quietness as a response to their love for their elder in the conformity of their disposition towards his wishes. This is a rare grace and probably accounts for the small number of his disciples. I am grateful for having witnessed it in action. Usually, novices like myself fail to love and are bound up in our own selfish concerns. We deprive ourselves of such grace and would not allow ourselves to bear such privations. The obedience of which I had the privilege to share was to make komboskini using the seed “Tears of the Virgin” https://athosgifts.com/products/Tears-of-Virgin-Mary-prayer-rope-50-beads-p456135014 that grows exclusively on Mount Athos. This small, grey seed has a natural channel in the centre that easily takes a wire through it. The work is a little painful to the fingertips, which seems appropriate somehow. There was a long-standing, returning guest present while I was there. A Greek layman, iconographer, married but whose family was disunited, and who himself lived in the world like a ‘secret’ monk, obviously under the guidance of his Geronda. This man had had the blessing to restore and regild the Portaitissa icon of the Panaghia at Iveron monstery which I had just visited and venerated a few days before. Years later, I had some historical information from a monk who knew Geronda Makarios from their mutual days together at Philotheou monastery. This monk had been there for 17 years. Geronda was part of that generation of elders from Philitheou monastery that fanned out into the rest of Mt Athos and elsewhere, bringing with them the grace, influence and charism of Elder Joseph the Hesychast. For example, as we know, Elder Ephraim eventually went to Arizona, Elder Joseph went to Vatopedi while Elder Makarios went to Marouda, etc. This dramatization https://m.youtube.com/watch?v=Ii1OsrpeFSQ&feature=youtu.be shows the Elder to be a lot older from what I remember, but with that same frank but gentle touch in his dealings with people, always going to the main issue in a practical way whereby we have the real opportunity to express our will in a concrete and constructive way for the improvement of our spiritual condition. Here he is https://www.ancientfaith.com/podcasts/orthodoxengagement/proskynima_pilgrims_on_athos dealing with a group of American, probably ex-Protestant clergy. Geronda’s novel use of language, i.e. so-called “Protestantism” within Orthodox Church life as an expression of an overly-prescriptive approach to piety, would have cut to the core of his sensitive guests but without antagonizing them or provoking resistance in them. Geronda seems to allow others to grant licence to themselves to be themselves because, quite frankly, no progress can even begin except from a sure and honest appraisal of one’s own fundamental, psychological formation. Maybe for this same reason, the licence to begin spiritual life each day on the basis of one’s present but deplorable condition, that Geronda received an injection https://athosweblog.com/2021/11/24/2224-latest-news-about-covid/ not out of concern for his own mortality for his own life’s sake, but as a show of trust, whether guided or misguided, in the teaching of his present medical authorities on Mt Athos, while still attributing all factors and circumstances to the providence of the Lord. I remember myself experiencing a severe bout of influenza in Serbia at the time of the so-called “Swine Flu” in Europe. I very nearly died at that time. I had no-one dependent on me and could have died with no regrets, but I can believe that Geronda Makarios would choose to maintain the conditions of his life, as much as he understood them to be, according to the circumstances of his responsibilities towards others. Although I perhaps differ from Geronda in my understanding of pharmakeia, I believe his motivations maybe sprang from his own taste of death, especially if he had experienced a flu more severe than mine, and that he in his compassion towards others would hope to shield them from the taste of such corruption. This taste of death and corruption is a bitter and ugly thing, with no goodness in it. I can believe that if a soul can return itself to the Lord without knowing such bitterness directly or too soon, then perhaps a Christian can mature in his life without being crushed by the despair from which we all generally emerge. Bitterness and despair is the secret food of monks, and is entirely appropriate for them, for they live as dead men. But monks will not expose frail laymen to this experiential knowledge of death, because most laymen, especially the mixed-up, modern youth of contemporary urban culture, are so defective in their formation that they have not yet even begun to live and do not know how to begin. Geronda Makarios in his compassion understands this psychological condition, and it is his great gift to help another man to locate within hjmself that exact point from where his spiritual life might necessarily have to start.
To give glory to God is to know Who He is. He reveals Himself in His glory to you. You acknowledge His glory back unto Him. Your worship is collective. All the saints and angels bear witness to your praise. If you haven’t seen, then maybe you have heard? That’s fine. Your worship is noetic. The glory of the Lord will enter your soul through your spiritual senses. It will permeate your highest intellect, your nous. You magnify His appearance in yourself. Don’t turn your back. Don’t stop looking. Worship is instant, immediate, a single process, a fully functional expression of a man’s telos. Worship is the purpose of a man’s formal design. When that happens, a man’s telos shines in the luminance, in the phanos of the Lord’s glory. When a man lacks worship, and claims that he perceives nothing of God, it is because he insists that the reflection of God’s glory in the darkness of his intellect is just a phantasm. For such a man, this fantastic self-object becomes his only point of reference, an idol in his imagination. Now he will guard his idol unto death. Such men refuse to take their spiritual senses seriously. They make this choice in the pride of their limited, human, speculative, abstract reasoning. Their fault is not in their senses as they claim, but in their intellect and will. But worship is not an epistemological matter. Worship requires δοκεω, an action of the mind and heart of processing information into understanding and choices. This information is apparent to our senses. It is perceptual. Worship begins as a matter of seeming.
Preparation is key for both frequent and infrequent Communion. Obviously, the more that someone Communes, then the more that he should prepare himself. However, we often see the opposite happen. That is, those who Commune infrequently often prepare themselves more assiduously that those who Commune frequently. The temptation from the right for infrequent Communion is that their preparation is never good enough, no matter how stringent. The temptation from the left for frequent Communion is that their preparation is always good enough, no matter how meagre. The end result is that infrequent Communers might never receive Communion unto life, and frequent Communers might always receive Communion unto judgment. In its extreme form, this temptation might cause both infrequent and frequent Communers to judge each other. Judgmentalism is an end-goal of this temptation. There is a further, unique temptation especially for frequent Communers. Some of them become obsessed with receiving frequent Communion. This obession can cause them to seek Communion in irregular and uncanonical ways, situations and places, seeking special concessions and arrangements for themselves. At the same time, they are invariably not leading ordinary, regular, Church-going lives. We often accommodate their requests out of pity and compassion for them because we hope to lead them back into ordinary Church life. But this is a mistake. It reinforces their prideful, narcisstic obsession for bizarre, special arrangements for Communion outside of regular, Church-going life. Rather, we should continue to offer them a normal, traditional experience of Church and simply leave it at that. That’s all.
The purpose of marriage is sanctification. The domestic household is a Church temple. Just as the Most-holy Theotokos was raised in a Church temple, so are all the children that the Lord grants to a married couple raised in the Church temple of the family. As a means to sanctification, marriage has many unique strengths that many religious writers and saints have already outlined elsewhere at length. A less well-known point is that a family rich in children is likely to connected to its wider family that will also be rich in children. This greater household becomes a means of shelter for all of its members. Whoever does not marry for some reason, nor seeks the monastic life, may find shelter in his greater, extended, Christian family. This in natural and good. For example, he may contribute to the well-being of his family, assisting in labour, child-rearing, and prayer. Perhaps a childless marriage can be sanctifying? I do not know. I am only a monk. I am not talking about satisfaction here, I am talking about sanctification. In the same way, perhaps a childless, married couple disconnected from wider family might be sanctifying? Again, I don’t know. On the other hand, perhaps a married couple despises each other? I have seen it many times. Sin can be found anywhere. It seems to me that families that lack sanctification are in a pointless, doomed situation. If it is by their own choice to forego the sanctifying strengths of having children, of being connected to wider family, then it seems that they are choosing to descend into eventual boredom, hatred, and resentment towards each other. I have seen it happen often. But if it is by the providence of our Lord that a married couple is living without the sanctifying strengths of an abundant and fruitful marriage that is not embedded in a viable, extended family, but crucially they give glory to the Lord for their situation, then even a marriage such as theirs might still be for their sanctification?
Strike a pose and call it repentance. The repentant pose can be dry. The dry, Christian pose of repentance reads like a pamphlet or brochure, much like some other Christians issue daily press releases on how ‘saved’ they are. The repentant pose can also be wet. The wet, Christian pose of repentance is purely psychological, as a neurotic, mental affect in the mind. The wet Christian must perpetually advertise his anxiety and distress. However, true repentance is not a posture but a position. The truly repentant position is characterised by nothing short of maximum, spiritual grief, 100% pain of heart. Anything less is just an illusion or dream. After a struggler finds himself located in 100% spiritual grief and pain of heart, then something strange happens: he is no longer affected by despair. Unlike breezy, Christian poseurs, a truly repentant man is not menaced or consumed by secret despair. Rather, he himself has ‘eaten’ or consumed his own despair. He is beyond despair. At this point, full lamentation can take hold. This is not pretty. It’s an appalling, horrifying sight. We would recoil, aghast in fear and distaste, should we encounter a saint in the throes of his repentance. For this reason, the saints avoid our company, or play the fool with us, because they do not want to impose the horror of their condition upon us. Did you taste this horror? Do you remember the turning-point in your life, when the Holy Spirit whispered salvation into your ear? A memory of a grace-filled moment is also a present illusion. That same grace-filled moment of our repentant conversion can and should be a present reality once again. It should not be written into the memory-hole of our publicized, psycho-social history. It should be vivified in secret by our hidden grief. These things are veiled and invisible. Repentance is not a dream, and a saint is never an imposter.
If faith is measurable, then it is deficient. The monk who keeps not his cell-rule. The layman who avoids Church services. The ortho-internet personality curating his brand. The bishop as a law-clerk. It is so simple. Their deficient faith is measured by their want of prayer. And even if they do pray? Well, to the extent that their prayer might be mechanical and lacking pain of heart, then that prayer is null. And if their prayer is contaminated by delusion? If they take pride in their piety? If they are satisfied in their spiritual work? If they are not driven to pierce the essence of their prayers? Impurity is unaware of its own presence in a soul. Whoever is deficient in faith is oblivious to his lack of prayer, and insensible to its low quality. Such a man is easily deluded. He automatically accepts reasons, rationales, interpretations, excuses, etc., that justify his undeveloping, spiritual praxis. See how his life gets more bizarre, more eccentric, more characteristic, more idiosyncratic. The more overt his personality, the more degenerate becomes his soul. And then the more he masks this degeneracy through the social activity of his monastic life, or family and professional life, or digital life, or hierarchical life. And no-one notices. Whoever is faithful to seeking the truth at all costs does well, but not well enough. It is not enough to merely embody correct dogma, even when one does so by divine grace. A man also needs to pierce the truth of his own sin. The monk, the layman, the virtual man, the hierarch. Everyone needs to continually start at the beginning because, for everyone, the beginning of faith is repentance. For faith to live in a man, the struggler needs to forever stop in his spiritual tracks and go back to the beginning where he finds his repentance. Repentance is the beginning of faith. Faith is always deficient when it lacks repentance. This is good news, for where repentance is, then even a man’s apparently absent faith is entirely sufficient for him. Repentance is the sign of even an absent or atrophied faith’s efficiency. This fact causes more sorrow to the penitent man, and rightly so, when he realises the fragility of his faith. Yet it also provokes gratitude to the Lord Whose providence has so arranged it that a man’s fragile faith is contained in and covered by his ever-deepening repentance. Yes. A deficient faith can be a cause for joy.
Can a man consciously reject what he doesn’t understand? If he never consciously subscribed to a heresy, how can he conscientiously reject it now? If a man cannot distinguish between false heresy and true dogma, why should he sign anything? How much catechesis can a man take? Just enough to repeat dogma? Would we catechize a parrot? The answer lies in a man’s heart, the core of his soul. Here, a man senses spiritual life from spiritual death. He does so by the grace of the Holy Spirit. The sensate knowledge in the depths of his heart is transferred to his nous, and from there it is noetically interpreted into forms and symbols which are intelligible to his dianous, his mind. Now he is able to conjugate further pictorial symbols and verbal formulae in a rational way. Now he can sign statements. A man first needs the illumination of the Holy Spirit before he can sign any libellum.
Can I worship the Holy Trinity without understanding the Holy Trinity? Of course I can. In fact, I can do nothing else. In order to do so, I don’t need to philosophize about it. I don’t need words like, for example, kataphasis or apophasis, etc. I will simply pray to the Holy Trinity in the traditional, orthodox way, using the service-books of the Church, in accordance with Her customs. When I do so, my nous will start to recognise God and my dianous will realise what is happening. However, it is still good to understand metaphysics, as much as I can, but even if only to reject metaphysics. Why? For the sake of apologetics; and to avoid making mistakes in one’s own reasoning. Orthodox worship is pragmatic, tried and true. I receive it through the Church from the saints, those experts in prayer who have gone before me. I don’t care about any systematic description of this orthodox way of prayer. Rather, I let this pattern of prayer inform my soul and body. When that happens, I praise and glorify God the Father, my Lord Jesus Christ, the Holy Spirit, the All-Holy Trinity. I give thanks, I confess my sins, I ask for all the things we need. This is not a performance. If, sometimes, with the powers of my soul and body, I do not praise or glorify God, nor be thankful, nor be penitent, nor ask for what we need, but am only going through the motions of prayer, with neither understanding nor comprehension, then at least let me be honest about it. Let me not be a hypocrite. Without the engagement of the powers of my soul and body, I am only ‘acting-out’ being a man at prayer. Let me not claim any virtue in such an act, such a vain enactment of theatrical dogma. At such empty times, let me not stuff my head with with any systems of dogmatic thought that justify my emptiness. If I cannot recognise God with my nous, then at least let me recognise my own sin. When that happens, then at least prayer might begin again, and the powers of my soul and body begin to get involved with God the All-Holy Trinity, the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit once more.
Polemics and slogans are woven into bad rhetoric. Group identity (ethnos) underpins ideology in bad rhetoric because someone, or some group, is struggling for worldly power. Bad rhetoric pretends to be good rhetoric by pretending to use reason and logic (logos) when engaging in dialectics, in a conversational exchange, which outcome supposedly depends on the course of the conversation. But don’t be fooled by the pretence. Bad rhetoricians offer a statement, a proposition, that they pretend is open for debate, but really it isn’t. Such ‘statements’ or ‘propositions’ are simply gambits in order to enter into an exchange. Bad rhetoricians enter into an exchange with a whole set of ‘statements and propositions’ that they continually recycle, shifting ground, whenever you counter them with a logical reply. Such “statements and propositions’ are effectively no more than slogans. These slogans are markers of their group identification. Your counter arguments to these slogans, no matter how reasonable your statements are, are taken by them to be markers of your supposed, alternative group identity. That’s all. Bad rhetoric pretends to be good rhetoric by pretending to use ethics (ethos). Their slogans might sound like they are based in issues of justice, fairness, social values, etc. However, the riddle in this tactic lies in its frame, which is an absolutely worldly frame. Their specific vision of social organisation and order hides behind their ethical statements. They are trying to assert their own vision of social order and to privelege their own group in that social order. Don’t be fooled by this tactic. Bad rhetoric pretends to be good rhetoric by resorting to emotion (pathos). Fear is a powerful emotion because it suspends one’s ability to use abstract reason and reflection. People may fear not just violence, or the loss of freedom, but also the loss of access to food, housing, etc. Fear becomes 1000 times more powerful in the imagination that it could ever be in reality. Empathy is another powerful, weaponised emotion (especially when used against women). If you can instigate fear or empathy in someone’s imagination, it will be extremely debilitating for their normal functioning. I am surprised how many Christians with faith are immune to bad rhetoric. It seems that a life led in the Church teaches the soul to know instinctively what is true. Many such Christians spontaneously tell me in their own words how they are dealing with what they hear, what they see, and what they deal with in their lives right now. Each soul finds a slightly different way to describe it. But each Christian soul cleaves unto the Lord, each Christian soul knows what is right and what is wrong, and each Christian soul bypasses the traps of bad rhetoricians. Such Christian souls avoid dialectical exchanges based in logical arguments, they disengage from debates regarding socially fluid, moral values, and they are not easily scared nor manipulated by sentimental feelings. Life in the Church provides immunity to the poisons and evil of bad rhetoric.