There were two monks on Mt Athos that shared a cell their whole monastic life. They knew each other so well. They never had an argument. Everything was so good that they thought something was missing. They felt that there was no temptation or provocation in their situation with each other. One day, they decided to have a mock-argument in order just to test themselves, so that they might profit spiritually from the exercise. The topic in itself wasn’t important to them. They believed their spiritual balance was stable enough to undertake the exercise without harm to their spiritual condition. However, it secretly allowed the evil one to introduce a contentious spirit into their situation. This contention didn’t go away. It eventually led to disrespect and condemning of each other. The rift widened to the point that they could no longer live together. They were not in fact able to preserve their spiritual balance. What started as an exercise became a real fall for both of them. What can we say? We can say they were correct that things were indeed originally missing in their original situation when everything on the surface seemed fine to them. But they were wrong. Firstly, they had stopped relying on the providence of God Who knew they were so weak and were unable to bear certain temptations and Who was shielding them from these temptations all the while. Then they prescribed spiritual medicine to themselves without a blessing, listening to no-one. All of this came about through their inner negligence, their forgetfulness and through their spiritual insensitivity. Step-by-step, they fell into a fall because they were not faithful to their cenobitic way of life that was designed to shelter them from their own presumption and delusion. Their lack of inner vigilance was at the root of their fall. It allowed the evil one to whisper into their hearts that same temptation of our Lord in the Desert (Mt 4: 5-7) Who said, “You shall not tempt the Lord your God” (Deut 6:16.)
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.
An Anglophone must do without a Bible. An English speaker needs to access the Bible in Greek, Slavonic, Latin, and the semitic languages. He must understand Holy Writ, including the Desert Fathers, Church Councils, canons, letters, etc. He must grasp history, and sense the shifting, linguistic usages across place and time. He must know heresy, distinguishing it in its thousand forms. He must be a critic of politics, society and monastic life. But, finally, he must himself be a theologian. He must noetically understand by grace what is unsayable in the life of the Holy Spirit. Then the English thinker can float in the vagaries of his own language without doing harm to the aeternal truths that wordlessly touch his soul.
A clean mind is not an empty mind. Our mind can never be entirely empty of thoughts, feelings and ideas. Curating one’s mind requires experience and discernment. Our mind (or dianous) is the instrumental part of our psyche. The highest part of our psyche is our intellect (or nous). It is through our nous that we perceive and experience divine nature. Our nous manages our dianous. When our nous is illumined by the divine grace of the Holy Spirit, then we manage our minds well. Our nous is clarified by divine grace in worship and prayerful attention. When that happens, then we are able to manage ourselves with discernment and discretion in the field of our mental activity. Our choices regarding what sensations to experience, activities to engage in, ideas to reflect upon, emotional responses to make, etc., will all become morally virtuous when guided by a godly light in our nous. Then our mind will be a well-functioning tool, a cleaned instrument.