Orthodox River

Glossary of the Philokalia

Glossary of the Philokalia


AGE (αίών - aeon): the ensemble of cosmic duration. It includes the angelic orders, and is an attribute of God as the principle and consummation of all the centuries created by Him. The term is used more particularly in two ways:

(i) Frequently a distinction is made between the ‘present age’ and the ‘age to come’ or the ’new age’. The first corresponds to our present sense of time, the second to time as it exists in God, that is, to eternity understood, not as endless time, but as the simultaneous presence of all time. Our present sense of time, according to which we experience time as sundered from God, is the consequence of the loss of vision and spiritual perception occasioned by the fall and is on this account more or less illusory. In reality time is not and never can be sundered from God, the ‘present age’ from the ‘age to come’. Because of this the ‘age to come’ and its realities must be thought of, not as non-existent or as coming into existence in the future, but as actualities that by grace we can experience here and now. To indicate this, the Greek phrase for these realities *(τα μέλλοντα , - ta mellonta) is often translated as ’the blessings held in store’.

(ii) Certain texts, especially in St Maximos the Confessor, also use the term aeon in a connected but more specific way, to denote a level intermediate between eternity in the full sense (άϊδιότησ - aidiotis) and time as known to us in our present experience (χρόνος - chronos). Where this is the case we normally employ the rendering ‘aeon’ instead of ‘age’.

There are thus three levels:
(a) eternity, the totum simiil or simultaneous presence of all time and reality as known to God, who alone has neither origin nor end, and who therefore is alone eternal in the full sense;

(b) the aeon, the [totum simul] as known to the angels, and also to human persons who possess experience of the ‘age to come’: although having no end, these angelic or human beings, since they are created, are not self-originating and therefore are not eternal in the sense that God is eternal;

(c) time, that is, temporal succession as known to us in the ‘present age’.

APPETITIVE ASPECT - of the soul, or the soul’s desiring power (τό έπιθυμητικόν- to epithymitikon): one of the three aspects or powers of the soul according to the tripartite division formulated by Plato (see his Republic, Book iv, 4.34D-441C) and on the whole accepted by the Greek Christian Fathers. The other two are, first, the intelligent aspect or power (το λογιοτικόν - to logistikon: see Intelligent); and, second, the incensive aspect or power (το θυμικον - to thymikon), which often manifests itself as wrath or anger, but which can be more generally defined as the force provoking vehement feelings. The three aspects or powers can be used positively, that is, in accordance with nature and as created by God, or negatively, that is, in a way contrary to nature and leading to sin (q.v.). For instance, the incensive power can be used positively to repel demonic attacks or to intensify desire for God; but it can also, when not controlled, lead to self-indulgent, disruptive thought and action.

The appetitive and incensive aspects, in particular the former, are sometimes termed the soul’s passible aspect (το παθητικόν - to pathitikon), that is to say, the aspect which is more especially vulnerable to pathos or passion (q.v.), and which, when not transformed by positive spiritual influences, is susceptive to the influence of negative and self-destructive forces. The intelligent aspect, although also susceptible to passion, is not normally regarded as part of the soul’s passible aspect.

ASSENT - (συγκατάθεσις - synkatathesis): see Temptation.

ATTENTIVENESS - (προσοχή - prosochi): see Watchfulness.

COMPUNCTION - (κατάνυξις - katanyxis): in our version sometimes also translated ‘deep penitence’. The state of one who is ‘pricked to the heart’, becoming conscious both of his own sinfulness and of the forgiveness extended to him by God; a mingled feeling of sorrow, tenderness and joy, springing from sincere repentance (q.v.).

CONCEPTUAL IMAGE - (νοημα - noyma): see Thought.

CONTEMPLATION - (θεωριά - theoria): the perception or vision of the intellect (q.v.) through which one attains spiritual knowledge (q.v.). It may be contrasted with the practice of the virtues (πρακτικι - praktiki) which designates the more external aspect of the ascetic life - purification and the keeping of the commandments - but which is an indispensable prerequisite of contemplation. Depending on the level of personal spiritual growth, contemplation has two main stages: it may be either of the inner essences or principles (q.v.) of created beings or, at a higher stage, of God Himself.

COUPLING - (συνδυασμός - syndyasmos): see Temptation.

DELUSION - (πλάνι - plani): see Illusion.

DESIRE, Desiring power of the soul - see Appetitive aspect of the soul.

DISCRIMINATION - (διακρισις - diakrisis): a spiritual gift permitting one to discriminate between the types of thought that enter into one’s mind, to assess them accurately and to treat them accordingly. Through this gift one gains ‘discernment of spirits’ - that is, the ability to distinguish between the thoughts or visions inspired by God and the suggestions or fantasies coming from the devil. It is a kind of eye or lantern of the soul by which man finds his way along the spiritual path without falling into extremes; thus it includes the idea of discretion.

DISPASSION - (άπάθεια - apatheia): among the writers of the texts here translated, some regard passion (q.v.) as evil and the consequence of sin (q.v.), and for them dispassion signifies passionlessness, the uprooting of the passions; others, such as St Isaiah the Solitary, regard the passions as fundamentally good, and for them dispassion signifies a state in which the passions are exercised in accordance with their original purity and so without committing sin in act or thought. Dispassion is a state of reintegration and spiritual freedom; when translating the term into Latin, Cassian rendered it ‘purity of heart’. Such a state may imply impartiality and detachment, but not indifference, for if a dispassionate man does not suffer on his own account, he suffers for his fellow creatures. It consists, not in ceasing to feel the attacks of the demons, but in no longer yielding to them. It is positive, not negative: Evagrios links it closely with the quality of love (agape) and Diadochos speaks of the ‘fire of dispassion’ (§ 17: in our translation, vol. i, p. 258). Dispassion is among the gifts of God.

ECSTASY - (έκοτασις- ekstasis): a ‘going out’ from oneself and from all created things towards God, under the influence of eros or intense longing (q.v.). A man does not attain ecstasy by his own efforts, but is drawn out of himself by the power of God’s love. Ecstasy implies a passing beyond all the conceptual thinking of the discursive reason (q.v.). It may sometimes be marked by a state of trance, or by a loss of normal consciousness; but such psychophysical accompaniments are in no way essential. Occasionally the term ekstasis is used in a bad sense, to mean infatuation, loss of self-control, or madness.

FAITH - (πίστισ - pistis): not only an individual or theoretical belief in the dogmatic truths of Christianity, but an all-embracing relationship, an attitude of love and total trust in God. As such it involves a transformation of man’s entire life. Faith is a gift from God, the means whereby we are taken up into the whole theanthropic activity of God in Christ and of man in Christ through which man attains salvation.

FALLEN NATURE - (παλαιός ανθροπος - palaios anthropos): literally, the ‘old man’. See Flesh, sense (ii).

FANTASY - (φαντασιά - fantasia): denoting the image-producing faculty of the psyche, this is one of the most important words in the hesychast vocabulary. As one begins to advance along the spiritual path one begins to ‘perceive’ images of things which have no direct point of reference in the external world, and which emerge inexplicably from within oneself This experience is a sign that one’s consciousness is beginning to deepen: outer sensations and ordinary thoughts have to some extent been quietened, and the impulses, fears, hopes, passions hidden in the subconscious region are beginning to break through to the surface. One of the goals of the spiritual life is indeed the attainment of a spiritual knowledge (q.v.) which transcends both the ordinary level of consciousness and the subconscious; and it is true that images, especially when the recipient is in an advanced spiritual state, may well be projections on the plane of the imagination of celestial archetypes, and that in this case they can be used creatively, to form the images of sacred art and iconography. But more often than not they will simply derive from a middle or lower sphere, and will have nothing spiritual or creative about them. Hence they correspond to the world of fantasy and not to the world of the imagination in the proper sense. It is on this account that the hesychastic masters on the whole take a negative attitude towards them. They emphasize the grave dangers involved in this kind of experience, especially as the very production of these images may be the consequence of demonic or diabolic activity; and they admonish those still in the early stages and not yet possessing spiritual discrimination (q.v.) not to be enticed and led captive by these illusory appearances, whose tumult may well overwhelm the mind. Their advice is to pay no attention to them, but to continue with prayer and invocation, dispelling them with the name of Jesus Christ.

FLESH - (σάρξ - sarx): has various senses: (i) the human in contrast to the divine, as in the sentence, ‘The Logos became flesh’ (John 1:14); (ii) fallen and sinful human nature in contrast to human nature as originally created and dwelling in communion with God; man when separated from God and in rebellion against Him; (iii) the body in contrast to the soul. The second meaning is probably the most frequent. If the word is being employed in this sense, it is important to distinguish ‘flesh’ from ‘body’ (σώμα - soma). When St Paul lists the ‘works of the flesh’ in Gal. 5: 19-21, he mentions such things as ‘seditions’, ‘heresy’ and ’envy’, which have no special connection with the body. In sense (ii) of the word, ‘flesh’ denotes the whole soul-body structure in so far as a man is fallen; likewise ‘spirit’ denotes the whole soul-body structure in so far as a man is redeemed. The soul as well as the body can become fleshly or ‘carnal’, just as the body as well as the soul can become spiritual. Asceticism involves a war against the flesh - in sense (ii) of the word - but not against the body as such.

GUARD OF THE HEART, OF THE INTELLECT - (φυλακή καρδίας, νου – phylaki kardias, nou): see Watchfulness.

HEART - (καρδιά - kardia): not simply the physical organ but the spiritual centre of man’s being, man as made in the image of God, his deepest and truest self, or the inner shrine, to be entered only through sacrifice and death, in which the mystery of the union between the divine and the human is consummated. ’ “I called with my whole heart”, says the psalmist - that is, with body, soul and spirit’ (John Klimakos, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [London, 1959], pp. 257-8). ‘Heart’ has thus an all-embracing significance: ‘prayer of the heart’ means prayer not just of the emotions and affections, but of the whole person, including the body.

ILLUSION - (πλάνή - plani): in our version sometimes also translated ‘delusion’. Literally, wandering astray, deflection from the right path; hence error, beguilement, the acceptance of a mirage mistaken for trath. Cf. the literal sense of sin (q.v.) as ‘missing the mark’.

INCENSIVE POWER - or aspect of the soul (θυμός - thymos; τό θυμικόν - to thymikon): see Appetitive aspect of the soul.

INNER ESSENCES OR PRINCIPLES - (λογοι - logoi): see Logos.

INTELLECT - (νοϋς - nous): the highest faculty in man, through which - provided it is purified - he knows God or the inner essences or principles (q.v.) of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason (q.v.), from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or ‘simple cognition’ (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the ‘depths of the soul’; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart (St Diadochos, §§ 79, 88: in our translation, vol. i, pp. 280, 287). The intellect is the organ of contemplation (q.v.), the ’eye of the heart’ (Makarian Homilies).

INTELLECTION - (νόησις - noisis): not an abstract concept or a visual image, but the act or function of the intellect (q.v.) whereby it apprehends spiritual realities in a direct manner.

INTELLIGENT - (λογικός - logikos): the Greek term logikos is so closely connected with Logos (q.v.), and therefore with the divine Intellect, that to render it simply as ’logical’ and hence descriptive of the reason (q.v) is clearly inadequate. Rather it pertains to the intellect (q.v.) and qualifies the possessor of spiritual knowledge (q.v.). Hence when found in conjunction with ‘soul’ (logiki psychi), logikos is translated as ‘deiform’ or as ’endowed with intelligence’. Intelligence itself (το λογικόν - to logikon; τό λογιστικόν - to logistikon; ό λογισμός ho logismos) is the ruling aspect of the intellect (q.v.) or its operative faculty.

INTENSE LONGING - (έρος - eros): the word eros, when used in these texts, retains much of the significance it has in Platonic thought. It denotes that intense aspiration and longing which impel man towards union with God, and at the same time something of the force which links the divine and the human. As unitive love par excellence, it is not distinct from agapi, but may be contrasted with agapi in that it expresses a greater degree of intensity and ecstasy (q.v.).

INTIMATE COMMUNION - (παρρησία - parrisia): literally, ‘frankness’, ‘freedom of speech’; hence freedom of approach to God, such as Adam possessed before the fall and the saints have regained by grace; a sense of confidence and loving trust in God’s mercy.

JESUS PRAYER - (Ιησοϋ εύχή) - Iisou evchi):* the invocation of the name of Jesus, most commonly in the words, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’, although there are a number of variant forms. Not merely a ’technique’ or a ‘Christian mantra’, but a prayer addressed to the Person of Jesus Christ, expressing our living faith (q.v.) in Him as Son of God and Saviour.

LOGOS - (Λόγος - Logos): the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, or the Intellect, Wisdom and Providence of God in whom and through whom all things are created. As the unitary cosmic principle, the Logos contains in Himself the multiple logoi (inner principles or inner essences, thoughts of God) in accordance with which all things come into existence at the times and places, and in the forms, appointed for them, each single thing thereby containing in itself the principle of its own development. It is these logoi, contained principally in the Logos and manifest in the forms of the created universe, that constitute the first or lower stage of Contemplation (q.v.).

MIND - see Reason.

NOETIC - (νοητός - noitos): that which belongs to or is characteristic of the intellect (q.v.). See also Intellection.

PASSION - (πάθος - pathos): in Greek, the word signifies literally that which happens to a person or thing, an experience undergone passively; hence an appetite or impulse such as anger, desire or jealousy, that violently dominates the soul. Many Greek Fathers regard the passions as something intrinsically evil, a ‘disease’ of the soul: thus St John Klimakos affirms that God is not the creator of the passions and that they are ‘unnatural’, alien to man’s true self (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [op. Cit.], p. 211). Other Greek Fathers, however, look on the passions as impulses originally placed in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin (cf St Isaiah the Solitary, § 1: in our translation, vol. i, p. 22). On this second view, then, the passions are to be educated, not eradicated; to be transfigured, not suppressed; to be used positively, not negatively (see Dispassion).

PRACTICE OF THE VIRTUES - (πρακτική - praktiki): see Contemplation.

PREPOSSESSION - (πρόληψις - prolipsis): see Temptation.

PROVOCATION - (προσβολή - prosvoli): see Temptation.

REASON -, mind (διάνοια - dianoia): the discursive, conceptualizing and logical faculty in man, the function of which is to draw conclusions or formulate concepts deriving from data provided either by revelation or spiritual knowledge (q.v.) or by sense-observation. The knowledge of the reason is consequently of a lower order than spiritual knowledge (q.v.) and does not imply any direct appre- hension or perception of the inner essences or principles (q.v.) of created beings, still less of divine truth itself Indeed, such apprehension or perception, which is the function of the intellect (q.v.), is beyond the scope of the reason.

REBUTTAL - (άντιλογία - antilogia; άντίρρησις - antirrisis): the repulsing of a demon or demonic thought at the moment of provocation (q.v.); or, in a more general sense, the bridling of evil thoughts.

REMEMBRANCE OF GOD - (μνήμε θεού - mnimi Theou): not just calling God to mind, but the state of recollectedness or concentration in which attention is centred on God. As such it is the opposite of the state of self-indulgence and insensitivity.

REPENTANCE - (μετάνοια - metanoia): the Greek signifies primarily a ‘change of mind’ or ‘change of intellect’: not only sorrow, contrition or regret, but more positively and fundamentally the conversion or turning of our whole life towards God.

SENSUAL PLEASURE - (ήδονή - hidoni): according to the context the Greek term signifies either sensual pleasure (the most frequent meaning) or spiritual pleasure or delight.

SIN - (άμαρτία - hamartia): the primary meaning of the Greek word is ‘failure’ or, more specifically, ‘failure to hit the mark’ and so a ‘missing of the mark’, a ‘going astray’ or, ultimately, ‘failure to achieve the purpose for which one is created’. It is closely related, therefore, to illusion (q.v.). The translation ‘sin’ should be read with these connotations in mind.

SORROW - (λύπη - lypi): often with the sense of ‘godly sorrow’ - the sorrow which nourishes the soul with the hope engendered by repentance (q.v.).

SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE - (γνώσις - gnosis): the knowledge of the intellect (q.v.) as distinct from that of the reason (q.v.). As such it is knowledge inspired by God, and so linked with contemplation (q.v.) and immediate spiritual perception.

STILLNESS - (ήσθχία - hesychia): from which are derived the words hesychasm and hesychast, used to denote the whole spiritual tradition represented in The Philokalia as well as the person who pursues the spiritual path it delineates (see Introduction, vol. i, pp. 14-16): a state of inner tranquillity or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of heart (q.v.) and intellect (q.v.). Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him.

TEMPERAMENT - (κράσις - krasis): primarily the well-balanced blending of elements, humours or qualities in animal bodies, but sometimes extended to denote the whole soul-body structure of man. In this sense it is the opposite to a state of psychic or physical disequilibrium.

TEMPTATION - (πειρασμός - peirasmos): also translated in our version as ’trial’ or ’test’. The word indicates, according to context: (i) a test or trial sent to man by God, so as to aid his progress on the spiritual way; (ii) a suggestion from the devil, enticing man into sin.

Using the word in sense (ii), the Greek Fathers employ a series of technical terms to describe the process of temptation. (See in particular Mark the Ascetic, On the Spiritual Law, §§ 138-41, in vol. i of our translation, pp. 119-20; John Klimakos, Ladder, Step 15 translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [op. cit.], pp. 157-8; Maximos, On Love, i, §§ 83-84, in vol. ii of our translation, pp. 62-63; John of Damaskos, On the Virtues and Vices, also in vol. ii of our translation, pp. 337-8.) The basic distinction made by these Fathers is between the demonic provocation and man’s assent: the first lies outside man’s control, while for the second he is morally responsible. In detail, the chief terms employed are as follows:

(i) Provocation (προσβογή - prosvoli): the initial incitement to evil. Mark the Ascetic defines this as an ‘image-free stimulation in the heart’; so long as the provocation is not accompanied by images, it does not involve man in any guilt. Such provocations, originating as they do from the devil, assail man from the outside independently of his free will, and so he is not morally responsible for them. His liability to these provocations is not a consequence of the fall: even in paradise, Mark maintains, Adam was assailed by the devil’s provocations. Man cannot prevent provocations from assailing him; what does lie in his power, however, is to maintain constant watchfulness (q.v.) and so to reject each provocation as soon as it emerges into his consciousness - that is to say, at its first appearance as a thought in his mind or intellect (μονολόγιστοσ έμφασισ - monologistos emphasis). If he does reject the provocation, the sequence is cut off and the process of temptation is terminated.

(ii) Momentary disturbance (παραρριπισμός - pararripismos) of the intellect, occurring ‘without any movement or working of bodily passion’ (see Mark, Letter to Nicolas the Solitary: in our translation, vol. i, p. 153). This seems to be more than the ‘first appearance’ of a provocation described in stage (i) above; for, at a certain point of spiritual growth in this life, it is possible to be totally released from such ‘momentary disturbance, whereas no one can expect to be altogether free from demonic provocations.

(iii) Communion (όμιλία - homilia); coupling (συνδυασμός - syndyasmos). Without as yet entirely assenting to the demonic provocation, a man may begin to ’entertain’ it, to converse or parley with it, turning it over in his mind pleasurably, yet still hesitating whether or not to act upon it. At this stage, which is indicated by the terms ‘communion’ or ‘coupling’, the provocation is no longer ‘image-free’ but has become a logismos or thought (q.v.); and a person is morally responsible for having allowed this to happen.

(iv) Assent (συγκατάθεσις - synkatathesis). This signifies a step beyond mere ‘communion’ or ‘coupling’. No longer merely ‘playing’ with the evil suggestion, a person now resolves to act upon it. There is now no doubt as to his moral culpability: even if circumstances prevent him from sinning outwardly, he is judged by God according to the intention in his heart.

(v) Prepossession (πρόληψις - prolipsis): defined by Mark- as ’the involuntary presence of former sins in the memory’. This state of ‘prepossession’ or prejudice results from repeated acts of sin which predispose a man to yield to particular temptations. In principle he retains his free choice and can reject demonic provocations; but in practice the force of habit makes it more and more difficult for him to resist.

(vi) Passion (q.v.). If a man does not fight strenuously against a prepossession, it will develop into an evil passion.

THEOLOGY (θεολογία - theologia): denotes in these texts far more than the learning about God and religious doctrine acquired through academic study. It signifies active and conscious participation in or perception of the realities of the divine world - in other words, the realization of spiritual knowledge (q.v.). To be a theologian in the full sense, therefore, presupposes the attainment of the state of stillness (q.v.) and dispassion (q.v.), itself the concomitant of pure and undistracted prayer, and so requires gifts bestowed on but extremely few persons.

THOUGHT (λογισμός - logismos; νόημα - noima): (i) frequently signifies not thought in the ordinary sense, but thought provoked by the demons, and therefore often qualified in translation by the adjective ’evil’ or ‘demonic’; it can also signs divinely-inspired thought; (ii) a ‘conceptual image’, intermediate between fantasy (q.v.) and an abstract concept; this sense of noima is frequent in the texts of St Maximos, where the rendering ‘conceptual image’ is normally adopted.

WATCHFULNESS (νέψις - nipsis): literally, the opposite to a state of drunken stupor; hence spiritual sobriety, alertness, vigilance. It signifies an attitude of attentiveness (προσοχή - prosochi), whereby one keeps watch over one’s inward thoughts and fantasies (q.v.), maintaining guard over the heart and intellect ((φιλακή καρδίασ/νου - phylaki kardias/nou); τήρησις καρδίας - tirisis kardias/nou)*. In Hesychios, On Watchfulness and Holiness, §§ 1-6 (in our translation. Vol. i, pp. 162-3), watchfulness is given a very broad definition, being used to indicate the whole range of the practice of the virtues. It is closely linked with purity of heart and stillness (q.v.).

The Greek title of The Philokalia is ‘The Philokalia of the Niptic Fathers’, i.e. of the fathers who practised and inculcated the virtue of watchfulness. This shows how central is the role assigned by St Nikodimos to this state.

WRATH, wrathfulness: see Appetitive aspect of the soul.