Orthodox River

On the Practice of the Virtues, Contemplation and the Priesthood

by St Theognostos

  1. When you are completely detached from all earthly things and when, your conscience clear, you are at any moment ready in heart to leave this present life and to dwell with the Lord, then you may recognize that you have acquired true virtue. If you want to be known to God, do all that you can to remain unknown to men.

  2. Watch out for any unnecessary demands coming from the body and ignore them, lest they should lead you to relax your efforts before you have attained dispassion. Regard as loss, not the privation of sensual pleasure, but the failure to attain higher things as a result of having indulged in such pleasure.

  3. Consciously look on yourself as an ant or a. worm, so that you can become a man formed by God. If you fail to do the first, the second cannot happen. The lower you descend, the higher you ascend; and when, like the psalmist, you regard yourself as nothing before the Lord (cf. Ps. 39:5), then imperceptibly you will grow great. And when you begin to realize that you have nothing and know nothing, then you will become rich in the Lord through practice of the virtues and spiritual knowledge.

  4. ‘Break the arm of the sinful and evil man’ (Ps. 10:15), by which I mean the sensual pleasure and evil from which all vice arises. Break it through self-control and the innocence born of humility, so that when your actions are assessed and judged, no sin will be found in you, however rigorous the search. For our sins are eradicated once we come to hate what causes them and to do battle against it, repairing earlier defeat with final victory.

  5. Nothing is better than pure prayer. From it, as from a spring, come the virtues: understanding and gentleness, love and self-control, and the support and encouragement that God grants in response to tears. The beauty of pure prayer is made manifest when our mind dwells in the realm of intelligible realities alone and our longing to attain what is divine is endless. Then the intellect, tracking its Master through the contemplation of created beings, and ardently thirsting to find and see Him who cannot be seen, or else contemplating the darkness that is His secret place (cf. Ps. 18:11), in awe withdraws again into itself, for the moment satisfied and encouraged by the vision revealed to it for its own benefit; but it is full of hope that it will reach the object of its desire when, set free from appearances and the shadow-like fantasies seen indistinctly, as in a mirror, it is granted a pure unceasing vision ‘face to face’ (cf. 1 Cor. 13:12).

  6. Do not try to embark on the higher forms of contemplation before you have achieved complete dispassion, and do not pursue what lies as yet beyond your reach. If your wish is to become a theologian and a contemplative, ascend by the path of ascetic practice and through self-purification acquire what is pure. Do not pursue theology beyond the limits of your present state of development: it is wrong for us who are still drinking the milk of the virtues to attempt to soar to the heights of theology, and if we do so we will flounder like fledglings, however great the longing roused within us by the honey of spiritual knowledge. But, once purified by self-restraint and tears, we will be lifted up from the earth like Elijah or Habakkuk (cf. 2 Kgs. 2:11; Bel and Dr., verses 36-39), anticipating the moment when we will be caught up into the clouds (cf. 1 Thess. 4:17); and transported beyond the world of the senses by undistracted prayer, pure and contemplative, we may then in our search for God touch the fringe of theology.

  7. If you wish to be granted a mental vision of the divine you must first embrace a peaceful and quiet way of life, and devote your efforts to acquiring a knowledge of both yourself and God. If you do this and achieve a pure state untroubled by any passion, there, is nothing to prevent your intellect from perceiving, as it were in a light breeze (cf. 1 Kgs. 19:12 LXX), Him who is invisible to all; and He will bring you good tidings of salvation through a yet clearer knowledge of Himself.

  8. Just as lightning presages thunder, so divine forgiveness is followed by the calming of the passions. This in its turn is accompanied by a foretaste of the blessedness held in store for us. There is no divine mercy or hope of dispassion for the soul that loves this world more than its Creator, and is attached to visible things and clings wholly to the pleasures and enjoyments of the flesh.

  9. Do not attempt to discover with the intellect what or where God is: since He transcends everything He is beyond being and independent of place. But contemplate - so far as this is possible -only God the Logos. Though circumscribed, He is radiant with the divine nature; though descried in a particular place, He is yet present everywhere because of the infinite nature of His Godhead. The greater your purification, the more you will be granted His illumination.

  10. If you ardently long for true knowledge and unequivocal assurance of salvation, first study how to break the soul’s impassioned links with the body; then, stripped of all attachment to material things, descend to the depths of humility, and there you will find the precious pearl of your salvation hidden in the shell of divine knowledge. This will be your pledge of the radiance of God’s kingdom.

  11. He who has achieved inward self-renunciation and has subjected his flesh to the spirit no longer needs to submit himself to other men. Such a person obeys God’s word and law like a grateful servant. But we who are still engaged in the war between body and soul must be subject to someone else; we must have a commander and helmsman who will skillfully arm and guide us, lest we should be destroyed by our spiritual enemies or submerged beneath our passions because of our inexperience,

  12. If you are untroubled by any passion; if your heart yearns more and more for God; if you do not fear death but regard it as a dream and even long for your release - then you have attained the pledge of your salvation and, rejoicing with inexpressible joy, you carry the kingdom of heaven within you.

  13. If you have been found worthy of divine and venerable priesthood, you have committed yourself sacrificially to die to the passions and to sensual pleasure. Only then dare you approach the awesome, living sacrifice; otherwise you will be consumed by the divine fire like dry tinder. If the seraphim did not dare to touch the divine coal without tongs (cf. Isa. 6:6), how can you do so unless you have attained dispassion? You must through dispassion have a consecrated tongue, purified lips, and a chaste soul and body; and your very hands, as ministers of the fiery, supraessential sacrifice, must be more burnished than any gold.

  14. To grasp the full import of my words, remember that you look daily on the salvation of God which, when he saw it but once, so terrified and amazed Symeon the Elder that he prayed for his deliverance (cf. Luke 2:29). If you have not been assured by the Holy Spirit that you are equal to the angels and so an acceptable intermediary between God and man, do not presumptuously dare to celebrate the awesome and most holy mysteries, which even angels venerate and from whose purity many of the saints themselves have in reverent fear drawn back. Otherwise, like Zan, you will be destroyed because of your pretence to holiness.

  15. ‘Watch yourself attentively’, it is said (cf. Exod. 23:21. LXX). Always offer the sacrifice first of all on behalf of your own sins: then if, because of your weakness, some defilement exists in you already or now enters into you, it will be consumed by the divine fire. In this way, as a chosen vessel, serviceable, pure and worthy of such a sacrifice, you will have power to change wooden or clay vessels into silver or gold, provided that you have intimate communion with God and He hears your prayers. For where God hears and responds there is nothing to hinder a change from one thing to another.

  16. Ponder deeply on the angelic honor of which you have been found worthy and, whatever the rank to which you have been called, strive through virtue and purity to keep yourself unsullied. For you know from what height Lucifer fell on account of his pride. Do not dream up great ideas about yourself and suffer the same fate. Regard yourself as dust and ashes (cf. Gen. 18:27), or as refuse, or as some cur-like creature, and lament continuously, for it is only on account of God’s inexpressible compassion and kindness that you are permitted to handle the holy things at the celebration of the dread mysteries, and so are called to communion and kinship with Him.

  17. A priest should be pure from all passions, especially un-chastity and rancor, and should keep his imagination passion-free. Otherwise he will be rejected with loathing, as if he were some foul leper who touches the body of a king.

  18. When your tears have washed you whiter than snow and your conscience is spotless in its purity, and when the angel-like white-ness of your outer garments reveals your soul’s inner beauty - then, and only then, you may in holiness touch holy things. Make sure that you do not rely only on human traditions-in celebrating the divine mysteries, but let God’s grace inwardly and invisibly fill you with the knowledge of higher things.

  19. If you aspire to incorruptibility and immortality, pursue with faith and reverence whatever is life-giving and does not perish; long to depart from this world as one made perfect through faith. If you still fear death, you have not yet been intermingled with Christ through love, although, you have been found worthy to sacrifice Him with your own hands and have been filled with His flesh. For, were you linked to Him in love, you would make haste to join Him, no longer concerned about this life or the flesh.

  20. You who sacrifice God’s flesh and share in it through holy communion should also be united to Him by dying the death that He died (cf. Rom. 6:5). As St Paul says (cf. Gal. 2:20), you should live, not for yourself, but for Him who was crucified and died on your behalf. If, dominated by passion, you live for the flesh and the world, prepare yourself for deathless punishment through death unless you resign of your own accord from your priesthood before you die. But many unworthy priests have been snatched away by sudden death and sent to the halls of judgment.

  21. There was once a monk-priest who had a reputation for piety and was held in honor by many on account of his outward behavior, though within he was licentious and defiled. One day he was celebrating the Divine Liturgy and, on reaching the cherubic hymn, he had bent his head as usual before the holy table and was reading the prayer, “No one is worthy…’, when he suddenly died, his. soul having left him in that position.

  22. Nothing is more important than true intelligence and spiritual knowledge, for they produce both fear of God and longing for Him. Fear of God purifies us through awe and self-abasement. Longing for Him brings us: to perfection through discrimination and inward illumination, raising our intellect to; the heights of contemplation. Without, fear we cannot not acquire intense love for the divine, and so cannot spread our wings and find our resting-place in the realm of our aspiration.

  23. Be persuaded by me, you who ardently and in all seriousness long for salvations make haste, search persistently, ask ceaselessly, knock patiently, and continue until you reach your goal. Establish a basis of firm faith and humility. You will have achieved what you want not simply when your sins are forgiven but when, fearlessly and joyously separated from the flesh, you are no longer excited or scared by the eruption of any passion.

  24. Ask with many tears to be given the full assurance of salvation, but - if you are humble - do not ask to be given it long before your death, in case you grow negligent and indifferent. Ask that you may obtain it when you are close to your departure - but make your request in all seriousness, lest out of presumption you should delude yourself into believing that you possess such assurance only to End, when the time comes, that you have failed to attain it. Where will you go then, unhappy man, deprived of the foretaste and unquestionable assurance of salvation given by the Spirit?

  25. If you aspire to the dispassion that deifies, find it first of all through obedience and humility, lest by traveling along some other path you end up in trouble. The person who has attained dispassion is not sometimes disturbed by the passions and at other times calm and at rest, but enjoys dispassion continually and, even when the passions are still present within him, he remains unaffected by the things that provoke them. Above all he is not affected by the images which the passions generate.

  26. When the soul leaves the body, the enemy advances to attack it, fiercely reviling it and accusing it of its sins in a harsh and terrifying manner. The devout soul, however, even though in the past it has often been wounded by sin, is not frightened by thte enemy’s attacks and threats. Strengthened by the Lord, winged by joy, filled with courage by the holy angels that guide it, and encircled and protected by the light of faith, it answers the enemy with great boldness: ‘Fugitive from heaven, wicked slave, what have I to do with you? You have no authority over me; Christ the Son of God has authority over me and over all things. Against Him have I sinned, before Him shall I stand on trial, having His Precious Cross as a sure pledge of His saving love towards me. Flee from me, destroyer! You have nothing to do with the servants of Christ.’ When the soul says all this fearlessly, the devil turns his back, howling aloud and unable to with stand the name of Christ. Then the soul swoops down on the devil from above, attacking him like a hawk attacking a crow. After this it is brought rejoicing by the holy angels to the place appointed for it in accordance with its inward state.

  27. The longing for transient things will not drag you earth-wards if you keep your mind on the things of heaven; but when you are shackled by an attachment to earthly things you are like an eagle caught in a trap by its claw and prevented from flying. Regard all you possess as trash, in the hope of better things. Shake off even your body when the time comes, and follow the angel of God that takes you from it.

  28. Just as a coin that does not bear the image of the king cannot be placed in the royal treasuries with the other currency, so without true spiritual knowledge and dispassion you cannot receive a foretaste of divine blessedness and depart with courage and confidence from this world to take your place among the elect in the next. By spiritual knowledge, I do not mean wisdom, but that unerring apperception of God and of divine realities through which the devout, no longer dragged down by the passions, are raised to a divine state by the grace of the Spirit.

  29. Even though you have successfully practiced all the virtues, do not assume that you have attained dispassion and can dwell in the world without anxiety; for your soul may still bear within it the imprint of the passions, and so you will have difficulties when you die. But, guided always by fear, keep careful watch over your mutable and ever-changing nature and shun the causes of passion. For changeless dispassion in its highest form is found only in those who have attained perfect love, have been lifted above sensory things through unceasing contemplation, and have transcended the body through humility. The flame of the passions no longer touches them: it has been cut off by the voice of the Lord (cf. Ps. 29:7), since the nature of such people has already been transmuted into incorruptibility.

  30. Do not try to attain dispassion prematurely and you will not suffer what Adam suffered when he ate too soon from the tree of spiritual knowledge (cf. Gen. 3:6). But patiently labor on, with constant entreaty and self- control in all things; and if by means of self-reproach and the utmost humility you keep the ground you have won, you will then in good time receive the grace of dispassion. The harbor of rest is reached only after many storms and struggles; and God is not being unjust to those walking on the true path if He keeps the gate of dispassion closed until the right moment comes.

  31. Slothful and inexperienced as you are, you too should ‘go to the ant’ (Prov. 6:6): imitate its simplicity and insignificance, and know that God, self-sufficient and superabundant, has no need of our virtues. On the contrary, He richly bestows His gifts on us and through His grace saves those who are consciously grateful, though in His compassion He also accepts whatever work we are able to do. If, then, you labor as one in debt to God for blessings already received, you do well and God’s mercy is close to you. But if you think that God is in your debt because of the good things you imagine you have done, you are quite deluded. For how can the bestower of gifts be the debtor? Work like a hired servant and, advancing step by step, you will by God’s mercy attain what you seek.

  32. Shall I show you another path to salvation - or, rather, to dispassion? Through your entreaties constrain .the Creator not to let you fail in your purpose. Constantly bring before Him as intercessors all the angelic powers, all the saints, and especially the most pure Mother of God. Do not ask for dispassion, for you are unworthy of such a gift, but ask persistently for salvation and with it you will receive dispassion as well. The one is like silver, the other like pure gold. In particular, let inward meditation on God be your handmaid, and turn your whole attention to the secret mysteries concerning Him: for the principles of these mysteries will deify you, and God delights in them and is won over by them.

  33. Strive to receive a sure, unequivocal pledge of salvation in your heart, so that at the time of your death you will not be distraught and unexpectedly terrified. You have received such a pledge when your heart no longer reproaches you for your failings and your conscience stops chiding you because of your fits of anger; when through God’s grace your bestial passions have been tamed; when you weep tears of solace and your intellect prays undistracted and with purity; and when you await death, which most people dread and run away from, calmly and with a ready heart.

  34. The words of eternal life which, according to the chief of the apostles (cf. John 6:68), God the Logos possesses, are the inner essences of all the things created by Him. Thus the person who, because of his purity, has been initiated into the mystery of these inner essences has already acquired eternal life, a pledge of the Spirit and confident expectation of salvation. He who values the flesh more than the soul and is attached to Worldly things is not worthy of such gifts.

  35. An intelligent person is not merely someone who has the power of speech, for this is common to all men. On the contrary, he is someone who seeks for God with his intelligence. But he will never find the “essence of Him who transcends all being, for this is beyond the scope of all created nature. But in much the same way as a builder is to be seen in his work, so the sovereign artificer is to be found and as it were perceived in the creative wisdom inherent in living things, and in His providential care, governance, unification, guidance and conservation of them.

  36. You cannot achieve a condition of total poverty without dis-passion, or dispassion without love, or love without the fear of God and pure prayer, or fear of God and pure prayer without faith and detachment; for it is when winged by faith and detachment that the intellect discards all base concern and soars upwards in search of its Lord.

  37. Let chastity be as dear to you as the pupil of your eye, and then you will become a temple of God and His cherished dwelling place. For without self-restraint you cannot live with God. Chastity and self-restraint are born of a longing for God combined with detachment and renunciation of the world; and they are conserved by humility, self-control, unbroken prayer, spiritual contemplation, freedom from anger and intense weeping. Without dispassion, however, you cannot achieve the beauty of discrimination.

  38. Let no one deceive you, brother: without holiness, as the apostle says, no one can see God (cf. Heb. 12:14). For the Lord, who is more than holy and beyond all purity, will not appear to an impure person. Just as he who loves father or mother, daughter or son (cf. Matt. 10:37) more than the Lord is unworthy of Him, so is he who loves anything transient and material. Even more unworthy is the person who chooses foul and fetid sin to preference to love for the Lord: for God rejects whoever does not repudiate all filthiness: “Corruption does not inherit incorruption’ (1 Cor. 15:50).

  39. You will not be worthy of divine love unless you possess spiritual knowledge, or of spiritual knowledge unless you possess faith. I do not mean faith of a theoretical kind, but that which we acquire as a result of practicing the virtues. You will achieve true compunction only when through self-control and vigil, prayer and humility, you have withered the propensity to sensual pleasure congenital to the flesh and have been crucified with Christ (cf. Gal. 2:19-20), no longer living the life of the passions but living and walking in the Spirit, filled with the hope of heavenly glory.

  40. Cry out to God, * “I know that Thou favourest me, because my enemy does not exult over me” (Ps. 41:11); he will not domineer over me and plague me to the very end through the passions. But Thou wilt snatch me from his hands before I die and, granting me life in the Spirit according to Thy will, through a holy death Thou wilt bring me, saved, before Thy judgment seat. There, through Thy mercy, I shall receive the pledge of salvation and the assurance that is beyond all doubting. Thus I shall not be troubled and unprepared at the time of my departure from the world, nor shall I find the ordeal unbearable, more harsh and baleful than a death sentence or torture.”

  41. Faith and hope are not merely casual or theoretical matters. Faith requires a steadfast soul, while hope needs a firm will and an honest heart. How without grace can one readily believe in things unseen? How can a man have hope concerning the hidden things held in store unless through his own integrity he has gained some experience of the Lord’s gifts? These gifts of grace are a gage of the blessings held in store, which they manifest as present realities. Faith and hope, then, require both virtue on our part and God’s inspiration and help. Unless both are present we labor in vain.

  42. The offspring of true virtue is either spiritual knowledge or dispassion or both together. If we fail to acquire them then we labor in vain, and our apparent virtue is not genuine; for if it were it would have produced fruit as well as leaves. In reality, however, it does not enjoy. God’s blessing but is false, a matter of self-satisfaction, or else something feigned in order to gain the esteem of others or from some other motive not in accordance with God’s will. But if we correct our motive, we shall undoubtedly receive the grace of God that bestows both spiritual knowledge and dispassion at the time and in the measure appropriate.

  43. Discern the wiles of the enemy with the light of grace and, throwing yourself before God with tears, confess your weakness, counting yourself nothing, even though the deceiver tries to persuade you to think otherwise. Do not even ask for spiritual gifts unless they contribute to your salvation and help you to remain humble. Seek the knowledge that does not make you conceited, but leads you to the knowledge of God. Pray to be released from the tyranny of the passions before you die, and to depart this life in a state of dispassion or - more humbly - of compassion for the sins of others.

  44. Just as it is impossible to fly without wings, so we cannot attain the blessings for which we hope without already in this life receiving an assurance that is beyond doubt. Because of their extreme humility, or through the grace of the Holy Spirit, such assurance is given to those who have been reconciled with God, and who possess a dispassion that is less or more perfect in proportion to the degree of their reconciliation and purification. Those who depart from the body before receiving this assurance die while still in the winter of the passions, or else on the Sabbath (cf. Matt. 24:20) - refraining, that is to say, from the work of the virtues - and they are subject to trial and judgment, being culpable at the time of retribution.

  45. Since salvation comes to you as a free gift, give thanks to God your savior. If you wish to present Him with gifts, gratefully offer from your widowed soul two tiny coins, humility and love, and God will accept these in the treasury of His salvation more gladly than the host of virtues deposited there by others (cf. Mark 12:41-43). Dead through the passions, pray like Lazarus to be brought to life again, sending to God these two sisters to intercede with Him (cf. John 11:20-44); and you will surely attain your goal.

  46. The practice of the virtues does not by itself bring you to the dispassion that enables you to pray undistracted and in purity: spiritual contemplation must also in its turn confer on your intellect illuminative knowledge and the understanding of created beings. Thus winged and enlightened, the intellect is totally rapt by the love of true prayer and raised up to the cognate light of the incorporeal orders; thence, in so far as this is possible, it is borne towards the ultimate light, the triple sun of the Trinity supremely divine.

  47. We will not be punished or condemned in the age to be because we have sinned, since we were given a mutable and unstable nature. But we will be punished if, after sinning, we did not repent and turn from our evil ways to the Lord; for we have been given the power to repent, as well as the time in which to do so. Only through repentance shall we receive God’s mercy, and not its opposite, His passionate anger. Not that God is angry with us; He is angry with evil. Indeed, the divine is beyond passion and vengefulness, though we speak of it as reflecting, like a mirror, our actions and dispositions, giving to each of us whatever we deserve.

  48. When you fall from a higher state, do not become panic-stricken, but through remorse, grief, rigorous self- reproach and, above all, through copious tears shed in a contrite spirit, correct yourself and return quickly to your former condition. Rising up again after your fall, you will enter the joyous valley of salvation, taking care so far as is possible not to anger your Judge again, so as not to need atoning tears and sorrow in the future. But if you show no such repentance in this present life, you will certainly be punished in the age to be.

  49. Let us return to the subject of the priesthood. As an, angelic order it requires of us an angelic purification, and a degree of discretion and self-restraint greater than in our previous life. What is defiled can in some measure become pure; it is far worse for the pure to become defiled. If we mix darkness with light, foul odors with sweet, we shall inherit calamity and destruction because of our sacrilege, like Ananias and Sapphira (cf. Acts 5:1-10).

  50. If, lost and useless though you are, you decide after superficial purification to enter the heavenly, angelic order of the priesthood and to become a chosen vessel, suitable for the Lord’s use, as St Paul says (cf. 2 Tim. 2:21; Acts 9:15), then you should keep unsullied the office of which you have been found worthy, guarding the divine gift as you would the pupil of your eye. Otherwise, fulfilling your role in a perfunctory manner, you will be cast down from the heights into the abyss and find it hard to climb out again.

  51. Wisely bear in mind that, if God acquits, no one can condemn (cf. Rom. 8:33-34). If you have been called to enter into the supramundane grace of the priesthood, do not worry about your past life, even if to some- extent it has been soiled: for it has been purified once more by God and through your own self-correction. But afterwards be diligent and watchful, so as not to eclipse the grace. Then if someone stupidly casts aspersions on your priesthood be cause of your past, he will hear a voice from heaven saying, “What God has cleansed, do not call unclean’ (Acts 10:15).

  52. The office of the priesthood is light and its yoke easy (cf. Matt. 11:30) so long as it is discharged as it should be, and so long as the grace of the Holy Spirit is not put up for sale. When what is beyond price is bartered in the name of human expedience and for perishable gifts, and when the call is not from above, the burden is heavy indeed; for it is borne by someone unworthy, whose powers it exceeds. The yoke is then extremely harsh, chafing the neck of him who carries it and sapping his strength; and unless it is taken from him, it will exhaust and destroy him utterly.

  53. When you boldly take up the yoke of the priesthood, you should mend your ways and expound the truth rightly, thus working out your salvation with fear and trembling; ‘for our God is a consuming fire’ (Heb. 12:29). If you are as gold and silver and you touch this fire, have no fear of being burnt, just as the three children in Babylon had no fear (cf. Dan. 3:17). But if you are like grass or reeds or some other easily combustible material as a result of your earthly thoughts, then tremble lest you should be reduced to ashes in the heavenly fire - unless like Lot (cf. Gen. 19:17, 29) you escape God’s wrath by quitting the priesthood. Yet it may be that some of the lighter faults that result from weaknesses are consumed by this divine fire during the celebration of the Liturgy, while you yourself remain unbumed and unharmed in the fire, like the fragile bush in the desert (cf. Exod. 3:2).

  54. If like someone with. gonorrhea you lack the strength to break with your impassioned state because it has become chronic, how can you dare, wretched as you are, to touch what even to angels is untouchable? Ether shudder with awe and renounce the sacred ministry, in this way propitiating God; or else, obdurate and incorrigible, expect to fall into the hands of the living God and to experience His wrath. God will not spare you out of compassion, but will punish you mercilessly for daring to come to the royal wedding feast with both soul and garment denied, unworthy even of entry, much less of joining in the celebration (cf. Matt. 22 : 12).

  55. I myself have known a priest who dared to celebrate the divine mysteries unworthily, having succumbed to the passion of unchastity. First he fell victim to a dreadful, incurable disease and was near death. Then, after unavailingly doing everything he could to rid himself of this disease - in fact it got even worse - he began to realize that he was dying because he had celebrated the mysteries unworthily. Straight away he took a vow to desist from celebrating, and recovered at once, so that not even a trace of his illness remained.

  56. The priestly dignity, like the priestly vestments, is full of splendor, but only so long as it is illumined from within by purity of soul. Once it has been disgraced through lack of attentiveness, and no notice is taken of the protests of the conscience, then the light becomes darkness, the harbinger of eternal darkness and eternal fire. Our only recourse to such a case is to leave this precipitous path, and to take the road that leads safely, by way of virtue and humility, to the kingdom of God.

  57. Salvation is attained through simplicity and virtue, not through the glories of the priesthood, which demands of us an angelic way of life. Either, then, you should become dispassionate like the angels, in thought and purpose superior to the world and the flesh, climbing the ladder to heaven in this way; or else, aware of your weakness, you should in fear avoid the high rank of the priesthood, terrified of the great fall should you prove unworthy of it. Choose the form of life followed by the laity, for it brings one no less close to God than priesthood. Moreover, should you fall while pursuing it, through God’s mercy and grace you will easily rise again by repenting.

  58. ‘Flesh and blood cannot inherit the kingdom of God’ (1 Cor. 15:50). How is it, then, that you who partake of God’s flesh and blood, do not become one body with Him and commingle with Him through His blood? Although the kingdom of heaven is within you, are you still besieged by the passions of your own flesh and blood? I fear that the Spirit of God will not remain within you in your non-Spiritual state, and that on the day of judgment you will be sentenced with the utmost severity: the priesthood will be taken from you because of your unworthiness of such grace, and you will be sent to eternal punishment.

  59. If there is no fear of God before your eyes, you will think it a trivial matter to officiate unworthily, for you will be deceived by your own self-love into imagining that God will be charitable to you. Long ago Dathan and Abiram imagined the same thing until the earth opened beneath them and swallowed them up (cf. Num. 16:25- 33). Standing with genuine awe and fear before Him who is to be feared, recognize how grave a matter it is to officiate, and either engage in the priesthood worthily and purely - as it were like an angel - or wisely keep away from the dread ministry. Otherwise, slighting your office, and using specious arguments against your conscience when it rebukes you, you will say in your agony as you are condemned on the day that all things are judged and set aright: “The fear that I feared has come upon me, and what I dreaded has visited me’ (Job 3:25).

  60. Watchfully and sedulously you should offer, with contrition and tears, the world-saving and holy sacrifice first of all in propitiation for your own sins. Who after your death will offer it on your behalf with such concern? Anticipate wisely, therefore: bury yourself and commemorate yourself in advance. Offer the holy gifts to God on the holy table as the means of your salvation, making present the voluntary death He suffered in His love for man.

  61. Inexpressible is the soul’s delight when in full assurance of salvation it leaves the body, stripping it off as though it were a garment. Because it is now attaining what it hopes for, it puts off the body painlessly, going in peace to meet the radiant and joyful angel that comes down for it, and traveling with him unimpeded through the air, totally unharmed by the evil spirits. Rising with joy, courage and thanksgiving, it comes in adoration before the Creator, and is allotted its place among those akin to it and equal to it in virtue, until the universal resurrection.

  62. I shall tell you something strange, but do not be surprised by it. Should you fail to attain dispassion because of the predispositions dominating you, but at the time of your death be in the depths of humility, you will be exalted above the clouds no less than the man who is dispassionate. For even if the treasure of those who are dispassionate consists of every virtue, the precious stone of humility is more valuable than them all: it brings about not only propitiation with the Creator, but also entry with the elect into the bridal chamber of His kingdom.

  63. Having received from God a propitiation for your offences, glorify Him who is long-suffering and forgiving, and make every effort to avoid deliberate sin. For though your sins may be forgiven daily until your death, it would be foolish of you to sin glibly with full knowledge of what you are doing. None the less, if you drive off the dog of despair with the stone of hopefulness and supplicate boldly and insistently, your many sins will be forgiven you. Then, in the age to be, as a debtor you too will love the God who is beyond all goodness and yet has compassion for you.

  64. When, energized by divine grace, you find yourself full of tears in prayer before God, lie on the ground stretched out in the form of a, cross, beat the earth with your brow and ask for deliverance from this life as a release from corruption and a liberation from trials and temptations. But ask that this may be granted, not as you wish, but as and when God wills. For your part, you should long for your departure now, hoping that, if you come before God with, tears and in the depths of humility, you will stand firm and confident in the fire of your desire and your prayer; but you should also be ready for your death to be delayed for the time being, should God foresee something better for you. Pursue your goal forcefully, dedicating your whole life to God, in all your actions, words and intentions seeking by all possible means not to fall away from Him.

  65. While still in the flesh, do not try to plumb the inner depths of intelligible realities even if the noetic power of your soul is drawn towards them by its purity. For unless the bodiless part of man, now mingled with breath and blood, is released from the grossness of materiality and enters the realm of the intelligible realities, it cannot grasp these realities properly. You should therefore prepare yourself to issue from this material world as though from some dark second maternal womb, and to enter that immaterial and radiant realm, joyfully glorifying our Benefactor who carries us through death towards the fulfillment of our hopes. Be watchful at all times because of the .ungodly demons that surround us, always plotting to disgrace jus and craftily watching for our heel (cf. Gen. 3:15), that is, for the end of our life, in order to trip us up. Until your death, therefore, go in fear and trembling because of the uncertainty of what is to come; for, endowed as you are with free will, you have been created with a mutable and fluctuating nature.

  66. The enemy attacks us with fierce and terrible temptations when he perceives that our soul aspires to scale great heights of virtue. This we learn from the words of the Lord’s Prayer and from our own attempts to ascend beyond the material duality of our flesh and sensory things. The hater of mankind tries us with such malice that we despair even of life. Of course, in his futility, he does not realize that he confers many blessings on us, testing our endurance and weaving for us more splendid garlands.

  67. No struggle is greater than the struggle for self-restraint and virginity. He who honors celibacy is admired even; by the angels and is crowned just as athletes are. If, bound to flesh and blood, he strives to imitate through chastity the immaterial nature of the angels, terrible Is the battle he has to fight; and if he is successful, so great is his achievement that it appears virtually impossible and beyond our nature. Indeed, it would be impossible if God did not help us from above, supporting the weakness of our nature, mending what is rotten, and somehow raising us from the ground through divine love and through hope for the gifts held in store for us.

  68. Flesh flabby from over-drinking and over-sleeping is a great obstacle to self-restraint. True self-restraint is unaffected even by the fantasies that arise during sleep. If the intellect pursues these fantasies, this indicates that it still bears deep within itself the sickness of the passions. But if through grace it is found worthy to commune with God outside the body during sleep, it remains unaffected by these fantasies and serves as a vigilant guardian of soul and body, both of which are at peace. The intellect is then like a sheep-dog that keeps watch against the cunning wolves, not letting them ravage the flock.

  69. Once more, I shall tell you something strange at which you are not to be startled. A mystery is accomplished secretly between the soul and God in the higher reaches of perfect purity, love and faith. When a man is completely reconciled to God he is united with Him through unceasing prayer and contemplation. Such was Elijah’s state when he closed the heavens, causing a drought (cf. | Kgs. 17:1), and burnt the sacrifice with fire from heaven (cf. 1 Kgs. 18:36-38). In such a state Moses divided the sea (cf. Exod. 14:21) and defeated Amalek by stretching out his arms (cf. Exod. 17:11-13). In such a state Jonah was saved from the whale and from the deep (cf. Jonah 2:1-10). For the person found worthy of this mystery compels our most compassionate God to do whatever he wants. Even when still in the flesh, he has passed beyond the limits of corruption and mortality, and he awaits death as if it were an everyday sleep that pleasurably brings him to the fulfillment of his hopes.

  70. Be full of reverence for our Lord’s sufferings, for the self-emptying of the divine Logos for our sake and, above all, for the sacrifice of the divine, life-creating body and blood and their interfusion with us. For we have been found worthy not only to participate in them but also to officiate at the sacrifice. Humble yourself like a sheep for the slaughter, truly regarding all men as your superiors, and strive not to wound Ac conscience of any man, especially without reason. Do not dare to touch the holy gifts un- purified, lest you should be burnt like grass by the divine fire and destroyed like melting wax.

  71. If you celebrate the divine, revered and awesome mysteries in the proper manner, with absolutely nothing on your conscience, you may hope for salvation, for the benefit you derive from this will be greater than that which derives from any work or from contemplation. But if you cannot celebrate as you should, you will yourself realize that it is better to acknowledge your weakness and to withdraw from the priesthood than to fulfill your priestly ministry imperfectly and impurely, appearing exalted in the eyes of many but being in reality a corpse to be wept over because of your unworthiness.

  72. As the sun excels the stars so do the worship, propitiation and invocation of the priest excel all psalmody and prayer. For we priests sacrifice, set forth and offer in intercession the Only-Begotten Himself who in His freely- given compassion was slain on behalf of sinners. And, provided that our consciences are not polluted, we receive thereby not only remission of sins, but all the things for which we pray and which are for our benefit. What is united to the Divinity bums the brushwood of sin like coal and illumines the hearts of those who approach in faith. Similarly, the divine and precious blood cleanses and purifies more than any hyssop every stain and defilement in those who dare to receive it with all the purity and holiness .of which they are capable.

  73. As one of the saints has said, it is not the ascended body of God the Logos that comes down from heaven and is sacrificed; it is the bread and wine themselves that are changed into the body and blood of Christ through the rites celebrated with faith, fear, longing and reverence by those found worthy of the holy priesthood. And this interchange takes place through the action and presence of the Holy Spirit. The bread and wine do not become a body other than that of our Lord, but are changed into His body, being then a source of immortality and no longer perishable. What therefore must be the purity and holiness required of the priest who touches the divine body? And what boldness must he not have as mediator between God and man, having as co-intercessors the most holy Mother of God, all the heavenly, angelic powers, and the saints from every age? Since he has an angelic, or even archangelic, office, in my view he needs to be like the angels and archangels.

  74. You should note, Pisinios, that the holy gifts awaiting consecration lie on the altar after the Creed uncovered because there has to be a kind of voiceless supplication to God on behalf of those offering them. Seeing them uncovered, He does not overlook or despise this supplication; for He keeps in mind His voluntary self-emptying for us sinners. His ineffable self-abasement and His compassionate death. He did not ransom and save us through His passion because we deserved it but, blessed and forbearing as He is, He had mercy on us and restored us in spite of our offences.

  75. Even though, through the practice of pure prayer that immaterially unites the immaterial intellect with God, you receive the pledge of the Spirit and see as in a mirror the blessedness that awaits you after this present life, and even though you fully and consciously experience the kingdom of heaven within you, do not allow yourself to be released from the flesh without foreknowledge of your death. Pray persistently for this knowledge and be in good hope of receiving it when you are close to death, if this is for your profit. Prepare yourself constantly for death, casting aside all fear, so that, traversing the air and escaping the evil spirits, you may boldly enter the vaults of heaven. Ranked with the angelic orders and numbered among all the righteous and elect, you will then behold the Divinity, in so far as this is possible. You will perceive, that is to say, the blessings that come from Him, as well as the Logos of God shedding His light through the regions above the heavens, adored in His unsullied flesh, together with the Father and the Spirit, in a single act of worship by all the host of heaven and all the saints.