Selections from The Philokalia
St Diadochos of Photiki (c.400-c.486)
From On Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination: One Hundred Texts
1. All spiritual contemplation should be governed by faith, hope and love, but most of all by love. The first two teach us to be detached from visible delights, but love unites the soul with the excellence of God, searching out the Invisible by means of intellectual perception.
9. Some, then, of those who practice the solitary life are consciously illuminated by spiritual knowledge, yet do not speak about God. But when wisdom, with fear of God, is given to someone at the same time as spiritual knowledge – and this seldom happens – it leads him to express outwardly the inner energies of this knowledge within him; for spiritual knowledge illuminates men through its inner energy while wisdom does so through being expressed outwardly. Spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment, while wisdom comes through humble meditation on Holy Scripture and, above all, through grace given by God.
14. He who loves God consciously in his heart is known by God, for to the degree that he receives the love of God consciously in his soul, he truly enters into God’s love. From that time on, such a man never loses an intense longing for the illumination of spiritual knowledge, until he senses its strength in his bones and no longer knows himself, but is completely transformed by the love of God. He is both present in this life and not present in it; still dwelling in the body, he yet departs from it, as through love he ceaselessly journeys towards God in his soul. His heart now burns constantly with the fire of love and clings to God with an irresistible longing, since he has once and for all transcended self-love in his love for God. As St Paul writes: ‘If we go out of ourselves it is because of God; if we are restrained, it is for your sake’ (2 Cor.5:13).
16. No one can love God consciously in his heart unless he has first feared Him with all his heart. Through the action of fear the soul is purified and, as it were, made malleable and so it becomes awakened to the action of love. No one, however, can come to fear God completely in the way described, unless he first transcends all worldly cares; for when the intellect reaches a state of deep stillness and detachment, then the fear of God begins to trouble it, purifying it with full perception from all gross and cloddish density, and thereby bringing it to a great love of God'
19. The qualities of a pure soul are intelligence devoid of envy, ambition free from malice, and unceasing love for the Lord of glory. When the soul has these qualities, then the intellect can accurately assess how it will be judged, seeing itself appear before the most faultless of tribunals.
22. The deep waters of faith seem turbulent when we peer into them too curiously; but when contemplated in a spirit of simplicity, they are calm. The depths of faith are like the waters of Lethe, making us forget all evil; they will not reveal themselves to the scrutiny of meddlesome reasoning. Let us therefore sail these waters with simplicity of mind, and so reach the harbour of God’s will.
26. When the sea is calm, fishermen can scan its depths and therefore hardly any creature moving in the water escapes their notice. But when the sea is disturbed by the winds, it hides beneath its turbid and agitated waves what it was happy to reveal when it was smiling and calm; and then the fishermen’s skill and cunning prove vain. The same thing happens with the contemplative power of the intellect, especially when it is unjust anger which disturbs the depths of the soul.
28. In every way, therefore, and especially through peace of soul, we must make ourselves a dwelling-place for the Holy Spirit. Then we shall have the lamp of spiritual knowledge burning always within us; and when it is shining constantly in the inner shrine of the soul, not only will the intellect perceive all the dark and bitter attacks of the demons, but these attacks will be greatly weakened when exposed for what they are by that glorious and holy light.
73. When a person is in a state of natural well-being, he sings the psalms with a full voice and prefers to pray out loud. But when he is energized by the Holy Spirit, with gladness and completely at peace he sings and prays in the heart alone. The first condition is accompanied by a delusory joy, the second by spirited tears and, thereafter, by a delight that loves stillness.
St Maximos the Confessor (580-662)
From First Century on Love (composed 626 AD)
10. When in the intensity of its love for God the intellect goes out of itself, then it has no sense of itself or of any created thing. For when it is illumined by the infinite light of God, it becomes insensible to everything made by Him, just as the eye becomes insensible to the stars when the sun rises.
11. All the virtues co-operate with the intellect to produce this intense longing for God, pure prayer above all. For by soaring towards God through this prayer the intellect rises above the realm of created beings.
19. Blessed is the intellect that transcends all sensible objects and ceaselessly delights in divine beauty.
25. God, who is by nature good and dispassionate, loves all people equally as His handiwork. But He glorifies the virtuous man because in his will he is united to God. At the same time, in His goodness He is merciful to the sinner and by chastising him in this life brings him back to the path of virtue. Similarly, a man of good and dispassionate judgement also loves all people equally. He loves the virtuous man because of his nature and the probity of his intention; and he loves the sinner, too, because of his nature and because in his compassion he pities him for foolishly stumbling in darkness.
42. He who loves God lives the angelic life on earth, fasting and keeping vigils, praying and singing psalms and always thinking good of every man.
63. We carry about with us impassioned images of the things we have experienced. If we can overcome these images we shall be indifferent to the things which they represent. For fighting against the thoughts of things is much harder than fighting against the things themselves, just as to sin in the mind is easier than to sin through outward action.
69. Shun all suspicions and all persons that cause you to take offence. If you are offended by anything, whether intended or unintended, you do not know the way of peace, which through love brings the lovers of divine knowledge to the knowledge of God.
76. Humility and ascetic hardship free a man from all sin, for the one cuts out the passions of the soul, the other those of the body. This is what the blessed David indicates when he prays to God, saying, ‘Look on my humility and my toil, and forgive all my sins’ (Ps.25:18).
88. When during prayer no conceptual image of anything worldly disturbs your intellect, then know that you are within the realm of dispassion.
96. We do not know God from His essence. We know Him rather from the grandeur of His creation and from His providential care for all creatures. For through these, as though they were mirrors, we may attain insight into His infinite goodness, wisdom and power.
St Peter of Damaskos (12th century ?)
From Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge
According to St Basil and St Gregory, he who knows himself – who knows, that is to say, that he stands midway between nobility and baseness, in that he has a soul capable of spiritual knowledge and a mortal, earthly body - never exults or despairs. Rather, with a feeling of shame before his noetic soul he rejects everything shameful and, knowing his weakness, he shrinks from all sense of elation.
Thus he who knows his own weakness as a result of the many temptations and trials that he undergoes through the passions of soul and body, understands the measureless power of God and how He redeems the humble who cry out to Him through persistent prayer from the depths of their hearts. For such a person prayer becomes a delight. He knows that without God he can do nothing (cf. John 15:5), and in his fear lest he fall he strives to cleave to God and is amazed as he considers how God has rescued him from so many temptations and passions. He gives thanks to his Saviour, and to his thanksgiving he adds humility and love; and he does not dare to judge anyone, knowing that as God has helped him, so He can help all people when He wishes, as St Maximos says.
The first of these forms of discipline consists in stillness, or in living a life without distraction, far from all worldly care. By removing ourselves from human society and distraction, we escape from turmoil and from him who ‘walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour’ (1 Pet. 5:18) through idle talk and the worries of life. ……..For in our gratitude we are encouraged because we have come to see what we could never have hoped to perceive had we lived outside our cell. Having recognized our own weakness and the power of God, we are filled with fear and hope, so that we neither lapse through ignorance because we are too sure of ourselves nor, when some misfortune befalls us, fall into despair because we have forgotten God's compassion.
From “The Seven Forms of Bodily Discipline”
The fifth form of discipline consists in spiritual prayer, prayer that is offered by the intellect and free from all thoughts. During such prayer the intellect is concentrated within the words spoken and, inexpressibly contrite, it abases itself before God, asking only that His will may be done in all its pursuits and conceptions. It does not pay attention to any thought, shape, colour, light, fire, or anything at all of this kind; but, conscious that it is watched by God and communing with Him alone, it is free from form, colour and shape. Such is the pure prayer appropriate for those still engaged in ascetic practice; for the contemplative there are yet higher forms of prayer.
From “The Seven Forms of Bodily Discipline”
St John of Damaskos affirms that the bodily virtues – or, rather, tools of virtue - are essential, for without them the virtues of the soul cannot be acquired. But one must pursue them in humility and with spiritual knowledge. If they are not pursued in this way, but only for themselves, then they serve no purpose, just as plants are useless if they do not bear any fruit.
From “The Bodily Virtues as Tools for the Acquisition of Virtues of the Soul”
The man of faith acts, not as one endowed with free will, but as a beast that is led by the will of God. He says to God: ‘I became as a beast before Thee; yet I am continually with Thee’ (Ps. 73:22-23). If Thy desire is that I should be at rest in Thy knowledge, I shall not refuse. If it is that I should experience temptation so as to learn humility, again I am with Thee. Of myself, there is absolutely nothing I can do. For without Thee I would not have come into existence from non-existence; without Thee I cannot live or be saved. Do what Thou wilt to Thy creature; for I believe that, being good, Thou bestowest blessings on me, even if I do not recognize that they are for my benefit. Nor am I worthy to know, nor do I claim to understand, so as to be at rest: this might not be to my profit.
I do not dare to ask for relief in any of my battles, even if I am weak and utterly exhausted, for I do not know what is good for me. ‘Thou knowest all things’ (John 21:17); act according to Thy knowledge.
From “How to Acquire True Faith”
We must remember, too, that stillness is the highest gift of all, and that without it we cannot be purified and come to know our weakness and the trickery of the demons; neither will we be able to understand the power of God and His providence from the divine words that we read and sing. For we all need this devotion and stillness, total or partial, if we are to attain the humility and spiritual knowledge necessary for the understanding of the mysteries hidden in the divine Scriptures and in all creation. We must also remember that we should not use any object or any word, or engage in any activity or thought, that is not necessary for the life and salvation of soul and body; and that, unless we exercise discrimination, not even what appears to be good is acceptable to God, and that unless they are rightly motivated even good works are of no use to anyone.
From “Spurious Knowledge”
Again, we must marvel how through little strokes of colour paintings show us so many wonderful things performed over so many years by our Lord and all His saints, making them look as if they had only just been performed. This comes about through God's providence so that by becoming eyewitnesses, as it were of these things, our longing for God may grow even greater.
From “The Difference between Thoughts and Provocations”
From Book 2: Twenty-Four Discourses
Life is hope free from all anxiety, wealth hidden from the senses but attested by the understanding and by the true nature of things.
In this life, all things go in pairs: practice and spiritual knowledge, free will and grace, fear and hope, struggle and reward. The second does not come until the first has been actualized; and if it seems as if it does, this is illusion. Just as someone who lacks horticultural knowledge, on seeing the flower and thinking that it is the fruit, rushes forward to pick it, not realizing that by picking the flower he destroys the fruit, so it is here: for, as St Maximos puts it, ‘To think that one knows prevents one from advancing in knowledge.’ Hence we ought to cleave to God and to do all things with discrimination.
Discrimination comes from seeking advice with humility and from criticizing oneself and what one thinks and does.
From “The Remembrance of Christ’s Sufferings”
St Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022)
From One Hundred and Fifty-Three Practical and Theological Texts
140. You should always direct your intellect towards God, whether asleep or awake, eating or talking, engaged in your handiwork or in any other activity. Thus you will fulfil the saying of the prophet, ‘I have set the Lord always before me’.
70. Those who simulate virtue and who, because of the sheepskin of the monastic habit, appear to be one thing outwardly but are something else inwardly – steeped perhaps in iniquity, jealousy, ambition, and foul pleasures – are revered by most people as saintly and dispassionate; for in most people the soul’s eye is unpurified, and so they cannot recognize these imposters by their fruits. Those, on the other hand, who are full of devoutness, virtue and simplicity of heart, and who are truly saints, are judged by most people to be like other men; and they pass them by with disdain, counting them as nothing.
St Gregory Palamas (1296-1359)
From To the Most Reverend Nun Xenia (written c.1342-6)
It is now that the intellect becomes simple matter in God’s hands and is unresistingly recreated in the most sublime way, for nothing alien intrudes on it: inner grace translates it to a better state and, in an altogether marvellous fashion, illumines it with ineffable light, thus perfecting our inner being. And when in this manner ‘the day breaks and the morning star rises in our hearts’, then ‘the true man’ – the intellect – ‘will go out to his true work’ ascending in the light the road that leads to the eternal mountains.
From In Defence of Those who Devoutly Practise a Life of Stillness (written 1337-9)
7-8. This control of the breathing may, indeed, be regarded as a spontaneous consequence of paying attention to the intellect; for the breath is always quietly inhaled and exhaled at moments of intense concentration, especially in the case of those who practice stillness both bodily and mentally. Such people keep the Sabbath in a spiritual fashion and, so far as is possible, they rest from all personal activities; they strip their soul’s powers free from every transient, fleeting and compound form of knowledge, from every type of sense-perception and, in general, from every bodily act that is under our sway…….
In those who have made progress in stillness all these things come to pass without toil and anxious care, for of necessity they spontaneously follow upon the soul’s perfect entry into itself.
From Three Texts on Prayer and Purity of Heart (c.1330s)
3. The intellectual activity consisting of thought and intuition is called intellect, and the power that activates thought and intuition is likewise the intellect; and this power Scripture also calls the heart. It is because the intellect is pre-eminent among our inner powers that our soul is deiform. In those devoted to prayer, and especially to the single-phrased Jesus Prayer, the intellect’s noetic activity is easily ordered and purified; but the power that produces this activity cannot be purified unless all the soul’s other powers are also purified.