Spiritual Warfare on the Passions

Venerable Gerasimus of the Jordan

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


If we closely observe modern man, and generally, modern society, we will see immediately that it is dominated by the passion called 'love of pleasure' (φιληδονία), also commonly known as sensuality. Our age is chiefly sensual and pleasure-loving. Man is constantly inclined towards this terrible passion, which destroys all life, and deprives man of the possibility of communion with God. Truly, this passion is the one that ruins the work of salvation. A soul that is sensual is totally unsuitable to become a vessel of the grace of the Holy Spirit, and to feel within it the presence of Christ.

This topic is of great importance and in the paragraphs that follow, we will analyze this passion of sensuality. We will see its manifestation, we will examine its causes and we will attempt to describe the way in which we can be healed and freed from its hold on us.

First of all, it must be said that sensuality is one of the central causes of all anomalies, disturbances and abnormalities in our spiritual and physical being. From this passion, stems all evil and all other passions swarm into the soul and the body. Saint Theodore, Bishop of Edessa, teaches that there are three general passions from which are born all the other passions. These three passions are:

a. love of pleasure (φιληδονία),

b. love of money (φιλαργυρία),

c. and love of glory (φιλοδόξία).

From these three, are born other evil spirits and then "from them a great swarm of passions is born and all kinds of evil which manifests itself I multiple ways".

The love of money and glory both hide a great deal of pleasure within them, so we can say that it is the love of pleasure which begets all other passions. It is this passion that is the cause of all perversion of the powers of the soul. Saint John Damascene also underlines this. "The root of all passions, and one can say the cause of them, are love of pleasure, love of glory, love of money-from which every evil is obtained." So, whoever wants to be purified of the passions, must struggle firstly and foremostly against this passion of pleasure-loving and sensuality. According to the quality of the pleasure it experiences, the soul travels along a natural path or an unnatural and abnormal path. If we think about the fact that sensuality is what takes our mind hostage, and does not allow it to see the true path, then we will truly come to understand the great importance that the overcoming of this passion plays for our salvation.


Our Holy Fathers have expounded the fact that the passions are abnormal functions of the soul. Therefore, they are not just evil powers that have entered our soul and that we need to uproot, but they are perverted actions and energies of our own souls. The natural energies of our soul, with the instigation of the devil and our own free consent, are corrupted.

The same can also be said about pleasure. Pleasure, as we who are full of passions experience it, is the abnormal movement and expression of natural pleasure. For Saint Maximus, pleasure has a double meaning. Saint Maximus sees the positive aspect of pleasure when he says, "pleasure in one thing chiefly-the coexistence of the soul with the Logos (Word), the natural inclination of the mind towards God." This kind of pleasure is "essential for our nature" and for this reason, is of great use in the attainment of virtue. Most times though, pleasure acts in its negative manifestation, which is contrary to our nature.

Depending on the quality, that is the illness or the health of the soul, pleasure also acts, sometimes according to nature, and sometimes against nature. The example given by Saint John of Sinai is very characteristic--an amazing example of purity was related to him and he in turn relates it to us. Somebody saw a beautiful named body, and instead of being moved to lust, he glorified the Creator and just by the sight he was moved to the love of God and the shedding of many tears of thanksgiving to God for creating such beauty. Thus, what for most would be a cause into sin, for him became a cause for spiritual rewards.

In another part of his writings, Saint Maximus, with his characteristic theological astuteness and spiritual well-being, teaches that nature cannot of its own accord understand or attain those things that are above nature, but neither can it attain those things that are contrary to nature. In other words, holy pleasure, that which is above nature, is not just a natural energy of the soul, but a gift that God gives by grace to the person to whom He joins Himself. This is why Saint John of Sinai advises us to be careful so that the growing abnormal love of pleasure in our souls has not been put there by "bitter doctors".

That is to say, pleasure of the soul can be due to the grace of God, or due to an action of the devil. The devil works with deceiving cunning and many times "is transformed into an angel of light." This is why it is a possibility that he generates what seems to be a state of spiritual pleasure and exaltation, when we are still filled with passions, lest we become objects of deception and demonic enslavement. The pleasure which stems from God generates no inner uneasiness of the soul in contrast to demonic pleasure which always brings with it a sense of hidden uneasiness.

Adam was entrapped by the idea of theosis (deification) or divination. This idea, offered by the devil, caused a great deal of pleasure. It was deceptive though, and resulted in pain and suffering, spiritual and physical death. That is why it is said by the Holy Fathers that "false and deceptive pleasure" was the cause of Adam's fall and death entering humanity.

The enjoyment of corrupt pleasure generates pain, suffering and misery. There is a close relationship and interdependence between corrupt pleasure and pain. Pleasure brings pain and the endurance of pain and suffering negates pleasure. The more one satisfies his evil lusts and pleasures in the life, the more he will suffer in the next life. Ilias the Presbyter says characteristically that "after the fall, desire and misery entered the soul and pleasure and pain entered the body." All the pain and suffering, the misery of this life, is the result of the enjoyment of unnatural, unreasonable and corrupt pleasure.

Although love of pleasure is a single passion that is hidden within us-it manifests itself in many different forms. It does not affect every person in the same way. The same can be said about the soul. For some, it affects the part of the soul form which the desires stem, for others it affects the part of the soul which is the seat of the emotions and for others it affects the part of the soul responsible for reason.

There are some people, for example, who love to daydream and procrastinate. This is the sensuality of the part of the soul responsible for reason. In this category are also those who enjoy thinking about theology using their logic and human reasoning. This is also a manifestation of the passion called sensuality or "love of pleasure," and for this reason, the Holy Fathers teach that pure theology is a gift given to those who lead a life of purity and hesychia.

The study of the Faith through the mind and human reason is an expression and a living out of the corrupt sensuality which exists within us. Passion-filled people, who do not want to lead a sinful life externally, because for example, their place in society does not allow them to do so, find a way to channel their sinful passion through seemingly irreproachable theological reasoning.

There are also people, who like to merely desire a sinful action but do not, for a variety of reasons actually want to do the sinful deed. This kind of pleasure aggravates and affects all parts of the soul. Externally, this person is moral and pure, within him though, he is immoral and filthy! The satisfaction of this kind of pleasure does not allow a person to have a pure spiritual life. Even if he prays, and confesses regularly, even then he does not open his heart, but instead, satisfies his pleasure. For this reason, in the teachings of the Holy Fathers, we find the great truth that prayer must be accompanied by an ascetic way of life, otherwise it does not help the person to be internally purified.

In addition, people who are dominated and infused by this internal, hidden sensuality, can never make a clean confession. Only when they decide to rid themselves of this hidden passion, will they be able to make a complete and clear confession.

We thus conclude that in this part of the soul (responsible for reason) the passions of heresy, atheism and ingratitude have their seat. Likewise, in the part of the soul responsible for the desires, passion like fornication and gluttony have their seat and in the part of the soul from which the emotions stem, passions like hate, rage and revenge have their seat. The corrupt sensuality which develops in these three parts of the soul is the main reason and the root cause for all these other passions.

Source: A translation from Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos "Θεραπευτική Αγωγή- προεκτάσεις στην "Ορθόδοξη Ψυχοθεραπεία".

(To be continued)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George