Elements of Purification in Orthodox Spirituality

St. Zoe

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,

As we approach Holy and Great Lent we, Orthodox Christian believers, realize how significant our ascesis to free ourselves of all personal infirmities and passions truly is. If we seek communion with our Lord we must first seek to purify our body and soul of all sin.

Fr. Demitru Staniloae has written a work entitled Orthodox Spirituality. Part one is titled "Purification." In this section he discusses the passions and shows how we can progressively overcome them to attain a final state of dispassion which prepares us for the next section he titles "Illumination."

The path he outlined is as follows:

  1. Faith, the Basic State for Purification.
    1. Faith: The Starting Point to Perfection
  2. The Fear of God the Thought of Judgment.
    1. Fear of God is Next Step
  3. Repentance
    1. Repentance - Main for Our Perfection
    2. Repentance - The Ship that brings us to the Divine Harbor
    3. Repentance - Way to Overcome Egoism
    4. Repentance as a Sacrament
  4. Self-Control
    1. Self-Control lifts us to see the infinite in things of this world.
    2. Self-Control as Fasting
    3. Self-Control to Overcome our Passions
  5. The Guarding of the Mind or of Thoughts
    1. Guarding the Mind - Watchfulness - Getting at the Root
    2. Guarding the mind - Knocking on the Door of the Heart
  6. Longsuffering, the Patient Endurance of Troubles
    1. Longsuffering - Why Troubles and Suffering?
    2. Role of Temptations
  7. Hope
    1. Hope - Power of Advanced Faith
  8. Meekness and Humility
    1. Patience with Hope Leads to Meekness and Humility
  9. Dispassion or Freedom from Passion
    1. With Dispassion Love Blossoms


We find ourselves in a state of many cares of this world. Our mind is taken up with worries and fears. We find it difficult to concentrate on God, to consistently do His will, and to practice the virtues in our daily life. We need some kind of radical transformation.

The path to the needed transformation begins with faith in the Good News that is found in the Gospels. We believe and are baptized where the Holy Spirit is planted in our hearts and we develop Faith. This faith is strengthened and followed by the realization of our sinfulness and the final judgment we will eventually face. We realize we can live a life that takes us to an eternal life with God in His Kingdom, or, by ignoring His direction for us, live an eternal life separated from Him. With this fear of God, we then seek to purify our way of life though an attitude of repentance. We feel contrition for our weaknesses and seek God's help to overcome them. We participate in the Sacraments of the Church for our healing and spiritual growth. We realize our need to have more self-control so that we will not continually repeat our past patterns of living. We engage in ascetic practices like fasting to aid the development of greater control over the passions which seem to drive us and separate us from God. As we gain self-control we seek to get at the source of the distractions which lead us to temptations we are unable to resist. This involves an inner guarding of the mind and referring our thoughts to Christ Who is with us in our hearts. We find that there are all kinds of difficulties in this world that we cannot necessarily avoid. We learn to endure them with patience and the guidance and comfort of God. As we endure with patience, in us grows our hope for the next world, God's Kingdom where there are no troubles. We find we begin to develop meekness and humility-- a loss of our ego-centeredness. And finally, we enter into a state of dispassion where the passions no longer have any control over us. Our mind becomes quiet and free to pursue the contemplation of God. The soul is now in command to direct our will and we begin to live the life of virtue and love.

We are now ready to enter into the next step of Orthodox Spirituality known as illumination.

Purification by the Virtues

"The purification of the passions can't be attained by realizing a neutral state of the soul, but by replacing the passions with opposing virtues." (Fr. Dimitru Staniloae).

Here are the steps of Perfection:

Fear of God
Guarding of the mind
Gifts of the Holy Spirit
Spiritual Understanding of Scripture
Apophatic Knowledge of God
Pure prayer
Mental Rest

The Aim

"God calls us to perfection (St. Matthew 5:48). This can't be obtained without the participation in the divine-human life of Christ. 'Therefore the goal of Orthodox Spirituality is the perfection of the believer by his union with Christ."

Father Dimitru Staniloae sees the following features of Orthodox Christian Spirituality:

  1. The culminating state of the spiritual life is a union of the soul with God, lived or experienced.
  2. This union is realized by the working of the Holy Spirit, but until it is reached man is involved in a prolonged effort of purification.
  3. It takes place when man reaches the "likeness of God." It is at the same time knowledge and love.
  4. Among other things, the effect of this union consists of a considerable intensification of spiritual energies in man, accompanied by all kinds of charismas.

He then says: "The goal of Christian Orthodox spirituality is none other than living in a state of deification (theosis) or participation in the Divine life."


Spirituality is a most difficult term because it is used in many ways, often in ways that denigrate true Christian spirituality. Often, when one does not have any real faith they say, "I don't believe in any religion but I am spiritual." The term spiritual generally refers to an undefined inner spirit of man. So, those who do not have any firm religious belief have some sense of this inner spirit, but no clear path or intent to develop it. For Orthodox Christians there is a very clear notion of this inner sense of spirit and a clear path exists to respond to it.

Orthodox Spirituality involves a journey towards a mystical union with God through living the Gospel teachings in the context of the Church and participating in her sacraments and Holy Tradition.



Father Dumitru Staniloae was a priest of the Church of Romania who is renowned as an Orthodox theologian, academic, and professor. In addition to commentary on the works of the Church Fathers and a Romanian translation of the Philokalia, his 1978 masterpiece The Dogmatic Orthodox Theology established him as one of the foremost Christian theologians of the latter half of the twentieth century. On October 5, 1993, Fr. Dumitru died at the age of 90.



The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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

+Father George