On Virtues and Their Opposite Passions

Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite the Bishop of Athens

Hieromartyr Dionysius the Areopagite the Bishop of Athens

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

Saint Gregory Palamas

The Homilies

Whatever you sow in cultivated ground, you reap the same. If you plant fruit trees, or sow wheat, barley or some other useful crop, the earth brings them forth and they grow and are fruitful. But if the land is left untilled and unsown, it sprouts useless plants, mostly the thorns and thistles mentioned in the curse pronounced against us (Genesis 3:18). Even if a tree happens to grow, it will most probably have no fruit, be useless and full of thorns. It is the same with the soul. Whatever attitudes you instill in it, you will receive the same back. If you keep company with good people, listen to spiritual teaching and follow it, putting its precepts into practice, your soul cultivates virtues and becomes useful to God, to others, and to yourself. But if you delight in bad company and not heed spiritual teaching, or even regard it as trivial, your soul turns wild and out of control, sprouts evil passions, and yields the stings and thorns of its own and body's death, namely sins.

In the beginning, as you all know, the serpent which originated evil stung man through sin, made him mortal, threw him out of paradise and brought him into this fleeting, painful world. Now, useless we hasten through repentance to heal the wounds he has inflicted, he will dispatch us to everlasting punishment and hell-fire. Just as savage animals and reptiles lurk in wild woods and thorny thickets, so this evil dragon, the great universal beast, dwells, according to Job, under the various trees of pleasure (Job 40:21), and, he says, destruction runs in front of him (Job 41:14). Because I long for you all to be out of reach of this destruction, and would do anything to achieve this, I labor for your sake with words and spiritual teaching, brethren, on a daily basis for those who approach me privately, and also publicly for everyone in church, as the opportunity arises. This instruction cuts down evil's trees, forces open sin's depths, blunts the goads of wickedness, triumphs over the dragon--the source of iniquity--shows up the straight path, and bestows saving knowledge.

Christ's Church, especially here in this great city, includes not only persons who are simple and lacking in formal education, but also people who are wise and cultivated, both by nature and through the study of secular disciplines and the teachings of the Church. For that reason I do not for the most part make my homilies too basic. I prefer to help those who are lower to rise, rather than to bring down those who are higher on their account. Anyone, even if he is unlearned, who pays careful attention to my teaching, will not be wholly unaware of what I am saying...Even if my address makes some allowances for the unread, the wisdom it contains is far from lowly, and the benefits it offers far from obscure. I shall teach you about evil passions and about virtues, revealing their two distinct roots, that you may cut off the former and cherish the latter.

Whereas love for God is the source and starting point of every virtue, love for the world is the cause of all evil. For that reason these two loves are at enmity with each other and destroy each other. As the Lord's brother declares: "Friendship of the world is enmity to God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God" (Saint James 4:4). And Saint John, whom Christ loved, says, "If any man loves the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, is not of the Father" (cf. 1 John 2:13-16). Let us take heed, brethren, we fall away from our heavenly Father's love. For these two evils include every passion which separates us from God.

The foundation, origin and cause of these two opposing roots, love for God and love for the world, is another pair of implacably opposed loves. Love for the world springs from love for the body; since we love the world because of our body's well-being. On the other hand, love for God comes from our spirit, our soul, for we love God on account of the comfort and good fortune our souls will have in the world to come. The great St. Paul bears witness to the fact that these two attitudes are at enmity with each other by saying, "The flesh lusteth against the Spirit", meaning the soul, "and the Spirit against the flesh" (Gal. 5:17).

How does love for our own soul engender love for God? We are threatened with the unquenchable fire of hell and promised God's eternal Kingdom. This everlasting Kingdom is for those who listen to God's Commandments and act upon them, whereas hell-fire is for those who by their actions disobey Christ's Gospel. When true believers, who love their souls and desire to keep them for eternal life, hear these threats and promises, they immediately conceive longing and fear, fear of the unending pain in the threatened fire of hell, and longing for the promised Kingdom of God with its eternal joy.

Because they yearn to attain to divine, unfading delight and are afraid of suffering in that fire, they break their ties with everything passionate, blameworthy and earthly, and strive to cleave to God and authority to deliver them from the agony of hell, and make them worthy of that eternal joy which passes understanding. In this way they acquire love for God, and as they become more perfectly united with God through this love, they gain all the virtues as well. When God is at work in us, every kind of virtue becomes our own, but when He is not, everything we do is sin. As the Lord says in the Gospel, "Without Me you can do nothing" (St. John 15:5). Those who truly act virtuously are aware of this, and do not pride themselves on any of their achievements, but humbly glorify God, the fount of virtue, by Whom they are filled with the light that bestows goodness. When the air is full of sunlight, the glory and radiance it displays are not its own but the sun's. So those who are united with God through fulfilling His Commandments are, according to St. Paul, the sweet savor of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15). They have Christ's fragrance, and proclaim the virtues Him Who called them "our of darkness into His marvelous Light" (1 Peter 2:9).

(To be continued)



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.


"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"--St. John Chrysostom


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

+Father George