The Spiritual Life of An Orthodox Christian

Venerable Athanasia the Abbess of Aegina

Venerable Athanasia the Abbess of Aegina

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

by Saint Theophan the Recluse

"...Once, in the middle of the dance floor at some annual ball, a young lady had a sudden glimpse of the immortality of her soul; and as this vision flashed upon her inward eye, she was struck with the thought that all this swirling around the dance floor was utterly futile. Amazed and disturbed, she wrote to the recluse: 'Is this normal, or is it a morbid hindrance to a desire for a happy life in the world?' The answer to her question evoked a correspondence which resulted in this volume."

The Heart and the Aspect of Sense
The aspect of sense--the heart. The profound significance of the heart in a man's life. The influence of the passions on the heart.

The Sensual Aspect: the Heart. Who is not aware of the great significance the heart has in our lives? Everything which enters the soul from the outside, and which is shaped by the intellectual and active aspects, falls into the heart; everything which the soul observes on the outside also passes through the heart. That is why it is called the center of life.

The heart's occupation is to sense everything concerning our person. It constantly and persistently senses the condition of the soul and body, and along with this the various impressions from the individual actions of the soul and body, from surrounding objects which it encounters, from the outward situation, and in general, from the course of life, thereby compelling and forcing man to furnish everything which is pleasant to it, and to avoid the unpleasant. The health and disease of the body, its vivacity and languor, fatigue and strength, liveliness and lethargy, along with what has been seen, heard, felt, smelled, tasted, and what has been recalled and imagined, what has been done, what one doses and intends to do, what has been obtained and is being obtained, what may and may not be obtained, what is favorable to us or unfavorable, whether having to do with a person or concurrence of circumstances--all of this is reflected in the heart, and affects it either pleasantly or unpleasantly. Judging by this, it is impossible for it to be at rest for even a moment; instead, it is in a constant state of disturbance and flux, just like a barometer before a storm. But there is much that it senses that passes through without leaving a trace. This you may verify from instances when we happen to be somewhere for the first time: everything in that place occupies our attention, but after the second or third time in that place, this is no longer so.

Every influence on the heart produces a unique feeling within it, but there are no words in our language for distinguishing these feelings. We express our feelings in general terms: pleasant--unpleasant, like--dislike; happy--bored; joy--grief; sorrow--pleasure; calm--anxiety; disappointment--satisfaction; fear--hope; apathy--sympathy. Observe yourself and you will find first one feeling in the heart, then the other.

However, the significance of the heart in the economy of our life is not just to be passively subject to impressions, and to attest as to the satisfaction or dissatisfaction with our condition. The heart also maintains the energy of all powers of soul and body. Look how quickly something is accomplished when we have our heart in it! But when our heart is not in it, our hands drop and our legs do not move. That is why only those who know how to control themselves, when they encounter something which must be done, even if their heart is not in it, rush to find a pleasant side to it, and, having reconciled their heart to it, maintain within themselves the energy necessary to accomplish the task. Zeal, the motive force of the will, comes from the heart. This is also the case in mental work; a subject that has come to heart is discussed urgently and from every angle. In this case, thoughts occur by themselves, and work, no matter how long it takes, does not seem like work...If someone should be cleansed of the passions, let him give the heart its will; but as long as the passions are in force, to give the heart its will would mean to patently doom oneself to every sort of uncertainty. Worst of all is the behavior of those whose goal in life is to supply sweet pleasures to the heart and who aspire, as they say, to the good life. Since sweet desires and carnal and sensual pleasures make themselves strongly felt, such people are always falling into coarse sensuality, and they are beneath the feature which distinguishes man from other living creature.

Spiritual Life

Just what is the spirit? It is that force which God breathed into man when He created him. The earth bore all the species of earthly creatures by God's command. From the earth also came every kind of living creature's soul. The human soul, although it resembles the animal soul in its lowest part, is incomparably superior to it in its highest part. That it is this way in man is because of its bonding with the soul. The spirit, breathed by God, combined with it and raised it far above every nonhuman soul. That is why we note within ourselves, in addition to what we see in the animals, that which is peculiar to the spiritualized soul of man, and even higher, that which is peculiar only to this spirit.

The spirit, as a force which has come from God, knows God, seeks God and in Him alone finds rest. With a certain innermost spiritual feeling attesting to its coming from God, the spirit feels its complete dependence on Him and acknowledges itself as obliged to pleasing God in everything and living only for Him and by Him.

More precise manifestations of these movements of the life of the spirit are:

1)     The fear of God. All people, no matter what degree of development they are at, know that there is a Supreme Being, God, Who created everything, maintains everything and rules everything, and that they depend on Him in everything, that they must please Him, that He is the Judge and Requiter, Who gives to everyone according to his deeds. Such is the natural credo, which is inscribed in the spirit. By confessing it, this spirit venerates God and is filled with the fear of God.

2)     The conscience. Acknowledging itself to be obliged to please God, the soul would not know how to satisfy this obligation, if the conscience did not rule it in this area. After imparting to the soul a particle of His omniscience in the natural credo He established, God inscribed in it the requirements of His holiness, truths and benevolence, having entrusted the soul itself to observe the implementation of them and to be its own judge as to right and wrong. This aspect of the soul is the conscience, which indicates what is right and wrong, what is pleasing to God and what is displeasing, what should be done and what should not be. Once it has indicated these things, it must authoritatively carry them out, and then reward implementation with remorse. The conscience is the legislator, the guardian law, the judge and the executor. It is the natural codex of God's Commandments, which are incumbent on all people. And we see the action of the conscience along with the fear of God in all people.

3)     The longing for God. This is expressed in the universal yearning for the supreme good, and is more clearly seen also in the universal dissatisfaction with everything created. What does this dissatisfaction signify? It signifies that nothing created is capable of satisfying the spirit. The spirit comes from God, it seeks God, it wants to taste Him, and, abiding in the living communion and bond with Him, it rests in Him. When it attains this, it at peace, and, until it has attained it, it cannot have peace. No matter how many creature comforts and blessings a person has, he has very little. Everyone, as you have already noticed, is always seeking. They seek and find something, but after they have found it, they cast it aside and start seeking all over again, so that they may once again cast away what they find. So it goes on endlessly. This means that they are seeking the wrong thing in the wrong place, and not what they should be seeking, and not where they should be seeking it. Isn't this tangible proof that there is a force in us drawing us away from the earth and earthly sorrows toward Heaven?

(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!


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

+Father George