Orthodox Christian Spirituality and a Life of Virtue

Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain

Apostle Aristobulus of the Seventy the Bishop of Britain

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY AND A LIFE OF VIRTUE

"For truly the assistance which God gives to our nature is provided to those who correctly live the life of virtue. This assistance was already there at our birth, but it is manifested and made known whenever we apply ourselves to diligent training in the higher life and strip ourselves for the more vigorous contests" (Saint Gregory of Nyssa).

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"...the experience and acquisition of the virtues requires God's help; and they are achieved only through much effort and over a long period of time. This is especially true of the virtues of the soul, for these are the more inward and essential virtues. The virtues that pertain to the body--which are better described as the tools of the virtues--are easier to acquire, even though they do demand bodily effort. But virtues of the soul, although they demand the control of thought alone, are much more difficult to achieve" (Saint Peter of Damascus)

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"...silence is the fastest path to virtue..." (Nikitas Stithatos) Philokalia Vol. 4

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"...there are four original virtues: courage, good sense, chastity and righteousness. And there are eight other moral qualities, originating either from an excess or a defect of these and following them closely on either side; these we consider and call vices, but the world calls them virtues. On either side of courage, go audacity and timidity; on either side of good sense--artfulness and senselessness (tactlessness); on either side of chastity go intemperance and lack of sensibility; on either side of righteousness being over-exacting and unrighteousness. Along the middle way, between them, proceed not only the original virtues which are beyond all excess or defect, but also individual good deeds. Those in the center are moved by the will for good within a righteous heart; the other (those on the side) by depravity and conceit" (Saint Gregory of Sinai).

As Orthodox Christians, our goal is to live a pure and holy life. There is a set of guidelines we can follow to help us live a virtuous life. If we concentrate on doing what is pure and holy, then we don't need to worry about doing what pleases God of all that we do daily.

Virtues:

Patience: Behaving with grace and being calm when dealing with difficult situations.

Humility: Being selfless and always thinking of others first.

Kindness: Being friendly, carrying, understanding and thoughtful with other no matter what.

Temperance: Having self-control and living with moderation and within our means.

Chastity: Keeping our body, our mind, our heart, and our soul pure.

Generosity: Sacrificing our wants so that we can help and give to others.

Diligence: Working hard and never giving up in order to meet our goals.

Virtues in the Holy Scripture

"Finally, brethren, whatsoever things are true, whatsoever thing are honest, whatsoever things are just, whatsoever thing are pure, whatsoever things are lovely, whatsoever thing are of good report; if there be any virtue, and if there be any praise, thin on these things" (Philippians 4:8).

Saint Mark the Ascetic wrote, "Do not claim to have acquired virtue unless you have suffered affliction, for without affliction virtue has not been tested."

Saint John Damascene wrote: "These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: gluttony by self-control; unchastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; avarice by compassion for the poor; anger by goodwill and love for all men; worldly dejection by spiritual joy; listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God; self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heart; and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee (cf, St. Luke 18:11-12), and by considering oneself the least of all men. When the intellect has been freed in this way form the passions we have described and been raised up to God, it will henceforth live the life of blessedness, receiving the pledge of the Holy Spirit (cf. 2 Corinthians 1:22). And when it departs this life, dispassionate and full of true knowledge, it will stand before the Light of the Holy Trinity and with the divine Angels will shine in glory through all eternity." (Saint John Damascene, "On the Virtues and the Vices" from The Philokalia: The Complete Test [Vol. 2]

Saint Justin Popovic wrote: "The third sin, which synthesizes all the sins of the world is: "the pride of life." That is the first sin in all the worlds: the sin of Satan. The source of all sins, which always was and will forever stay as such. It can be said: pride is the ultimate sin. Every sin, through its life force, comes from it and holds to it: "the pride of life"--woven from countless multifarious prides, both great and small, both short-term and long-term. Let us remember the primary things: the pride of glory (scientific, government, in any rank or position in general), pride of beauty, pride of wealth, pride of benevolence, pride of humility (yes! of humility), pride of charity, pride of success...There is not a virtue that pride cannot convert into a vice. The pride of prayer converts the person praying into a Pharisee, and the ascetic into a self-murderer. So, every sin, in reality is a sin through pride, because Satan in reality is Satan through pride. If it were not for pride, sin would not exist, neither in the Angelic or the human world. All this "is not of the Father." That which is of the Father is the Only-Begotten Son of God. He is incarnate and personified humility before all of His divine perfections. In His Gospel, the beginning virtue, the ultimate virtue is humility (St. Matthew 5:3). Humility is the only medicine for pride and all other sins" [Saint Justin Popovic The Explanation of the Epistles of Saint John the Theologian (1 John 2:16)].

Illumination--Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At our Baptism and Chrismation we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit. But as long as we are dominated by the passions these gifts are not fully active. They are hidden or covered. Once we remove the passions then these gifts work in our consciousness. Father Dimitru Staniloae says, "Only after the termination of the work of purification, driven especially by the powers of Baptism and of repentance, does the work of the gifts of the Holy Spirit appear first and foremost."

It is during the stage of Purification where we work to overcome the work of the passions where we begin to feel increasingly the power of the Holy Spirit. He then works later to bring to our consciousness full illumination of the truths.

There are said to be seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:

Fear of God to help overcome sinfulness.
Spirit of strength to live by the virtues.
Spirit of counsel to give us the skill of discernment.
Spirit of understanding to realize how blessings have been revealed to us to gain virtues.
Spirit of knowledge to know the deeper motivation of each command and virtue.
Spirit of comprehension to know the meaning of things by identification with them.
Spirit of wisdom which is the simple contemplation of truth of all things.

Saint Maximus the Confessor describes wisdom as follows: "By this we know as far is humanly possible, in an unknown way, the simple logoi of things found in God; we take out the truth from everything, as from a gushing spring of the heart, and we also share it in different ways with others."

It is the gifts of the Holy Spirit that guide us in the knowledge of God. Again Father Dimitru Cautions, "Only after the mind is cleansed not only from the passions but also from simple images are representations of things, will the direct knowledge of God be produced..."

The work of the Holy Spirit is like a light shining into a dark room. As the light increases, the contents of the room become known. Through illumination the Spirit will illumine our consciousness so that we are filled with Divine Light. With this Light all things become transparent and their meaning and relationship with God become very clear. We are enabled to penetrate beneath the surface of things.

Father Dimitru says, "Only in the measure in which someone becomes transparent to himself, are things made transparent to him, because this power which works in him later reaches the exterior...for the eyes of our soul to see the light of intelligible and divine realities, that is the depths of things, they must first be filled with the Light which radiates from these depths. In him who sees must be found something of what is seen."

Through the contemplation of things of the created world and the words of Holy Scripture, we are led to a deeper illumined knowledge. (Orthodox Way of Life)

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FROM THE LITURGY OF THE PRESANCTIFIED GIFTS

"Master, let the Light of Your countenance shine on those who are being made ready for Holy Illumination, and who yearn to thrust aside the defilement of sin. Illumine their minds; confirm them in the faith; sustain them in their hope; perfect them in love; make them precious members of Your Christ, Who gave Himself as a ransom for our souls.

For You are our illumination, and to You we offer up glory: Father, Son and Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen."

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

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

+Father George