Passions: The Inclination to Sin

Martyr Valentine in Moesia, Bulgaria

Martyr Valentine in Moesia, Bulgaria

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



After the Fall, mankind became predisposed to self-centered choices directed by the passions (lusts) rather than choices based on the highest form of love (agape). Saint Isaac of Syria tells us: "Pandering to the flesh produce(s) in us shameful urges and unseemly fantasies." (Kadloubovky and Palmer, trans., 1954).

The passions spring from the heart of the person, Jesus told us: "For from within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness, all these evil things come from within, and they defile a man" (St. Mark 7:21-23).

Saint Paul wrote, "while we were living in the flesh, our sinful passions, aroused by the law, were at work in our members to bear fruit for death" (Romans 5:7). The work of the passions can take place for both those living a single life and those living in marital union. In either case passions lead to a choice of self-satisfaction over a righteously joined union. Saint Maximus the Confessor tells us: "Self-love is an impassioned, mindless love for one's own body. Its opposite is love and self-control. A man dominated by self-love is dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions" (Philokalia II).

Passions may predispose individuals to discord from God and mankind. Saint Paul warns us: "Now the works of the flesh are plain: fornication, impurity, licentiousness, idolatry, sorcery, enmity, strife, jealousy, anger, selfishness, dissension, party spirit, envy, drunkenness, carousing, and the like. I warn you, as I warned you before, that those who do such things shall not inherit the Kingdom of God" (Galatians 5:19-21). The Church Holy Fathers attribute these to the demon of each passion that never tires of breaking union between God and mankind.

An example of how this works may aid our understanding. The demon of lust, the Church Holy Fathers tell us, may take over our lives. Modern society facilitates this malady. Sex is broadcast everywhere for almost every use: art, fashion, music, news, pornography (especially the INTERNET), and the sale of almost any product, from automobiles to computers. The secular world flagrantly exposes body parts, especially the genital areas.

The Church Holy Fathers knew about such enticements a thousand years ago. Saint Isaac of Syria wrote: "Passions are brought either by images or by sensations devoid of images and by memory, which at first is unaccompanied by passionate movements or thoughts, but which later produces excitation." One way for faithful followers of Christ to deal with these passions, as Saint Isaac continued: "...their thought must become attached to nothing except their own soul."

One has to make a choice between Christ and demon.  Saint Paul asked: "Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Shall tribulation...distress...persecution...hunger...nakedness...danger...the sword? For I am sure that neither death, nor life, nor Angels, nor principalities, nor things present, nor things to come, nor power, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature will be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ our Lord" (Romans 8:35-39).

Discerning One's Passions

Vigilance and discernment are the chief virtues to be acquired by those seeking Christ's indwelling in them and who desire to overcome the power of passions.

Even Slight Sin Is a Rupture Leading To Death

In his Letter on Confession, Saint Symeon the New Theologian (+1979) tells us the magnitude and effects of even slight sin: "Let me use another example: Imagine a jar filled with wine or oil. Even if the jar is not punctured on every side, and only a small hole appears on one side, all its contents will slowly spill out. In the same way, if you fall away through negligence even a little from one of the Commandments, you will also fall away from all the rest."

Humility: The Good Soil of Repentance

True repentance cannot take place without humility. What is humility? Saint Isaac considers it to be an assimilation to God. Saint Isaac is not talking about the simple human virtue or natural humility, such as gentleness, quietness, prudence or meekness (Alfeyev, 2000). Saint Isaac does say that humility is "...precise knowledge of our sins, or as a result or recollecting the lowliness of our lord--or rather as a result of recollecting the greatness of God and the extent to which the greatness of the Lord lowered itself in order to speak to and instruct us human beings..." Saint Isaac continues: "I should marvel greatly if there were any truly humble man who would venture to supplicate God...the humble man keeps a reign of silence...simply awaits mercy...then he dares only to speak and pray thus 'May it be done unto me according to Thy will, O Lord." Our relationship with the world gives us a sign of the fertility of the soil of humility. As related by Alfeyev (2000), in answer as to a question about how we can perceive a man has attained humility, Saint Isaac answered: "From the fact that he regards it as odious to please the world either in his association with it or by word, and the glory of the world is an abomination in his eye." Saint Isaac cites few examples of the signs of true humility. He who is humble is "never rushed, hasty, or agitated [or has] hot or volatile thoughts, but at all times remains calm; is not fearful of accidental occurrences, he knows his own weakness [and] he is in need of divine help."

On the other hand, acquiring humility, Saint Isaac tells us, can occur by "unceasing remembrance of transgressions, preferring the last place, running to do the tasks that are most insignificant and distasteful [and the ability] to suffer wrongs with joy."

"Humility" writes Saint Isaac, "is the raiment of the Godhead...everyone who has been clothed in humility has truly been made like unto Him Who came down from…exaltedness and hid the splendor of [H]is majesty and concealed [H]is glory... humility even without works, gains forgiveness for many offenses."

(To be continued)




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


With sincere agape in His Divine Resurrection and unconditional Agape,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George