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Instructions of the Holy Fathers On Spiritual Life
Part II
by Bishop Alexander (Mileant)
translated by Seraphim Larin / Anatoli Pederera

A Great Science: Learning About Yourself

Man’s preordination is to develop the good qualities that have been implanted in him by the Creator. This essentially pleasant and inspiriting task is made difficult because our nature has been damaged by sin. It is for this reason that the inclination toward evil begins to emerge at a very early age, even before a person’s will and mind have been fully developed. With time, repeated sins become bad habits — passions that propel the person toward sin with ever increasing force. If a person does not fight these passions, they develop into vices that can completely enslave the person. However, if a person heeds the voice of his conscience and — with God’s help — fights his vile inclinations, he will not only conquer them, but will acquire good qualities that he previously lacked. Thus one grows and is perfected spiritually.

To understand your spiritual nature, to learn how to master your inclinations toward evil and various temptations is the most important science for every individual. As all the Saints fervently studied this science, their personal experience of internal struggle on the path to sanctity is especially important to us.

In the writings of the Holy Fathers, passions are divided into eight "patrimonial" or major classifications, which are the following: gluttony, fornication, love of money, anger, sorrow, despondency, vainglory and pride. The Holy Fathers go on to explain that three of these passions — gluttony, love of money and vainglory — give birth to the other five. (Apostle John the Theologian calls these three as "the lust of the flesh, the lust of the eyes and the pride of life" (1 John 2:16). In essence, all lusts are generated from a distorted and excessive love of oneself, from self-centeredness.

Apart from this, the Holy Fathers then turn their attention to the interrelationships between these passions. Normally, gluttony generates depraved carnal desires and from vainglory comes pride. When gluttony, carnal desires, love of money, vainglory and pride are not gratified, either anger or sorrow arises — depending on circumstances and the person’s character. After the emergence of anger, sorrow also appears and as it increases, it develops into despondency.

Every major (or patrimonial) passion gives birth to many others, which in turn emerge in most diverse forms. "I will tell you what sins emanate from the major eight," writes Blessed John Climacus, "In raging passions, there is no rationale or order but every type of iniquity and confusion. For example, sometimes untimely laughter comes from the demon of lasciviousness, sometimes from vainglory when a person praises himself inwardly, and at other times laughter emerges from gluttony…Talkativeness comes sometimes from gluttony and sometimes from vainglory. Blasphemous thoughts are bred by pride, although they frequently emerge from judging others. Hardness of the heart happens from gluttony, sometimes from lack of compassion, and at other times from some addiction."

Passions are infirmities of the soul. Therefore, in order to commence on the path of recovery from your spiritual infirmities, it is essential to initially establish the correct diagnosis i.e. to see and understand them either in the light of the Gospel, or under the direction of an experienced spiritual father. Our lifestyle, our actions and our words usually reflect our inner state. "By their deeds you shall know them," said Christ.

However, sometimes our passions do not emerge outwardly because this would make us shameful before people, or because our circumstances impede their emergence. Sometimes passions remain in a state of suspended animation for long periods of time, waiting for the right combination of circumstances in order to emerge. Sometimes, our good deeds and intentions cloak our passions, making them very difficult to discern. It can be said with certainty, that each one of us carries the roots of all passions. To become free from them and to attain purity of heart requires great effort, which very few undertake conscientiously. This demands a continuous scrutiny of your innermost thoughts and feelings, severely censuring yourself for all your sins, to be deeply penitent and to often go to confession and partake of the Holy Sacraments. However, the fruits of the Holy Spirit obtained as a result of these efforts are enormous.

In this brochure, we have collected instructions of the Holy Fathers, which are particularly detailed in revealing the inner battle and give valuable advice on how to win this battle. 

Published with the kind permission of Bishop Alexander Mileant

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