Four Hundred Texts on Love (Second Century) 21

57.  There are virtues of the body and virtues of the soul. Those of the body include fasting, vigils, sleeping on the ground, ministering to people’s needs, working with one’s hands so as not to be a burden or in order to give to others (cf. 1 Thess. 2:9, Ephes. 4:28). Those of the soul include love, long-suffering, gentleness, self-control and prayer (cf. Gal, 5:22). If as a result of some constraint or bodily condition, such as illness or the like, we find we cannot practice the bodily virtues mentioned above, we are forgiven by the Lord because He knows the reasons. But if we fail to practice the virtues of the soul, we shall not have a single excuse, for it is always within our power to practice them.

Personally, I find the sorts of things St. Maximos describes as virtues of the body much easier than the ones he describes as virtues of the soul. And yet, if we do not fast, how will ever learn self-control? If we do not minister to people, how can we ever love them? And if we never perform vigils, will we learn to pray — much less pray without ceasing? They are interconnected and intertwined. As a rule, when we act in an outward way through the powers and abilities our bodies provide us, we also act inwardly such that, if it is our will to become a different sort of person, over time we will.

God does not abandon us to that struggle. Indeed, he gives us himself. Nevertheless, it is our struggle, for we struggle ultimately with our own will. It’s the perennial question, what sort of person do we choose to be?

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