Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 26

Posted: March 27th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 26

56.  Self-love, as has often been said, is the cause of all impassioned thoughts. For from it are produced the three principal thoughts of desire; those of gluttony, avarice and self-esteem. From gluttony is born the thought of unchastity; from avarice, the thought of greed; from self-esteem, the thought of pride. All the rest – the thoughts of anger, resentment, rancor, listlessness, envy, backbiting and so on – are consequent upon one or other of these three. These passions, then, tie the intellect to material things and drag it down to earth, pressing on it like a massive stone, although by nature it is lighter and swifter than fire.

The spiral starts with self-love which can lead down multiple paths to bondage to the passions. I’ll note, though, that the passions work by reorienting our nous or receptive mind. It is our organ for knowing God, but is easily distracted and bound to other things. I find that description matches my own observations and experience.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 21

Posted: March 8th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 21

50.  Through genuine love for God we can drive out the passions. Love for God is this: to choose Him rather than the world, and the soul rather than the flesh, by despising the things of this world and by devoting ourselves constantly to Him through self-control, love, prayer, psalmody and so on.

Love heals and true love for the God who is love can heal any passion which holds us in bondage. Do I devote myself constantly to God? Hardly. I tend to be lousy at the practice of loving others (which is inseparable from loving God). I don’t feel any closer to unceasing prayer or “prayer of the heart” and struggle even to maintain my small prayer rule. I’m not even sure how I would recognize progress. Nevertheless, I keep choosing God each day. Love draws me like a moth to flame. Love may be a consuming fire, but it’s also irresistible.


Why Do We Pray? 3 – To Change Ourselves?

Posted: March 7th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: Prayer | Tags: , , , , , | 2 Comments »

I want to make a distinction on this point. It’s true that devoting ourselves to a rule of prayer will almost certainly change us. Even the act of making space in our lives for such a rule of necessity alters the rhythm of our days. On the other hand, I’m not willing to say that’s the purpose of Christian prayer rather than simply one of its effects.

Why am I making that distinction? I think, at least in part, it’s because I’ve followed many sorts of spiritual practices over the years, from Hindu meditation to tarot to transcendental meditation to various forms of power visualization. When you adopt any sort of spiritual practice, it of necessity shapes and changes you.

In some ways, it’s like adopting a physical regimen of exercise or practice. If you swim every day, you will generally become a better swimmer. If you lift weights, you will tend to become stronger. If you run, you will eventually become a runner. If you practice the regimen of P90X (first or second version) as my younger son has done for years, that regimen will shape your body.

There are Christian disciplines specifically designed to change us. Fasting, for instance, helps break the grip of the physical passions while almsgiving helps break the grip of the more pervasive and destructive passions like greed and envy.

But I don’t think that’s the central purpose of prayer, otherwise some form of Christian meditation would suffice. No, I believe prayer has a deeper purpose, one I’ll pursue in subsequent posts.

Thoughts?


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 19

Posted: March 1st, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 19

47.  There are many people in the world who are poor in spirit, but not in the way that they should be; there are many who mourn, but for some financial loss or the death of their children; many are gentle, but towards unclean passions; many hunger and thirst, but only to seize what does not belong to them and to profit from injustice ; many are merciful, but towards their bodies and the things that serve the body; many are pure in heart, but for the sake of self-esteem; many are peace-makers, but by making the soul submit to the flesh; many are persecuted, but as wrongdoers; many are reviled, but for shameful sins. Only those are blessed who do or suffer these things for the sake of Christ and after His example. Why? Because theirs is the kingdom of heaven, and they shall see God (cf. Matt. 5:3-12). It is not because they do or suffer these things that they are blessed, for those of whom we have spoken above do the same; it is because they do them and suffer them for the sake of Christ and after His example.

I’m reminded of the thief on the cross next to Christ. He saw himself accurately first. He said to the other thief that they were only getting what they deserved. And then he proclaimed that Jesus had done nothing wrong. It was then that he perceived Jesus as Lord.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 7

Posted: January 17th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | 2 Comments »

13.  If you wish to master your thoughts, concentrate on the passions and you will easily drive the thoughts arising from them out of your intellect. With regard to unchastity, for instance, fast and keep vigils, labor and avoid meeting people. With regard to anger and resentment, be indifferent to fame, dishonor and material things. With regard to rancor, pray for him who has offended you and you will be delivered.

If you are indifferent to the recognition and success of others, you will not resent them. And it is hard to remain bitter and angry toward someone when you pray for them. It’s interesting to note that fasting is considered to help discipline all physical passions.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 6

Posted: January 12th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 6

11.  Love, self-restraint, contemplation and prayer accord with God’s will, while gluttony, licentiousness and things that increase them pander to the flesh. That is why ‘they that are in the flesh cannot conform to God’s will’ (Rom. 8:8). But ‘they that are Christ’s have crucified the flesh together with the passions and desires’ (Gal. 5:24)

Gluttony and licentiousness stand in opposition to love. In the former we consume to meet our own desires. And in the latter we actually treat people as objects to be used for our pleasure. If you are using someone to meet your needs, you are not loving them.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 5

Posted: January 10th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 5

10.  If a man loves someone, he naturally makes every effort to be of service to that person. If, then, a man loves God, he naturally strives to conform to His will. But if he loves the flesh, he panders to the flesh.

I have several thoughts. First I’m reminded by the first sentence of Dallas Willard’s definition of love: To actively will the good of the beloved. (I’ve probably mangled it, but that’s how I remember it.) It’s on that point that modern Christian patriarchy (in both its hard and soft forms) utterly fails. Under that model, the man does not serve his wife and children. Ultimately, he expects them to serve him.

The next sentence flows straight from 1 John. Heck, it flows directly from Jesus.

Then Jesus said to those Jews who believed Him, “If you abide in My word, you are My disciples indeed. And you shall know the truth, and the truth shall make you free.” They answered Him, “We are Abraham’s descendants, and have never been in bondage to anyone. How can You say, ‘You will be made free’?” Jesus answered them, “Most assuredly, I say to you, whoever commits sin is a slave of sin. And a slave does not abide in the house forever, but a son abides forever. Therefore if the Son makes you free, you shall be free indeed. (John 8:31-36)

Today, you’ll most often see the excerpt “the truth shall make you free,” but that’s not at all what Jesus is saying. (In fact, ‘truth’ in that sense can often crush us, not make us free. Who can stand the complete and unvarnished truth about themselves at once?) Jesus has previously described himself as the truth and we see in the last part he rephrases his earlier statement to make it clear. If we love Jesus, if we abide in him, then we will truly be his followers, we will come to know him, and he will make us free.

We can instead become enamored with our mortal condition — focusing on the pleasures that flow from it rather than the pain. And we are easily enslaved so that we pander to the passions rather than loving others or God — actions which are intertwined and cannot be separated.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 4

Posted: January 5th, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 4

9. ‘No man has ever hated his own flesh’, says the Apostle (Eph. 5:29), but he disciplines it and makes it his servant (cf. 1 Cor. 9:27), allowing it nothing but food and clothing (cf. 1 Tim. 6:8), and then only what is necessary for life. In this way a man loves his flesh dispassionately and nourishes it and cares for it as a servant of divine things, supplying it only with what meets its basic needs.

If self-love as described the day before yesterday is a passion that opens the door for all passions, then this describes a dispassionate love for ourselves. Of course, I don’t live that way and I’m not sure I know many people who do. If there’s a spectrum, then I’m pretty sure I fall closer to the self-love St. Maximos described in the prior texts rather than the dispassionate love he describes above.


Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 3

Posted: January 3rd, 2012 | Author: | Filed under: St. Maximos the Confessor | Tags: , , , | Comments Off on Four Hundred Texts on Love (Third Century) 3

As I was diving back into St. Maximos’ Centuries on Love, I discovered that between the second and third posts on the third century, I had somehow jumped from his texts on love to a different collection of his theological texts. So I’m going to wind the clock back and pick up where I actually left off in the third century.

7. Overeating and gluttony cause licentiousness. Avarice and self-esteem cause one to hate one’s neighbor. Self-love, the mother of vices, is the cause of all these things.

8. Self-love is an impassioned, mindless love for one’s body. Its opposite is love and self-control. A man dominated by self-love is dominated by all the passions.

I thought it was important to keep these two texts together. Self-love in these texts describes an impassioned love of self. Remember, in this context, the passions are those things that rule us and which we suffer. I think a key description is as the opposite of self-control. Self-love in this sense, then, is the precondition that opens the door for all the passions.


Love of enemies and random thoughts after a Derek Webb house concert

Posted: December 3rd, 2011 | Author: | Filed under: Faith | Tags: , , , , , , , , , | Comments Off on Love of enemies and random thoughts after a Derek Webb house concert

I went with a friend (his CD is pretty good too — shameless friend plug) to a Derek Webb house concert tonight. Unlike many people who attend his concerts (from what I gather), I’m a latecomer to Christianity and never knew anything about Caedmon’s Call, whom I gather were popular in the CCM context. Instead I was introduced to Derek Webb by the aforementioned friend with his Mockingbird album. David Ramirez opened with a few songs and I was blown away by some of them. I’m looking forward to listening to the CD I bought. I loved the atmosphere of a house show. It’s much different than even a small venue staged show.

But this post isn’t exactly about the concert. In all places and all times, I have thoughts and ideas for something I could write (not necessarily a blog post) flit through my head. Many of them soon vanish. Some stick and keep bouncing around, at least for a while. I had a few such thoughts during the show. I won’t flesh them into full blog posts, but I decided I wanted to write briefly about at least one or two.

At one point Derek mentioned how instinctual it is, even from a very young age, to want to hit someone back  when they hit you. It’s in our blood, I believe is the way he put it. And Jesus’ command to love our enemies often makes no sense at all to us. I realized that’s the perfect description of the impact of what the Orthodox call ancestral sin. Because that instinctive desire to retaliate is tied to our need to protect our person and our identity, and ultimately that is tied to our mortality and our innate fear of that mortality. That permeates everything we think and do for as much of our lives as we can remember. It saturates our relationships and the whole world around us. We act as we do because we are enslaved by death.

Think about it. If I am not enslaved by my mortality, I have no innate or instinctual drive to strike back to protect myself. But it goes much deeper than that. We do not live in the perfect love and communion of the Trinity because of our fear of death. We encounter someone in need. Why don’t we meet that need? We ask, what will happen to me or to my family, if I meet that need? We cannot love the other because we are trapped, even if we believe we are free. That’s why the early church held all things in common and all gave freely so that none lacked. That’s a description of the sort of communion we understand the Trinity to have with each other. The Resurrected Christ had broken the gates of Hades/Sheol. He had crushed death. And their freedom was freedom from the slavery of death. They could freely give their resources to meet all needs because perfect love had driven out fear.

I also realized I so quickly connected to the patristic (and Orthodox) teachings on the passions because it truly is a part of my formation. I grew up with people around me ruled by things over which they had little or no control. Many of those people loved me and many of them never intentionally did anything to harm me. In fact, most of the time they loved me and acted accordingly. The problem is that when you are ruled by something, you simply cannot always place others first, even those you dearly love and to whom you wish to express the care flowing from that love. That which rules you, your passion, at times does so to the exclusion of everything else. It’s not that they don’t love. It’s that sometimes that which rules them blocks the effective expression of that love. And that can manifest in all sorts of ways.

So I’ve always understood ‘passions’ and their implications. It’s almost written in my DNA. A passion is something we suffer because it doesn’t just harm others. It hurts those it rules. Those subject to a passion cannot always do as they wish to do. Sometimes they do as they do not wish to do, and suffer as a result.

Christ offers freedom, and by freedom he means freedom from our universal bondage to death as well as freedom from the ruling passions we suffer. But it’s a freedom we must seek to the extent that we are able. If we fail to do so, even though mankind and creation have been freed by Christ, we will continue to live as slaves to the cruelest masters of all.