By Abbot Gavril
Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father
which is in heaven is perfect.
God created man by His image and in His likeness.
This is the basic principle why God created man: man was created by the image and in the likeness of God. So: perfect, by the image of God; yet not completely perfect, but as a potential, as the beginning of his (man’s) perfection to the likeness of God. In paradise man lived according to his nature, in constant union and conversation with his Creator and God. Man unceasingly savoured the uncreated immaterial Divine energies - that is, the grace of the Holy Spirit.
On Creation and Fall (Mind and Heart)
The heart is the center of the psycho-physical being of man. The essence of the mind is in the heart. When God created man, his mind dwelt in the heart, performing there the unceasing mind-and-heart prayer - that is, man unceasingly communicated with God. This natural relationship was unbreakable all until Adam’s fall into sin. Namely, the moment Adam listened to the devil’s advise, he broke the relationship i.e. the union with God and became a communicant of the devil. This is when the split in man’s person came about. Namely, it is then that the natural relationship between the mind and heart was broken and the mind went out of the heart. The heart became impassioned and captured by the passions, and the mind’s energy became darkened. It is therefore that Adam fell from sin to sin. From then on man has been in perpetual struggle for restoration of his original nature and of the continual union with God.
There are three stages in spiritual life:
Purification of the heart from passions
Illumination of the mind
Deification of man’s entire person
These three stages differ in their essence, but they also mutually intertwine and condition each other. The more the heart is purified from the passions, the more the mind is illumined and man’s person deified. Each of these stages has its own characteristics.
As we have already said, after man’s falling away from God, he became ruled by the passions. Man’s principle passion is SELFLOVE.
Selflove is divided into three main sub-passions:
Love of glory - Vainglory
Love of pleasure – Self-indulgence
Love of money – Avarice
Vainglory is a passion of the mind, and it is: pride, vanity, desire for power, high opinion of oneself i.e. conceit…
Self-indulgence is a passion of the heart and it comprises all the various physical passions and pleasures: fornication of any kind, drug addiction, alcoholism, indulgence in eating and drinking, and all kinds of hedonism.
Avarice is the passion of sick possession of earthly treasures, manifested through theft, lying, deceit, not paying the workers their due, all kinds of gambling…
So, after we had fallen we became slaves to the passions and they have reigned in our heart ever since. In order to be saved and to restore our normal and original nature i.e. in order to restore our union with God, we must strive to purify our heart from the passions and make room for God in it. In this, not small, struggle it is an imperative for us to have our own spiritual father who has previously passed these stages in the spiritual life, has purified his heart from the passions and has attained an illumined mind - or, if not so, at least one who is striving in this struggle – and we should place ourselves under obedience to him completely, with greatest possible faith and trust. The relationship between the spiritual father and the spiritual child should be mutually loving and personal. Both of them should put up with each other for the sake of love. The spiritual child does this because he/she voluntarily submits to the spiritual father into obedience; and the spiritual father as a good shepherd must take all upon himself for the sake of his spiritual child’s salvation.
In this struggle there are three basic rules of spiritual life:
Non-identification with one’s thoughts, desires and feelings
Intensive physical struggle until the moment of the opening of the heart
These three basic rules have their own opposites, and these are:
Judging and condemnation
Inconsistent struggle in moments when grace withdraws
The sin comes about in this way. At first the enemy i.e. devil acts through a thought or a suggestion, then, if we are careless, do not pray continuously and with attention, and do not reject the first thought but rather answer the thought through a dialogue with it. However this thought is not yet a sin. We can still accept or reject it. If we accept it, and that means we agree with it, then we sin with a thought. This accepted thought further on develops into a desire. And now we already want to fulfill the sinful thought; still, in this situation too we can come to our senses and reject it, but if we identify ourselves with the desire the thought then develops into a feeling, which is a higher degree of captivity; still, from this state too we can find a way out because we have not yet sinned with a deed, although the chances for it are now much great. In the end, if we have a situation created to fulfill the thought in action, we fall into a sin with a deed. A several times repeated sin gives birth to a passion and our captivity to it. Since our heart is impassioned and the mind darkened for Divine truths, we cannot even tell the difference between thoughts - which one is good and which bad. Therefore it is necessary that we tell all our thoughts, desires and feelings to our spiritual father; and he, being experienced in spiritual life, will give us the right answer. If, contrary to this, we live in mistrust and disobedience, we sin even more.
The second rule is proper confession, and its opposite – judging and condemnation. When we go to make a confession we should tell the state and the reaction of our heart during the temptation and after it. This means: I tell what I sinned in respect to God and my fellowman, not what the other one did – he is the one to tell his/her sin at his confession. So, during the confession we must not blame the other one, but ourself. The proper thought here is: It is all my fault. This is what we should think also at the moment of temptation and we should immediately start saying the Jesus prayer - fighting the flood of thoughts, desires and feelings, which are engendered by the temptation and by our sinful heart. At the confession we should briefly describe the incident and confess the state of our heart (my love chilled, I became infuriated, I already devised a plan how to avenge, I felt hatred, and alike…)
Our heart should always be opened to God so that we can let in all that is necessary for our salvation, although it may seem to us illogical, incorrect and contrary to our opinion. There is yet another big obstacle in spiritual life: creation of so called parallel relationships – a kind of a vicious diabolical circle. When a thought enters within us then we, rather than confess it to our spiritual father, “confess” to our brother, sister. And in this way that thought captures us in that vicious diabolic circle, which if not broken up, will lead us to delusion and conceit and will push us into hell.
And finally, all until our heart is captured by the passions, we should also practice physical feats as a means to its (heart’s) purification, because the daily feats - as are fasting, praying out loud, getting up early for the Liturgy, the daily prayerful rule etc. - contribute to our humility and destroy our greatest passion, PRIDE. We should force ourselves to this at all times: both when we feel grace and power and in the moments of absence of grace. Moreover, in the second case, when we do not have the grace, that struggle is better. And after we have purified our heart from the passions, the physical struggle is not that important, because then the mind, in a way natural to it, descends into the heart and here performs the unceasing mind-and-heart Jesus prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. And therefore the mind needs greater peace and concentration, so that it can concentrate on the prayer. And all until this happens, the physical struggle is necessary.