Concerning external asceticism and what practice is better and primary, know
this, Beloved Ones, that all the virtues are mutually bound to each other. Like
a spiritual chain, one is dependent upon the other: prayer to love, love to joy,
joy to meekness, meekness to humility, humility to service, service to hope,
hope to faith, faith to obedience, obedience to simplicity. And likewise, on the
opposite side, the vices are bound one to the other: hatred to anger, anger to
pride, pride to vainglory, vainglory to disbelief, disbelief to hardness of
heart, hardness of heart to carelessness, carelessness to sloth, sloth to acedia
or boredom, boredom to a lack of perseverance, a lack of perseverance to a love
of pleasure. And the other parts of vice similarly are interdependent. So also
on the good side the virtues are dependent upon each other and are
But the head of every good endeavor and the guiding force of right actions is
perseverance in prayer. By means of it we can daily obtain the rest of the
virtues by asking God for them. By this means are engendered in those deemed
worthy the fellowship of God’s holiness and of spiritual energy and the
attachment of the mind disposed toward the Lord in ineffable love. For the
person who daily forces himself to persevere in prayer is enflamed with divine
passion and fiery desire from a spiritual love toward God and he receives the
grace of the sanctifying perfection of the Spirit.
Question: Because certain ones sell
their possessions and set their slaves free and keep the commandments, although
they do not seek to receive the Spirit in this life, do they, living thus, not
enter into the Kingdom of Heaven?
This is a delicate topic. For some speak of one kingdom and one hell. We,
however, speak of many degrees and differences and measures, both in the kingdom
and in hell itself. 91 Just as the soul “ensouls” all the members and yet
operates in the brain and still moves the feet below it, so also the Godhead
contains all creatures, the heavenly and those under the abyss, and is
everywhere being filled up in creation, even though it is most transcendent
above creatures because it is infinite and beyond any comprehension. Therefore,
this Godhead is concerned with men, and it providentially guides all things
according to reason. And when some pray, not knowing what they seek, others
fast, while others persevere in service, God, being a just judge, gives the
reward to each one according to the measure of his faith. For what things they
do, they do out of fear of God. But not all of these are sons or kings or heirs.
In the world there are murderers, others are fornicators and others robbers. On
the other hand, there are those who distribute their goods to the poor. For both
of these groups the Lord has a concern and to those doing good he gives rest and
a reward. For there are superior and inferior degrees. And in the very light
itself and the glory there is a difference. And in hell itself and punishment
there appear poisoners and robbers and others who have committed lesser sins.
Those who say that there is only one kingdom and one hell and that there are not
degrees, speak wrongly. How many types of worldly people are now absorbed in
theaters and other disorderly things! And how many there are who only pray and
fear God! Thus on these and those alike God looks down with concern, and as a
just judge he prepares rest for these and for those others punishment.
Take the example of men who harness horses and drive chariots and race them
against each other. Each one strains to overcome and conquer his opponent.
Likewise, there is a contest going on in the heart of those who struggle, the
evil spirits wrestling with the soul, while God and the angels watch the
struggle. At each hour many new strategies are thought up by the soul and
likewise by the evil that is within. The soul has many hidden strategies which
it concocts and gives birth to hour by hour. And also evil itself has many
strategies and tricks and hourly gives birth to new ideas against the soul. For
the mind is a charioteer and harnesses the chariot of the soul as it holds the
reins of the thoughts. And so it competes against the chariot of Satan, which he
also has harnessed against the soul.
Question: If prayer is rest, how do
certain persons say that they cannot pray nor do they persevere in prayer?
Rest itself, if it abounds, produces compassion and other forms of service, such
as visiting the brethren, to serve them with the Word. Also nature itself wishes
to go and see the brethren to speak a word. For nothing thrown into the fire can
remain in its own nature, but necessarily it becomes fire. If you throw pebbles
into fire, they turn into a bit of lime. And if someone wishes to plunge
completely into the sea and to go out into the middle, he is completely
submerged and disappears from sight. But if someone goes in gradually by
degrees, he desires to come up again and to float on top and to get out of the
water at the harbor and to see other persons on land. So also in the spiritual
life one enters into a degree of grace and again he remembers his companions.
And nature itself wants to go off to the brethren to fulfill charity, to affirm
Question: How can the two things be in
the heart, both grace and sin?
Take the example of a fire outside a bronze vessel. When you put wood under it,
see, it becomes very hot and the inside of the vessel boils up and gets hot,
because the fire outside burns from beneath it. But if anyone should become
careless and not throw fire under it, the fire begins to become less hot and
nearly dies out. So also grace, the heavenly fire, is also within you. Hence if
you pray and give your thoughts to the love of Christ, see how you have thrown
under yourself the wood and your thoughts become fire and are immersed
completely in the desire for God. And even if the Spirit should withdraw as
though he were outside of you, still he is within you and he manifests himself
outside you. But if anyone is careless and gradually gives himself up either to
worldly affairs or to anxiety, once again evil comes and covers the soul and
begins to afflict the person. Then the soul remembers the former rest and begins
to be afflicted and to suffer continuously.
Again the mind is attentive to God. The former rest has begun to draw near it.
It begins to seek it with greater zeal. It says, “I beg of you, Lord!”
Little by little the fire is added to it and it enkindles and refreshes the
soul, as the hook gradually draws out the fish from the water. If it were not so
and man were not to taste the bitterness and death, how would he be able to
discern the bitter from the sweet and death from life and to have given thanks
to the life-giving Father and Son and Holy Spirit forever? Amen.