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Reading group: St Theophan, 'The path to salvation'


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#21 Rick H.

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Posted 05 November 2007 - 02:03 PM

'How Should We Live Then?': "Active Wisdom"





On the one hand I think the description of The Path as, "Very simple, direct, and true", comes from the way in which his book presents the spiritual life in a way that we in the west are more able to apply to our daily life. A large part of this must come from St Theophan's being closer to our time & culture.

On the other hand St Theophan's Russian is more difficult than that of many other Russian religious writers. I'm not sure but in his Russian one senses an educated and perhaps poetic mind also.

In Christ- Fr Raphael


Dear All,

Thanks to Father Raphael for the above, and yes, as he says, I agree, we find here in The Path, a presentation of the spiritual life, a manual of spiritual transformation (as indicated by the sub-title of the book) that provides clear application.

And, as we begin by looking at the introduction to this work, by the author, we see beginning in the second paragraph;


True, one may know man's final goal; communion with God. And one may describe the path to it; faith,and walking in the commandments, with the aid of divine grace. One need say in addition: here is the path--start walking!

This is easily said, but how to do it?


In the introduction there were two phrases that jumped out at me. "These were "a real life in the spirit of Christ" (21) and especially, "active wisdom." (21) And, while I normally attempt to identify an author's purpose and primary thesis he or she is presenting, and sometimes attempt to relate that purpose of thesis to the work of others in the field (viz. is he contradicting, supporting or building off the work of others?, I'm not sure that this would be such an easy task here. But, I think if pressed, I would point to the positioning and the imperative language of these two phrases in terms of his first or highest ranking principle. In the first paragraph of his introduction St. Theophan says, "The important thing for us is a real life in the spirit of Christ." In the fourth paragraph he firmly fixes:


But suppose someone has turned toward God, suppose he has come to love his law. is the very going toward God, the very walking on the path of Christ' law, already necessary and will it be successful merely because we desire it to be? No. Besides the desire, one must also have the strength and knowledge to act: one must have active wisdom.


I am not so sure that everything in this entire book cannot fall under what is being expressed here in these two phrases. especially the second, "active wisdom." I am fascinated by this expression and see the value here, in relation to his other principles that the author has laid down in the following pages. As it relates to the three stages that may be called: "1) Turning to God; 2) Purification or self-amendment; 3) Sanctification" (23), it seems the author's purpose is to describe this and determine its laws whereby the path of salvation is indicated (23), and in addition to provide guidance in these matters by showing;


1) how Christian life begins in us;
2) how it is perfected, ripened and strengthened; and
3) how it manifests itself in its perfection.


In his introduction, St. Theophan chooses to use three metaphors-one of a journey, a horticultural one, and a military metaphor. Speaking of the real life in the spirit of Christ, he places an early emphasis on "crossroads" and provides warnings for these so that we can be informed ahead of time knowing we will all encounter these. But, as he develops the life in Christ as a journey, we read also of "guideposts" along the "path," we read of "steps," "walking," so that the "traveler" may know the difference between the path indicated by the Lord, and 'the one that holds danger of losing his or her way--of going astray and perishing imagining himself saved.'

The second and third metaphors work together to show that this journey is not one that is easy and unconstrained. But, it is "labor of sweat--a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties according to the Christian standard.' It is a battle. Like a solider, he must take every step of land, even his own, from his enemies by means of warfare . . ."

But, all of this culminating at the end of St. Theophan's introduction he speaks of the third stage of the Life in Christ:


. . . in the third, the Lord comes, takes up his abode in his Heart, and communes with him. This state of blessed communion with God--the goal of all labors and ascetic endeavors. (24)


and, this takes my mind to the Gospel of John (viz. chaps. 12-15). I am also prompted to consider such passages in the Scriptures where the active voice is used in the Greek, and where the passive voice is used, as well as where the middle voice is used. Where I come from there are usually two camps, one which centers on the active, where they like to proclaim the Life in Christ is "ACTIVE!--ACTIVE!--ACTIVE!" And, the other camp which likes to proclaim the Life in Christ is "PASSIVE!--PASSIVE!--PASSIVE!" I wonder as we move along through this most excellent work of St. Theophan's if we could possibly keep this aspect in mind. Especially as it relates to our ascetic endeavors and labors. To be honest, I have become most interested in the passages of the Scriptures which utilize the middle voice--usually passages that speak of what we do for ourselves that yields a passive pose whereby we are positioned for a renewal by the Spirit of Life, one that we always experience passively as a result of "active wisdom."

I guess I will just go out on a limb here, maybe, and suggest that the author's purpose in The Path is to indicate the path to salvation and to provide guidance in this matter, and his primary thesis is in order for man to obtain man's final goal, communion with God, one must have active wisdom.

In Christ,
Rick

#22 Rick H.

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 12:46 PM

The Path to Salvation:
"A Manual of Spiritual Transformation"


Introduction
by St. Theophan


It is possible to describe the feelings and inclinations which a Christian must have, but this is very far from being all that is demanded for the ordering of one's salvation. The important thing for us is a real life in the spirit of Christ. But just touch on this, and how many perplexities are uncovered, how many guideposts are necessary, as a result, almost at every step!


True, one may know man's final goal: communion with God. And, one may describe the path to it: faith, and walking in the commandments, with the aid of divine grace. One need only say in addition: here is the path--start walking!


This is easily said, but how to do it? For the most part the very desire to walk is lacking. The soul, attracted by some passion or other, stubbornly repulses every compelling force and every call; the eyes turn away from God and do not want to look at Him. The law of Christ is not to one's liking; there is no disposition even to listen to it. One may ask, how does one reach the point when the desire is born to walk toward God on the path of Christ? What does one do so that the law will imprint itself on the heart, and man, acting according to this law, will act as if from himself, unconstrained, so that this law will not lie on him, but will as it were proceed from him?


But suppose someone has turned toward God, suppose he has come to love His law. Is the very going toward God, the very walking on the path of Christ's law, already necessary and will it be successful merely because we desire it to be?" No. Besides the desire, one must also have the strength and knowledge to act; one must have active wisdom.


Whoever enters on the true path of pleasing God, or who begins with the aid of grace to strive toward God on the path of Christ's law, will inevitably be threatened by the danger of losing his way at the crossroads, of going astray and perishing imagining himself saved. These crossroads are unavoidable because of the sinful inclinations and disorder of one's faculties which are capable of presenting things in a false light--to deceive and destroy a man. To this is joined the flattery of satan, who is reluctant to be separated from his victims and, when someone from his domain goes to the light of Christ, pursues him and sets every manner of net in order to catch him again--and quite often he indeed catches him.


Consequently it is necessary for someone who already has the desire to walk on the indicated path to the Lord to be shown in addition with all the deviations that are possible on this path, so that the traveler may be warned in advance about this, may see the dangers that are to be encountered, and may know how to avoid them.


These general considerations which are unavoidable to all on the path of salvation render indispensable certain guiding rules of the Christian life by which it should be determined: how to attain the saving desire for communion with God and the zeal to remain in it, and how to reach God without misfortune amidst all the crossroads that may be met on this path at every step--in other words, how to begin to live the Christian life and how, having begun to perfect oneself in it.


The sowing and development of the Christian life are different in essence from the sowing and development of natural life, owing to the special character of the Christian life and its relation to our nature. A man is not born a Christian, but becomes such after birth. The seed of Christ falls on the soil of a heart that is already beating. But since the naturally born man is injured and opposed by the demand of Christianity--while in a plant, for example, the beginning of life is the stirring of a sprout in the seed, an wakening of as it were dormant powers--the beginning of a true Christian life in a man is kind of recreation, an endowing of new powers, of life.


Further, suppose that Christianity is received as a law, i.e., the resolution is made to live a Christian life; this seed of life (the resolution) is not surrounded in a man by elements favorable to him. And besides this, the whole man--his body and soul--remain unadapted to the new life, unsubmissive to the yoke of Christ. Therefore from this moment begins in a man a labor of sweat--a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties, according to the Christian standard.


This is why, while growth in plants, for example, is a gradual development of faculties--easy, unconstrained--in a Christian it is a battle with oneself involving much labor, intense and sorrowful [sic], and he must dispose his faculties for something for which they have no inclination. Like a soldier, he must take every step of land, even his own, from his enemies by means of warfare, with the double-edged sword of forcing himself and opposing himself. Finally, after long labors and exertions, the Christian principles appear victorious, reigning with out opposition: the penetrate the whole composition of human nature, dislodging from it demands and inclinations hostile to themselves, and place it in a state of passionlessness and purity, making it worth of the blessedness of the pure in heart--to see God in themselves in sincerest communion with Him.


Such is the place in us of the Christian life. This life has three states which may be called: 1) Turning to God; 2) Purification or self-amendment; 3) Sanctification.


In the first stage a man turns from darkness to light, from the domain of satan to God; in the second, he cleanses the chamber of his heart from every impurity, in order to receive Christ the Lord Who is coming to him; in the third, the Lord comes, takes up his abode in his heart, and communes with him. This is the state of blessed communion with God--the goal of all labors and ascetic endeavors.


To describe all this and determine its laws will mean--to indicate the path to salvation.


Complete guidance in this matter takes a man standing on the crossroads of sin, leads him along the fiery path to purification, and leads him up to the degree of perfection attainable to him, according to his level of maturity in Christ. Thus, it should show:


1) how Christian life begins in us;
2) how it is perfected, ripened and strengthened; and
3) how it manifests itself in its perfection.



#23 Olympiada

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 10:25 PM

I also have this book, I purchased when I was visiting the monastery in Forestville. I have since put it on my shelf. Currently I am reading In God's Underground by Richard Wurmbrand, but it would be good to go back to The Path to Salvation. I have an icon of Saint Theophan on my wall that a former housemate gave me. It says that the education of children is the holiest work of them all. That is a consolation to me in my divorced motherhood.

#24 Celinda Grace

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 11:36 PM

Before I comment, thanks Rick for posting this. I hope you scanned it rather then spent the time typing all this.

One may ask, how does one reach the point when the desire is born to walk toward God on the path of Christ?


My question here has to do with beginnings. How can one strive to reach the point when the desire is born to walk toward God apart from the desire being there in the first place? None of us wastes time on things we do not at some level desire and if someone from the outside attempts to force us we will hate that thing all the more.

It seems then that God must first put the desire in before we can even reach the point where desire is born.

Can we then see this path as nurturing a growth in desire, or setting free a desire that is already there until it is indeed free?

#25 Celinda Grace

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Posted 06 November 2007 - 11:57 PM

his book presents the spiritual life in a way that we in the west are more able to apply to our daily life. A large part of this must come from St Theophan's being closer to our time & culture.


This reminds me of a quote I read recently from Fr. Alexander Schmemann.

“This does not mean, however, that theology operates in a cultural vacuum. For it is one thing to depend on the world and quite another to be related to it. ... In this sense, all genuine theology has always been pastoral, missionary and prophetic, and whenever it lost these dimensions, it became a mere intellectual game justly ignored by the "real" Church. The task of theology at any given moment is necessarily determined by the needs of the Church, and the first task of the theologian is always to discern and to accept these needs, to become aware of what the Church expects from him....

Everyone will probably agree that our theological task is determined primarily by the fact that, as theologians, we work within and for an Orthodox community which, for the first time in the long history of our Church, has to live in a non-Orthodox world, Western in its religious traditions, secularistic in its culture, and pluralistic in its "world view." As I tried to show elsewhere, this for Orthodoxy is an unprecedented situation, and it challenges the whole Church and consequently us, her theologians, with a set of problems unknown to the Orthodox communities of the "old world....

A spiritually alien culture makes Orthodoxy here a challenge, and the faith, if it is to be true to itself, must be consciously accepted, clearly understood in its implications for life, and constantly defended against the pressures of secularism."



I was looking through Andrew Murray’s The New Life recently and it reminded me that there are some apriori conditions that we might want to consider in regards this battle in the context of our society that St. Theophan may not have been dealing with as much.

Murray says,

“Two things hinder this power and the reception of the new spiritual life. The one is ignorance of its nature--its laws and workings. Man, even the Christian, cannot conceive of the new life which comes from God. It surpasses all of his thoughts. His own distorted thoughts of the way to serve and to please God--namely, by what he does and is--are deeply rooted in him. Although he believes that he understands and receives God's Word, he still thinks humanly and carnally on divine things. 5 God must give salvation and life. He must also give the Spirit to make us understand what He gives. He must point out the way to the land of Canaan. We must also, like the blind, be led by Him every day.

The young Christian must try to cherish a deep conviction of his ignorance concerning the new life, and of his inability to form correct thoughts about it. This will bring him to the meekness and to the childlike spirit of humility, to which the Lord will make His secret known.

There is a second hindrance in the way of faith. In the life of every plant and every animal and every child of God, there lies sufficient power by which it can become big. In the new life, God has made the most glorious provision of a sufficient power. With this power His child can grow and become all that he must be. Christ Himself is his life and his power of life. Yet, because this mighty life is not visible or cannot be felt, the young Christian often becomes doubtful. He then fails to believe that he will grow with divine power and certainty. He does not understand that the believing life is a life of faith. He must depend on the life that is in Christ for him, although he neither sees, feels, nor experiences anything.”


There are two things deeply ingrained in American culture that Murray is warning us of. -One arrogance of mind that thinks it can read a book and know, and that knowing we can then walk on our own. My husband recently took my son on his first driving lesson. He had explained beforehand all the controls. However, this ‘book knowledge’ did not help my son much when it came to actually using them to control the car. It will be a slow growth in experience that will make him a good driver, not reading books. (Yes, the car is still intact.:) )

The second is a scientific materialism that teaches us to depend on what is seen rather then what is unseen. In the world it causes doubt, but for most Christians once intellectual doubt has been overcome it still lingers as self-sufficiency and a works based mindset. We end up with faith in our own power to produce seen results rather then depending on God’s provision in a mystery. This mindset has been so ingrained in our psyche that it corrupts and renders ineffective the faith that comes with grace just as the passions do the same to the desire that comes with grace. Doubt and self-sufficiency are the scourges of secular culture that attack the mindset that attempts to trust in God’s loving sufficiency.

Elder Sophrony remarks,

“The more unshakeable the ascetic’s loyalty and trust in God, the greater will be the measure of his testing and the more complete his experience, which may reach the ultimate limits attainable by man.”



#26 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 10:55 AM

My question here has to do with beginnings. How can one strive to reach the point when the desire is born to walk toward God apart from the desire being there in the first place? None of us wastes time on things we do not at some level desire and if someone from the outside attempts to force us we will hate that thing all the more.

It seems then that God must first put the desire in before we can even reach the point where desire is born.

Can we then see this path as nurturing a growth in desire, or setting free a desire that is already there until it is indeed free?


It is not the desire to 'walk toward God' that gets us started but humility, however small. Many people want to know about God, but if their desire is not rooted in humility, then the desire is useless. Where there is even just the tiniest spark of humility, God is attracted to us and sets us on the path to Him.

#27 Rick H.

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Posted 07 November 2007 - 03:42 PM

Dear Celinda,

Maybe one of these days I will learn how to use my scanner for things like internet posting. Otherwise, it is interesting to me that you zeroed in on what you have because this attracted my attention as well. Actually, In the early stages of this book (the abc's) and when I read St. Theophan's explanation that we are *not* talking about an awakening of dormant powers (as in the way a seed is regenerated or germinates) in the beginning of the Christan life; but, instead of an endowing of new powers . . . I thought to myself, oh man, I just wasted my money on this book. But, both after finishing the book [and seeing the value as a whole] and not desiring to throw the baby out with the bath water, what seemed like a miserable confusion of theology and metaphors to me here is not such a big deal anymore. So possibly you can see in relation to your question in your first post, I agree with your concluding question.

And, those do seem to be two key words that St. Theophan uses in his short introduction to the The Path--'Beginning' and 'Desire.' He uses the word 'begin' seven times, and he uses the word 'desire' six times in his introduction.

Possibly, Celinda we may find some additional insight to your question(s) whenever we move into Part I of this work. As we turn to the next page in this book St. Theophan asks in Part I "How does the Christian Life Begin in Us?" On this my second trip through the book, I will be looking for any pointers as to why he makes the distinction that he does above about seeds and awakening of dormant powers as opposed to an endowing of new powers. He clearly says it is not like a seed, not an awakening of dormant powers--this makes no sense to me, I have not read this kind of thinking anywhere else before--from a non-Calvinist anyway.

Oh, whatever, I'll just keep going here . . . look at his expression of how the seed of Christ falls on the soil of a heart that is already beating. Again a mixing of metaphors in a short span of the intro that is not helpful, but I bring this up because also here in his short introduction St. Theophan speaks of purification or "self-amendment" (23). Here he suggests that we amend ourselves like we might amend the soil in our gardens in our back yard--to alter the nature, composition, and make-up of the soil or the self (or as stated earlier the heart as soil, 'the soil of the heart').

To this the expression "with the aid of grace," which is used twice (21-22) which is rightly used to speak of both the beginning and the way; but, which seems to set the stage for a presentation of a nurturing, an [progressive?] awakening (which is how he says things don't work).

So I have a question or two also about what is being said in this short introduction. Possibly, what I perceive to be a mixing of metaphors and a confusion, in the introduction, can be attributed to the translator(s) here. But, possibly as we move on this work we can untangle some of this. St. Theophan is so systematic in his approach and overall thought units (viz. beginnings, desire, and deception/self-deception) and he picks right back up with these on the next page in Part I.1, so I think I will see at least a partial clearing in the fog, now that I'm looking for some specifics on this run through.

As well I will be looking for any writing on the subject of 'freedom' as it relates to "our desires," just as you have said Celinda, on this run through. Although, I must admit that a couple references to this come to mind at the present from Part 3.



In Christ,
Rick

#28 Rick H.

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 10:33 AM

When Desire is Useless

Dear All,

When I read Andreas's post above, as he said, ". . . then the desire is useless," I was reminded of St. Theophan's expression of an "active wisdom" and the immediately following paragraph dealing with deception and self-deception. St. Theophan has used the "crossroads" in a couple of different ways, one as an initial event, in the beginning, one that is necessary for complete guidance (24). And, he has shown how there are subsequent crossroads that we all will encounter on our journey (22). Regarding the ongoing crossroads, he says:


Whoever enters on the true path of pleasing God, or who begins with the aid of grace to strive toward God on the path of Christ's law, will inevitably be threatened by the danger of losing his way at the crossroads, of going astray and perishing imagining himself saved.


In my reading of the saints and the fathers, humility, as Andreas says, is very important in the initiation (and development) of the Christian Life; however, it is the Gift of Discretion that seems to be promoted as the sine qua non--without that which IT could not be, that which is indispensable, that which is essential. And, what are we talking about here as we would consider the Gift of Discretion as promoted from within the framework of Eastern Orthodoxy, or as another may use the term "the Bishop within?" What does St. Theophan mean when he says, "Besides the desire, one must also have the strength and knowledge to act; one must have active wisdom."

I think it is interesting that he follows up this imperative straightway with a thought unit about deception and the Old Deluder (paragraphs 5 - 7 in the above Introduction). And, what is the first thing that he chooses to speak about on the first page, of Part I, in Chapter 1? Again, it is deception and self-deception. And, come to think of it Andreas, this speaks back to one of the first conversations I ever had with you on Monachos, one about 'eating all your peas.' As St. Theophan says in the beginning of his book here (27), "One can be counted as a Christian and not be a Christian. This everyone knows." He says:


it is not yet a decisive sign of true life in Christ if one calls himself a Christian and belongs to the Church of Christ. Not every one that saith unto Me, Lord, Lord, shall enter the kingdom of heaven. (Mat. 7:21). And, they are not all Israel, which are of Israel (Rom. 9:6). One can be counted as a Christian and not be a Christian. This everyone knows.


And, then he moves away from this only to return at the end of Chapter 1 in the following:


Having a firm basis in such an understanding, one may easily conclude that a cold fulfillment of the rules of the Church, just like routine in business, which is established by our calculating mind, or like correct and dignified behavior and honesty in conduct, is not a decisive indicator that the true Christian life is present in us. All this is good, but as long as it does not bear in itself the spirit of life in Christ Jesus, it has no value at all before God. Such things would then be like soulless statues. Good clocks also work correctly; but who will say that there is life in them? It is the same thing here. Often thou hast a name that thou livest, and are dead in reality (Apoc. 3:1).

This good order in one's conduct more than anything else can lead one into deception.


So as we may consider the seat of humility in the beginning and along the way, as well as even the rules of the Church, I think St. Theophan is pointing to an active wisdom as being what determines what is useless, or as he says, what "has no value at all before God."

We should not be afraid of the crossroads. As St. Theophan says, "These crossroads are unavoidable;" (22) but, we should not be afraid of them.

In Christ,
Rick

#29 Nina

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 10:51 PM

In my reading of the saints and the fathers, humility, as Andreas says, is very important in the initiation (and development) of the Christian Life; however, it is the Gift of Discretion that seems to be promoted as the sine qua non--without that which IT could not be, that which is indispensable, that which is essential. And, what are we talking about here as we would consider the Gift of Discretion as promoted from within the framework of Eastern Orthodoxy, or as another may use the term "the Bishop within?"
In Christ,
Rick



Yes, holy discernment has an important place along many other gifts in Orthodoxy. We might never acquire it though. Not everyone has it. Like with other gifts of the Holy Spirit this one also needs a lot of humility and spiritual labor to be acquired. An important figure that plays a very significant role in this case is the one's spiritual father. St. Theophan emphasizes the necessity of a spiritual father (guide) - in the same book which we are discussing here- in pages 211-220.

Saint Theophan states that inside everyone there is a fog in a "greater or lesser density depending on his former corruption" (p.213). This fog may not allow us to see, or it may distort our vision. Therefore we need a spiritual father (guide) because as Saint Theophan emphasizes: "Only the experienced eye will be able to discern and explain what is going on." (p.213)

Therefore the "Bishop within" (I am not sure what this phrase, that Owen and you introduced in the other thread, means) does not appear in what St. Theophan writes. Even more importantly, Saint Theophan explains that there is a fog (and not a Bishop) within everyone. There might be people like St. Mary of Egypt and others, "that were led by God's grace into perfection" whom St. Theophan also mentions in this book, however he says: "But such a path [like the one of Saint Mary's of Egypt] never was and never can be for everyone. It belonged and belongs to ones specially chosen by God." (p.212)

#30 Celinda Grace

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Posted 08 November 2007 - 11:23 PM

It is not the desire to 'walk toward God' that gets us started but humility, however small. Many people want to know about God, but if their desire is not rooted in humility, then the desire is useless.


Reading this I thought what we do we mean by humility as it exists in our relationship to God and what blocks our desire? Every conversion experience that I have ever heard of starts with a recognition of our own need and a belief that God can fulfill that need and a willingness to receive from God. Desire is born in the sense of our need and humility is being willing to except what is given rather then what we want ro think right.

For me this puts some feet on what the saint is saying

But since the naturally born man is injured and opposed by the demand of Christianity...

And besides this, the whole man--his body and soul--remain unadapted to the new life, unsubmissive to the yoke of Christ.


Basically... we come to God with our need for saving and then we find out the cure is not to our liking. When we are faced with this new life that is strange and uncomfortable in its demands the will rebels and turns away and we must make the constant effort of being willing to be remade.

#31 Rick H.

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 02:23 AM

Dear Nina,

You see this don't you? :) :) :)

It's all related. Well where to start? Hmmm . . . I know, how 'bout at the beginning! ;) When you say:


Yes, holy discernment has an important place along many other gifts in Orthodoxy. We might never acquire it though. Not everyone has it. Like with other gifts of the Holy Spirit this one also needs a lot of humility and spiritual labor to be acquired. An important figure that plays a very significant role in this case is the one's spiritual father. St. Theophan emphasizes the necessity of a spiritual father (guide) - in the same book which we are discussing here- in pages 211-220.


I will share with you that I have been influenced by those who have written on the Royal Path as it relates to the Gift of Discernment/Discretion. For example, in Cassian's Conferences, the Second Conference of Abbot Moses [Chap. 2] we see this Gift as "the greatest prize of divine grace," and "the most important of gifts." In a discourse of the blessed Antony on discretion and what it "alone" can give a monk we read:


For when the works of the above mentioned virtues were abounding in them, discretion alone was wanting, and allowed them not to continue even to the end.


The blessed Antony makes it clear, these other virtues are "needful and helpful to those who are thirsting for God;" however, as he also says, "But, countless accidents and the experience of many people will not allow us to make the most important of these gifts [discernment/discretion] consist in them."

And, when you share in the following:


Saint Theophan states that inside everyone there is a fog in a "greater or lesser density depending on his former corruption" (p.213). This fog may not allow us to see, or it may distort our vision. Therefore we need a spiritual father (guide) because as Saint Theophan emphasizes: "Only the experienced eye will be able to discern and explain what is going on." (p.213)

Therefore the "Bishop within" (I am not sure what this phrase, that Owen and you introduced in the other thread, means) does not appear in what St. Theophan writes. Even more importantly, Saint Theophan explains that there is a fog (and not a Bishop) within everyone. There might be people like St. Mary of Egypt and others, "that were led by God's grace into perfection" whom St. Theophan also mentions in this book, however he says: "But such a path [like the one of Saint Mary's of Egypt] never was and never can be for everyone. It belonged and belongs to ones specially chosen by God." (p.212)


part of me wants to hold off here, and still try the reading group approach where we work our way through the book section by section; but, maybe we can have multiple conversations without this thing blowing apart? I guess we can try anyway . . . so I would like to suggest that one needs to be able to read St. Theophan like some other authors that I love to read. And, what I mean by that is to be able to take what he is saying as a whole. Otherwise, he might appear to be contridicting himself to some [not me]. For example, as you have well shared that St. Theophan says we need a spiritual father because only the experienced eye will be able to discern and explain what is going on (213), St. Theophan also says about discerning the fog of spiritual warfare:


The best devisor of the rules of warfare is every individual for himself. (297)


Specifically, he says:


In general about the rules of warfare it must be noticed that they are essentially nothing other than an application of all weapons to individual cases, and that is why it is impossible to describe them all. The business of inner warfare is incomprehensible and mysterious. The cases of it vary utterly, and the warring individuals are too different. What will overcome one person is indifferent to another.

Therefore it is decisively impossible to make the same set of rules for everyone. The best devisor of the rules of warfare is every individual for himself. Experience is the best teacher--one only needs to have the zealous desire to conquer himself . . . and in this work his only guides will be his own good sense and his dedication to God. (297)


and, he goes on with this in a super way as he speaks of the ancient underground catacombs as it relates to the inner path of Christian life in each individual . . . but I am getting tired of typing here. Possibly, you can read this for yourself and follow St. Theophan as he works his way to the conclusion that:


Here each one walks alone, though he be surrounded by a multitude of rules. The promptings of the heart, and especially the hints of grace, are his only constant, undeceiving and inseparable guides in his war with himself.


And, about the expression "the Bishop within" as it relates to the thinking of St. Theophan . . . Hmmm . . . I guess, ultimately, we are back to being at the mercy of Owen on this one.



In Christ,
Rick

#32 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 10:39 AM

There is a range of Gifts of the Holy Spirit, and some, such as Discernment - and, we might add, Apatheia - are advanced and we may never attain them, at least not fully. But we must not be spiritually ambitious! The humility which is needed to attract the grace which will lead us on the Path ('The Way' as it was called in ancient times, I believe) is the acknowledgement of the need for salvation. As God is humble, He is attracted to humility. If a person has a sense of the need for salvation, he obviously seeks the source of salvation. The Holy Spirit co-operates with the person, takes him by the hand as it were, and brings him to Christ. Where St Theophan writes of the ardour and fire of zeal, I read this zeal as the motivation which keeps us going through what the saint says is 'a work of much labor and much pain'. St Theophan (bottom of p. 31, top of p. 32) gives us the classic Orthodox idea of synergy where he writes that the action of grace does not occur without our free will. St Theophan articulates for me the great danger of self-satisfaction. I read the books (carelessly), say the prayers (inattentively) and go to church (sometimes from duty) but I feel guilty of 'dreaming about a Christian life'. Only with the help of grace can we manage as we ought, says the saint. Baptism prepares us but throughout our life we need repentance to renew us. 'The Mysteries which primarily refer to the beginning of the Christian life are Baptism and repentance' (p. 35). Repentance is a new beginning each time we confess and receive absolution. Baptism, true, removes the dominion of sin but does not exterminate the power of sin, and so we always need repentance. This theme is taken further in Part Two, Chapter 1. St Theophan does mention this, but we surely recall that Our Lord began and ended His earthly mission with the call to repentance (Mark 1:15; Luke 24:47).

#33 Rick H.

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 12:44 PM

Andreas makes a very good point here when he says about some of the gifts:


. . . and we may never attain them, at least not fully.


As St. Theophan says in his introduction to The Path:


Complete guidance in this matter takes a man standing on the crossroads of sin, leads him along the fiery path to purification, and leads him up to the degree of perfection attainable to him, according to his level of maturity in Christ. (24)


We see some of what Celinda was referring to about conversion experiences/conversionism here too as it relates to desire, repentance, and crossroads. I agree fully with what she has said about this, and there is more to add in Chapter I of Part 1 from the saint when he talks about "a very noticeable moment" (27), but that for another time.

But, for now, I want to simply close with an acknowledgement of what Andreas has contributed here. I feel that this is a good way of knowing here as it relates to one's own "level of maturity in Christ," or as the blessed Antony concludes about the royal road, one avoids extremes and "foolish presumption" by means of working within "the bounds of moderation." It is not walking wisely to "transgress the bounds of due moderation in foolish presumption" as it relates to the gifts or the path.

In Christ,
Rick


PS Andreas, thanks also for your references to Part 1, Chaps. 1 -2, I hope you are available when we look at these again.

#34 Nina

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 01:24 PM

Dear Nina,

You see this don't you? :) :) :)

It's all related. Well where to start? Hmmm . . . I know, how 'bout at the beginning! ;) When you say:

I will share with you that I have been influenced by those who have written on the Royal Path as it relates to the Gift of Discernment/Discretion. For example, in Cassian's Conferences, the Second Conference of Abbot Moses [Chap. 2] we see this Gift as "the greatest prize of divine grace," and "the most important of gifts." In a discourse of the blessed Antony on discretion and what it "alone" can give a monk we read:

The blessed Antony makes it clear, these other virtues are "needful and helpful to those who are thirsting for God;" however, as he also says, "But, countless accidents and the experience of many people will not allow us to make the most important of these gifts [discernment/discretion] consist in them."


Rick I do not see anything. :) We were taught these things from the beginning. If only I could have attained 0.1% of what I was taught. Actually recently I expressed my surprise in this forum, that we never hear about holy discernment. Acknowledging that we do not have it, and who possesses it, is a very significant moment in the spiritual path. Remember this is extremely important while choosing a spiritual father.

Also I did not want to leap ahead in the book, but the term you brought here from another thread, the "bishop within" is a confusing statement and it will be appreciated if you define the term for all. Also there were mentioning of other authors and books in the recent posts here, so I do not see the problem of quotes from the same author and the book we discuss. But if you set the rule that we should only look at the part of the book you decide, then there is no place for terms from other threads and other books and other authors. Be strict with yourself first so we students follow. ;) Although you might have a hard time because I am not a follower. ;)

Just as a clarification:
St. Theophan does not contradict himself. When you bring as an example from his words:

In general about the rules of warfare it must be noticed that they are essentially nothing other than an application of all weapons to individual cases, and that is why it is impossible to describe them all. The business of inner warfare is incomprehensible and mysterious. The cases of it vary utterly, and the warring individuals are too different. What will overcome one person is indifferent to another.

Therefore it is decisively impossible to make the same set of rules for everyone. The best devisor of the rules of warfare is every individual for himself. Experience is the best teacher--one only needs to have the zealous desire to conquer himself . . . and in this work his only guides will be his own good sense and his dedication to God. (297)


You leave out -through ellipsis in the above quote- a very important part of what St. Theophan says:

The first ascetics did not study from books, but nevertheless they represent the very image of conquerors. Furthermore one should not rely too much on these rules; they represent only eternal sketches. What makes up the essence of the matter each will know only through experience, when he begins to actually wage war. And in his work...

(p. 297)

First as you can see here St. Theophan mentions the name ascetics. Therefore a certain spiritual degree is needed to have been attained. Second, "wage war" is not for beginners. Of course beginners have battles against the enemy (devil). But war and waging war is something more advanced. Third, when the Saint speaks about conquering one's self, and the individual being the best devisor, and his good sense etc. these are what we do when we for example go to confession to our spiritual father, when we purge the sins. We conquer ourselves by going to confession and everything St. Theophan mentions is what is needed to go and confess to our spiritual father. But for those advanced those words mean something else. Remember in the page you quote he says: "The rules of warfare are not the same for all." (p.297)

#35 Celinda Grace

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 02:03 PM

Also there were mentioning of other authors and books in the recent posts here, so I do not see the problem of quotes from the same author and the book we discuss. But if you set the rule that we should only look at the part of the book you decide, then there is no place for terms from other threads and other books and other authors. Be strict with yourself first so we students follow. ;) Although you might have a hard time because I am not a follower. ;)


Our Sunday school class had spent a year and a half going through the book of John and they were still only in Chapt 17 when Mike and I left in Sept. We tended to wander all over the Bible for any given vs in John. It does build a wholistic view.

so I would like to suggest that one needs to be able to read St. Theophan like some other authors that I love to read. And, what I mean by that is to be able to take what he is saying as a whole.


We did however try to stick with the particular topic at hand. (Although rabbit trails were common.) Since no author is sufficient in themselves I think it can help clarify things to bring in other Fathers on the same subject as well as look at what the saint himself says on that subject later on. The former gives a depth and balance not available in any one author.

It seems to me that there are such a multiplicity of subjects in the intro we could spend two years just on it. Almost all these things get covered again in more depth in the book itself. Are we game to start Chapt 1? It goes into more depth in the whole issue of desire.

#36 Nina

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 02:11 PM

Our Sunday school class had spent a year and a half going through the book of John and they were still only in Chapt 17 when Mike and I left in Sept. We tended to wander all over the Bible for any given vs in John. It does build a wholistic view.


Totally agreed! But I do not like to be the scapegoat. ;)

#37 Rick H.

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 02:12 PM

***Note to readers: Sorry folks, I wrote this one while Nina and Celinda wrote their posts. Looks like we have one of those active threads on our hands here. I think would could stay in the intro for two years too (or longer :)


As Celinda has written:


My question here has to do with beginnings. How can one strive to reach the point when the desire is born to walk toward God apart from the desire being there in the first place? None of us wastes time on things we do not at some level desire and if someone from the outside attempts to force us we will hate that thing all the more.

It seems then that God must first put the desire in before we can even reach the point where desire is born.

Can we then see this path as nurturing a growth in desire, or setting free a desire that is already there until it is indeed free?


I think firstly, of the word "conjuncture" as 'a critical combination of events or circumstances.'

And I think of the first four paragraphs of St. Theophan's introduction (especially his conjunctions).' Look at the word "but" three times in the first three paragraphs. There is a kind of 'yeah. . . but' way of speaking here. I think the saint is directly addressing a need here. I love this. He is saying, yes, we can describe the feelings and inclinations which a Christian must have, we can know man's final goal, and we can describe the path to IT, and we can ultimately say, here is the path--start walking! But, at the end of the day, this is found to be very lacking. This is very far from being all that is demanded for the ordering of one's salvation. As a result of this how many perplexities are uncovered[!] and while this is easy to say, what are we saying? Look at that third paragraph please, he says three times here, "but how to do it?"; "how does one reach the point"?; "What does one do?"

The saint says about desire (21), "For the most part the very desire to walk is lacking,." he says "there is no disposition even to listen to it." And, listen to this please as he follows that up by explaining that the soul stubbornly repulses:


every compelling force and every call


and as we may consider our own paths/journeys, and the "guideposts" that are necessary, and the many "perplexities" that are uncovered here in Celinda's question(s), to not let this writing of compelling forces and calls get past us is critical! There must be an active wisdom[!] as the saint says. And, this is not something to transcend here as it relates to his choice of the word active. There can be no 'complete guidance', no understanding, no maturing and growing in Christ if this is not present. So as it relates to St. Theophan's writing of 'crossroads' and 'boundary markers' that lead one up to the degree of perfection attainable to him (according to his maturing in Christ), it is clear that the questions are asked and answered at the same time in Celinda's post.

And, even beyond desire (which 'alone' is not enough to bring a successful conclusion to the whole matter [21]), St. Theophan says, one must have the "strength and knowledge to act; one must have an active wisdom." Because when these crossroads are presented as conjunctures in our individual lives void of this personal knowing there will be no freedom but only continued detours and bondage in varying degrees. St. Theophan speaks well in the imperative here as he attempts to offer "complete guidance" to us.

In Christ,
Rick

#38 Rick H.

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 02:43 PM

Dear Nina,

When you said:

You leave out -through ellipsis in the above quote- a very important part of what St. Theophan says:


which is:

The first ascetics did not study from books, but nevertheless they represent the very image of conquerors. Furthermore one should not rely too much on these rules; they represent only eternal sketches. What makes up the essence of the matter each will know only through experience, when he begins to actually wage war. And in his work...


I wanted that in there last night, but I was just getting tired of typing (and my post was already too long as usual), but this really drives the point home of what he is saying in this part of his book, in fact if there was only going to be one part of this book that a person would read, I would want this section (297) to be it!


And, as you say in the following:

First as you can see here St. Theophan mentions the name ascetics. Therefore a certain spiritual degree is needed to have been attained.


I would like to share that I see this as being very problematic for many reasons--way too many assumptions. Possibly, in the meantime the following response from Father Raphael to Petru Voda will be helpful:

I guess the question arises though because of the degree of monastic obedience and asceticism. The laity rightfully ask to what degree they should be following this also?

The answer I think is, 'to the degree that is right for them'. At first sight this might seem like a lot less than a monastic. But if pursued faithfully it could well be that it is actually as great as anything offered by monasticism.


but this one might blow apart our look at St. Theophan's book here, so possibly this is not the time or place for this. This would be great for another thread, though, just as you have proposed it . . . "Spiritual Degrees" or maybe even "Spiritual Degrees?"

And, as far as Part 1 Chapter I goes, I am game.

I'll quit posting for awhile now . . . ;)

In Christ,
Rick

#39 Father David Moser

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 03:20 PM

And I think of the first four paragraphs of St. Theophan's introduction (especially his conjunctions).' Look at the word "but" three times in the first three paragraphs. There is a kind of 'yeah. . . but' way of speaking here.


Rick,

While I don't necessarily disagree with your conclusions, I do think that we have to be very cautious about this over-analysis of textual style. The original text was written in Russian and St Theophan was not the translator. There is more than one word in Russian that can be translated "but" and each has its own shade of meaning - so to make a point out of his use of a single word can be risky without actually returning to the Russian text.

Secondly, because it is a translation from the Russian, one must take into account the differences in speaking/writing styles between the two languages. In Russian, "run on" sentences are not uncommmon and have no special stylistic implications, while in English, sentences tend to be more concise and a "run on" is considered to be either a styistic "error" or a device used to convey a certain emphasis to the topic. So trying to read English language conventions into St Theophan's writing style may be misleading.

As I said, I don't necessarily disagree with your comments - in fact I haven't really taken the time yet to read them in depth (not enough coffee - surely you understand that - and not enough prayer - I haven't been to matins yet) but I just wanted to express a small caution for looking for meaning where there may be none other than the differences between Russian and English.

Fr David Moser

#40 Rick H.

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Posted 09 November 2007 - 03:32 PM

Dear Father David,

Point well-made and well-taken. Whatever you are drinking, make mine a double! :)

Thank you.

In Christ,
Rick




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