On Virtues and their Opposite Passions
And that the World of which the Devil is Prince does not refer to God’s Creation,
but to Those who subject themselves to the Devil by their Misuse of Creation
1. WHATEVER you sow in cultivated ground, you reap the same. If you plant fruit trees, or sow wheat, barley or some other useful crop, the earth brings them forth and they grow and are fruitful. But if the land is left untilled and unsown, it sprouts useless plants, mostly the thorns and thistles mentioned in the curse pronounced against us (Gen. 3:18). Even if a tree happens to grow, it will most probably have no fruit, be useless and full of thorns. It is the same with the soul. Whatever attitudes you instill in it, you will receive the same back. If you keep company with good people, listen to spiritual teaching and follow it, putting its precepts into practice, your soul cultivates virtues and becomes useful to God, to others, and to yourself. But if you delight in bad company and do not heed spiritual teaching, or even regard it as trivial, your soul turns wild and out of control, sprouts evil passions, and yields the stings and thorns of its own and the body’s death, namely, sins.
2. In the beginning, as you all know, the serpent which originated evil stung man through sin, made him mortal, threw him out of paradise and brought him into this fleeting, painful world. Now, unless we hasten through repentance to heal the wounds he has inflicted, he will dispatch us to everlasting punishment and hell-fire. Just as savage animals and reptiles lurk in wild woods and thorny thickets, so this evil dragon, the great universal beast, dwells, according to Job, under the various trees of pleasure (Job 40:21 Lxx), and, he says, destruction runs in front of him (Job 41: 14 Lxx). Because I long for you all to be out of reach of this destruction, and would do anything to achieve this, I labour for your sake with words and spiritual teaching, brethren, on a daily basis for those who approach me privately, and also publicly for everyone in church, as the opportunity arises. This instruction cuts down evil’s trees, forces open sin’s depths, blunts the goads of wickedness, triumphs over the dragon – the source of iniquity – shows up the straight path, and bestows saving knowledge.
3. Christ’s Church, especially here in this great city, includes not only persons who are simple and lacking in formal education, but also people who are wise and cultivated, both by nature and through the study of secular disciplines and the teachings of the Church. For that reason I do not for the most part make my homilies too basic. I prefer to help those who are lower to rise, rather than to bring down those who are higher on their account. Anyone, even if he is unlearned, who pays careful attention to my teaching, will not be wholly unaware of what I am saying. That portion, however small, which he can understand and take hold of and put into practice, will chase away every evil from his soul and strengthen, fill, and save the heart which accepts it. My instruction is derived from divinely inspired Scripture which resembles that stone which, as Daniel tells us, was very small when it came from the mountain, but it smote the image of transitory power, broke it to pieces and destroyed it, and expanded to fill the whole earth (cf. Dan. 2:34-35). Not only should the simple and less cultivated listen attentively to what I am going to say, but particularly the wise. Even if my address makes some allowances for the unread, the wisdom it contains is far from lowly, and the benefits it offers far from obscure. I shall teach you about evil passions and about virtues, revealing their two distinct roots, that you may cut off the former and cherish the latter.
4. Whereas love for God is the source and starting point of every virtue, love for the world is the cause of all evil. For that reason these two loves are at enmity with each another and destroy each other. As the Lord’s brother declares: “Friendship of the world is enmity to God. Whosoever therefore will be a friend of the world is the enemy of God” (Jas. 4:4). And John, whom Christ loved, says, “If any man love the world, the love of the Father is not in him. For all that is in the world, the lust of the flesh, and the pride of life, is not of the Father” (cf. 1 John 2: 15-16). Let us take heed, brethren, lest by loving evil desires and being arrogant to one another, we fall away from our heavenly Father’s love. For these two evils include every passion which separates us from God.
5. The foundation, origin and cause of these two opposing roots, love for God and love for the world, is another pair of implacably opposed loves. Love for the world springs from love for the body, since we love the world because of our body’s well-being. On the other hand, love for God comes from love for our spirit, our soul, for we love God on account of the comfort and good fortune our souls will have in the world to come. The great Paul bears witness to the fact that these two attitudes are at enmity with each other by saying, “The flesh lusteth against the Spirit”, meaning the soul, “and the Spirit against the flesh” (Gal. 5: 17).
6. How does love for our own soul engender love for God? We are threatened with the unquenchable fire of hell and promised God’s eternal kingdom. This everlasting kingdom is for those who listen to God’s commandments and act upon them, whereas hell-fire is for those who by their actions disobey Christ’s Gospel. When true believers, who love their souls and desire to keep them for eternal life, hear these threats and promises, they immediately conceive longing and fear, fear of the unending pain in the threatened fire of hell, and longing for the promised kingdom of God with its eternal joy.
7. Because they yearn to attain to divine, unfading delight and are afraid of suffering in that fire, they break their ties with everything passionate, blameworthy and earthly, and strive to cleave to God through intense prayer, knowing for sure that He alone has power and authority to deliver them from the agony of hell, and make them worthy of that eternal joy which passes understanding. In this way they acquire love for God, and as they become more perfectly united with God through this love, they gain all the virtues as well. When God is at work in us, every kind of virtue becomes our own, but when He is not, everything we do is sin. As the Lord says in the Gospel, “Without me ye can do nothing” (John 15:5). Those who truly act virtuously are aware of this, and do not pride themselves on any of their achievements, but humbly glorify God, the Fount of virtues, by Whom they are filled with the light that bestows goodness. When the air is full of sunlight, the glory and radiance it displays are not its own but the sun’s. So those who are united with God through fulfilling His commandments are, according to Paul, the sweet savour of Christ (cf. 2 Cor. 2:15). They have Christ’s fragrance, and proclaim the virtues of Him Who called them “out of darkness into His marvellous light” (1 Pet. 2:9).
8. Through spiritual instruction, knowledge of things to come is instilled in us, and a right love for our soul engenders in us, who believe, fear and longing for these future realities. This fear and longing results in turn in sincere, unceasing prayer and supplication to God. Then this continuous prayer brings love for Him and union with Him, through which every virtue is born, accompanied by humility, because we are aware of Who has brought about these virtues within us. But how is it that loving our body gives rise to love for the world, which then produces evil passions and a multitude, of sins? Just as our soul naturally longs for the lasting enjoyment to come, so our body yearns for the fleeting pleasure of the present. Such delight is sensual, works through our senses, and comes from visible, tangible things, that is, the world. Whoever is a friend of his body is a friend of the world. When, as a result of this love for the body, we have an excessive desire for worldly pleasures, pursue them and cultivate them, we wrap ourselves in all the different kinds of ugliness of the passions. As earthly enjoyment works through the senses, and our senses are many and diverse, sensual pleasures and passions too are of great number and variety. Some act through our sight, others through our hearing, others again through our senses of smell, touch and taste.
9. It is not food that is to blame for those passions associated with taste, but food to excess, which is self- indulgence. These passions are gluttony, eating delicacies, drinking too much, and drunkenness. When the stomach receives immoderate amounts of food, it passes it through the digestive system in great quantities, and by so doing provides abundant fuel for evil’s fire. Having received loathsome things, it yields disgusting torrents, by means of which the lower passions come into being: fornication, adultery, immorality, licentiousness, and bodily impurity in all its forms. These passions enslave our hearing, sight and sense of smell, and make us long for what is filthy: foul talk, immoral songs, satanic dances, perfumes which encourage defilement, disgusting cosmetics, and self-adornment with extravagant clothes and hairstyles. People in the grip of such passions beautify themselves outwardly, but inwardly they wear the ugly mask of dishonourable vices. They really are like the “whited sepulchers”, which appear outwardly beautiful, but within are full of stench and all uncleanness (Matt. 23:27). Once our senses have been subjected to evil from within and without, from far and near, they attract filth, and deadly sin goes in and out through these natural windows of ours. “Those things which proceed out of the mouth”, it says, “they defile a man” (Matt. 15: 18), and “Whosoever looketh on a woman to lust after her hath committed adultery with her already in his heart” (Matt. 5:28).
10. This sort of body-loving soul, which pursues pleasurable sensations by every means and gathers material from all over to delight the touch, the taste, and the other senses, begets acquisitiveness and love of money, which give rise to theft, extortion and every form of greed. In addition to these evils, there is another all-embracing means of perception within us apart from the bodily senses, imagination, which produces other pleasures and passions in those who love the world, such as conceit, self-esteem and arrogance. Further complex passions are formed from a mixture of sensual perceptions and imagination. These are the desire to please people, vanity and pride.
11. The soul’s delight that originates from God and things divine is pure, free from passion, and unmixed with suffering. By contrast, this world offers enjoyment naturally accompanied by pain, not just on account of all sorts of changes and alterations, but because it gives each person a tiny part, and deprives him of the rest. There is only one world, and it is divided among innumerable millions of people, each of whom desires and strives to possess it all, and have it in his power. If someone is enamoured of the world and desires the whole of it, whether he has almost all of it, or just a small share, though still more than someone else, he himself sorrows of what he lacks, and causes distress to the person with less, because of his wealth. When, however, spiritual and divine enjoyment and bliss are shared out, without suffering any division, even if one person receives everything, no one else suffers any loss. Each of us has the Faith in its entirety, but instead of causing offence to our neighbour’s piety, our faith assists his in many different ways.
12. As I was saying, this world yields pleasure accompanied by pain. Our body accepts the pleasure but refuses the pain, so the world is at the same time both kindly and vicious towards it. Those who are held fast by love for their body are unaware that the world by its very nature is a source of suffering as well as delight. They cannot grasp that the world they dote upon should be utterly shunned, and when they are discontented with the grief inherent in the world, being ignorant, like people fighting in the dark, of the cause of their misfortune, they blame one another each time difficulties arise. Hence, another unpleasant string of passions is invented by the wretched human race, giving rise to abusiveness, slander, false accusations, anger, hatred, strife, envy, and all kinds of bitterness filled with malicious desires. Because of such evils there are wars and murders all over the world, especially in our generation, because love has grown cold and sin has abounded (cf. Matt. 24:12).
13. Let us continue in oneness of mind, bound together by peace one towards the other, and abstaining from that rage which delivers bodies and souls unto destruction. I beseech you brethren, if anyone has a complaint against another, let us forgive one another as Christ forgave us, that we may be always peaceful, not only in God’s churches but at home and in the market place, and with one mind and one mouth glorify our Father in heaven. Apart from this evil catalogue of deadly passions associated with pleasure and pain, there are others, which are neither painless nor pleasant, but have their [origin] in a coming together of opposites. They include sarcasm, flattery, deceit and hypocrisy.
14. Do you see how subtly misleading and treacherous this world is, with how many evils it encompasses us, and by how many means it separates us from God? It makes us subject to countless passions and removes us in a variety of ways from Him Who is above all passion. That is why the Lord Himself said, “The whole world lieth in wickedness” (cf. 1 John 5: 19), and called the devil the prince of this world (John 12:31), because he is the ruler of the darkness of this age. Do not imagine that the evil one holds sway over heaven and earth and all Creation in between, and is given the name of prince of this world on that account – perish the thought! This is not the world that lies in wickedness. Only He Who has measured heaven with a span, according to the Prophet, and held the earth in a measure (cf. Isa. 40: 12), is the Creator of all. However, the misuse of Creation, the impassioned abuse of our free Will, the world of unrighteousness, evil desire and pride, as the beloved disciple of Christ says, are not of the Father (cf. 1 John 2: 16). This is the world that is subject to wickedness, because of our misuse and mismanagement. It is over this world that Satan rules, over the many passions we have listed, which are brought about by our sin-loving will with the evil one’s cooperation, and unless we free ourselves from this evil inclination, we shall make him our own absolute master.
15. We who are in Christ’s ranks should long for the world above. Let our desire be directed towards the kingdom He promised us. Let us shun enjoyments which drag down our soul, fear the hell-fire with which pleasure-lovers are threatened, flee self-indulgence, drunkenness, fornication, prodigality, greed, injustice, vanity, pride, hatred, anger and inhumanity. These are the things which give the evil one power, alas, over ourselves and the world. We should escape from the world’s deception and from its prince, and show through our good works that we are the work of God’s good hands. By so doing, we shall make best use of the present, and enjoy the promised eternal benefits when the time comes.
16. May we all attain to these by the grace and love for mankind of Our Lord Jesus Christ, to Whom belongs glory together with the Father and the Holy Spirit unto the ages of ages. Amen.
St. Gregory Palamas – Homily 33 – St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press