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Philokalia:  Love of the Holy

In America we are familiar enough with two branches of Christianity: Catholicism and Protestantism. Catholicism is a single Church with one leader, the Pope. (Tiny branches of Catholicism exist which do not acknowledge the Pope.) Protestantism involves all those churches which are not Catholic: Methodists, Baptists, Pentecostals, on and on. (Tiny branches of Protestants exist who claim they are not Protestant. They claim that they do not trace their beginnings to the protesting movements against the Catholic Church in the 1500s; in some cases this might be true.) Yet there is a third branch which probably did not pop up when thinking about different Christian groups: Orthodox Christians.

There is a reason for this: Orthodox Christians are located mainly in Eastern Europe and east of that. Those Americans who trace their lineage to this region form a smaller percentage than those from other areas of the world. So, the Orthodox Church in America has always been small, but its long history equals that of the Catholic Church, both of whom trace their beginnings to Jesus.

And out of this long Orthodox history comes a unique spiritual writing, the Philokalia, which means "love of the beautiful or holy." While most Christian spiritual classics consist of one book, the Philokalia is a collection of spiritual classics dating from the 400 to 1400: a thousand years of spiritual classics! Because of its breadth, the collection is contained in several books (One publisher I saw published the collection in four books) with works from more than twenty authors. Following are two quotes from the Philokalia.

"Let us stand firm in the fear of God, rigorously practicing the virtues and not giving our conscience cause to stumble. In the fear of God let us keep our attention fixed within ourselves, until our conscience achieves its freedom. Then there will be a union between it and us, and thereafter it will be our guardian, showing us each thing that we must uproot. But if we do not obey our conscience, it will abandon us and we shall fall into the hands of our enemies, who will never let us go. This is what our Lord taught us when He said: "Come to an agreement with your adversary quickly while you are with him in the road, lest he hand you over to the judge, and the judge deliver you to the officer and you are cast into prison" (Matthew 5:25). The conscience is called an "adversary" because it opposes us when we wish to carry out the desires of our flesh; and if we do not listen to our conscience, it delivers us into the hands of our enemies."

"Unless a man hates all the activity of this world, he cannot worship God. What then is meant by the worship of God? It means that we have nothing extraneous in our intellect when we are praying to Him: neither sensual pleasure as we bless Him, nor malice as we sing His praise, nor hatred as we exalt Him, not jealousy to hinder us as we speak to Him and call Him to mind. For all these things are full of darkness; they are a wall imprisoning our wretched soul, and if the soul has them in itself it cannot worship God with purity. They obstruct its ascent and prevent it from meeting God; they hinder it from blessing Him inwardly and praying to Him with sweetness of heart, and so receiving His illumination. As a result the intellect is always shrouded in darkness and cannot advance in holiness, because it does not make the effort to uproot these thoughts by means of spiritual knowledge."

2007 Mark Nickens

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