Friday, August 22, 2008

Words from the Ascetics: St. Antony the Great and St. John of Karpathos

On the Character of Men and on the Virtuous Life: One Hundred and Seventy Texts, attributed to St. Antony of Egypt, from The Philokalia, Volume 1:

"One should not say that it is impossible to reach a virtuous life; but one should say that it is not easy. Nor do those who have reached it find it easy to maintain. Those who are devout and whose intellect enjoys the love of God participate in the life of virtue; the ordinary intellect, however, is worldly and vacillating, producing both good and evil thoughts, because it is changeful by nature and directed towards material things. But the intellect that enjoys the love of God punishes the evil which arises spontaneously because of man's indolence." (7)

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Texts for the Monks in India: One Hundred Texts, attributed to St. John of Karpathos, from The Philokalia, Volume 1:

"How can we overcome the sinfulness that is already firmly established within us? We must use force. A man labours and struggles, and so by the use of force he escapes from destruction, always striving to raise his thoughts to holiness. We are not forbidden to resist force with force. If in any ascetic task we exert force, however slight, then, 'remaining in Jerusalem', we can wait for the 'power from on high' which will come down upon us (cf. Luke 24:49). In other words, if we persevere in unceasing prayer and the other virtues, there will come upon us a mighty force, infinitely stronger than any we can exert. This force cannot be described in human language; in its great strength it overcomes our worst faults of character and the malice of the demons, conquering both the sinful inclinations of our soul and the disordered impulses of our body. 'There came a sound from heaven as of a rushing violent wind' (Acts 2:2); and this force from heaven drives out the evil that is always forcing us into sin." (50)

"The enemy lurks like a lion in his den; he lays in our path hidden traps and snares, in the form of impure and blasphemous thoughts. But if we continue wakeful, we can lay for him traps and snares and ambuscades that are far more effective and terrible. Prayer, the recitation of psalms and the keeping of vigils, humility, service to others and acts of compassion, thankfulness, attentive, listening to the words of Scripture--all these are a trap for the enemy, an ambuscade, a pitfall, a noose, a lash and a snare." (51)

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