The Way of the Ascetics: Negative or Affirmative?
An Entry into Freedom?
"Asceticism means the liberation of
the human person," states the Russian Orthodox philosopher Nicolas Berdyaev
(1873-1948). He defines asceticism as "a concentration of inner forces and
command of oneself, and he insists: "Our human dignity is related to this."
Asceticism, that is to say, leads us to self-mastery and enables us to fulfill
the purpose that we have set for ourselves, whatever that may be. A certain
measure of ascetic self-denial is thus a necessary element in all that we
undertake, whether in athletics or in politics, in scholarly research or in
prayer. Without this ascetic concentration of effort we are at the mercy of
exterior forces, or of our own emotions and moods; we are reacting rather than
acting. Only the ascetic is inwardly free.
The Roman Catholic Raimundo Pannikar
adds that asceticism frees us in particular from fear: "True asceticism begins
by eliminating the fear of losing what can be lost. The ascetic is the one who
has no fear." The prisoner Bobynin, in Alexander Solzhenitsyn's novel The
First Circle, expresses a genuinely ascetic attitude when he says to
Abakumov, the Minister of State Security, "I've got nothing, see? Nothing! ...
You only have power over, people so long as you don't take everything away from
them. But when you've robbed a man of everything he's no longer in your
power - he's free again." How much more free is the one who has not been robbed
of everything but with ascetic freedom has given it up by his own
While Berdyaev regards asceticism as
an entry into freedom, another Russian Orthodox thinker, Father Paul Florensky
(1882-1943), links it with beauty: "Asceticism produces not a good but a
beautiful personality." He would surely have welcomed the fact that our
conference is devoting two of its sessions to the "aesthetics of asceticism." In
the eyes of Jacob of Serug (c.449-521), the asceticism of Symeon the Stylite -
altogether horrifying by our standards - made possible a revelation of the
saint's beauty: "Good gold entered the crucible and manifested its beauty."
Even Symeon's gangrenous foot was from the spiritual point of view an object
full of beauty: "He watched his foot as it rotted and its flesh decayed. And
the foot stood bare like a tree beautiful with branches. He saw-that there was
nothing on it but tendons and bones."
In Greco-Roman antiquity, ascetic
practice was regarded equally as the pathway to happiness and 'joy. The Cynics
saw rigorous self-denial as "part of askesis (training) for happiness."
Philo's Therapeutai assembled at great festivals "clad in snow white raiment,
joyous but with the height of solemnity," and celebrated the feast by dancing
together. The same joyful note re-echoes in the mimra attributed to St.
Ephrem the Syrian (c.306-373), On Hermits and Desert
There is no weeping
in their wanderings and no grieving in their gatherings;
praises of the angels above surround them on every
There is no
distress in their death, nor walling at their departing;
for their death is the
victory with which they conquer the adversary.
Freedom, beauty, joy: that is what
asceticism meant to Berdyaev, Florensky, and the Syrian monks. But most people
in our present-day world have a radically different perception of what
asceticism implies: to them it signifies not freedom but submission to irksome
rules; not beauty but harsh rigor; not joy but gloomy austerity. Where does the
truth lie? The case against asceticism is often stated, and is thoroughly
familiar to all of us. Rather than restate it once again, let us try to
discover what can be said in defense of the ascetic life. This we can best do
by considering two basic components in ascetic practice anachoresis
(withdrawal) and enkrateia (self-control). Our primary questions will
1. Does anachoresis mean simply a
flight in order to escape, or can it sometimes signify a flight followed by a return? What if, in
fact, there is no return?
2. Does enkrateia mean the repression
or the redirection of our instinctive urges? Does it involve "violence to our
natural appetites" (Durkheim) or their transfiguration?
Obviously these are not the only
questions to be asked about asceticism, and in seeking to respond to them I make
no claim to provide any overarching cross-cultural framework. My answers will
be given, not as a sociologist, but as a theologian and church historian,
specializing in Greek Christianity. But the questions themselves have a wider
scope, for they are applicable to the Christian West as well as the Christian
East, and to non-Christian as well as Christian traditions.
A Flight Followed by a Return?
In itself anachoresis can be
either negative or positive, either world-denying or world-affirming. Often it
is the world-denying aspect that seems to be dominant. When Abba Arsenius asks,
"Lord, guide me so that I may be saved," he is told: "Flee from humans, and you
will be saved." Arsenius's motive here seems to be exclusively his own
salvation, and this involves an avoidance of all contact with his fellow humans;
he does not appear to be interested in trying to help them. When a high-ranking
Roman lady comes to visit him and asks him to remember her in his prayers,
Arsenius answers brusquely: "I pray to God that he will wipe out the memory of
you from my heart." Not surprisingly, she departs much distressed. When asked
by Abba Mark, "Why do you flee from us?," Arsenius gives an answer that is only
slightly more conciliatory: "God knows that I love you, but I cannot be both
with God and with humans." There still seems to be no suggestion that he has
any responsibility to assist others and to lead them to salvation. Abba
Macarius of Egypt is equally inexorable. "Flee from humans, he says; and, when
asked what that means, he replies: "It is to sit in your cell and weep for your
sins." A monk, so it appears, has no duty toward his neighbor; he must simply
think about himself and repent his own offenses. Texts such as these, taken in
isolation certainly suggest that monastic anachoresis is something
introspective and selfish. When Paul the First Hermit withdraws into total and
lifelong seclusion, what possible benefit did this confer on society around
Yet this is not the whole story. In
other cases the ascetic undertakes, not simply a flight in order to escape, but
a flight followed by a return. This pattern can be seen in particular in the
immensely influential Life of St. Antony of Egypt (231356), attributed (perhaps
correctly) to St. Athanasius of Alexandria. At the outset, Antony withdraws
gradually into an ever increasing solitude, which reaches its extreme point when
he encloses himself for two decades in a ruined fort, refusing to speak or meet
with anyone. But when he is fifty-five there comes a crucial turning point.
His friends break down the door and he comes out from the fortress. During the
remaining half-century of his long life, Antony still continues to live in the
desert, apart from two brief visits to Alexandria. Yet, even though he does not
go back to the world in an outward and topographical sense, on the spiritual
level he does indeed "return." He makes himself freely available to others, he
accepts disciples under his care, and he offers guidance to a constant stream of
visitors, serving "as a physician given by God to Egypt," in the words of his
biographer. Palladius recounting the story of Eulogius and the cripple,
provides a vivid picture of how in practice Antony exercised this ministry of
spiritual direction. His description is strikingly similar to the
account-written fifteen centuries later-of the Russian staretz Zosima
surrounded by the pilgrims, in Dostoevsky's novel The Brothers
Here, then, in St. Antony's case,
there is a flight into the desert which turns out to be not world-denying but
world-affirming. Although he begins by avoiding all contact with fellow humans,
he ends by accepting great numbers of them under contact with his fellow
humans his pastoral care. If the
portrait of him given in the Apophthegmata (sayings/stories) is to be
trusted, Antony felt an intense compassion for others, a direct sense of
responsibility. "From our neighbor is life and death, he said; "if we gain our
brother, we gain God, but if we cause our brother to stumble, we sin against
Christ." Such is the pattern of Antony's life: silence gives place to speech,
seclusion leads him to involvement.
This same pattern - of a flight
followed by a return - recurs repeatedly in the course of monastic history. It
marks the life of St. Basil of Caesarea in fourth-century Cappadocia, of St.
Benedict of Nursia in sixth-century Italy, of St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359) in
Palaeologan Byzantium, and of St. Sergius of Radonezh (c.1314-1392) and St.
Seraphim of Sarov (1759-1833) in Russia. In all of these instances, the ascetic
starts by withdrawing into seclusion and ends by becoming the guide and leader
of others, a spiritual father or soul friend. What is more, these two stages -
solitude, followed by leadership - are not merely juxtaposed in time but are
integrally connected with each other. It is precisely because they first
withdrew into solitude that these ascetics were afterwards able to act as
spiritual guides. Without the ascetic preparation that they underwent in the
silence of the wilderness, St. Antony, St. Benedict, or St. Seraphim would never
have been able to bring light and healing to others in the way that they did.
Not that they withdrew in order to become guides and spiritual masters to their
generation; for they fled, not in order to prepare themselves for any other
task, but simply in order to be alone with God. When St. Benedict hid himself
in a cave near Subiaco, he wanted simply to save his own soul, and had not the
slightest intention of saving Western civilization. But his solitary quest for
personal salvation did in fact exercise in the long term a profoundly creative
effect on European culture. Often it is precisely the men and women of inner
stillness - not the activists but the contemplatives, fired by a consuming
passion for solitude - who in practice bring about the most far-reaching
alterations in the society around them.
In the case of saints such as Antony,
Benedict, or Seraphim, the flight was followed by a return. Yet what is to be
said of the many ascetics who, after the model of the legendary Paul the First
Hermit, never actually "returned" but remained to the end in solitary
isolation? Were their lives entirely wasted? Was their anachoresis
simply negative? Not necessarily so; it all depends on our criteria. In
speaking earlier about Arsenius I was careful to use the words "seems" and
"appears." When Arsenius flees from his fellow humans, it may indeed seem to the
modern reader that he is doing nothing to help them. But, in the eyes of many
of his contemporaries, he was in fact doing something extremely positive in the
solitude of the desert: he was praying. Significantly, Arsenius, the Desert
Father who represents anachoresis in its most uncompromising form, is
depicted in the Apophthegmata as, above all, a person of unceasing, fiery
"A certain brother went to
the cell of Abba Arsenius in Scetis and looked through the window, and he beheld
the old man as if completely on fire; for the brother was worthy to see this....
They also said about him, that late on Saturday evening he turned his back on
the setting sun, and stretched out his arms towards heaven in prayer; and so he
remained until the rising sun shone on his face. And then he sat
Such, then, is the service which the
solitary ascetic renders to society around him. He helps others not through
active works of charity, not through writings and scholarly research, nor yet
primarily through giving spiritual counsel, but simply through his continual
prayer. His anachoresis is in itself a way of serving others, because
the motive behind his withdrawal is to seek union with God; and this prayerful
union supports and strengthens his fellow humans, even though he knows nothing
about them; and they, on their part, are unaware of his very
The point is effectively summed up by
Palladius in the phrase "guarding the walls.'" In his chapter on Abba Macarius
of Alexandria, whom he met around 391 CE during his early years in Cellia, he
recounts: "Once, when I was suffering from listlessness (akedia), I went
to him and said: 'Abba, what shall I do? For my thoughts afflict me, saying:
You are making no progress; go away from here.' And he replied to me, 'Tell
them: For Christ's sake I am guarding the walls.' " The monks keep watch like sentries on the
walls of the spiritual city, thus enabling the other members of the church
inside the walls to carry on their daily activities in safety. Guarding the
walls against whom? The early Christian ascetics would have had a clear and
specific answer: against the demons. Guarding the walls by what means? With
the specific weapon of prayer. In the words of the Historia Monachorum:
"There is not a village or city in Egypt and the Thebaid that is not surrounded
by hermitages as if by walls, and the people are supported by their prayers as
though by God himself."
The positive value of flight into the
desert is evident when we take into account the meaning that the desert
possessed for these early Christian ascetics. It had a twofold significance.
It was both the place where God is to be found - here the classic prototype was
Moses, who met God face to face in the desert of Sinai - and at the same time it
was the place where the demons dwell. The second meaning is vividly emphasized
in the Life of Antony: as Antony withdraws into the deep desert, he hears
the demons shouting, "Depart from our territory. What business have you here in
the desert?" So the solitary, in withdrawing into the desert, has a double aim:
to meet God and to fight the demons. In both cases he is not being selfish, and
his purpose is not to escape but to encounter. He goes out to discover God and
to achieve union with him through prayer; and this is something that helps
others. Equally he goes out to confront the demons, not running away from
danger but advancing to meet it; and this also is a way of helping others. For
the devil with whom he enters into combat is the common enemy of all humankind.
Thus there is nothing self-centered in his act of anachoresis. Every
prayer that he offers protects his fellow Christians, and every victory that he
wins over the devil is a victory won on behalf of the human family as a whole.
Such, therefore, is the positive value of anachoresis, even when it is
not followed in any visible or explicit fashion by a movement of "return." Of
course, many twentieth-century students of early Christian literature do not
believe in the existence of demons or in the efficacy of prayer; but such
persons need to recognize that the authors of the literature that they are
studying believed keenly and intensely in both of these things.
According to the early Christian
world view, then, the solitaries were assisting others simply by offering
prayer-not just through prayer of intercession, but through any kind of
lawlessness prevails, is sustained by their prayers,
and the world, buried in
sin, is preserved by their prayers.
In the words of an Orthodox writer in
Finland, Tito Colliander:
Prayer is action; to pray is
to be highly effective. . . . Prayer is the science of scientists and the art of
artists. The artist works in clay or colours, in word or tones; according to
his ability he gives them pregnancy and beauty. The working material of the
praying person is living humanity. By his prayer he shapes it, gives it
pregnancy and beauty: first himself and thereby many
The ascetic in the desert, that is to say,
helps his fellow humans not so much by anything that he does, but rather by what
he is. "First himself and thereby many others": he serves society by
transforming himself through prayer, and by virtue of his own
self-transfiguration he also transfigures the world around him. By weeping for
his own sins, the recluse is in fact altering the spiritual situation of many
The rationale of ascetic
anachoresis is concisely summed up by St. Seraphim of Sarov: "Acquire the
spirit of peace, and then thousands around you will be saved." Perhaps the more
a monk thinks about converting himself, and the less he thinks about converting
others, the more likely it is that others will, in fact, be converted. St.
Isaac the Syrian (seventh century) goes so far as to maintain that it is better
to become a solitary than to win over "a multitude of heathen" to the Christian
faith: "Love the idleness of stillness above providing for the world's starving
and the conversion of a multitude of heathen to the worship of God.... Better is
he who builds his own soul than he who builds the world." That is to put the
point in a deliberately provocative way; but in fact he who "builds his own
soul" is at the same time building the world, and until we have ourselves been
in some measure "converted" it is improbable that we shall ever convert anyone
else to anything at all. Actually, solitaries did on occasion prove quite
effective as missionaries, as is shown, for example by the story of St.
Euthymius (377-473) and the Bedouin tribe, but this is exceptional.
In this way the solitaries, through
their ascetic anachoresis, are indeed cooperating in the salvation of the world;
but they do this not actively or intentionally but existentially-not through
outward works but through inner perfection. In the words of Father lrenee
Hausherr: "All progress in sanctity realized by one member benefits everyone;
every ascent to God establishes a new bond between him and humanity as such;
every oasis of spirituality renders the desert of this world less savage and
Repression or Transfiguration?
Anachoresis, then, can be
world-affirming as well as world-denying. The flight of the solitary from the
world may be followed by a "return," in which he or she acts as a spiritual
guide, as a "soul friend"; and, even when there is no such return', the hermits
are helping others by the very fact of their existence, through their hidden
holiness and prayer. What then of enkrateia? Often in Eastern Christian
sources this seems to imply an attitude toward material things, toward the human
body, and toward members of the other sex, that is little short of dualist. But
is this invariably the case? Cannot ascetic enkrateia be likewise
affirmative rather than negative?
First of all, early Christian ascetic
texts insist repeatedly on the need for moderation in all forms of abstinence
and self-restraint. Doubtless this was necessary precisely because so many
ascetics were immoderate; yet it is nonetheless significant how often the best
and most respected authorities issue firm warnings against excess. What
distinguishes true from demonic fasting, states Amma Syncletica, is specifically
its moderate character: "There is also an excessive asceticism (askesis)
that comes from the enemy, and this is practiced by his disciples. How then are
we to distinguish the divine and royal asceticism from that which is tyrannical
and demonic? Clearly, by its moderation." As regards food, the
Apophthegmata and other early sources regularly discourage prolonged
fasting, and state that the best course is to eat something every day. If we
want to fast in the right way, affirms John of Lycopolis, the golden rule is
never to eat to satiety, never to stuff one's belly. According to St.
Barsanuphius of Gaza, we should always rise from the meal feeling that we should
have liked to eat a little more. The same principle applies to the drinking of
water: we should restrict our intake, stopping well short of the point where we
feel that we cannot possibly drink any more. Sober advice of this kind serves
to counterbalance the stories of spectacular and inhuman fasting.
Moderation, however, is a vague
term. To render our evaluation of enkrateia more exact, let us take up a
distinction that is made by Dom Cuthbert Butler between natural and unnatural
The mortifications recorded
of the Egyptian solitaries, extraordinary and appalling as they were, were all
of a kind that may be called natural, consisting in privation of food, of drink,
of sleep, of clothing; in exposure to heat and cold; in rigorous enclosure in
cell or cave or tomb; in prolonged silence and vigils and prayer; in arduous
labour, in wandering through the desert, in bodily fatigue; but of the
self-inflicted scourgings, the spikes and chains, and other artificial penances
of a later time, I do not recollect any instances among the Egyptian monks of
the fourth century.
What basically distinguishes natural
from unnatural asceticism is its attitude toward the body. Natural asceticism
reduces material life to the utmost simplicity, restricting our physical needs
to a minimum, but not maiming the body or otherwise deliberately causing it to
suffer. Unnatural asceticism, on the other hand, seeks out special forms of
mortification that torment the body and gratuitously inflict pain upon it. Thus
it is a form of natural asceticism to wear cheap and plain clothing, whereas it
is unnatural to wear fetters with iron spikes piercing the flesh. It is a form
of natural asceticism to sleep on the ground, whereas it is unnatural to sleep
on a bed of nails. It is a form of natural asceticism to live in a hut or a
cave, instead of a well-appointed house, whereas it is unnatural to chain
oneself to a rock or to stand permanently on top of a pillar. To refrain from
marriage and sexual activity is natural asceticism; to castrate oneself is
unnatural. To choose to eat only vegetables, not meat, and to drink only water,
not wine, is natural asceticism; but it is unnatural intentionally to make our
food and drink repulsive, as was done by Isaac the Priest, who after the
Eucharist emptied the ashes from the censer over his food, and by Joseph of
Panepho, who added sea water to the river water that he drank. Incidentally,
such actions surely display a curious disrespect to God as creator; for we are
not to disfigure the gifts that God confers on us.
Unnatural asceticism, in other words,
evinces either explicitly or implicitly a distinct hatred for God's creation,
and particularly for the body; natural asceticism may do this, but on the whole
it does not. The official attitude of the church, especially from the fourth
century onwards, has been entirely clear. Voluntary abstinence for ascetic
reasons is entirely legitimate; but to abstain out of a loathing for the
material creation is heretical. The point is firmly made in the Apostolic
Canons (Syria, c.400 CE):
If any bishop, presbyter or
deacon, or any other member of the clergy, abstains from marriage, or from meat
and wine, not by way of asceticism (askesis) but out of abhorrence for these
things, forgetting that God made "all things altogether good and beautiful"
(Gen. 1:31), and that he "created humankind male and female" (Gen. 1:27), and so
blaspheming the work of creation, let him be corrected, or else be deposed and
cast out of the Church. The same applies also to a lay
The Council of Gangra (Asia Minor, c.355 CE)
likewise anathematizes those who censure marriage and meat eating as essentially
sinful. The motive for asceticism must be positive, not negative: "If anyone
practices virginity or self-control (enkrateia), withdrawing from
marriage as if it were a loathsome thing and not because of the inherent beauty
and sanctity of virginity, let such a one be anathema. When we fast, so
Diadochus of Photice (mid-fifth century) insists, "we must never feel loathing
for any kind of food, for to do so is abominable and utterly demonic. It is
emphatically not because any kind of food is bad in itself that we refrain from
it." We fast, not out of hatred for God's creation, but so as to control the
body; also fasting enables us to help the poor, for the food that we ourselves
refrain from eating can be given to others who are in need.
Natural asceticism, it can be argued,
is warfare not against the body but for the body. When asked by some children,
"What is asceticism?," the Russian priest Alexander Elchaninov (1881-1934)
replied, "A system of exercises which submits the body to the spirit"; and when
they inquired what was the first exercise of all, he told them, Breathe through
the nose. Our ascetic aim is not to impede our breathing through some forced
technique, but simply to breathe correctly and so to let the body function in a
natural way. "The important element in fasting," Father Alexander added, "is
not the fact of abstaining from this or that, or of depriving oneself of
something by way of punishment"; rather its purpose is the "refinement" of our
physicality, so that we are more accessible to "the influence of higher forces"
and thus approach closer to God. Refinement, not destruction: that is the
In contrast, then, to the unnatural
variety, natural asceticism has a positive objective: it seeks not to undermine
but to transform the body, rendering it a willing instrument of the spirit, a
partner instead of an opponent. For this reason another Russian priest,
Sergius Bulgakov (1871-1944), used to say (employing the word "flesh" in its
Pauline sense, to signify not our physicality but our fallen and sinful self):
"Kill the flesh, so as to acquire a body." As for the body, so far from killing
it we are to hold it in honor and to offer it to God as a "living sacrifice"
(Rom. 12.1). The Desert Father, Dorotheus, was surely wrong to say of his body,
"It kills me, I kill it;" and he was tacitly corrected by another Desert Father,
Poemen, who affirmed: "We were taught, not to kill the body, but to kill the
passions." There is an eloquent assertion of the intrinsic goodness of the body
in the hymn already quoted, On Hermits and Desert Dwellers:
Their bodies are temples of
the Spirit, their-minds are churches; their prayer is pure incense, and their
tears are fragrant smoke...
They greatly afflict their
bodies, not because they do not love their bodies, rather, they want to bring
their bodies to Eden in glory.
It is reassuring in this connection
to find that the earliest and most influential of all Greek monastic texts, the
Life of Antony, adopts a markedly positive attitude towards the body.
When Antony emerged after twenty years of enclosure within a fort, his friends
"were amazed to see that his body had maintained its former condition, neither
fat from lack of exercise,, nor emaciated from fasting and combat with demons,
but he was just as they had known him before his withdrawal.... He was
altogether balanced, as one guided by reason and abiding in a natural state."
There is no dualistic hatred of the body here; asceticism has not subverted
Antony's physicality but restored it to its "natural state," that is to say, to
its true and proper condition as intended by God. This natural state of the
body continues up to the end of Antony's long life. Although he lived to be
more than a hundred, his eyes were undimmed and quite sound, and he saw clearly;
he lost none of his teeth-they had simply become worn down to the gums because
of the old man's great age. He remained strong in both feet and hands." So
according to the texts, enkrateia enhanced rather than impaired Antony's
"We were taught, not to kill the
body, but to kill the passions," says Abba Poemen. But is he right? Cannot
even the passions be redirected and used in God's service? Our answer will
depend in part on the meaning that we attach to the word pathos
(passion). Are we to regard it in a Stoic sense, as something fundamentally
diseased and disordered, a morbid and pathological condition, or should we
rather follow the Aristotelian standpoint and treat it as something neutral,
capable of being put either to evil or to good use? The manner in which we
understand pathos will also influence the sense that we give to the term
apatheia (dispassion, passionlessness). But this is not simply a
linguistic issue; for the way in which we employ words influences the way in
which we think about things. It makes a considerable difference what we say to
others and, indeed, to ourselves: do we enjoin mortify" or "redirect,"
"eradicate" or "educate," "eliminate" or "transfigure"?
Philo adopts the Stoic view of
pathos, and many Greek Christian fathers follow him in this, regarding
the passions as "contrary to nature" and even directly sinful. This is the
position of Clement of Alexandria, Nemesius of Emesa, Gregory of Nyssa, Evagrius
of Pontus, and John Climacus, to mention only a few. But there are significant
exceptions, and both Theodoret of Cyrus and Abba Isaias of Scetis adopt a more
positive attitude. Desire and anger, says Theodoret, are "necessary and useful
to nature": without desire we would experience no longing for divine things, no
appetite for food and drink, no impulse towards "lawful procreation, and so the
human race would perish. Anger in its turn has a positive function, he says,
for it prevents our desire from passing beyond due limits. Isaias likewise
argues that the different passions can all be put to a positive use that is "in
accordance with nature." Desire, employed aright, impels us to love God;
jealousy (or zelos [zeal]) spurs us on to make greater efforts in the
spiritual life (cf. 1 Cor. 12.31); anger and hatred prove beneficial, if
directed against sin and the demons; even pride can be used in a constructive
way, when we employ it to counteract self-depreciation is not to suspend
despondency. The aim of the ascetic, then, press these passions but to
reorient them. St. Maximus the Confessor (c.580-662) follows the same approach
when he describes love for God as a "holy passion." In similar terms St.
Gregory Palamas speaks of "divine and blessed passions"; our objective is not
the nekrosis (mortification) of the passions but their metathesis
Even in those authors, such as
Evagrius, who speak of pathos (passion) in pre-orative terms, the notion of
apatheia (dispassion) is by no means unduly negative. Evagrius himself
links it closely with agape love. It is not an attitude of passive
indifference and insensibility, still less a condition in which sinning is
impossible, but it is on the contrary a state of inner freedom and integration,
in which we are no longer under the domination of sinful impulses, and so are
capable of genuine love; apathy" is thus a particularly misleading translation.
Adapting Evagrius's teaching to a Western audience, St. John Cassian wisely
rendered apatheia as puritas cordis (purity of heart) a phrase
that has the double advantage of being both scriptural in content and positive in form. To denote its dynamic
character, Diadochus employs the expressive phrase "the fire of
apatheia." It is no mere mortification of the passions, but a state of
soul in which a burning love for God and for our fellow humans leaves no room
for sensual and selfish impulses.
From all this it is evident that
enkrateia, although often understood in a negative manner-as hatred of
the body,, as the destruction of our instinctive urges-can also be interpreted
in more affirmative terms, as the reintegration of the body and the
transformation of the passions into their true and natural condition. Again and
again, when the patristic texts are carefully analyzed, the Greek fathers turn
out to be advocating not repression but transfiguration.
A Vocation for All
Our explanation of the terms
anachoresis and enkrateia has made clear that askesis
signifies not simply a selfish quest for individual salvation but a service
rendered to the total human family; not simply the cutting off or destroying of
the lower but., much more profoundly, the refinement and illumination of the
lower and its transfiguration into something higher. The same conclusion could
be drawn from an examination of other key ascetic terms, such as hesychia
(stillness, tranquility, quietude). This too is affirmative rather than
negative, a state of plenitude rather than emptiness, a sense of presence rather
than absence. It is not just a cessation of speech, a pause between words, but
an attitude of attentive listening, of openness and communion with the eternal:
in the words of John Climacus, "Hesychia is to worship God unceasingly
and to wait on him.... The Hesychast is one who says, 'I sleep, but my heart is
awake"' (Song 5.2).
Interpreted in this positive way, as
transfiguration rather than mortification, askesis is universal in its
scope-not an elite enterprise but a vocation for all. It is not a curious
aberration, distorting our personhood, but it reveals to us our own true
nature. As Father Alexander Elchaninov observes, "Asceticism is necessary
first of all for creative action of any kind, for prayer, for love: in other
words, it is needed by each of us throughout our entire life.... Every Christian is an ascetic." Without
asceticism none of us is authentically human.
Oración , Preghiera , Priére , Prayer , Gebet , Oratio, Oração de Jesus
CATECISMO DA IGREJA CATÓLICA:
2666. Mas o nome que tudo encerra é o que o Filho de Deus recebe na sua encarnação: JESUS. O nome divino é indizível para lábios humanos mas, ao assumir a nossa humanidade, o Verbo de Deus comunica-no-lo e nós podemos invocá-lo: «Jesus», « YHWH salva» . O nome de Jesus contém tudo: Deus e o homem e toda a economia da criação e da salvação. Rezar «Jesus» é invocá-Lo, chamá-Lo a nós. O seu nome é o único que contém a presença que significa. Jesus é o Ressuscitado, e todo aquele que invocar o seu nome, acolhe o Filho de Deus que o amou e por ele Se entregou.
2667. Esta invocação de fé tão simples foi desenvolvida na tradição da oração sob as mais variadas formas, tanto no Oriente como no Ocidente. A formulação mais habitual, transmitida pelos espirituais do Sinai, da Síria e de Athos, é a invocação: «Jesus, Cristo, Filho de Deus, Senhor, tende piedade de nós, pecadores!». Ela conjuga o hino cristológico de Fl 2, 6-11 com a invocação do publicano e dos mendigos da luz (14). Por ela, o coração sintoniza com a miséria dos homens e com a misericórdia do seu Salvador.
2668. A invocação do santo Nome de Jesus é o caminho mais simples da oração contínua. Muitas vezes repetida por um coração humildemente atento, não se dispersa num «mar de palavras», mas «guarda a Palavra e produz fruto pela constância». E é possível «em todo o tempo», porque não constitui uma ocupação a par de outra, mas é a ocupação única, a de amar a Deus, que anima e transfigura toda a acção em Cristo Jesus.
Arquivo do blogue
- ► 2014 (24)
- A documentary on the Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer...
- reciting the Jesus prayer
- Praying with the body: the hesychast method and no...
- Personal Rule of Prayer
- The Way of the Ascetics: Negative or Affirmative?
- On Spiritual Peace of Heart
- Sobre la oración y sobre el amor a Dios y al próji...
- Sobre la oración que nace del corazón. P. Arsenie ...
- Oración del corazón
- Jean Lafrance , La oración incesante
- Introducción a la Filocalia de la Oración de Jesús...
- LA ORACIÓN DEL CORAZÓN , P. ÁNGEL PEÑA O.A.R.
- L'uomo e la preghiera. Sarebbe meglio dire l'uomo ...
- PICCOLA FILOCALIA DELLA PREGHIERA DEL CUORE
- La prière contemplative libère des énergies de l’i...
- ▼ Abril (15)
- ► 2012 (61)