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Patristic Text Study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
15-06-2008, 07:39 AM
Post: #1
Patristic Text Study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
Dear all,

I pray all is well with you all.

I was hoping members would be interested in taking some time to focus on reading St Philoxenus' Discourses and engaging in what promises, God-willing, to be an enlightening and thought-provoking chapter-by-chapter discussion on this amazing work.

My aim here is two-fold:

1. As some of you may know, I am very passionate about reviving OO patristics in the lives, hearts and consciences of our people and also for the sake of being able to provide a more wholesome portrayal of OO thought to non-OO. I am hoping that this discussion will assist me personally in my pursuit to effect these ends by enhancing and refining my understanding of the text, and by bringing to light issues and implications which I may not have thought of.

2. This work appears to be the only one of its kind, as far as I can tell. I am not aware of any treatise on achieving Christian perfection that has been set out as systematically and comprehensively as this one. I'm sure it will benefit all of us a great deal in our personal pursuit to fulfill our calling as Christians.

So, shall we start with Discourse 1: The Prologue?

P.S. Please remember to pray for me as I sit my final exams (Tuesday 17th and Tuesday 24th). It has been a struggle trying to focus on my studies due to a recent and devastating heartbreak; I need all the prayers I can get.

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
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16-06-2008, 08:25 AM
Post: #2
patristic text study: st philoxenus' discourses
Dear Andrew,
Yes, I would very much like a discussion around the Discourses of this great saint. I hope that, one day, this work will be available in a revised and modernised translation - sometimes the Victorian attempt at King James Bible English can tax the brain a little!
With prayers,
Kirk Yacoub
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16-06-2008, 11:45 AM
Post: #3
 
Yes, I am also very interested in studying this work, and I offer prayers for your exams tomorrow and for all your needs.

Best wishes

Peter
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17-06-2008, 08:15 PM
Post: #4
 
Dear Peter and Kirk,

Thanks for your enthusiastic responses (and your prayers)!

A modern translation of the Discourses would certainly be helpful. I must say though, that given the rarity of complete English translations of OO patristic texts, any inclinations to even consider the shortcomings of the translation in question are swallowed up in a sea of gratefulness and excitement at the fact a translation per se of this text exists in the first place.

Anyway, let?s get this discussion started shall we?

I have a number of miscellaneous and ad hoc thoughts and questions that come to mind, but I?ll just begin with one for now so that we can maintain some sort of coherence:

It seems to me that St Philoxenus places stress on three different considerations we must take heed of in our pursuit to attain Christian perfection, as well as three different virtues which seem to directly correspond with those three considerations:

Consideration 1: We must appreciate the fact that how we begin will determine how we end, ?[f]or he who knoweth not how to begin wisely the building of this tower which goeth up to heaven is not able to complete [it].? Corresponding virtue: wisdom.

Consideration 2: We need to prepare a strategic plan which sets out the systematic order that is to follow. To effectively do this, we must a) pursue a thorough self-examination whereby we can identify the spiritual ills that afflict us and their corresponding antidotes, and b) learn the secrets of our spiritual trade viz. ?the art of spiritual strife?. Corresponding virtue: knowledge.

Consideration 3: We need to commit ourselves to act upon instruction, and keep our ?promise and?covenant with God.? Corresponding virtue: the remembrance of God, for ?the understanding from which the remembrance of God hath perished?will not hear the sound of the cries of the divine voices, nor will the trumpet of the Spirit move it.? We cannot commit to following instructions we are not able to discern in the first place. The ?living voices? will only be heard by a ?living hearing.?

Wisdom, Knowledge and the Remembrance of God: as per St Philoxenus' prolgoue, these three virtues seem to define the prologue to our own journey to heaven, the height of which is that ultimate virtue which encompasses and perfects every other: Love.

I realise all i've in effect done is set out to in a sense re-package this rather intense prologue into a nice and neat little box. As Kirk noted though, the text is, stylistically and linguistically, a little difficult to deal with, so maybe such an attempt at summing things up to begin with may be useful, if not to us insofar as our own understanding of the text is concerned, at least to us insofar as effectively delivering the essential message to the common believer. As I initially noted, I am hoping this discussion helps me to help others as much as it does to help me.

Forgive me for a not-so-enlightening first post; looking forward to hearing your thoughts!

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
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18-06-2008, 08:23 AM
Post: #5
 
Dear Andrew:

You very clearly summarize not only St Philoxenus? teachings, but the whole tradition of Orthodox ascetical or spiritual theology. I?ve added some comments to your excellent words.

Consideration 1: We must appreciate the fact that how we begin will determine how we end. If we don?t have a purpose, we will be diverted into wasting time and energy.

Consideration 2: We need to prepare a strategic plan which sets out the systematic order that is to follow. To effectively do this, we must (a) pursue a thorough self-examination whereby we can identify the spiritual ills that afflict us and their corresponding antidotes, and (b) learn the secrets of our spiritual. Our purpose needs to be strategically structured (sorry if this sounds like ?management speak?). We can all aim at anything, but without intention, planning and action we will go nowhere, and become disheartened.

Consideration 3: We need to commit ourselves to act upon instruction, and keep our ?promise and?covenant with God.? We cannot commit to following instructions we are not able to discern in the first place. It is difficult for us to undertake this work alone ? we need guidance. But the guidance must come from sources we accept as having the authority of knowledge and experience. A bad guide (?the blind leading the blind?) is worse than none.

As you will know, asceticism is derived from the Greek word askesis meaning exercise, practice or training. The ascete (asketes) is one who practices (askeo) a particular lifestyle. The word has its origin in the traditional art of athletics where victory was gained by those who had best trained their bodies. The early Christian writers used the analogy of athletics to describe the training and discipline necessary for the Christian spiritual life.

Perhaps those of us who are exactly athletic will appreciate the more contemporary model of psychotherapy. I find Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos? ?Orthodox Psychotherapy. The Science of the Fathers? and ?The Illness and Cure of the Soul in Orthodox Tradition? particularly interesting in this regard ? although challenging. I also very much like the titles, which seem to fit in with St Philoxenus? teachings. If our spiritual life does not bring about change, growth or what is commonly called ?repentance? (but which in the Greek ? metanoia ? is more accurately a change of mind or heart) it is largely useless, or, worse, a performance.

Physical or psychological or spiritual change very rarely comes immediately. The person who declares that he or she will henceforth ?pray for an hour a day? (or ?jog for an hour a day?) is more like to collapse and give up after a week (or a couple of days!). The person who establishes a clear goal, marks out a clear and workable strategy, and sets out, with practical guidance, is more likely to stay the course.

Despite the rather old-fashioned (problem of translation!) language and complex concepts, it seems to me that (especially when summarized as skilfully as you have done) St Philoxenus offers us good, practical advice about the spiritual life.

I trust that you survived your exams. Do spare a thought for those of us who are marking the hard (or, in some cases, indifferent) work of student!

Fr Gregory
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19-06-2008, 09:56 PM
Post: #6
 
Dear Fr Gregory,

Thank you for your kind and helpful response, and your most welcome additions to my feebly attempted summary of the prologue!

Quote:It is difficult for us to undertake this work alone ? we need guidance. But the guidance must come from sources we accept as having the authority of knowledge and experience. A bad guide (?the blind leading the blind?) is worse than none.

^A very noteworthy point that St Philoxenus seems to make not less than a few times throughout the prologue. The significance of the knowledge/experience relationship is particularly brought out in his analogy regarding service of the King (p. 12)). Our authorities are able to guide us to perfection precisely because their guidance is based on the knowledge that is born in, and nurtured by, their experience of the Divine in the course of their own personal struggle towards, and final achievement of, Christian perfection.

Quote:The early Christian writers used the analogy of athletics to describe the training and discipline necessary for the Christian spiritual life.

Thank you for pointing this out. St Philoxenus seems to have employed every popular analogical model used by the early Fathers: the athletic model, the warfare model, and, in line with the focus of the recent works of Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos that you later draw our attention to, the therapeutic model also. Each model gives a unique albeit complementary perspective of one and the same struggle; I am glad St Philoxenus chose to make use of them all and look forward to seeing how he will develop them later on.

Quote:If our spiritual life does not bring about change, growth or what is commonly called ?repentance? (but which in the Greek ? metanoia ? is more accurately a change of mind or heart) it is largely useless, or, worse, a performance.

And as St Philoxenus takes pains to stress early in the prologue we not only become actors, but unwitting actors as well. Consequently, our ostensible ?spiritual life? is not merely having no effect (i.e. is not merely not producing repentance) but it is in fact positively damaging us by hardening our hearts to any potential to reverse the situation. It would have been better for us to have been non-religious than to ?act? religious, for it is easier to progress from the former to Christian perfection than it is from the latter.

May God grant all exam markers patience and endurance, but most importantly, mercy!

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
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20-06-2008, 09:02 AM
Post: #7
Patristic text study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
Mor Philoxenos of Mabbugh was not just guided but driven by the fire of the Holy Spirit, and his Ascetic Discourses are a dazzling blend of deep spiritual knowledge, logical exposition, and dramatically poetic language.
His aim was to convince, educate, edify, and when we read his Discourses we gratefully acknowledge his success.
In his day reading was conducted differently than today. The Discourses would have been read aloud, whether by a monk alone in his cell, or else to a gathering of monks, the words being lingered over, weighed upon the tongue, so that their full meaning could be thoughtfully digested, thus enabling the reader/listener to deepen his powers of concentration, drawing him into the very spiritual heart of the work, enabling him to learn his lessons by heart (not rote).
From the beginning Mor Philoxenos emphasises that the work of building our spiritual edifice must be active, not passive. To live a Christian life requires effort. Neither monks nor anyone else should expect an easy ride to Salvation through pleasurable reading and relaxed prayer. This is typical of Mor Philoxenos. He bluntly confronts us with truths that may not be palatable, but most valuable truths are difficult for us to swallow. He adds a warning and advice: "The soul dieth without the remembrance of God... The disciple of God, then, should seek to have ttalremembrance of his Master Jesus Christ fixed in his soul and to meditate upon it day and night." This is a central tenet of Christian spirituality.
If the reader should lose his nerve after reading this stern introduction, then Mor Philexonos quickly begins his work of encouragement. As a master of spiritual psychology he lengthily ennumerates how he will help us to overcome all threats to our soul in a way which rouses hope and enthusiasm in his reader. When he lists all our sicknesses along with their cure he is doing two things. Firstly, he shows us that the road of life in Christ brings answers to all things, and secondly, that it up to us to strive to combat our sicknesses and seek their cure.
Mor Philoxenos never stoops to false optimism or sentimental and fatally deceptive phrases such as the dewy-eyed "Jesus loves you," or the even
worse "Jesus loves you as you are." These phrases actually disarm people. Yes, of course, Christ loves each and every one of us, and if there is any need for qualification it could only be "Jesus loves us despite what we are." But this does not ensure Salvation for anyone. Salvation
requires hard spiritual labour so that we may engage in an active, dynamic relationship with Christ. We have free choice in the matter.
In reality the Discourses are not only for monks. Quite simply monks are in the front-line of a struggle we must all engage in. Our world is screaming out for spiritual answers to fleshly problems, and it is the firm clarity of the likes of Mor Philoxenos of Mabbugh which holds up the light of hope. Whereas evangelicals put people to sleep with soporiphic phrases, Christianity demands that we all wake up to face and then overcome the unpleasant truth.

Kirk Yacoub
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21-06-2008, 11:58 AM
Post: #8
 
Dear Kirk,

Thank you for that amazing and engaging contribution! It was a delight to read.

Quote:The disciple of God, then, should seek to have the remembrance of his Master Jesus Christ fixed in his soul and to meditate upon it day and night." This is a central tenet of Christian spirituality.

Indeed. Was not the remembrance of God the general end to which consistent invocation of the Jesus prayer was geared? The Desert Fathers seem to have stressed in similar fashion to St Philoxenus that the remembrance of God is one of those tenets of great pertinence to the very prologue of our struggle to Christian perfection in particular. St Barsanuphius once gave the following advice to a layman: ?O brother, spend the whole day in remembrance of God and do not know it. To have a commandment and strive to keep it ? this is submission to and remembrance of God.? Here we see the same correspondence made by St Philoxenus between the remembrance of God and that initial covenant with God to commit to His ways. It should be noted that the concern posed by this particular layman was that he found himself so occupied during the day with his various duties and obligations that he felt as if he had no time to offer God. St Barsanuphius clearly did not excuse him on that account. The remembrance of God is integral to the salvation of every Christian regardless of their vocation.

It is also in the ascetic tradition of the early Desert Fathers that we find precedence for St Philoxenus? implicit correlation between the remembrance of God and knowledge of God. St Mark the Solitary is recorded as having said that, ?without remembrance of God there can be no true knowledge.? My attempted summation of the prologue in my first post may have misleadingly given the impression that the three key virtues that seem to occupy the focus of St Philoxenus? prologue (wisdom, knowledge and the remembrance of God) are independent of each other. Clearly they are not, and this is demonstrated in the fact that even St Philoxenus at times correlates one of the aforementioned virtues with one of the themes I have listed as corresponding to a different virtue.

Quote:As a master of spiritual psychology he lengthily ennumerates how he will help us to overcome all threats to our soul in a way which rouses hope and enthusiasm in his reader.

Wonderful observation! It?s one that certainly jives with the way I personally reacted to the seemingly never-ending list of a) things we should be conscious of early in our struggle (pp. 13-17) and b) illnesses and their corresponding antidotes (pp. 22-23). Clearly those two segments of the prologue in particular are simply too heavy for the reader to be able to digest in one reading (or even a few readings!), and I cannot help but think St Philoxenus was well-aware of that. I very much doubt his aim in this sense was to inform, as much as it was, as you have said, to rouse our hope and enthusiasm by instilling in us a bold sense of trust in the idea that in taking heed and submitting to these Discourses we are being lead and guided by one who has clearly thought matters out deeply, thoroughly and carefully?we are being lead into battle by a clearly qualified and experienced spiritual Field Marshal.

In Christ,
Andrew

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
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25-06-2008, 08:24 AM
Post: #9
Patristic text study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
Dear Andrew,
Briefly, the term "passion" means all our lusts both physical and mental. All lusts of the flesh are bad, including the intellectual desire for fame and pre-eminence, because they detach us from God and attach us more tightly to the world. Mor Philoxenos is not being neutral. The only passion that can be turned for good as well as evil is the passion of anger, simply because we can turn anger against our lusts instead of against people.
It is always understood that our "power of endurance" can only lead to success if aided by the grace of God. Mor Philoxenos' orthodox view on this is underlined many times throughout the Discourses, it is just that at times he wishes to emphasise our need for spiritual effort. There is, therefore, no implications regarding free will. Our free will is, as always, our freedom to choose whether to submit to the will of God or else to ignore God's will, with all that goes with it.

Kirk Yacoub
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28-06-2008, 09:19 AM
Post: #10
Patristic Text Study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
Dear Andrew,
Forgive the delay in responding, but I wrote out something much longer and decided to cut it down. So...
The word "passion" comes from the Greek "pathos" which, according to the glossary that accompanies the English translation of the Philokalia,
"signifies literally that which happens to a person or a thing, an experience undergone passively; hence an appetite or impulse such as anger, desire or jealousy, that violently dominates the soul."
It is said that there are two basic opinions regarding the passions in Patristic writings, one believing that the passions are intrinsically evil, a disease of the soul alien to mankind's true self, requiring eradication, and the other view which believes that the passions are fundamentally good, having been placed in us by God, but are presently distorted by sin, therefore requiring spiritual education and transformation. My own reading of the matter is that whilst, objectively, these dfferences of opinion might be real, subjectively, when we read the various Fathers, this division is not so clear cut, that ultimately both positions can be reconciled.
If we believe that gluttony is a sinful distortion of hunger, then we can see the problem there is in describing hunger as a passion. Yet if we also believe that the lust for fornication is a sinful distortion of the procreative sex drive, we can nevertheless see that this procreative sex drive can be described also as a passion. If we recall the Philoklalia's definition of the term "passion" as being "an appetite or impulse... that violently dominates the soul", then we can see why they are regartded as being an intrinsically evil disease of the soul and yet, also, as a sinful distortion of that which God placed within us.
It is a wonderful thing that through prayer, fasting, vigil, spiritual reading and other works that the monks (and nuns) unravelled for us the tangled relationships between the passions and how best to guard against and defeat them. Passion's opposite is dispassion. "To heal the sicknesses of the soul" Mor Philoxenos provides the antidote of confronting every sin with its opposite. It is important to note that he does not confront gluttony with gluttony, but with fasting, for the passions cannot go against themselves, except for one alone, namely anger, or our incensive power as the Philokalia states it. We turn anger not against others or God, but against ourselves in self-condemnation for committing sins, and we turn anger against the passions themselves and the demons that tempt us with them. "Get behind me Satan!" is the watchword.
When Mor Philoxenos opposes the lusts of the flesh with the lusts of the spirit he is using a striking phrase to provoke within us a positive, active response. He is saying in effect that, if we pursued prayer, fasting, vigil, silence, humility with the same vigour as we pursue food, sex, money, fame and power, then we would be worthily able to lead a Christian life. He is urging our incensive power to cling to those opposites of our various sins, thus enabling us, through the grace of God, to conquer our sinful selves. In this there is no neutrality.

Kirk Yacoub
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01-07-2008, 08:33 AM
Post: #11
Patristic Text Study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
Dear Andrew,
I think that we may be going round in circles about definitions. To say that the passions are the "natural powers of the soul" is the same as to say that the passions are impulses originally placed in mankind by God, and therefore fundamentally good - after all, God created the soul, so he must also have created the soul's natural powers - which is not a neutral statement.
Gluttony is not a natural impulse but a grossly sinful distortion of the natural impulse called hunger. St John Cassian in his On the Eight Vices only presents two passions as being in some way "neutral", namely the incensive power and the sex impulse. Many of the passions, as the Fathers carefully explain, are illegitimate offspring of sinful distortions of legitimate passions and are therefore not part of our natural make-up.
The Abba Isaiah of Scetis you quote is, I believe the same as St Isaiah the Solitary who appears in the first volume of the Philokalia, where he states:
"When the intellect rescues the soul's senses from the desires
of the flesh and imbues them with dispassion, the passions
shamelesly attack the soul, trying to hold its senses fast in sin;
but if the intellect then continually calls upon God in secret, He,
seeing all this, will send His help and destroy all the passions
at once."
We could circle this subject for a long time, but I believe that all things will become clearer if we pursue our study of Mor Philoxenos of Mabbug's Discourses. So how about keeping these things in mind whilst moving on to the Second Discourse, On Faith, which contains some things that should yield very fruitful dialogue.

Kirk Yacoub
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01-07-2008, 08:33 AM
Post: #12
Patristic Text Study: St Philoxenus' Discourses
Dear Andrew,
I think that we may be going round in circles about definitions. To say that the passions are the "natural powers of the soul" is the same as to say that the passions are impulses originally placed in mankind by God, and therefore fundamentally good - after all, God created the soul, so he must also have created the soul's natural powers - which is not a neutral statement.
Gluttony is not a natural impulse but a grossly sinful distortion of the natural impulse called hunger. St John Cassian in his On the Eight Vices only presents two passions as being in some way "neutral", namely the incensive power and the sex impulse. Many of the passions, as the Fathers carefully explain, are illegitimate offspring of sinful distortions of legitimate passions and are therefore not part of our natural make-up.
The Abba Isaiah of Scetis you quote is, I believe the same as St Isaiah the Solitary who appears in the first volume of the Philokalia, where he states:
"When the intellect rescues the soul's senses from the desires
of the flesh and imbues them with dispassion, the passions
shamelesly attack the soul, trying to hold its senses fast in sin;
but if the intellect then continually calls upon God in secret, He,
seeing all this, will send His help and destroy all the passions
at once."
We could circle this subject for a long time, but I believe that all things will become clearer if we pursue our study of Mor Philoxenos of Mabbug's Discourses. So how about keeping these things in mind whilst moving on to the Second Discourse, On Faith, which contains some things that should yield very fruitful dialogue.

Kirk Yacoub
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10-07-2008, 12:45 PM
Post: #13
 
Dear Kirk,

Sorry for the late response.

I think you're right in that we may be talking past each other.

When I refer to notions of "goodness", "badness" and "neutrality" I do so in their moral sense. Morality is within the domain of the will not the nature (physis). Passions are thus neutral in the sense that prior to any exercise of the will they bear no moral connotation, nor do they inherently predispose the exercise of the will to moral goodness or badness. Bishop Kallistos Ware summarises the philosophical origins of this idea in his lecture entitled 'Passions: Enemy or Friend?' He states:

Quote:For Aristotle, the passions in themselves are neither virtues nor vices; they are neither good nor evil. We are not commended or blamed because of them. They are neutral. Everything depends on the use that we make of our passions. He includes among the passions, not only such things as desire and anger, but also things such as friendship, courage and joy. So in Aristotle?s view our aim shouldn?t be to eliminate the passions, but we should try to have a moderate and reasonable employment of them.

Plato has a similar view. He uses the famous analogy of a charioteer with a two-horse carriage. The charioteer represents reason, which should be in control. One of the two horses pulling the chariot is of noble breed, the other is unruly and rebellious. And for Plato the fine horse denotes the noble emotions of the spirited part of the soul ? courage, etcetera ? while the disorderly horse represents the baser passions of the desiring part of the soul. The implications of the analogy are clear: if the charioteer has no horses at all, the chariot is never going to get moving, it is no use simply calculating with reason; if your carriage is to get moving, you need to have a proper relationship with the other aspects of your personhood. But the analogy goes further than that. If you have a two-horse carriage and only one horse yoked to it, you won?t get very far. The chariot will go askew immediately. In order for your chariot to move straight and far, you must have both horses properly harnessed, and you have to come to terms with both your horses.

Source: <!-- m --><a class="postlink" href="http://www.incommunion.org/articles/conferences-lectures/the-passions-enemy-or-friend">http://www.incommunion.org/articles/con ... -or-friend</a><!-- m -->

He then goes on to align this view with that of Abba Isaiah of Gaza.

I agree that we should probably move forward in our discussion at this point. Looking forward to hearing your comments on Discourse 2.

In Christ,
Andrew

"Come and incline your ear to the voice of your Mother who gives you life by the sweet music of her voice. Come and suck the sweet milk of Orthodox doctrine from the living breast of the Mother who bore you" - St Philoxenus of Mabug
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15-07-2008, 05:44 PM
Post: #14
patristic text study: st philoxenus' discourses
Dear Andrew,

In his second Ascetic Discourse Mor Philoxenos of Mabbugh tells us that faith comes before everything else, because without it we cannot even begin to construct our spiritual edifice, and when he speaks of faith he means much more than a passive belief ("the devils also believe, and tremble," James2:19).
Faith is an absolute,unconditional surrender to the very fact of God.We surrender ourselves to God the Creator and Sustainer of all things, we surrender to the absolute truth of His words and deeds, and we surrender to Christ, the crucified and resurrected Redeemer.Moreover, our surrender must preclude all questioning,all investigative probings into the nature of God and the whys and wherefores of His actions, and our surrender must preclude any demands for proofs.
If this need for unquestioning surrender seems harsh, then we must remember that Mor Philoxenos was caught up in the severest period of Christological disputes in which human beings who professed Christ tried to tear His Body, the Church, apart with relentless quarrels.Mor Philoxenos was actually martyred at the hands of fellow "Christians". The point he is making was reiterated by another great Syriac saint, Mor Jacob of Serugh, who rejected pointless, fruitless investigations into Christ's nature, advocating instead an attitude of wonder before the fact of the Incarnate Word of God.
All our attempts to investigate God,all our demands for proofs, arise from our pride, that pride which allied us with the serpent and led to our Fall from Paradise and which acts as a rigid barrier against our surrender to God. Human pride seeks to place our very limited reasoning powers on the same level as God's limitless power and wisdom, and when,inevitably, our puny powers fail to capture and categorize the Triune God, this same pride then begins to criticize and condemn the Deity.
Following the words of Christ (see Matt18:1-5) Mor Philoxenos tells us that
we must be before God as little children, full of love, trust and obedience. It is no accident that this exhortation in St Matthew's Gospel follows hard after Christ telling His disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be able to move mountains, "and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matt17:20)
To acquire true faith we must humble ourselves. Turning our backs on the "wisdom" of this world and surrendering unquestioningly to God, we will discover the extraordinary power that faith conveys.
Just like St Paul in the Letter to the Hebrews (Chap 11) Mor Philoxenos gives glorious examples of the workings of faith, which is the animus of the spiritual life, without which nothing we do is of value. For Christ made faith the very foundation of the Church.
It is typical of Mor Philoxenos that he both lingers on the marvellous workings of faith and has also the candour to place the most difficult thing of all, reaching a state of humility in order to acquire true faith, at the very beginning. But this cannot be helped. All those who strive to follow Christ must expect to be assailed by the sly powers of evil, and no human being can defend his or her self against these attacks alone.Without absolute surrender to God and absolute trust and confidence in Him then we will leave cracks and fissures of doubt and fear through which demonic powers will creap into our hearts to dishearten and poison us.

Kirk Yacoub
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15-07-2008, 05:45 PM
Post: #15
patristic text study: st philoxenus' discourses
Dear Andrew,

In his second Ascetic Discourse Mor Philoxenos of Mabbugh tells us that faith comes before everything else, because without it we cannot even begin to construct our spiritual edifice, and when he speaks of faith he means much more than a passive belief ("the devils also believe, and tremble," James2:19).
Faith is an absolute,unconditional surrender to the very fact of God.We surrender ourselves to God the Creator and Sustainer of all things, we surrender to the absolute truth of His words and deeds, and we surrender to Christ, the crucified and resurrected Redeemer.Moreover, our surrender must preclude all questioning,all investigative probings into the nature of God and the whys and wherefores of His actions, and our surrender must preclude any demands for proofs.
If this need for unquestioning surrender seems harsh, then we must remember that Mor Philoxenos was caught up in the severest period of Christological disputes in which human beings who professed Christ tried to tear His Body, the Church, apart with relentless quarrels.Mor Philoxenos was actually martyred at the hands of fellow "Christians". The point he is making was reiterated by another great Syriac saint, Mor Jacob of Serugh, who rejected pointless, fruitless investigations into Christ's nature, advocating instead an attitude of wonder before the fact of the Incarnate Word of God.
All our attempts to investigate God,all our demands for proofs, arise from our pride, that pride which allied us with the serpent and led to our Fall from Paradise and which acts as a rigid barrier against our surrender to God. Human pride seeks to place our very limited reasoning powers on the same level as God's limitless power and wisdom, and when,inevitably, our puny powers fail to capture and categorize the Triune God, this same pride then begins to criticize and condemn the Deity.
Following the words of Christ (see Matt18:1-5) Mor Philoxenos tells us that
we must be before God as little children, full of love, trust and obedience. It is no accident that this exhortation in St Matthew's Gospel follows hard after Christ telling His disciples that if they had faith the size of a mustard seed they would be able to move mountains, "and nothing shall be impossible unto you." (Matt17:20)
To acquire true faith we must humble ourselves. Turning our backs on the "wisdom" of this world and surrendering unquestioningly to God, we will discover the extraordinary power that faith conveys.
Just like St Paul in the Letter to the Hebrews (Chap 11) Mor Philoxenos gives glorious examples of the workings of faith, which is the animus of the spiritual life, without which nothing we do is of value. For Christ made faith the very foundation of the Church.
It is typical of Mor Philoxenos that he both lingers on the marvellous workings of faith and has also the candour to place the most difficult thing of all, reaching a state of humility in order to acquire true faith, at the very beginning. But this cannot be helped. All those who strive to follow Christ must expect to be assailed by the sly powers of evil, and no human being can defend his or her self against these attacks alone.Without absolute surrender to God and absolute trust and confidence in Him then we will leave cracks and fissures of doubt and fear through which demonic powers will creap into our hearts to dishearten and poison us.

Kirk Yacoub
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