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Hesychia and TheologyOne Hundred Texts on Spiritual Knowledge by St Diadokos of Photiki

Professor Panayiotis Christou of blessed memory divided the book [One Hundred Texts on Spiritual Knowledge by St. Diodokos of Fotiki] into [larger] sections.

In order to gain an insight into the content of this important book, we shall set out below the sections into which the Professor of blessed memory divided its subject matter, together with his brief analysis.

Panayiotis Christou writes:

“The main body of the work, which is difficult to analyse and divide up because the author comes back repeatedly to the same themes, is concerned with the following issues:

Man’s spiritual nature (1-11). The foundation of the true spiritual life is love, which unites the soul with the virtues of God, Who alone is good by nature. Man is not naturally good, but can become so by participation, as he is created in God’s image and has the potential to become like Him, provided he makes appropriate use of his freedom by directing his will towards what is good. The soul’s tendency towards the good is assisted by wisdom, which is the understanding of divine truths, and by spiritual know-edge, which is the discrimination between good and evil. There is no other principle opposed to God, because evil in itself does not exist and comes into existence only through the desire of man’s heart.

The power of love and faith (12-23). The love of the faithful is directed principally to God. It should be so fervent that the remembrance of His glory becomes the sole purpose of their life, their own glory is despised and the pleasures of this world are abandoned. This love yields sublime fruits, because the person who loves God not only produces good works, but is also known by God and becomes His friend. Love follows on from the fear generated at the outset of the soul’s spiritual purification. Another spiritual quality is the faith that is inseparably linked with love and its works, and testifies to divine truths. Scrutiny and arrogant speculations are impermissible. The energy of such thoughts disturbs our conscience and makes heavenly blessings incomprehensible.

The soul’s ability to distinguish between divine illumination and demonic influence (24-40). After the sin of Adam man’s interests were divided. The soul looks towards heavenly blessings, and the body to the good things of this world. In a similar way man’s single natural faculty of perception was split between his ability to understand and his physical senses. We have to make a great effort in order to distinguish spiritual truths from manifestations of evil spirits, and to unite our fragmented perception. The soul that is detached from the world and devoted to prayer sees God clearly, whereas the world clouds our ability to discern. In this endeavour the soul is strengthened by the Holy Spirit Who purifies the nous. But when the nous, moving towards perfect holiness, perceives divine consolation, then the demon offers a vision of sweet pleasures to mislead and corrupt man’s disposition. This is evil consolation, which can be distinguished from true consolation because the former comes during sleep and causes doubt and disturbance, whereas the latter comes while we are awake and in a mystical state, and produces serenity and unutterably sweet love for God, to the point that we see nothing but God. There are, of course, good dreams, but as it is difficult to discern between dreams, we do well not to pay attention to any of them. 

Self-control as a fundamental virtue and flight from the world (41-66). Obedience leads us to the love of God and is an exalted virtue, but the supreme virtue that brings us to perfection is self-control of body and soul. Self-control in food is enjoined for the sake of charity to our fellow men and to avoid carnal desires. It is permissible, however, to eat all types of food except those that are too delicious, provided we keep the rule that food should be taken according to the body’s needs and impulses. Although fasting has a certain value in itself, it is worthless before God, and must not become just another way to show off. Drinking wine in moderation helps the spiritual seeds sown in man to grow, but other kinds of alcoholic drinks should be avoided. It is not a sin to take baths, but refraining from them is a sign of valour. Medicines can be used when we are sick, as long as we place our ultimate hope of healing in the Lord and not in them. Life is fleeting; it is simply a road down which we pass, so we must be indifferent to the world’s attractions, in order to resist evil more easily. The demon of despondency offers spirited resistance to our efforts to be delivered from the world, but he can be driven off by the remembrance of God and the invocation of the name of Jesus Christ. Specific indications that we have distanced ourselves from the world include forgiving those that wrong us, keeping away from courts of justice, distributing our possessions, and poverty. In this way it is easier to acquire dispassion, love and perfect joy.

Theology and communion with God (67-74). It is through theology that we first make religious progress. Theology is the understanding of God that moves the heart towards love for His beauty and enlightens it, so that it can substitute the word of God for earthly riches. Secondly we make progress through spiritual knowledge, which is the understanding of right conduct and how to practise it. Theology leads to the utterance in words of truths about God, but in order to avoid talkativeness, speech can be replaced by prayers and hymns. Prayer does not necessarily have to be external and vocal: interior, silent prayer is superior. The experience of prayer and self-knowledge produces a pleasing feeling of warmth for God, which differs from natural warmth in that it is engendered by the Holy Spirit.

The Christian’s struggle and its end (75-100). Two powers act on the soul, one spiritual the other demonic. Man can follow whichever of the two he likes; because the Fall inflicted a split on his will through the corruption of his soul and body. Because of this it was necessary for the Saviour to become man. His incarnation does not completely abolish the duality of man’s will, but brings about the rebirth of anyone who so desires. The progressive action of divine grace begins with Baptism. From then on grace dwells within the soul, whereas the demons withdraw to the area around the soul. Divine grace and the demons do not dwell together in the soul, they simply act upon the soul at the same time and in parallel, because the demons do not give up the fight. This struggle serves to make men perfect, because those who struggle achieve perfection by this means, as if by an alternative form of martyrdom, just as martyrs are perfected by the first form of martyrdom. True dispassion does not mean that the demons stop their attacks, nor that afflictions cease, but that these things have been overcome as a result of painful and difficult effort. The demons take it in turns to fight and continue the battle even in this final stage when the strugglers are advancing towards perfection. All those who go forward in the struggle taste the sweetness of God, and those who completely vanquish the powers of evil will be numbered in future with the saints and will receive a rich reward.

The One Hundred Texts refer principally to the life of monks, as the best representatives of the Christian spirit. They are also directed, however, to all men, with the aim of building up their moral and spiritual lives.”

Professor Panayiotis Christou

Excerpt from Hesychia and Theology: The Context for Man’s Healing in the Orthodox Church by Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos

True Knowledge of God