Theodoros the Great Ascetic
Our father among the saints Theodoros the Great Ascetic was a monk of the monastery of St. Savvas near Jerusalem who became Bishop of Edessa in Syria. His feast day is celebrated on July 19. His Life was written by Basil of Emesa. The work A Century of Spiritual Texts is included in the Philokalia and is believed to have been written by St. Theodoros.
In the middle of the 9th century, St. Theodore of Edessa converted the "Saracen king", Muawid, one of the three sons of the Umayyad caliph Mutawakkil (847-861 A.D.), to Orthodoxy, baptizing him with the name John together with his three confidants.
Excerpts from A Century of Spiritual Texts:
- Since by God's grace we have renounced Satan and his works and have sworn allegiance to Christ, both at our baptism and now again through our profession as monks, let us keep His commandments. Not only does our double profesion demand this of us, but it is also our natural duty, for since we were originally created by God as 'very good' (Gen 1:31), we owe it to God to be such. Although sin entered us through our negligence and introduced into us what is contrary to nature, we have been reclaimed through God's great mercy, and renewed by the passion of Him who is dispassionate. We have been 'bought with a price' (1 Cor 6:20), namely by the blood of Christ, and liberated from the ancient ancestral sin. If, then, we become righteous, this is nothing great; but to fall from righteousness is pitiable and deserves condemnation.
- Just as a good act performed without genuine faith is quite dead and ineffective, so too faith alone without works of righteousness does not save us from eternal fire; for 'he who loves Me', says the Lord, 'will keep My commandments' (cf. John 14:15, 23). If then, we love the Lord and believe in Him, we shall exert ourselves to fulfil His commandments, so as to be granted eternal life. But how can we call ourselves faithful if we neglect to keep His ordinances, which all creation obeys, and if, althought we have been honoured above all creation, we are the only creatures who disobey the Creator and show ourselves ungrateful to our Benefactor?
- When we keep Christ's commandments we do not benefit Him in any way, since He is in need of nothing and is the bestower of every blessing. It is ourselvese that was benefit, since we win for ourselves eternal life and the enjoyment of ineffable blessings.
- If anyone whatsoever opposes us in the fulfilment of God's commandments, even if it is our father or mother, we ought to regard him with hatred and loathing, least we be told :'He who loves father or mother or anyone else whatsoever more than Me is not worthy of Me' (cf Matt. 10:37)
- Let us bind ourselves with all our strength to fulfil the Lord's commandments, lest we ourselves shoud be held by unbreakable cords of our evil desires and soul-corrupting pleasures (cf. should be passed on us as well : 'Cut it down, so that it does not clutter up the ground' (Luke 13:7). For, as Christ says, whatever 'does not produce good fruits is hewn down, and cast into the fire' (Matt. 3:10).
- He who gives himself to desire and sensual pleasures and lives according to the world's way will quickly be caught in the nets of sin. And sin, when once committed, is like fire put to straw, a stone rolling downhill or a torrent eating away its bank. Such pleasures, then, bring complete perdition on him who embraces them.
- So long as the sould is an state contrary to nature, running wild with the weeds and thorns of sensual pleasures, it is a dwelling place of grotesque beasts. Isaiah's word apply to it : ass-centaurs shall rest there, and hedgehogs make their lair in it, and there demons will consoft with ass-centaurs (cf. Isa. 34:11, 14. LXX) - for all theses animals signify the various shameful passions. But the soul, so long as it is joined to the flesh, can recall itself to its natural state at any time it wishes; and whatever it does so and disciplines itself with diligent effort, living in accordance with God's lwa, the wild beasts that were lurking inside it will take to flight, while the angels who guard our life will come to its aid, making the soul's return a day of rejoicing (cf. Luke 15:7). And the grace of the Holy Spirit will be present in it what is good and rise to higher levels.
- The Father define prayer as a spiritual weapon. Unless we are armed with it we cannot engage in warfare, but are carried off as prisoners to the enemy's country. Nor can we acquire pure prayer unless we cleave to God with an upright heart. For it is God who gives prayer to him who prays and who teaches man spiritual knowledge.
- It does not lie within our power to decide whether or not the passions are going to harass and attack the soul. But it does lie within our power to prevent impassioned thoughts from lingering within us and arousing the passions to action. The first of these conditions is not sinful, inasmuch as it is outside our control; whether the second is concerned, if we fight against the passions and overcome them we are rewarded, but we shall be funished if because of laziness and cowardice we let them overcome us.
- There are three principal passions, through which all the rest arise: love of sensual pleasure, love of riches, and love of praise. Close in their wake follow five other evil spirits, and from these five arise a great swarm of passions and all manner of evil. Thus he who defeats the three leaders and rulers simultaneously overcomes the other five and so subdues all the passions.
- Memories of all the impassioned actions we have performed exert an impassioned tyranny over the soul. But when impasioned thoughts have been completely erased from our heart, so that they no longer affect it even as provocations, this is a signt that our former sinful acts have been forgiven. For so long as the heart is stimulated by passion, sin clearly reigns there.
- Bodily passions or passions concerned with material things are reduced and withered through bodily hardship, while the unseen passions of the soul are destroyed through humility, gentleness and love.
- Self control together with humility withers passionate desire, love calms inflamed anger, and intense prayer together with mindfulness of God concentrates distracted thoughts. Thus the tripartite soul is purified. It was to this end that the apostle said : 'Pursue peace with all men and the holiness without which no one will see the Lord' (Heb. 12:14).
- Many People Wonder whether thought stimulates the passions or the passions stimulate thought. Some say the first and some the second. My own view is that thoughts are stimulated by the passions. For unless passions were in the soul, thoughts abouth them would not disturbd it.
- The demons, who always waging war against us, try to prevent us from performing actions that are within our power and that would help us to acquire the virtues, while at the same time they suggest ways of accomplishing things that in fact are impossible or else out of place. They compel those progressing in obedience to follow the hesychasts' way of life; and they implant in hesychasts and hermits a desire for coenobitic rule. They use a similar method with respect to every virtue. So let us be mindful of their designs, knowing that all things are good in their proper time and measure, while things lacking measure and out of place are noxious.
- With those who live in the world and are associated with the material things that feed the passions, the demons wage ware through practical activities; while with those who dwell in the wilderness, where material things are rare, they fight by troubling them with evil thoughts. This secode mode of warfare is far more difficult to cope with; for warfare through things requires a specific time and place, and a fit occasion, whereas warefare of the intellect is mercurical, and hard to control. But as our trusty weapon in this incorporeasl fight we have been given pure prayer: that is why we are told to pray without ceasing (cf. 1 Thess. 5:17). Prayer strengthens the intellect in the struggle, since it can be practiced even without the body taking part.
- With reference to the perfect mortification of the passions St Paul says :'They that are Christ's have crucified the flesh together with the passions and desires' (Gal. 5:240. For when we mortify the passions, utterly destroy desires, and subjugate the will of the flesh to Spirit, we take up the cross and follow Christ (cf. Matt. 16:24). For withdrawal from the world is nothing else but the mortification of the passions and the manisfestation of the life that is hidden in Christ (cf. Col. 3:3-4).
- Those who have given up their hour-by-hour warfare, because of their distress at the rebelliousness of 'body of this death' (Rom 7:24), should blame not the flesh, but themselves. For if they had not given it the strength, providing for it so it could gratify its desires (cf. Rom. 13:14), they would not have so greatly distressed by it. Do they not see how those who have crucified themselves together with their passions and desires, and who proclaim the death of Jesus in their mortal flesh (cf. 2 Cor. 4:10), have made the flesh tractable and obedient to the law of God, so that it proves any ally rather than an adversary in their aspirations towards the divine? Let them do likewise and they will enjoy the same peace.
- Every assent in thought to some forbidden desire, that is, every submission to self-indulgence, is a sin for a monk. For first the thought begin to darken the intellect through the passible aspect of soul, and then the sould submits to the pleasure, not holding out in the fight. This is what is called assent, which - as has been said - is a sin. When assent persists it stimulates the passion in question. Then little by little is leads to the actual committing of the sin. This why the prophets calls blessed those who dash the children of Babylon against the stones (cf. Ps. 137 : 9). People with understanding and discretion will know what is meant.
- Being servants of love and peace, the angels rejoice over our repentance (cf. Luke 15:7) and our progress in holiness. Hence they try to develop spiritual contemplation within us and they cooperate with us in the achieving of every form of blessing. The demons, on the contrary, being producers of anger and of evil, rejoice when holiness diminishes in us, and they attempt to seduce our souls with shameful fantasies.
- Faith is a quality inherent in our nature. It begets in us the fear of God; and fear of God instils that keeping of the commandments which constitues the practice of the virtues. From such practice grows the precious flower of dispassion. The offspring of dispassion is love, which is the fulfilment of all the commandments (cf. Rom. 13:10), binding and holding them in unity.
- When the body's perception is sound one is aware of what sickness afflicts it, while if one is not aware one is a victim of obtuseness. Similarly, the intellect, as long as it preserves its own proper energy, is conscious of its powers and knows from where the tyrannizing passion enter it; and it makes a determined stand against them. But it is terrible to pass one's day in a state of oblivion, like one who fights by night, not being able to see the evil thoughts agaings which one is battling.
- When our intelligence unyieldingly devotes itself to the contemplation of the virtues, and our desire is focused solely on this and on Christ who bestows it, while our souls's incensive power arms itself against the demons, then our faculties are acting according to nature.
- Every deiform soul is tripartite, according to Gregory the Theologian. Virtue, when established in the intelligence, he calls discretion, understanding and wisdom; when in the incensive power, he calls it courage and patience; and when in the faculty of desire, he calls it love, self-restraint and self-control. Justice or right judgment penetrates al three aspects of soul, enabling them to function in harmony. Through discretion the soul fights against the hostile powers and defends the virtues. Through self-restraint it views things dispassionately. Through love it urges a man to love all men as himself. Through self-control it eliminates every sensual pleasure. Finally, through courage and patience it arms itself against its invisible enemies. This is the harmony of the melodious organ of the soul.
- Let him who cultivates self-restraint and longs for blessed purity - which could rightly be called dispassion - discipline the flesh and bring it into subjection, with humble thoughts invoking divine grace, and he will achieve the aim he desires. But he who feeds the body intemperately will be tormented by the demon of unchastity. Jus as much water puts out a flame, so hunger or selfcontrol combined with humility of soul extinguishes the fever of the flesh and of shameful fantasies.
- If you love Christ you must keep the passion of rancour far from your soul. You should on no account yield to feelings of hostility; rancour lurking in the heart is like fire hidden in stalkds of dry flax. Rather you should pray fervently for anyone who has grieved you, and you should help him, if you have the means. By this action your sould bill be delivered from death (cf. Tobit 4:10) and nothing will hinder your communion with God when you pray.
- The Lord dwells in the souls of the humble; but shameful passions fill the hearts of the proud. Nothing so strengthens these passions against us as arrogant thoughts, and nothing uproots the evil herbs of the soul so effectively as blessed humility. Hence humility is rightly called the executioner of passions.
- Let Your sould be free of evil fantasies and illumined with thoughts of what is truly noble. Constantly remember the saying, 'A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and a chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas as assiduous heart is a open door.' Truly, when pure souls leave the body they are guided by angels who lead them to the life of blessedness. But unclean and unrepentant souls will be taken in charge by the demons.
- Beautfile is a head adorned with a precious diadem, set with Indian stones and lustrous pearls. But incomparably more beautiful is a sould rich in the knowledge of God, illumined by the most lucid contemplation and having the Holy Spirit dweling within it. Who can adequately describe the beauty of that blessed soul?
- Do not let anger and wrath make their home in you; ro 'an angry man is not dignified' (Prov. 11:25. LXX), whereas wisdom dwells in the hearts of gentle. If the passion of anger dominates your soul, those who live in the world will prove to be better than you, and you will be put to shame unworthy of monastic solitude.
- In every trial and in all warfare use prayer as your invicible weapon, and by the grace of Chris you will be victorious. Let your prayer be pure, as our wise teacher counsels. For he says : 'I would have men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without anger and without quarelling' (1 Tim. 2:8). But the person who neglects such prayer will be delivered over to trials and passions.
- 'Wine makes glad the heart of man'(Ps. 104:15). But you who have professed sorrow and grief should run away from such gladness and rejoice in spritual gifts. If you recjoice in wine, you will live with shameful thoughts and distress will overwhelm you.
- Do no plan to spend feast-days in drinking wine, but in regenerating your intellect and purifying your soul. If you eat gluttonously and drink wine provoke anger in the person whom the feast is honouring.
- We have been instructed to keep vigil - with prayers, reading, and the recitation of the Psalter - at all times, and especially at feasts. A monk who keeps vigil refines his mind for contemplation, whereas much sleep coarsens the intellect. But take care that during vigil you do not pass the time in empty gossip or evil thoughts. It is better to be asleep than to keep vigil with vain words and thoughts.
- He who keeps a serpent in his breast and he who keeps an evil thought in his heart will both be killed, the one by being bitten in the body by venomous fangs and the other by injecting a lethal poison into his soul. Let us, then, speedily slay the 'offspring of vipers' (Matt. 3:7), and let us not bring forth evil thoughts from our heart, lest we suffer bitter pangs.
- A pure sould can truly be called a 'chosen vessel'(Acts 9:15), 'an enclosed garden' and 'a sealed fountain' (Song of Solomon 4:12), and 'a throne of perceptiveness' (Prov. 12:23. LXX). But a soul polluted with filthy impurities stinks like a sewer.
- I have heard from elders experience in the practice of the virtues that evil thoughts are engendered in the soul by showy clothes, the belly's repletion and bad company.
- Desire for material wealth must not lodge in the souls of those pursuing the spiritual way. For a monk with many possesions is an over-laden ship, driven by the storm of cares and skinkin in the deep waters of distress. Love of riches begets many passions, and has aptly been called 'the root of all evil' (1 Tim. 6:10).
- A condition of total poverty, combined with silence, is a treasure hidden in the field of the monastic life (cf. Matt. 13:44). So 'go and sell all you have and give to the poor' (Matt. 19:21), and acquire this field. And when you have dug up the treasure, keep it inviolate, so that you become rich with a wealth that is inexhaustible.
- When you have taken up your dwelling with a spiritual father and find that he helps you, let no one separate you from his love and from living with him. Do not judge him in any respect, do no revile him even though he censures or strikes you, do not listen to someone who slanders him to you, do not side with anyone who critizes him, lest the Lord should be angered with you and blot you out of the book of the living (cf. Exod. 32:33).
- The struggle to achieve obedience is won by means of renunciation, as we have learned. He who seeks to be obedient must arm himself with three weapons : faith, hope, and divine and holy love (cf. 1 Cor. 13:13). Thus defended, he will 'fight the good fight' and receive 'a crown of righteousness' (2 Tim. 4:7-8).
- Do not judge the actions of your spiritual father, but obey his commands. For the demons are in the habit of showing you his defects, so that your ears may be deaf to what he tells you. They aim either to drive you from the arena as a feeble and woardly fighter, or simply to terrify you with thoughts that undermine your faith, and so to make you sluggish about every form of virtue.
- A monk who disobeys the commands of his spiritual father transgresses the special vows of his profession. But he who has embraced obedience and slain his own will with the sword of humility has indeed fulfilled the promise that he made to Christ in the presence of many witnesses.
- From our own observations we have clearly perceived that the enemies of our life, the demons, are exceedingly jealous of those pursuing the ascetic way under obedience to a spiritual father. Gnashing their teeth at them and devising all sorts of schemes, they do and suggest everything possible so as to separate a monk from his spiritual father's care. They propose plausible excuses, they contrive irritations, they arouse hatred against the father, they represent his admonitions as rebukes, they make his words of correction seem like sharpened arros. Why they ask, since you are free, have you become a slave - a slave to a merciless master? How long will you wear yourself out under the yoke of servitude and not see the light of freedom? Then they make suggestions about giving hospitality, visiting the sick and caring for the poor. Next they extol above measure the rewards of extreme stillness and solitude, and sow all sorts of evil weeds in the heart of the devout warrior, simply to cast him out of the fold of his spiritual father; and having unmoored him from that untroubled haven they drive him out to sea, into the fierce and soul-destroying tempest. Finally, when they have enslaved him to their own authority, they use him according to their own evil desires.
- The Philokalia, v. 2.