Orthodox Spirituality by Fr. Dimitru Staniloae – A Commentary

This is an index for my commentary on the presentation of Orthodox Spirituality by Fr. Dimitru Staniloae. For me this has been an incredible learning experience. I can only pray that you also gained insights about your own spiritual journey. I have also included a link to a pdf which contains all of the posts in this series.

Orthodox Spirituality – A Commentary on the work of Fr. Dimitru Staniloae (pdf)

An index to the individual blog entries:

ii.   The Aim

Part One: Purification
1.   Faith: The Starting Point to Perfection

Part Two: Illumination
Part Three: Perfection


Searching for the Truth

The problem of where the truth lies has occupied mankind down through the ages; it is a problem that is always contemporary and of its very nature leads man to seek an answer. The Philosophers, especially the ancient Greeks, posed the question: “What is the truth?” and most men have searched for it rationally. Some said that truth is an Idea, a “principle of all things”, the “prime mover unmoved” and called it God.

But this “God”, the God of the philosophers, cannot redeem. He touches only man’s rational faculty, and not man as a whole; no one can come into personal commu­nion with him since he is not a person, but something impersonal; an universal Mind that acts blindly, or is so distant and so transcendental that he has no interest in man or in the world.

 There can be no doubt that anyone with a good disposition, upon observing creation and using his human potential, can discover evidence of God’s existence. However, he will discover only the concept of God, but not God Himself, salvific truth.

Others, down through the ages, have created world idols and a multitude of deities. They established “divine” laws and rules and created systems of worship of human provenance. All these, however, are simply expressions of man himself; they do not transcend the created realm, created reality; they do not, in other words, reveal the one true God Who transcends the created world.

 Again, still others believe that man is by nature God. It remains simply for him to understand “his true self; nothing need change save his stance vis-a-vis his God-self, rejecting any thought that might differentiate him from his own divinity and recognize the existence of a God outside and beyond him.

 In the final analysis, such an approach to God cannot satisfy man. It leads to an infinite loneliness which is contrary to human nature. By nature, man seeks warmth, love, communion with others and not only with himself; Without these things, he cannot exist. That is why he continuously seeks them. He is not satisfied with man-made concepts concerning God. He desires to rise above created reality, above creation and seek the meaning of life in communion with the uncreated and eternal God.

Some straight answers about the Orthodox Church


Why haven’t I heard of the Orthodox Church before?

Beats me! It’s been around since the day of Pentecost. You probably haven’t heard about it because we are a conservative Church that sounds no trumpets in our social programs but rather attempts to lead individuals, each in his or her own circumstances, into communion with God, the very purpose for which the Church exists. Believe it or not, there are perhaps three million of us in North America, and at least 150 million throughout the world.
Are you like the Catholics or the Protestants?

Well, the Orthodox Church is “catholic” in the fullest meaning of the word: “whole and not confined.” But some 500 years before the reformation split western Europe into Protestant and Roman Catholic, Orthodox Christians protested against the Pope of Rome and his attempts to become supreme over the Church in the 11th century, as well as some doctrinal innovations. The Orthodox Church remains unchanged in doctrine and faith since the early Church of the Apostles (yes, we’ve been around that long.)
That’s a pretty bold claim, isn’t it?

It is a bold statement, but when you consider that Jesus Christ promised that he would found His Church and that it would endure unchanged in faith and practice, the gates of hell not prevailing until he came again, it’s altogether refreshing (and confirms one’s faith!)
Do you believe in the Bible?

No. We believe in God! We do, however, believe the Bible to be God’s inspired word a part of the Tradition of the Church. (II Thessalonians, 2:15) In fact, it was the Church which gave us the Bible as we know it today! (You didn’t think it just fell from heaven as we have it, did you?)
Why should I come to the Orthodox Church or any church for that matter?

Why should you go to work or school, “for that matter”? It is totally natural! As a child of God you must worship him in some way, somehow, with your Christian brothers and sisters. This is a scriptural teaching. The Orthodox Church offers the most meaningful and rich expression of faith and worship there is (you’d have to see it to believe it)! Why settle for less? (Another bold statement, right?)
I thought you had to be Greek or Russian to be Orthodox?

Come on, did you really believe that? the Orthodox Church is not a country club! The Kingdom of Heaven is “equal opportunity”. You are welcome regardless of where your ancestors came from. You are also welcome to bring with you your national customs and culture. Just keep the Gospel of Jesus Christ first and foremost. The Orthodox Church adopts the culture and language of the country she finds herself in.
Do you have to confess your sins to a priest?

No. You confess your sins to God in the presence of a priest who will help you overcome them and proclaim God’s forgiveness, as promised in Holy Scripture. If you choose, you may confess to the entire congregation, following the practice of the early Church. (Admitting that you have sins is the beginning of repentance – that’s half the battle already!)
If I joined your Church, would I have to come to every service?

The only things we have to do in this world are to pay taxes and die! Coming to Church will give you a deduction for the former and prepare you for the latter. You come because you want to come, whenever there is a service. Shotgun Christians are doubters of their own faith. No one forces you. Your attendance and participation is your natural response to God’s place in your personal spiritual life, as well as a testimony to faith in His existence in His Body, the Church and Community of Believers.
How long is one of your service?

Not long enough for those striving for spiritual growth and renewal. In minutes, the Divine Liturgy (such as our service on the Sabbath and Lord’s Days) is a bit longer than an episode of General Hospital (but without the corruption and commercials!)

What does it cost to be a member of the Orthodox Church?

It costs you your life!
No, I mean in dollars and cents!

It costs you all that you have!
You must be joking!

No, it’s the truth. When you commit yourself to Jesus Christ and His Church, you will come to understand that everything you possess is a gift from Him to be used for His glory. For example, if you are living as best you can according to Jesus Christ’s teachings, your life is giving glory to God. Then even your grocery bill for the food which sustains and nourishes your life, is a contribution to the glory of God. This is the Orthodox understanding of the term “stewardship”.
Come on now, how much are “the dues”?

Okay, enough theology! The scriptural ideal is 10% (a tithe) of your gross income. But unless you submit last year’s tax return, no one would know how much you earn. You give as much as you can conscientiously, on a regular basis but not because God “needs” the money. Man does have a need, however, to give – we know that from our day-to-day experience (particularly as Christians).
All right, now on to your worship. I was told that the Orthodox worship pictures. Isn’t that against the Commandments?

Sorry, you were told wrong! The Holy Icons (“pictures”) are honored as reminders of the Glory and Presence of God, and venerated as such. ONLY God, the Father, His Son Jesus Christ, and the Holy Spirit are due worship. (How can the Church practice that is so contrary to God’s Law?) That is one reason you will find no statues in Orthodox temples – their inclusion in our tradition never developed as that too closely resembled the pagan piety of the early days of our Church, during the time of the Apostles. But icons, rather than attempting to depict reality, point to the Kingdom of God. They are often referred to as “picture windows to Heaven”. In other words, you will not only hear the Gospel in an Orthodox Church, you will see it! The icons act as “tools” in our spiritual worship and witness to the sanctification of all creation and matter that occurred when Christ Jesus, the Son of God, took on human flesh. The Divine/Human Person of Jesus became the living icon of God (John 10:30; 14:6-11) in the flesh.
You keep mentioning “The Church” over and over again. Why?

Basically, Jesus Christ did not come to establish such a thing as “Christianity”. Even the word is not in the Holy Scriptures. What Christ Jesus did do was to establish the Church, which Scripture calls both His Body and His Bride. the communion which man seeks with God is found by being part of the Church, something which St. Paul calls a “great mystery”, whereby we become members of Christ: “of His flesh, and of His bones.” (Ephesians 5:30) The Bible also tells us that such as were being saved were added to the Church (Acts 2:47). They were not merely making “decisions for Christ” — again, not a Scriptural term — but they were repenting, being baptized for the remission of their sins, and being added to the Church. (Acts 2:38 ff.) There, they were continuing steadfastly in the Apostle’s doctrine and fellowship, the Breaking of Bread (what is commonly called Holy Communion today), and prayer. Finally, from the day of Pentecost, the “birthday” of the Church, the Bible never speaks of Christians who were not a part of it. This sort of sums up why we speak so much of “The Church”.

my source

Nativity of the Holy Glorious Prophet, Forerunner and Baptist

The Nativity of the Holy Forerunner and Baptist of the Lord, John: The Gospel (Luke. 1: 5) relates that the righteous parents of St John the Baptist, the Priest Zachariah and Elizabeth (September 5), lived in the ancient city of Hebron. They reached old age without having children, since Elizabeth was barren. Once, St Zachariah was serving in the Temple at Jerusalem and saw the Archangel Gabriel, standing on the right side of the altar of incense. He predicted that St Zachariah would father a son, who would announce the Savior, the Messiah, awaited by the Old Testament Church. Zachariah was troubled, and fear fell upon him. He had doubts that in old age it was possible to have a son, and he asked for a sign. It was given to him, and it was also a chastisement for his unbelief. Zachariah was struck speechless until the time of the fulfillment of the archangel’s words.

St Elizabeth came to be with child, and fearing derision at being pregnant so late in life, she kept it secret for five months. Then her relative, the Virgin Mary, came to share with her Her own joy. Elizabeth, “filled with the Holy Spirit,” was the first to greet the Virgin Mary as the Mother of God. St John leaped in his mother’s womb at the visit of the Most Holy Virgin Mary and the Son of God incarnate within Her.

Soon St Elizabeth gave birth to a son, and all the relatives and acquaintances rejoiced together with her. On the eighth day, in accordance with the Law of Moses, he was circumcised and was called John. Everyone was amazed, since no one in the family had this name. When they asked St Zachariah about this, he motioned for a tablet and wrote on it: “His name is John.” Immediately his tongue was loosed, and St Zachariah glorified God. He also prophesied about the Coming into the world of the Messiah, and of his own son John, the Forerunner of the Lord (Luke. 1: 68-79).

After the Nativity of our Lord Jesus Christ and the worship of the shepherds and the Magi, wicked king Herod gave orders to kill all male infants. Hearing about this, St Elizabeth fled into the wilderness and hid in a cave. St Zachariah was at Jerusalem and was doing his priestly service in the Temple. Herod sent soldiers to him to find out the abode of the infant John and his mother. Zachariah answered that their whereabouts were unknown to him, and he was killed right there in the Temple. Righteous Elizabeth continued to live in the wilderness with her son and she died there. The child John, protected by an angel, dwelt in the wilderness until the time when he came preaching repentance, and was accounted worthy to baptize the Lord.

The Struggle in Prayer- Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov

O Holy Spirit, Eternal King
and Giver of life incorruptible:
Look down in Thine infinite mercy
on the infirmities of our nature.
Illumine and hallow us.
Let the light of Thy knowledge
shine forth in our darkened hearts.
And in the earthen vessels of our nature
manifest Thine invincible strength.

Prayer is infinite creation, the supreme art. Over and over again we experience an eager upsurge towards God, followed only by a falling away from His light. Time and again we are conscious of the mind’s inability to rise to Him. There are moments when we feel ourselves on the verge of insanity. ‘Thou didst give me Thy precept to love but there is no strength in me for love. Come and perform in me all that Thou hast commanded, for Thy commandment overtaxes my powers. My mind is too frail to comprehend Thee. My spirit cannot see into the mysteries of Thy will. My days pass in endless conflict. I am tortured by the fear of losing Thee because of the evil thoughts in my heart.’

Sometimes prayer seems to flag and we cry, ‘Make haste unto me, O God’ (Ps. 70.5). But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, help will come. It is vital to dwell in prayer in order to counteract the persistently destructive influence of the outside world.

Prayer cannot fail to revive in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam ‘became a living soul’ (Gen. 2.7). Then our regenerated spirit will marvel at the sublime mystery of being, and our hearts echo the Psalmist’s praise of the wonderful works of the Lord. We shall apprehend the meaning of Christ’s words, ‘I am come that (men) might have life and that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10.10).

But this life is full of paradox, like all the Gospel teaching. ‘I am come to send fire on earth; and what will I, if it be already kindled? (Luke 12.49). Unless we go through this fire that consumes the decaying passions of nature, we shall not see the fire transformed into light, for it is not Light that comes first, then Fire: in our fallen state burning precedes enlightment. Let us, therefore, bless God for this consuming fire. We do not know altogether but we do at least know ‘in part’ (1 Cor. 13.9) that there is no other way for us mortals to become ‘children of the resurrection’ (Luke 20.36), to reign together with Christ. However painful this re-creating may be; however it may distress and lacerate- the process, agonising as it is, will be a blessed one. Erudition requires long labour but prayer is incalculably harder to acquire.

When the Gospels and Epistles become real for us we see how naïve were our past notions of God and life in Him, so far does Reality surpass man’s imagining. ‘Eye hath not seen, nor ear heard, neither have entered into the heart of man, the things which God hath prepared for them that love him’ (1 Cor. 2.9). Even a whisper of the Divine is glory beyond compare to all the content of life lived apart from God.

Strait is the way, and thorny and sorrowful. We shall heave many a sigh as we go along. The peculiar fear which is ‘the beginning of wisdom’ (Ps. 111.10) will clutch at our heart and twist our whole being outside in to concentrate attention on what is happening within. Impotent to follow Christ, we stop short in dread. ‘Jesus went before (the disciples); they were amazed; and as they followed, they were afraid’ (Mark 10.32).

None of us can escape suffering if we would be born into a new life in God- if we would transform our natural body into a spiritual body. (As St Paul said, ‘It is sown a natural body; it is raised a spiritual body’ (1 Cor. 15.44).). Only the power of prayer overcomes the resistance of matter and releases our spirit from this cramped, inert world into the vast open spaces radiant with Light.

The mind is bewildered by the trials that befall in our struggle for prayer. It is not easy to identify their cause or their kind. Until we go ‘into the sanctuary of God’ (Ps. 73.17) we shall often hesitate, unsure whether our works are pleasing to the All-Holy. Since we are not exempt from sin we can only think that it is our wrong-doing which provokes the storms raging around us- though St Peter reminded the early Christians in their despair that ‘the spirit of glory’ (1 Pet. 4.14) rested upon them. One thing, however, is not open to doubt: the hour will come when all our trials and tribulations will disappear into the past. Then we shall see that the most painful periods of our life were the most fruitful and will accompany us beyond the confines of this world, to be the foundation of the Kingdom ‘which cannot be moved’ (Heb. 12.28).

The omnipotent God summoned us from the void. By nature we are of the void; yet even from God we expect consideration and regard. Suddenly the Almighty reveals Himself in boundless humility. The vision floods our entire being and instinctively we bow in adoration. Even this does not seem enough but however much we try to humble ourselves before Him we still fall short of His humility.

Prayer to this God of love and humility rises from the depths of our being. When our heart is filled with love for God we are wholly aware of our closeness to Him- although we know full well that we are but dust (cf. Gen. 3.19). Howbeit, in the visible form of our nature the immortal God described the likeness of His invisible Being, and thus we apprehend eternity. Through prayer we enter into Divine life; and God praying in us is uncreated life permeating us.

In making us in His image, after His likeness, God placed us before Him, not as action of His, entirely subject to Him, but as fact (datum) even for Him- as free beings And by virtue of this, relations between man and God are based on the principle of freedom. When we take advantage of this freedom and commit sin, we thrust God aside. This liberty to turn away from God is the negative, tragic aspect of free will but it is a sine qua non if we are to take hold of the life which is truly divine, life which is not predetermined.

We have the diametrically opposite alternatives: either to refuse God- the very essence of sin- or to become sons of God. Because we are made in the likeness of God we naturally desire the divine perfection which is in our Father. And when we follow Him we are not submitting to the dictates of some extraneous power: we are merely obeying our own impulse to assimilate His perfection. ‘Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect’ (Matt. 5.48).

Our Father which art in heaven,
Hallowed be thy Name
Thou hast given me to perceive Thy holiness, and I would fain be holy in Thee.

Thy Kingdom come
May Thy glorious life enter into me and become mine.

Thy will be done
in the earth of my created being, as it is in heaven, in Thee Thyself, from all eternity.

Give us this day our daily bread
‘the true bread which cometh down from heaven, and giveth life unto the world’ (John 6.32-33).

And forgive us our trespasses, As we forgive them that trepass against us
By Thy Holy Spirit grant me so to forgive others that nothing may prevent me from receiving Thy forgiveness.

Lead us not into temptation
Thou knowest my perverseness; that I am ever ready to transgress. Send Thine angel to stand in the way for an adversary against me when I would sin (cf. Num. 22.22).

But deliver us from evil
Deliver me from the power of the mortal enemy, the adversary of man and God.

At first we pray for ourselves; but when God by the Holy Spirit gives us understanding our prayer assumes cosmic proportions. Then, when we pray ‘Our Father’ we think of all mankind, and solicit fulness of grace for all as for ourselves. Hallowed be Thy Name among all peoples. Thy Kingdom come for all peoples that Thy Divine life may become their life. Thy will be done: Thy will alone unites all in love of Thee. Deliver us from evil- from the ‘murderer’ (John 8.44) who, far and wide, sows enmity and death. (According to our Christian interpretation evil- like good- exists only where there is personal form of being. Without this personal form there would be no evil- only determined natural processes.)

The problem of evil in the world generally and in mankind particularly poses the question of God’s participation in the historical life of the human race. Many lose their faith because it seems that, if God existed, evil could not be so rampant and there could not be such widespread senseless suffering. They forget that God cares for man’s freedom, which is the root principle of his creation in the Divine image. For the Creator to interfere when man inclines to evil would be tantamount to depriving him of the possibility of self-determination, and would destroy him altogether. But God can and does save individuals and nations if they tread the road He designates.

Christ said, ‘I came not to send peace, but a sword’ (Matt. 10.34) and ‘division’ (Luke 12.51). Christ summoned us to war on the plane of the spirit, and our weapon is ‘the sword of the Spirit, which is the word of God’ (Eph. 6.17). Our battle is waged in extraordinarily unequal conditions. We are tied hand and foot. We dare not strike with fire or sword: our sole armament is love, even for enemies. This unique war in which we are engaged is indeed a holy war. We wrestle with the last and only enemy of mankind- death (1 Cor. 15.26). Our fight is the fight for universal resurrection.

The Lord justified and sanctified the line of His forefathers. Likewise, every one of us, if we follow Christ, can justify ourselves in our individual being, having restored the Divine image in us through total repentance, and by so doing can help to justify our own forefathers. We bear in ourselves the legacy of the sins of our ancestors; and, by virtue of the ontological unity of the human race, healing for us means healing for them, too. We are so interjoined that man does not save himself alone.

I found that the monks of the Holy Mountain understood this well. A monk is a man who has dedicated his life to God; who believes that if we want God to be wholly with us and in us, then we must give ourselves to Him completely, not partly. The monk renounces marriage and the fathering of children in order to observe and keep Christ’s commandments as fully as possible. If a monk does not achieve his true purpose- to live his life on earth in the spirit enjoined by Christ- his monasticism has not been duly implemented. In other words, he neither assists in the continuation of the human race by procreating children, nor does he entirely further immortality through resurrection. He drops out of the historical plan by his refusal to take positive historical- not to say, political- action, yet he does not transfer existence to the spiritual, meta-historical plane. Having gained no victory on the universal plane of spiritual warfare, he is not helping his fellow-humans to attain the divine plane. However, though the monk may not realise Christian perfection, his striving, even so, helps the whole world.

O Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Spirit,
The only Truth and God;
Ever-living and all-powerful,
Who alone dost give strength to the troubled
and upholdest the weak;
O Thou without Whom the strong shall weary
and the firm grow feeble,
those who are full shall hunger
and young men shall bend:
Hear us in our affliction
and raise us to worthy service of Thee.
We beseech Thee, be swift to hear and have mercy.

When by the grace of the Holy Spirit it is given to a man to ‘come…unto a perfect man, unto the measure of the stature of the fulness of Christ’ (Eph. 4.13), such an event reflects in the most decided fashion not only on the destiny of all mankind- its influence reaches beyond the confines of history and reflects on the whole of cosmic life, for the world itself was created for man.
When we turn away from the path indicated by Christ- that is, from the deification of man by the power of the Holy Spirit- the whole point of man’s coming into the world disappears.

Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov (2001) (2nd ed.) His Life is Mine. Chapter 8: The Struggle in Prayer. New York: St Vladimir’s Seminary Press.