A disciple of Abba Anthony said, ‘If anyone wants to drive out the demons, he must first subdue the passions; for he will banish the demon of the passion which he has mastered. For example, the devil accompanies anger; so if you control your anger, the devil of anger will be banished. And so it is with each of these passions.’
——–Sayings of the Desert Fathers
Self-control and overcoming the negative forces and habits that drive each of us is a worthy goal. The wise old man attributes every problem very directly to a “demon.” We do not share such a view of good and evil. We do, however, need to acknowledge the presence of supernatural evil in our world. That being said, I want to concentrate on the positive advice of the saying.
Passion is the root of both good and evil. Learn to reap your positive passions, and subdue your negative (sins) ones and you will be on your way to a life of the Spirit. We are advised to master the passions that lead us away from God and our neighbor, thus banishing that obstacle of spiritual attainment from our lives. May each of us take this to heart, and make it a matter of fervent prayer.
Lord let me take serious the passions that drive me. By your spirit help me to control my negative passions and allow those that are life giving to soar. May I soar in your direction all the days of my life. Give the wisdom to know the difference and the self control to win the day.
A man who gives way to his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, catches the arrow in his hands, and then plunges it into his own heart. A man who is resisting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, and although the arrow hits him, it does not seriously wound him because he is wearing a breastplate. But the man who is uprooting his passions is like a man who is shot at by an enemy, but who strikes the arrow and shatters it or turns it back into his enemy’s heart.
——— Abba Dorotheos
The food for thought from the Abba is the various ways we handle the passions of life. He gives us three scenarios: surrender, self-willed resistance or spiritual release. The first two can have very dire consequences which can do great harm to us. The third allows us to experience the freedom of deliverance, and not just deliverance, but victory. As we travel on the contemplative path, we can achieve great comfort in knowing that we don’t have to fight the fight alone. God’s spirit will allow us to uproot our passions and become resistant to the tricks of the world
Just recently I was introduced to Dorotheos of Gaza by Professor Emeritus Roberta Bondi from Chandler School of Theology. I find his words an additional treasure trove of desert wisdom that I will be blogging on from time to time. Irvin
In His loving-kindness God has given us purifying commandments so that, if we wish, we can by their observance be cleansed not only of sins but also of passions themselves. For passions are one thing and sins another. Passions are: anger, vanity, love of pleasures, hatred, evil lust and the like. Sins are the actual operations of passions, when a man puts them into practice, that is, performs with the body the actions to which his passions urge him. For it is possible to have passions and yet not to act from them.
Doretheos of Gaza
——-Dorotheos of Gaza
At first glance Dorotheos seems to be implying that we can approach God with behavior modification. That is not the base point of the teaching. We can dig far deeper by gaining the insight of the undeniable relationship between passion and sin. If we can come to understand that God is seeking to guide us to recognize our passions without allowing them to control us like puppets on a string, we can arrive at a peace that is currently beyond our grasp. Passions and sins are not one in the same. Passions are the root of sin, but passions are not an excuse for sin. The father clearly points out that we can have passions without sin. There are two keys: to observe the commands of God and avoid sin, and to understand that our passions drive us in the direction of sin. With that knowledge, it will be possible to have passions and not sin.
Additionally, I believe that passions allow us to live our lives to the fullest. Our deepest passions are one way we were created in the “image and likeness” of God. We are to go to God and ask Him to gift us with deep passion to live, to love, and to serve. With these passions, we become great servants and productive people. The acknowledgement of evil passions as the root of sin is the beginning of the road to glorification.
Abba Isaac came to see Abba Poemen and found him washing his feet. As he enjoyed freedom of speech with him he said, “How is it that others practice austerity and treat their bodies hardly?” Abba Poemen said to him, “We have not been taught to kill our bodies, but to kill our passions.”
—–Abba Poeman of the Desert
Oftentimes we misread and mishandle the greatest commands of the scripture. The message of scripture is not to torture and abuse the very body that God created, but to care for our bodies in such a way that we may glorify God. To control passions and to discern negative passions from ones that build fervor for God is one of the greatest challenges of the Christian journey. As far back as the time of the Desert Fathers there was a defiling of the body, both by the church and immoral practices. It seems the church has always wanted us to deny our physical needs to avoid sin. The simple act of Abba Poeman washing his feet was considered a luxury that a Christian should avoid. Let us understand that our desires are not our enemies, but our lack of self control is very much our destroyer.