Christ the Eternal Tao - Final Q&A

Christ the Eternal Tao

Learn how Eastern Orthodox Christian spirituality provides seekers of our day clear guidance on acquiring stillness, overcoming the passions, dealing with thoughts, and cultivating the virtues, as well as precise teachings on spiritual *deception, all of which* guides seekers more safely and surely on the path to communion with God (Tao – Chinese). In the profound mystical and contemplative tradition of the Christian East, seekers are able to go well beyond the realizations in Eastern religions. A long – awaited answer for those who, having turned away from modern Western religiosity, are drawn to the freshness, directness and simplicity of Lao Tzu and eastern philosophies, and at the same time are strangely, inexplicably drawn back to the all-compelling reality of Jesus Christ.

The Speaker:

Hieromonk Damascene (Christensen) is an Eastern Orthodox priest, monk and spiritual child of ascetic and spiritual struggler Bl. Father Seraphim Rose, of St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California. Fr Damascene is the author of Fr Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works and Christ the Eternal Tao, as well as numerous articles on Eastern Orthodox faith, doctrine and spirituality.

November 2009

Christ the Eternal Tao - Final Q&A

Final Questions and Answers at conclusion of the seminar.

November 13, 2009 Length: 1:18:19





Questioner 1: When you’re talking about images, how do icons work in that—because if we pray in front of icons we’re not supposed to have the image in our minds?

Fr. Damascene: We have icons in the Church that are visual reminders to us of the saints, although we don’t worship the icons. We know God can impart grace through icons. We have miracle-working icons. Of course, it’s not the icons that work the miracle, it’s God’s grace that works the miracles through the icons. So in the Orthodox Church, we don’t deny matter as imparting grace. Grace is imparted through matter, and we are living in a material world. We’re physical beings. When God was incarnate in Jesus Christ, he was in body, and he imparted his grace through his body. The saints were followers of Christ, as Saint Justin Popović said, the saints continued to live Christ’s life on earth by embodying Christ, having Christ living within them. And so the saints also through their bodies—the physical world—impart the grace of God to mankind, and even after they die, God can impart his grace through the relics of the saints, and we also have the images of Christ and the mother of God and the angels and the saints which remind us of God. We call them “windows into heaven.” They depict a reality not of this world. That’s why in icons, the sky is often golden, which represents a light not of this world. There are no shadows in icons. You won’t see a shadow under the mother of God’s feet, for example, because they’re only in heaven where there is no shadow at all.

So we’re depicting an other-worldly reality. That’s why their faces and their clothes are rather stylized. And so we’re, in a sense, looking into heaven, and they’re reminding us of the reality of heaven, the reality that the saints are still alive and are present, and that the Church Triumphant in heaven is united together with the Church on earth and that we’re all one in the body of Christ. And so we have these icons in worship, in the Church, we also have icons at home, but when we’re in private prayer, we’re not supposed to, as I said, form mental images in our minds. Also, we really don’t have the practice of staring at an icon as we’re praying. We have these icons—we have them there to remind us. We look up to the iconostasis, and it shows that image of heaven, the mother of God, and heaven with Christ, depicted within her, but these reminders are not there for us to stare at. You can kind of fall into delusion. You know, you have some people who are not Orthodox, they take icons, and they have these teachings about praying with icons, and they have these ideas about looking at the icon and staring at it. This is really not an Orthodox practice. I know, for example, a person can start staring at the icon and then praying and then imagining the mother of God smiling at them or winking or something like that. They’re falling into a kind of a delusion out of that. So yeah, we do not stare and look at icons like this. We look up at them. It reminds ourselves, but when the prayer itself occurs, it’s not with images, either mental images or staring at icon images.

Q 2: Thank you for taking the time to share the fruit of your lifetime of labor and reading with us because it’s a tremendous blessing for us. For those of especially who, you know, won’t have an opportunity to read those things and so forth or who, without naming any names, are way too lazy to read them for ourselves.

You mentioned that it was Descartes who said “I think therefore I am,” and I was wondering, what would be the Orthodox equivalent of that? Would it be “I pray therefore I am,” “I commune therefore I am,” “I am, therefore I am”? I know that one sounds a little bit moving towards blasphemy.

Fr. Damascene: Yeah, the last one is a little bit presumptuous. There’s a book by the nephew of Archimandrite Sophrony, living in Essex. It’s basically a distillation of Archimandrite Sophrony’s teachings. The name of the book is I Love Therefore I Am. In other words, if we’re in isolation, if we’re living in isolation, thinking we’re sufficient until ourselves, then we’re not really fully persons. We haven’t fully expressed our personhood, that our personhood, that uniqueness of our being is really fully realized only through love, by reaching out beyond ourselves and loving. Of course, we are first of all to love God, and, in loving God, we love all people.

And so, it’s really by love that we learn to, we come to really know ourselves and experience who God created us as, in its full sense. As. Archimandrite Sophrony said, you know, God revealed himself as “I Am,” and we believe that he created us, beings outside of himself, in order to come to him and share in his goodness and his love and to become one with him. So, in order to know the “I Am,” the true I Am, we have to come to him with love. So, I think you could answer it in various ways, but maybe the best one would say “I love, therefore I am.”

Q 3: Father, during the prayer, when you’re looking at the icon and praying, or listening and praying, when a blasphemous thought occurs, how would you battle with those? Would you ignore and call upon the name of the Lord or the saint to help us, or would you just ignore and keep on praying what you’re praying?

Fr. Damascene: Either one. It depends on what’s more effective for you at that particular time. The holy Fathers say, and this is written, and universal in what I’ve read, that when a blasphemous thought comes, we know it’s from the devil. Because if we’re standing in prayer and we’re standing in church and an evil thought against a holy thing comes, we know that it’s not from us. We wouldn’t form such a thought. The devil’s putting such a thought in our mind to defile our prayer. And he wants to get us upset. Like, (gasp) “How could I think such a thought?” you know? You get all scandalized with yourself, and you think that it came from you, but it didn’t. It came from the devil.

So therefore, you just don’t pay attention. The devil is proud. He wants people to pay attention to him, so if we don’t pay attention to him, he can’t do anything. So you return your mind to your prayer and also you could say, “Lord, have mercy.” St. John Climacus talks about calling upon God in times of temptation like that, and St. Theophan the Recluse in the passage that I read says we know that these thoughts come from the devil, and they’re called “tempting thoughts.” So yeah, ignore it, just let it go, and you can call upon the name of the Lord. Do not get scandalized or upset with yourself. It’s not coming from you. It’s coming from the evil one.

Q 4: A lot of some of the Desert Fathers did things like made baskets and so forth to make a living. In my life and I think a lot of people’s lives, what we do is that we manipulate symbols, a kind of rational thought. How do you reconcile that? You know, what we have to do every day to make a living, keep the wolf from the door, from what you’ve said, which makes a lot of sense, that prayer or contemplation of God is beyond—it’s not rationalization, it’s not logical. How does one reconcile—well, you write books and I’m sure you have to copy-edit your books, take notes, and all that kind of thing. How do you rationalize, how do you deal with that seeming contradiction? How does one achieve prayer that’s experiential rather than logical when you’re kind of keeping the wolf from the door with manipulating symbols?

Fr. Damascene: That’s a good question. Well, we’re given various tasks to do in our lives. We have to earn a living and even in the monastery, we have to support ourselves, and in our monastery we do it through publishing books, and other brothers have other obediences, and we just go about our work and do it as an obedience before God, accountable before God. And we do it with prayer. We always pray before we work. We should be turning our minds to prayer during the work as often as possible, and we just go about the work, and we can use our minds. There’s no injunction that we can’t use our minds to do the work that needs to be done in our lives—we need to. But what Elder Paisios was saying when he said, “Never believe your thoughts” is we just shouldn’t put final trust in the calculations of our minds or our opinions.

We had to form some kind of ideas, and St. Theophan the Recluse says we kind of take a stand for it as if we’re all in blood. I had this thought, therefore it’s my thought, therefore, I’ve got to fight for it. You don’t know. Your thought might be a deluded thought, it might be a wrong thought, it could come from the devil, we don’t know, but you can’t put absolute trust in that thought. That’s why we have accountability in the Church so that we’re not just trusting ourselves and doing our own will all of the time. You know, I have this thought, I want to do something, then in the monastery you’d go before the spiritual father and say, “Will you bless me to do this, what do you think of this idea?” In our lives, if you’re not in a monastery, you’re in a parish, you go to your spiritual father, your parish priest. In a marriage, you go to your spouse. You make sure that if you have this idea, if I want to move to another city, you can’t just go, buy the plane tickets and buy a house without checking with your spouse, you have to be accountable.

So, God’s will is manifest in our lives through a life of accountability in whatever place that God has placed us. Elder Paisios gave a few examples of a people that believe their thoughts—and these are kind of radical examples, some are kind of extreme examples, but it’s just going to give us an idea of what we also do, maybe not to such an extreme degree. There was a monk who believed that there was a bird that was making a noise inside of his ear. He had this idea, so all the brothers would try to talk to him, and he wouldn’t listen—he was convinced there was a little bird. So then Elder Paisios went to him one day, and he said, “Oh, let me put my hand here,” and he pretended to catch the bird. He says “I got him!” and then the guy was free from the thought. (laughter) And then there was another monk who fell into delusion. This happens sometimes. He fell into delusion, and he locked himself in his cell, and he decided he was going to become a martyr by killing himself. And so he started to cut himself, just a little bit. Not too much because he had the idea, but actually to pull it off was too much for him. So the abbot came in and saw him doing it, and the abbot started beating him. And he says, “Don’t hurt me, don’t hurt me!” And he says, “You want to be a martyr, but you can’t even stand a little beating!” (laughter) And so the monk said “Ah!” and the monk came to his senses. After that, he gave up this idea of being a martyr.

And that’s kind of an example of we get these thoughts in our head, like I said—maybe we don’t have such extreme thoughts—but we get these thoughts in our head, we get attached to these thoughts, and we’re convinced we’ve got to do them, and maybe they’re not from God. We have to be more humble and not put absolute trust in our own thinking. So, we still use our minds, we use our reason to do the jobs that we’re blessed to do, or given to do, that we need to do in our lives to support our families, to use the talents that God has given us.

Q 5: Forgive my ignorance, but when praying the Jesus Prayer, what is actually the proper use and purpose of the prayer rope?

Fr. Damascene: If we’re given a prayer rule, then we’ll count the beads, the knots on the prayer rope. If you’re given a prayer role of 100 Jesus Prayers, you have 100 and you can do it that way. Some holy Fathers say that you do it so you don’t have this illusion that you’re doing it more than you think you are. That’s one reason. I’ve got a practical reason. It really depends on your prayer rule, the prayer rule that you’ve been blessed to do by your spiritual father. St. Theophan the Recluse says that in some cases, a person can be given, instead of a set number of prayers, a person can have a certain time of prayer set aside, like 20 minutes, half an hour in the morning, something similar in the evening, and then can do whatever prayers they can during that time. In which case, you can do some number of Jesus Prayers—you don’t necessarily have to use a prayer rope—and say some prayers from a prayer book and then pray in your own words.

But more often, people pray with a prayer rope so that they have this specific number of prayers that they can do. So, it really depends on the person and what the person’s particular prayer rule is, and that person’s prayer rule can change as the person kind of finds what is best suited to him. Yeah, we normally keep the prayer rope in the left pocket, because when we use the prayer rope, we use the left hand so we can cross ourselves with the right hand. So it’s good to have that prayer rope in that pocket so that we can pull it out when we need it, and we can remember God. And we can do the Jesus Prayer anytime as I said. You can do it while you’re riding on the bus, commuting somewhere, and for example, if you’re driving and you don’t necessarily need to use a prayer rope, you can just say it, just repeat the Jesus Prayer without the prayer rope. It’s not absolutely necessary, but it’s helpful in many cases.

Q 6: The things that we’ve heard today are so far from where many of us might find ourselves that I think if we don’t—if we’re not careful, we could fall into despair, because we are so far from the mark. And I’m wondering if you could address that matter.

Fr. Damascene: Yes, thank you for bringing that up. At the end of the talk, I spoke about the very heights of union with God, deification, just to show what’s been made possible by Jesus Christ and what’s possible in his Church. A lot of people don’t know that, and I think it’s helpful to know what Jesus Christ has done, what he’s made available for us, to inspire us. But at the same time, we have to realize, as Fr. Seraphim Rose used to say all the time, that we are on a very low spiritual level and that we’re just beginning spiritual life at the lowest step. We can look to these saints and read about Archimandrite Sophrony or St. Simeon the Theologian, and we can admire them and they can inspire us, but we know that they are far above us: to lead us to humility, but not to despair. Because the same way to salvation and deification that was open to St. Simeon the Theologian has been opened to us, and as Fr. Seraphim would say, “Yes, we’re beginning spiritual life at the lowest step, but if we just continue going, step by step, a day at a time, and are just humbly aware of our own infirmity, then there’s nothing that can take us off the path.” And we can walk, step by step in that way to the kingdom of heaven.

So, again, these accounts of deification and also when you read lives of saints about the great feats of the martyrs and how they had such a profound faith, these should lead us to humility and spur us on to take up this path and follow it, the narrow path to salvation and deification, step by step. I did say in the talk that we—there’s deification in the broad sense and deification in the strict sense and all those who have been baptized into the Church and received Holy Communion have been deified in the broad sense of the word. So we all have that potential, we all have that seed of grace implanted in us at baptism, and we are to cultivate the seed. And this is the full meaning of salvation in the Orthodox Church. We’re saved from sin as I mentioned earlier. We are forgiven of sin by Christ, we are cleansed of sin. The way of heaven is open to us, but it’s a progress, it’s a path, it’s a journey of growing more and more in the likeness of God, having God’s life fill us more and more, becoming more close to God and more in communion and in union with God. And this journey, this path towards deification is never to end. It continues forever. Even the angels in heaven who are beholding God, they are forever progressing towards God, because God is fathomless. Yes?

Q 7: From your presentation, the Orthodox seem to really like Greek thought, especially if it’s from 0-1000 CE and distress current or even modern philosophy or scientific discovery. You, being Orthodox, seem to reject current psychology, astronomy, biology, or any empirical method. You even seem to gleefully reject reason and logic, though many Church Fathers like Justin Martyr, Athanasius, etc., sought to explain their faith reasonably and with good logic. But it says if Orthodoxy is defined by its archaicness and characterized by irrelevance. I’m not a Christian, but I’m a fan of Orthodox Christianity in general, and so this is disconcerting to me. I was wondering why is it compromising to your faith to set it in the context of current scientific knowledge? Why is better to lock your faith in time, as it were, within the first millennium?

You might say that scientific understanding is always subject to new discovery and therefore change. But from this—I’m sorry, from this, you may go on to say that’s counterproductive or pointless at best to constantly try and make one’s faith work within a scientific paradigm, but Church Fathers used their scientific understanding to explain their faith. Granted, science and philosophy were in bed together at the time, so it looked different, but the Fathers’ discussions of the body, the mind, the will, cosmos, etc., those are all spoken through primitive scientific views. Even the dual nature of Christ is sometimes explained by analogy to the elements of seal and fire being both present simultaneously. So, by keeping your scientific paradigm situated in the first millennium in order to keep your faith from undergoing certain paradigm shifts, are you not putting yourself in the same position as the dogmatic Jews, scribes, or secular philosophers who refuse to accept the gospel or even the staunch Protestants who believe in Sola Scriptura?

Fr. Damascene: Well, we don’t reject scientific knowledge. I know I talked about not trusting our logical minds to come to absolute truth, but we still use our minds, we still use our reason, and we can still employ science and scientific method. There are many Orthodox Christians who are scientists. I’ve attended on three occasions a conference in Moscow [at] which we talk about the Orthodox understanding of the creation of the world, and there are scientists, Ph.D.s teaching in the universities and working in various scientific establishments in Russia, and also they come from other countries, who come and give lectures. There are some theological lectures, but most of them, the majority of them are scientific lectures. So, we do.

We don’t deny scientific knowledge. It’s also important to understand that scientific projects of today often can’t be separated from certain presuppositions, and so Orthodox Christians, having faith in God and faith in the revelation of Christ and his Church through the holy Fathers who understood things through divine vision or contemplation—in Greek it’s theoria—they have given us an outlook on the world and a whole world view which I tried to bring out in my talk. You might call it a cosmology. And so, when we approach scientific knowledge, we do it from that worldview. We don’t necessarily use all this science of the first century or the first ten centuries. Obviously, scientists that have come to these conferences and write papers—I have a few that have written some papers for my new version of Fr. Seraphim’s book on Genesis. These people are using scientific knowledge that has been recently discovered, some of it cutting edge [including] geological research and biological research into genetics. The articles are published in the proceedings of these Orthodox conferences which bring out the very latest information about mutations, for example.

So we’re not stuck in the first ten centuries. We are dealing with scientific knowledge as it is today, but we’re looking at it with the presuppositions, or what you might call metaphysical presuppositions, of our Orthodox faith, because much of modern science is based on the presupposition of naturalism, and that is: “Nature is all there is, matter is all there is,” materialism, they call it methodological naturalism, and we, of course, don’t come at it with that presupposition. There are different presuppositions. So, we are looking at the same evidence, doing the same kind of scientific work, but looking at the evidence from a different worldview, and there’s no way to empirically prove the worldview. There’s no way to prove the presuppositions. These presuppositions are a matter of faith, and so we have faith in God as God has revealed himself in the Christian Church through the Holy Scriptures and holy Fathers. And those who believe in naturalism also have a faith: that nature is all there is, that we came to be through impersonal, natural forces. So we recognize that our faith can’t be empirically proved, but we also realize that the faith in naturalism can’t be empirically proved.

Q 8: I think that your Chinese analysis is interesting because with methodological naturalism, you would have the head below the heart, and this must be providential because I am one of these Ph.D.s who believes in the apostolic faith, albeit I’m Eastern Catholic. But at any rate, I agree with what you said about the priority of logic is simply not first.

Fr. Damascene: Right, faith above logic. There was a philosopher in Russia named Ivan Kireyevsky who was a disciple of Elder Macarius of Moscow, and he said that the reason must be submitted to faith. St. Theophan the Recluse also talked at length about that. These are both in the 19th century.

Q 8: You mentioned Justin Martyr’s interaction with the Logos and St. John the Theologian. Would you care to comment to comment about another with Thomas Merton’s analysis of eastern religion and eastern philosophy, to compare and contrast that with your work and Fr. Seraphim’s work?

Fr. Damascene: Yes, that’s not something I’d really like to talk about, but… Sorry if I offend anybody here, but I really regard Thomas Merton as a tragedy, a tragic figure, a man who lost his faith. I don’t know, maybe he wasn’t getting it from the tradition he was in for whatever reason, but his gradual loss of faith until, at the end they said he about to go into Zen Buddhist initiation, and I think that showed that he really wasn’t fulfilled in what he had in his own tradition. And so I don’t think we should look to him as a model to emulate and as a person who is leading the way in the Roman Catholic Church or anywhere else. I think he should be looked at as a person that should be pitied such as a tragic, tragic person.

So my approach is obviously very different than his. As I tried to say at the beginning of my talk last night, my book is not a work of religious syncretism. It’s not saying that all religions are one and everything is equal, but it’s using the Tao Te Ching as a springboard to show to people that whatever is true in eastern religions is fulfilled in Jesus Christ, and, specifically, in the Eastern Orthodox Church, the Church of Jesus Christ. So, I showed Lao Tzu as a foreshadowing of what would be revealed by Christ. It’s really not necessary for Christians to study the Tao Te Ching, but that’s not why I’m bringing this up. But it’s more of a bridge book for people outside the faith to help them appreciate the mystical depths of the Orthodox Faith by looking at this ancient Chinese philosopher whose insights, intuitive insights, foreshadowed and confirmed by what was revealed and fulfilled in its fullness through Jesus Christ. So there is a big difference, as I see it, in my approach and that of Thomas Merton.

Q 9: Earlier, you answered the question on the icons, and you were saying we’re not to stare at the icons when praying. And in my former Protestant faith, “we bow our heads and close our eyes,” what then are we to do with our eyes when we’re praying?

Fr. Damascene: Well, we can look up at the icons, but when I said don’t stare, I meant don’t be like, “Look at Jesus, is he looking at me? What’s the expression on his face?” (laughter) Not like that. You can stand in church looking up at the icons and pray. You don’t have to keep your eyes closed the whole time in Divine Liturgy. You can read from the Divine Liturgy book. You shouldn’t be reading a separate prayer book during the Divine Liturgy (for example, just because you missed your morning prayers before going to church). You can pray looking up at the icons, look down, look up at the priest serving. As I said, we don’t believe that matter is evil and we use the icons and the music and the incense in order to—so that our senses, through our senses, we are reminded of the presence of God and of heaven, and the icons are just one facet, they’re a visual facet. We have the hearing facet which is the music. We have the smell, the incense, and so on.

Q 10: I had a question basically related to the Jesus Prayer. You kind of explained that it’s somewhat later on the scene, between the 4th and 14th century?

Fr. Damascene: Well, the Philokalia was written between the 4th and 14th century… There was a saint—I think in Egypt they found an ancient inscription from the fourth century—of the Jesus Prayer. So it was practiced very early about that time, about the fourth century.

Q 10: But nevertheless, at least three or four hundred years after Christ and the New Testament. I guess my struggle is that I don’t know how important it should be in the life of a Christian if it came on the scene so late. Obviously there’s some fruit in people seeing the divine light, but is it producing the quality of people that the Early Church saw, people that are doing the things Jesus did, fulfilling the Great Commission and discipling nations… But the earlier disciples, they clearly had a vibrant prayer life themselves, but they also saw it as their role to go and take the Gospel to the nations. So, could the Jesus Prayer be a form for some, but maybe a distraction to some of the more simple things that the Gospels make known? That’s what I’m struggling with because I’m just not seeing anyone like St. Patrick around practicing the Jesus Prayer and doing the things that the Apostles did.

Fr. Damascene: Yes, the Jesus Prayer is obviously not necessary for salvation. I mean, I quoted from St. Theophan the Recluse. There could be other prayers that you could be saying besides the Jesus Prayer. It’s not like Christ came to give us the Jesus Prayer. (laughter) But the Jesus Prayer has been taken up in the Church because it is so effective. In the experience of the Church, it has been found to be so effective in bringing us into communion with God. So just because it started as a practice 300 years after Christ doesn’t mean we shouldn’t do it. And there are people who are in the Church who lived as apostles of Christ in more recent times who practiced the Jesus Prayer. I mean we have, in America, our first canonized saint, St. Herman of Alaska, was a practitioner of the Jesus Prayer. His spiritual father, Abbot Nazarius of Valaam was one of the ones who was responsible for compiling the Philokalia in Russian or having it printed in Slavonic.

So St. Herman of Alaska, even before it was printed, had certain texts of the Philokalia with him in Slavonic, and he was practicing. He was America’s first apostle, really. He came here as a missionary, as an apostle, to preach the gospel to the Native Americans in Alaska, and also, to some degree, to the Russian fur trappers up in Alaska who were kind of falling away from the faith. Primarily to the natives, he came as an apostle. So, he had both, he did both. He was practicing this unceasing prayer, the prayer of the heart, the Jesus Prayer. He reached great, great heights of sanctity, and he was serving an apostle of Christ. And not only an apostle of Christ, preaching the gospel to the people, but he also cared for them in sickness, especially when they had plagues in the villages when the diseases came over from Europe, and many, many thousands of Native Americans were killed or died because of these diseases. St. Herman was nursing these people and caring for them as a father. So he showed this abundant love and this apostolic zeal and was always preaching the Gospel, and at the same time had the Jesus Prayer enshrined in his heart.

Then we also have even closer, we have St. John of Shanghai in San Francisco, who was, of course, practicing the Jesus Prayer and also was a great apostle who also had this idea of bringing the gospel, the Orthodox gospel of Christ to all nations, so he went many places. He was in China, and he was in Europe, and finally in America, and each place he went, he knew we have to find and venerate the local saints. He was one of the first people to venerate St. Herman of Alaska even before he was canonized, and to bring the Gospel to all nations in their own languages.

So, the Jesus Prayer is not absolutely necessary, but it’s very effective, so everybody’s encouraged to do it. And you can be an apostle of Christ and at the same time, do the Jesus Prayer. People are called to different things. Some people are called to be monks living in their cells and praying for the world, and others are called to do more apostolic work, but even those who are in their cells and doing the Jesus Prayer, their prayer is not just for themselves, but it’s for the whole world. Archimandrite Sophrony, by the way, really emphasized this with his spiritual children, especially the monks and nuns in his monastery, this practice of praying for the whole world, not just for yourself, and really feeling pain for all the suffering in the world.

If you remember, in this account that I read, Archimandrite Sophrony was saying that when he was flooded with this divine light, he really felt the pain of the world, and he felt that all of creation was suffering because of man’s sin. And so, he prayed in travail for man and all of creation, and so these—although this may not be apostolic work in the sense of exactly what the Apostles did, but this is also very important and essential for upholding the world, and those who—some are given to do apostolic work like St. Herman, St. John, and others are not, but each Christian, if he’s really coming closer to God, and coming closer to Christ, his concern is not just for himself and not just for the immediate people in his immediate vicinity, but for everyone and ultimately for all creation.

Q 11: Please take with you our love and regard to our fathers and brothers at St. Herman’s for their being on the frontlines, so to speak, of the struggle. My question has to do with you touched briefly on the concept of judging, and, in our present society, there seems to be a lot of people who have taken our Lord’s admonition of “judging lest we be judged”—or “not judging”—to such an extreme that we’ve lost the ability to discern things that are right or wrong or indifferent. So, I guess, I don’t know if it’s an issue of terminology between “condemning” and “judging” and “discerning.” So, if you could flesh that out for us, that would be really appreciated. I hope I’ve been somewhat clear.

Fr. Damascene: I know what you mean. Sometimes, when somebody does something wrong, we have to do something about it. You can’t just let everything go, right? That’s clear. But we don’t make any absolute conclusions about that person. That person has done something wrong, and in some cases, we need to do something about it, and in some cases we don’t necessarily. I can’t make an absolute rule for everything, you know, for every situation. That’s why you have to use discernment. But not to make an absolute conclusion about that person.

And also, not about ourselves either. We are to accuse ourselves of our sins and what we’ve done, but we shouldn’t judge ourselves. There’s a difference between what we call self-accusation and what we might call self-condemnation or self-judgment. Often people get confused with the two, between the two of them, and they will start condemning themselves, judging themselves, and then that leads to despair, or at least to depression. In other words, I could say—I could look at myself and say, well, “I did this wrong, God forgive me,” and “I have this tendency”—and that’s good. We should be looking at ourselves to see that: I have this particular attraction to this sin and I did this sin. It’s good to acknowledge that and see that, so we can repent and change. But if I’d say to myself, “Oh, I am totally no good, I am going to hell, there’s no hope for me, I’m a reject, God made a mistake when he created me,” you know, then that leads to despair.

It’s actually ultimately a judgment against God, because, as I said, you’re actually telling that God made a mistake. So we should be careful with that, and the same thing about other people. We can acknowledge a person did a wrong thing, but not to stew about it and think about and work ourselves up about it, and build up resentment about it. In some cases, something needs to be done, and if we can do it without passion, without anger, without malice, and without condemning the person, making a final judgment on that person’s soul, and having some emotional reaction, or even resentment which is not such an obvious emotion; it’s kind of a response, a sinful response of harboring a condemnation of others based on whatever they may have done or we may have perceived they may have done. Yes?

Q 12: As you’re thinking about Lao Tzu, that his writings were just a foreshadowing of what was to come in, as you say, the fulfillment of the Tao, or do you feel that practices that came about through Taoism that led to things like traditional oriental medicine and feng shui and qigong, and that type of thing would be beneficial to Christians or people of all faiths? And, to that end, do you think the idea of cultivating immortality through harmony with nature is a departing point for Christians and Taoists, or do you think that that’s a point of agreement?

Fr. Damascene: Cultivating immortality with harmony with nature?

Q 12: Well, the idea of using Taoist practices to pull your body and mind and spirit more in harmony with the creation around us? Do you think that that concept would be a departing point where the Taoists and the Christians would depart, or do you think that it’s an idea where we would be in agreement? I’m thinking of things like, for example, the relationship of man and animals can be seen through maybe the traditions of the saints that we have, where you have certain saints that were able to commune with nature in a way that was very harmonious and more like the pre-Fall state? And you also see that in the teachings about the Taoist masters. So I’m just wondering that’s a point where you think that Taoism and Christianity is in agreement, or if you feel that the whole concept of trying to achieve harmony with nature in an effort to cultivate immortality would be more a teaching that’s not, I don’t know, Orthodox?

Fr. Damascene: I know what you’re saying. Well, if you’re trying to cultivate harmony with nature, that’s a good thing, but in Taoism as it later developed, we have a different basis than in the Christian faith. And the whole idea of cultivating immortality: would it be different in what developed later in Taoism than it is in Christianity? So that would definitely be a point of departure. And as I said earlier, in Christianity when Christ came and bestowed his grace upon mankind, and people could be filled with his grace through the holy mysteries, then the acquisition of uncreated energy, which is union with God, became the overriding concern so that cultivation of energy, chi, turning into ching, turning into shen, and these things, it’s not part of Christian practice. It’s not something that a Christian would pursue, because we have another pursuit, which we’ve been given the fullness of the revelation of God. We’ve been given the fullness of the means. Whether or not we take the means, and use them or utilize them, we’ve still been given the fullness of means towards union with God. So this becomes our overriding concern.

We also believe in a personal God, and so what later developed in Taoism, they don’t have that same understanding of a personal god. I think it was even somewhat lost after Lao Tzu because of the later Chuang Tzu—you can read his writings; he doesn’t even have that sense of the benevolence of the Tao and the Tao caring for things. This is not just my opinion. There is a Shambhala book of Taoism; they say the same thing, that that idea was kind of lost even after Lao Tzu.

So, what, in later forms of Taoism, developed was a worldview without a personal god, and so feng shui and these things, they’re based on a worldview without a personal god. And we believe that there is God’s providence and God is overshadowing everyone, that he is a person like we are, and so that changes the whole worldview. And so, that’s a fundamental difference. That’s why in my talk I stuck to Lao Tzu who even though he didn’t have a full understanding of the personal God, at least he had some intuitive awareness of the Tao as a benevolent being who cares for and shelters and nurtures creation. So we can’t go too far with that, making those comparisons.

You mentioned Chinese medicine. The Chinese have been doing this medicine for thousands of years, and they found certain herbs that can do—that can help people. I think that’s okay, that’s fine. But we have to realize that there is a different worldview there, and we have to be conscious of that. And, above all, we have to understand that this cultivation of energy outside the Christian Church—outside the Orthodox Church because only the Orthodox Church only really has a full understanding of the uncreated energy of God—it’s different outside of the Church. And so I wouldn’t recommend mixing and matching and trying to practice both at the same time, because we’re given, in the Orthodox Church, the fullness of the revelation of God, the full means of coming into contact with God and acquiring his energy.

It’s not like it’s a getting of energy, you know what I mean? When I talk about acquiring energy, it’s not something impersonal either. You just kind of use that term. St. Seraphim uses the term “acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit.” And he talks about buying and selling. He says you’re like a merchant who buys and sells. He finds the things that can make the most profit, and he buys those things. St. Seraphim says in the Christian life, you do the things that acquire the most grace. But it’s not like acquiring a thing, you know? It’s just a way of expressing the communion with God where God’s life—what we call his energy—his life fills us more and more. So this is what we’re after as Christians. And this is what I’m trying to speak about and try to open up some of the ways that are given to us in the Church of bringing, making this union with God or communion with God more complete.

Q 13: Last night, Father, when we were talking about the Tao, we talked a little about the concept of nothingness and the Tao Te Ching and how that’s sort of understood as an attribute that the Tao has that sort of allows it to kind of forget itself, and it allows God to not have to worry about himself so much but sort of him being able to move beyond yourself and looking at the rest of the world and other people. And so I’m wondering if you could maybe talk a little bit more about how average Christians can use the Jesus Prayer as a tool to get to that point? Especially when maybe we have a lot of things about ourselves that we have to kind of be aware about or be watchful about and we can’t totally forget necessarily, so how do we sort of mesh those two together?

Fr. Damascene: Okay, to reach what point use the Jesus Prayer?

Q 13: To kind of reach that point of, I guess, nothingness, that I understood in the sense that you were talking about last night where it’s a sort of being able to forget one’s self and move to the other? So how do we use the Jesus Prayer to get to that point?

Fr. Damascene: Well if you notice in that quote from Archimandrite Sophony, he talks about being infused with the uncreated light of God, which means this full participation in the divinity, and he describes this feeling of nothingness. The person becomes nothing before the whole world. It’s really an experience of grace, you know. As we go beyond ourselves, as I mentioned earlier in the talk about yearning and longing. It’s very important. It’s a yearning of love, you know, towards God, and we express this longing to become him, to have his life fill us, to have him abide in us, so we can abide in him. We don’t want to just live our own life. Our own life is temporary. Without God’s grace, our life is nothing. As I said in the beginning, we couldn’t exist for a moment without God, without God’s grace, so we’re nothing without him.

And so, as we come closer to him, as we long for him, we yearn for him, long to make his life our own, like Archimandrite Sophrony’s book that influenced me so much His Life is Mine, then we become like a nothing, but at the same time, we’re given strength, but our strength is not our own. It comes from God, and so that’s why humility in the Orthodox Church doesn’t mean just being like a doormat, having no sense of anything, no sense of self at all. It’s more of a realizing that we of ourselves are nothing, but that our power is given from God. So if a person, if he’s truly humble, he is actually stronger. A person can be stronger, but the ultimate strength is in humility. Because if we have pride, then someone can say something to us that goes against our grain, we get upset. Someone can put us down, ridicule us, we get upset. We want somebody to do something, if they don’t do it, we get upset. Well, actually, that’s a sign of weakness, because we are trying to take a stand for our own ego, but when we are truly humble, when we realize that we’re nothing and that God is everything and God is caring for us and his providence overshadows everything, and his love is everywhere, and his wish is for our salvation and the salvation of the whole world, and we’re filled more and more with his life, then people can say something to us, put us down, not do what we want them to do, and we won’t be upset. Our feathers won’t be ruffled because we have our strength in him, not in ourselves. And that’s a kind of nothingness of knowing that without God we’re nothing, but that God is all-in-all, and his mercy is overshadowing everything in our lives.

And through the Jesus Prayer, we strive to come to that state, we’re expressing “Lord Jesus Christ,” he’s the Lord of our life, he’s the Christ, he’s the Savior, well, “Jesus” means “Savior.” He’s the Christ, he’s the Anointed One of God; he’s God, and he became man, and we ask “have mercy.” We ask, “have mercy on me,” it means I’m nothing before you, I’m a sinner. We even say in the longer form of the Jesus Prayer, “have mercy on me, a sinner.” I’m a sinner, I’m nothing, and I need you. So when we ask have mercy, it means everything. Everything is contained in that one phrase. It’s not just some things that God can do for us, it’s everything. It means “have mercy on me” because I’m nothing, I need to be filled with your life. I need to become one with you. So we’re actually praying that God will forgive us for our sins, cleanse us of sin, fill us with himself, do everything that we need for our lives, and, by extension, we’re praying for everybody around us, because in having mercy on—we’re all connected. So, we’re not only praying for ourselves.

Archimandrite Sophrony did sometimes have his spiritual children say, “have mercy on me and on my world,” so we’re praying for the whole world. But regardless of whether we say it that way or say it the simple way, we are putting ourselves under God, realizing with each prayer, each time we say the Jesus Prayer, we’re expressing that we’re not God. The Fall occurred through man wanting to be like God, wanting to become God, wanting to—of course we have this natural desire to be God that’s given to us, to become one with God, but man tried to take that, tried to grasp that, illegitimately, when he took the fruit. You know, “Eat of this fruit and you will be as God, knowing good and evil.” So each one of us has in ourselves this ego, you might say, this pride, self-esteem, in which we want to be God. It’s kind of what we call our “fallen nature,” but at the same time, we have the yearning for the real God, so in saying the Jesus Prayer, we are expressing that yearning for the real God, placing ourselves under the real God, and acknowledging that we are not God. And so, this way, we become more and more like nothing.

Q 14: I’ve got a question about, just for me personally, the meaning and symbolism about crossing yourself, and if that has anything to do with possibly breaking down meridian lines in your body with subtle energies that certain ancient eastern philosophies have?

Fr. Damascene: No, we don’t do that. No, as I said, in the Christian faith, we don’t get into any of that stuff because [there is] something better. The aim of Christian life is the acquisition—as I tried to explain what that means, according to St. Seraphim, “acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit,” which is uncreated, which is God himself, and so we’re not into the meridian lines or energies or human energies or that kind of thing. What we do—but there is a symbolism in the Sign of the Cross. There’s quite a bit of it actually.

The Orthodox Sign of the Cross, we put these three fingers together for the Holy Trinity, and we put these two down for confessing that Christ, that Jesus Christ is fully God and fully man, having a divine human nature, and a divine will and a human will, divine energy, human energy in one person. And we cross ourselves, that God would enlighten our mind, that he will establish himself in our heart, enlighten our hearts, and that he will bless our work, with the arms. And the Sign of the Cross over our heart because it’s through the Cross that sin and death, devil, Hades, are overcome, and man is given new life and we are restored to God, to paradise, to heaven through the Cross. And so, of course, the demons fear the cross, because by the Cross, the power has been destroyed. So that’s why we sign ourselves with the Sign of the Cross. So there is quite a bit of symbolism in that Sign of the Cross.

Q 15: I just had a simple question. It’s not wrong to have a komboskini on your right hand, right?

Fr. Damascene: Well, if there’s a specific reason why you need it in your right hand, that’s fine, that’s not a problem. It’s not a sin. (laughter) If you go to confession about it, your priest is not going to stop you from doing it, but it’s just practical. It’s just normally you have a komboskini in your left pocket, you have it in your left hand, so that you can make the Sign of the Cross with your right hand. Russian prayer ropes usually have a bead every 10 knots, so that if you’re standing while you’re praying the Jesus Prayer, you can cross yourself and make a bow every 10, so yeah.

Q 15: It’s just a habit.

Fr. Damascene: Some people, when they pray, make the Sign of the Cross every Jesus Prayer. There are different ways of doing it. So, there’s not an absolute law about having it in your left hand.

Q 16: Thank you for your time you’ve spent here with us. I have a question largely about the Holy Spirit, and you’ve been talking about the acquisition of grace, or maybe even the day, as an energy. And I was just wondering about your thoughts on the acquisition of the grace, and to the communion of the Holy Spirit as a person, and the personal connection, and even the voice of the Holy Spirit, how the impressions that he gives versus—you can clear your mind of the thoughts that might be coming from any number of different places, but then, the attentiveness to the voice of the Spirit and things like that. The impressions even the apostles had in going one place or another, or doing one thing, like Philip on the road down to meet the eunuch and, you know, just that connection that, even when you get to the point with the communion with the Spirit, the attentiveness to the voice and the personhood.

Fr. Damascene: I’m sorry, what is the question though? I didn’t quite get that.

Q 16: Oh, just your thoughts on that, like I don’t know—kind of when you were talking about like the difference between our own thoughts and then just the difference between divine thoughts and then our own thoughts, and just thoughts about that. How to—when you get to the place of communion with the Spirit?

Fr. Damascene: God can communicate himself with words in our heart which is kind of rare, and we shouldn’t try to cultivate that, and we shouldn’t try to seek for that because we can fall into delusion that way, thinking that any thought or words that comes into our heart are from God. But yeah, God can communicate himself—communicate with us in that way. But more often, it’s wordless, it’s a wordless communion. We feel God’s presence within us. We feel God when we’re praying; we feel that God is present. We’re speaking to him, and he’s alive and he’s right there with us, he’s hearing us. He’s filling us with himself, and that’s wordless, we’re not hearing any voices.

And if you even notice, when I read the accounts of deification from Archimandrite Sophrony and St. Simeon the New Theologian, there’s no mention of any words. They didn’t have to hear any words. They felt; they experienced God’s light, and they were filled with love for all of creation. And St. Simeon the New Theologian said “I feel like I’m inside of life.” That’s why he felt himself and nothing also. He’s inside of life and who’s he? Nothing. And so, the deepest experience of God is usually beyond words. But sometimes, for a particular reason, God can communicate and say some words. It’s possible that that happens, but it’s not the main thing, and it’s certainly not the thing we should be seeking.

And also, I should say this. We shouldn’t be trying to seek the experience as St. Simeon the Theologian. Okay, if I say the Jesus Prayer enough, I’m going to get to this state. I read that passage from Elder Porphyrios we shouldn’t think like “Oh, this is it!” you know? “What am I going to get out of this?” The Jesus Prayer should simply be done out of love for Jesus Christ, and this is also what I read in some of these councils. We do it because we love him, and we want to come closer to him. He’s the source of our life and union with him, as I’ve said many times, is the purpose of our life. Out of our longing for him, we just pray out of love. We’re not doing it because we’re trying to get an experience or get something out of him. And that’s what true love is. You’re not something you’re doing in order to get something. It’s just the natural longing and yearning that arises from the human soul made to come into contact with God.

Q 17: Father, I was a little curious about the idea, the possible relationship between revelation and the imagination. You had said that we are not to trust our dreams or our imagination. I understand that, in the case of prayer, not to let our imagination distract us, but I was a little curious when it comes to cases of like precognition or prophecy, like the Revelation of St. John, for instance, all these concepts being veiled by images, or God using our dreams to speak to us, revelation through dreams and whatnot. Obviously, I’m not talking about the street-corner psychic, but you know, genuine cases we see with the saints and the prophets and things like that.

Fr. Damascene: Of course, St. John the Theologian’s vision and his account of it in the Book of Revelation is something very exceptional. It’s certainly not something that we should cultivate. In the Protestant world, I know there’s these “prophets” out there—I read one book, it’s this guy who was driving to work in his car, and he’s seeing this whole vision of armies fighting each other, and it kind of goes on and on all day long. And this is something that we don’t practice or cultivate in the Orthodox Church at all. And in terms of dreams, as I said earlier, the holy Fathers say that the best practice is not to trust dreams.

Sometimes God can reveal himself in a dream, but, overall, those are rare cases, and if we’re in the practice of trusting our dreams, then, as St. John Climacus says, we can really get off track. It’s better just to be simple, and if we have—like I said, sometimes a dream kind of sticks with us, and we kind of know it, and we kind of discern, we think about it, if we have some kind of a dream if we think is from God, we should talk to our spiritual father or spiritual mother about it just to get it out so we’re not just kind of imagining, ourselves, what it really is.

And there could be a time where we have a dream where it’s kind of special to us, but even then, I would think that we shouldn’t place absolute trust in that and base our whole life on that. And especially, we should bring it before our spiritual guide or spiritual mentor in the Church, just so we won’t trust ourselves. Because through—if we’re trusting our dreams, then we’re trusting in ourselves. That’s why I can’t make an absolute law because sometimes God does reveal himself, but I’m trying to give you a general understanding of the picture. Yes?

Q 18: Father, you spoke about union with God as the fruit of the practice, and deification occurring, but by adoption and that once in heaven and the afterlife, there’s still progress. I’m wondering is there any point that one is said to have reached spiritual perfection. I know in some traditions they refer to that—in other words, your work is done, you’ve done it. You’ve cast off Satan to the point where that influence is gone. You’re not going to be falling into sin anymore. Within this life or in the next life, is this something that’s a part of the Orthodox view? That one does reach some type of spiritual perfection? Or is one always still studying? Is one waiting for a graduation that will never come?

Fr. Damascene: I think I know what you’re saying there. Yeah, the word “perfection” in Greek comes from the word “end” (telos); it’s connected with that. But when we’re speaking of creation—God’s creatures, which includes us—we speak of perfection in a relative sense because only God is totally perfect. And so Adam and Eve, for example, by some holy Fathers they’re described as perfect. Well when they’re talking about “perfect” there, they’re talking about flawless. You know I talked about the state of Adam’s soul, but also his body before the fall, was flawless. He didn’t have any genetic mutations ,for example, but he hadn’t reached his end. He had the grace of the Holy Spirit residing within him, but he was called towards deification, he was called to perfection. But even the perfection he was called to might be considered relative because only God is totally perfect and man is always—and the creation is always on a journey of progress towards God.

So in this life, a person is still subject to sin, an inclination towards sin, up until death. The only person who ever lived who had no inclination towards sin is Jesus Christ, and I explained that before: because he has a divine nature and a human nature united inseparably and unconfusedly in one person. So, he couldn’t sin, right? We say that the most holy Mother of God, we call her “immaculate” or “pure,” not because she was born without the tendency towards sin, but because she kept herself from outward sin. She certainly had a tendency towards sin like everybody, but she kept herself from outward sin. So, no person is perfect in that sense.

Even up until death, we’re still in the battle against sin, and there’s even an account of St. Macarius the Great who was seen after his death, and he was ascending to heaven, and the demons were trying to kind of trip him up and make him fall into pride. And they said, “O Macarius, you beat us, you’re so holy, you’ve reached such perfection, we’re put to shame by you, Macarius.” And Macarius says, “No, I’m not. I haven’t made it yet. I’m a sinner,” and finally he was going higher and higher, and the demons kept telling him, “Oh, you’ve reached perfection,” and it wasn’t until he was actually in heaven that they accepted that he was in heaven. (laughter)

So, we haven’t made it until we’ve made it. St. Maximus the Confessor talks about the state beyond the resurrection as a rest, that creation reaches rest, because Origen, whose teaching St. Maximus was correcting, taught the opposite. He taught that in the beginning there was rest, and then man—in the beginning the souls were in heaven and that the souls cooled down in their love towards God, and then, because of their cooling down, they took bodies and movement began. St. Maximus says that, no, when the creation begins, movement begins, and man should be moving towards God—of course the Fall interrupted it, but now through Christ, man is moving towards God, and the movement reaches its consummation and its conclusion in the general resurrection. We call it the eschaton, the parousia, the future age.

And even heaven will be transformed after the resurrection. Not only this earth will be transformed into a spiritual and divine dwelling place, even heaven ,where the angels dwell, and I believe that St. Simeon that says even the angels can’t even conceive of this glory that will be revealed, even in the angelic realm. So, in a sense, yes, there is, after the resurrection in the future age, there is a rest, everything is complete, the creation has reached its final state, but at the same time within that rest, there is still this endless growing closer to God. We can’t imagine it. We talk about the future age, even when we talk about the age, time after death, between now and the general resurrection, we can’t imagine it. So we’re using analogies to try to describe it.

So, the holy Fathers affirm that, yes, it’ll be a rest, but at the same time, this movement. And the reason we can’t understand it is that we can’t get our heads around the idea or the reality that God is limitless. He’s unfathomable. We think of God as great and holy and huge, but we can’t imagine limitlessness. So, but that’s what God is. He’s limitless and unfathomable. He’s glorious beyond our comprehension, experience, and even the angels, they’re ever growing closer and closer to God and having more and more full vision of God. And so it’s a rest and at the same time, it’s a movement, and so again, that’s apophatic. In other words, we can’t understand it. We just accept it and it’s a mystery.

Q 19: Forgive me if this lacks clarity. When talking about the attribute of Tao, of the Tao, and speaking about the emptiness, you talked about the spontaneity that occurs. And when—I don’t know much about Taoism so forgive my ignorance, but this brought to mind—the spontaneity got me thinking about human instinct and how when humans act spontaneously that they’re acting usually in a way away from God’s wisdom that brings them into sin and brings them—kind of like the evils of this world creeping up, and so my thought, or question, is: I see the concept laid before me that was previously explained. Does this other one work its way into it in the sense of “the mind of God comprehends evil”? And without the Fall of Adam, they wouldn’t have been able or humans wouldn’t have been able to comprehend evil, and so is that an element of this emptiness or could it be? Does that make any sense?

Fr. Damascene: I don’t quite understand the connection between the understanding of evil and the emptiness.

Q 19: So talking about when the Tao’s spontaneity, talking about working in conjunction with the emptiness on that?

Fr. Damascene: I’ll try to answer it, and you can tell me whether I’m hitting on what you’re asking. First of all, the holy Fathers teach that evil has no existence of itself. It has no positive existence. God did not create evil. So evil is only the turning away from good. Evil did not exist until the devil turned away from God and became evil, and then he got man snared in the same evil. So once man turns towards God, evil ceases to exist in that instance.

There’s a teaching especially brought out by St. Maximus between the natural will and the choosing will. The natural will is the will in us that always tends towards God, because that’s how we were created; we were always created to do God’s will. But we’re also created with this choosing will that we can either choose God or turn away from God. And the more one aligns oneself with God and becomes, as I said before, more filled with God’s light, the more the choosing will, the less that we have to use the choosing will. You know, we just return to the natural will which is always to do the will of God or, as Lao Tzu said, the way of heaven.

So, when man was in the beginning before he fell, he kind of naturally did what he was supposed to do. And then when he turned against God, turned away from God became disobedient to God, then after that, he was caught between different choices. He had to keep choosing the choosing will because he was separated from God. What’s right? What’s wrong? And Christ, St. Maximus says, didn’t use his choosing will. He always did naturally what was the Divine Will. Did that answer your question at all by bringing that out? The emptiness would be, in this case, spontaneity, would be doing spontaneously what our natural will indicates, which is God’s will. This would be the emptiness spontaneity.

Q 19: I guess that did answer it in contriving it to be of an evil nature of the spontaneity and the emptiness as an evil nature was originally not what was intended.

Fr. Damascene: What we can do, we can do evil things spontaneously if we’re inclined towards evil, if we become a habit of evil, and we let ourselves be a tool of evil forces, if we just do it habitually. That’s why I talked about passions. I talked about the stages in a passion, first provocation, conjunction joining habit and then captivity. When a person’s captive in a passion, the passion controls the person. So the person is madly as they say in the fathers, they just madly rush to satisfy that particular passion. It could be a passion of desire towards something, or it can be a passion of hatred towards something, but the person kind of automatically does it without thinking because it’s kind of taking control of the person.

So, in that case, you might could call it spontaneous acting out of evil, if the person is captive in a passion. That’s why we’re supposed to cut off the passions at the root at the beginning so they don’t develop into these passions. Of course, if a person’s captive in a passion, they still get out by the grace of God and their own free will, but it’s much more difficult.

Well, I want to thank you for all your attention and your excellent questions which made it much more interesting and enjoyable for me, and it’s a real blessing to be able to speak with you and to meet with you and discuss these matters which are really about the ultimate meaning of our life. May God bless us to follow the—and help us to follow the teachings that are laid out by our Lord Jesus Christ and his saints and to follow this path of union with God to the end. Amen.

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