St. Mark the Ascetic – On the Spiritual Law

Here we present words of wisdom of Saint Mark the Ascetic, taken from the book ‘Philokalia


Call upon God to open the eyes of your heart, so that you may see the value of prayer and of spiritual reading when understood and applied.

If a man has some spiritual gift and feels compassion for those who do not have it, he preserves the gift because of his compassion. But a boastful man will lose it through succumbing to the temptations of boastfulness.

The mouth of a humble man speaks the truth; but he who speaks against the truth is like the servant who struck the Lord on the face (cf. Mark 14:65).

To brood on evil makes the heart brazen; but to destroy evil through self-restraint and hope breaks the heart.

There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking which is violent and harmful, shattering it completely.

Vigils, prayer and patient acceptance of what comes constitute a breaking that does not harm but benefits the heart, provided we do not destroy the balance between them through excess. He who perseveres in them will be helped in other ways as well; but he who is slack and negligent will suffer intolerably on leaving this life.

A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas an assiduous heart is an open door.

Just as a thought is made manifest through actions and words, so is our future reward through the impulses of the heart.

Thus a merciful heart will receive mercy, while a merciless heart will receive the opposite.

The law of freedom teaches the whole truth. Many read about it in a theoretical way, but few really understand it, and these only in the degree to which they practice the commandments.

Do not seek the perfection of this law in human virtues, for it is not found perfect in them. Its perfection is hidden in the Cross of Christ.

The law of freedom is studied by means of true knowledge, it is understood through the practice of the commandments, and is fulfilled through the mercy of Christ.

When we are compelled by our conscience to accomplish all the commandments of God, then we shall understand that the law of the Lord is faultless (cf. Ps. 19:8. LXX). It is performed through our good actions, but cannot be perfected by men without God’s mercy.

Those who do not consider themselves under obligation to perform all Christ’s commandments study the law of God in a literal manner, ‘understanding neither what they say nor what they affirm’ (1 Tim. 1:7). Therefore they think that they can fulfill it by their own works.

God is the source of every virtue, as the sun is of daylight.

When you have done something good, remember the words ‘without Me you can do nothing’ (John 15:5).

Afflictions bring blessing to man; self-esteem and sensual pleasure, evil.

By praying for those who wrong us we overthrow the devil; opposing them we are wounded by him.

Every blessing comes from the Lord providentially. But this fact escapes the notice of the ungrateful and the idle.

Every vice leads in the end to forbidden pleasure; and every virtue to spiritual blessing. Each arouses what is akin to it.

Censure from men afflicts the heart; but if patiently accepted it generates purity.

Ignorance makes us reject what is beneficial; and when it becomes brazen it strengthens the hold of evil.

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