Saint Maximus the Confessor

St. Maximus was born in the late 6th century, in Palestine – according to the earliest version of his life. He was well-educated, and served the Emperor Heraclius (610-641) for a time at the Byzantine Imperial court. It was at this time that the Patriarch of Constantinople, named Sergius (610- 638), who was a great patriot of the Byzantine empire – really he was more of a pat-riot than a theologian – it was at this time that he began, with the sup-port of the emperor, to develop the teaching on only one divine “energy“ or “operation“ in Christ – a teaching that was soon to evolve into the teaching I already described, of one “will“ in Christ, called Monotheletism.

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The motivations for developing this teaching were both political and theological. On the one hand, there was the hope that perhaps the teaching on “one will“ could serve as a compromise to attain union with the so-called Monophysites – these were large groups of people who left the Church of Constantinople because they disagreed with the teaching on the “two natures“ of Christ. These people who left the Church of Byzantium, also ceased to be loyal to the Byzantine emperor, which was a political problem. So winning them back theologically was also important politically, for the unity of the Empire.

But there was also sincere theological confusion regarding the human will of Christ. Because the human will and its operation or movement did not have a good reputation in an-cient thinking. I don‘t want to bore you with too many details, zillions, but it is important to know that theologians at this time were still influenced by Origen, the Alexandrian theologian of the 3rd Century, who considered movement in general, Kinesis, including the movement of the will, a bad thing; a falling away from what he imagined was the original, ideal unmoving state of souls, Stasis, which Origen imagined existed before the creation of the visible world. According to Origen‘s thinking, it was the movement of souls that was their fall, and necessitated the creation of the material world, called Genesis.

So, according to this vision of things, – the material world is the result of sin, of a fall from perfect stillness. When St. Maximus began to battle the teaching of Monotheletism, as he did, he had to deal with these Origenist ideas, in which he himself was well-educated. And deal with them he did, beca-use Maximus “corrected“ Origen‘s teaching on the origins of the world, or his cosmology, as follows: Maximus explained that first came “Genesis“, God‘s creation of the world, as a movement of His divine will. – So that‘s a good thing. And as a result, as a reply to God, comes creation‘s movement or Kinesis toward God. And finally, creation strives, we all strive, through this movement, to achieve Stasis, or rest, in God.

Thus, Maximus shows how movement, including movement of the human will, is a good thing. Maximus was also very insistent that this process of our movement towards God is made possible through the Incarnation, i.e., through the bringing together of the human and divine natures in the One Person of Jesus Christ.

Through communion with that Person, the God-Man, we proceed on the path of our own divinization or Theosis, by working together, in synergy with His will. Synergy is an important word here. And – even when our free will turns in another direction, or ceases to strive toward God, we know that the door remains open for us again to change direction, to change our mind, and accept the grace of repentance, or metanoia, which is so often described in the Gospel.

St. Maximus did not live to see his theology triumph against the teaching of Monotheletism, which, during his life-time, was embraced not only by the Emperor, but by the majority of the bishops in the East. Maximus actually found support in Rome, from a Pope, St. Martin (+655), but eventually both Maximus and St. Martin were arrested and subjected to torture and exile for their uncompromising stance against the teaching that degraded the human will.

(Source: https://pemptousia.com/2015/01/saint-maximus-the-confessor/)

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On Love

The person who loves God cannot help loving every man as himself, even though he is grieved by the passions of those who are not yet purified. But when they amend their lives, his delight is indescribable and knows no bounds.

The person who loves God values knowledge of God more than anything created by God, and pursues such knowledge ardently and ceaselessly.

Sometimes men are tested by pleasure, sometimes by distress or by physical suffering. By means of His prescriptions the Physician of souls administers the remedy according to the cause of the passions lying hidden in the soul.

When you are insulted by someone or humiliated, guard against angry thoughts, lest they arouse a feeling of irritation, and so cut you off from love and place you in the realm of hatred.

If we detect any trace of hatred in our hearts against any man whatsoever for committing any fault, we are utterly estranged from love for God, since love for God absolutely precludes us from hating any man.

Do not say that you are the temple of the Lord, writes Jeremiah (cf. Jer. 7:4); nor should you say that faith alone in our Lord Jesus Christ can save you, for this is impossible unless you also acquire love for Him through your works.

As for faith by itself, the devils also believe, and tremble (Jas. 2:19).

Stop defiling your flesh with shameful deeds and polluting your soul with wicked thoughts; then the peace of God will descend upon you and bring you love.

Just as the thought of fire does not warm the body, so faith without love does not actualize the light of spiritual knowledge in the soul.

Just as the light of the sun attracts a healthy eye, so through love knowledge of God naturally draws to itself the pure intellect.

He who has genuinely renounced worldly things, and lovingly and sincerely serves his neighbor, is soon set free from every passion and made a partaker of God’s love and knowledge.

In times of peaceful relationships do not recall what was said by a brother when there was bad feeling between you, even if offensive things were said to your face, or to another person about you and you subsequently heard of them. Otherwise you will harbor thoughts of rancor and revert to your destructive hatred of your brother.

When a man’s intellect is constantly with God, his desire grows beyond all measure into an intense longing for God and his incisiveness is completely transformed into divine love. For by continual participation in the divine radiance his intellect becomes totally filled with light; and when it has reintegrated its passable aspect, it redirects this aspect towards God, as we have said, filling it with an incomprehensible and intense longing for Him and with unceasing love, thus drawing it entirely away from worldly things to the divine.

On temptations and the passions

Nothing created by God is evil. It is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem. It is only the misuse of things that is evil, not the things themselves.

As man I deliberately transgressed the divine commandment, when the devil, enticing me with the hope of divinity (cf. Gen. 3:5), dragged me down from my natural stability into the realm of sensual pleasure; and he was proud to have thus brought death into existence, for he delights in the corruption of human nature. Because of this, God became perfect man, taking on everything that belongs to human nature except sin (cf. Heb. 4:15); and indeed sin is not part of human nature, In this way, by enticing the insatiable serpent with the bait of the flesh. He provoked him to open his mouth and swallow it. This flesh proved poison to him, destroying him utterly by the power of the Divinity within it; but to human nature it proved a remedy restoring it to its original grace by that same power of the Divinity within it. For just as the devil poured out his venom of sin on the tree of knowledge and corrupted human nature once it had tasted it, so when he wished to devour the flesh of the Master he was himself destroyed by the power of the Divinity within it.

The demons attack the person who has attained the summits of prayer in order to prevent his conceptual images of sensible things from being free from passion; they attack the gnostic so that he will dally with impassioned thoughts; and they attack the person who has not advanced beyond the practice of the virtues so as to persuade him to sin through his actions. They contend with all men by every possible means in order to separate them from God.

Let yourself die while striving, rather than living in laziness. For those who die while trying to keep the commandments are just as much martyrs as those who died for Christ’s sake.

When a trial comes upon you unexpectedly, do not blame the person through whom it came but try to discover the reason why it came, and then you will find a way of dealing with it. For whether through this person or through someone else you had in any case to drink the wormwood of God’s judgments.

There are said to be five reasons why God allows us to be assailed by demons. The first is so that, by attacking and counterattacking, we should learn to discriminate between virtue and vice. The second is so that, having acquired virtue through conflict and toil, we should keep it secure and immutable. The third is so that, when making progress in virtue, we should not become haughty but learn humility. The fourth is so that, having gained some experience of evil, we should “hate it with perfect hatred” (cf. Ps. 139:22). The fifth and most important is so that, having achieved dispassion, we should forget neither our own weakness nor the power of Him who has helped us.

When the demons expel self-restraint from your intellect and besiege you with thoughts of unchastity, turn to the Lord with tears and say, “Now they have driven me out and encircled me” (Ps. 17:11. LXX); “Thou art my supreme joy: deliver me from those who encircle me” (Ps. 32:7. LXX). Then you will be safe.

On suffering

The sensible man, taking into account the remedial effect of the divine prescriptions, gladly bears the sufferings which they bring upon him, since he is aware that they have no cause other than his own sin. But when the fool, ignorant of the supreme wisdom of God’s providence, sins and is corrected, he regards either God or men as responsible for the hardships he suffers.

You should know that you have been greatly benefited when you have suffered deeply because of some insult or indignity; for by means of the indignity self-esteem has been driven out of you.

If God suffers in the flesh when He is made man, should we not rejoice when we suffer, for we have God to share our sufferings? This shared suffering confers the kingdom on us. For he spoke truly who said, If we suffer with Him, then we shall also be glorified with Him (Rom. 8:17).

The person who truly wishes to be healed is he who does not refuse treatment. This treatment consists of the pain and distress brought on by various misfortunes. He who refuses them does not realize what they accomplish in this world or what he will gain from them when he departs this life.

Cleanse your intellect from anger, rancor and shameful thoughts, and you will be able to perceive the indwelling of Christ.

On forgiveness

The deiform soul cannot nurse hatred against a man and yet be at peace with God, the giver of the commandments. “For,” He says, “if you do not forgive men their faults, neither will your heavenly Father forgive you your faults” (cf. Matt. 6:14-15). If your brother does not wish to live peaceably with you, nevertheless guard yourself against hatred, praying for him sincerely and not abusing him to anybody.

If you are remembering evil against someone, then pray for him; and as you remove through prayer the pain of the remembrance of the evil he has done, you will stop the advance of the passion. And when you have attained brotherly love and love for mankind, you will completely cast this passion out of your soul. Then when someone else does evil to you, be affectionate and humble toward him, and treat him kindly, and you will deliver him from this passion.

On love of money

It is not so much because of need that gold has become an object of desire among men, as because of the power it gives most people to indulge in sensual pleasure. There are three things which produce love of material wealth: self-indulgence, self-esteem and lack of faith. Lack of faith is more dangerous than the other two.

The self-indulgent person loves wealth because it enables him to live comfortably; the person full of self-esteem loves it because through it he can gain the esteem of others; the person who lacks faith loves it because, fearful of starvation, old age, disease, or exile, he can save it and hoard it. He puts his trust in wealth rather than in God, the Creator who provides for all creation, down to the least of living things.

There are four kinds of men who hoard wealth: the three already mentioned and the treasurer or bursar. Clearly, it is only the last who conserves it for a good purpose–namely, so as always to have the means of supplying each person’s basic needs.

On almsgiving

He who gives alms in imitation of God does not discriminate between the wicked and the virtuous, the just and the unjust, when providing for men’s bodily needs. He gives equally to all according to their need, even though he prefers the virtuous man to the bad man because of the probity of his intention.

Many human activities, good in themselves, are not good because of the motive for which they are done. For example, fasting and vigils, prayer and psalmody, acts of charity and hospitality are by nature good, but when performed for the sake of self-esteem they are not good.

On repentance

Almost every sin is committed for the sake of sensual pleasure; and sensual pleasure is overcome by hardship and distress arising either voluntarily from repentance, or else involuntarily as a result of some salutary and providential reversal. For if we would judge ourselves, we should not be judged; but when we are judged, we are chastened by the Lord, so that we should not be condemned with the world. (1 Cor. 11:31-32).

(Source: “Philokalia of the Holy Neptic Fathers”)

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