by St. Justin Popovich (reposed in 1979)
Excerpted from Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ
(Pages 121ff discussing St. Isaac of Syria’s understanding of Mankind’s ways of knowing God: from his “Spiritual Homilies”) Analyzing Mankind by his empirical gifts, St. Isaac the Syrian finds that his organs of understanding are sick. “Evil is a sickness of soul,” whence all the organs of the understanding are made sick. Evil has its perceptions, the passions, and “the passions are illnesses of the soul.” Evil and the passions are not natural to the soul; they are accidents?and intrusive, an unnatural addition to the soul.
What are the passions in themselves? They are “a certain hardness or insensitivity of being”. Their causes are to be found…in the desire for wealth and amassing of goods, for ease and bodily comfort; they are thirst for honor and the exercise of power; they are luxury and frivolity; they are the desire for glory from men and fear for one’s own body.
All these passions have one common name – “the world”. “The world means carnal conduct and a carnal mind.” The passions are the attacks of the world on Mankind by means of the things of the world. Divine grace is the only power capable of repulsing them. When the passions make their home in Man, they uproot his soul. They confuse the mind filling it with fantastic forms, images, and desires, so that his thoughts are disturbed and filled with fantasy…Since the passions are a sickness of the soul, the soul can only be healed by purification from the passions and from evil. The virtues are the health of the soul, just as the passions are its sickness. The virtues are the remedies that progressively eliminate sickness from the soul…demanding much effort on our part and great patience…
It is by the ascesis of Faith that the treatment and cure of a soul which is sick with passions is begun. Once Faith begins to live in a person, the passions begin to be uprooted from his soul. But “until the soul becomes intoxicated with the Faith in God, until it comes to feel Faith’s power,” it can neither be healed of the passions nor overcome the material world…The soul…dispersed by the senses among the things of this world, is brought back to itself by the ascesis of Faith, by fasting from material things and by devoting itself to the constant remembrance of God. This is the foundation of all good things. Freedom from enslavement to sinful [passions] is essential for the…spiritual life…
The thoughts and desires of the flesh are like a restless flame in a man, and the way to healing is to plunge the intellect into the ocean of the mysteries of the Holy Scripture. Unless it is freed from earthly possessions, the soul cannot be freed from disturbing thoughts, nor feel peace of mind without dying to the senses. [Ed: All quotes in this article are taken directly from St. Isaac’s writings.]