Gleanings from Orthodox Christian Authors and the Holy Fathers

virtues

55 Entries

"For truly the assistance which God gives to our nature is provided to those who correctly live the life of virtue. This assistance was already there at our birth, but it is manifested and made known whenever we apply ourselves to diligent training in the higher life and strip ourselves for the more vigorous contests." St. Gregory of Nyssa.



Virtues and vices are the food of the soul and it can feed on either one, turning to whichever one it wants. If it is bent toward moral excellence, it will be fed by virtue - by righteousness, temperance, meekness, endurance. In other words, it is just as St. Paul says, 'being nourished by the word of truth' (1 Tim. 4:6). St. Ignatius of Antioch

...the experience and acquisition of the virtues requires God's help; and they are achieved only through much effort and over a long period of time. This is especially true of the virtues of the soul, for these are the more inward and essential virtues. The virtues that pertain to the body - which are better described as the tools of the virtues - are easier to acquire, even though they do demand bodily effort. But the virtues of the soul, although they demand the control of thought alone, are much more difficult to achieve. St. Peter of Damaskos (Book 2: Twenty-Four Discourses no. 4, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 220)

... silence is the fastest path to virtue ... Nikitas Stithatos (The Philokalia Vol. 4 pg. 84)

...there are four original virtues: courage, good sense, chastity and righteousness. And there are eight other moral qualities, originating either from an excess or a defect of these and following them closely on either side; these we consider and call vices, but the world calls them virtues. On either side of courage, go audacity and timidity; on either side of of good sense - artfulness and senselessness (tactlessness); on either side of chastity go intemperance and lack of sensibility; on either side of righteousness being over-exacting and unrighteousness. Along the middle way, between them, proceed not only the original virtues which are beyond all excess or defect, but also individual good deeds. Those in the center are moved by the will for good within a righteous heart; the others (those on the side) by depravity and conceit. St. Gregory of Sinai (Texts on Commandments and Dogmas no. 87)

...you must struggle to acquire the virtues so as to be able to accept with gratitude everything that comes, whether it is good or whether it appears to be bad, and to remain undisturbed in all things. St. Peter of Damaskos (Book 1: A Treasury of Divine Knowledge, The Philokalia Vol. 3 pg. 174)

A brother questioned an old man, "Tell me something which I can do, so that I may live by it", and the old man said, "If you can bear to be despised, that is a great thing, more than all the other virtues". Apophthegmata Patrum

A greedy appetite for food is terminated by satiety and the pleasure of drinking ends when our thirst is quenched. And so it is with the other things. . . But the possession of virtue, once it is solidly achieved, cannot be measured by time nor limited by satiety. Rather, to those who are its disciples it always appears as something ever new and fresh. St. Gregory the Great

Abba Anthony said: "Why do we not voluntarily abandon what must be destroyed when this life comes to an end, so that we might gain the kingdom of Heaven? Let Christians care for nothing that they cannot take away with them. We ought rather to seek after that which will lead us to Heaven; namely wisdom, chastity, justice, virtue, an ever watchful mind, care for the poor, firm faith in Christ, a mind that can control anger, hospitality. Striving after these things, we shall prepare for ourselves a dwelling in the land of the peaceful, as it says in the Gospel." Athanasius, Life of St. Anthony, 17

All outwardness without inwardness is nothing. Whatever is not inside the heart does not exist in actual fact. Virtue is not true virtue when it is not within the heart. Therefore correct your heart and your will, and you shall be good and your outward deeds will be good, for the inward is the beginning of the outward. When evil is not in the heart, then it will not appear outwardly. The hands will not do evil, the feet will not walk toward evil, the tongue and lips will not speak evil, the eyes will not look upon evil and so on, when the will and the heart do not desire it. St. Tikhon of Zadonsk, Journey to Heaven

Among the virtues some result from action, others are natural, the third category are Divine (the last come from the Holy Spirit). The virtues resulting from action are the outcome of a will for good, the natural come from a man's constitution, and the Divine - from grace. St. Gregory of Sinai (Texts on Commandments and Dogmas no. 88)

And therefore the blessed Paul also, in leading us away from sin, leads us to virtue. For where, tell me, is the advantage of all the thorns being cut out, if the good seeds are not sown? For our labor, remaining unfinished, will come round and end in the same mischief. And therefore Paul also, in his deep and affectionate anxiety for us, does not let his admonitions stop at eradicating and destroying evil tempers, but urges us at once to evidence the implanting of good ones. For having said, 'Let all bitterness, and wrath, and clamor, and railing be put away from you, with all malice,' he adds, `And be ye kind one to another, tender-hearted, forgiving each other.' For all these are habits and dispositions. St. John Chrysostom, Homily XVI (Eph. 4:31-2)

As a blacksmith can do nothing without the help of fire, however skilled he may be in wielding his tools, so a man should do everything he can on his side to purify his heart, using virtues as tools for this purpose; but without fire of the Spirit, everything he does will remain inactive and useless for his aim, for by itself what he does is powerless to cleanse the soul of its dirt and foulness." St. Simeon the New Theologian (Practical and Theological Precepts no. 82, Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart; Faber and Faber pgs. 115-116)

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

For no virtue is perfected without effort, not is it possible for anyone to mount to the stability of mind that he desires without great contrition of heart. For man is born in trouble .In order that 'he might attain to the perfect man, the measure of the stature of the fullness of Christ (Eph. 4:190, he must always be watchful with still greater attentiveness and labor with constant care. St. John Cassian, The Institutes

For what are the steps of this gate [Ez. 40:6] if not the merits of the virtues? Either in recognition of the Man Jesus Christ, the Mediator of God and men, or in the knowledge of Holy Writ, or in the very Faith which we received from Him, we arrive by certain steps to higher increases.

For no one suddenly becomes the greatest, but each begins by good conversation (conduct) about the least matters in order to attain to higher things. It is said of these steps by the Psalmist, 'God is known in her steps when He sustains her' (Ps. 47:4). The Homilies of Saint Gregory the Great On the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel.



From much speaking proceeds the destruction of the virtues, the laying waste of silence, and other dishonorable passions. He who is silent is fearful to demons, because they do not see the secrets of the heart among those who are perfect when they do not speak with the lips. But he who loves much talking will not escape sin. If one were to place on one side of the scale all the works of sinful life and on the other side silence, we will find that silence outweighs them. St. Paisius Velichkovsky, Little Russian Philokalia, Vol. IV

He who combines the practice of the virtues with spiritual knowledge is a man of power. For with the first he withers his desire and tames his incensiveness, and with the second he gives wings to his intellect and goes out of himself to God. St. Maximos the Confessor (Second Century on Love no. 28)

He who has established virtues in himself and is entirely possessed by them, no longer remembers the law, or the commandments, or punishments, but says and does what the excellent disposition established in him suggests. Abba Evagrius the Monk(Texts on Active Life no. 42)

He, then, who knows what is to his benefit should struggle to acquire this virtue before anything else, according to St. Basil the Great. For St. Basil advises us not to fight against all the passions at once ... Rather we should fight the passions one at a time, and start by patiently enduring whatever befalls us. This is right; for the person who lacks patient endurance will never be able to stand fast even in an ordinary battle, but will bring only flight and destruction upon himself and others by retreating. St. Peter of Damaskos, The Philokalia, Vol. 3

How the house of the soul is built we can learn from the building of a material house and from the knowledge and care it demands. A man who wants to build a house must see that it is solid and thoroughly safe and he raises it four square [on a sound foundation]. He does not concentrate on one part and neglect the rest since this is of no use but defeats his aim and makes vain the expense and labor. So it is with the soul: we must on no account neglect any part of it, but build it up equally and harmoniously. This is what Abba John means when he says, `I would rather a man acquire a little of each one of the virtues than master one virtue as some have done, persisting in it and practicing only that but neglecting the rest. St. Dorotheos of Gaza, Discourses and Sayings

If a man resolves to treat and heal his soul, he must first apply himself to a careful examination of his whole being. He must learn to distinguish good from evil, the things of God from those of the devil, for `discernment is the greatest of the virtues.' The acquisition of the virtues is a progressive and organic process: one virtue follows another. One depends on the other, one is born of the other: `Every virtue is the mother of the next.' Among the virtues there is not only an ontological order, but also a chronological one. The first among them is faith. St. Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ

If the highest aim of virtue is that which aims at the advancement of most, gentleness is the most lovely of all, which does not hurt even those whom it condemns, and usually renders them whom it condemns worthy of absolution" St. Ambrose, Concerning Repentance

If the highest end of virtue is that which aims at the advancement of most, gentleness is the most lovely of all, which does not hurt even those whom it condemns, and usually renders those whom it condemns worthy of absolution. Moreover, it is the only virtue which has led to the increase of the Church which the Lord sought at the price of His own 'Blood, imitating the lovingkindness of heaven, and aiming at the redemption of all, seeks this end with a gentleness which the ears of men can can endure, in presence of which their hearts do not sink, nor their spirits quail. St. Ambrose of Milan, Two Books Concerning Repentance

If thou desirest joy, seek not after riches, nor bodily health, nor glory, nor power, nor luxury, nor sumptuous tables, nor vestures of silk, nor costly lands, nor houses splendid and conspicuous, nor anything else of that kind; but pursue that spiritual wisdom which is according to God, and take hold of virtue; and then naught of the things which are present, or which are expected, will be able to sadden thee. St. John Chrysostom, Homily 18 Concerning the Statues

It is quite certain the virtue is the only and the highest good; that it alone richly abounds in the fruit of a blessed life; that a blessed life, by means of which eternal life is won, does not depend on external or corporeal benefits, but on virtue only. A blessed life is the fruit of the present, and eternal life is the hope of the future. St. Ambrose, On the Duties of the Clergy, Book II

Our holy fathers have renounced all other spiritual work and concentrated wholly on this one doing, that is, on guarding the heart, convinced that, through this practice, they would easily attain every other virtue, whereas without it not a single virtue can be firmly established. St. Tikhon of Voronezh

Our virtue, therefore, must not be contaminated with fault, but must be single minded and blameless, and free from all that can bring reproach. For what profit is there in fasting twice in the week, if thy so doing serve only as a pretext for ignorance and vanity, and make thee supercilious and haughty, and selfish? St. Cyril of Alexandria, Commentary on the Gospel of St. Luke (Reading for Sunday of Publican and Pharisee)

Practice of the virtues frees the intellect only from dissipation and hatred; spiritual contemplation releases it also from forgetfulness and ignorance. In this way the intellect can pray as it should. St. Maximos the Confessor (Second Century on Love no. 5)

Rejoice when you perform the virtues, but do not become exalted, lest, arriving at the pier, you suffer a shipwreck. Venerable St. Nilus of Sinai

Restraint, meekness, chastity, steadfastness, patience and similar great virtues are given us by God for weapons to resist and oppose the tribulations we meet with, and to help us when they occur. So if we train ourselves in the use of these powers and keep them always ready, then nothing that may befall us will ever be hard, grievous, destructive or unbearable, for all would be overcome by the virtues we possess. St. Antony the Great(170 Texts on Saintly Life no. 3)

Riches can be stolen or taken away by those who are more powerful, but virtue of the soul is alone a safe possession, which cannot be taken away... St. Antony the Great(170 Texts on Saintly Life no. 32)

Since, as the Lord says, "this world lies in wickedness," and everything opposed to virtue (which is wickedness) is foreign to those who follow the Law, the man who in his life makes his way through this world will safely conclude this necessary journey of virtue if he truly keeps to the highway which is hardened and smoothed by virtue and will under no circumstances be turned aside to any byways because of evil. St. Gregory of Nyssa, The Life of Moses

So the active life is to give bread to the hungry, to teach the ignorant with the word of wisdom, to set aright the lost, to recall a proud neighbor to the life of humility, to care for the weak, which services each of us should perform, and provide the wherewithal of subsistence for those entrusted to us. Truly the contemplative life is to hold fast with the whole mind, at least to the charity of God, our neighbor but to abstain from external action; to cleave to the sole desire for the Creator, so that the only recourse for the spirit is, scorning all cares, to burn to see the face of the Creator, so that it now understands how to bear the weight of corruptible flesh with grief; to seek with all its desires to be among those hymn-singing choirs of Angels, to mingle with the citizens of Heaven, to rejoice at the eternal incorruption in the present of God. The Homilies of Saint Gregory the Great On the Book of the Prophet Ezekiel

That which is true for the virtues is true also for knowledge. As each virtue begets other virtues, and begets knowledge, so each sort of knowledge begets another. One virtue produces another and sustains it, and the same is true of knowledge. Fr. (St.) Justin Popovich, Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ

The dispensation of our God and Saviour concerning man is a recall from the fall, and a return from the alienation caused by disobedience to close communion with God. This is the reason for the sojourn of Christ in the flesh, the pattern of life described in the Gospels, the sufferings, the cross, the tomb, the resurrection; so that the man who is being saved through imitation of Christ receives the old adoption. For perfection of life the imitation of Christ is necessary, not only in the example of gentleness, lowliness, and long suffering set us in His life, but also of His actual death. So Paul, the imitator of Christ, says, `being made conformable unto His death; if by any means I might attain unto the resurrection of the dead.' How then are we made in the likeness of His death? In that we were buried with Him by baptism. St. John Chrysostom, On The Holy Spirit

The first virtue of godliness in Christians is to honor their parents, to requite the troubles of those who begat them. St. Cyril of Jerusalem (Catechetical Lectures: Lecture 7 no. 16)

The origin and the source of virtues is will or desire directed towards that which is good, just as God is the cause and the source of all good. And the origin of good is faith, or rather Christ, the foundation stone of faith, Whom we have as the origin and basis of all virtues, in Whom we stand and by Whom we perform every good action. He is the corner stone which joins us together, and the precious pearl, seeking which a monk, entering into the depth of silence, sells all his desires in exchange for obedience to commandments, that he may possess it. St Gregory of Sinai (Texts on Commandments and Dogma no. 83)

The practice of virtues, even though performed with care and effort, does not afford complete security to the soul unless grace transforms them into an essential disposition of the heart. St. Gregory of Sinai (Texts and Commandments on Dogmas no. 86)

The self-controlled refrain from gluttony; those who have renounced possessions, from greed; the tranquil, from loquacity; the pure, from self-indulgence; the modest, from unchastity; the self-dependent, from avarice; the gentle, from agitation; the humble, from self-esteem; the obedient, from quarrelling; the self-critical, from hypocrisy. Similarly, those who pray are protected from despair; the poor, from having many possessions; confessors of the faith, from its denial; martyrs, from idolatry. Do you see how every virtue that is performed even to the point of death is nothing other than refraining from sin? Now to refrain from sin is a work within our own natural powers, but not something that buys us the kingdom. St. Mark the Ascetic, The Philokalia, Vol. 1

The strength of those who wish to acquire the virtues is as follows: if they fall, let them not lose their courage, but let them be sure to make a new beginning at their endeavor. Insofar, then, as we put all our energy into practicing the virtues, let us await the Lord, showing Him a generous resolve and calling on His aid, and without fail He will strengthen us with His mercy and bestow His Grace on us in abundance, in which case we will accomplish every good easily and without exertion. Abba Moses in The Evergetinos, Book I, Vol. III/

The virtues bring delight and joy not because we have the habit of virtue, but when we actually practice them actively. In other words, the merciful person does not rejoice and find delight only when he has the habit of charity in his heart, but rather when he activates this disposition and actually practices charity. An artist or craftsman does not experience delight when he does not practice his skill or his art, but rather when he actually practices it. This is why one must first practice the virtues until he acquires their habit, which is often called "a second nature." After the habit is acquired the virtues are then practiced for their delight, for the first acts of virtue have no joy, when they are done with strain and difficulties until the habit is established. These first acts of virtue may be likened to the planting of a tree. The habit of virtues may be likened to the tree that has taken root and has blossomed. The acts of virtue that follow after the habit is established are likened to the tree bearing fruit. St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, A Handbook of Spiritual Counsel-

There are three things that move us to the good: natural tendencies, the holy Powers, good choice. The natural tendencies - as, for instance, when what we wish men would do for us, we likewise do for them; or, when we see someone in sore straits, we then naturally have pity. The holy Powers - as when moved to some fine deed, we experience their good assistance and prosper. Good choice - when, for example, discerning good from evil, we choose the good. St. Maximus the Confessor, The Ascetic Life and Four Centuries on Charity

There exists three states of soul: natural, unnatural, and supernatural. `The natural state of the soul is the knowledge of God's creation, both visible and spiritual. The supernatural state of the soul is the contemplation of the super-essential Divinity. The unnatural state of the soul is its involvement in the passions,' for the passions do not belong to its nature. Passion is an unnatural state of the soul, but virtue is its natural state. St. Justin Popovich, The Theory of Knowledge of St. Isaac the Syrian (in Orthodox Faith and Life in Christ)

Virtues do not stop demons attacking us, but keep us unscathed by them. Abba Evagrius the Monk(Texts on Active Life no. 49)

We ought to do everything we can for the acquisition of virtue and moral wisdom (phronesis), for the prize is beautiful and the hope great.

The path of virtue is a path of effort and toil: "Straight is the gate, and narrow is the way, leadeth unto life, and few there be that find it;" whereas the gate of vice is wide and the way spacious, but lead to perdition. "Modern Orthodox Saints, St. Nectarios of Aegina", Dr. Constantine Cavarnos, Institute for Byzantine and Modern Greek Studies, Belmont, Massachusetts., 1981., pp. 154-187



We unite ourselves to Him [God], in so far as this is possible, by participating in the godlike virtues and by entering into communion with Him through prayer and praise. Because the virtues are similitudes of God, to participate in them puts us in a fit state to receive the Deity, yet it does not actually unite us to Him. But prayer through its sacral and hieratic power actualizes our ascent to and union with the Deity, for it is a bond between noetic creatures and their Creator. St. Gregory Palamas (On Prayer and Purity of Heart no. 1, The Philokalia Vol. 4 edited by Palmer, Sherrard and Ware; Faber and Faber pg.343)

When the intellect practices the virtues correctly, it advances in moral understanding. When it practices contemplation, it advances in spiritual knowledge. The first leads the spiritual contestant to discriminate between virtue and vice; the second leads the participant to the inner qualities of incorporeal and corporeal things. Finally, the intellect is granted the grace of theology when, carried on wings of love beyond these two former stages, it is taken up into God and with the help of the Holy Spirit discerns - as far as this is possible for the human intellect - the qualities of God. St. Maximos the Confessor (Second Century on Love: no. 26)

You have heard, dearly beloved, that holy women who had followed the Lord came to the sepulchre with spices. They had loved Him when He was alive, and they showed Him their eager tenderheartedness even when He was dead. Their deed points to something that must be done in our holy Church. Thus as we hear of what they did, we must also think of our responsibility to imitate them. We too, who believe in Him Who died, approach His sepulchre with spices if we are strengthen with the sweet smell of the virtues, and if we seek the Lord with a reputation for good works. And the women who came with spices saw angels, since those who advance toward God through their holy desires, accompanied by the sweet smell of the virtues, behold the citizens from on high. St. Gregory the Great, Forty Gospel Homilies

It is better to avoid the passions by the recollection of the virtues than by resisting and arguing with them. For when the passions leave their place and arise for battle, they imprint on the mind images and idols. This warfare has great force, able to weaken the mind and violently perturb and confuse a man's thinking. But if a man acts by the first rule we have mentioned, when the passions are repulsed they leave no trace in the mind. St Isaac of Syria

The soul's strength is its firm state of virtue; on reaching such a state one may say with the invincible apostle Paul: 'What can separate us from the love of Christ' (Rom. 8:35)? St. Thalassios the Libyan, Philokalia, Vol. 2

Virtues and vices are the food of the soul and it can feed on either one, turning to whichever one it wants. If it is bent toward moral excellence, it will be fed by virtue - by righteousness, temperance, meekness, endurance. In other words, it is just as St. Paul says, 'being nourished by the word of truth' (1 Tim. 4:6). St. Ignatius of Antioch

... it takes much time to make a moral virtue effective in ourselves, while what has been achieved with so much time and effort can be lost in a single instant. The Philokalia, Vol. III - pp. 260 - 263 .

25. The self-controlled refrain from gluttony; those who have renounced possessions, from greed; the tranquil, from loquacity; the pure, from self-indulgence; the modest, from unchastity; the self-dependent, from avarice; the gentle, from agitation; the humble, from self-esteem; the obedient, from quarrelling; the self-critical, from hypocrisy. Similarly, those who pray are protected from despair; the poor, from having many possessions; confessors of the faith, from its denial; martyrs, from idolatry. Do you see how every virtue that is performed even to the point of death is nothing other than refraining from sin? Now to refrain from sin is a work within our own natural powers, but not something that buys us the kingdom. REF:Saint Kosmas Aitolos +1779

39. No single virtue by itself opens the door of our nature; but all the virtues must be linked together in the correct sequence. REF:Saint Kosmas Aitolos +1779





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