In today's "thought," we will conclude our study of a book by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, his most famous work which was translated and published widely in old Russia by St. Theophan the Recluse. Entitled, "Unseen Warfare," this fantastic volume is basically a handbook of spiritual development. In our readings from this book over the past several weeks, we have truly only scratched the surface of this gold mine of teachings! St. Nicodemos has EIGHTY chapters of wisdom in this book, every one of which deals with a spiritual issue in a practical, hands-on matter. Most spiritual fathers would agree, I think, that "Unseen Warfare" is a must for one's spiritual library.
In today's reading, St. Nicodemos advises us "On the Order of Acquiring Virtues."
BEGIN: A true warrior of Christ, filled with a whole-hearted desire to achieve the fullness of perfection, must set no limits to his efforts to gain success in all things. Yet he must moderate and direct excessive transports of his spiritual zeal by good judgment. Particularly in the beginning, such transports surge up suddenly with great vigor and carry us away with irresistible force; but later they gradually grow weaker and weaker, until they die down altogether, leaving us stranded in the middle of our journey. For not only should external, bodily virtues be acquired little by little, by gradually ascending, as by the rungs of a ladder, but in the acquisition of the inner virtues of the soul one should also observe a definite order and sequence, since only then does our little become much and remain with us for ever.
[BEGIN WITH A LOWER DEGREE OF A VIRTUE AND THEN STEP UP]
For example, in the process of acquiring the inner virtue of patience, it is impossible at once to welcome injustice, injuries and all other forms of unpleasantness, to seek them and rejoice in them, although it is possible to endure them with patience when they come. For welcoming them and rejoicing in them are the highest degrees of patience, and before you reach them you should traverse the lower degrees, which are: humble self-depreciation, in which you consider yourself worthy of every insult, overcoming in yourself impulses of revenge, hatred of the least thought of revenge, and so on.
[START WITH ONE VIRTUE AND THEN ACQUIRE MORE]
I advise you, besides: do not at once undertake the practice of all virtues, or even of a number of them, but become first grounded in one and there upon pass to another. In this way every habit of virtue will take root in your soul with greater ease and firmness. For when you are constantly exercising yourself in the virtue above all others, your memory will be almost entirely occupied by this alone, and your mind, thus welded to the thought of it, will acquire more quickly the skill of finding means and occasions for its practice, while your will will cleave to it with greater readiness and desire. All these things help greatly in the work of acquiring habits of virtue, which you will expect in vain if you undertake many virtues at once.
[VIRTUES BUILD ON ONE ANOTHER AS YOU GROW SPIRITUALLY]
On the other hand, since the practice itself of any given virtue remains always the same, it follows from the similarity of this mode of action that it gradually becomes less and less difficult and leads more quickly to another virtue. For one virtue usually stimulates another, akin to it, and helps it by the fact that, once it is established in the heart, it predisposes the heart to receive the like by preparing as it were a seat for it.
This calculation of mine is true and reliable, and we know from experience that if a man exercises himself in one virtue well and wholeheartedly, he not only learns in advance by this very fact how to exercise himself in another, but, as his experience in the first virtue increases, he stimulates too all other virtues and makes them grow and strengthen in himself; for they cannot be divided from one another, as all are rays issuing from the same Divine Light. END
from "Unseen Warfare," by St. Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain, revised by St. Theophan the Recluse, (Crestwood, N.Y.: St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1978), pp. 179 - 180