The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Sunday, July 14, 2013

ST. THALASSIOS THE LIBYAN - Four Centuries on the Spiritual Life -- Part III

Before we get into this issue, we would like to share with you a wonderful little poem written by an early convert of St. Patrick of Ireland, a great monastic saint shared venerated by both the Eastern and Western Churches. The author is St. Manchan of Offaly and he writes lovingly -- and beautifully -- of his simple needs as a hermit. We hope you will enjoy this as much as we did!

BEGIN: Grant me sweet Christ the grace to find -- Son of the living God! -- A small hut in a lonesome spot To make it my abode.

A little pool but very clear To stand beside the place Where all men's sins are washed away By sanctifying grace.

A pleasant woodland all about To shield it (the hut) from the wind, And make a home for singing birds Before it and behind.

A southern aspect for the heat A stream along its foot, A smooth green lawn with rich top soil Propitious to all fruit.

My choice of men to live with me And pray to God as well; Quiet men of humble mind -- Their number I shall tell.

Four files of three or three of four To give the Psalter forth; Six to pray by the south church wall And six along the north.

Two by two my dozen friends -- To tell the number right -- Praying with me to move the King Who gives the sun its light. END

Now, on to today's "thought."

In this issue we will look at part three of our four-part series on St. Thalassios's four "centuries" on the spiritual life. These are only excerpts as we do not have space for the full text. St. Thalassios the Libyan, abbot of a monastery in Libya in the late sixth and early seventy centuries. There is little information in his biography beyond saying that he was a contemporary and friend of St. Maximos the Confessor (580 - 662). St. Maximos wrote his largest work as a theological treatise addressed to St. Thalassios.

- by St. Thalassios the Libyan

-- Think good thoughts bout what is good by nature, and think well of every man.

-- Whether we think, speak or act in a good or an evil manner depends upon whether we cleave inwardly to virtue or to vice.

-- An intellect dominated by the passions thinks base thoughts; words and actions bring these thoughts into the open.

-- Shut out the senses, fight against prepossession and, with the commandments as your weapons, destroy the passions.

-- The forceful practice of self-control and love, patience and stillness, will destroy the passions hidden within us.

-- You will not find the rigors of the ascetic life hard to bear if you do all things with measure and by rule.

-- Maintain a regular level of ascetic practice and do not break your rule unless forced to do so.

-- Ascetic struggle -- fasting, vigils, patience, forbearance -- produces a clear conscience.

-- He who patiently endures unsought trials becomes humble, full of hope and spiritually mature.

-- Patient endurance is a continuous effort for the soul; it is born of suffering freely chosen and of trials that come unsought.

-- Perseverance in the face of adversity dissolves evil, while unremitting patience destroys it utterly.

-- The person advancing in the spiritual life studies three things: the commandments, doctrine, and faith in the Holy Trinity.

-- As has been said, our passions are roused through these three things: the memory, the body's temperament, and the senses.

-- The intellect that has shut out the senses, and has achieved a balance in the body's temperament, has to fight only against its memories.

-- It is when self-control and spiritual love are missing that the passions are roused by the senses.

-- Moderate fasting, vigils and psalmody are natural means for achieving a balance in the body's temperament.

-- Three things upset the balance of the body's temperament: lack of restraint in our diet, a change in the weather, and the touch of the demonic powers.

-- Our memories can be stripped of passion through prayer, spiritual reading, self-control and love.

-- First shut out the senses through the practice of stillness and then fight against your memories by cultivating the virtues.

-- The person who listens to Christ fills himself with light; and if he imitates Christ, he reclaims himself.

-- The Lord blinds the intellect that is jealous and resentful of its neighbor's blessings.

-- The tongue of a back-biting soul is three-pronged: it injures the speaker, the listeners and sometimes the person being maligned.

-- He who prays for those who offend him is without rancor; and the unstinting giver is set free from it.

-- Control of the belly withers desire and keeps the intellect free from lecherous thoughts.

-- An intellect in control of itself is the temple of the Holy Spirit, but that of a glutton is like a nest of crows.

-- A surfeit of foods breeds desire; a deficiency sweetens even plain bread.

-- If you share secretly in the joy of someone you envy, you will be freed from your jealousy; and you will also be freed from your jealousy if you keep silent about the person you envy.

-- A wise intellect restrains the soul, keeps the body in subjection, and makes the passions its servants.

-- The hypocrite, like the false prophet, is betrayed by his words and actions.

-- Hardship and humility save the soul and free it from all the passions.

-- A helpful word indicates an understanding mind; a good action reveals a saint-like soul.

-- An illumined intellect brings forth words of wisdom; a pure soul cultivates godlike thoughts.

-- The thoughts of a wise man are devoted to wisdom; a pure soul cultivates godlike thoughts.

-- The thoughts of a wise man are devoted to wisdom, and his words enlighten those who hear them.

-- A virtuous soul cultivates good thoughts; a soul full of evil breeds thoughts of depravity.

-- The virtues generate good thoughts; the commandments lead us to the virtues; the practice of the virtues depends on our own will and resolution.

-- Self-love precedes all the passions, while last of all comes pride.

-- The three most common forms of desire have their origin in the passion of self-love.

-- These three forms are gluttony, self-esteem and avarice. All other impassioned thoughts follow in their wake, though they do not all follow each of them.

-- The thought of unchastity follows that of gluttony; of pride, that of self-esteem. The others all follow the three most common forms.

-- Thus thoughts of resentment, anger, rancor, envy, listlessness and the rest all follow these three most common forms. END

from G.E.H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware, trans., The Philokalia -- vol. II, (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp. 319 - 324.