Orthodox America


Correcting the Heart  


by Bishop Theophan the Recluse

(continued)

    "I want everything to be MINE." determines the covetous man. This is the second outgrowth from the root of evil. It reveals most noticeably the spirit of self-love which acts here as a kind of independent entity; the covetous man does not say a word, he does not take a step or make a move unless it is to bring him some advantage. Everything about him is calculated, everything is so ordered, everything is motivated in such a way that time and place and objects and persons--in short, everything his hand or mind touches upon--bears their own related tributes into his coffers. Personal gain or interest--this is the principal incentive which everywhere and always brings his entire being into a flurry of activity, and under its influence he is prepared to transform everything into a means to achieve his own ends: he will seek the highest ranks of dignity and honor if this is advantageous; he will accept the most difficult employment if it is more profitable than others; he will set his mind to endure any and every difficulty-he won't eat or drink--if only his gain is realized. He is either mercenary or acquisitive or stingy, and only under the strong influence of vainglory is he able to love splendor and luxury. His possessions are dearer to him than life itself, dearer than people, dearer than the Divine commandments. His spirit is stifled, as it were; by things, and even lives through them and not of itself, here, then, is the power and the sphere of influence belonging to this second outgrowth from the seed of evil--self-love! And who doesn't have certain things which it would be as painful to part with as it would be to part with happiness?

     "I want to live for my own pleasure," says the carnal man. His soul is mired in the flesh and in feelings. He doesn't think about heaven, about spiritual needs or the requirements of the conscience or about responsibility. He doesn't want to, nay, cannot think of this (Rom. 8:7). His experience is limited to various forms of enjoyment; he cannot do without them; they occupy his thoughts and conversations.

      If the carnal man begins to please his palate, he becomes an epicurean; the play of colors cultivates his taste for elegant dress; a variety of sounds inspires garrulousness; the need for food leads him to gluttony; the need for self-preservation--to laziness; other needs--to dissipation. Linked to nature through the flesh, the man whose soul is enslaved by his flesh drinks up pleasures from nature in as many ways as there are functions of his body. And together with these pleasures he absorbs the essential spirit of nature-the spirit of involuntary, mechanical operation. Consequently, the more a person indulges in self-gratification, the m ore limited his circle of freedom. And whoever gives free reign to such indulgence may be regarded as an outright prisoner of his flesh.

    Here, then, is how evil grows within us from a tiny, almost imperceptible seed. In the depths of the heart, as we have seen, lies the seed of evil--self-love. From it there springs forth three branches, three variation s, each filled with the seed' s power; self-importance, self-interest and carnality. And these three generate an innumerable multitude of passions and sinful inclinations. Just as the main trunks of a tree grow out into many branches, so, too, there arises within us a whole tree of evil which, taking root in the heart, later, spreads throughout our entire body, penetrates to the outside, and occupies our surroundings. One can say that a similar tree exists within everyone whose heart is in some way inclined towards sin. The only distinction is that in one person one branch is more fully developed, and in another person a different branch.

    Why is it that for the most part we don't notice this in ourselves and often think or even unashamedly say aloud: "What have I done?" or "What's bad about me?" We don't notice because we cannot. Sin won't allow it. It is very sly and foreseeing. If a naked tree of evil, as we have described it presented itself before the mind's eye, there is no one who would not be immediately revulsed. For this reason, sin hastens to clothe the tree with leaves, to cover its hideousness, and it covers it in such a way that the soul in which the tree grows can distinguish neither its roots nor its trunk nor even its branches. These leafy coverings are: distraction and an excess of worldly cares.

     The distracted person doesn't like to dwell within himself; the person preoccupied with worldly concerns hasn't a spare minute. One cannot, the other hasn't time to take note of what goes on in his soul. With the first stirrings from sleep their soul hurries out of itself: in the case of the first it departs into a world of daydreams; in the latter it sinks into a sea of ostensibly necessary affairs. The present does not exist for them, and this essentially characterizes their activity. One prefers to live in a self-made world and touches upon reality only in part, unintentionally, superficially. The other, in his mind and heart, lives in the future. Everything he does he tries to finish as soon as possible in order to go onto the next; he begins this--and rushes towards a third. In general only his hands, feet, tongue, etc. are occupied with the present, while his thoughts are all directed towards the future. In such a state, how can they possibly discern what lies concealed in the heart?

    Sin, however, is not content with this leafy covering alone, for it is not impervious to penetration; its leaves can be blown aside by the winds of misfortune and by inner shakings of the con science, thereby exposing the tree's grotesque form. Therefore, sin creates of itself a kind of impenetrable covering resembling stagnant murky water in which it submerges its tree together with its foliage. This covering is composed of ignorance, insensibility and negligence. We don't know the danger that threatens us and therefore we are unaware of it, and because we are unaware of it we give in to negligence.

     Here in general terms is all that which we stand to change in ourselves; here is that broad field of activity in the holy podvig of self-amendment! We must strip sin of its covering, chase from our souls negligence, insensibility, self-delusion, distraction and excessive busy-ness; we must chop off its branches: all carnal passions and inclinations; finally, we must extirpate its very root by chasing out self-love. How? By means of self-denial. This task is neither small nor simple. The sinful uncleanness described above covers the soul not like dust which can be blown off with a breather air. No, it has penetrated our very being, it has grafted itself onto our being and become a part of us, as it were. For this reason, to liberate oneself from it is the same as to separate oneself from oneself, to pluck out an eye or cut off a hand. Such difficulty, however, should not overwhelm us; rather, it should rouse us from our negligence. He who earnestly desires salvation does not look at the obstacles to his goal; they only cause him to be more stalwart, to set to work with greater determination and to begin even more zealously the saving task of self-amendment. (Translated from Pisma o Khristianskoi Zhizni; Moscow, 1908)


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