Saturday, May 12, 2007


Passion (Gr. pathos), I think, is the second most misunderstood word in the English language. By the word "passion," most mean "strong feeling" or "fervent commitment." Some mean "sex." Nearly everywhere, the term is used positively. We are told by every third advertisement to follow our passions, act on our passions, or live for our passions. Rekindling passion, we are advised, is the way to save a failing marriage. Fiery passion is admired. The meaning of our life, some claim, is our life’s passion.

The Early Fathers of the Church, on the other hand, have a generally negative and more useful definition of the term "passion." The passions are that which assault us – that which we must endure (compare to the word "passive"). They are products of our fallen nature – perhaps with a good original purpose now corrupted – that lead us into a life of sin. They must be transformed for us to live in Christ.

The following definition is helpful. Probably written by Bishop Kallistos Ware, it comes from the glossary in the English translation of The Philokalia:

Passion (pathos): in Greek, the word signifies literally that which happens to a person or thing, an experience undergone passively; hence an appetite or impulse such as anger, desire or jealousy, that violently dominates the soul. Many Greek Fathers regard the passions as something intrinsically evil, a 'disease' of the soul: thus St. John Klimakos affirms that God is not the creator of the passions and that they are 'unnatural', alien to man's true self (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26...). Other Greek Fathers, however, look on the passions as impulses originally placed in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin (cf. St. Isaiah the Solitary...). On this second view, then, the passions are to be educated, not eradicated; to be transfigured, not suppressed; to be used positively, not negatively.

As with other temptations, God permits corrupting passions to exist but does not desire them. By prayer of the heart and invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus, we can be free of them. Dispassion (Gr. apatheia) is an attribute of the holy. More than the absence of passion, dispassion is a transfigured self. It signifies purity of heart, spiritual freedom, and detachment from earthly cares.

The teachings of Early Fathers of the Church on prayer of the heart and overcoming the passions have changed my life and freed me in a way I never thought I could be free. Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Those old men who sat in their desert cells nearly two thousand years ago – there battling powers and principalities – have all the answers we need. Who would have thought? Let us strive to hear their quiet voices over the worldly din – whispering truths that do not change despite the passage of eons.

“The assaults of my passions disturb me; they fill my soul with great discouragement. O Maiden, preserved from all stain, restore the balance of my soul through the peace of your Son, through the peace of your God!” (Paraklis, Ode 1).

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