Archive for July, 2008

The Seven Holy Maccabbees

July 31, 2008

August 1 is the Feast of the Precious and Life-Giving Wood of the Cross, but also the feast of the martyrdom of the Seven Maccabees. Since Protestant Christians do not include the books of First and Second Maccabees in their canon, they will be unfamiliar with this historically accurate and Godly tale of the courage of these holy martyrs from the Old Testament. In their honor I share the story of their martyrdom. I should add that their death was preceded by their teacher, Eleazar, who, at age 90, refused an easy ruse offered to him to spare his life, fearing that the young might misconstrue him and believe that he had yielded to the wicked King (who was trying to force him to eat unclean meat). Thus he taught us that the appearance of righteousness can be as important as the letter of the Law. The mother of the seven brothers, Salome, also gave her noble life as a martyr.



2 Maccabees 7:1-42  It happened also that seven brothers and their mother were arrested and were being compelled by the king, under torture with whips and cords, to partake of unlawful swine’s flesh. One of them, acting as their spokesman, said, “What do you intend to ask and learn from us? For we are ready to die rather than transgress the laws of our fathers.” The king fell into a rage, and gave orders that pans and caldrons be heated. These were heated immediately, and he commanded that the tongue of their spokesman be cut out and that they scalp him and cut off his hands and feet, while the rest of the brothers and the mother looked on. When he was utterly helpless, the king ordered them to take him to the fire, still breathing, and to fry him in a pan. The smoke from the pan spread widely, but the brothers and their mother encouraged one another to die nobly, saying, “The Lord God is watching over us and in truth has compassion on us, as Moses declared in his song which bore witness against the people to their faces, when he said, `And he will have compassion on his servants.'”

After the first brother had died in this way, they brought forward the second for their sport. They tore off the skin of his head with the hair, and asked him, “Will you eat rather than have your body punished limb by limb?” He replied in the language of his fathers, and said to them, “No.” Therefore he in turn underwent tortures as the first brother had done. And when he was at his last breath, he said, “You accursed wretch, you dismiss us from this present life, but the King of the universe will raise us up to an everlasting renewal of life, because we have died for his laws.” After him, the third was the victim of their sport. When it was demanded, he quickly put out his tongue and courageously stretched forth his hands, and said nobly, “I got these from Heaven, and because of his laws I disdain them, and from him I hope to get them back again.”

As a result the king himself and those with him were astonished at the young man’s spirit, for he regarded his sufferings as nothing. When he too had died, they maltreated and tortured the fourth in the same way. And when he was near death, he said, “One cannot but choose to die at the hands of men and to cherish the hope that God gives of being raised again by him. But for you there will be no resurrection to life!”

Next they brought forward the fifth and maltreated him. But he looked at the king, and said, “Because you have authority among men, mortal though you are, you do what you please. But do not think that God has forsaken our people. Keep on, and see how his mighty power will torture you and your descendants!”

After him they brought forward the sixth. And when he was about to die, he said, “Do not deceive yourself in vain. For we are suffering these things on our own account, because of our sins against our own God. Therefore astounding things have happened.

But do not think that you will go unpunished for having tried to fight against God!” The mother was especially admirable and worthy of honorable memory. Though she saw her seven sons perish within a single day, she bore it with good courage because of her hope in the Lord. She encouraged each of them in the language of their fathers. Filled with a noble spirit, she fired her woman’s reasoning with a man’s courage, and said to them, “I do not know how you came into being in my womb. It was not I who gave you life and breath, nor I who set in order the elements within each of you. Therefore the Creator of the world, who shaped the beginning of man and devised the origin of all things, will in his mercy give life and breath back to you again, since you now forget yourselves for the sake of his laws.”

Antiochus felt that he was being treated with contempt, and he was suspicious of her reproachful tone. The youngest brother being still alive, Antiochus not only appealed to him in words, but promised with oaths that he would make him rich and enviable if he would turn from the ways of his fathers, and that he would take him for his friend and entrust him with public affairs.

Since the young man would not listen to him at all, the king called the mother to him and urged her to advise the youth to save himself. After much urging on his part, she undertook to persuade her son. But, leaning close to him, she spoke in their native tongue as follows, deriding the cruel tyrant: “My son, have pity on me. I carried you nine months in my womb, and nursed you for three years, and have reared you and brought you up to this point in your life, and have taken care of you. I beseech you, my child, to look at the heaven and the earth and see everything that is in them, and recognize that God did not make them out of things that existed. Thus also mankind comes into being. Do not fear this butcher, but prove worthy of your brothers. Accept death, so that in God’s mercy I may get you back again with your brothers.”

While she was still speaking, the young man said, “What are you waiting for? I will not obey the king’s command, but I obey the command of the law that was given to our fathers through Moses. But you, who have contrived all sorts of evil against the Hebrews, will certainly not escape the hands of God. For we are suffering because of our own sins. And if our living Lord is angry for a little while, to rebuke and discipline us, he will again be reconciled with his own servants. But you, unholy wretch, you most defiled of all men, do not be elated in vain and puffed up by uncertain hopes, when you raise your hand against the children of heaven. You have not yet escaped the judgment of the almighty, all-seeing God. For our brothers after enduring a brief suffering have drunk of everflowing life under God’s covenant; but you, by the judgment of God, will receive just punishment for your arrogance. I, like my brothers, give up body and life for the laws of our fathers, appealing to God to show mercy soon to our nation and by afflictions and plagues to make you confess that he alone is God, and through me and my brothers to bring to an end the wrath of the Almighty which has justly fallen on our whole nation.”

The king fell into a rage, and handled him worse than the others, being exasperated at his scorn. So he died in his integrity, putting his whole trust in the Lord. Last of all, the mother died, after her sons. Let this be enough, then, about the eating of sacrifices and the extreme tortures.

The Absence of Beauty

July 30, 2008

We can say without hesitation that God is the ultimate author of Beauty, and what we know and love of beauty is an echo or stronger of our desire for the Beautiful God. It becomes a major problem of sin, largely unrecognized, when beauty begins to recede from the consciousness of people, or something tawdry or ersatz becomes substituted for that which is beautiful.

We live, of course, in a culture which is predicated on mass production. Thus even within Orthodoxy we are driven towards mass production in an effort to economize and to satisfy ourselves with the same level of aesthetic that marks our culture (this is frequently true of icons in mission churches, including my own). I have had opportunity to see and worship in an environment marked by quality iconography and in a few cases, truly great icons.

I can recall being in a parish that has a particularly well-rendered “Rublev” Trinity (the three angels in the visit with Abraham) in the parish altar. I was officiating Vespers. As the sun began to set, the dying rays of the evening sun caught the icon and it began to “luminesce” in a manner I had only read about. The icon shone brightly with a light that appeared to come from within. This is not easily accomplished in the painting of an icon, but is certainly a proper goal of its execution. It is a revelation of the heavenly light (iconographically).

Both the orientation of the Church and the quality of its iconography became one with the service that was being offered and a beauty that is all too rare was revealed. There was nothing to be said, but as the choir sang, “O Gladsome Light,” the icon wordlessly proclaimed the same.

There is much in our life and culture that pushes us away from beauty. Mass production and the nature of our economy (marked by a level of productivity unknown in human history), are driven by questions other than beauty. Beauty has value as it can be marketed, but too often is absent in any depth from much of our experience. (I should add that the long-term goals of my parish include proper iconography and a temple that conforms to Orthodox architectural norms.)

Deeply distressing is the drive to “utility” in our lives. Value is given to that which is “useful.” Beauty thus becomes an avocation, a luxury not seen as useful or necessary to our existence. Of course, this is a deep miscalculation of the nature of human existence. Human beings do not exist well without beauty – and in most of human culture throughout most of human history, beauty has been valued beyond many of the things which we think of as “useful.”

A very sad existence indeed is a human life that has been reduced to utility but emptied of beauty.

The very presence of God brings beauty into the world, for God Himself is beautiful. As human art has revealed, even in the suffering of the Cross, God is beautiful.

I can recall some years ago chairing a committee of a parish that was in the process of interviewing architects (we were planning to build our first true “church”). One architect we interviewed shared the opinion that he thought churches historically had wasted a lot of money that could have better been spent on the poor. I do not hesitate in preaching our obligations to the poor, nor the need for us to tithe and give beyond ourselves. But I had no hesitancy in looking for a different architect. I daresay few architects would have said to a family whose house they were designing, “I think people have spent too much on building their homes and have neglected the poor.” It was churches that should be relegated to utility.

I strongly expect, because of the seamless garment of Christian theology, that someone who does not understand the necessity of beauty will not truly love the poor. For the poor must be treated not merely as the objects of our utility but the beautiful creations of God: anything less is not love.

I recall the title of Macolm Muggeridge’s wonderful book on Mother Teresa: Something Beautiful for God.

Yes. Yes, indeed.

The God Who Is Beautiful

July 30, 2008

I suggested this as reading in a comment yesterday and decided to re-post it so that it would be more readily available. It belongs with the question of God and beauty that I started in yesterday’s post.

Everything is beautiful in a person when he turns toward God, and everything is ugly when it is turned away from God.

Fr. Pavel Florensky

I come to the end of a day that has been filled with other activity and little time for writing. But in my reading at bedtime I came across the above quote. It obviously contains a world of truth, indeed, from a certain perspective it contains the whole of the Gospel. It is both commentary on how we see the world (as beautiful or ugly) or how we are within ourselves. The ugliness of sin is one of its most important components – and the inability to distinguish between the truly beautiful and the false beauty of so much of contemporary life offers a profound diagnosis of our lives and culture.

To say that God is Beautiful carries with it also profound insights into what we mean by knowledge of God. “How do we know God?” is a question on which I have posted several times of late. If we ask the question, “How do we recognize Beauty?” then we have also shifted the ground from questions of intellect or pure rationality and onto grounds of aethetics and relationship (communion). The recognition of beauty is a universal experience (as is the misperception of beauty). But the capacity to recognize beauty points as well to a capacity within us to know God. I would offer that this capacity is itself a gift of grace – particularly when we admit that the recognition of beauty is subject to delusion.

In a famous passage from The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s Dmitri Karamazov has this to say on beauty as well as delusion:

Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but an enigma. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many mysteries weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Theotokos (Madonna)  and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”

Dostoevsky’s paradox, that “beauty,” for the mass of mankind, is found in Sodom, is a paradox that can hold two meanings. Either it can mean that even the corrupted “beauty” of Sodom can be redeemed (this is not Dostoevsky’s own intention) or that our heart can be so corrupted that we perceive the things of Sodom to be beautiful (closer to Dostoevsky’s point). We can also bring in a third – that of Florensky quoted above – that the “beauty” found in Sodom is corrupted precisely because it is turned away from God. It’s repentance can also be its restoration of true beauty.

I prefer this third thought (which is more or less the same as the first) in that it carries within it the reminder that when God created the world He said, “It is good (beautiful)” [both the Hebrew and the Greek of Genesis carry this double meaning].

We were created to perceive the Beautiful, even to pursue it. This is also to say that we were created to know God and to have the capacity, by grace, to know Him. Consider the Evangelical imperative: “Go and make disciples.” What would it mean in our proclamation of the gospel were we to have within it an understanding that we are calling people to Beauty? The report of St. Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople that when they attended worship among the Orthodox they “did not know whether we were on earth or in heaven. We only know that of a truth, God is with them,” is history’s most profound confirmation of this proclamation.

St. Paul confirms the same when he describes the progressive work of our salvation as “the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If we would have our hearts cured of the illness that mistakes Sodom for the Kingdom of God, then we should turn our eyes to the face of Christ. There the heart’s battle will find its Champion and beauty will find its Prototype.

Beauty – The Great Mystery

July 29, 2008

Having spoken about the world as perhaps not best understood (theologically) in terms of cause and effect – I turn my attention for a short time to the mystery of Beauty. God created the world and said it is good, but both the Hebrew and the Greek translation of that statement in Genesis carry the double-meaning of beautiful. The world is not merely good in its creation, but is as well created in beauty. Of course the world is fallen and much that we encounter of beauty is disfigured. And yet the pervasive character of beauty demonstrates just how far the universe retains something of its origins. The Orthodox understanding of salvation, as participation in God, is also described, from time to time, as a restoration of our original beauty. This can only come through our participation and communion with God. It points again towards the Personal character of all that exists (or at least its potential personhood). Beauty is not a category that can be separated from personhood (at least I believe it cannot be). The following article is from last year – but is a fruitful revisiting of this important understanding.


 The great mystery of Beauty is that its most profound statement in all of human history is the crucified Christ. The human experience of that Beauty is well described by Isaiah:

Who has believed what we have heard? And to whom has the arm of the LORD been revealed? For he grew up before him like a young plant, and like a root out of dry ground; he had no form or comeliness that we should look at him, and no beauty that we should desire him. He was despised and rejected by men; a man of sorrows, and acquainted with grief; and as one from whom men hide their faces he was despised, and we esteemed him not. Surely he has borne our griefs and carried our sorrows; yet we esteemed him stricken, smitten by God, and afflicted. But he was wounded for our transgressions, he was bruised for our iniquities; upon him was the chastisement that made us whole, and with his stripes we are healed (53:1-5).

Christ had “no beauty that we should desire him.” How is it possible that the King of Glory should have no beauty? This is itself the mystery of Beauty: it lies hidden beneath the sufferings of God. This same image is extended into the world itself. Our stories of Beauty also carry within them the fragility of that Beauty. The Beauty of my child is frightfully fragile, so that my heart as a parent trembles at every thought. The Beauty of creation is itself fragile at every turn. Beauty cannot remain stable within itself – it exists as ephemeral as all created life. If Beauty is to have meaning – meaning beyond its moment – then it must be somehow “underwritten.” With nothing beneath it, Beauty mocks us all, teasing us to a world that only haunts us with something that cannot be.

But such is the mystery of Beauty that it is indeed underwritten – by the mystery of the suffering of God. What appears to be the ephemeral character of God’s own Beauty – shrouded in the marred and distressed countenance of the Crucified – is in fact nothing less than the eternal Beauty of God Himself now pressing down into the deepest ugliness the world can offer – its disease and death. For His immersion in the ugliness of the world is our immersion in the Beauty of His world. “By His stripes we are healed.”

And it is the same promise to all of the Beauty of this world. Though it passes away something greater holds yet more promise:

A voice says, “Cry!” And I said, “What shall I cry?” All flesh is grass, and all its beauty is like the flower of the field. The grass withers, the flower fades, when the breath of the LORD blows upon it; surely the people is grass. The grass withers, the flower fades; but the word of our God will stand for ever (Isaiah 40:6-8).

That same word is the Word, smitten on the Cross but raised in the fullness of Beauty. And in Him all Beauty is raised:

I consider that the sufferings of this present time are not worth comparing with the glory that is to be revealed to us. For the creation waits with eager longing for the revealing of the sons of God; for the creation was subjected to futility, not of its own will but by the will of him who subjected it in hope; because the creation itself will be set free from its bondage to decay and obtain the glorious liberty of the children of God. We know that the whole creation has been groaning in travail together until now; and not only the creation, but we ourselves, who have the first fruits of the Spirit, groan inwardly as we wait for adoption as sons, the redemption of our bodies. For in this hope we were saved. Now hope that is seen is not hope. For who hopes for what he sees? But if we hope for what we do not see, we wait for it with patience. (Romans 8:18-25).

For now we see a most fragile Beauty – enough to break your heart. But within that broken heart can be understood the fragility of God which is none other than the healing of all Beauty, the redemption of all things. It is with such knowledge that we can say faithfully: Glory to God for all things!

The Paradox of Prayer

July 28, 2008

Writing about his experiences in praying for the sick, the Elder Sophrony writes:

It is still not clear to me why less intense prayer on my part might occasionally cause the illness to take a favorable turn, whereas at other times more profound supplication brought no visible improvement.

From On Prayer

He says later that he never sought the gift of healing but committed everything to the will of God, “Who knows what each man needs for his salvation.”

This is part of the paradox of prayer. We are especially accustomed in our world to think in terms of “cause and effect,” and this is easily transferred to the phenomenon of prayer. Of course, this has led to much misunderstanding and more than a little abuse. The direct connection between the fervency of prayer and the efficacy of prayer is, indeed, magic, not Christianity. And magic is a temptation even in the modern world.

The Elder Sophrony’s experience could be repeated from the lives of many priests – at least based on conversations I’ve had over the years. Most priests that I know can share stories of miraculous recoveries or astounding responses to prayer. And yet, most would also admit that these occasions remain paradoxical and not rooted within themselves or the fervency of their prayer.

This, of course, is no reason not to pray, nor to pray fervently. But it is reason to shift our understanding away from the magical and towards the personal. I have written before that all prayer has as its ultimate goal communion with God. Even when we pray for the sick, we are uniting ourselves to God and His will, and extending that union towards the one for whom we pray. With this in mind, we can understand that uniting all things in Christ brings everything towards its ultimate goal (Ephesians 1:10). Our prayer is not the cause – God is the Cause. It is in uniting ourselves and all things to God that the world comes back to its true Cause and, in that, we may rejoice.

I oftentimes suspect that the language of causation, rooted as it is in physics and the like, is probably a misleading term when applied to a universe whose true existence is rooted in Personhood. In such a universe, love is a far more important category than causation, if causation has any place at all.

Prayer frequently confronts us with paradox – but it is the paradox of God:

Who is this that darkeneth counsel by words without knowledge? Gird up now thy loins like a man; for I will demand of thee, and answer thou me. Where wast thou when I laid the foundations of the earth? declare, if thou hast understanding. Who hath laid the measures thereof, if thou knowest? or who hath stretched the line upon it? Whereupon are the foundations thereof fastened? or who laid the corner stone thereof; When the morning stars sang together, and all the sons of God shouted for joy? (Job 38:1-7)

Don’t Be Angry

July 27, 2008

Abba Agathon said, “If someone who is angry were to raise the dead, God would remain displeased with the anger.”

Sayings of the Desert Fathers

The most difficult part of our Christian life is found within us – our inner life. It is certainly the case that many of the outward things we do – acts of charity and the like – have a great effect on our life – but at the end of all things there remains the inner struggle to keep the commandments of God. It is Christ’s teaching that everything, both good and evil, emanate from the heart of man. God is a merciful God and will not deny us the grace to find healing within our heart – but we cannot be healed if we pretend there is no problem. Thus the prayer, “Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner,” when prayed with honesty, from the heart, forms the prayer that we need most to say. It is not repeated throughout the day because we need God to hear us – but because our heart needs to speak the truth and not forget the nature of its need.

What Kind of People Are We?

July 26, 2008

From Fr. Sophrony’s book On Prayer:

[The author recounts his arrival in France from the Holy Mountain.]

In france, having arrive from Greece, I met with the sort of people I had become unfamiliar with during my twenty-two years on the Holy Mountain-especially during the latter period when I was spiritual confessor to several hundred monks representing every aspect of the ascetic life on Mt. Athos. I make no secret of the fact that I was completely disoriented. The psychology of the monks, their patience and stamina, so far excelled all and everything that I encountered in Europe that I simply could not find either words or outward forms for contact. What monks accept gratefully, in Europe shattered people. Many of them spurned me, considering me abnormally hard-hearted, a distortion, even, of the Gospel spirit of love. And I concluded that  the ‘norms’ of monastic ascetics and those of people of Western culture differed profoundly. There can be no doubt that the most ‘abnormal’ of all, both for the world of the ‘Grand Inquisitor’ and of our own contemporaries, would be Christ. Who can hear Christ, or even more follow Him? What monks acquired after decades of weeping, our contemporaries think to receive after a brief interval – sometimes even in a few hours of pleasant ‘theological’ discussion. Christ’s words – His every word – came to this world from on High. They belong to a sphere of other dimensions and can be assimilated only by means of prolonged prayer with much weeping. Otherwise, they will continue incomprehensible to man, however ‘educated’ he be, even theologically. Someone once said to me: ‘Weighed down by the incomprehensible, one suffocates.’ Yes, we are all, every one of us, stricken when we try our utmost to understand Christ’s word. The Lord Himself said: ‘Whosoever shall fall on this stone shall be broken: but on whomsoever it shall fall, it will grind him to powder.’ Encountering this constituent of Christ’s word, we gradually comprehend that it opens up to us the eternal spheres of the unoriginate Spirit. And then everything in us that resists Christ’s word, we sense like the presence of death in us. And so, we carry on in a state of profound dichotomy – on the one hand, gratitude like a sweet pain pierces us to the heart; on the other, we feel unbearable shame for ourselves, and are appalled at the remoteness of our goal.

The Feast of the Dormition of St. Anne

July 25, 2008

Today is the patronal festival of my parish, the feast of the Dormition of Righteous Anna, mother of the Theotokos. The details we know about her life, and that of her priest-husband, Righteous Joachim, are from sources within the Tradition (though not within the Scriptures). They are often pointed to as one of the great examples of married saints. Their story, like many in the Old Testament, include a time of barrenness and no child, and the promise and gift of a child in the old age. This child, Mary, was chosen of God and appointed to be the mother of the Incarnate God.

Orthodoxy is very “inclusive” when it speaks about salvation. Our salvation, of course, is accomplished and could only be accomplished through Christ Himself. And yet Christ Himself does not become incarnate except at the humble words of Mary, “Behold the handmaid of the Lord. Be it done unto me according to Thy word.”

By the same token, Mary is not an accident, a random choice from among the virgins of Israel, but is the culmination of Israel’s history, according to the flesh. She stands in the place of Eve, offering to God a “yes,” where our ancestor had offered “no.” In the new life of the Kingdom, she is the mother of all living, just as Eve had been called by that name according to the flesh.

But as Mary is no accident, so her parents are no accident, nor the entire history of Israel. It is all the economy of God, working out the salvation of mankind, through mankind and His grace.

My wife says frequently, “You never really get to know a saint by reading their story. It’s only in calling on them in prayer, asking for their help, that you get to know them.” I know there’s much to be discussed for those who do not understand this part of Orthodox Tradition. But in the 10 years I have served as the priest of a parish whose patroness is St. Anne, I have come to know her well, as a mother who cares for her spiritual children, and who is a great friend and intercessor for the needs of our spiritual family.

I like the fact that my parish is named for a grandmother. My wife reminds me that the parish is named for the wife of a priest (Joachim was a priest in the Old Temple). Good choice on both accounts.

Who’s in Charge of Our Life?

July 24, 2008


The Essence of the Passions – Staniloae

July 24, 2008

Dimitru Staniloae, the great Romanian Theologian, offers an excellent introduction to the passions as understood in Orthodox Christianity. The following excerpt is from his Orthodox Spirituality, which I highly recommend.

The passions represent the lowest level to which human nature can fall. Both their Greek name, pathi, as well as the Latin, passiones, show that man is brought by them to a state of passivity, of slavery. In fact, they overcome the will, so that the man of the passions is no longer a man of will; we say that he is a man ruled, enslaved, carried along by the passions.

Another characteristic of the passions is that in the man unquenchable thirst is manifested, which seeks to be quenched and can’t be. Blondel says that they represent man’s thirst for the infinite, turned in a direction in which they can’t find their satisfaction. Dostoevsky has a similar idea.

Neilosthe ascetic writes that the stomach, by gluttony, becomes a sea impossible to fill – a good description of any passion. This always unsatisfied infinity is due both to the passion in itself, as well as to the object with which it seeks satisfaction. The objects which the passions look for can’t satisfy them because objects  are finite and as such don’t correspond to the unlimited thirst of the passions. Or as St. Maximus puts it, the passionate person finds himself in a continuous preoccupation with nothing; he tries to appease his infinite thirst with the nothingness of his passions, and the objects which he is gobbling up become nothing, by their very nature. In fact, a passion by its very nature searches for objects, and it seeks them only because they can be completely under the control of the ego, and at its mercy. But objects by nature are finite, both as sources of satisfaction and in regard to duration; they pass easily into nonexistence, by consumption. Even when the passion also needs the human person in order to be satisfied, it likewise reduces him or her to an object, or sees and uses only the objective side; the unfathomable depths hidden in the subjective side escape him.

Staniloae goes on to detail the workings of the passions, both the natural (those rightly rooted in our nature but now misdirected) and those that are unnatural. Thus we have a natural passion (desire) for food that is right and proper. We are, after all, biological creatures. But we are also spiritual beings, and when the desire for the infinite, rightly directed to God, becomes confused with the natural desires we wind up with unnatural passions, such as gluttony, etc., in which we desire infinitely what should only be desired in a finite and helpful manner.

Thus, in short summary, the passions are the energies or desires of our soul or body that have at their root a right and proper end, but, because of the fall, they are disordered and are misdirected seeking after what they can never have. As such, they are not to be confused with the emotions, per se, though the emotions, too have a proper role, and can be distorted into a passionate and incorrect state.