(Ro 2:25-29)

Again, though only the word νόμος is used, there is a distinction between the law of men and the law of God, the letter of the law and the spirit of the law.

Physical circumcision (της σαρκός) represents the laws of men, the letter of the law; circumcision of the heart (του σώματος) represents the law of God, the spirit of the law.

We can also extend this teaching to a general principle: just because you have heard or, by some happenstance of history are the custodian of, something of value (e.g. the law of God), does not mean that you are worthy of that value; to be worthy, you must put the value into use as it was designed to do.

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(John 7:1-24)

Christ shows that men do not live according to God’s law, God’s teaching, but, in contrast, that they live against nature. He is the mirror against which they see how they really are in their current state. John 7:7 “εγώ ματυρώ περί αυτού (ο κόσμος) ότι τα έργα αυτού πονηρά έστιν.”

Jesus teaches in the temple. A man who wants to do the will of God will know whether the teaching is from God or man. His teaching is from God.

Moses – a man and elder men before him – gave men (the law of) circumcision, they circumcise someone on the Sabbath, the day set aside for special communion with God, on the holy day. Men circumcise on the Sabbath so that the law of Moses is not broken.

Yet these men, responsible for upholding the law, are angry at Christ when He heals the whole human being on the Sabbath, on the holy day, on the day set aside for special communion with God.

Christ teaches, “do not judge by appearances, rather judge according to what is right.”

In other words, men fail to distinguish between the letter of the law and the spirit of the law, they fail to discern the will of God. And that probably because of laziness and pride, because they want to control the will of other men for their own purposes rather than do the will of God.

We make beautiful music and other art to soothe our need for social and emotional justice, and this too helps in our faith, sustains our energy to fight the good fight.

But remember, art can never be a substitute for sincere faith: it is not art masquerading as faith; it is faith as expressed through art.

Nevertheless, progress in art can accompany progress in faith.

Marcus Aurelius put it this way.

“Any form of nature outrivals art, since every art is no more than an imitation of the natural. This being so, that supreme Nature, which is more perfect and all-inclusive than any other, cannot fail to be pre-eminent in the artist’s craft.

Furthermore, it is only with an eye on something higher that the arts produce their inferior works, and this is what Nature itself also does.

Here, then, we find the origins of justice, for all the other virtues depend on this. We can never achieve true justice while we set our hearts on things of lesser value, and are content to remain credulous, headstrong, and inconstant.”

Your heart is as just as that which it values most. Set your heart, then, on valuing most the spiritual laws of God and putting them into practice. Use the arts or any other human skill or craft, or earthly material, to achieve that purpose, and all will be well between you and God.

Christ is the radiance of God’s glory and the full expression of His essence, through Whom God made eternity. Christ bears all of His power in the Word, He brings men’s souls back into focus on salvation, achieved through faith.

To be “paid” with salvation, we must make salvation our “core” business, if not our only business, our heart’s business. We must focus our energy on compliance with God’s Word and on faith.
Otherwise, if we focus on deviations, i.e. sin, then our “payment” will be death, or failure to share in the eternity.
Christ is the “bridge” between God and man, He is the “full expression” of what the relationship ought to be, the model for men’s focus on faith.

The author has to go through great lengths to explain to his readers who Jesus is amongst the angels, Moses, man, the prophets, the devil, and the priestly order, what it means for Christ to be fully God and fully man.

In the final analysis, the relationship between God and man and God’s spiritual laws are relatively simple. The hard part is for man to remain focused on them. And that is why we have Moses and the law, Scripture, the prophets, Christ and his teachings, the apostles, the martyrs, the saints, the Church and its fathers, the akolouthia, the chanting, the icons, spiritual reading and writing, and so forth. Stay focused, dedicate yourself to these things.

I. On Human Intellect

Human intellect perceives images of things, in the broad sense. The human intellect can react by:

1) desiring to possess in the physical sense;
2) seeking out the spiritual meaning;
3) some combination of 1) and 2).

Process:
1) objective reality;
2) intellect receives thought;
3) intellect identifies object;
4) intellect assigns value to object:
by passions;
by spiritual insights;

depending on free will.

by passions

bodily desires
– gluttony
– lust
– laziness

material desires
– greed
– envy

mental desires
– pride

each leading to anger and dejection.

In combat with temptation and sin, then:

1) analyze the thought attacking you;
2) ask questions about its inner essence;
3) ask questions about its spiritual meaning.

II. On Watchfulness and Prayer

1) How to achieve watchfulness
2) The virtues and prayer
3) How the demons attack the person seeking and at prayer
4) The frontiers of prayer

We consider personhood of highest value and that personhood emanates from God.

The creation produces thoughts, ideas, and speculations in the intellect through changes in the body.

Virtue is intellectual discipline and control of bodily desires (gluttony, lust, laziness), material desires (greed, envy), and mental desires (pride), which lead to anger and dejection.

A frugal and balanced diet, spiritual readings and writings, vigils and prayer, accompanied by love, bring the straying intellect to stability and the soul to peace.

Prayer is the energy that gives highest value to the intellect.

Prayer, then, also consists of practice of the virtues and contemplation.

We practice the virtues in order to achieve contemplation of the inner essences (λόγοι) of created things. From this we pass to contemplation of the Λόγος who gives created things their being. And He manifests Himself when we are in a state of prayer.

If you long to pray, do nothing that is opposed to prayer, so that God may draw near and be with you.

If you have not yet received the gift of prayer, do not despair and lose heart, you will receive it later.

If you seek prayer attentively, you will find it. For nothing is more essential to prayer then attentiveness. So do all you can to acquire it.

In other words, practice of the virtues – discipline and control of intellect and body – is the first step to acquiring attentiveness and being watchful, then to achieving fruitful prayer and maintaining focused contemplation of the spiritual essences of created things and of the Creator Himself (theosis through prayer).

Whenever a temptation or feeling of contentiousness comes over you, immediately arousing you to anger or some senseless passion, remember your prayer and how you will be judged about it, and at once the disorderly movement within you will subside.

The stakes, then, are failure of personhood versus spiritual prayer. For spiritual prayer is the fulfillment of personhood, peace, and salvation. Anything opposed to that is negative energy – κακοδαμονία –, though still necessary in the creation for God’s other purposes.
In this interplay of energies produced with the creation of the universe, there are rules set by the Creator, paramount among which is free will, but by which we can “win” the game, the Creator having endowed our souls with all the tools necessary to shape the energies, even multifold, in a fashion that reflects God’s glory, in accordance with His will.

If you set up spiritual prayer as your goal, be on guard for the risk of failure due to the inability, but really the unwillingness, to effectively deal with the negative energies, according to God’s will, God’s rules, the teachings of the prophets, the teachings of Jesus, and of the spiritual fathers.

At the least, the fallen angels, the demons, the demon, Satan, the enemy, represent failure of the free will, a failure of personhood and degradation into mere materialism.

The warfare between us and the demons, then, is waged solely on account of spiritual prayer. For prayer is extremely hateful and offensive to them, whereas it leads us to peace and salvation.

What is it, then, that the demons wish to excite in us? Gluttony, lust, greed, anger, rancor, and the rest of the passions, so that the intellect grows coarse and cannot pray as it should. For when the passions are aroused in the non-rational part of our nature, they do not allow the intellect to function properly.

But if you cultivate prayer, be ready for the attacks of the demons and endure them resolutely, for they will come at you like wild beasts and maltreat your whole body.

The demon is very envious when we pray and uses every kind of trick to thwart our purpose and exploit our weaknesses. The intellect is weakened by the passions to which we have succumbed in the past. Therefore, he is always using our memory to stir up thoughts of various things and our body to arouse the passions, in order to obstruct our ascent to God:
– attempts to deceive us with
some vision;

– inserts fantasies, either of
past things, or of recent
concerns, or of the face of
someone who irritates us;

– suggests an imaginary need for
various things and then stirs
up our remembrance of them;

– fills the intellect with the
thought of these visions,
fantasies and imaginary needs,
so that the intellect tries to
pursue them, thus causing it to
lose the fruitfulness of prayer.

For by nature, the intellect is apt to be carried away by memories and visions during prayer. When you pray, then, keep tight discipline over your mind and memory so that it does not distract you with visions and recollections of the past.
Instead, make yourself aware that you are standing before God.

Go on seeking and you will find Him. Knock and the door will be opened.

Pray for the wisdom and strength to shape even the negative energies in accordance with God’s will, in the likeness of His glory, at least to the extent that it saves your soul.

Having prayed as you should, then, expect the demon to attack you. So stand on your guard, ready to protect the fruits of your prayer. From the start, this has been your appointed task: to cultivate and protect. Therefore, having cultivated, do not leave the fruits unprotected, otherwise you will gain nothing from your prayer.

When, after many attempts, the cunning demon fails to hinder the prayer of a righteous man, he slackens his effort a little, and then attacks the man again when he has finished praying: either the demon provokes the man to anger, and so destroys the good effects of prayer, or else he excites him to senseless pleasure, and so degrades his intellect.

When the jealous demon fails to stir up memory during prayer, he disturbs the soul-body temperament so as to form some strange fantasy in the intellect. Since your intellect is usually preoccupied with thoughts, it is easily diverted: it is deceived, thinking that it is perceiving light that is really only smoke, instead of pursuing immaterial and formless knowledge.

There are times when the demons suggest thoughts to you and then urge you to rebut them with prayer. Then they withdraw of their own accord, so as to deceive you into imagining that you have begun to overcome such thoughts and to rout the demons. You then lower your guard and the demons come on the attack again.

Therefore, even if you think that you are with God, be on your guard against this second attack: the demons try to outwit the activity and watchfulness of your intellect and draw it away from God when it stands before Him in reverence and fear.

When the intellect attains prayer that is pure and free from passion, the demons attack no longer with sinister thoughts, but with thoughts of what is good. For they suggest to the intellect an illusion of God’s glory in a form pleasing to the senses, so as to make the intellect think that it has realized the final aim of prayer.
This illusion may result from the passion of self-esteem, of pride.

Be on your guard, then, turn to prayer and ask God to show you if the intellection comes from Him and, if it does not, to dispel the illusion at once.

You attain pure prayer by disentangling yourself from material things and constant cares. Instead, focus on the inner essences of created things, on the spiritual meanings of physical manifestations of the work of creation. Ultimately, prayer means the shedding of thoughts and contemplation of the Creator.

In the meantime, out of compassion for our weaknesses, the Holy Spirit comes to us even when we are impure. And only if He finds our intellect truly praying to Him will He enter our intellect and put flight to a whole array of thoughts and ideas circling around it.
He puts an end to all adverse energy within the intellect and makes its light energize it without illusion, and He arouses the intellect to a longing for spiritual prayer.

The intellect must rise above contemplation of the material world in order to behold the kingdom of God perfectly.

When your intellect in its great longing for God withdraws from the body and turns away all thoughts that have their source in sense-perception, memory or soul-body temperament, and when it becomes full of reverence and joy, then you conclude that you are close to the frontiers of prayer.

God takes a big risk in creating the creation: He introduces and allows free will and a contest of wills.

Why God wants a dynamic creation, I have no idea, it is a great mystery. But here we are and we have His rules of the game.

A free-willed man must ask himself:
1) Does man have a soul?
2) If so, what it is worth?
3) What do we do about it?

Based on the conviction that the soul has value beyond the dynamic creation, that it can achieve theosis, that the Creator has endowed men with free will, but also with faith, the energy of salvation, we believe that the rule of the game is to shape our souls into the image and likeness of God, to shape our souls to justice.

The fallen free-willed angel, Satan, the enemy, the demons, maliciously, cunningly, shamelessly, and mercilessly sow into men’s souls and hearts evil passions and sin, they stimulate the soul into pursuing other than God’s will, the seeds of its own destruction.

Therefore, in this spiritual warfare, in this dynamic unfolding of the creation, God has also endowed men with a natural positive aggressive energy – generally faith, but specifically also a hatred and anger against the enemy – which can be unleashed in its full potential only by uprooting from the soul all self-will: God set the universe on fire; free will can be an obstacle to God’s purpose or a reflection of His glory.

God has endowed the soul with all the tools to negotiate the flames. As you try to discern the will of God, know the enemy and know yourself. The choice is yours, then, whether the soul gets burnt or becomes part of the flame.

Fan the flames, then, of God’s creation.

Basically Stephanos told the leaders of the community that inwardly they were hardened by materialism, their hearts were not transformed, despite being official keepers of the Word of the prophets and God, and that they would not recognize the Word of salvation if it hit them in the face.
So they hit Stephanos in the face with stones, and the stones splintered off his face of an angel into so many pieces, thus spreading the message of the Word to Samaria, Ethiopia, Damascus, Antioch, and to the entire world.