“Come to me, all who labor and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and lowly in heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light” (Matt 11:29-30).
Rest. It is an interesting word to use, especially in regard to souls. It is easier to think about the body or the mind getting tired. The effects of those are felt with immediacy—muscles and joints hurt, the head aches and we are quick to realize that we are tired. It may not be quite as easy to recognize the signs of a tired soul.
Let us think then about the soul. St. Diadochos of Photiki says that “we share in the image of God by virtue of the intellectual activity of the soul” (Philokalia, v. 1, p. 280); St. Gregory Palamas, that “the human soul is something great and wondrous […] it is capable of knowing and receiving God, and more than anything else has the capacity of manifesting the sublime magnificence of the Master-Craftsman” (Philokalia, v. 4, p. 356).
The words of Christ make perfect sense when we see things in this manner: the soul, by its nature is close to God, and finds rest in Him. A soul that is far from God, however, is restless and grows tired. It can easily fall prey to vices, often called passions in the writings of the Fathers. Through Christ, however, this is not a one-way road. The return of the soul to God, while often difficult, can be aided by knowledge of the passions and their cures.
St. Maximos the Confessor lists self-love as the first of the passions, while St. John of Damascus names eight important passions that derive from it: gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem, and pride. These are symptoms of a tired soul in need of rest and healing. Each of us can probably find some trace of one or more of these within ourselves. We may even have wondered, at times, what we could do about it.
The good news is that the Church is a spiritual hospital, which has provided cures for passions and led to salvation great numbers of people. One article will not be sufficient to even begin to examine one of the above passions. But, as a starting point, let us listen to St. John of Damascus: “These eight passions should be destroyed as follows: gluttony by self-control; unchastity by desire for God and longing for the blessings held in store; avarice by compassion for the poor; anger by goodwill and love for all men; worldly dejection by spiritual joy; listlessness by patience, perseverance and offering thanks to God; self-esteem by doing good in secret and by praying constantly with a contrite heard; and pride by not judging or despising anyone in the manner of the boastful Pharisee, and by considering oneself the least of all men” (Philokalia, v. 2, p. 338).
By replacing vices with virtues we journey towards God, the harbor where our souls can find rest from all the trials and tribulations of life. May God guide us on this journey always.
With love in Christ,