We often hear in the Orthodox Church’s ascetic writings how one should flee the world and run to the desert. Many people did this literally, to the salvation of their souls. However, the majority of us cannot do such a thing. So how do we do such a spiritually profitable thing as “flee to the desert” while living in the world? St. Nikitas Stithatos tells us:
“If you wish to see the blessings ‘that God has prepared for those who love Him’ (1 Cor. 2:9), then take up your abode in the desert of the renunciation of your own will and flee the world. What world? The world of the lust of the eyes, of your fallen self (cf. 1 John 2:16), the presumptuousness of your own thoughts, the deceit of things visible. If you flee from this world, then light will dawn for you, you will see the life that is in God, and the medicine of your soul – that is, tears – will swiftly well up in you. You will experience the change brought about by the right hand of the Most High'(Ps. 77:10), and from that time the ‘plague’ of the passions will not ‘come near your dwelling’ (Ps. 91:10). In this way, living in the world and among people, you will be like a man living in the desert and seeing no one. If you do not flee the world in such a manner, you will gain nothing as
regards the perfecting of virtue and union with God simply by flight from the visible world.”
It is a mark of who truly loves holiness that he continually burns up what is worldly in his heart through practicing the remembrance of God, so that little by little evil is consumed in the fire of this remembrance and his souls completely recovers its natural brilliance with still greater joy. -St. Diadochos of Photiki, on spiritual knowledge and discrimination
From The Orthodox Word Magazine, Vol 3 #3, June-July 1967; The Life of St. John the Russian, by Photios Kontoglou
“The world lives the carnal life seeking to please only its senses, eating, drinking. reveling and caring only for ”the things of vanity and the much-afflicted flesh.” The senses, together with tangible things and delights of this world, were fashioned by God and it is not sin for a man to rejoice in this world, yet he should not be consumed wholly by material things, but should take care also for the spiritual things, placing in his mind that in his temporary body there dwells an immortal soul which is as more honored and valued than the body as the body is more than its clothing, as the Lord said. If a man truly believes this, he will take care for his salvation and he will be blessed in this world, having the joy of a pure conscience, and in the next ( which is eternal and immortal) he shall rejoice in the bosom of Abraham. But if he does not believe in God and in His Word, he will be the most wretched and unhappy man in the world, even though he acquire many possessions and great glory and honor from men, according to the words which that all holy and unlying mouth said: For what will it profit a man if he win the whole world and lose his soul? Or, What can a man give in exchange for his .soul?
Blessed therefore and thrice-blessed is the man who has put these words into the depths of his heart, keeping them as a treasure, and hearkens to them until his last breath and is conformed to them and walks in accordance with them throughout his life.”
“Stop defiling your flesh with shameful deeds and polluting your soul with wicked thoughts; then the peace of God will descend upon you and bring you love.” -St. Maximus the Confessor
You wish others to speedily correct themselves of their faults, but do you speedily correct
yourself; do you not suffer from the same, as others? Is it not through you, through your
not correcting yourself, that others linger in their sins and passions? -St. John of Kronstadt, My Life in Christ
Dejection is a passion that corrupts soul and body, affecting even the marrow of one’s bones – I mean that cosmic dejection induced by the transitoriness of things and often resulting in death. The sorrow prompted by God, however, is extremely salutary, enabling one patiently to endure hardships and trials. It is a source of compunction for those struggling and thirsting for God’s righteousness (cf. Matt. 5:6), and nourishes their heart with tears. In such people is the saying of David fulfilled, ‘Thou shalt feed us with the bread of tears and give us tears to drink in great measure’ (Ps. 80:5) – the wine of compunction.
Sorrow prompted by God is an excellent tonic for those parts of the soul corrupted by evil actions, and it restores them to their natural state. It dissolves through tears the storm-clouds of passion and sin and dispels them from the soul’s spiritual firmament, so that at once a clear sky appears in the thoughts of our intellect, the sea of the mind grows calm, gladness rises in the heart and a change comes over our face. When this is now seen by those skilled in discerning our inner state from our outward appearance, they will exclaim, as did David, ‘This change is from the right hand of the Most High’ (Ps. 77:10. LXX). -St. Nikitas Stithatos, On the Practice of Virtues, the Philokalia
You ask the Lord that you may love Him with a love, strong as death, or until death.
Suppose, now, that the Lord sends you a terrible inward disease that may bring you nigh
unto death itself. Do not, then, murmur against the Lord, but bear it bravely, thanking the Lord for His fatherly visitation, and this will show that what you call your love for God is strong as death. And during the most violent fits or spasms of your illness trust in God, that He has the power to save you, not only from suffering, but even from death itself, should it please Him to do so. Do not spare, do not cherish your perishable body, but give it up willingly and wholly to the Lord, as Abraham gave his son Isaac as an holocaust, to the will of the Lord Who punishes you—not losing faith in God’s goodness, not growing despondent, not foolishly accusing God of injustice for so severely chastising you—and you will thus offer a great sacrifice unto God, like Abraham or like the martyrs. -St. John of Kronstadt
“Afflict your flesh with hunger and vigils and apply yourself tirelessly to psalmody and prayer; then the satisfying gift of self-restraint will descend upon you and bring you love.” -St. Maximus the confessor
Those who desire to free themselves from their corruption ought to pray not merely from time to time but at all times; they should give themselves always to prayer, keeping watch over their intellect even when outside places of prayer. When someone is trying to purify gold, and allows to fire of the furnace to die down even for a moment, the material which he is purifying will harden again. So too, a man who merely practices the remembrance of God from time to time loses through lack of continuity what he hopes to gain through his prayer. -St. Diadochos of Photiki, on Spiritual Knowledge and Discrimination
A brother said to Abba Poemen, ‘My heart becomes luke-warm when a little suffering comes my way.’ The old man said to him, ‘Do we not admire Joseph, a young man of seventeen, for enduring his temptation to the end? And God glorified him. Do we not also see Job, how he suffered to the end, and lived in endurance? Temptations cannot destroy hope in God.’ -Sayings of the Desert Fathers