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What are the passions and how do I fight them?

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March 15, 2017

What are the Passions and How to Fight Them?

In order to understand what the passions are and how the Church defines them, let us see how Saint Basil the Great explains them. He starts first by defining what is a virtue, which is when we take the faculties and gifts that God created inside us when He created us in His image and use those same faculties and gifts to be able to turn towards God and to turn into His likeness. Contrary to this is what the passions are: we take those same faculties and gifts and turn toward something that is temporal, that is created, instead of using them towards the Creator. Thus, our passions and pleasures, grow and develop inside us.

After defining virtues and passions, we must now understand where passions came from. They were never part of the original image of God that was placed inside of humanity. Therefore, what the Christian has to realize is that virtue is what is natural, and the unnatural is seeing passions develop inside the human being, as we have mentioned earlier. However, in today’s generation, the belief that is spread is that weaknesses, brokenness, and passions are natural, “normal.” Nevertheless, the Church does not adopt that kind of language. As a matter of fact, it is not natural, neither normal, for us to give in to the passions. It is when humanity fell and distanced itself from God and from His goodness that passions came to be. We let ourselves exposed to the evil that could occur inside us. Saint Macarius the Great says the following: “Through the first man’s (Adam) disobedience, we received in ourselves an element alien (foreign) to our nature: the malice of the passions, which having passed into habit and inveterate (deeply engrained) disposition has become our nature.” What he is saying is that through the introduction of sin, passions came, and suddenly our nature changed. Unfortunately, what was once unnatural has become something we are nowadays used to.

Now, what do the passions do to us? What we see is that when a person is overtaken by his/her passions, something inside him/her happens, and that something is unruly. It becomes an addiction, so he/she acts in a way that is unnatural. Thus, this is a struggle and there comes a state of illness. The Fathers of the Church speak of passions as if they turned a person mad (madness, craziness). Why? Because passion pushes people to do things that naturally they themselves would not do. We see this very clearly depicted in the words of Saint Paul the Apostle in Romans 7:15-20. Saint Paul presents us a very sad image of the tragedy that happens to the human being when passions take over.

Now what are these passions? Although the list can be exhaustive, the Church names eight of them: self-love, gluttony, lust, love of money and greed, sadness, acedia (sloth & dejection or apthy and boredom anger, fear, vainglory, and pride. They are all interconnected.

How can we then fight those passions? The Church offers many solutions that we see in Her traditions when we read the Church Fathers. We even see in the lives of the saints that there is hope for us to conquer these passions. The Lord has promised us so since He conquered the world. In the morning prayer of the Agpeya, in the second litany, the prayer is a clear request from every believer to raise their heart to God and to ask Him to inspire them and conquer over these passions. Furthermore, the Church Fathers, whom we consider heroes of our faith, have also left us the example on how it is that we can conquer. The writings of Saint John Cassian presents this clearly: “Like skilful doctors who not only treat existing diseases, but also know how to prevent future ones and to take precautions with wise advice and medicine, in the same way these true doctors of the soul treat the emerging diseases of the heart in advance with their spiritual teaching like a heavenly antidote, and do not allow them to grow in the minds of the young ones, instructing them both in the causes of their present temptations and the means to cure them.” In future videos, we will explore these passions in details, one by one, how they manifest and how to cure them.

                        Remember know your faith, live your faith and teach your faith

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