St Diadochos of Photiki, Blog 1, On Spiritual Knowledge

All spiritual contemplation should be governed by faith, hope, and love, but most of all by love.

Like the Didache, this beatitude by St Diadochos begins with love.  St Diadochos teaches us, “All spiritual contemplation should be governed by faith, hope, and love, but most of all by love.  Faith and hope teach us to detach ourselves from visible delights, but love unites the soul with the excellence of God, searching out the Invisible by means of intellectual perception.”(1)

What is faith?  What is hope?  What is love?
The editors offer these definitions:
“Faith: dispassionate understanding of God.”
“Hope: the flight of the intellect in love towards that for which it hopes.”
“Love: growing affection for those who abuse us.”
“Knowledge: to lose awareness of oneself through going out to God in ecstasy.”

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Many would want to push back on this definition of love, but we should remember this was monastic advice for men.  This advice was not meant for women in abusive relationships, for them and their children the best advice is to first flee to a safe place, you do not need to bullied or physically abused.  Love in this definition is like the love in the Sermon on the Mount, using the New King James translation:

“You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall love your neighbor and hate your enemy.’ But I say to you, love your enemies, bless those who curse you, do good to those who hate you, and pray for those who spitefully use you and persecute you.”[1]

So faith is knowledge and knowledge is ecstasy and hope is a flight of love.  Such is the loving beauty in the Philokalia, written in love, these writings of the Eastern Church Fathers that interleave the emotions and the intellect.  They would agree with the modern psychologists who observe that the intellect and the emotions can never be truly separated, that our emotions affect our intellect, and that our intellect affect our emotions, our thoughts and our feelings wrap around each other like the tendrils of flowering vines growing on a trestle.

In other words, faith and hope and love are not emotions that are only felt, nor are they merely intellectual abstractions, but faith and hope and love should be ceaselessly contemplated, treasures to be pursued by our prayers, treasures to be pursued in our spiritual reading, treasures that we should seek with all our heart and with all our soul and with all our mind.  As St Diadochos teaches us, “our intellect always delights in the laws of the Spirit, while our flesh seduces us with enticing pleasures.”(79)

We should be eager to read the Church Fathers, for “spiritual discourse fully satisfies our intellectual perception, because it flows from God through the energy of love.”  We should wait for the illumination of a “faith energized by love,” for nothing is drier than rambling on about God when there is no Love of God.(7)

St Diadochos teaches us that “whoever loves himself cannot Love God; but if, because of ‘the overflowing richness’ of God’s Love, a man does not love himself, then he truly Loves God.”(12,Eph 2:7).  Furthermore, “he who Loves God both believes truly and performs the works of faith reverently.  But he who only believes and does not love, lacks even the faith he thinks he has;” this is the faith that is the seed that does not grow because it is thrown among the rocks of the field, this is the faith that has only shallow intellectual roots, it is not the “faith energized by love.”(21)  Lord, we pray we may not be among those who only believe and do not love, whose love is not genuine, whose love is selfish, whose love is not truly selfless.

St Paul in 1 Cor 12:8 testifies that God gives some wisdom, others spiritual knowledge, both by the same Holy Spirit.  St Diadochos teaches us that “spiritual knowledge comes through prayer, deep stillness and complete detachment, while wisdom come through humble meditation on Holy Scripture and, above all, through grace given by God.”(9)

Our Love of God leads us to a true love of our neighbor.  St Diadochos teaches us that when we “begin to perceive the Love of God in all its richness, we begin to love our neighbor with spiritual reception,” we begin to love our neighbor deeply.  When we are “spiritually awakened, the bond of love is not dissolved;” our love is rekindled by the Love of God, and “with great joy we seek our neighbor’s love,” even if our neighbor has “gravely wronged or insulted us.  For the sweetness of God completely consumes the bitterness of the quarrel.”(15)  “The qualities of a pure soul are intelligence devoid of envy, ambition free from malice, and unceasing Love for the Lord of glory.”(19)

What is our purpose is life?  St Diadochos teaches us that is to “fully perceive the Love of God fully and consciously in our heart, so we can Love God with all of our heart and with all of our soul and with all of our mind.  The man who is so energized by the Love of God has already left the world, though he is still present in it.”(40)

What is the chief virtue in the path to a more perfect Love of God?  Obedience, which encourages us to be humble towards our neighbor, humility which is a “door leading to the Love of God.”  Adam sinned because he lacked humility, but because Christ “loved humility, and in accordance with divine purpose, was obedient to His Father even to the cross and death, although He was in no way inferior to the Father.  Through His own obedience He has freed mankind from the crime of disobedience and leads all who live in obedience back to the blessedness of eternal life.”(41)

After obedience comes self-control, which is “common to all the virtues.”  Self-control means living in moderation, not eating to excess, avoiding rich foods, avoiding excess drinking, observing the fast, not allowing the pleasures of the world to be the center of our life.(42)  St Diadochos teaches us that “those pursing the spiritual way should train themselves to hate all uncontrolled desires until this hatred becomes habitual.”(43)  “The bodily senses are opposed to faith, for they are concerned with the objects of this present world, while faith is concerned only with the blessings of the life to come.”(55)

Obedience and self-control, when practiced daily, leads us to change our souls through our changing of our daily habits.  St Diadochos teaches s that “when a bad hat has been subjected to a good one through the energy of grace it is destroyed along with the remembrance of mindless pleasures, and thereafter the soul gladly journeys on all the ways of virtue.”(93)

This advice of St Diadochos was directed to monks, what does it teach us who are laymen, who are married with kids, does our saint tell us not to look forward to the weekends when we can go to the movies and the beach and enjoy our time with our family?  Our family is ours to enjoy, as the Psalmist sings,
“Sons are indeed a heritage from the Lord,
the fruit of the womb a reward.
Like arrows in the hand of a warrior
are the sons of one’s youth.
Happy is the man who has
his quiver full of them.”[2]

The Psalmist also sings these praises among his many praises to God:
“You, Lord, cause the grass to grow for the cattle,
and plants for people to use,
to bring forth food from the earth,
and wine to gladden the human heart,
oil to make the face shine,
and bread to strengthen the human heart.”[3]

These are not the Psalms that the Church Fathers of the Philokalia like to quote, but they would be more fond of quoting them if they were priests preaching to their flocks in villages and towns.  They would no doubt teach us that we should enjoy our time with our families, you do not have to eat to excess, or drink to excess, or play the music way too loud, or spend our vacation in excessively expensive hotels.  Sharing our love for each other should be rhythm of the weekend, not showing our anger or fighting, enjoying our time together, and including Sunday worship as part of the natural celebration of the weekend, staying for the coffee hour and becoming friends with the other families of the church.

St Diadochos echoes St Mark the Ascetic when he teaches, “Faith without works and works without faith will both alike be condemned, for he who has faith must offer to the Lord the faith which shows itself in actions.”(20)  Our saint says that “the depths of faith are like the waters of Lethe, making us forget all evil.”(22)[4]  In Greek mythology the waters of Lethe is the river of forgetfulness in Hades, the shades of all departed must drink from these waters to forget their earthly life.[5]

Blog 2 of this series:




[4] St Diadochos of Photiki, “On Spiritual Knowledge,” in the Philokalia, The Complete Text, compiled by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth, Volume 1, translated and edited by GEH Palmer, Phillip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1979), pp 252-296.


About Bruce Strom 185 Articles
I was born and baptized and confirmed as a Lutheran. I made the mistake of reading works written by Luther, he has a bad habit of writing seemingly brilliant theology, but then every few pages he stops and calls the Pope often very vulgar names, what sort of Christian does that? Currently I am a seeker, studying church history and the writings of the Church Fathers. I am involved in the Catholic divorce ministries in our diocese, and have finished the diocese two-year Catholic Lay Ministry program. Also I took a year of Orthodox off-campus seminary courses. This blog explores the beauty of the Early Church and the writings and history of the Church through the centuries. I am a member of a faith community, for as St Augustine notes in his Confessions, you cannot truly be a Christian unless you worship God in the walls of the Church, unless persecution prevents this. This blog is non-polemical, so I really would rather not reveal my denomination here.