St Maximus the Confessor, blog 2, Centuries of Theology and Lords Prayer

The writings of St Maximus in the Philokalia are not systematic, there are a series of maxims for you to read and ponder.  St Maximus teaches us that salvation and deification are gifts given by grace by God who loves us.  “A soul can never attain the knowledge of God unless God Himself in His goodness takes hold of it and raises it up to Himself.”[1]

Blog 1 of this series:


St Maximus does not talk about disobedience as much as St John Climacus in the Ladder of Divine Ascent, who teaches that disobedience is one of the first virtues you master in your spiritual climb.  Obedience masters your will and makes you open to spiritual instruction, increasing humility and virtue.[2]  But this is probably due to the differing purposes of these two writings, as St Maximus does talk about obedience often, as when he teaches that “just as the result of disobedience is sin, so the result of obedience is virtue.” Disobedience leads to separation from God, and obedience leads to union with God.[3]

St Maximus teaches us that conquering the passions will never lead to spiritual happiness unless you keep the Commandments. Those who have spiritual knowledge also have a rich store of virtue saved by practicing the virtues.[4]

The man of faith can move mountains of his sin through the practice of virtues.  He can feed thousands of people with a few loaves, showing how the power of the Logos is multiplied through the practice of virtues.[5]

St Maximus makes it clear that true knowledge of God is not a passive knowledge, you can never understand what Loving God means unless you truly try to lead a virtuous life.  St Maximus teaches that those who appear to be holy only for self-display not only achieve nothing through their false piety by are wounded by their conscience.[6]  But “when a man’s intellect is constantly with God, his desire grows beyond all measures into an intense longing for God and his incensiveness and anger is completely transformed into divine love.”[7]

Perhaps St Maximus had a premonition that one day that troublesome Greeks and Germans would obfuscate his simple terminology in four syllables or more when he teaches that when you expound the teachings of the Logos simply so we can be understood, you make the Logos flesh.[8]


St Maximus commentary on the Lord’s Prayer is an ideal window through which we can view his views on the theology of Christ’s Incarnation and the economy of our salvation.  We seek deification in the Lord’s Prayer, the model prayer, which starts out, Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name, so we are exhorted to Love God, and understand how we stand in His Kingdom, and continues as we pray how we should live our lives, repenting of all, forgiving everyone, no exceptions.  Once we understand how we must repent of all our transgressions, no exceptions, and forgive everyone, so God will forgive us, and not withhold forgiveness from anyone, lest God withholds His forgiveness of us[9], then we can better listen to the teachings of St Maximus against self-love, this affections of one’s self that is the root of all evil, the desperate lust to pleasure, often mere moments of pleasure that often leads to years of suffering for us and those around us.  This self-love and lust for pleasure to avoid life’s pain instead tyrannizes the lives of those close to us.[10]

To St Maximus, through the Lord’s Prayer we seek deification of our nature and the Gnostic bread we need to live a godly life.  We pray for the blessings of the Father, through the mediation of the Logos bestows adoption by the Father by grace from above through the Holy Spirit.  As the Logos makes men equal to the angels, we should strive after the Logos through the practice of the virtues,[11] through godly living in imitation of Christ.

We live theology when we pray, Our Father who art in Heaven, hallowed by Thy Name; Thy kingdom come.[12]  St Maximus teaches that Our Father is revealed so we may revere, invoke and worship the Trinity, to Him we owe our creation, our existence, through adoption we are worthy to call Him Our Father, and as His Name is hallowed so we should sanctify His Name on earth, so that in all that we think or do we should glorify the Son of the Father, the author of our adoption by the Almighty.

Though theology and economy differ, they can never be separated, because salvation is the purpose of theology.  As St Maximus says, sanctification is the killing of desire and sensual passions, and once we kill desire, anger ceases.  And for whom does anger cease?  For the gentle who will inherit the earth.  If the indestructible power of the kingdom is given to the poor and humble, St Maximus asks, what man will be so lacking in love that he will not desire the greatest degree of humility so he can take on the stamp of the kingdom, so he can by Grace bear a spiritual likeness of Christ, the great King?[13]  He who is humble and gentle has but one pleasure, the marriage of the soul with the Logos, attaining by grace the deification he hopes for.[14]

What is meant by, Thy will be done on earth as it is in Heaven?[15]  St Maximus teaches that when we worship God mystically with our intelligence, ardently longing, ardently seeking God with our whole intellect, freeing ourselves from sensual desire and anger, we fulfill the divine will on earth just as the angels fulfill the divine will in Heaven, behaving on earth as angels behave in Heaven.   Who will be saved?  Who will inherit the kingdom?  Those who are humble and gentle, for all who are humble are gentle, and all who are gentle are humble.[16]

What do we pray when we pray, Give us this day our daily bread?[17]  If we pray that our physical needs are met, St Maximus teaches us that we should pray for today’s bread, we should eat to live, not live to eat, eating enough to stay in good health, and trust in God, and do not worry about where the bread for tomorrow will come.  St Maximus mentions first praying for gnostic bread, the bread of life, where this day refers to the present age.  The sin of Adam prevented him from partaking of the divine bread, but we can partake of the bread of the Logos Himself, who came down from Heaven to give life to the world.[18]

St Maximus teaches us that “it is not food that is evil but gluttony, not the begetting of children but unchastity, not material things but avarice, not esteem but self-esteem.  This being so, it is only the misuse of things that is evil, and such misuse occurs when the intellect fails to cultivate its natural powers.”[19]

He who asks to receive his daily bread, the Bread of Life, receives it according to his spiritual ability to receive this bread.  Those who are righteous are given this bread in greater measure, but all are given this Bread out of God’s Love.[20]

But it is the teaching of St Maximus where we are exhorted to pray, Forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors[21], that is the most sublime.  We should forgive others with joy and without hesitation, for St Maximus teaches we should beg God to treat us even as we have treated others!  Just as God dispassionately forgives us our sins, so we should dispassionately strive to forgive others their sins, without anger, without rancor, without hesitation.  We should try to erase the memory of that which bothered us, for if there is a breach between us and our neighbor, if we cannot will to truly forgive, then we cannot receive God’s gift of Himself.[22]

The Four Centuries of Love by St Maximus provides other useful teachings on repentance and forgiving.  St Maximus teaches us we are not capable of truly repenting of our sins if we do not forgive others their sins.  He who busies himself with the sins and shortcomings of others has not examined his conscious, and has not even begun to repent.[23]  When you sin by impulse you are often remorseful, but when you sin by habit you were already sinning in your thoughts, and afterward you are in the same state of mind.[24]

Should we forgive our brother even when he does not apologize?  St Maximus and the other church fathers say little about apologies, though St Maximus says that we should apologize to make peace with our brother.  Apologies should never be a prerequisite for forgiveness, for as St Maximus teaches, if your brother does not want to be at peace with you, nevertheless pray for him, and do not speak ill of him to anyone.[25]

St Maximus teaches us that the sensible man gladly bears the sufferings of this world, as they are caused by our sins, and does not blame those who bring us trials and sufferings, and rejoices in his humility through suffering.  But the fool, ignorant of God’s wisdom, blames others or God for his hardships, even when they are caused by his sins.[26]

Next we ask God to lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil.[27]

We should be gracious to others just as God showers his grace upon us.  For those who forgives all others God grants a double grace, in addition to forgiveness of sins already committed, God will protect and deliver us from future sins.  For if we wish to be delivered from evil and temptation we should readily forgive others their sins so God will forgive us our sins.[28]

What does St Maximus teach about the aims of prayer?  When we pray, we should seek deification, we should remember the depths to which we were dragged by the weight of our sins, and how Christ emptied himself to take on flesh so He could raise up to the Heavens with his compassionate hand.[29]  He who truly Loves God prays without distraction, and he who Loves God prays without distraction.[30]

“The intellect joined to God for long periods through prayer and love becomes wise, good, powerful, compassionate, merciful and long-suffering; in short, it includes within itself almost all of the divine qualities.  But when the intellect withdraws from God and attaches itself to material things, either it becomes self-indulgent like some domestic animal, or like a wild beast it fights with men for the sake of these things.”[31]

Blog 3 of this series:

[1] St Maximus, “First Century on Theology,” in the Philokalia, The Complete Text, compiled by St Nikodimos of the Holy Mountain and St Makarios of Corinth, Vol. 2, translated and edited by GEH Palmer, Phillip Sherrard, and Kallistos Ware (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), 120, paragraph 31.

[2] St John Climacus, “The Ladder of Divine Ascent,” transl. by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore (Brookline: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1959), 20-49.

[3] St Maximus, “Second Century on Theology,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 139, paragraph 7.

[4] St Maximus, “First Century on Theology,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 129-130, paragraphs 77-78.

[5] St Maximus, “First Century on Theology,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 120-121, paragraph 33.

[6] St Maximus, “First Century on Theology,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 118, paragraph 19

[7] St Maximus, “Second Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 73, paragraph 48.

[8] St Maximus, “Second Century on Theology,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 147, paragraph 38.

[9] Matthew 6:14-15.

[10] Thunberg, “Man and the Cosmos” (New York: St Vladimir’s Press, 1985), 56-57.

[11] St Maximus, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, The Complete Text, Vol. 2, 286-287.

[12] Matthew 6:9-10.

[13] St Maximus, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 290-293.

[14] St Maximus, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 297.

[15] Matthew 6:10.

[16] St Maximus, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 298.

[17] Matthew 6:11.

[18] St Maximus, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 299-300.

[19] St Maximus, “Third Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, Vol. 2, 83, paragraph 4.

[20] St Maximus, “Second Century on Theology,” The Philokalia, vol 2, 150-151, paragraph 56.

[21] Matthew 6:12

[22] St Maximus, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 301.

[23] St Maximus, “Third Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 92, paragraph 55.

[24] St Maximus, “Third Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 95, paragraph 74.

[25] St Maximus, “Fourth Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 104, paragraph 35.

[26] St Maximus, “Second Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, Vol. 2, 73, paragraph 42-46.

[27] Matthew 6:13

[28] St Maximus the Confessor, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 302-303.

[29] St Maximus the Confessor, “On the Lord’s Prayer,” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 303-304.

[30] St Maximus, “Second Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 65, paragraph 1.

[31] St Maximus, “Second Century on Love (Charity),” The Philokalia, vol. 2, 74, paragraph 52.

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.