All Things United in Christ 

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This came into effect when the times had been fulfilled, to bring together all things under Christ, the things in the heavens and the things on the earth; yes, in him!  (Ephesians 1:10)

The Blessed Theodoret of Cyrus (d. ca 457AD) commenting on St. Paul’s Letter to the Ephesians, writes:

And he made him head over all things for the Church, which is his body (Eph. 1:22-23):

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Christ the Lord has the position of head, whereas those who believe in him have the position of the body. The fullness of him who fills all in all. By Church he refers to the collection of the faithful; he called it Christ’s body and the Father’s fullness: he filled it with all kinds of gifts, he dwells in it and walks about in it, according to the inspired text.”  (Commentary on the Letters of St. Paul: Volume Two, pgs. 37-38)

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Elsewhere, Theodoret says:

“Again he called Christ the Lord head, and the structure of the Church body, using all the terms metaphorically: just as in the case of the body the brain is the root of the nerves, and through the nerves the body has the senses, so from Christ the Lord the body of the Church receives both the founts of instruction and the basis of salvation. What sinews are in the body apostles, prophets and teachers are in the structure of the Church.” (Commentary of the Letters of St. Paul: Vol. 2, pg. 96)

Everything is to be united in Christ, who holds all things together – both things in heaven and on earth.  Christ brings heaven to earth, but also earth to heaven.

Bee Info 

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I have posted through the years several times about bees, such as The Blessing of the BeesTo Bee Or Not To BeeHow Sweet It Is To BeeBook of the Bee, St Basil’s Parable of the BeeFlies, Bees and Seeing One’s Own SinThe Bee is the Worship of God. 

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I decided to do another post on bees.  This has many facts about honey bees, but the photos are of various kinds of bees not just Apis mellifera.   Many people may not like bees, but if you like to eat fruit and vegetables or enjoy flowers or honey, you should like bees – perhaps the only insect for whom the Church prays.  A few bee facts:

Bees have 5 eyes, 2 pairs of wings and 6 legs

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Male bees in the hive are called drones, females are worker bees

Bees fly about 20 mph

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Number of eggs laid by queen: 2,000 per day is the high

Bees have been here about 30 million years!

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Bees carry pollen on their hind legs in a pollen basket or corbicula

An average beehive can hold around 50,000 bees

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Foragers must collect nectar from about 2 million flowers to make 1 pound of honey

The average forager makes about 1/12th of a teaspoon of honey in her lifetime

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Average per capita honey consumption in the US is 1.3 pounds

The principal form of communication among honey bees is through chemicals called pheromones

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Bees are important because they pollinate approximately 130 agricultural crops in the US including fruit, fiber, nut, and vegetable crops. Bee pollination adds approximately 14 billion dollars annually to improved crop yield and quality.

(Honey bee Facts from the Texas A&M University Honey Bee Information Site) 

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If you want to see more of my photos on bees and other things, go to my Flickr page.

All Sins Will Be Forgiven 

51389933392_cbc2a8f3a6_wThe Lord Jesus taught: “Assuredly, I say to you, all sins will be forgiven the sons of men, and whatever blasphemies they may utter; but he who blasphemes against the Holy Spirit never has forgiveness, but is subject to eternal condemnation”  (Mark 3:28-29)

And Peter opened his mouth and said: “Truly I perceive that God shows no partiality, but in every nation any one who fears him and does what is right is acceptable to him.  (Acts 10:34-35)

The Lord Jesus tells us, “all sins will be forgiven the sons of men.”  He says this without qualifying it, except those who blaspheme the Holy Spirit will not be forgiven.  He offers hope to all people that forgiveness of sins and salvation is available to everyone.  It is the very reason He became incarnate and came into the world.

“When God forgives, He wipes away the sin, and He heals the underlying wound.  What was, He renders nonexistent, He forgets and turns away; He does not consider the sin.  Further, He creates a new heart (Ps 51/50:12).  He is the Lamb that takes away the sin and who has taken upon Himself the sin and the wounds of men.  Only God can bring about such forgiveness.  Only God can erase the sin and render it nonexistent.  Man cannot truly forgive by himself: he does not have the strength for it because the wound in him is too big; it continues to bleed and cause suffering.  Only God can forgive.”  (Boris Bobrinskoy, THE COMPASSION OF THE FATHER, p 78)

If God so clearly forgives us, we ought to forgive one another.

“I mean, how would you succeed in gaining pardon of your own faults when you expect God to be the punisher of others’ crimes?”   (St John Chrysostom, COMMENTARY ON THE PSALMS Vol 1, p 52)

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If we think it is righteous to want sinners to be punished, we might remember the words of Christ.  “Judge not, and you will not be judged; condemn not, and you will not be condemned; forgive, and you will be forgiven; give, and it will be given to you; good measure, pressed down, shaken together, running over, will be put into your lap. For the measure you give will be the measure you get back” (Luke 6:37-38).  And as we pray daily in the Lord’s prayer putting our salvation in our own hands: “Forgive us … as we forgive…” (Matthew 6:12)

“And whenever you stand praying, forgive, if you have anything against any one; so that your Father also who is in heaven may forgive you your trespasses.”  (Mark 11:25)

Weapons of Our War and Weariness

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For though we walk in the flesh, we do not war according to the flesh. For the weapons of our warfare are not carnal but mighty in God for pulling down strongholds, casting down arguments and every high thing that exalts itself against the knowledge of God, bringing every thought into captivity to the obedience of Christ, and being ready to punish all disobedience when your obedience is fulfilled.  (2 Corinthians 9: 3-6) 

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Although many American Christians find irresistible the allurement of the 2nd Amendment and gun ownership to fight the Armageddon they are anticipating, St Paul is clear that our warfare is spiritual and won’t be fought with guns and ammo but rather consists of bringing hearts and minds into obedience to Christ, the Prince of Peace.  It is a war of ideas and thoughts.  There is to be a struggle, but it is a spiritual warfare for our hearts and minds.  St Maria of Paris poetically describes the difficulty of the spiritual warfare. 

“’How burdensome each step becomes. 

Steeper and lonelier the way. 

They do not prophesy eternal bliss, 

These sounds of every day.’ 

(PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 50) 

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St Maria’s realism notes that the struggle of the spiritual warfare most often doesn’t seem very promising and certainly isn’t a life of trouble-free bliss.  The burdens of the spiritual person are great, for they clearly see what the world is like and feel the pain of sin and death in this world.  Mother Maria’s short verse reminded me of one of my all time favorite poems, “Weary In Well-Doing“, a lament written by      Christina Rossetti: 

 I would have gone; God bade me stay:  

I would have worked; God bade me rest.  

He broke my will from day to day,  

He read my yearnings unexpressed  

And said them nay.  

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Now I would stay; God bids me go:  

Now I would rest; God bids me work.  

He breaks my heart tossed to and fro,  

My soul is wrung with doubts that lurk  

And vex it so.  

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I go, Lord, where Thou sendest me;  

Day after day I plod and moil:  

But, Christ my God, when will it be  

That I may let alone my toil  

And rest with Thee? 

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The spiritual struggle is wearisome because it takes a lot of energy on our part to continually seek God’s will and then do it.  St Maria said the demands of spiritual warfare are inescapable for those choosing to take up the cross and to follow Christ. 

…  ‘Unless we engage in intense spiritual endeavors, traverse untrodden paths and sternly dismiss spiritually facile or practically tempting ways, we shall not be able to achieve anything at all.’” (PEARL OF GREAT PRICE, p 50) 

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Her testimony reflects what had been discovered centuries ago by those who took the spiritual warfare to the desert to work out their salvation. 

“Abba Poemen said of Abba John the Dwarf that he had prayed to God to take his passions away from him so that he might become free from care.  He went and told an old man this: ‘I find myself in peace, without an enemy,’ he said.  The old man said to him, ‘Go, beseech God to stir up warfare so that you may regain the affliction and humility that you used to have, for it is by warfare that the soul makes progress.’  So he besought God and when warfare came, he no longer prayed that it might be taken away, but said,’ Lord, give me strength for the fight.’”  (THE SAYINGS OF THE DESERT FATHERS, pp 87-88) 

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Any who have endeavored to follow Christ may have experienced that weariness which comes upon us as we trod the narrow way to the Kingdom.  Like Abba John the Dwarf, we all have probably wanted God to relieve us from our spiritual struggles, to free us from struggles and temptations.  A life of bliss seems to many of us to be the road to the Kingdom, but that hasn’t been the experience of the saints who recognized that carrying the cross is a struggle that wearies us at times.  “From the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven has suffered violence, and men of violence take it by force” (Matthew 11:12). 

We do have to prepare ourselves for the struggle to follow our Lord Jesus Christ.  We also are given other words of encouragement about this struggle: 

No temptation has overtaken you that is not common to man. God is faithful, and he will not let you be tempted beyond your strength, but with the temptation will also provide the way of escape, that you may be able to endure it.” (1 Corinthians 10:13) 

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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.” (Matthew 11:28-30) 

And God both accepts the deeds, and welcomes the intention, and honors the acts and praises the offering. (St John Chrysostom’s Paschal Sermon) 

 

The Exaltation of the Cross (2021)

Today, September 14   is the feast of the Elevation of the Cross.

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For the message of the cross is foolishness to those who are perishing, but to us who are being saved it is the power of God. For it is written: Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this age? Has not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For since, in the wisdom of God, the world through wisdom did not know God, it pleased God through the foolishness of the message preached to save those who believe. For Jews request a sign, and Greeks seek after wisdom; but we preach Christ crucified, to the Jews a stumbling block and to the Greeks foolishness, but to those who are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God and the wisdom of God.  (1 Corinthians 1:18-24)

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Fr Matthew Baker writes:

“… the Word assumed our human nature in order to heal it.  He assumed it body and soul, He assumed it in a humble self-emptying, offering to the Father, not a debt of pain to be paid to an offended master, but rather a sacrifice of obedience, which turns into a sacrifice of glory offered by our race’s high priest, to the Father alone.”

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“The death on the Cross was a sacrifice, of which Christ was both offered and offering, priest and victim.  Begun on earth, it is consummated in heaven, ‘where Christ presented and is still presenting us to God, as the eternal Hight Priest.‘   Christ’s sacrifice is more than just love, but ‘a sacramental action, a liturgical office,’ offered ‘not only for the remission of sins, but also for our glorification‘ (Georges Florovsky).”  (ON THE TREE OF THE CROSS, p 116)

God Became Human So that Humans Might Become Gods

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For you know the grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, that though He was rich, yet for your sakes He became poor, that you through His poverty might become rich. (2 Corinthians 8:9)

St Paul’s words that Christ who as God possesses all the riches of divinity chose poverty (chose to become human) in order to enrich us humans by deification with that divinity, sharing the divine life with us.  This becomes the basis for the Patristic writers who echoed Paul’s thought in their words that God became human so that we humans might become god.  For example, St Gregory of Nazianzus wrote:

“And since, then, God is made man,

Thereby Man is perfected as God, and that is my glory.”   (SEEING THE GLORY, p 260)

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Biblical scholar Morna Hooker comments:

“If Christ became what we are when he took the form of a slave and was found in the likeness and fashion of a man, we share what he is by virtue of his exaltation. . . . Christ shares our humiliation, but if we are to share his glory, then we must share his humiliation.  This refers not simply to the symbolic rite of baptism, but to the Christian’s attitude to life, and to the attitude governing the whole Christian community.  However paradoxical it may sound, we are to become like Christ in his self-emptying—which for him meant becoming like us: hence we have Paul’s appeal to have the mind which is found in Christ Jesus.” (FROM ADAM TO CHRIST, p 36)

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Have this mind among yourselves, which is yours in Christ Jesus, who, though he was in the form of God, did not count equality with God a thing to be grasped, but emptied himself, taking the form of a servant, being born in the likeness of men. And being found in human form he humbled himself and became obedient unto death, even death on a cross. Therefore God has highly exalted him and bestowed on him the name which is above every name, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, in heaven and on earth and under the earth, and every tongue confess that Jesus Christ is Lord, to the glory of God the Father.  (Philippians 2:5-11)

To be God means to be willing to love to the point of dying for humanity.  We love to think about the omnipotent God wielding unlimited power.  It is true, except that God reveals His omnipotence in the unlimited power of love and self-sacrifice.  That is the all-powerfulness of God.  Which of us wishes to possess such power?   The way to divine omnipotence is to deny your self and take up the cross and follow Christ.

Renewed and New Creation

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For in Christ Jesus neither circumcision nor uncircumcision avails anything, but a new creation. And as many as walk according to this rule, peace and mercy be upon them, and upon the Israel of God.  (Galatians 6:15-16)

Archimandrite Aimilianos tells us that for humans, the new creation which we become in Jesus Christ happens in our hearts and there we experience the Kingdom of God.  This is a gift of God’s grace.

“We are guided by God’s grace, to which you can surrender yourself in all confidence.  Indeed, it is impossible for you to do the slightest thing without it.

Consider the glory of the stars,

the magnificence of the heavens,

and the wonders of the earth:

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none of these can give you anything at all.

The only thing that can fashion a new heart within you (cf. Ezek 11:19), rendering the old one utterly useless, is the power of God’s grace.” (THE WAY OF THE SPIRIT, p 61)

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We can be awed by the beauty and magnificence of creation, but the created things will not bring about the change of heart which come when we are united to Christ and filled with the Holy Spirit.  So while we can enjoy creation, and it can remind us there is a Creator God and can bring us to thanksgiving before our Creator, the real transfiguration of our selves occurs not because of the beauty of creation but only because we welcome God’s gracious actives into our live, hearts and minds.  This transformation of our hearts – our spiritual experience is not unrelated to the rest of creation but is integrated with it.  The physical and spiritual realms that we experience are all part of God’s creation and continued creative action in the world.  Salvation is the reintegration of the physical and spiritual forming a wholeness that we can experience in our daily lives.

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“In Revelation 21… the heavenly city comes down from heaven to earth. That is what the narrative is all about… the end of Revelation offers an ultimate rejection of a detached, other-worldly spirituality in favor of an integrated vision of new creation in which ‘heaven’ and ‘earth’, the twin halves of created reality, are at last united.  Always intended for one another, they are by this means to be remade, and to become the place where the living god will dwell among his people for ever.”  (N.T. Wright, THE RESURRECTION OF THE SON OF GOD, p 470)

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and I heard a loud voice from the throne saying, “Behold, the dwelling of God is with men. He will dwell with them, and they shall be his people, and God himself will be with them; he will wipe away every tear from their eyes, and death shall be no more, neither shall there be mourning nor crying nor pain any more, for the former things have passed away.” And he who sat upon the throne said, “Behold, I make all things new.” Also he said, “Write this, for these words are trustworthy and true.” (Revelation 21: 3-5)

The Lord Jesus Christ promises to make all things new, not to make all new things- creation is to be renewed because created by God it has an essential goodness to it, which is revealed in Jesus.

20 Years Since 9/11 

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Twenty years ago terrorists attacked the United States setting off a series of tragic events, whose ‘conclusion’ we recently were viewing in Afghanistan.  Many of these events have left ill feelings in many Americans – some towards the perpetrators of the terrorism, some towards our government’s response to those events, and now some towards those trying to bring our country’s involvement in these events to an end.  There are plenty of people to blame for all that went wrong, but maybe the time comes for Americans themselves to move on from these events, and for Orthodox that means spending “the remaining time of our life in repentance.”  Indeed there are many things we can repent of because the events incited our passions, and passions lead to sin.  It is time for us to repent and change our hearts and minds, conforming them to Christ.  Think about it: Any children of the survivors of the 2001 attacks are now all adults even if they were newborn at the time of the attacks.

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Patriarch Pavle of Serbia who witnessed the destructive 1990’s events of the Balkan Wars in his own region said:

“If we live as people of God, there will be room for all nations in the Balkans and in the world. If we liken ourselves to Cain who killed his brother Abel, then the entire earth will be too small even for two people.  The Lord Jesus Christ teaches us to be always children of God and love one another.  We should remember the words of St Paul: ‘If it be possible, as much as lies in you, live peaceably with all men.’”   (FOR THE PEACE FROM ABOVE, p 195)

So, as Christians in America we can offer up prayers that the evil that was present through the initial terrorist attacks and then through all the events and wars precipitated by their actions might be overcome in our hearts and in the world today.

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Lord Jesus Christ, in Your great mercy You prayed for the forgiveness of those who crucified You, and You taught us to love our enemies and to pray for those who persecute us. Lord, I pray that You forgive those who treat me unjustly and speak out against me, and that You bless them and guide them according to Your will. Take away any bitterness I may have in my heart against them. Lord, may Your forgiveness, goodness and love be revealed in all of us, to Your praise and glory. Amen.   (My Orthodox Prayer Book,   Kindle Location 811-815)

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Heal, O Lord, the hearts and minds of all those who were wounded by the terrorists in their hideous attack and all those wounded by the wars which followed – whether innocent civilians, victims of the attacks, first responders or our soldiers. Heal them of their physical, mental and spiritual wounds.   Help us, Lord, to work for love and understanding among the people on earth.

Mary’s Garment of Glory

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And the angel said to Mary, “The Holy Spirit will come upon you, and the power of the Most High will overshadow you; therefore the child to be born will be called holy, the Son of God.” (Luke 1:35)

Ephrem the Syrian is one of the Patristic saints who meditated on the contrast between Eve, the first woman and mother of the living (Genesis 3:20) and Mary the Theotokos and Mother of Life.  Poetically, Ephrem writes:

In her virginity, Eve put on 

Leaves of shame, but your mother has put on, 

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In her virginity, a garment of glory 

That encompasses all, while to Him who covers all 

She gave a body as a tiny garment.”   (SECLECT POEMS, p 51)

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Orthodox scholar and translator Sebastian Brock comments on Ephrem’s verse:

“The imagery of the Robe of Glory, deeply embedded in the Syriac tradition, is used to describe the various stages of salvation history: Adam and Eve are originally clothed in it in Paradise, but lose it at the Fall;

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Christ, the Divine Word who ‘put on the body,’ deposits humanity’s lost Robe of Glory in the River Jordan at his baptism, and at each Christian baptism it is received in potential from the Font (often described both as the Jordan and as a womb…); finally, at the Last Judgment, it becomes the clothing of the righteous in reality…

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Since Christ’s presence in the Jordan makes the Robe of Glory available again to humanity, his presence in Mary’s womb is understood as constituting her baptism, thus proving her with her Robe of Glory… Mary’s giving Christ ‘a body as a tiny garment’ and receiving in return a ‘Robe of Glory’ is one of the ways in which Ephrem brings out the idea of exchange involved in the incarnation; this is expressed… in epigrammatic form: ‘He gave us divinity, we gave Him humanity.’”  (SECLECT POEMS, footnote p 51)

Christ makes this robe of glory available to us all:  “And behold, I send the promise of my Father upon you; but stay in the city, until you are clothed with power from on high”  (Luke 24:49)  Receiving the Holy Spirit, obeying God’s will and way, living by faith in Jesus – all are ways to be clothed with power from on high, the robe of glory.   “But put on the Lord Jesus Christ, and make no provision for the flesh, to gratify its desires” (Romans 13:14).

Godly Sorrow vs Worldly Sorrow 

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Now I rejoice, not that you were made sorry, but that your sorrow led to repentance. For you were made sorry in a godly manner, that you might suffer loss from us in nothing. For godly sorrow produces repentance leading to salvation, not to be regretted; but the sorrow of the world produces death.  (2 Corinthians 7:9-10) 

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St John Cassian offers us further meditation on St Paul’s words: 

“The only form of dejection we should cultivate is the sorrow which goes with repentance for sin and is accompanied by hope in God.  It was of this form of dejection that the Apostle said: ‘Godly sorrow produces a saving repentance which is not to be repented of’ (2 Cor 7:10).  This ‘godly sorrow’ nourishes the soul through the hope engendered by repentance, and it is mingled with joy.  That is why it makes us obedient and eager for every good work: accessible, humble, gentle, forbearing and patient in enduring all the suffering or tribulation God may send us.  Possession of these qualities show that a man enjoys the fruits of the Holy Spirit: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, goodness, faith, self-control (cf. Gal. 5:22). 

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But from the other kind of dejection we come to know the fruits of the evil spirit: listlessness, impatience, anger, hatred, contentiousness, despair, sluggishness in praying.  So we should shun this second form of dejection as we should unchastity, avarice, anger and the rest of the passions. It can be healed by prayer, hope in God, meditation on Holy Scripture, and by living with godly people.”   (THE PHILOKALIA Vol 1, p 88)