St. Neilos the Ascetic on True Maturity

Let us leave behind worldly things and raise ourselves towards the soul’s true good. How long shall we continue with trivial playthings? Will we never assume a manly spirit? We are more feeble than tiny children, and unlike them we make no progress towards greater things. When they grow up, they abandon their games, readily relinquishing their attachment to the things they played with — nuts, knucklebones, balls and so on. They are attached to these and prize them so long as their understanding is immature; but when they grow up and become men, they drop such things and devote their full attention to the affairs of adult life. We, however, have remained children, enchanted by what really deserves mockery and derision. Abandoning all effort to attain higher things and to develop an adult intelligence, we are seduced by worldly amusements, making ourselves a laughing-stock to those who judge things at their true value. It is disgraceful for a grown man to be seen sitting and drawing pictures in the dust to amuse children; and it is equally disgraceful — indeed much more so — for those whose professed aim is the enjoyment of eternal blessings to be seen grovelling in the dust of worldly things, shaming their vocation by incongruous behavior.

Probably the reason why we act like this is because we never think about anything superior to the visible objects around us. We do not appreciate how much better the blessings of the spiritual world are than the tawdry attractions of this present world, which dazzle us with their specious glory and draw all our desire to them. In the absence of what is better, what is worse will take its place and be held in honor. If only we had a deeper understanding of the realities of the divine world, we would not be taken in by the attractions of this world.

Let us begin, then, to withdraw from the things of this world. Let us despise possessions and money and all that swamps and drowns our intelligence. Let us cast overboard our cargo, so that our ship may float more buoyantly. Hard-pressed by the storm, let us jettison the greater part of our equipment; then our helmsman — the intellect, together with its thoughts — will be saved. Those who travel by sea, when overtaken by a storm, do not worry about their merchandise but throw it into the waters with their own hands, considering their property less important than their life. Why, then, do we not follow their example, and for the sake of the higher life despise whatever drags our soul down to the depths? Why is fear of God less powerful than fear of the sea? In their desire not to be deprived of this transitory life, they judge the loss of their goods no great disaster; but we, who claim to be seeking eternal life, do not look with detachment on even the most insignificant object, but prefer to perish with the cargo rather than be saved without it.

From the Philokalia, vol 1, pp 242-3

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