Regarding Moral Philosophy

    The whole of the Moral Philosophy of the Gospels summons all men to itself. There are those who concern themselves in this or that way with certain other types of philosophy; and of these persons, some spend all of their days studying, say, mathematics or physics, while others concentrate on metaphysics and more general subjects. Yet they entirely neglect Moral Philosophy, even though it is both the paramount and most necessary of all types of philosophy. These men study the harmony and order of the heavens, and earth and all other matters. But because they do not know, as they ought, that the investigation of ourselves is distinctly superior to that of alien matters and, moreover, because they do not know that knowledge on its own -that is, being bereft of practical application- has no substance and does not differ from fantasy, as the holy Maximos notes, precious few of these men address the question of how to bring themselves into harmony with the beauty of moral life, or how to learn true virtues through experience. Now, I ask you: What is the good of materialistic philosophy, when the soul has a philosophy of its own and is crudely beset by passions? I, for one, see no good. Surely we must apply ourselves to Moral Philosophy, or risk being found wanting in relation to our higher aspect.

    Such as these former things much concern the majority of people. The God-fearing Fathers, however, determined that their most holy system was superior, sensing with the more percipient eyes of the mind how truly beneficial is this moral type of philosophy and how readily they might advance to the other kinds of philosophy if they should first become facile in the system in question. Yet, because they well knew that moral life is contemporaneous with man, as has been said already, and, furthermore, that it takes precedence over all other types of philosophy, owing to its antiquity, they did not pay attention to the remaining types. Instead, they concentrated exclusively on Moral Philosophy. And so, isolating themselves in the "deserts, and in mountains, and in dens and caves of the earth" [Hebrews 11:38], to quote St. Paul, and having chosen unbroken silence, they set themselves to the task of uncovering, in a positive, exact fashion, the original causes of the passions and eradicating them. Moreover, it was not sufficient for them to acquire merely a disposition to virtue or even to experience virtue haphazardly, for this anyone can do. Through force of habit, which became second nature, as it were, they had to become fully integrated and develop in these virtues. These men, through sweat and prolonged ascetic labour, developed these virtues. That is, they adopted the Gospel's more general laws about virtue as the supreme principles of their individual philosophies, and put them into practise day and night. In time, they came to distinguish categories of virtues falling under each law. Though assailed by manifold temptations, both human and demonic, though emaciated through great feats of abstinence and other physical rigours, after running all the courses of an arduous race they achieved all virtues and attained a "scientific" knowledge thereof. They made an addendum to the Gospel which is especially noteworthy for those with spiritual knowledge, and through the eagerness of their free choice, they surpassed the commandments given by God to man.

Excerpt from the 1783 Introduction to The Evergetinos by St Nicodemos of the Holy Mountain
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