Daily Meditations

Father Maximos on Temperance and Self-Control

Fr. Maximos was fond of referring to a story of John Chrysostom, fourth-century patriarch of Constantinople who later was canonized as a major saint of the Church, both of the East and of the West. He was persecuted by the wife of the then emperor for being critical of her abuse of power and exploitation of the poor and weak. When John was warned by friends to stop his sermons against her on the ground that she had the power to harm him, he scoffed at their advice, replying, “Only John can harm John.” Fr. Maximos would bring that up as an example of a person who fears nothing except damaging his relationship with God.

“This is what temperance offers us,” Fr. Maximos continued, “to free us from the objects of this world, from our prejudices, our superstitions, our fixations. The conscious practice of self-control can liberate us from the grossest things all the way to the most subtle ones, such as our ideas and cherished beliefs.

“When a person is liberated from egocentrism through the practice of temperance,” he went on, “there comes the second fruit of the Holy Spirit, which, according to St. Paul, is gentleness, a product of humility. You see, temperance and self-control give birth to humility, and humility paves the way to gentleness.”

“I’m not sure I understand what you mean, Fr. Maxime,” Michael interjected.

“Look. When you attain mastery over your thoughts, wishes, and desires, when you cease to be opinionated, then you begin to experience humility. You are no longer invested in things. And the first flower of humility is gentleness, just like the first thorn of pride is anger.”

When someone asked whether anger is an evil emotion, Fr. Maximos explained that it is possible to be angry in a positive way, without sinning. Sometimes, he said, it is necessary to express anger in order to “put things in order,” for the sake of a higher good. He claimed that anger is a natural property of the soul. But it is given to us to resist evil and to be used for good purposes, such as a mother reprimanding her child when the mother has only the child’s welfare in mind. Fr. Maximos’s notion of anger without sin was an anger without ego being invested in it.  “Saints do get angry but only to energize the power of God within themselves so that they resist sin. There are times that you must resist, like when your friends press you to do something that goes contrary to your conscience.”

Fr. Maximos then talked about two hermits who wondered how it felt to be angry. They tried to set up an experiment so that they would provoke each other. But they failed. They did not know how to get angry. “When you reach the stage of gentleness, which is a by-product of temperance, there is no room for things that have the power to generate anger and confusion within you.

~Adapted from Kyriacos C. Markides, Inner River: A Pilgrimage to the Heart of Christian Spirituality