‘Right’ and ‘Left’ don’t only have to do with political alignments. The terms were also used to define two categories of temptation in the spiritual life. Indeed, because it’s less perceptible, the temptation ‘from the right’ was considered the more dangerous.

When does a temptation come from the right and when from the left? Here’s an example. If the devil presents you with the suggestion that you should cheat a co-worker for your own benefit, that’s a temptation ‘from the left’. You know where it’s coming from and you either accept it or reject it. But if the evil spirit whispers that we’re in a crisis, that your co-worker doesn’t have a family and so you’re justified in cheating them for the sake of your children, then that’s a temptation ‘from the right’. In other words, it’s dressed up as a good aim, or, at least, as a necessary evil. It’s a way of concocting pretexts for sins.

A temptation from the right can be even more ‘holy’. It appears as an angel of light, with pious thoughts and passages from Scripture. It presents a lie to the mind in the guise of the truth. It projects a virtue which, in fact, is wickedness in a mask. Thus, it may introduce ill-will into the soul, clad as defence of the faith. In such a case, the egotists and the intolerant believe that they’re being zealous for God. Or else, it may cultivate laxity and indifference, cloaked as moderation and meekness. People who are uncaring and indolent present themselves as peaceful and meek. On other occasions, cruelty may be passed off as strictness or sincerity. Uncharitable people can come across as upstanding and scrupulous. It can also take on other forms in order to hide its true nature and so can enter the heart like a thief and pillage it.

The desert fathers knew the devil’s machinations very well, which is why they warn us about an even more subtle attack from the right. When the nous reaches the point where it prays fervently, when we feel calm and well-defended, then the demons, who want to disorientate us, attack from the right. They don’t make themselves known, but fabricate praise of God and other things we love. The nous then thinks it’s achieved the purpose of prayer. This is the way the evil one sows the seeds of vainglory and pride in our brain.

Very often, the evil spirit uses truths. It tells ‘the truth’, but not the ‘whole truth and nothing but the truth’. Even occultists can manifest things unseen and ‘prophesy’, claiming to draw on the power of Christ, but they’re integrated with evil and they prophesy what the devil wants them to. This is of particular importance in our own day and age, because superstition has taken root in material societies and is now infiltrating the lives of many, even Christians. Both the saint and the occultist can tell our name or the problem that’s bothering us. But the criterion of holiness is humility and the love which people transmit as natural, fragrant incense.

How do we recognize a temptation from the right? First, there’s a general principle which holds true: If something isn’t from God, the devil will introduce proud thoughts. Secondly, we must bear in mind that very often that which seems absolutely true and right is simply a reflection of our personal will.

Saint Anthony saw the snares of the devil spread out on the ground and wondered who could overcome them. And he heard a voice saying to him: humility. Real, genuine humility is what reveals the snares of the devil. And humility isn’t just thoughts about being humble, nor, of course, sanctimoniousness and an outward show of piety. It’s a deep sense of our condition, that we’re weaker than shadows, that whatever we do and whatever we have isn’t our own.

We ought to mention here, as an example of humility, the encounter between Saint Zosimas and Saint Mary the Egyptian. The former was a venerable abbot who bore the high rank of the priesthood. The latter had previously been a harlot but had then spent the rest of her life in the wilderness and had reached the heights of sanctity. At their unexpected meeting in the desert, nether of them seems to have been aware of their stature and merit. On the contrary, each of them bowed down to the ground, in a show of respect for the other and each asking the other’s blessing. It was humility which came from two simple hearts. And a simple heart always compares itself not to others but to the infinite purity and sanctity of God. When the soul is illumined through veneration, it’s then able to discern where a thought, a feeling or an inclination is coming from.

Essentially, humility is expressed with the spirit of being under tutelage. The Cappadocian Father, Saint Gregory, was called the Theologian, but referred to himself as a life-long pupil. And the desert fathers never accepted any revelation without first subjecting it to the scrutiny of other, more experienced monks. God’s truth is revealed through a life-time of tutelage and love.

There are some who believe external deeds, an external calmness, or a rudimentary (or alleged) struggle for the faith makes them teachers, counselors and judges of the whole world. They can say ‘Forgive me’ or ‘I, the sinner’ as much as they want, but they don’t mean it. There’s no greater temptation than to think that our struggle and our faith give us the right to act as the touch-stone for Orthodoxy or as religious inquisitors. It’s strange and much to be wondered at how often the extent to which we confess our faith or defend tradition is anchored in the most uncompromising egotism. When there’s no real humility, the heart becomes as hard as flint and sinks into the abyss of obdurate opinion, sometimes even of ingratitude. And that is what we call delusion.

Archimandrite Chrysostomos
Abbot of the Holy Monastery of Faneromeni, Naxos

(Excerpt from a talk)



The recent reappearance of the ancient terror of a pandemic has prompted fertile conversation among theologians and literary people across the world. Various opinions have been articulated, such as that disease can be transmitted through the current way of distributing holy communion, or that the Eucharistic Gifts themselves can be bearers and transmitters of pathogenic germs. It is said that since the bread and the wine do not alter their essence and essential properties, it follows that they are subject to decay and can also spread toxic viruses. This idea has supposedly found Christological grounds as well in that the human body of Christ is a carrier of germs which can be harmful to us, though not to Him; after all, germs themselves are not bad, since there is nothing bad in creation.

Within this framework the following evidence drawn from the writings of the Fathers might be relevant and useful.

Undoubtedly, there is nothing bad in creation. No form of life, nor even natural destruction can be considered as bad, because evil is only that which alienates us from God. However, at the same time one should not ignore or deny the products of personal sin, such as, for example, a dangerous laboratory hybrid, as well as the effects of the ancestral Fall, namely decay and death, to which the human being has been submitted. Now, God’s incarnation manifested something entirely new in the world.

Let us open a short parenthesis to delineate the Orthodox belief regarding the Eucharistic elements. Do we hold that they are merely a representation of the Lord’s presence in the congregation, as is the general understanding in Protestantism? In this case, the holy bread could be offered in sterilized bags and the holy wine in certified sealed bottles. If, on the other hand, in accord with the Roman Catholic doctrine of transubstantiation, the holy gifts are Christ with respect to their essence, then either we must commit ourselves to worshipping the gifts or fall into unbelief when thinking they can be corrupted.

The Greek Fathers speak neither of transubstantiation nor symbolic function but of the ‘change’ of the material elements. This ‘change’ signifies a new mode of being, inaugurated through the appearance of God in the flesh. Here we must consider the patristic distinction between the logos of nature and the mode of existence, a distinction which is useful for an Orthodox approach to the mystery of Christ.

The Fathers use this distinction as a tool for explaining God’s miracles in history. When God intervenes to perform a wondrous act, He does not alter the nature of things — that is, their logos or principle; instead He innovates the manner in which their nature operates, so as to fulfill the divine economy. The innovated mode means nature operating beyond its own ordinance, beyond its limits, translating the human being “into another form of life”, as for instance when Noah remained unharmed amid wild animals and holy men would walk upon the waters.

The Incarnation was the climax of all divine interventions. The incomprehensible mystery that took place in the Logos Incarnate was the indissoluble union of divine and human nature. Such union meant the exchange of the natural properties in Christ, in the same way that a blade becomes fire when thrown into fire while at the same time fire acquires a sharp edge. Human nature remains intact while its mode of existence is altered. This is why Christ was born both in a divine and a human way, that is, carried by a woman, yet without labour pains and corruption. He was not subjugated to nature; instead, elevating it to Himself, He made nature “a transcendental mystery” Christ’s human nature operates in a divine mode, and it operates in a divine mode because it carries the fullness of divine activity.(1)

This same reality and understanding can be applied to the Eucharistic mystery. Here also an alteration of the material elements takes place. Neither is their logos or essence changed, nor their natural properties, but their condition and conduct, that is, their mode of being. Just as in Christ everything human has a transcendental mode, since human nature in Him has the fullness of divinity, so the Eucharistic Gifts receive and transmit to its participants the same theandric activity of Christ. We partake, therefore, not of something that is subject to decay and deterioration, but of God Himself, through matter that has become life-giving, as the very flesh of Christ is life-giving.

Clearly, authentic communion has to do not only with the presence of Christ in bread and wine but also with His presence within us. Union and assimilation with God is not accomplished without the good resolve (prohairesis) and synergy of man, nor is it exclusively fulfilled in the Eucharist.(2) We need to follow and wholeheartedly imitate Christ freely and be born in the Spirit. Divine activity operates in various inscrutable ways according to the measure of each one’s faith and longing.

Thus, when Christ is offered as bread, He does not alter the nature of bread but its ‘economy’. Christ’s human nature was passible, yet, one with the Divinity, and for this reason it could not be seized and possessed by death. And as His body was dead and risen, since it was never detached from Divinity, similarly, when we receive this body we foretaste the resurrection. Just as Christ suffers as a human being, yet acts as God, in the same way the consecrated elements, though subject to ‘suffering’ and corruption, act upon us as uncreated divinity. As St Cyril of Alexandria says,

The body of Christ is holy and has the power to vanquish every illness. It was and is holy, not merely as flesh with its natural powers, but as the temple of the indwelling divine Logos, who sanctifies His flesh with His Spirit. This is why Christ vivifies the daughter of the leader of the synagogue not only through His omnipotent command but also with His bodily touch. (Αναστασίου, Doctrina Patrum, σ. 129, 131-32)

Therefore, to those that receive communion with faith and true repentance the Lord’s body becomes a ‘safeguard’, ‘for strength, healing and health of soul and body’, maintenance and deification of human nature.(3)

The consecrated elements operate as the deified body of Jesus. Through matter God grants life uncorrupted. And although immortality is an eschatological condition, and we shall all, sooner or later, cross to the other side of the bank, yet ‘doses’ of incorruption are given in this mortal life according to the measure of each one’s faith, longing, godly fear and love.


 (1) See Maximus the Confessor, PG 91.298-300, 344, 1048-1056, 1273-1276, 1341-1345.

(2) See Chrysostom Koutloumousianos, The One and the Three: Nature, Person and Triadic Monarchy in the Greek and Irish Patristic Tradition, James Clarke, Cambridge 2015, pp. 119-22, 132-34, 150-53.

(3) John of Damascus, Exposition of the Orthodox Faith, 87. Also see Prayer before the Holy Communion, and Gregory of Nyssa, Catechetical Oration, 37.