Below the reader will find my translation from the Russian of a small section from the works of St. Dimitry of Rostov on acquiring a true and right mind. This topic is of great importance. In a time in which the “wisdom” of the world is many time accepted without proper discenment, it is vital to understand what true knowledge is. The reader will note how St. Dimitry writes that the “demons are wise … but they do not abide in the truth … therefore they are rejected.” He places mankind in a similar category, most of all those who are of an “evil-mind,” they too seem wise, but like the demons they do not desire to abide in truth and are, as St. Dimitry teaches, to be rejected. I hope that the words of St. Dimitry will aid spiritual strugglers of these days to cultivate discenment of mind. It is much needed.
The section below is from St. Dimitry’s work, “The Spiritual Alphabet,” chapter 2. The original chapter title is “The Proper work of the mind and the keeping of the Lord’s Commandments.”
Begin translation –
1. We have said, the primary cause and beginning of Adam’s fall was foolishness.1 The cause of every good beginning and action is reason2, but, as I have said, reason that is true and right, for true reason is pleasing and wrong reason is to be rejected. A right mind grows and multiplies through mental action and the keeping of the commandments of the Lord. In Paradise, Adam was given commandments to do and keep, and as he did not act mindfully, he did not keep the commandments.
2. Even the demons are considered rational and wise but they do not abide in the truth, nor do they desire to abide in it; therefore they are rejected. As mercy without truth is unpleasant, for both must be balanced, so is unrighteous wisdom unpleasant, as the prophet says, “Of mercy and judgment will I sing unto Thee, O Lord; I will chant and have understanding in a blameless path. When wilt Thou come unto me?”3 So it is of benefit to have reason and to blamelessly glorify it equally with the truth.
3. There is nothing that the Lord loves and requires more than a true and right mind, therefore the whole of our podvig, all of our labors and cares, must be directed to acquiring a right mind and holding to the truth – to abide in it unto death, “Be faithful unto Me to the point of death and I will give you the crown of life” (Rev. 2:10). All those who are depraved of mind and speak against the truth, although they are cunning and plot many things, are but preaching a lie instead of the truth. But a lie can never be the truth, nor can it ever be pleasing to the Lord.
4. Heretics and all those of an evil mind may also seem to be wise and reasonable, but they do not abide, nor do they desire to abide, in the truth; for they are darkened in their understanding and blinded by their lies. Therefore, their wisdom must be rejected and trampled upon – wisdom mixed with lies and philosophy mixed with untruth cannot be accepted. For example, how can any Western (European) wisdom, those who rationalize contrary to the Church and hold the truth in untruth, be acceptable to God? It cannot be accepted.
5 The mind that deviates from the truth is false and God is not pleased with it. Those who dwell in such a mind will fall into evil-minded deeds and come under the authority of the father of lies – the devil – and become scattered into various heresies. But the person who seeks a true and right mind, such a one will strive after the Lord and acquire Him. For no one may ever acquire Him but through a true and right mind.
6. Just as a person who shoots an arrow incorrectly will never hit the target, so a person who reasons incorrectly is far removed from the mind of God. Many desire to draw near to Him, many struggle, and many have great care for it, however, not all equally and directly achieve the goal, for aiming far away, they remain in the unknown.
7. “What is born of the flesh is flesh. What is born of the Spirit is spirit,” says the Lord.4 As flesh united with flesh gives birth to flesh, so a right and true mind joined with the mind of God in the understanding of all things, conceives the fruit of the spirit, and abiding in clear podvigs, after a certain time gives birth to the spirit. “We have conceived, O Lord, because of Thy fear,” says the prophet, “and have been in pain, and have brought forth the breath of Thy salvation, – the Lord’s grace and Divine love – which we have wrought upon the earth: we shall not fall, but all that dwell upon the land shall fall.”5 He who does not have a right mind will never receive these things.
8. Ceaseless mental action is required of the person who desires a right mind; he who does not enlighten the mind with reason, and takes no care for it, even if he possesses a natural mind that is well trained in external love of learning will receive no benefit from it whatsoever. Unworked and unrefined gold that is hidden in the ground is counted of little value, and a tree that is not cultivated, pruned, or fertilized, bears little fruit, and even then it is bitter. So is a mind that is unenlightened by the mind of God, it remains barren or bears bitter fruit that is worthless. To the extent that a person will care for the cultivation of his mind, in so much will he receive fruit from it and behold its breath.
9. The mental action, through which we draw near and entirely unite ourselves to the Lord, consists of this: to know the whole of creation, visible and intelligible – and from Whom and for what purpose it was created, and where it is being led and directed – and to be certain of this truth. Then one must know oneself and everything about one’s self, this is a great mystery full of benefit. A right and true mind consists of this – to know all these things in detail, so that not a single thing is hidden and there remains no perplexity; it is to know and deepen this in yourself for a long time so that the mind is fused with this knowledge and united into one. The person who has not attained to this and dares to think highly of himself and to theologize, even if he has acquired all the wisdom of the world for himself, is utterly foolish and totally blind; he will not escape the snares of the evil one.
10. The person who desires more readily enter into the knowledge of creation, the knowledge of oneself, and the knowledge of the Lord, should read as often as possible the book entitled, “The Seven Days,”6 in which these things are written about more extensively. All this cannot be attained without labor, great podvig, and persistence in mental action over a long period of time. As a grain of wheat planted in the ground does not immediately bring forth fruit,7 or as leaven hidden in three measures of flour does not immediately rise,8 according to the Gospel parable, so the knowledge of oneself and God is not immediately given to a man. Having received leaven from the word of God, the woman (the soul) mixes it into three measures of flour, that is, into the three main powers of the soul (the mind, the feeling, and the will), and warms it in herself for a long time – as if fermenting the soul in the word of God – until the time that the soul is well leavened with knowledge, enlightenment of mind, and knowledge of the mystery of itself.
1i.e. a rejection of true reason.
2In Russian разум, which may be rendered in English as reason, mind, brain, intellect, and such. In this translation, I am primarily using either reason or mind.
6In Russian – Седьмодневник
7Cf. John 12:24
8Cf. Matthew 13:33