Book Notes: Theophan’s Commentary on Psalm 118: verse 11

Psalm 118Psalm 118:
A Commentary
by Saint Theophan the Recluse

by Saint John of Kronstadt Press, 2014

In my heart have I hid Thy sayings
that I might not sin against Thee.

Heart: power of love, 2nd home for the commandments in the human nature.
There’s the danger of fulfilling the commandments without the participation of our heart – at the difference of the seed that fell on good soil, “hidden in the depths of the heart” (cf. Athanasius).

But when the commandments are in the heart, they are fulfilled with diligence.

I like this precision by Theophan. It puts a total different light on the commandments, not as some cold moral law, but as a decision involving of our human nature, for the purpose of embracing God’s will.

But this doesn’t happen quickly: the heart first needs to be transformed, “with fervent desire, hard work, and patience” (page 37)

Though the labor is ours, the transformation is the work of God’s grace.

When a person does all he can, then grace comes and accomplishes that which is beyond his strength
page 38

Then Theophan presents an interesting schema of virtue (in parallel to the traditional schema of the passions):
thought –> sympathy –> desire –> deed
At first, we act in spite of the heart, only at the insistence of the conscience. Then we’ll develop sympathy (cf. Macarius the Great). With habit, the commandments will dwell in the heart.

To graft the commandments to the heart, so that they permanently dwell there and direct it: that’s the doing of God’s grace.
Then the heart will do all that the conscience requires.

This is so positive. We often focus on the disastrous movements of the mind from thoughts to sinful acts. Here, we see the same movement can happen from thoughts to acts fulfilling God’s will. In these days of pandemic, it’s also neat to see how through habit, goodness can gradually spread from our conscience to the deeper recess of our heart, thus positively invading all our being, towards theosis.


Any reflection on these quotes?


  1. Wonderful words! — the essence of the longed-for new covenant, prophesied by Jeremiah, in which God’s law will be written on our hearts, so that we may know Him and do His will from our interior, from the grace He has given us.
    Thanks for sharing Theophan’s wisdom and your reflections on them!


    • Yes, so powerful. Our hearts, yes, that’s where it all begins. It’s actually interesting that the heart is where life begins in the embryo, like an electric impulse. The brain comes later.


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