There are some words that appear in Orthodox writings that even when the definition is given  are hard to remember and really ‘get’.  None of these terms has a single meaning so that further complicates it.  Here is an attempt to define a few to make Lenten reading easier…

  1. Nous: the spiritual nature of man (soul); the ‘essence’ of the soul;  innermost aspect of the ‘heart’;  eye of the soul; the spiritual mind.
  2. Heart: the ‘inner man’; reservoir of the Grace of God; located in the vicinity of the physical heart;  man’s supernatural/spiritual center.
  3. Philotimo: the essence/distillation/fundamental form of goodness; selfless, meek, humble, outpouring love; overflowing gratitude toward God and man which no amount of giving can satisfy.
  4. Praxis: external ‘practices’  of the spiritual struggle (i.e fasting, vigils, prostrations, spiritual reading, prayer, etc.); practice of the virtues.
  5. Theosis:  the goal of spiritual ‘struggle’ which  is divinization; participation in the uncreated grace (or ‘light’) of God; attainment of dispassion (or complete free from passions); return to the state of man in Paradise before the Fall.
  6. Theoria: understanding of the mysteries of God given by the Holy Spirit;  spiritual revelation directed at the nous.
  7. Watchfulness (or nepsis/neptic): unceasing attentiveness to keep everything [thoughts, etc.] except the nous from entering and abiding in the heart.

How can we make these terms ‘simple’ or practical when we read them  (rather than being speed bumps that make us slow down and have to remember the definition).   Here is one way to see how they work together…

The faithful practice of our personal ‘prayer rule’ (praxis) which gradually intensifies over time will generate a meek, selfless, humble outpouring of love and gratitude toward God and our neighbor (philotimo) increasing the spiritual reservoir of God’s Grace in our heart where our spiritual ‘mind’ is located (nous).  Gradually we will become more watchful (neptic) over our soul so that  we start to deeply understand spiritual truths (theoria) and become more like God (theosis).

Here is one possible simple term to associate with these complex words…

  1. Nous = spiritual mind
  2. Heart = spiritual center
  3. Philotimo = Christ-like attitude
  4. Praxis = practice of our Faith
  5. Theosis = unity with God
  6. Theoria = spiritual clarity
  7. Watchfulness = spiritual insulation

Sources used:  Definitions in ‘Monastic Wisdom’; ‘Spiritual Counsels’ series of Elder St. Paisios; online sources.