One might ask: what is the reason that the grace of God does not abide all at once entirely, or likewise, it does not immediately reveal the triumph of complete communion of the soul with God? It is necessary to know this reason in order to work against it, and work successfully; for only by setting it aside can we attain the full in-dwelling of grace.
In order to understand why it does not happen this way, let us observe the inner make-up of the convert. Sin takes possession of a person and entices his attention, all his longing and all his strength. Acting under the influence of sin, the person permeates himself with it, and all parts of his existence, all his powers become accustomed to acting according to its suggestion. This alien activity that attaches itself to us, because of its extended stay, is so grafted onto us that it becomes as if in-born, taking on an appearance of something natural, and therefore unalterable and necessary. Thus become intertwined, for example, arrogance with the mind, greed with desires, lust with the heart, and with all our endeavors: selfishness and a certain dislike for others. In this manner, in the consciousness and will, in the powers of the soul — the mind, will and feelings, in all bodily functions, in all outward deeds, behavior, bearing, rules and customs — man becomes permeated with sin, that is, selfishness, passionateness, self-pleasing. St. Macarius expresses it thus: that sin, which entered into us at the Fall, possesses as if the entire image of man, which is why it is called the fleshly man, the emotional, the outer man, and why sin has robed with its own parts of our nature: mind with mind, will with will and so on. And, having overwhelmed the natural functioning of our own powers, it has counterfeited for them its own unnatural functioning, meanwhile fixing us in the belief that it is natural. In the midst of this obscurity, under the yoke of sin, everyone who is unconverted, unrepentant, and has not resolved to serve God in spirit and in truth abides in the satanic realm.
The grace of God that comes — at first through awakening, and then throughout the entire period of conversion — cuts off one man from the other, brings him to the awareness of this duality, to seeing the unnatural and what should be natural. It leads him to the resolve to shake off or cleanse away all the unnatural, so that the nature of God's image would appear in its full light. But it is obvious that such a resolve is only the beginning of the matter. Through it the person has only in consciousness and will left this realm of alien unnaturalness that functions in him; he has renounced it and applied himself to the awaited and desired naturalness. But in actual fact, in all his make-up he remains the same as he was — that is, permeated with sin, in soul and all his powers. Just as before, passionateness is present in all his bodily functions, the only difference being that before this was desired, chosen and acted by the person himself, but now it is undesired, is not delighted in, but is hated, parried, persecuted. The person has now come out of himself as if from a stinking corpse and sees what kind of passionate stench comes from which part of himself, and against his will sometimes senses to the point of mental disturbance the entire stench that he is emitting.
So the true grace-filled life in a man is at first only a seed, a spark — but it is the seed sown among thorns, a spark covered from all sides with ash. It is still a weak candle burning in the thickest fog. With his consciousness and will the man has cleaved to God, and God has received him, united with him in this consciousness and will-power, or mind and spirit, as it is spoken of by Sts. Anthony and Macarius the Great. And the good, saved, God-pleasing parts of a man are there. All other parts are still held captive and do not yet want, are not yet able to submit to the requirements of the new life: the mind does not want to think in the new way, and thinks as it did before; the will is not able to want the new, it wants only the old; the heart does not know how to feel in the new way, only in the old.
It is the same for the body in all of its functions. Consequently, it is still impure, except for the one point which comprises the conscious and free power — the mind and spirit. God is most pure and unites with this one part, while all the other impure parts remain outside of Him, foreign to Him; although He is ready to fill the entire man, He cannot grant this because the man is impure. Then, as soon as the man becomes pure, God manifests the fullness of His indwelling. St. Gregory the Sinaite writes: "If our human nature is not kept pure or else restored to its original purity by the Holy Spirit, it cannot become one body and one spirit in Christ, either in this life or in the harmonious order of the life to come. For the all-embracing and unifying power of the Spirit does not complete the new garment of grace by sewing on to it a patch taken from the old garment of the passions." The Lord cannot abide there fully, for the dwelling is not yet prepared; it is impossible to pour the grace to the brim, for the vessel is still faulty. Doing that would mean squandering and killing this spiritual treasure in vain. For what communion hath light with darkness? And what concord hath Christ with Belial (II Cor. 6:14-15)? And the Lord, promising to come with the Father and create His habitation, places the irrevocable condition for this on the fulfillment of the commandment, all the commandments of course; or to put it another way, righteousness in all action, which is impossible without righteousness of the powers [mind, will, soul]; and righteousness of the powers is impossible without divorcement from the unrighteousness that had overtaken them, or without cleansing away sinfulness and passionateness.
The following passage could be applied here: If we say that we have fellowship with him, and walk in darkness, we lie, and do not the truth: But if we walk in the light, as he is in the light, we have fellowship one with another (I Jn. 1:6-7). This darkness is the darkness of passions, because later St. John uses in similar verses lack of love and the three-pronged lust (I Jn. 1:2, 10, 11, 15, 16). Light, to the contrary, is the light of virtue, again because later light is used interchangeably with virtues. From this it is seen that it is possible to truly stand in the perfection of communion with God only when the darkness of the passions has been dispersed and the light of the virtues has dawned; when the virtues have grown in us and become a part of our existence, vested us and penetrated our powers, expelling and pushing the passions out of them, so that no longer are we merely illuminated from without, but we ourselves are illuminating lights. Until this time communion with God is so hidden, so unknown, that it would seem that it was non-existent; and to some degree it should be considered unreliable, not decisive, incomplete, or not corresponding to ourselves.
Thus, we see that when the Lord has united Himself with a person's spirit and does not fill it all at once or come to dwell in it, this does not depend upon Him Who is ready to fill all things, but upon us, or rather our passions that are mingled with the powers of our nature, which has not yet divorced itself from them and exchanged them for virtues. St. Anthony the Great says, "It is our own sins that prevent God from shining within us."
If the main goal of the repentant sinner should be total, light-bearing and blessed communion with God, then the main hindrance to this is the existence of the passions still active and working in him — the virtues being as yet unsealed in him — and the unrighteousness of his powers. Therefore his main work upon conversion and repentance should be the uprooting of passions and sealing the virtues — in a word, correcting himself. He must remove all unrighteousness and receive or make room for righteousness; cast out sinful passions, habits, inadequacies — even those that are seemingly natural, as well as other unrighteousness that is seemingly excusable — and adopt virtues, good morals, rubrics and in general all facets of righteousness. However, he must not withdraw his attention from the final goal, but work with all eagerness against the passions, having the eyes of his mind fixed on God. In this consists the initial work which should be maintained throughout the building of a God-pleasing life, by which he must measure the straightness or crookedness of all rules he invents and of ascetic struggles he embarks upon. This must become a firm conviction, for all active delusions seem to spring from not knowing about this beginning. Without understanding the power of this, some stop with external practices alone, others stop with good works and expertise in these works without reaching any higher, while yet others proceed straight to contemplation. All of this is necessary, but everything should come in the proper order. At first all of this exists in seed form, then it develops, not exclusively, but the majority of the time in one part or another. Nevertheless, a gradual process is inescapable — the rising from external ascetic struggles to the internal, and only from one to the other, to contemplation — never the other way around.
Assured of this, we can now easily derive a guiding rule for a God-pleasing life, or for the spirit and character of ascetic struggles.
Taken From "The Path to Salvation"By St.Theophan The Recluse