If we wish to progress quickly, we must concentrate on the commandments and nothing else: otherwise we will fall over a cliff or, rather, into chaos. In the case of the seven gifts of the Spirit and of the Lord’s Beatitudes, unless we begin with fear, we can never ascend to the others. For, as David says, ‘the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom’. Another inspired prophet describes the seven gifts as ‘the spirit of wisdom and understanding, the spirit of council and strength, the spirit of knowledge and reverence, the spirit of the fear of God’. Our Lord Himself began His teaching by speaking of fear: He says, ‘Blessed are the poor in spirit’, that is, those who quail with fear of God and are inexpressibly contrite in soul. For the Lord has established this as the fundamental commandment, since He knows that, without this, even living in heaven would be without benefit to us, because we would still be possessed of the same madness through which the devil, Adam, and many others have fallen.
If, then, we wish to observe the first commandment- that is, to possess fear of the Lord- we should think very carefully about the contingencies of life already described and upon God’s immeasurable and unfathomable blessings. We should consider how much He has done and continues to do for our sake through things visible and invisible, through commandments and dogmas, threats and promises; how He guards, nourishes and provides for us, giving us life and saving us from seen and unseen enemies; how through the prayers and intercessions of His saints, He cures the diseases caused by our own indiscipline; how He is always long-suffering as regards our sins, our irreverence, our delinquency, all those things we have done, are doing, and will do, from which His grace has saved us; how we have angered Him with our actions, words and thoughts; and how He not only bears with us, but even bestows greater blessings on us, either He Himself, or acting through the angels, the Scriptures, through righteous men and prophets, apostles and martyrs, teachers and holy fathers.
Moreover, we should not only recall the sufferings and struggles of the saints and martyrs, but should also reflect with wonder on the self-abasement of our Lord Jesus Christ, how He lived in the world, His spotless Passion, the Cross, His death, burial, resurrection and ascension, the advent of the Holy Spirit, His ineffable miracles which are always occurring, every day, paradise, the crowns, the adoption that He has accorded us, and all the things contained in Holy Scripture and so much else. If we bring all this to mind, we will be overwhelmed at God’s compassion, and with trembling will marvel at His forbearance and patience. We will grieve because of what our nature has lost- the dispassion of the angels, paradise and all the blessings which we have forfeited- and because of the evils into which we have fallen: demons, passions and sins.
In this way our soul will be filled with contrition, realizing all the evils which have been caused by our wickedness and the cunning of the demons.