St John of Damascus was born in 675 A.D. He was a Syrian monk and priest. Born and raised in Damascus, he died at his monastery, Mar Saba, near Jerusalem on December 4, 749 A.D.
A polymath whose fields of interest and contribution included law, theology, philosophy, and music, he is said by some sources to have served as a Chief Administrator to the Muslim caliph of Damascus before his ordination. He wrote works expounding the Christian faith, and composed hymns which are still used both liturgically in Eastern Christian practice throughout the world.
He is one of the Fathers of the Eastern Orthodox church and is best known for his strong defense of icons. He also wrote, "An Exact Exposition of the Orthodox Faith" which is a classic of Orthodox Christian Theology.
In his work, "On the Virtues and the Vices" he writes, "There is something else which you must know if you really want to attain virtue and avoid sin. Just as the soul is incomparably better than the body and in many major respects altogether more excellent and precious, so the virtues of the soul are
infinitely superior to the virtues of the body.
This is especially true of those virtues which imitate God and bear His name.
Conversely, the vices of the soul are much worse than the passions of the body, both in the actions they produce and in the punishments they incur.
I do not know why, but most people overlook this fact. They treat drunkenness, unchastity, adultery, theft, and all such vices with great concern, avoiding them or punishing them as something whose very appearance is loathsome to most men.
But the passions of the soul are much worse and much more serious than bodily passions. For they degrade men to the level of demons and lead them, insensible as they are, to the eternal punishment reserved for those who obstinately cling to such vices.
These passions of the soul are envy, rancour, malice, insensitivity, avarice - which according to the Apostle is the root of all evil
(1 Timothy 6:10) - and all vices of a similar nature."
St John of Damascus also mentions the virtues and actions of the soul which are a reflection of God's image in man, "Such actions consist in having deep sympathy for one's fellow men, in mercy, pity and love towards one's fellow servant, and in showing heartfelt concern and compassion. 'Be merciful', says Christ our God, 'as your heavenly Father is also merciful' (Luke 6:36) ...
May we too be found worthy of His sublime compassion, having conformed ourselves to Him through good actions and become imitators of all who have ever been faithful servants of Christ." St John of Damascus in 'On the Virtues and Vices', p. 340- 342, The Philokalia vol II, Compiled by St Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain, and St Macarius of Corinth, published by Faber and Faber 1984.