Wednesday, June 20, 2018

Why must we cry out to God in prayer.

To develop a personal relationship with God and know Him through His energies we need to pray from the depths of our being. This is more than  mental effort.  It demands our use of our deeper noetic faculty. This is said by our Church Fathers to be in the “heart” where the “spirit in the heart” speaks.

Archimandrite Aimilianos says that in prayer,
What matters is that a cry should come forth from the depths which, like a loud roar, like an earthquake, will shake the heavens a finally force God to answer, and to say to us [like He said to Moses] “Why do you cry to me?” (Ex 14.15).
Why do we have to cry? Elder Aimilianos says it is to wake God up, just like the Apostles had to do when they were caught in a storm while on a boat with Jesus. Feeling in danger they cried out to Him, woke Him up and He calmed the storm.(Mt 8).

But surely God knows what we need. So what do we cry out?

Elder Aimilianos says
God does this, first so we will express our longing for Him, and for that longing to be uniquely ours. Second, so that we can become of our need and nakedness [sinfulness], and third so we can learn to seek Him.
If God were simply to surrender to us without our effort we would also easily discard Him. He wants us to seek and experience Him. In this way our prayer will become meaningful and lead us in the way of His commandments.

This is still only the beginning in our journey of prayer.

Reference: Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Church at Prayer, p 18

Monday, June 18, 2018

What is our faculty of noetic perception?

In prayer it normally seems that God is so distant. After all, He is Spirit and we are flesh. We are created and He is the Creator. We must accept that we can never know God in His entirety. We can, however, know His energies, but never His essence. How is it we can know His energies.

It is through our faculty of noetic perception that we can know God in part and have a personal relationship with Him. This faculty is given to us by God and is one we must cultivate. It is through this faculty that we can speak with spirit to Spirit. 

Saint John Climacus says,
The intellect is clothed in the faculty of noetic perception...and we should not cease to seek for it within ourselves.
St. Diadochos of Photiki says,
By means of love the soul is joined to the virtues of God, searching out God by means of noetic perception.
Elder Aimilianos says
Faculties of noetic perception, as they are called, because it is these which can palpably lay hold of God, especially what we call the contemplative faculty (noeron). This has the ability to be drawn toward God, and, in a certain manner, speak to God, as we would say. For this to take place, the contemplative faculty must be completely united with our reasoning faculty, that is, with our mind, so that the entire content of my spiritual being can be turned toward God, addressed to God, directed to God.
It is in this way we say we are united with God and can converse with Him. Because of this faculty in the depths of our being, we are able to cry out to God, even though He is heavenly and we are earthly. Seek it always, as Saint John says, and we will discover the path to deep prayer, to know God’s energies and converse with Him.

Reference: Archimandrite Aimilianos, The Church at Prayer, p 16

Monday, June 11, 2018

How Does Orthodox Way of Life Begin?



Our deeper spiritual life begins when our soul begins to long for God and assert itself in our conscience. When  this happens it leads us to change our way life.

Elder Aimilianos says,
When it is, then, that a soul says: “l must live a Christian life, I must live differently”? When it acquires
 the sense that it is a soul in exile; when it realizes that it is something that has been cast away, and now exists outside of its proper place, outside of Paradise, in a foreign land, beyond the borders within which it was made to dwell.
To begin to think about changing our way of life, to live according to the ten points of an Orthodox Way of Life, we must begin to acquire the feeling that we are separated from God. This is a feeling where we sense there exists some invisible barrier between us and God.

Spiritual life does not begin from any kind of intellectual analysis. On the contrary such efforts may only increase the size of the barrier. 

Elder Aimilianos says,
The Spiritual life, you see, begins with a kind of vision, with the feeling of banishment, and this is not arrived at by means of any intellectual analysis or evaluation. I simply feel within myself the presence of a wall, a barrier, and I don’t know what’s beyond it.
This is a feeling that there is an insurmountable obstacle that we must overcome, that there is a “dividing wall” (Eph2.14) between us and God. We realize how distant we are from God. We begin to understand that He is Spirit but we ourselves are only flesh. We realize that we don’t really have any conversation with God, but only talk at Him, often only out of obligation.
As this feeling of separation, of being in exile, develops, we begin to seek God in earnest. First must come this feeling of being separated from God.

Elder Aimilianos says,
But if the soul doesn’t have this feeling, it can’t even begin to embark upon a spiritual life. It may live a Christian life, but only in a manner of speaking, only in appearance, only on an intellectual level, only within the limits of its own conceptions.
This feeling of separation provides the proper motivation to participate in divine services, personal prayer and ascetic practices voluntarily without the sense of obligation or “l must.” The soul will move us forward based on a divine vision, one where we begin to see our fallen nature and realize we belong in paradise.

The beginning is not a fear of condemnation to a burning fire in hell, but a desire to be united with a loving God. This feeling of separation leads us to try to understand why we are separated and the desire to seek the help of the Holy Spirit to unite us with Him.


Reference: The Way of the Spirit, Archimandrite Aimilianos, pp 2-6

Monday, June 4, 2018

Marriage as a Spiritual Journey


Having just celebrated 54 years of marriage I was drawn to reflect on this blessed sacrament. Elder Aimilianos says marriage is a journey of pain, love as well as a journey to heaven. I can say I have experienced the pain and love in my marriage as the two seem to go hand in hand.

The Elder says
“It is an adulteration of marriage to think that it is a road to happiness as if it were a denial of the cross. The joy of marriage is for husband and wife to put their shoulders to the wheel and together go forward on the uphill road of life.” 
A fruitful marriage requires an understanding of love as well as having a relationship with Spirit. When we participate in the sacrament of marriage our souls are being joined as one. Marriage is a union of two people. Being joined in Spirit we then begin a joint path facing all the trial and tribulations of earthly life. But for this to be a harmonious path and one that allows us to grow spiritually we must have a relationship based on love.

But what is Love? Elder Aimilianos says the following:
The aim of love is for one person to give joy to another person; to voluntarily deprive myself so the other feels at ease, feels secure in his life.
Saint Paul tells us that this requires “bearing patiently with another’s failings” (Eph 4.2). This means that love begins by accepting the other person as they are. This is the first lesson I remember learning in the early days of my marriage of 54 years. After our sexual passions are tamed we begin to see the failings of our spouse and of ourself. If the marriage is to survive we quickly grasp that this spiritual journey of union requires we accept that we are different and have different wants and desires. We each have our passions that must be endured until they are overcome and our self-centeredness is snuffed out. This requires the development of humility and selflessness. I think this requires along with our individual efforts the work of Spirit, a recognition that both partners are made in the image of God along with the acceptance that we are both sinners, unable to fully live the commandments of Christ. Being united in the Church we are aided in this struggle and given help with the sacramental life. Our life together in the Church is important. I was not Orthodx before I was married but thankfully it was expected that I join the church. This has made it possible for us to grow together with a shared faith. This is probably the greatest blessing I have received.

Love involves being kind to one another. But what does this mean? Saint Paul says, “We are kind by forgiving one another” (Eph 4.32). My wife taught me that forgiveness is a daily thing.  For her it was important to not let the night pass into a new day without resolving our difference. Saint Paul also teaches this. He says, “do not let the sun go down on your anger” (Eph 4.26). Because of her insistence on this daily reconciliation we never grew far apart. Another thing we learned to do later in life was to pray together each morning and evening. We don’t always agree with each other, but we maintain respect for each other’s needs and a tolerance of our failings.

Respect for each other is an important dimension of love. Paul also says, “Love is expressed by honoring one another - looking to each other’s interests” (Phil 2.4). To do this we must let our spouse have their freedom to do what they want. We have to respect their unique and personal interests. We have to show our delight in their pursuits and achievements. 

Further, we must learn to always be kind and to be careful when discussing our spouse’s failings. We must first express ourselves in a way that shows respect and brings joy, communicating an understanding of our respect and caring for them. We cannot know what is hidden deep in their soul, but we can assume that buried there is pain, difficulties and torments. We must therefore be very careful to not unknowingly hurt their soul. If we can first bring a “bright face” and make the other person smile in our discussions then both of our hearts are opened. Then it is possible for the Holy Spirit to work in both our hearts. Our respect and kindness for each other makes us aware of God’s love for us and we receive more freely His grace.

Elder Aimilianos says
When someone shows you the love of God, kindness, and delicacy of feeling, this is communion with God.
When our hearts are open we see the humanness in each other and then become sensitive to the failings we both have and have compassion. We recognize that neither of us is perfect. From this humility comes kindness, understanding and forgiveness. We can then help each other in our struggle.

Marriage is made beautiful by acknowledging our human condition, having hope and being strengthened by our difficulties. It is a spiritual journey of two people who have been joined in a union by the Holy Spirit. We become one and have the capability of complimenting one another because of our differences and imperfections. As Jesus told us, in marriage “Two will be as one flesh” (Mt 19.5, Mk 10.7). Marriage is a journey of love based on kindness and respect.

Saint Peter also gives us insight about the nature of this union. He reminds us of the innate difference between men and woman. He tells us that men have a different psychology and tend to be more self-centered and more easily tempted to become angry as their ego is challenged. He says women tend to have a gentile and quiet spirit with patience. They are not as easily angered. I am ever thankful that my wife has shown this quality and has the patience to deal with my ego that is so easily hurt. Men and women naturally compliment each other. This is all part of God’s plan for us.

Peter also says the man must show understanding of his wife’s desires, and he must always treat her with respect (1Peter 3.7). Failing to do so, he risks hurting her deeply without realizing it. I cannot tell the number of times I have learned this lesson. Peter also says that we must have unity of mind, sympathy, brotherly love, a tender heart, and a humble mind” (1Peter 3.8). 



A good marriage involves pain and love. By having respect for each other and having kindness, accepting we are different but united in union, our struggle to perfect this union brings us closer to God. It is a struggle that purifies our heart so we can see God as Jesus tells us. Marriage is a spiritual journey based on love. In this way we learn to live God’s two greatest commandments, to love thy neighbor as oneself and to love God with our whole heart.

Monday, May 28, 2018

In Prayer, the Foretate of the Heavenly Kingdom

After attaining silence in prayer and the intense desire for the Holy Spirit we realize that He is very close. We want even more to draw Him inside us so we can be renewed and cleansed of every stain our soul may have. We witness a mystical expectation. This is when we Elder Aimilianos says we will we receive the delight of the silent foretaste of the Kingdom of Heaven.

Elder Aimilianos says,
Why?... Because God is in the heavens, I’m here, and so this delight which I will have, this prelude, must, let’s say, be a kind of prior introduction for me into the bosom of the Kingdom of Heaven. It must be my first, distant intelligence of the sounds and angelic voices which are heard up there. And it follows that I become aware, more or less, of what Paradise is, what the Kingdom of Heaven is. ...I have to find out where He is and know what it is that He is in.
At this stage we begin to have some ideas about the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven. We begin to gain glimpses into the answers to our questions about the heavenly realm. What is heaven? What is it like there? Are their dwellings? What are the saints and where are they? What is Christ like there? What is the Holy Trinity? Receiving these insights we still know we are far away, but now we can begin to see beyond the most distant star this distant Kingdom that awaits us.

The Elder says,
I begin to understand and my soul starts to be warmed by these mysteries which, to some extent, are beginning to be revealed to me. And then, my beloved brethren, there begins - let me put it like this - a new period in my spiritual life: luxuriating in silence or silence in luxuriating. In other words, something different.
He describes this as a different silence, silence of our spirit, of the eyes of our soul. Previously it was a silence of our faculties. Now we find ourselves in the silence of our spiritual world. We lose ourself in this world and find ourselves before the gates of Heaven.

The Elder describes like this,
Since I find myself before the gates of Heaven, I luxuriate, I enjoy a warmth, a coziness and I keep silent, in order to be able to hear His voice. Now, however, as we said, my spirit is silent, the spirit which will cry, “Abba, Father!”. Now it’s silent, I’m happy. I have a warmth inside me, even bodily. I’m at rest. I’m relaxed. I’m in the mood to pray. I don’t want to pray though, I want to wait for God.
Next the Holy Spirit comes and it’s me with God.

Monday, May 21, 2018

In Prayer: When the Holy Spirit Enters



Continuing with the teaching on Prayer by Elder Aimilianos: He has lead us from a dry struggle to silence, to a desire for the Holy Spirit and the awareness of the nature of the Kingdom of Heaven, waiting in anticipation of the Holy Spirit which seems to be nearby. Now he tells us about the entrance of the Holy Spirit into our prayer.

He writes,
The Holy Spirit begins to blow. It is the Holy Spirit who unites me to God, Who brings me into contact as regards His energies and I begin to have an inkling of what is happening. Then the Holy Spirit, Who is light, when He enters into me, reveals to me the depths of my heart.
We are unaware of what lingers in the depths of our hearts. So much of who we are lies hidden from us until the Holy Spirit enters.

He says,
When the Spirit comes close, He reveals to me, my beloved brethren, the blackness inside me, my sins, and I begin to have knowledge of myself. In physical silence, in spiritual silence, God begins to communicate with me by revealing what lingers in the depth of my soul.
 The Elder says it is “like a spotlight and illumines my heart.” ...I come to understand two things. God shows me through the entrance of the Holy Spirit that it is in the center of my soul, my heart, where I will be united with God. And second this is where the obstacles are that separate me from God. These are “ignorance and heedlessness”.

He says,
I neither remember Him nor know Him. Why? Because He is hidden by my passions...My heart is closed by my own passions; that’s what it means. What happens now is that I begin to learn what passion is and how I am controlled them. My ignorance is exposed and I now know why I have been repeating the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” I now know what it means in the Psalm that says “cleanse and make me whiter that snow.” I now can see what is the extent of the cleansing needed to be united with God in prayer. Now I really know I need His mercy. Now what is necessary for life in the Kingdom of Heaven is clear. I now know what passions are and all of them that are in me. I understand the needed battle that needs to take place to cleanse my heart. I now know how much I need His help.
The Elder says that now is the time “for us to see if we’ll accept or reject Him.” He also reminds us that up to this time we have only been playing a game with God.  Now the real struggle begins and if we accept Him we have the Holy Spirit to help us.

What do we have to do? He says we must be wary of our egotism that we have been hiding behind, we must accept this sinfulness that has been revealed.
I have to shatter my being...just as you use a nut-cracker to smash a nut and it makes a “crack” and splits open and you pick up the pieces, that’s what I have to do to my heart! So I can get out the rubbish and throw it away, so I can discover that what I am, what I have loved, what I have desired, what I have asked for in my prayer so far, all that is what Saint Paul calls refuse and I am called on to deny it. To understand that it is refuse, so I can be filled with God. 
He says that if feel that I really need to know God and need to clean out all the “rubbish,”  and that I will not deny God for the sake of myself and accept the challenge to clean up the mess, then I will find the first tears flowing from my eyes.

He says,
In my pain, I begin to cry out again: “My God, my God”. Now I’m saying “Come, Holy Spirit and cleanse me of my sin. Heavenly King, Comforter, the Spirit of Truth, come and teach me in my ignorance, come abide in me, who am so bad, so full, and cleanse me of every stain. Take out whatever is inside me, so that you can come and dwell there”. Not I can say the prayer of the Spirit.

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

What comes after Silence in Prayer?



Silence comes gradually in prayer. This is our first stage in seeking a union with God. It is this silence where you are able to hear more than your heart beat. It is in silence that God can speak to us. In silence we come to know our soul and the life giving spirit that dwells within.

Elder Aimilianos says,
 I have to learn to be silent, that is, I have to learn to listen, I have to learn to wait, to await the voice of God. Within this silence, I’ll then be able to hear the beat of my heart, not the beat of my bodily heart, but I’ll feel my life-giving-Spirit, my hypostasis, which is none other than the Holy Spirit.
It is in silence that we can come to know and experience the Holy Spirit, the uncreated energies of God. It is in this silence of prayer that we begin to desire to acquire the Holy Spirit. We want to know what is the real meaning of the Holy Spirit. What we need is a revelation, Elder Aimilianos tells us, so we can understand the true meaning of the Holy Trinity revealed to us in Scripture. This is an experience that he says comes gradually.

He says,
The experience comes gradually, progress within our soul and God takes up His place within our being. And His steps and His voice mingle with our steps and our voice and then we become one with God.
This is all part of a long process that comes from our love of God, Our humbleness, our patience seeking and endurance in prayer. Eventually we develop this true desire for the Holy Spirit.

The Elder says,
We begin to desire the acquisition of the Holy Spirit, so that at some stage we can say:”Come and abide in us, Holy Spirit, and cleanse us from all stain” because our souls are full of stains, they fill our souls and there is nothing we ourselves can do about it
We want to be pure in heart so we can see God as Jesus promised us. Not in some future life but in our life right now. It is only in this way that we can do with certainty the will of God. With a soul cleansed of all stain we know His will for us and can begin to act as a loyal servant.

This stage of desiring the Holy Spirit is only a temporary stage. Once we realize that is is the acquiring of the Holy Spirit that is essential for us we still have not acquired it.

The Elder tells us,
We feel this anxious expectation, then we’ll progress and we’ll have that silent delight which we call the foretaste of the coming of the Spirit and awareness of the presence of God.
To be in communion with God we need to call for Him, we need to seek, we need to knock on His door as Scripture says. Then in silence with great anticipation we, in our complete humility, we realize that without the Holy Spirit we cannot understand, we cannot be cured of our blindness or the satins that block us from God. The Elder tells we must say, “Spirit, where are you for goodness’ sake. You teach me!”

Now we must wait in anticipation feeling that He is nearby.