Tuesday, June 30, 2009
Monday, June 29, 2009
Sunday, June 28, 2009
Friday, June 26, 2009
Thursday, June 25, 2009
When men Search for God with their bodily eyes they can find him nowhere, for he is invisible. But for those who ponder in the Spirit, he is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all. In this, his salvation is near to those who fear him, but far away from sinful men.
Wednesday, June 24, 2009
Saint Theophan the Recluse offers us some excellent advice about how to prepare for prayer.
To pray we must draw inward in such a way that both our heart and mind are absorbed in the content of the prayer. This means that we need to become very attentive to the actual words of the prayer and set aside all other thoughts.
He uses the analogy of sitting down to write a note, article or term paper. You do not just sit down and begin writing. First you need to gather your thoughts and get yourself in the mood for this task. This kind of preparation is even more necessary when you sit down for prayer.
"So, Morning or evening, immediately before you begin to repeat your prayers, first stand for a while, sit for awhile, or walk a little. Try to steady your mind, then turn it away fro all worldly activities and objects."
Here is is asking that we set aside all the thoughts we may have running through our minds about the problems we are embroiled in, our concerns about activities of the day, or any disagreements we may of had with family or friends and so forth. We want to pull our mind away from all the cares that we face in this world, so it can be uplifted in our prayer to the invisible realm, heaven itself, where we find God who we are about to address.
"After this, think of who He is, Him to whom you turn in prayer. Next, recollect who you are; who it is who is about to start this invocation to Him in prayer."
God is no less than your Creator and even more, as He created all that is visible and invisible! He is all powerful and has infinite love and patience for all His creation. He wants everyone to be in union with him and to love Him as He loves us. When preparing to share your time with Him, think about how you would prepare to go to meet a very important person who help you need on a project you are involved with. You have to focus on their needs and agenda so you can present your needs in a way that they will support it. Well, in prayer you are facing the most powerful entity known and you need to be focused on who He is. Saaint Theophan is reminding us that he is not our grandfather or some other like person. Be mindful of Who God is as you enter into prayer,
Next he says,
"Do this in such a way as to waken in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe because you are standing in the presence of God."
Reflect on what it means to stand in the presence of God. This is what you are doing in prayer.
Saint Theophan says further,
"When the heart is conscious and feels the need for prayer, then the attentive heart itself will not let your thoughts slide to other matters. It will force you to cry out to the Lord in your prayers. Most of all, be aware of your own helplessness: were it not for God, you would be lost. If someone who is doomed to disaster were to stand before the one person who, with a glance, could save him, would he look here and there for his salvation? No, he would fall down before him and beg mercy. So it will be, when you approach Him in prayer with an awareness of all-encompassing peril and the knowledge that on can save you but God."
To frequently we try to enter into prayer without preparing ourselves. We try and enter into it without proper care or thought. Then we rush to get it over with as if it were some routine obligation we need to fulfill.
"Without preparation, how can there be a gathering of thought and feeling in prayer? Without preparation, prayer proceeds shakily instead of firmly.... Such a careless attitude toward prayer is a crime, a serious one--- a capital one. Consider prayer the central labor of your life and hold it in the center of your heart. Address in its rightful role, not as a secondary function!"
Remember always that God is your helper. Be diligent in fulfilling your prayer rule and it will bring you great benefit when you properly prepare yourself for this effort. Work hard at it. You will find many forces working to discourage you .
Saint Theophan advises,
"Once experienced, pure prayer will draw you on and enliven your spiritual life, becoming you to more attentive, more difficult, and ever-deepening prayer."
The quotes above are from Saint Theophan's 1st Homily on Prayer and from Letter 48
Tuesday, June 23, 2009
Saint Theophan spoke often about the struggles we face when we are active in the affairs of the world. He writes,"There is a widely accepted misconception among us: that when one becomes involved in work at home or in business, immediately one steps out of the godly realm and away from God-pleasing activities...." He points out that we do NOT have to run from this activity to come closer to God! He writes, "Home and communities depend on concerns of daily life and society. These concerns are God-appointed obligations; fulfilling them is not a step toward the ungodly, but is a walking in the way of the Lord."
We can be seriously misled by the idea that somehow these mundane activities of this world are to be avoided. This would be a very dangerous path. Instead as we saw from his advice in the last post, in addition to the time we dedicate to our morning and evening prayer, we need to learn to glorify God in all our activities and to call on His help as we muddle though all the difficulties we face daily in our work or in taking care of our families. He writes, "grasp the concept that everything you do, inside and outside your home... is godly and God-pleasing...." He tells us that If we complete our godly deeds in an ungodly manner this will "tear your mind from God." He then instructs us, "approach daily matters with knowledge that to fulfill them is a commandment. Administer them as administering God's law."
Each of us has a place along with responsibilities that God has given to us. God is watching us and sees how we handle our assignments. We cannot hide from Him or the tasks He has given to us. So do your work, keeping in mind that all that comes to you throughout the day is sent by God.
Saint Theophan says, "By orienting yourself to God at all times, your chores at home and responsibilities outside the house will not distract your attention from God, but, on the contrary, will keep you intent on completing all tasks in a God pleasing manner...." He cautions, "Be careful to distinguish between concerns prompted by frivolity, passions, flattery and worldliness, from those that are correct, appropriate and honorable." He says that what is essential is that we have committed ourselves to live in a God-pleasing manner.
The above is from Letter 49 in the booklet On Prayer.
An Additional Thought
I pass on a thought in a similar vein from a recent podcast by Matthew Gallatin, Theosis In A Busy World. In this podcast Matthew answers a letter from a listener who feels overwhelmed by his daily duties in his quest for the proper spiritual path.
He is the author of Thirsting For God in a Land of Shallow Wells published by Conciliar Press. He lives in Northern Idaho and is a former Professor of Philosophy. You can learn earn more about Matthew’s ministry at his website.
There is no tradeoff between work and prayer. Both are essential to a healthy physical and spiritual life according to Saint Basil. It is wrong to deny prayer because of work and it is wrong to deny work because of prayer. We can learn to make our work a prayer. The Jesus Prayer and other remembrances of God during the day are a great help in this task. At the foundation a God centered work life is attentiveness based on a quiet mind as Basil explained in earlier posts..
Here is what Basil has to say to us:
As daily sustenance is necessary for everyone, so labor in proportion to one's strength is also essential. Not vainly has Solomon written in praise: “she watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prov 31:27). And again, the Apostle says of himself: “nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day” (2 Thess 3:8); yet, since he was preaching the Gospel, he was entitled to receive his livelihood from the Gospel. The Lord couples sloth with wickedness, saying: '‘You wicked and lazy servant" (Matt 25:26). Wise Solomon, also, praises the laborer not only in the words already quoted, but also, in rebuking the sluggard, associating him by contrast with the tiniest of insects: “Go to the ant, you sluggard!" (Prov 6:6). We have reason to fear, therefore, lest, perchance, on the day of judgment this fault also may be alleged against us, since He who has endowed us with the ability to work demands that our labor be proportioned to our capacity; for He says: “to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). Moreover, because some use prayer and psalmody as an excuse for neglecting their work, it is necessary to bear in mind that for certain other tasks a particular time is allotted, according to the words of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season" (Eccl 3:1). For prayer and psalmody, however, as also, indeed, for some other duties, every hour is suitable, that, while our hands are busy at their tasks, we may praise God sometimes with the tongue (when this is possible or, rather, when it is conducive to edification); or, if not, with the heart, at least, in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, as it is written (Col 3:16). Thus, in the midst of our work can we fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to Him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for having provided the materials, both that which is in the instruments we use and that which forms the matter of the arts in which we may be engaged, praying that the work of our hands may be directed toward its goal, the good pleasure of God.
Thus we acquire a recollected spirit-when in every action we beg from God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.
From Church Fathers: The Long Rule pp 306-311
From a letter
Prayer is to be commended, for it engenders in the soul a distinct conception of God. And the indwelling of God is this – to have God set firm within oneself through the process of memory. We thus become a temple of God whenever earthly cares cease to interrupt the continuity of our memory of him.
The Heart of Basilian Spirituality p 120 Letter 2
Monday, June 22, 2009
Sunday, June 21, 2009
Saturday, June 20, 2009
".....Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying... " Father Ephraim of Syria
In our daily life there is no other way to be a Christian than to be always attentive, to act out of a quiet mind, and to practice the virtues. To do otherwise is to ignore the will of God.
Therefore be attentive to yourself, neither remaining in mortal things as if they were eternal, nor despising eternal things as if they were passing. Look down on the flesh, for it is passing away; take care of the soul, for it is something immortal… says Saint Basil
During Lent we use the following powerful prayer from Saint Ephraim in our services.
O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.
But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity/integrity, humility, patience and love.
Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.
"Grant me to see my own faults" this is the task of attentiveness. The Church Fathers tell us over and over to seek inwardly. Seek to quiet your mind and you will become capable of seeing your faults clearly and objectively as well as develop means to deal with them and to change the way you react to different situations/ This is a constant message they give us.
So How does one silence the mind?
There is no simple answer and the path is unique for each person. You can find your path by putting the ten points of an Orthodox Way of Life into practice.
Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.
2. Worshiping and Participating in Sacraments
Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.
3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle of the Church
Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of the Church.
4. Using the Jesus Prayer
Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.
5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life
Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.
Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.
7. Taming the Passions
Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn to practice the virtues.
8. Putting Others First
Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.
9. Spiritual Fellowship
Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.
10. Reading the Scriptures and Holy Fathers
Be inspired by the lessons of the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints of the Church.
Discuss this with your spiritual father.
Friday, June 19, 2009
What is the lesson from Saint Basil's discourse on attentiveness? What can we gain from this in a practical sense? Here is what I think.
First, we must learn how to have a quite mind. Basil tells us that it is with a quiet mind that we can grasp the truth contained in the Gospel. He is not referring to the reading of Scripture, but the underlying truths that the Scripture represents. This is the starting point to knowing our soul, the working of Spirit, and our relationship with God. But just a quiet mind is not sufficient. We also need a critical skill.
With an quiet mind we can learn to become attentive to the action that is taking place in our mind. This is what he calls attentiveness. Other Fathers call it watchfulness.
Learning the skill of attentiveness is what is most important because this allows us to get at the source of our sinfulness. Our mind is not physical so things happen it it very fast and without effort. Thoughts quickly arise that lead us to react even faster than we can think with actions and emotions. These can be good or evil. They can lead us to anger, to speaking out words that harm others, and to physical violence. By being attentive to what is taking place in the mind we can intercept thoughts, cast them out before they lead us to action. We can also recognize automatic patterns of response to stimulus received by our senses, our eyes, earns, nose, mouth and sense of touch. and work at changing them as well. This is all a process of knowing intimately our inner self.
In addition, because the mind and body is a microcosm of the universe, as we become attentive we can lean about the true nature of all of Creation through self-knowledge. As we appreciate the make up of our physical and spiritual being we begin to know the energies of God. We come closer to God. This is our aim.
So attentiveness is teaching us about a fundamental skill we need in the spiritual life to become more like God and to know Him. The question he leaves with us then is the following, How does one develop the quite mind so we can become attentive of this inner life?
Saint Basil suggests that we should be attentive to the structure of the body and how it is an appropriate place for the rational soul to dwell. Think about how we differ from the animals. We have been fashioned by God to be able to look towards heaven and NOT to be slaves to our passions – the desires of the stomach or our sexual drives.
The nature of our makeup cannot but help to lift you to become attentive to its Creator.
Saint Basil concludes,
“Then God placed the head at the top, locating in it the most valuable of the senses. There sight, and hearing, and taste, and smell have been established, all near each other. And although confined in a small space, none of them impedes the activity of its neighbor. The eyes have laid hold of the highest lookout point so that nothing blocks their view of the body’s parts, but placed under the small projection of the eyebrows, they reach out from the prominence above in a direct line. Again, the hearing is not directed straight, but by a spiral-shaped pathway it takes hold of the noises in the air. This indeed exhibits the highest wisdom, enabling sound to pass though unhindered, or rather be led in, bending around the twists, while nothing from outside that accidentally falls in can be a hindrance to the auditory perception. Examine closely the nature of the tongue, how it is tender and nimble and is sufficient by its varied movement for every need of speech. Teeth, also organs of speech, provide strong resistance to the tongue and at the same time also take care of food, some cutting it and others grinding it. And so when you have traversed all things with suitable reflection on each, and have observed carefully how air is drawn in through breath, how warmth is kept around the heart, and the organs of digestion, and the channels of blood, from all these you will perceive the unsearchable wisdom of the Creator [Rom 11.33]. So you will also say to him with the prophet, "Your knowledge from myself has become wonderful" [Ps 138.6].
Therefore be attentive to yourself, that you may be attentive to God, to whom be glory and dominion unto the ages.”
Quotes from On the Human Condition, trans. by Nonna Vera Harrison, pp 93-105
Wednesday, June 17, 2009
Continuing our discussion of Saint Basil’s homily on attentiveness…When we learn to be attentive to our inner nature we also discover that we are a “small ordered world,” from which we can see the wisdom of our creator. We can learn that like God who is incorporeal and not contained by any space, and the same is true of our mind or soul. As we examen this inner nature we gain insight into the large cosmos.
“Marvel at the Creator's work, how the power of your soul has been bound together with the body, so that penetrating to its extremities it leads the many separate limbs and organs to one convergence and sharing of life. Examine what power from the soul is given to the flesh, what sympathy is given back to the soul by the flesh; how the body receives life from the soul, and the soul receives pain from the body. Examine where you have stored away the things you have learned; why the addition of things that have come later does not overshadow the knowledge of things retained, but without confusion you keep your memories distinct, inscribed on the directive faculty of the soul as if on a bronze slab, guarded closely. Examine how as the soul slips gradually toward the passions of the flesh its own beauty is destroyed; and how again cleansed from the shame of evil, through virtue it ascends quickly toward the likeness of the Creator.”
Saint Basil advises us that attentiveness will help us gain mastery of anger, temper and an uncontrolled tongue. This benefit comes when we combine attentiveness with a remembrance that all the desires for earthly pleasure that go unchecked will only bring us to a bitter end. He writes,
“Therefore be attentive to yourself, and know that the rational part of the soul is also intelligent, but the passionate part is also irrational. And the one exists by nature to rule, while the other exists to obey reason and be persuaded by it. So do not ever allow your mind, reduced to utter slavery, to become a slave of the passions; moreover, do not yield to the passions struggling against reason and let them transfer to themselves the rule of the soul.”
Quotes from On the Human Condition, trans. by Nonna Vera Harrison, pp 93-105
Tuesday, June 16, 2009
Saint Basil in his homily “Be Attentive to Yourself” discusses a truth handed down to us from Moses: "Be attentive to yourself, lest an unlawful word come to be hidden in your heart" [Deut 15.9].
He explains that it is in our mind that we are most easily led into sin. Therefore God is advising us in this directive to focus on our most vulnerable area much like a physician will give us preventative advice on that aspect of our heath that is the weakest. So why is the mind that area of our greatest weakness? Saint Basil tells us that it is because it acts by itself, it acts quickly and effortlessly, and is active at any time or situation. Therefore, it is much easier to sin in the mind than through actions of our body. Action in the body takes time and effort as well as the interaction with others. In fact, you can be acting in a wholly virtuous manner while at the very same time your mind is involved in numerous sinful thoughts. There is no witness to sins that take place in our mind and no one to correct us. It is therefore most important to be attentive to the action of our mind. It is most important that we give priority to control its actions.
He says, “attentiveness is of two kinds: on the one hand we can gaze intently with the bodily eyes at visible things, and on the other hand by its noetic faculty the soul can apply itself to the contemplation of incorporeal things.” Here is where we can go wrong by giving priority to what we perceive through our senses because we cannot comprehend our totality by this means. Basil says, “Let the eye of your soul be sleepless to guard yourself. You walk in the midst of snares [Sir 9.13]. Hidden traps have been set by the enemy in many places.” He emphasizes that we are more than a physical being with senses and skills to maintain life, but we are also a soul and mind.
Saint Basil writes,
“Examine what sort of being you are. Know your own nature, that your body is mortal but your soul is immortal, and that our life is twofold in kind. One kind is proper to the flesh, quickly passing by, while the other is akin to the soul, not admitting of circumscription. Therefore be attentive to yourself, neither remaining in mortal things as if they were eternal, nor despising eternal things as if they were passing. Look down on the flesh, for it is passing away; take care of the soul, for it is something immortal…
For when the body enjoys well-being and becomes heavy through much fleshiness, the mind is necessarily inactive and slack in its proper activity; but when the soul is in good condition and through care of its own goods is raised up toward its proper greatness, following this the state of the body withers.”
He cautions that we must always be attentive to our inner being, our soul, and be able to recognize its strength and illness. For he says, “For many through lack of attention get great and incurable illnesses, and they do not themselves know they are ill.”
Quotes from On the Human Condition, trans by Nonna Vera Harrison, pp 93-105
Monday, June 15, 2009
Saturday, June 13, 2009
Friday, June 12, 2009
Saint Hesychios sees watchfulness as follows:
Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart... If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.
He shows us that this involves an effort to intercede on our thoughts, forcing them to be examined, to shine the commandments of our Lord on them. He sees this as warfare, which emphasizes the nature of this effort. We know in warfare we need to have effective weapons that are stronger than those of the enemy.
Another church elder from modern times, Piasios, tells us about some of the consequences of not being watchful.
“When our soul lives carelessly without watching over its thoughts, it will consequently fill up with dirty and sly thoughts.
As a result, people start developing psychological problems which gradually pile up.... Some people, while they are found in this situation and come face to face with the problem itself, they do not realize it, and thus are unable to humbly confess to their spiritual father their fall. Instead, they look for a “secular” solution and consult a psychiatrist, who will inevitably prescribe medication... The only solution is to become aware of the problem and confess it to a spiritual father and then humbly follow his advice.
In our days, people have lost control over their lives, and they do not know what they are doing. The reason being, that they do not wish to be guided; they want to live undisturbed, following their own free will, which will eventually bring their total destruction... when man uses his freedom and independence without taking into consideration his human weakness, he becomes deceived; he experiences and interprets everything by using his own logic. Instead of God’s grace, human logic rules his life, and his mind is in confusion. This is terrible.”
It is essential to build self-control. Most importantly, we have to learn to harness the actions of our mind which tends to run wild and unchecked. This condition forces us to rely on mental programming that needs to be changed to live the Christian life. This is what being watchful is about. Being watchful means that we have the necessary self-discipline where we are able to guard our inner sanctuary from being invaded by thoughts stimulated by our senses that lead us to sinful actions. It is an ability to intervene in the process of choosing how to act based on any kind of stimulus that leads to a thought.