Friday, July 31, 2009

What Are The Passions?

What are Passions?

Passions (πάθος) are the emotions that control you. They include sexual desire, anger, envy, desire for material goods, rejection, fear and love to name a few. They are all desires that cannot be satisfied. You can never gain all the material goodies you desire. You will never gain all the recognition you feel you deserve. You will always have a desire for tasty food, but if you fill your desire for it you will get sick. The same goes for sex and many other desires. Passions are an expression of your ego-centeredness. It’s all about yourself and what you want for your own pleasure and gratification. In reality, your passions are futile attempts to satisfy your spiritual longing by this world’s means and are doomed to failure.

Paul reminds us, Those who are Christ’s have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires. (Gal 5:24) Jesus reminds us, From within, out of the heart of man, come evil thoughts, fornication, theft, murder, adultery, coveting, wickedness, deceit, licentiousness, envy, slander, pride, foolishness. All these things come from within and they defile man.” (Mark 7: 21-23)

You can also look at the parable of the sower where Christ tells us about the seeds that were sown among the thorns. He tells His disciples, “As for what fell among the thorns, they are those who, hear, but as they go on their way they are choked by the cares and riches and pleasures of life, and their fruit does not mature.” (Luke 8:14) The passions that come from your inner bodily programming do block you from your goal to be united with Christ.

Passions are no more than forces that dominate your soul and are etched into your brain and its neural structure, programing your automatic responses. They need to be rooted out, or overlaid with new programs. You can assume that some of this programing is hereditary. We know we inherit ancestral sin from Adam and Eve. This means this task is not a simple one. It requires God’s help along with a committed effort on your part.

Traditionally the passions are gluttony, unchastity, avarice, anger, dejection, listlessness, self-esteem, pride and vainglory. We can think of them in two types: natural and unnatural passions.

The natural passions depend on our physical nature and the maintenance of our physical being. These include our appetite for food, our fear of being harmed, and our sexual attraction to the opposite sex. These are all necessary for our preservation. They are a central part of our animal nature and common to all animals. These are not a problem unless they go beyond the need for self-preservation.

Saint Maximus says,
“The natural passions become good in those who struggle when, wisely unfastening them from the things of the flesh, use them to gain heavenly things. For example, they can change appetite into the movement of a spiritual longing for divine things; pleasure into the pure joy for the cooperation of the mind with divine gifts; fear into care to evade future misfortune due to sin; and sadness into corrective repentance for present evil.”

Then there are the unnatural passions. These are our natural passions that we mistakenly connect with our longing for spiritual wholeness. We continually seek happiness only to find pain on the other end. Then feeling pain or dissatisfaction, we again seek more pleasure only again to find again pain. Saint Maximos reminds us,

When man isn’t focused on distinguishing between what is spiritual and things of the senses he disobeys the divine command. He errs when the irrationality of feeling is the only form of discernment. He is captured by pleasure and avoidance of pain.

Saint Anthony writes,

Things that are done according to nature aren’t sins, but those done by choice; it’s not a sin to eat, so that the body will be properly maintained in life without any evil thought, but it is to eat without gratitude and improperly and without restraint; neither is it a sin to look with chastity, but it is a sin to look with envy, pride and desire; it is not a sin to listen quietly, but it is with anger. It’s not a sin to let the tongue be unrestrained in thanksgiving and prayer, but it is to speak evil; to not let your hands do acts of mercy, but to commit murder and theft. So each of our members sins if it does evil instead of good, doing things its own way and not according to the will of God.

Recently scientists have studied similar issues from the perspective of the physical world. One of these is Dr. Antonio Damasio who developed a theory about how emotions work in us. He says that first something from our senses initiates a response. Then the brain sends a command to the other regions of the brain and to most everywhere in the body. This happens through chemical injections into our blood stream that act on receptors in the cells of our body tissues. This tells us that its even more complex that just the trillions of connections in our brain, but our entire body acts as an integrated organism. In the neuron pathways, commands take the form of electromechanical signals that act on the other neurons or on muscular fibers or organs which in turn can release chemicals of their own into the blood stream. The result is a response that causes a change of state of our entire organism. Once this happens we become aware of a feeling. We feel irritated, angry, pleased and so forth. This tells us that we cannot simply rely on the idea that we can wait for our feelings to develop to control our behavior, but that we have to change the programing that leads to the response of feelings. By the time we have an emotion the organism is already jolted into action and it is difficult to change its course and we may have already sinned.

The bottom line is that you cannot wait for your feelings to develop to control your behavior. You need to interact at the time of the stimulus and change the automatic responses that lead to the emotional response of the body. Of course you can also try to avoid the situations where you are stimulated to some degree as well, like what you do and who you do it with.

There are two places where you can interrupt this cycle. One is when you first receive the sensual stimulus. The second is when you notice the emotional feeling, but before you automatically take an action. The Church Fathers instruct us to do both of these and especially the first. This is called guarding your “Heart” or ”Watchfulness.”

Daniel Siegel is another modern scientist who gives us insight into this issue. He says we can actually focus our minds in a way that changes the structures and function of the our brain.

He proves that attentional processes, emotion regulation and capacity to observe internally, to introspect and reflect are all considered trainable skills.

By developing this attentiveness in your mind you can prepare yourself to act in cooperation with God. You will see later in our discussion of prayer, fasting and worship that our Orthodox religious practices can help you develop this attention.

You need to first recognize the limited nature you have of your understanding of what you sense. You must realize that your brain is taking shortcuts all the time. What you sense, what you have in your memory and the mental images you have, only give you a symbolic representation of the world. You will never have the whole picture of reality. These shortcuts allow your brain to identify what it believes to be significant so it can ignore the rest and take appropriate action.

There are numerous brain imaging studies that suggest the frontal lobe of our brain is critical in directing our ability to act freely and to make decisions. This shows that free will is a conscious choice involving an introspective monitoring of the self.

The studies show that the more you concentrate on a moral idea, the easier it becomes to act on that belief. In other words, the brain becomes reprogrammed. The frontal lobes monitor our ability to stay attentive and alert, helping us to focus on a task. They have done studies on nuns in prayer. Their brain scans show a different brain pattern when they are in prayer that involves a greater activity of the frontal lobes of the brain indicating this attentiveness. We don’t fully understand this, but we do know that the brain is functioning different when in prayer than otherwise.

Andrew Newberg also adds to our understanding in his studies reported in Why we Believe What We Believe. He found that if you want to maintain a sense of well being you have to work at it continually reinforcing positive feelings and beliefs. This is clearly one of the benefits of prayer, worship and other spiritual practices. The key to creating any reality is based on a concentrated repetition of ideas.

The more you stay focused on an object of contemplation the more real the thought becomes. You must be careful about what you pray for or meditate on, because it may eventually become your personal truth. If you want to make spirituality a central part of your life, he says, then by all means focus on spiritual ideals as often as you can.

Of course you don’t have to turn to modern scientists for this kind of advice. Apostle Peter says, Gird up the loins of your mind... not conforming yourselves to the former lusts but ... you also be holy in all your conduct. (1 Peter 1:13-15) Abstain from fleshly lusts which war against the soul... submit yourself to every ordinance... (1 Peter 2:11, 13)

Apostle Paul says, Put to death therefore what is earthly in you; unchastity, uncleanness,, passion, evil desire and greed, which is idolatry... But now put them all away: anger, wrath, malice, slander and foul talk from your mouth. Do not lie to one another, seeing that you have put off the old nature with its practices and have put on the new nature which is being renewed in knowledge after the image of its creator. (Col 3: 5-10)

Thursday, July 30, 2009

The Brain and the Soul

How about the brain? Where does it fit into the scheme of things. The brain is an organ of the mind. It is the organ which integrates soul and body and the external world. The brain as the most complex part of the body allows the body to adapt to its environment and to interact with it.

It supports the survival of the physical body. It has very powerful functions that must be controlled by the heart and mind. The brain has the capacity to take input from all the senses and creates an integrated but simplified view of the world. It contains an incredibly complex network of physical connections that allow us to respond to the ever changing environment almost automatically. It is where the instincts necessary for our survival are stored. It contains the means for regulation all the bodily functions. You can think of it as the manager of the body and its functions. Its focus is on the body and its needs and desires (passions). Without the higher mind humans would be no different than other animals only acting out of instinct. With the grace of God through the heart, the mind points the body towards God and His commandment of love. This is our purpose, to seek union with God so we can orient our whole being to God and carry out His will.

The spiritual path involves keeping things in their proper order: God, soul, mind, heart and then body. Our human struggle involves the condition where the body has taken priority an

d the depth of the heart is unknown and ignored. The body pursues its pleasures, which become passions, blocking us from a life of love as Jesus taught. This separation from God is what is called our sinful state.

The basic problem

Paul says in his letter to the Romans,

For I know that in me (that is, in my flesh) nothing good dwells; for to will is present with me, but how to perform what is good I do not find. For the good that I will to do, I do not do; but the evil I will not to do, that I practice. Now if I do what I will not to do, it is no longer I who do it, but sin that dwells in me. I find then a law, that evil is present with me, the one who wills to do good. For I delight in the law of God according to the inward man. But I see another law in my members, warring against the law of my mind, and bringing me into captivity to the law of sin which is in my members. (Rom 7:18 -23)

So why are we stuck to do that which we do not want to do? How has evil captured our bodies and dominated our soul? We can find some clues in recent studies of the brain and what we know about how it functions.

In its many connections of neurons through trillions of synapses the brain has etched in it patterns that allow us to respond quickly to our environment. In these connections are captured responses that you need to change if you are going to be able to follow the

commands of the Lord. The devil knows your weaknesses and continually temps you based on these almost automatic responses.

Homer Simpson’s brain shown here characterizes the problem. Encoded in the array of connections are all of our desires along with our responses if we are denied them. You simply can’t let the brain as a part of your body to dominate your actions. You need to modify some of the brain’s programming to be able to overcome your sinfulness. You have to struggle to put the soul in charge.

You can look at your sinful tendency in two ways. First, it is the devil who tempts you. Second, it is your mental programming that produces automatic responses which are called your passions.

Next: The Passions

Wednesday, July 29, 2009

Nature of Soul, Mind, Brain and Heart

There has been much brain research recently attempting to come to terms with the mystery of our consciousness. They always start from a materialistic basis instead of a spiritual one, but have been able to show us how our biological system works and holds us in a sinful nature. As we increase our scientific knowledge, and we learn how to give priority to our soul over our body and its biological brain, we can begin to lift ourselves up from our condition by God’s grace.

The soul is a mystical concept that we cannot totally understand. The word is derived from the Greek word “psyche” and has many meanings as used in Scripture. It is a word often used interchangeably with spirit. Our Church Fathers have given us various insights about the nature of the soul. From the account of Creation in Genesis, the first man is created from earth and then God breathed into him and he became a living being. The word used for breath is the word we translate into soul. So in the broadest sense the soul is the inbreathing of God into our being to give us life. The soul is how the material world is connected to God. Body and soul were created at the same time creating a unity of body and soul. There are two principles that come together, spirit and earth. The soul makes the material element become conscious and capable of willful actions. With a soul in the body, spirit can meet the world.

There is no church dogma on the soul other than to say that it does not preexist our birth, but is given at the time of conception by the will of God. How the soul is created in each person remains a mystery. The Church Fathers teach that the soul is the image of God and has the powers of nourishment, imagination, instinct and intelligence.

It permeates the entire body and is bound up in it, but transcends its materiality. It is not a derivative of the brain or the body, but has it own distinctness. It is the soul that gives us consciousness. We are created in this way to bring the created material world into union with the eternal principles of the world God created. This involves a dialogue and a collaboration with God.

Our soul provides these capabilities. By this means God makes the world spiritual and does so though mankind. Through the soul, humankind brings about the spiritualization of the entire world.

Another term that is widely used by the Church fathers is the term nous. It too is a term that is difficult to define. Generally we can think of it as the mind. The nous is seen by the Fathers as the higher and intellective part of the soul. The soul is more than the nous or the mind. However, sometimes nous and soul will be used interchangeably. At other time it refers to the “eye of the soul.”

Saint Maximos tells us that it has the powers of understanding, acuteness, apprehension and quick wittedness. He says that its natural function is to keep the passions of the body under control, to contemplate the inner essences of created things and to carry out God’s will.

It is capable of direct intuitive knowledge of God.

Still another common term used by the Fathers is “heart.” From Scriptures we have Jesus telling us in His Sermon on the Mount, “Blessed are the pure in heart for they shall see God.”

God is revealed in the heart and it is there that man comes to know Him. The heart is where the knowledge of God is revealed to us. The heart is the innermost part of our being. It is part of our sub-consciousness. You only become aware of it gradually. The heart is the control center that reigns over the body. It is the place from which grace penetrates throughout the body and the mind. It is the deepest part of the soul and where Christ comes to dwell within us.

Saint Theophan the Recluse says the heart is the innermost part of man and is spirit. This is were our self-awareness, our conscience and our idea of God resides. The Fathers see the heart as both a bodily organ and the center of our being. Peter says the heart is that place that is energized by God’s grace. It is a place that is deep within us and unknown to others and often to ourselves. “Do not let your adornment be merely outward... rather let it be the hidden person of the heart.

Next: How about the Brain?

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Prayer and the Brain

Neuroscientist Dr. Andrew Newberg has bee doing some interesting work on how the brain changes when we pray, meditate or engage in other spiritual disciplines. The following video show an example of a non-Christian meditation and how the brain activity is altered. This same result would be expected in the practice of the Jesus prayer. We must remember that in the Jesus prayer we are not aiming at an experience but a relationship with God. It has similar techniques to meditation, but is much more because it is also a prayer invoking the power of the name Jesus Christ and our faith in Him. In its practice we are overcoming the dominance of our brain and allowing our "heart" or our soul to take command. One way to think of it is we are reprograming our neural connections allowing us to concentrate and focus on God.
Check out these videos and post you comments.
July 17, 2009 ~ Faith and the Brain | Religion & Ethics NewsWeekly

Here is another video with more from Dr. Newberg.

His recent book is How God Changes Your Brain.

What do you think about this work?

Monday, July 27, 2009

Prayer and Meditation

I saw this on the Orthodox Fathers Blog.

A brother asked one of the Fathers, What shall I do? My thoughts are always turned to lust without allowing me an hour’s respite, and my soul is tormented by it. He said to him, Every time the demons suggest these thoughts to you, do not argue with them. For the activity of demons always is to suggest, and suggestions are not sins, for they cannot compel; but it rests with you to welcome them, or not to welcome them. Do you know what the Midianites did? They adorned their daughters and presented them to the Israelites. They did not compel anyone, but those who consented, sinned with them, while the others were enraged and put them to death. It is the same with thoughts.

The brother answered the old man, What shall I do, then, for I am weak and passion overcomes me?? He said to him, Watch your thoughts, and every time they begin to say something to you, do not answer them but rise and pray; kneel down, saying, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Then the brother said to him, Look, Abba, I meditate, and there is no compunction in my heart because I do not understand the meaning of the words. The other said to him, Be content to meditate. Indeed, I have learned that Abba Poemen and many other Fathers uttered the following saying, The magician does not understand the meaning of the words which he pronounces, but the wild animal who hears it understands, submits, and bows to it. So it is with us also; even if we do not understand the meaning of the words we are saying, when the demons hear them, they take fright and go away.

Friday, July 24, 2009

Looking for the Shortest Way to God?

The Work of God is simple: it is prayer––children talking to their Father, without and subtleties.
Saint Theophan the Recluse

There are two ways to prepare ourselves to be in communion with God. One is through ascetic struggles and the other is the contemplative way, turing the mind to God--Saint Gregory of Sinai says, "God is gained either by activity and work, or by the art of invoking the Name of Jesus." He tells us that the first way is longer and the second is quicker and more effective...

It follows from this that we should from the very first give full instructions on the practice of the Jesus Prayer to everyone who repents or begins to seek the Lord ...because it is in this way that one can most quickly become steadfast and spiritually aware, and achieve inner peace....

The practice of the prayer is called an "art", and it is very simple...

There are deviations from the right way of praying; therefore we must learn it from someone who knows all about it. Mistakes occur chiefly from the attention being in the head and not in the heart.
He who keeps his attention in the heart is safe.
Safer still is he who at all times clings to God in contrition, and prays to be delivered from illusion.
Saint Theophan the Recluse, Art of Prayer, p 95-97

Thursday, July 23, 2009

Jesus Prayer is a Formula?

Hausherr in The Name of Jesus concludes his exhaustive work as follows:
The Jesus prayer is a superb formula of prayer. In it meet two elements of the highest importance: adoration and compunction. These signify everything that is divine and everything that is human, at the point where human and divine are most separate in order of being and most united in the order of love.
For all that the Jesus Prayer, however admirable, remains simply a formula of words. A person deserves to be called “formalistic” if he is “overly attached to formulas, following them scrupulously”. Things that come to a living organism from outside are useful only if they fulfill some vital need in the organism. Such needs differ according to age, temperament, life history and particular circumstances.

The Holy Spirit cannot be tied to any formula of words. The Jesus prayer is not even a sacrament, much less a magical charm…”the Lord is spirit, and where the spirit of the Lord is, there is freedom” (2 Cor 3:17). The Lord Jesus, although he urged his disciples to pray always, never took the initiative of teaching them a formula of prayer...This is the constant teaching of the fathers: seek first the kingdom of God and everything else will be given besides. This is what marks the deepest dimension of Christian prayer…. No formula of prayer, can accomplish anything by itself. There is no getting around the practice of mortification and the other exercises of the ascetical life.
Irenee Hausherr, The Name of Jesus, pp 325-344.

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

What's in a Name- Jesus?

Calling on Name "Jesus" is NOT some kind of Magical Act
Hausherr says, “Calling on the name of Jesus does not mean simply pronouncing the name “Jesus” in prayer or directing a prayer explicitly to Jesus.” He quotes Pere Allo “It means that one adores Christ as he adores God…” It is not some kind of magical act whereby we call out the name “Jesus” and we are saved.

Saint Basil writes
But if someone claims that it is written: “whoever calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Jl 2:32 & Acts 2:21), and that therefore a Christian need only invoke the name of God to be saved, let him read what the Apostle has said: “How can they call upon him if the do not believe in him” (Rom 10:14). And besides this there are the words of the Lord himself: “Not everyone who says, “Lord, Lord”, will enter the kingdom of heaven, but only he who does the will of my Father who is in heaven” (Mat 7:21). Moreover, if someone is doing the will of the Lord and does not do it exactly in the way ordained or does not do it out of the proper motive of love for God, then all the effort he puts into the action is useless, and Jesus Christ himself has said in his gospel: “Hypocrites do these things as to be seen by men: I tell you truthfully, they have already received their reward” (Mt 6:16). It was in this divine school that Saint Paul learned the lesson which he taught when he said: “If I give away all my possessions to feed the poor and give my body to be burned, but lack charity it profits me nothing” (Cor 13:3).

It is not the name itself that is important, but the intention and goal of the one who pronounces it.

Monday, July 20, 2009

Jesus - More Than a Name

When we call on the Name Jesus we are not simply identifying a person. The name "Jesus" has a much deeper meaning and significance.

Saint John Chrysostom writes on the prophecy of Isaiah, “Behold the virgin will conceive and will bear a son, and they will name him Emmanuel” (Is 7:14). He says, “Notice that the prophecy does not say, You will name him, but “they will name him”, meaning the people, and even the course of events. What is prophesied is his ultimate name. Scripture often does this, substituting a future happening for a proper name. So the phrase “they will name him Emmanuel” means simply that in him they will see God with men. God may have been with men before, but never in so evident a manner.”
(from The Name of Jesus, p39)

He is pointing out that a name can point to one's destiny. In the case of the name Jesus we are not honoring the name of a person as we normally think of it, but of God who is our Savior, the Son of God born of a virgin, who suffered crucifixion, arose from the dead and empowered the Apostles to establish His Church here on earth, all for our salvation. The name "Jesus" is pointing to much more than the human form of His life here on earth.

Irenee Hausherr writes,
To call on the name of Jesus does not mean saying “O Jesus”… Orthodox Christians loved to confess their faith by saying “Jesus Christ”, “Jesus Messiah”, “Son of God”, and especially “Lord”. They did so more readily as the heretics refused to do so... Non-Christians said “Jesus “ as they would say “Socrates” or Pythagorius”. Everything induced the faithful to say something different as a profession of faith and in reaction to those who did not share this faith. They were wary of love that was verbal, sentimental, superficial. They knew that they had to love their Lord Jesus as God with their whole heart and soul and mind and strength. No name, no title was meaningful unless backed up by deeds: “the most perfect way to say “lord” is to speak it with your whole life; it is evident therefore that to call on the name of the Lord implies holiness, and indeed great holiness.”(Origen, Sel Ps 4, 2; PG 12:1136C)
Irenee Hausherr, The Name of Jesus pp104-105

Sunday, July 19, 2009

What is the Implication of Calling on the Name "Jesus"?

In the book The Jesus Prayer by A Monk of the Eastern Church he writes the following:
"The angel announced o Mary that her son would be called Jesus, for he would save men from their sins (Mt 1:21; cf. Lk 1:13). The name Iesios is the Greek transcription of the Hebrew Yeshua (Jesus) which is itself identical with Yehoshua (Joshua). The first of these two Hebrew words is a contraction of the the second, intended to avoid the sequence of the vowels o and u which was repugnant to Jewish ears. The meaning of the name Yeshua, while clear in a general sense, is difficult to establish with any strict precision. The translation “savior” is more of less correct: more exactly the name signifies “salvation of Yahweh” or “Yahweh is salvation” Hence the ancient adage nomen est omen––name expresses in a certain way the person and his destiny––applies to the angel’s Annunciation concerning the name of the child."

We can see that the name Jesus is something quite different from the kind of name we give to our children today. When we recite it we are not simply calling to Jimmy or Isabel. It is a name with theological significance rooted in the most ancient history of mankind. We are not calling to a human bieng named Jesus, but to our God seeking our salvation.

The Eastern Monk continues:
"Three texts from the New Testament are of special importance for the veneration of the name of Jesus. First of all (following what we believe to be the chronological order) there is Saint Paul’s great text: “God has given him a name which is above all names, that at the name of Jesus every knee should bow, of those that are in heaven, on earth, and under the earth” (Phil 2:9-10). Next we have the solemn declaration from the Acts of the Apostles: “There is no other name under heaven given to men whereby we must be saved” (Acts 4:12). And finally in the Fourth Gospel we have the secret which Jesus reveals to his disciples: “Hitherto you have not asked anything in my name. ...Whatever you ask the Father in my name, he will give it you” (Jn 16:23-24)."

It is a “name above all names” an name given for our salvation and one that when invoked sincerely can bring us the grace of God. The Eastern Monk says that it is “above all the Acts of the Apostles which could be called the book of the name of Jesus.” He points out that in this book, “‘In the name of Jesus’ the good news is preached, converts believe, baptism is conferred, cures and other signs are accomplished, lives are risked and given.” The Name is not “a magical formula,” he points out, because to use it one needs to “have an inner relationship with Jesus himself.”

Friday, July 17, 2009

Gregory Palamas on Attention in Prayer

The closet of the soul is the body; our doors are the five bodily senses. The soul enters its closet when the mind does not wander hither and thither, roaming among things and affairs of the world, but stays within, in our heart.

Our senses become closed and remain closed when we do not let them be attached to external sensory things, and in this way our mind remains free from every worldly attachment, and by secret mental prayer unites with God its Father. "And thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly," adds the Lord.

God who knows all secret things sees mental prayer and rewards it openly with great gifts. For that prayer is true and perfect which fills the soul with Divine grace and spiritual gifts. As chrism perfumes the jar the more strongly the tighter it is closed, so prayer, the more fast it is imprisoned in the heart, abounds the more in Divine grace.

So, brother, when you enter your closet and close your door, that is, when your mind is not darting hither and thither but enters within your heart, and your senses are confined and barred against things of this world, and when you pray thus always, you too are then like the holy angels, and your Father, Who sees your prayer in secret, which you bring Him in the hidden depths of your heart, will reward you openly by great spiritual gifts.

St Gregory Palamas, from "Early Fathers From the Philokalia," translated from the Russian text, "Dobrotolubiye," by E. Kadloubovsky and G.E.H. Palmer, eighth edition, (London: Faber and Faber, Ltd., 1981), pp. 412 - 415

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Mother Alexandra on Attention in Prayer

In our busy lives... we can each of us find a few minutes in which to use a prayer consisting of only a few words, or even only one. This prayer should be repeated quietly, unhurriedly, thoughtfully. Each thought should be concentrated on Jesus, forgetting all else, both joys and sorrows.

Any stray thought, however good or pious, can become an obstacle. When you embrace a dear one you do not stop to meditate how and why you love--you just love wholeheartedly. It is the same when spiritually we grasp Jesus the Christ to our heart. If we pay heed to the depth and quality of our love, it means that we are preoccupied with our own reactions, rather than giving ourselves unreservedly to Jesus --holding nothing back.

Think the prayer as you breathe in and out; calm both mind and body, using as rhythm the heartbeat. Do not search for words, but go on repeating the Prayer, or Jesus' name alone, in love and adoration. That is ALL! Strange--in this little there is more than all!

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Resources on Jesus Prayer

Here are some good resources for those who want to learn more about the Jesus prayer
On the Blog Schole where Fr. James Cole has done an excellent series on the Jesus prayer.

Evagrius: Admonition on Prayer - 4

If your Mind Wanders...

One of the major challenges in our prayer life is the wandering of our mind. Here is what Evagrius has to say about this:
"Be careful lest your mind wander during your time of prayer, thinking about empty things. In that case you will stir the Judge to anger, rather than to good will, seeing that he has been insulted by you. Should you be afraid in the presence of ordinary judges but show contempt in the presence of God? How can a person who is not aware of where his is standing and what he is saying imagine of himself that he is offering up prayer?..."

I found this to be a powerful admonition. How can one expect to be in relationship with another person when your mind is not focused on the conversation with them. And how much more important this is with God. What an insult it is to Him. This is surely taking the Lord's name in vane when we let our minds wander while calling out to him for help and forgiveness.

He continues with a powerful punch:
"Arouse yourself, wretch; your Lord is speaking with you. Do not wander off. His elect angels surround you, do not be dismayed; the ranks of the demons stand facing you, so do not grow lax."
Wretch? These are very strong terms he is using. The dictionary says this is "a despicable or contemptible person." He says rather directly "Do not wander off." This tendency we must fight with all our ability. We cannot be lax in this effort.

Tuesday, July 14, 2009

Evagrius: Admonition on Prayer - 3

Preparing to Pray

Evagrius writes,

"When you stand up for prayer, do not begin in a slovenly way, lest you perform all your prayer in a slack or slovenly and wearied way.

When you stand up,

sign yourself with the sign of the cross,

gather together your thoughts,

be in a state of recollection and readiness,

gaze upon Him to whom you are praying,

and then commence.

Force yourself so that right at the beginning of your prayer tears may flow and you feel suffering in yourself, so that your whole prayer may prove beneficial."

More to come...

See Saint Theophan's advice on preparing to pray in an earlier post

More on prayer

Monday, July 13, 2009

Jesus Prayer ...more

"The Jesus Prayer does not harbor any secrets in itself, nor does its practice reveal any esoteric truths.[20] Instead, as a hesychastic practice, it demands setting the mind apart from rational activities and ignoring the physical senses for the experiential knowledge of God. It stands along with the regular expected actions of the believer (prayer, almsgiving, repentance, fasting etc.) as the response of the Orthodox Tradition to St. Paul’s challenge to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17).[6][9] It is also linked to the Song of Solomon’s passage from the Old Testament: “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2) [5]. The analogy being that as a lover is always conscious to his or her beloved, people can also achieve a state of “constant prayer” where they are always conscious of God’s presence in their lives."

Excerpt from Blog: Schole

Evagrius: Abmonition on Prayer - 2

Evagrius says:
"If you are thinking of adding to your labors, do not be in a hurry. Be patient. "
Think about what kind of hurries you introduce into your own prayer life. What are you thinking of adding into it. A new prayer? More time? Prostrations? Or just establishing a daily rule of prayer?

He continues,
"If the idea remains with you, urging you on to yearn for something more ambitious, you may know that this is to your advantage, and you can carry out your intention in confidence, for it is of God. But if the idea should come to you only once or twice, and not again, then you should consider it to be f o Satan who cunningly wants to hold you back. It is the same with all one's thoughts: as the Fathers have said, 'Do we not discern between them?'"
How do we discern what is the right path for our prayer life? What Evagrius is saying is that with patience we will see which of the ideas we have are true for us and which are attempts to distract us, to push us beyond our limits.

He continues:
"A person who embarks on this way of life needs to be both astute and simple, both wise and foolish, both cunning and guileless: in each case, the former with respect to anything good and the latter with respect to all that is bad. Let us be wise in keeping the good watch over our way of life..."
What is meant by being wise and foolish? Are not these opposites? Wise about what is good and foolish about what is bad? Maybe he is saying that if we are wise we will choose what is good and if we are foolish we will choose what is bad.

He says,
"Above everything else, choose for yourself humility. Set an example and foundation by means of all your good words. Bend down as you worship, let your speech be lowly, so that you may be loved by both God and other men and women."
The first characteristic he points out for us is humility. The way he asks us to demonstrate this is through our words by making them "lowly." Here he us suggesting to keep our way of speech in a way that does not puff ourselves up above others, does not make others feel inferior to ourselves. This is what he probably means by being lowly.

He continues with,
"Allow the spirit of God to dwell within you; then in his love he will come and make a habitation with you; he will reside in you and live in you."
Do you seen how is comes back to the idea of achievement he rejected in the beginning of his discourse? He puts the emphasis that it is God who resides within each of us, the Spirit, who will work from within. This "habitation" is what we should be seeing rather than any achievement in our prayer efforts.

He writes,
"If your heart is pure you will see him and he will sow in you the good seed of reflection upon his actions and wonder at his majesty. This will happen if you take the trouble to weed out from your soul the undergrowth of desire, along with the thorns and tares of bad habits.
(Mat 13:22, Mk 4:18, Lk 8:14)
Now to have the Spirit work from within we need a pure heart, he is telling us. And to gain this purity we need to deal with our desires. These are our bodily cravings that go beyond our needs as well as our social striving and desires for processions of all kinds. It's not what we desire that is bad but it's our attachment to our need for them that make our heart impure. The desires for lesser things overclouds our desire to be in communion with God. This desire become productive when it is focused on our desire for God. Unfortunately for most of us, thinking of my own experience, the desires end up as habits, patterns of behavior that are automatic like responses. The rooting out of them, as we all learn, is a most difficult task and among our greatest of our challenges. He is telling us that to attack these issue we must remain humble.

Humilty is about being Penitent
Evagrius continues:
"A sinner who begins to show concern over his soul and who becomes penitent is like a kitchen utensil which is full of filth and blackened; yet once washed and scrubbed it glistens. Again, he resembles a piece of charcoal that was dark-colored and cold, but when it is put in the fire it becomes host and glows. Or it is like gold or silver vessels which were badly discolored, but were then polished up. You could compare this to a corpse into which the soul is breathed, to a dead person who has come to life, to someone lost who has been found (cf Lk 15:6, 24), to a stray lamb that has returned, to a sick person who has recovered, to someone poverty-stricken who has become rich, to a person mourning who now rejoices, to someone starving who has got enough to eat, to a royal portrait that has been renovated, to a ruined house into which a king has entered and taken up residence after having restored it."
He is directing our attention to the need to be penitent. This means we show a concern about the condition of our soul. When penitent we no longer see ourselves as one who is capable of taking on any journey, but a as a traveler who is in need of assistance, in need of conditioning to undertake the spiritual journey our soul desires. This is the essence of the idea of humility he began with.

Finishing up the thought he writes,
"Have a love for penitence, then; put your neck under its yoke. Give pleasure to your Lord by changing from bad actions to good. Be reconciled (Lk 12:58) readily, while there is still time, while yo still have authority over your soul. Carry out whatever you are capable of doing, and then after it is all done reckon yourself as a useless servant, (Lk 17:10) for you have not been able to repay anything of what you owe...."

Remember that the Jesus prayer is not a mechanical devise like some kind of mantra, but is a prayer of one who is penitent. We say with deep feeling and sadness, "Lord have mercy on me a sinner."