Monday, November 30, 2009

Sanctifying One's Work

by Elder Paisios

Everyone should, by his life and prayers, sanctify his work and become holy.  Additionally, if he is an employer and has responsibilities, he should help his employees spiritually. If he has a good inner state, he sanctifies his work.  For example, when young people go to study under a craftsman to learn his trade, he should also teach them to live spiritually.  This will benefit himself, his employes and his customers.

Every profession can be sanctified.  A doctor, for example, shouldn't forget that that  which helps most in medicine is the Grace of God.  Therefore, he should strive to become a receptacle of Divine Grace.  A doctor who is a good Christian also helps the sick with his goodness and faith.  To a patient with a very serious illness he can say: "Medicine has helped to this point––but remember from now on that there is God who works miracles."

Or a teacher should try to instruct with joy, and to help the children in their spiritual rebirth, something which not all parents are able to do, even if they have good intentions.  While teaching them to read he can also teach them to be good people  Otherwise, how will learning to read benefit them? SOciety needs good people who will do well in whatever profession the choose.  A teacher shouldn't only pay attention to whether the students know how to read well, but they should also consider whether they have other good qualities, such as piety, goodness, and conscientiousness.  God's grades don't always correspond to those of the teacher's.  The four that one child receives might be a ten in God's eyes, while a ten for another might count as a four to God.

Source: Family Life by Elder Paisios the Athonite, published by the Sacred Hesychastirion of St John the Evangelist, Souroti, Greece (2002); translated from the Greek by Fr. Luke Harting.  Seen in Orthodox Heritage, vol7, Issue 09-10, p. 26

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Are Saints Faultless?

We often have the impression that saints are sinless and infallible, but this is wrong.

People who are great and triumphant in a worldly way manage to seem infallible and sinless.  At their every mistake, at their every failure, they put forth an effort to convince everyone that they are in fact correct.  They refuse to accept their mistakes, or seek forgiveness, so that their image is not destroyed.  They therefore keep a safe distance from others, to avoid being scrutinized.

The saint, however, does not have these fears.  He knows very well that "saint" does not mean one who is sinless or infallible, but one who is repentant.  For this reason he is not ashamed to admit his mistakes, to ask forgiveness, or to reveal his sinful self.  Whereas a great person of this world has many things to hide, the saint has nothing to hide.  And the more he is scrutinized, the more he gains.  For this reason one admires the majesty of his soul, his genuineness.

Taken from The Blessed Surgeon: the life of Saint Luke Archbishop of Simferopol. p 98

Saturday, November 28, 2009

The Way of Prayer - Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew

"If you [know how to] pray truely, then you are a theologian"
Evagrius of Pontus (4th Century)

The prayer of Orthodox Christians was primarily formed in the liturgy of the community rather than inside the walls of monasteries or in the hearts of individual saints. It is the liturgy that provided the regular expression and rhythmical pattern for adoration and intercession. Liturgy is not identical to prayer, even though it is the source and an essential part of prayer. Prayer accompanies every aspect of life and liturgy. The cycle of weekly services, the daily routine of morning prayer and evening song, and the unceasing invocation of the name of Jesus are as intimately connected and as integrally life-giving for the individual at prayer as blood cells are to a body. In this way, liturgy spills over and into the daily life of Orthodox Christians.

Prayer is the touchstone of a person's spiritual life. It discloses the true stature and authentic condition of one's life. Prayer is what ultimately reveals who we are in relation to God and other people. If we can pray, then we can talk to others; if we know how to pray, then we also know how to relate to others. Prayer is a mirror of the inner life. This applies equally to those who have chosen to consume their lives entirely in prayer and to laypersons, both men and women, whose life ought to be infused with prayer. Prayer is not the privilege of the few but the vocation of all. Prayer may be what monastics are preeminently designed to do, but it also constitutes the fundamental expression of the human relationship to God and to other people as well as to God's natural creation. As such, prayer is truly universal.

There are many different ways of praying. Yet prayer cannot be experienced by means of a detached perception or external connection, in the way that objects are experienced. Prayer must be personally lived or "touched," as Saint John Climacus (579-649) would prefer to say in his Ladder of Divine Ascent. We do not learn to pray from manuals or prayer books. Prayer cannot even exist in itself: it exists––as the English term denotes––only as the activity of someone at prayer. Simply put, a "pray-er" is a praying person. It is not a text, but a living human being; not a book, but a burning heart. "Prayer" is a relationship word; it can never be thought of in abstraction, isolated from others or from God. Prayer presupposes and aims at mystical connection or sacramental encounter. Unless this is clearly understood, all talk about prayer tends to falsify what is at stake.

This means that prayer must be inclusive of others, of all, and of the entire world. However, it is especially inclusive of God as the divine "Other." Saint John Climacus observes that faith in God is prayer's wing, proof, and self-verification. It is this openness to others that informs prayer at all times. Prayer is always a dialogue. When it involves silence, it is not a mute or sterile silence, but rather one that begets God. "Be still, and know that I am God" (Ps. 45:11). Silence implies a keen sense of listening, of expectancy, of anticipation. Prayer implies concern for what is going on inside us and around us. To quote once again from Saint John of the Ladder (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28, 6), "Silence exposes those who are truly able to love."

The dialogical character of prayer means that God is able to speak, and the human heart is able to hear, through everyone and in everything. Prayer can never presume; prayer can never demonstrate or result in prejudice. To presume or exclude is the denial of prayer. On the one hand, God speaks unpredictably inasmuch as He surprises us with what matters in life, things that normally lie far beyond our petty interests and needs. On the other hand, God's voice is quite predictable, as we know well that responding "to the least of our brothers and sisters" (Matt. 25:40) is tantamount to responding to God,
How unfortunate it is that we have reduced prayer to a private act, an occasion for selfish complaint. In prayer, our concerns ought to be the concerns of others, of the world, and especially of those who cannot protect themselves. Otherwise, prayer becomes more than exclusive; it becomes divisive, which is the literal meaning of the term "diabolical." Authentic prayer reveals a sense of togetherness, not as a comfortable feeling of self-complacency but rather as an experience of at-one-ment or reconciliation with all humanity and all of God's creation. The Macarian Homilies, a late fourth-century spiritual classic, states that "those who pray truly and in silence, edify everybody everywhere. " The cosmic significance of prayer and its universal force in the world have important qualifications, not least for the understanding of the role of believers in our age. For there can never be love for one person or group of people and not another. As the Christian Gospel puts it, to say that we love God when we do not love our neighbor is to be proved liars (cf. 1 John 4:20). This mutual interdependence of all humankind, as of all creation, is crucial in appreciating the wide-reaching effects of our thoughts, feelings, beliefs, and actions.

The foremost purpose of prayer is self-purification. "First of all,” claims Evagrius of Pontus (346-99) in his masterpiece On Prayer, “pray to be purified from your passions." Unpurified, prayer becomes false piety, or quite simply false prayer. Self-regarding prayer is sinful prayer; or, more precisely, it is not prayer at all. In fact, the Desert Fathers and Mothers insist that not only is purity a prerequisite for prayer; purity actually is prayer. They speak of stripping ourselves of all that is unnecessary or superfluous, of all that prevents or delays us from connecting with our Creator, with our inner world, and with the rest of the world.

This is why the sequence of prayer recommended by the Church Fathers is: thanksgiving, confession, and petition. It is a suggestion that serves to underline the priority of looking outward toward others rather than focusing inwardly on ourselves:
Before all else, let us first list sincere thanksgiving on the scroll of our prayer. On the second line, we should place confession and heartfelt contrition of the soul. Finally, let us present our petition to God. This has been shown to be the best way of prayer, revealed to someone by an angel.
(St John Climacus, The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 28, 6)
Although the author of The Ladder of Divine Ascent refers to this sequence as being revealed "by an angel," in fact it is not unprecedented in the spiritual classics, includingEvagrius of Pontus in the fourth century, Abba Isaiah of Scetis in the fifth century,Barsanuphius and John in the sixth century, and Isaac the Syrian in the seventh century. Our concerns and preoccupations should not take center stage at the time of prayer. We should first allow a period of silence, when our personal interests and anxieties settle somewhat from the intensity of our daily routine, and then allow space for the needs of the world to rise to the surface of our hearts. just as love arises from prayer, so, too, does prayer derive from silence.

Moreover, in the Orthodox tradition, prayer does not constitute a stage––whether preliminary or ultimate––in the spiritual life; rather, it is a pervasive activity that permeates all stages and all aspects of life. Prayer presupposes a life that is fully integrated with the life of the world rather than something that happens at a particular point in our daily or weekly routine. Our aim in reciting prayers on given occasions, and retiring for prayers at particular moments, is to advance from the stage of saying prayers to the point of becoming prayer. To adopt the words of an early theologian,Origen of Alexandria (175-254), "The entire life of a saint is one great, unbroken prayer." Our goal is to become fiery flames of prayer, living prayers, comforting those in despair and warming those in need.

The whole teaching about prayer and the entire discipline of prayer may be condensed into a short formula, commonly known as the Jesus Prayer. It is a prayer that was solemnized in the classic writings of The Philokalia and popularized through more contemporary works, such as The Way of a Pilgrim, the anonymous nineteenth-century story of a Russian wanderer in search of "unceasing prayer," and J. D. Salinger's 1955 and 1957 stories from the New Yorker, published separately under the title Franny and Zooey, where members of the Glass family discuss the importance of education and the role of contemplative prayer.

The words of this brief prayer––"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me"––are sometimes simply reduced to "Lord, have mercy." It is a perfectly simple prayer and should not be turned into an unduly complicated exercise. In this respect, the Jesus Prayer can be used by anyone inasmuch as it is a concise arrow-prayer that leads directly from our heart to the heart of God via the heart of the world. Due to its brevity, it provides a practical means of concentration and freedom from distraction. Consequently, it enables one to repeat the name of God spontaneously at all times and in all places, thereby actualizing the living presence of the divine person, who is named and thereby invoked. It is a way of taking seriously Saint Paul's admonition to "pray without ceasing" (I Thess. 5:17).

While the roots of the Jesus Prayer may be traced back to Scripture (Exod. 3:14 and Phil. 2:9-11), its sources are already adumbrated in the fourth-century desert tradition. However, it assumes particular importance in the sixth and seventh centuries with the Palestinian and Sinaite schools of spirituality. The formula itself is first found in the tenth century but is established in the fourteenth century with the tradition of Hesychasm; at that time, it is brought from Mount Sinai by Saint Gregory of Sinai (ca. 1255-ca. 1337) to Mount Athos, where it is symbolically preserved to this day for the whole world. Nevertheless, while the Jesus Prayer has been nurtured and cradled in monastic circles through the centuries, it has always been regarded not as a privilege of the monks but rather as the treasure of all those who wish to experience the fruit of prayer.

The Jesus Prayer is one way––albeit a powerful and tested way––of preserving the power of silence in prayer. Learning to be silent is far more difficult and far more important than learning to recite prayers. Silence is not the absence of noise but the gift or skill to discern between quiet and stillness. It is the power of learning to listen and the wisdom of learning to know. Silence is a way of being fully involved and active, of being fully alive and compassionate. In prayer, when words end in silence, we awaken to a new awareness and watchfulness. Silence shocks us out of numbness to the world and its needs; it sharpens our vision from the dullness of complacency and selfishness by focusing on the heart of all that matters. Silence is a way of noticing more clearly, of paying attention, and of responding more effectively.

Then, through silence and prayer, we no longer ignore what is going on around us; and we are no longer stuck in what merely concerns us. Then we can commit to a countercultural way, whereby we are no longer victims of our society's ways and norms, passively accepting or obsessively pursuing what is either fashionable or acceptable. This is because we recognize that we are all intimately interconnected and mutually interdependent. We come to know that nothing is self-contained, that there is no autonomy in our world. We appreciate that there can only be a distinction between a sense of responsibility and a lack thereof. Through the Jesus Prayer, one develops a greater sense of awareness and attentiveness to the world within and around.

Source: His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, Encountering Mystery, Doubleday, 2008, pp.73-81

More on Prayer...

Friday, November 27, 2009

Choosing Grace Over Self-Effort

A life that is pleasing to God only comes through His grace.  Saint Theophan tells us that when you have matured in you spiritual life, you will be able to "choose grace through your own consciousness and free choice."  Then grace will lead you to make the changes within yourself to live according to His will.

It is most important to understand that our most important spiritual act is to desire God's grace.  As Jesus said in His Sermon on the Mount, Blessed are those who hunger and thirst after righteousness , for they will be filled.  Think what it must be like to be both hungry and thirsty at the same time.  This is the kind of desire you need to have for God.  If you are not careful, without this desire, you will be misled by your own self-will and pride. You will rely on you self-effort alone not be able to live a God pleasing life no matter what actions you take on your own accord.  True virtue, living according to God's will, comes when it is God's grace working from within.

Saint Theophan says,
Inner regulation begins only when you choose the side of grace, and make the ways of life in the spirit of grace the inviolable rule of your life....A center will also form within you, a powerful center,...  This drawing of every thing to one center and directing of all to one goal is the inner rebirth which you have so fervently desired.

Choosing grace means giving up your reliance solely on your own will.  You cannot make yourself virtuous.  Only God can.  Based on an intense desire for God, His grace will be given to you.  As you receive it, a powerful center will form in you.  A God pleasing life will come out of this center.

Once you have chosen to follow grace and this center is firmly established in you the Theophan tells us "God will begin to draw toward this center all of the other forces of your nature, both intellectual and spiritual, and govern their entire action, retaining within them that which is good, and destroying that which is bad. This drawing f everything to one center and directing of all to one goal is the inner rebirth." 

Once this happens then everything proceeds from this center and you will find "the most perfect harmony, and the peace of God which surpasses all understanding, will overshadow the inner temple of your nature."

With this working of God's grace within you, your soul is permeated with grace and develops a radiance. Saint Theophan says, "A person who has received grace shines inwardly as a star, not just with a spiritual light, but also with a material one.  This inner brightness in such people often bursts out and becomes visible to others."

Thursday, November 26, 2009

Supporting our Spiritual Yearning

Once grace has been awakened within us, and we begin to yearn for a closer relationship with God, we need to take actions to support its growth.

Saint Theophan suggests that the first action is to firmly establish in our minds the knowledge and fear of God.  He says, "He who has a live, active fear of God has within himself an inexhaustible strength which sets into motion all that is pleasing to God."1

His recommendation is to read spiritual books combined with prayer.  He says, "reading with prayer preceding strengthens the soul and gives it strength for the entire day."2

He is referring here to the Gospel.  He suggests, as one reads the Gospel, to write down thoughts in a notebook and record how what you are reading applies to your life and what you must do bring it in harmony with what is being taught in the Gospel.

In your prayer you essential to develop a focused mind so your thoughts do not run wild.  It is important when thoughts distract you in prayer to bring your attention back to your prayer.  Theophan suggests the following:
    Warm your soul before pryer with mediation and with bows.
    Use your own prayer: in the evening thank God for the day. Ask forgiveness for what went wrong and promise to make changes the next day.  Ask for His protection as you sleep.
    In the morning thank God for the sleep that revitalizes you.  Then ask Him to help you to do what you need to do this day.
    Combine this with the words from your prayer book for morning and evening prayer.  By doing the above you remove the distractions that are likely to interfere with your normal daily prayers.  Then the words from the prayer book will take on greater meaning .
    Also try and learn your prayers by heart.  This will help your concentration.
    Finally he says, "Learn to think of God not only when you are standing at prayer, but also at every hour at every minute, for He is everywhere.  from this peace will pour into your heart, giving strength for daily business and a regulating of affairs."3

1 Saint Theophan the Recluse, The Spiritual Life, p. 145
2 ibid.,  p. 146
3 ibid.,  p. 148

Wednesday, November 25, 2009

How To Avoid Temptations

The only way to avoid temptations is to ... make a alliance with the devil!  Why are you smiling?  You don't like this solution?

Look, let me explain.
As long as someone is struggling, there will be temptations and difficulties.  And the more one tries to avoid temptation, the more contrary the devil becomes.  But through temptations – if we use them correctly – we are given the opportunity to make our life, which sometimes is anti-evangelica, "evangelical.

Elder Paisios of Mount Athos

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

Responding to Spiritual Yearning to Come Closer to God

Many of us experience some kind of unexplainable spiritual yearning to be closer to God. We may already be regular church goers, but there is an inner urging that is trying to get our attention that has not totally broken through.  This is the grace that we gain at our baptism struggling to be heard.  After our Baptism it is unnatural for us to be separated from God and we tend to live with a restless spirit within trying to gain our attention.

As soon as you experience this spiritual yearning, you need to make a conscious choice about responding to it.  Saint Theophan the Recluse says "You need to examine the matter thoroughly and make a firm and unyielding decision, being aware of all the labors, obstacles and difficulties which lie ahead, so hat you may stand up to them with courageous inspiration until the end of your life."1

As you begin to examine it, first, decide if you truly believe this is God within you calling you to be with him.  If you think this to be true, then you will have a desire to act on it.  You will think this is important for you eternal life with God in heaven and who does not want to go to heaven?  But, just having this desire is not sufficient.  Saint Theophan advises us, "You need to resolve firmly to begin a process of labor towards this."2

Here is how he says a desire is fulfilled:
In order for a desire to be fulfilled, it is necessary to elevate it to the level of firm intention or decision, and it is necessary for the heart to say within itself, "No matter what happens, I will obtain such-and-such a deed." Once this has been pronounced within the heart, their immediately begins a thinking out of how to realize what has been decided.3

A firm decision to act is important but still not sufficient.  You need to actually take some action. Hoping that God will make you do what is necessary is not sufficient.  You need to activate your will to respond to God's nudging. God never forces Himself on anyone and awaits your action. You may or may not know clearly what you need to do.  It may be to begin a more disciplined prayer life, to prepare for Confession or some other established ascetic activity prescribed by the Church.  If it's clear, then do it. If not, then take action to see your spiritual Father for help.  If you do not have one, then act to find and go see one.  Even if you do know what to do, if its not something you have already discussed with your spiritual Father then you should meet with him to get his view on your action you are about to take. 

Above all, do not to procrastinate and to let this desire subside.  This inner yearning is a gift you have been given by the Holy Spirit and each time you ignore its working within you, the less likely it will be for it to return.  To procrastinate is affirming that other things in your life are more important than your relationship with God.  This is exactly what the devil wants you to do.  As your worldly activities take over, the nudging from within weakens, and you end up doing nothing.  The opportunity is lost for you to act and the desire is no longer with you. Your separation from God grows even greater.

Saint Theophan says, that if you do not choose grace "it will abandon you completely, and leave you in the hand of your self-will."4

1 p. 137
2 p. 138
3 p. 139
4 p. 129

Monday, November 23, 2009

Spiritual Deception - Prelest

Saint Theophan the Recluse
The more advanced a man is in holiness, the deeper is his awareness of his own sinfulness. Conversely, the less refined a man is, the weaker is his awareness of his own sinfulness. In the majority of people Such an awareness is altogether absent. This is why they do not understand the ascetic labor of repentance and do not feel any need for it. Because they do not understand this labor and feel no need to repent, one may say that all such people are in prelest. And inasmuch as we have but a limited awareness of our sinfulness, one may say that we are all in prelest !

Abba Poemen the Great:
"I prefer a man who sins and repents to one who does not sin and does not repent. The first has good thoughts, for he admits that he is sinful. But the second has false, soul-destroying thoughts, for he imagines himself to be righteous"

St. Isaac the Syrian wrote about this kind of prelest:
"The effect of the cross is twofold; the duality of its nature divides it into two parts, One consists in enduring sorrows of the flesh which are brought about by the action of the excitable part of the soul, and this part is called activity. The other part lies in the finer workings of the mind and in divine meditation, as well as in attending to prayer, etc.; it is accomplished by means of the desiring part of the soul and is called contemplation. The part of the soul by dint of its zeal, while the second part is the activity of soulful love, in other words, natural desire, which enlightens the rational part of the soul. Every man who, before perfectly mastering the first part, switches to the second, attracted out of weakness--to say nothing of laziness, is overtaken by God's wrath because he did not first mortify his members which are upon the earth (Col. 3:5). In other words, he did not cure his thoughts of infirmities by patiently bearing the cross, but rather dared in his mind to envision the glory of the cross"

Sunday, November 22, 2009

Fighting For Christ at Christmas -- Combating Secularism

A "Holiday" Quiz

Parents, take this quiz and then give it to your children:
  1. What are you thinking about, what are the "Holiday visions" dancing in your head?
  2. What are you really looking forward to as the "Holidays" are approaching?
My experience as a parish priest is that most answers from our children would be: the toys, gadgets or clothes they want to receive. Most adults would answer the family meal and getting together with relatives and close friends.
In the secular world the answers above merit an "A+." If life has no religious dimension, if God is not a part of personal life, then He will be abstracted from the culture as well. What then is left, except the accumulation of more things? From a Christian perspective however, the answers merit an "F." Remember the words of Christ: "For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also," (Mathew. 6: 21). These words of Christ were actually part of the "Sermon on the Mount, in which Jesus expounded on what the Kingdom of God required. "Do not lay up for yourselves treasures on earth, where moth and rust consume and where thieves break in and steal, but lay up for yourselves treasures in heaven, where neither moth nor rust consumes and where thieves do not break in and steal," (Matthew 6: 19-20). How far we have strayed from the teachings of Our Lord on His Kingdom!
Some Practical Suggestions
Practical suggestions are always useful. Eastern Christians are well aware that the Advent Season starts on 15 November (about two weeks longer than Western Christianity). Religious Western Christians have a beautiful Advent practice: the Advent Calendar. This tradition has and can be modified for the longer Eastern pre-Nativity Season. One such Orthodox publication to help in developing an Eastern Advent Calendar is by Speier and Finley (2005). Many domestic church families will find this book helpful in constructing an Eastern Christian Advent Calendar. An alternative and fun project for some families would be to modify an already existing religious Western Advent Calendar themselves, with added quotes, from the Old and New Testament Scriptures such as the ones above, augmented with relevant sections of the Nativity icon. An excellent comprehensive list of general Advent resources can be accessed at:
Family prayer time and discussion of the passages is a beautiful way to prepare for Christ's birth. The meaning of the gifts of given by the Magi (prophesized by Micah) and the giving and receiving of gifts today could be one topic addressed in the Domestic Church.
The quotes from the Church Fathers on the Feast of the Nativity (and the other feasts of the Church compiled by Manley, 1984), may be especially helpful. Some parents may need a refresher course in making such connections themselves. Ask the religious instruction school staff or the teachers in your parish community, or even your parish priest any questions you may have. They may also be a wonderful source for other discussion topics or projects.
Discussing within the domestic church how to keep the spirit of Christmas alive throughout the year would also be in order. Ask the children how to put into practice the often quoted phrase: "it is better to give than receive". This spirit goes completely against the self-centered and materialistic culture we live in. It will probably be an uphill battle but always point to Christ as our model.
When gifts are received, tie this into being thankful and giving glory to God for all things. In this guise children can also be taught how to share what they have been given. Sharing can start first among family members and then extended to others.
The Joy of Christmas
In no way do I want to take away the joy of Christmas, especially for children. The cheer and glee on the faces of children, when they first look at the Christmas tree and the presents is so precious. The words of Our Lord who so loved children, comes to mind:
Then children were brought to him that he might lay his hands on them and pray. The disciples rebuked the people; but Jesus said, "Let the children come to me, and do not hinder them; for to such belongs the kingdom of heaven." And he laid his hands on them and went away" (Matthew 19: 13-15).
The important thing is to Christify all things. Keep Christ in Christmas. It adds to the joy.
A personal rule of life I have adopted during this Nativity season is that I let no secular greeting by anyone go unanswered. My responses to secular greetings are given in charity but I too want to witness to Our Lord's Birth: CHRIST IS BORN! GLORIFY HIM!
From: Smart Parenting VIII: Fighting For Christ at Christmas -- Combating Secularism by Fr. George Morelli

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Mother of God's Time in the Holy Of Holies

Saint Gregory Palamas gives us incredible insight into the mystical life of The Most Holy Mary. He tells us why she spent her early years in the inner sanctuary of the Great temple. He lifts the reader up to appreciate the holiness of the Panagia and the purpose of silence in spiritual development. Here are some excerpts:

Prior to all these events… there were pronouncements by inspired prophets, miracles which obscurely preshadowed the great miracle to come, spiritual ordinances which prefigured in various ways the truth that was to be, changes affecting nations and history which opened the way for the new mystery to be accomplished, the promise of which God made and kept to Joachim and Anna that they would have a child in old age, although they had been childless since their youth, and this admirable couple's vow to God that they would give back the gift of their daughter to the giver. In accordance with this truly worthy and most righteous vow, they went up to the holy Temple with their promised child, and the heavenly Queen made her extraordinary entry ion the Holy of Holies, the place reserved solely for God, where He once a year received the current high priests when they went in, and where the Virgin Mother entered at three years of age, and stayed for our sake.

The holy Maid took as her home for several years the place assigned to God alone, which was consecrated as His dwelling, and out of which He gave audience at infrequent intervals to Moses, Aaron and those of their successors who were equally worthy, and where He was also believed to reside continuously between those encounters.  In this way she made it clear, and declared in advance to as many as have understanding, that she was to be the true shrine and resting-place of God…

The Holy of Holies was out of sight of almost everyone, shut off from everybody, and protected by encircling walls and curtains, with veils and hangings before the entrances, which were never opened for anyone except the high priest according to the law, and only once a year for him, when he entered to gain God's mercy for himself and those outside…. how could this virginal treasure be kept anywhere else but in this innermost sanctuary, passing her life invisible to all?

The fruit of her righteous parents' vow and supplication… the Virgin was brought by her parents to the giver, like a beloved votive offering… She was brought, like a most holy shoot sprung from a holy root… to produce Him by whose word alone everything natural and supernatural sprang to life.

The Mother of God was led up to God by her parents, not as a young girl, nor as a child, nor just slightly younger than that, but as a three-year-old who had been weaned and taken from her mother's breast only a day or two before… When they were already near the outer doors of the temple, while noble young women, dressed in a fashion worthy of their race, were surrounding her with torches in their hands and eagerly escorting her in dignified procession, she demonstrated that she was more aware than anyone else of what was happening to her and what was gong to take place. Solemn, graceful and admired, she was making her orderly way among the others, with a wonderfully calm bearing, manner and purpose defying description. Then tempering decorum with eagerness and gently quickening her pace, she left behind the choir of virgins encircling her, taking the lead in front of them all, that it might become obvious that those words of the Psalm refer to her: "The virgins that follow her shall be brought unto the king. Her companions shall be brought with gladness and rejoicing: hay shall be led into the kings temple" (Ps 45:14-15 Lxx).

As soon as the priest came out to meet her, and surely spoke that prophetic verse to her, "Hearken, O daughter, and consider, incline thine ear; forget also thine own people, and they father's house; so shall the king greatly desire they beauty" (Ps 45:10-11), she topped reverently for a moment, then, on hearing these words, she rose up again. Immediately…she separated herself from the assembled company and went forward to the high priest, absolutely alone and full of joy….

How can these events fail to inspire amazement: the three-year-old puts herself into the hands of him who can direct her course in accordance with higher providence…. She chooses God instead of her mother and father's embrace, and prefers God's temple and its high priest to being cosseted at home… valuing God and everything pertaining to Him above all else, she ran gladly towards his temple.

When God's high priest saw that the Virgin had dwelling within her from infancy such graces as hardly enter other people's souls in the fullest prime of life….he led her into the Holy of Holies and persuaded all those present to accept what had come to pass with God's assistance and by His most righteous decision.

She who is eternally the Holy of Holies entered the temporary Holy of Holies. The tabernacle, not made with hands, of the Word, the living human ark of the bread of life truly sent down to us from heaven, came into the place of the man-made ark, which consisted of morning dew transformed by God's creative will into a type of food…

Almost the whole Temple was covered in gold and that inviolable ark was overlaid with pure gold, and shone brilliantly on every side. Surely, therefore, the virgin's beauty must have been brighter still, as God HImself desired it… But angels themselves, not statues, surrounded this true ark, and what is more, they did not just keep watch but ministered to her, and served her with food… An angel came every day with the Virgin's food, as it was potent, full of mystery, proper to angels and akin to himself, and, naturally, as far superior to manna as angels are more excellent than any. The bringer of the Virgins's food is therefore a clear sign of her angelic way of life at this age...

The Virgin entered the Holy of Holies. At once she looked around and, when she saw that it pleased her, she felt it was a suitable place for her to stay. Through the beauty of what she saw, she immediately cast her mind's eye to unseen beauties, and no longer counted anything on earth delightful…. This holy Maid, alone of mankind, utterly despised all these delights while still an infant, and as a reward was rightly brought food from heaven by an angel, by which she was physically strengthened, and which served as a testimony that her way of life was worthy of heaven...

She lived as though in paradise, in a place removed from the earth, or rather, as though in the courts of heaven, for that sanctuary was a symbol of those courts. Thus she led an unencumbered life without cares or occupation, free from sorrow, with no share in base passions, above that pleasure which is inseparable from pain. She lived for God alone and was sustained and preserved only by Him who was to pitch His tent among us through her. Obviously she saw only God, making God her delight and continually waiting on Him.

With profound understanding she listened to the writings of Moses and the revelations of the other prophets when, every Saturday, all the people gathered outside, as the law ordained. She learnt about Adam and Eve and everything that happened to them; how they were brought out of non-being, settled in paradise, and given a commandment there; about the evil one's ruinous counsel, and the resulting theft; about their expulsion from paradise on that account, the loss of immortality, and the change to this way of life of pain. In addition, she saw that as time passed, life continued under the inherited curse and grew ever worse, God's creature made in His image was estranged from the Creator and become more and more closely associated with the one who had evilly schemed to crush him… When the Holy Virgin Maid heard and understood this, she was filled with pity for humanity…. She took it upon herself to represent, to constrain Him who is above compulsion, and quickly draw Him towards us, that He might remove the curse from among us, halt the advance of the fire burning men's souls, weaken our enemies, answer our prayers, shine upon us with light that never sets and, having healed our sickness, unite His creature with Himself.

The Virgin full of grace interceded for all humanity in an amazing way defying description… She eagerly examined every type of virtue, those proclaimed in the law and those discovered by reason… She considered every aspect of each, of the principal branches of learning as though they were impressions left by a seal, her intention being to discover which was most akin to God… she invented, put into practice, and handed down to those who came after her, a practice higher than any vision and a vision as far superior to that which was formerly so highly acclaimed as the truth is superior to imagination.

The goodness she practiced while shut away encompassed every kind of virtue: all those which had been discovered before her and were openly bestowed on those men we have mentioned, and adorned their characters…

It is absolutely impossible, however, to truly encounter God unless, in addition to being cleansed, we go outside, or rather, beyond ourselves, leaving behind everything perceptible to our ensues, to gather with our ability to perceive, and being lifted up above thoughts, reason, and every kind of knowledge, above even the mind itself, and wholly given over to the energy of spiritual perception, which Solomon calls divine awareness, we attain to that unknowing which lies beyond knowledge, that is to say, above every kind of much-daunted philosophy...

The Virgin found that holy stillness was her guide: stillness, in which the mind and the world stand still, forgetfulness of things below, initiation into the things above, the laying aside of ideas for something better. This is true activity, a means of approaching contemplation or, to state it more aptly, the vision of God, which is the only proof of a soul in good health… Contemplation is the fruit of a healthy soul; it aims to achieve a certain end and is of a kind that deifies; for it is through contemplation that a person is made divine, not by speculate analogies on the basis of skillful reasoning and observations – perish the thought (for that would be something base and human) – but under the guidance of stillness…

The immediate proof of this is the Virgin, who, having kept company with quietness form the earliest age, brings the greatest benefits to us, and commends to God those in need as no one else can. She alone lived in holy quiet form such early childhood in a manner surpassing nature, and who alone of the human race bore the Word, who is the God-man, without knowing man.

Once you've lifted your minds above the material concerns and resolved to meditate on the Mother of God's divine way of life in the holy sanctuary, eager to understand something of what happened there and to emulate her as far as possible, then perhaps you'll soon receive that blessed gift of those purified in heart, and indivisibly observe the honors proper to the immortal world.

She prudently understood what the apostle, too, said later: "The natural man receiveth not the things of the Spirit of God" (1 Cor 2:14). She therefore looked for something higher, a truly spiritual life unadulterated with earthly concerns, and, in a way which goes beyond the limitations of created nature, she longed for God and heavenly union with Him.

She found that the purest thing in us, the holy perfect and indivisible essence that we have, is precisely intended by nature for this holy and divine love… Although the mind can come down to the level of human reasoning... it indubitably has another, superior mode of operation, which is capable of putting into action itself… It is enabled, by means of diligence, and assisted by divine grace, to leave behind this varied, complex and lowly way of living… If the mind did not wholly revolve without ceasing around base concerns, it should be given over to superior, more exalted activity, namely, that which is popper to it, and which is the sole means by which it can enter into union with God. This is , however, far more difficult, because it is by nature intertwined with the body, and entangled with material knowledge and all the different ties that bind this life to earthly matters, and are hard to lay aside.

The all-pure Virgin threw off those ties from the very beginning of her life, and withdrew from people.  She escaped from a blameworthy way of life, and chose to live in solitude out of sight of all, inside the sanctuary… She united her mind with its turning towards itself and attention, and with unceasing prayer… Intent upon this silence, she flew high above all created things, saw God's glory more clearly than Moses, and beheld divine grace, which is not at all within the capacity of men's senses, but is a gracious and holy sight for spotless souls and minds. Partaking of this vision, she became, according to the sacred hymnographers, a radiant cloud of the truly living water, the dawn of the mystical day, and the fiery chariot of the Word.

The Virgin, the Queen of the truly pious, lifted up her mind in the Holy of Holies, utterly withdrawn from everything below or, more accurately, never having been attached to such things at all, and, saying to God, "I beseech You with this mind, which nothing earthly has ever entered", made the whole world heaven.

More of Life of Theotokos

Above Exerpts taken from "Homily on the Entry into the Holy of Holies of our exceedingly Pure Lady Mother of God and Ever-Virgin Mary"(Homily 53) in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies, Mount Thabor Publishing, Homily 53, pp. 414-444

Friday, November 20, 2009

Entry of the Virgin Mary the Theotokos into the Temple

The Presentation of Mary

Righteous Joachim and Anna had been granted their wish for a child with a vow to dedicate their child to the service of God. As soon as Mary was weaned from milk they felt an urgency to fulfill the vow they had made to God. When she was two years old her father said, “Let us take her up to the temple of the Lord, that we may pay the vow that we have vowed, lest the Lord depart from us, or perchance, the Lord send us someone to warn us that we have been too long in paying our vow because our offering hath not been received.” But her mother replied, “Let us wait until her third year, so that our daughter might not be at a loss to know her father and also that she might not look for us.” So, they decided to wait another year.

Then at the third year they decided to present Mary to the temple. Her father, Joachim, said, “Let us invite the daughters of the Hebrews that are virgins. Let each maiden take a lamp and stand with the lamps burning, that the child might not turn back and then her mind would be set against the temple of the Lord.”

MaidensHer parents then departed for the temple with an escort of young maidens. When they arrived they dressed Mary with clean and elegant clothes. As they entered the temple there were fifteen steps that led from the court of the women to that of the men where the entrance to the sacred place was. The fifteen represented to the Jews the fifteen Psalms of Degree [Ps 119-133, LXX] where degree means ascent and were sung by jews as they made their pilgrimage to the temple. The temple was built on a mountain so many steps were required to reach the altar. Mary managed these steps without any difficulty and the whole company ascended into the temple. She relied on God’s help showing how we too should make our own effort and rely on God”s help to take the steps necessary for our entry into heaven.

ZaachariasThe head priest at the temple at that time was Zacharias, the husband of the niece of Mary’s mother Anna, Elizabeth. He is the future father of Saint John the Baptist. The Priest then asks her to “enter into the Holy of Holies, for thou are much purer than myself. I, O Mistress, once a year enter therein, but you, can sit and abide forever. For you are the temple of God, therefore, remain in the temple. You are the vessel of the Holy Spirit, enter into the elect place. Wait there until you are vouchsafed to be the worthy vessel of the All-Holy Spirit. Rejoice and dance, for angels desire to minister unto you.”

MaryAnna offered Mary to the priest saying, “Receive our daughter, O high priest or, much rather, god. Accept her who is pure and blameless and higher than heaven. Take her into the temple for that is where she,, the temple of God, must be and dwell. She is holy, and in a pure place she is to abide. Therefore I surrender her into the hands of God.

Zacharias, after hearing these words from Anna received Mary and kissed her. He said, “The Lord has magnified your name in all generations. In you, in the latter days, will the Lord make manifest His redemption of the Children of Israel. He sat her on the third step of the altar. Immediately God sent grace on her and she danced. Everyone loved her. She then wen up all the steps climbing maturely and speaking perfectly.

Joachim and Anna then left Mary with other maidens who lived in the apartments of the temple for rearing. They both marveled and praised God because mary did not look back. They returned to their home. For seven years Anna and Joachim visited Mary often until they reposed. Mary was became an orphan at the age of ten. Mary grew up in the temple until she was betrothed to Joseph.

Note: This event is not recounted in the New Testament, but is found in the Protoevangelion of James, an apocryphal book which was very popular in the early centuries of the Church. 

For more on the life of Mary go to the Saint George Greek Orthodox Church Cathedral website: Feasts of Mary

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Pray Fervently, not Hurridly

“When praying, keep to the rule that it is better to say five words from the depth of your heart that ten thousand words with your tongue only.

When you observe that your heart is cold and prays unwillingly, stop praying and warm your heart by vividly representing to yourself either your own wickedness, your spiritual poverty, misery, and blindness, or the great benefits which God bestows every moment upon you and all mankind, especially upon Christians, and then pray slowly and fervently.

If you have not the time to say all the prayers, it does not matter, and you will receive incomparably greater benefit from praying fervently and not hurriedly than if you had said all your prayers hurriedly and without feeling: ‘I had rather speak five words with my understanding that ten thousand in an unknown tongue.’

But it would, of course, have been very well had we been able to say those ten thousand words in prayer with due understanding and feeling.”

~St John of Kronstadt

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

A Prayer Walk

Controlling Anger
One of the common maladies we all face is anger.  It can be triggered in many ways, usually when someone opposes what we think should be done.  Of course we should try and eliminate the causes of anger, but we also need to be prepared to deal with it when we inevitably succumb to it.

Anger is an emotion, and science shows us that emotions are the result of a very fast and complex bodily reaction triggered by some external event.  When we sense a challenge to our being whether physically or egotistically, there is a chemical reaction that is sent though out our blood stream so the whole body reacts.  This happens very quickly.  And when it does its hard to overcome.  It's like a barking dog.  Once the dog starts barking it's hard to get him to stop.

Here is the way to deal with this situation where we become angry which almost aways leads to a sinful action.
1. Make the sing of the Cross saying," Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."
2. Continue to recite this prayer.
If the anger recedes you can proceed rationally. But, frequently this is not enough. The chemicals have been released into your blood stream and the body is ready for a fight. Your heart bear increases and you feel agitated. This is the time for the prayer walk.
3. Excuse yourself and take a prayer walk. As you walk say the Jesus prayer and time it with your step: Lord - step, Jesus - step - Christ - step - Son - step - of - step - God - step - Have - step - Mercy........ and so forth. Kept on walking and saying the prayer until your body has returned to a calm and normal state. Do not return to the interaction that triggered the anger until you feel peace and love in your heart.
Now you can begin to reflect on the situation that triggered this event and rationally choose how to best respond to it in a way that is consistent with the Commandments of our Lord.

Of course you must first have the ability to intervene with this prayer.  This is why it is important to include the recitation of the Jesus prayer in your daily prayer rule, and establish well worn groves in your brain that make it a habitual response.

More on Jesus Prayer....

Monday, November 16, 2009

United with Grace

Often in our adult years we forget about the incredible gift we have received at our Baptism. I know in my own young adult years my thoughts and cares were all about my own ability to be successful in my career, to marry, and to have a family.  This was about all I thought about.  But as I got older, I wondered about the purpose of my life and began to think about things of a spiritual nature.  This is a natural course of life.

It is in Baptism that we are united with Divine grace. St.Theophan says, "During Holy Baptism, some new element, a supernatural one, is added to our composition, and it will remain inside us hidden and secretly acting."1 Once it has been implanted it's up to us to have it permeate all our actions so that it is no longer hidden but becomes outwardly visible. This requires our attention and effort. When we meet such a person who has undertaken this work, we feel a presence, an uplifting force, a warmth and some kind of moral energy that comes forth from them.  This is the nature of a holy person.  This is the potential we all have.

This grace we have received is like yeast in bread.  A little is added to the ingredients, but it needs to be worked though all the dough to have an good end product. This kneading process requires the most effort of the whole process.  Saint Theophan says,
"We receive the grace of God through Baptism in our childhood.  From that moment, it begins to act within us and carry out its action, in the hope that when we reach adulthood, we ourselves, through the decision of our own will, will undertake zealously to do everything for our salvation."2
It is important that we do take action, because, if we don't, this grace we have received will totally abandon us. We will then only have the power of our own self-will.  But if we make the choice to nurture it and work to have our life conform to it, then it will form a strong center within us.  This spiritual center is often referred to as the "heart" by our Church Fathers.  It is from this center that we can draw on for our spiritual rebirth and development.

Saint Theophan gives us some good guidance on how to rekindle this spiritual gift we have hidden away.  He give us several parables to examine.  The parable of the talent (Luke 19:11-27) and the one about the treasure hidden in the field and the merchant who is seeking goodly pearls (Matt 13:44-46).  From these he draws what is expected of us.
1. Acknowledge the presence of the gift of grace within us.
2. Comprehend that the value of the grace for us si so great, that it is more precious than life itself, so that without it life is not even life
3. Desire with all our strength to adapt this grace to ourselves, and adapt ourselves to is, or, to put it another way, desire to imbue our entire nature with it and to become enlightened and sanctified.
4. Resolve to achieve this through the matter itself
5. Carry this decision into reality, putting everything else aside, or, having removed one's heart form everything, give it over to the full action of Divine grace.
When these five acts have taken place within us, then comes the beginning our our internal rebirth, after which, if we continue to act in the same spirit unflaggingly, inner rebirth and illumination will grow quickly or slowly depending on our labor, but most importantly, depending on our forgetfulness of self. 3

Quotes from The Spiritual Life and How to Be Attuned to It, by Saint Theophan the Recluse

1 The Spiritual life, p 122
2 ibid, p 126
3 ibid p 135

Sunday, November 15, 2009

Putting God Back into Christmas - Advent Season Begins

Today begins the Advent season. Advent means “coming.” It is a period of preparation for the coming of Messiah, the Anointed One, the Christ. Just like we prepare for Pascha, we also are asked to prepare for this great feast with a 40 day fast. There are similarities to the Pascha fast but in practice it is a much less severe fasting period. 

Normally this upcoming period a harried time filled with social gatherings, lavish gift buying, and many parties. It is a period where the pace of activity leaves little time for God. The Church asks us to slow down and simplify our lives during the period so we can appreciate the true meaning of this upcoming feast of the Nativity. The Apostles or Church Fathers did not call for gift giving and celebratory parties prior to Nativity. It was only after His birth that the angels, shepherd and kings celebrated the coming of our Lord. Following the Nativity Tradition does provide a 12 day period of celebration without any fasting. This is the time to plan your parties and gift giving. Take the initiative and begin to change the cycle, celebrating after the Feast day, so we can properly prepare for the Nativity feast in a spiritual manner.

In this time of preparation you can work on self-discipline by creating time for reflection on the deeper meaning of the upcoming feast. Take time to read the Scriptures that include the prophecies about the coming of the Messiah. Think about what is a true Godly way of life that God's Incarnation brought to us. Clarify what are our responsibilities for self-sacrifice and almsgiving. Make time for works of charity and helping other who are in need.

In your meditations during this period reflect on Why Christ came into the world. Read the account of the fall of mankind in Genesis and think of the fallen condition we have inherited from Adam and Eve. Seek to understand why God had to send His son to save us and renew mankind. Reflect on the wonder of a virgin birth and the nature of the person God chose to give his Son flesh. Think about the magnitude of the gift God has given us.

The fast period is intended to help us make time for such reflections during this period. But to do so requires some modification of the normal holiday madness. Simplify the gift giving, focus on helping those in need rather than family members who in many cases already have much more than they need. Don’t feel you have to accept every invitation for a social event. For you social activities make plans to have them after the day of the Nativity. Make them a true celebration of the coming of our Lord. Give priority to have some time alone and with family to reflect on this incredible gift God gave us in making His son flesh. Make time for daily prayers. Be quieter and wait with great anticipation of the Feast day.

Keep in mind that the true meaning of this season is the Jesus, the Son of God, the Messiah came into the world and dwelt among men. He did this for our salvation so that we could become like Him.

“God is with us! Understand O nations and submit yourselves, for God is with us!” (Isaiah 8:9)

Saturday, November 14, 2009

Advent Message From Metropolitan Alexios

Advent Message 

His Eminence Metropolitan Alexios 

“Arise, shine; For your light has come!
And the glory of the LORD is risen upon you.”

Isaiah 60:1

As we begin the blessed season of the Nativity Fast or Advent, the beginning of our preparation for the Birth of our Lord and Savior, Jesus Christ, the Logos (Word) of God, it seems as if the entire universe is joining us in preparing for this miraculous and momentous event.

Every year it seems that we see wonderful Christmas decorations earlier and earlier, as businesses try to attract customers, and people are already planning elaborate parties to celebrate the season. For many of us, the day after Thanksgiving marks the beginning of the season dedicated to shopping for gifts. And the list goes on. Of course, none of these things is inherently wrong or bad. However as Christians, we must ask ourselves the question: Is this really celebrating the Birth of our Lord?

If we are honest with ourselves, the answer to such questions for true Christians must be, "No," because the Fathers have told us that we should prepare ourselves in a spiritual way, with prayer and fasting and almsgiving to truly celebrate our Lord`s Nativity, the Feast Day of Christmas.

Sometimes our gift-giving becomes the center of the season and even our generosity and desire to celebrate the season can lead to a focus on materialism and away from the true meaning of the Birth of our Savior. Yet if we take a moment to reflect, we realize that most gifts are soon forgotten, and also that giving is a good thing which should not be confined only to relatives and friends.

This year I encourage you to use the tools that our Church has provided for us: worship, prayer, fasting and charity to help us prepare ourselves to receive our King as He comes to us as a little baby.

The message of the angels continues to remind us as people of faith to “Be not afraid…for nothing is impossible with God.”(Luke 1:30, 37). Indeed, despite the problems and adversities of the times we are in, and the very real difficulties that we face, we are not afraid because of our faith that God is with us.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Love of Christ and Prayer

I said to the elder, "They are constantly saying prayers at the monastery.  They are always saying the Jesus prayer.  While at their various chores they recite supplications and salutations.  They do this for whole hours at a time.  After this they go to the Church for services.
"I cant stand it any more.  My mind has become tired.  I feel that I am about to burst. But Never the less I want to become a monk.  What will I do? Help me."
The Elder said,
A young girl used to come here and confess her sins. She was in her second grade of Junior High School.  She told me once, 'Father, I have fallen in love with a boy and I can't get him out of my mind.  My mind is constantly on him, on Nick.  One would think that Nick is here, (she pointed with her finger to her forehead). I begin to read and Hick is here.  I go to eat and to sleep but nothing changes. Nick is here.  What can I do father?'"
"My child," I told her, "you are still young.  Be patient, finish school and then Nick will still be here.  Now you must put effort into your lessons.  A week passed and she came again."
"Dear Father, It's impossible for me to concentrate on my lessons.  Constantly all day long my mind and my heart are on Nick.  Nick has become an obsession with me and it won't go away."
(As he was saying these things, I was thinking, "What connection do these things have with me?  Maybe he is telling me these things to give me a respite from my obsession.")
The elder continued, (while reading my thoughts) "you are now saying, why is he telling me these things?"
"But nevertheless, tell me, please."
"Did this girl sit on a stool?  Did she force herself to focus her mind on Nick? No.
"This happened spontaneously.  This was unforced love.
"This same happens with us.  When we love Christ with divine love, without any coercion, pressure of worry, with love we will proclaim His holy name, 'Lord Jesus Christ.'
"And when the heart is flooded by this divine love, it does not require us to verbalize the whole prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.'
Before he finishes the prayer the heart stops at that point of love and rejoicing.
Other times he proclaims only  the "Lord..." and stops.  He proclaims this mystically and without speaking."
In saying these things he gave me an answer to my first question that was not expressed verbally.  I had only thought it without verbalizing it.
I was flabbergasted.  I was totally amazed at his responses.  A divine flame enveloped my inner being and I felt the desire to begin proclaiming within my heart the ineffable love I had for the name of our Christ.

From the Divine Flame: Elder Porphyrios Lit my Heart, by the monk Agapios, pp 25-26, Published by the Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the savior, Athens 2005.

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Prayer and the Acqusition of Things

Everything we desire pleases us only so long as we do not possess it; and when we get it, we soon get tired of it. Or only what we do not as yet have seems to us good and attractive; while all that we have, even though it is the very best, is either not enough for us or does not attract us” (St. Innocent of Alaska,Indication of the Way into the Kingdom of Heaven).

It is so easy to get caught up in stuff. Our hearts and energies are captivated by newer, bigger, better, faster, stronger, more elegant. Our attention is focused outside ourselves so that, although we do not deny God, we just ignore Him most of the time. And yet stuff never satisfies. The acquisition of stuff provides a temporary rush; but the stuff itself, after the brief honeymoon is over, quickly becomes just more stuff. Stuff to clean, stuff to maintain, stuff to store, stuff to protect (after all, you wouldn't want someone to steal your stuff)!
When we feel the pull to acquire new stuff, that’s a good time to practice inner prayer. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” The Jesus prayer turns our focus inward. It makes us look at ourselves and our Lord, and it helps us acquire the Holy Spirit, the only enduring satisfaction. When we pray at the moment we experience temptation, much of the power of the temptation is removed because we are no longer looking at it. In the struggle against sin, attention is just about everything.
And this has always been what temptation does: it takes our attention away from our inner communion with God. It was the case in the Garden, it is the case now. If fact, I would be so bold as to suggest that the temptation in the Garden of Eden is a type of every human temptation. The Serpent is whispering in our minds that God is holding out on us, that there is something, someone, some experience, some stuff, that if we just reach out and take it, we would quench the longing in ourselves. And again and again, we reach out, we take it and eat it and then find ourselves naked. Then we hide and play games to pretend that we aren’t.
Prayer. Simple, inwardly directed prayer at the moment of temptation often makes the difference between peaceful communion with God in my heart, or another thing to add to my collection.