Sunday, January 31, 2010

God's Dwelling Within - Theosis

There comes a time when God no longer hides his grace from us.  When God knows our soul to be ready and fully mature there is a mystical union that occures.

Saint Theophan describes this state as follows:
God dwells in man in a special manner.  He visibly fills him, unites Himself to him and communes with him.  This is the goal man strives to achieve through all the ascetic struggles and labors, all the economy of salvation from God Himself, and all that happens to each person in the present life from birth to grave.  
St. Macarius writes that the work of grace after long trials finally sows itself fully, and the soul acquires full sonship of the Spirit.  God Himself proves the heart, and man is made worthy to become one spirit with the Lord.
(Path To Salvation, p198)

According to St. Diadochos, "If a man while still alive, can undergo death through his labors, then in his entirety he becomes the dwelling-place of the Holy Spirit... Grace illumines his whole being with a deeper awareness, warming him with great love of God. (Philokalia, vol 1 no 82, 85, p 284, 285)  This action reveals itself or is accompanied by different manifestations with different people.

A spiritual description by St. Macarius,
The soul that is is deemed to be judged worthy to participate in the light of the Holy Spirit by becoming his throne and habitation, and is covered with the beauty of ineffable glory of the spirit, becomes all light, all face, all eye.  There is no part of the soul that is not full of the spiritual eyes of light.  That is to say, there is no part of the soul that is covered with darkness but is totally covered with spiritual eyes of light. FOr the sou l had no imperfect part but is in every part on all sides facing forward and covered with the beauty of the ineffable glory of the light of Christ, who mounts and rides upon the soul."
(The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Homily 1.2, p 37)

Reference: (Path To Salvation, p198)

Saturday, January 30, 2010

Putting into Practice the Very Little we Do Know

But to travel towards the Kingdom of God and to make true progress in the spiritual life ... depends upon the grace of God and the very little that we know (if we put into practice that same “very little”).
In Christ, in the true light of the gospel, what do we know?
• We know that God truly loves the world and gave us His only begotten Son that we might have life, true life, communion with the true and living God;
• We know that this life is marked by love and forgiveness; even including and especially including the forgiveness of our enemies;
• We know that giving is more blessed than receiving – thus we already have the means of being blessed;
• We know that the Way of the Cross is the Way of Life and that following Christ on that Way means freely laying down our lives for others.
• We know that we have been commanded to give thanks for all things, thus affirming God’s goodness as the true ground of our existence;
• We know we are not alone – that many have walked this way before us and that our success in following Christ is of concern to them;
I certainly could add to this list with some further thought, though I find it is easy to state some things that not many of us know. What I believe is that, even in the absence of great and holy men, we can take the little that we know and live.
• It is better to live seeking communion with the true and living God than to believe that God is somewhere at a distance;
• It is better to forgive and to love even if it means we make ourselves victim to the hate and cruelty of others;
• It is indeed better to give than to receive, even if I can give but little. No one can keep me from giving.
• It is better to die for others than to die alone.
• It is better to give thanks for all things than to be eaten alive with regret and bitterness;
• It is better to have the saints as friends than to be famous or popular with those of this world.
I know that these things are small (though they are truly large). But such small things, lived and acted upon with prayer will make the way for paradise in our heart and write our names in the Lamb’s Book of Life.
He who is faithful in a very little is faithful also in much… (Luke 16:10)
Fr Stephen

Friday, January 29, 2010

Why Does Grace Come and Then Leave?

Having been awakened with faith, having zeal, being baptized, and experiencing divine grace, God then hides grace from us, Saint Theophan tells us. This is a most common experience for all serious Christian  faithful who seek union with God. It seems that as soon as we have His grace, it is gone.  It comes and then leaves. Why is this most sublime feeling allowed to leave us? It seems as if God abandons us.

When this happened to me I felt betrayed, after all, I had accomplished a great thing through my spiritual efforts.  Yes, I was proud. If it had stayed with me, this pride would only have grown and I would have remained complacent.  But when it left, what did I do?  I sought help and was guided to work hard to uncover my deep hidden sinfulness.  This involved things everyone else knew about me, but were hidden from my own self-awareness.  I gave up my old ways of seeking an spiritual experience through the eastern meditation practice I had long practiced.  I started anew in my spiritual path becoming obedient to my spiritual father.  Glory be to God for this!

This is why this withdrawal happens.  Initially we are encouraged by the experience of His grace, but we still have great pride and need to be humbled. After this initial encouragement, this withdrawal leeds us to further growth through a processes of purifying our heart.

Saint Diadochos tells that grace is working in us without our knowledge,
At the start of the spiritual way, the soul usually has the conscious experience of being illumined with its own light through the action of grace. But as it advances further in its struggle to attain theology (knowledge of God through direct experience), grace works its mysteries within the soul for the most part without its knowledge. 

He continues to clarify the two ways that grace works in us -  with and without our knowledge:
Grace acts in these two ways so that it may first set us rejoicing on the path of contemplation, calling us from ignorance to spiritual knowledge, and so that in the midst of our struggle it may then keep this knowledge free from arrogance. On the one hand, we need to be somewhat saddened by feeling ourselves abandoned, so that we become more humble and submit to the glory of the Lord; on the other hand, we need to be gladdened at the right time though being lifted up by hope... 
(Philokalia, vol 1, no 69, p 276)

Through this awareness of a direct experience and then its withdrawal, God is nurturing us to complete the course.  He wants us to have holy love and for it to become habitual.  If He allowed grace to remain ever present to our awareness, we would become satisfied, stuck in our pride and hidden sinfulness, and not continue on our path to perfection.

Saint Diadochos says,
When God recedes in order to educate us, this brings great sadness, humility and even some measure of despair to the soul.  the purpose of this is to humble the soul's tendency to vanity and self-glory, for the heart is at once filled with fear of God, tears of thankfulness, and great longing for the beauty of silence.
(Philokalia, vol 1, no 87, p 286)

Saint Diadochus continues, highlighting the way God works for our benefit. ,
As the soul advances, divine grace more and more reveals itself of the intellect.  During the process, however , the Lord allows the soul to be pestered increasingly by demons. This is to teach it to discriminate correctly between good an devil, and to make it more humble through the deep shame it feels during its purification because of the way in which it is defiled by demonic thoughts.
(Philokalia, vol 1, no 77, p 279-80)

Saint Marcarius of Egypt also advises us about how God's grace works within us.
The spiritual influence of God's grace within the soul works with great patience, wisdom, and mysterious management of the mind, while the man for long times and seasons contends in much endurance; and then the work of grace is proved to be perfect in him.
(Fifty Spiritual Homilies, 9.1 p 83)

Knowing God in a way where we experience Him continually and are able to carry out His will is a process.  As we gain the ability to do God's will, we again experience his grace, but when we fall back, engage in judging others or become proud of our spiritual advancement for example, this feeling is withdrawn.  Not as a punishment but to  spur us on to greater and greater growth until we have purified our heart and join in union wtih Him continually.  Knowing God is not an event but a lifelong process.

Reference: Path to Salvation pp 196-197

Thursday, January 28, 2010

Become "Partakers of Divine Nature"

Father Maximos perceived the Scriptures as foretelling man's purpose, since it was God Who said, "Let us make man according to our image and likeness....And God made man, according to the image of God He made him, male and female He made them.  And God blessed them...And God saw all the things that he had made, and, behold, they were very good (Gen 1:26, 27, 28, 31)."

"In his commentary on the Lord's Prayer, Our Father, he writes that "we are also taught to speak to ourselves of the the grace of adoption, since we are by grace worthy to call Father the One Who is our Creator by nature.  Thus by respecting the designation of our Begetter in grace, we are eager to set on our life the features of the One Who gave us life.  We sanctify His  name on earth in taking after Him as Father, in showing ourselves by our actions to be His children....

"Now His divine power has 'freely given to us all the things for life and piety, through the full knowledge of Him who called us by glory and virtue, by which he has freely given to us the very great and precious promises, that through these ye might become partakers of the divine nature (2 Peter 1:3,4).' God made us so that we might become 'partakers of the divine nature' and sharers in His eternity, and so that we might come to be like Him (1John 3:2) through divinization by grace."
( The Great Synaxaristes of the Orthodox Church - January, Holy Apostles Convent, pp 826-827)

The path that he taught was the way of love.
"and do not say that "mere faith in our Lord Jesus christ can save me." For this is impossible unless you acquire love for him through works.,,,,The work of love is the deliberate doing of good to one's neighbor as well as long-suffering and patience and the use of all things in the proper way."( Four Centuries of Love, 1:39)

He also taught that this is impossible without ascetic labors.
Afflict your flesh with fasting and vigils.  devote yourself diligently to psalmody and prayer, and holiness in chastity will come upon you and bring love. (Four Centuries of Love, 1:45)

Wednesday, January 27, 2010

Goal: Living in Unity with God

With faith, zeal, experience of God's grace, and a realization of our sinfulness we now move toward the goal of all Orthodox Christians ––"A Living Unity with God."

Saint Theophan makes his point with several Scripture references.
"Seek ye the Lord and be strengthened; seek ye His face at all times. (Ps 104:4)

Paul reminds us,
For you are the temple of the living God. As God has said: “ I will dwell in them... (2 Cor 6:16)
Do you not know that you are the temple of God and that the Spirit of God dwells in you? (1 Cor 3:16)

Jesus says,
“If anyone loves Me, he will keep My word; and My Father will love him, and We will come to him and make Our home with him. (Jn 14:23)
If anyone hears My voice and opens the door, I will come in to him and dine with him, and he with Me. (Rev 3:20)
I am in My Father, and you in Me, and I in you. (Jn 14:20)

Saint Theophan says this living unity with God is enlivening and God's goal for us.,
God's indwelling is not merely mental... but is a living, enlivening thing, to which contemplation should only be considered a means. Mental and heartfelt longing for God, that has come by God's good will, prepares a person to truly receive God. It is a kind of unity in which, without eradicating human strrength and personality, God manifests Himself as one that worketh in him both to will and to do (Phil 2:23); and the person, according to the Apostle, does not live but Christ lives in him (cf. Gal 2:20). This is not only the person's goal, but also the goal of God Himself.
The Orthodox Way of life is about attaining this living unity with God.  It is something we must continually work at.  Its much more than a conversion experience.  Such experiences are only the beginning of an Orthodox Christian life.  This is when the real work begins. Knowing this indwelling God is a process of purifying our heart, purging our actions of all sinfulness.  All this prepares us to receive His grace to align our will with His.  This is our aim.  This is the path to a truly virtuous life.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Knowing Our Sins

In the Path to Salvation Saint Theophan outlines a path that begins with faith, baptism and awakening grace.  This implants in us a desire, zeal, to do God's will and follow his commandments.  But more is necessary.  We still have to act on this desire.  Unfortunately, there are many forces that make this difficult for us due to the nature of our worldly life.  The first step to a god-pleasing life is to get a clear picture of our sinfulness.  He says,
"Now you must discerningly come to know that you are definitely sinful, and you must know to what degree––clearly, individually, and as if quantitatively, know your sins with attendant circumstances that diminished or magnified the sinfulness of the action."

Lent will be here soon, so it a good time to begin a deeper self-assesment. Saint Theophan gives us a very good way to do this which I have found useful in my preparation for Confession. While most readers of this blog are probably very familiar with this process, hopefully there will be a few aids to help even those who faithfully undertake an in depth probing of their own sinfulness.

Saint Theophan recommends that we begin with a systematic review of our life since our last confession using the following aids to help us recall and to document our situation.
First create a sheet of paper for recording which has a column on the left side titled "Law of God", and on the other "My Life".
Find a quiet time and place and use the following to help recall all your obligations in relation to God, your neighbor and yourself :
   Questions based on Ten commandments  (pdf)
   Passages from Scripture (pdf)
      Epistle of JamesEpistle of Paul to the Romans (12:9-21), Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians, 
      First Epistle of JohnSermon on the Mount - Matthew Chapter 5  
   Common prayers said before taking communion.

Seek out the things you should not have done and those which you should have done but didn’t. Also examine your good deeds and try to see the motivations which were behind them. Was there a self serving agenda associated with them?

Be specific in your examination. In each case try and to identify the time, place, people involved and so forth. This will help you to avoid meaningless generalities and make you aware of specific behaviors that you will want to examine to change.

Once you have competed this list, which may be lengthy, identify the underlying pattern which shows you the characteristics of your inner heart. Identify the passions which are governing your life. Find the one passion which conditions all the other actions. Once you have identified this you have found the root of your sinfulness.

Next, reflect on these sins and their root until you see clearly that each one was committed according to your own desire. Don’t listen to the excuses your mind will begin to make for you. These don’t help. Keep working on this until you are ready to honestly say, I am guilty of this and that. In this process you may feel burdened and wretched. Don’t let this get you down. Feel good that you are uncovering your sinfulness and increase your desire to uncover them all. The right feeling to have is one of regret and repentance. This will lead you to making a vow to change. This is true metanoia or repentance.

Reference: Path to Salvation pp. 170-172

More on the Sacrament of Confession 

Monday, January 25, 2010

What is freedom?

"The goal of human freedom is not in freedom itself, nor is it in man, but in God.  By giving man freedom God has yielded to man a piece of His divine authority, but with the intention that man himself would voluntarily bring it as a sacrifice to God, as a most perfect offering."
Saint Theophan the Recluse

Often we find ourselves thinking that freedom is about political freedom or personal freedom to do our own thing.  Political freedom is good but only if it encouratges us to seek God.  Individual ego based freedom is neveer good.We must alswy seek to show our love for others and to carry out the commandments of God, but as freely chosen.  When we do surrender to God and become partcipating member of His Church, we find real freedom when we allow ourseves to act according to God's will.  Then nothing can oppress us.

Jesus said
"If you continue in my word, then you are my disciples indeed; And you shall know the truth and the truth shall make you free" And those who heard Him said, "We are Abraham’s seed, and we were never in bondage to any man, how sayest thou, you shall be made free?" And He answered, Verily I say unto you, Whosoever committeth sin is the servant of sin." (1 John 8:31-34)

St. Paul in the Epistle to the Romans says,
"For when you were the servants of sin, you were free from righteousness. But what fruit had you then from those things of which you are now ashamed? For the end of those things is death. But now set free from sin and become servants to God, you have your fruit unto holiness, and as your end, life everlasting." (6:20-22)

Archbishop Dmitri wrote,
The deepest and most fundamental of the Church’s understandings of freedom is simply the freedom from sin and its wage or consequences. The understanding that Christ has given to men a freedom that cannot be taken away, no matter what the external circumstances of life may be, has provided the strength, the dynamism, the very life of the Church in the different periods of her bondage, her restrictions. There was the long three century persecution of the Church by the Roman Empire, and the very martyrs were witnesses and advocates of their freedom in Christ. The Moslem conquest and domination of much of the world that had been Christian, and the reduction of Christians to second-class citizenship, the restrictions against their proclaiming the Gospel, brought no despair to those who knew Christ and His truth. This lasted well into the nineteenth century in certain places. And in our own twentieth century, restrictions and persecutions, perhaps heavier and more severe than in any other time, in Communist lands failed to extinguish the light of Christian truth, and finally the most essential Christian freedom.

It is in Christ, as perfect Man, that man comes to the full realization of what it means to be in the image and likeness of God. For man’s freedom is an Icon, an image of the Divine Freedom itself.

Our challenge is to take our free will that God has blessed us with and commit it to abandon sin and to instead please God.

Sunday, January 24, 2010

What is Triodion?

Triodion - Sundays in Preparation for Great Lent

During the three week pre-Lenten season the church prepares us for repentance. She urges us to prepare ourselves through gradual diet modification and instructing us with themes of humility, judgment, repentance and forgiveness. The period is bounded by four Sundays.

The Links provided take you to the very comprehensive Archdiocese sites where you will find the Scripture lessons, hymns, articles and other information regarding these very special Sundays.

1.January 24: Publican and the Pharisee (Luke 18:10-14)
This Sunday emphasizes humility as a key attitude for repentance. The Greek word for repentance is metanoia, which means a change of mind. To repent we must not boast of our spiritual feats, but humble ourselves like the Publican who longs for a change of mind. We are called to learn this secret of the inward poverty of the Publican rather than the self-righteousness of the Pharisee who is convinced of his perfectness and not open to change because of his pride. There is no prescribed fasting for this week.

2. January 31: Prodigal Son (Luke 15:11-32)
This Sunday teaches us about our need to return from exile. This parable shows us the mercy of the Father who with open arms receives his son, whose behavior he does not return, but is joyous of his return home. We are encouraged to examine ourselves in the period of Lent to purge ourselves of sin and “come home.”
The week that follows is called Meat Week (Kreatini) as it is the last week we are to eat meat. In the villages of Greece this was the traditional week to slaughter the family pig and the leftovers were smoked to be eaten after Pascha. The normal rule of fasting are applied to this week, fast on Wednesday and Friday.
Saturday of this week is the first Saturday of Souls where those who have fallen asleep in the hope of resurrection and eternal life are remembered at a special service “Saturday of the Souls.” Parishioners bring small dishes of kollyva to the church and submit a list of first names of deceased ones to the priest. We commend to God all those who have departed before us, who are now awaiting the Last Judgment. This is an expression of the Churches love. We remember them because we love them.

3. February 7: Judgment (Meat-fare) Sunday (Matt 25:31-46)
This Sunday emphasizes the Last Judgment. We are reminded of our individual responsibility for love. We are encouraged not to eat meat this week, but we can eat eggs, cheese and other dairy products.

4. February 14: Forgiveness (Cheese-Fare) Sunday (Matt 6:14-21)
This Sunday emphasizes forgiveness and how we must forgive others if God is to forgive us so we can break the chains of sinful tendency which we inherit from the Adam and Eve. This is the last day of preparation as the traditional Lenten fast begins on the following day where no meat, dairy or eggs are to be eaten according to the church tradition.

5.February 15: Great Lent Begins
Great Lent is the period that the Church has in her wisdom set aside for us to intensify our own spiritual growth through fasting, prayer and worship. If you follow the Church guidelines on fasting, make time to attend the services and intensify your own prayer life, you will be rewarded with a greater closeness to God.


Saturday, January 23, 2010

Rapture - Heresy?

By Anthony M. Coniaris

As I was driving one day I encountered a bumper sticker admonishing me: “WARNING! In the event of Rapture, this car will be driverless.”

The strange belief in the Rapture teaches that some day (sooner rather than later), without warning, born-again Christians will begin to float up from the freeway, abandoned vehicles careening wildly. There will be airliners in the sky suddenly with no one at the controls! Presumably, God is removing these favored ones from earth to spare them the tribulation of the Anti-Christ which the rest of us will have to endure.

Unfortunately the Rapture has been promoted widely by the Left Behind series of books that have sold over 70 million copies.

The Rapture represents a radical misinterpretation of Scripture. I remember watching “Sixty Minutes”a year ago and was appalled to hear the announcer say that “the Rapture is an unmistakenly Christian doctrine”. It is not!

It is a serious distortion of Scripture. It is astonishing that a belief so contrary to Scripture and the tradition of the Church could be propagated by so-called “Christians”.

According to the Bible and according to the belief not only of Orthodox Christians but also of the Roman Catholic and most Protestant mainline churches, the true Rapture will not be secret; it will be the great and very visible Second Coming of Jesus at the end of the world. That is the one and only “Rapture”. It will not be a separate, secret event but one that every eye shall see (1 Thess. 4:16-17).
The word rapture is not found in Scripture but hearkens to 1 Thess. 4:17 where St. Paul says that when the Lord comes again “we who are alive…shall be caught up…in the clouds to meet the Lord in the air.” This “being caught up…in the clouds”—arpagisometha in Greek, is translated by some as “raptured”. The word itself is not found in Orthodox theology.

The notion of a rapture in which Christ comes unseen to take believers away secretly, and only later comes back again for everyone else publicly—this whole teaching is quite novel. It was almost unheard of until John Nelson Darby formulated it in the 1800s as part of a new approach to the Bible, sometimes called “dispensationalism”.

The purpose of the “Rapture” is to protect the elect from the tribulations of the end times. Yet Jesus said nothing about sparing anyone from tribulation. In fact, He said, “In the world you have tribulation, but be of good cheer. I have overcome the world.” Nowhere did Jesus ever say that He would return secretly to rapture the elect. Rather, He promised to be with His elect in all tribulations. “Lo, I am with you always. I will never leave you or forsake you.” He even had something good to say about being persecuted: “Blessed are those who are persecuted for righteousness’ sake, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven” (Matt. 5:10).

Those who espouse the Rapture claim that Matthew 24:40-41 refers clearly to the rapture of the just, “Then shall two be in the field; the one shall be taken, and the other left. Two women shall be grinding at the mill; the one shall be taken, and the other left.” The entire passage, however, refers to Christ’s second coming where He will judge the living and the dead and separate the just from the unjust.
Darby taught as dogma that when the Scriptures reveal that the Lord will reign on earth for a thousand years (Rev. 20:4), this figure is to be taken literally, rather than as a symbol for eternity as we believe. The Council of Ephesus in A.D. 431 condemned as heresy this teaching which is calledchialiasmos (millenianism or 1000 years). In fact, the Seven Ecumenical Councils (325-787 A.D.) in which the essential truths of the Christian faith were defined never mention a rapture. Yet evangelical Christians and Pentecostals keep using obscure passages of the book of Revelation which purport to give a detailed timetable of what will happen at the end of the world, despite the fact that Jesus Himself warned that no man knows either the day or the hour when the Son of Man shall return.

A major problem with the Rapture is that it ends up teaching not two but three comings of Jesus—first His birth in Bethlehem; second, His secret coming to snatch away (rapture) the “born-again”; and third, His coming at the end of the world to judge the living and the dead and to reign in glory. Yet only two not three comings of Christ are mentioned in the Bible. We have the clearest definition of this in the Nicene Creed when we confess that “the Lord Jesus Christ…will come again in glory to judge the living and the dead. His Kingdom will have no end…. I expect the resurrection of the dead. And the life of the ages to come.” There is no mention of a “Rapture”.

As already stated, most Christians, Orthodox, Roman Catholics and Protestants do not believe in the Rapture. In fact, one Protestant pastor, John L. Gray, summarized magnificently what we Orthodox and most other Christians believe about the Rapture when he wrote these remarkable words,

Though many believe and teach this “Pre-Tribulation Rapture” theory, they erroneously do so, because neither Jesus, Paul, Peter, John, nor any of the other writers of the Bible taught this. Nor did the early church fathers, nor any others for many hundreds of years…. Did you know that NONE of this was ever taught prior to 1812, and that all forms of Pre-Tribulation Rapture teaching were developed since that date? …. If I were to preach something, or believe something, supposedly from the Bible, but cannot find that ANYONE ELSE before 1812 ever believed it or taught it, I would seriously question that it is based on the Bible.

Thus the Rapture is foreign to the Bible and to the living tradition of the Church. It is what we call a heresy, a false teaching. False teachings, such as this, happen when people—like John Darby—believe that they have the right to interpret the Scriptures individually apart from the Living Body of Christ—the Church—where the Spirit of Truth abides and leads us to all truth.
I can think of no better words to conclude than those of Jesus when He speaks of the one and only “Rapture”, the Second Coming:

“Be on guard. Be alert! You do not know when that time will come…keep watch…if he comes suddenly, do not let Him find you sleeping. What I say to you, I say to everyone: Watch!” (Mark 13:32-37).


Friday, January 22, 2010

Awakening Grace is not Enough

Most who have come to believe in Jesus Christ have been awakened by divine grace.  But this is not enough!
Saint Macarius the Great says the grace does not bind our will to forcefully make us act with goodness.  Grace that resides in a Christian does the opposite.  "Most want to possess the kingdom without labors and struggles, but this is impossible," he tells us.

Awakening grace gives us total freedom.  It discloses our human will given to man at the time of Creation, being made in God's image.  With the awakening to grace we now have to choose whether we agree or disagree with grace. This struggle is the beginning of the unification of the human will with the will of God.  With grace we have the desire to do good, but not the natural inclination to do so.  We must force ourselves based on this desire.  Grace confirms this desired goodness and will continue until we master ourselves in a life that is pleasing to God.

Many have a conversion experience and many become participators of heavenly grace and are wounded by heavenly love, but, because of the daily battles and struggles and the work involved and the various temptations from the evil one that they have not conquered, they do not persevere.  they are overwhelmed by various worldly passions, because everyone has something of this world that he loves and he does not detach himself completely from that attachment.
(Saint Macarius the Great, Homily 5, p 66)

Saint Theophan says tour normal actions follow a pattern: "Usually after a thought is born to do something, we lean toward that thought with our desire, then act to remove the obstacles and resolve to do it. It is just the same with the resolve to live the Christian life.
     1. Lean towards the Orthodox Christian way of life with desrie given though recept of grace.
     2. Remove the obstacles that stand in the way by developing our resolve to make changes.
     3. Commit to do so and act.

Theophan tells us that even though grace awakens the spirit within us "nevertheless its suggestion to change our life is only a thought."

Upon receiving this awakening grace we must hasten to act on it immediately!

Finally Saint Macarius the Great says,
Therefore, it is necessary that whoever wishes truly to please God and receive from him the heavenly grace of the Spirit and to grow and be perfected in the Holy Spirit should force himself to observe the commandments of God and to make his heart submissive, even if he is unwilling according to the saying, ‘Therefore, I observe all thy commandments and every false way I abhor’ (Ps 119:128). As one pushes and compels himself to persevere in prayer until he succeeds, similarly, if he wishes and forces and compels himself to practice all the virtues and develops a good habit, he thus asks and begs of the Lord always. And obtaining his request and receiving a taste for God and becoming a participator of the Holy Spirit, he makes the gift given to him to increase and to thrive as he rests in humility, in charity, and in meekness.
(Homily 19.7, The Fifty Spiritual Homilies, Maloney, p. 149)

The Apostle says, "Through many tribulations we must enter into the Kingdom of Heaven" (Acts 14:22).  The Lord says, "In your patience you will possess your souls." (Lk 21:19), and "In the world you will have tribulation." (Jn 16:33)

Reference: Path to Salvation, pp 154-156

Thursday, January 21, 2010

When Grace Awakens - Sweetness in Godly Life

When divine Grace awakens us, "the feeling of dependence on God returns.  We realize our subservience to God and our absolute responsibility to Him."
Saint Theophan the Recluse

Our blindness to our sinfulness disappears.  We now see and feel  all of the ugliness inside ourselves and the danger our soul faces.  We now have the zeal to be responsible before God and make changes in our life.

We feel a "certain Sweetness in godly life."  Saint Theophan says,
He also has a presentiment that joy and consolation are hidden in the realm of goodness, which is not being revealed to his spiritual eye.  It comes into view like the promised land."

We feel free from the control of sin.  There is a certain indifference towards good and evil.  We now have total freedom to choose that which is good.  Theophan says it "allows him to taste the sweetness of goodness, attracts him to itself consciously and perceptively. the scales are even.  Now complete freedom to act in in the person's hands.

Everything is illumined.
In this manner, as in a flash of lightning, everything within and around the person is illuminated by this grace-filled awakening.  For one instant it introduces the heart to that state from which sin has been cast out, and places man into that chain of creation from which he voluntarily exiled himself through sin.

This awakening does not complete our work.  It only initiates it.  There is first a movement towards oneself and one away from oneself to God. First we become aware of our sinful nature, then, having feeling of contrition and desiring to become like God, we draw near to Him.

"By the first movement the person regains the authority he had lost over himself, and the second brings him forth as a sacrifice to God––a whole-burnt offering of freedom.  In the first movement he comes to the decision to abandon sin, and in the second, drawing near to God, he gives a promise to belong to Him alone throughout the days of his life."

Reference: Path to Salvation, pp 147-149
Ten Point Program for Orthodox Life

Wednesday, January 20, 2010

Grace Chooses Well-Known Means

"The grace of God is accustomed, in order to have an effect on us, to choose well-known means... Apply these means to yourself and proceed under their sign and influence."
Saint Theophan the Recluse

Here are the well-known means as outlined by Saint Theophan:
1. His churches and the church rubrics.  Go to church regularly and participate in the services attentively and reverently.  The church, the order of the services, the hymns and readings all can have an effect.
2. Grace also works through the Word of God.  Read it regularly.
3. Engage in discussion with pious people.  Go visit the monasteries or other pious people you know and have a discussion.
4. Help those in need.  Their prayers are powerful.

Reference: Path to Salvation, pp 144-145

Ten Points for an Orthodox Life

Tuesday, January 19, 2010

How to Soften our Heart

A hard heart is one that does not fully recognize our true condition and the danger we are in. The best way to begin change this condition is to remember our eventual fate.   Saint Theophan give the following advice:

Say to yourself 'Alas, so will come death.'  Another man you know dies; any time it could be your hour.  Do not estrange yourself from this hour of death.  Convince yourself that the angel of death has already been sent; he is coming, and draws near.  Or imagine yourself to be a person who stands with a sword drown over his head , ready to cut it off.  Then imagine clearly what will happen at the time of death or after words.
James tells us: The judge standeth before the door (James 5:9)  At this moment yo will be faced alone with all your sins.  There is a choice you are making.  It is one between eternal life in paradise or hell.  One promises blessedness and the other torment.  Will you know God and be accepted or not know Him and be rejected?  Theophan says,  "Feel all this vividly and force yourself to remain in it until you are filled with fear ind trembling."

Next, he suggest that you turn to God and place yourself before Him. Imagine you sinful nature standing before God and wonder if your presence will be offensive.  Will you be able to face Him or will you turn your back on Him?

Next, he suggest that you ascend in thought to Golgotha and crucify yourself.  Think about all you have been given as a Christian: redeemed by His blood, cleansed by the Baptismal water, you have been given the gift of the Holy Spirit, you have taken the Blood and Body of Christ at His table,. Imagine being on Golgatha.  Will you be one who crucifies Him.  Will you repent like the thief?  Saint Theophan says. "Choose one or the other: either crucify Him, then perish eternally––or crucify yourself, and inherit eternal life with Him."

Next, he asks you to consider the sin that you hang on to and abhor it and reject it.  realize that it is your sinfulness that separates you from God.  Saint Theophan says, "It separates you from God, wreaks havoc on your soul and body, torments your conscience, brings upon you God's punishment in life and at death; and after death it sends you to hell, closing paradise to you forever."

Finally, he asks you to look at sin from the devil's point of view.  Do you realize that when yo sin you are working for the devil who has done nothing for you?  He befriends you through sin and entices you by promising sweetness and then he torments and tortures.  Like eve in the Garden of Eden he will try to convince you that your sins are nothing.  He is filled with glee when anyone falls in his traps of sin.
"When you will thus press into your heart one after another contrition-producing and softening feelings––little by little your heart will warm up and begin to move, and after it your enfeebled will will begin to strain itself and spring into action.  As volts of electricity communicate certain tension and stimulation to the body, or as the cool, clean morning air communicates freshness and energy, so does this feeling that fills the soul awaken slumbering energy and renew the call and willingness to escape your dangerous condition.  these will be the beginnings of your active care for you own salvation..."

Ref:  Path to Salvation pp 137-139 

Ten Point Program for Orthodox Life

Monday, January 18, 2010

What Keeps us Tied to Sin?

In the teaching of Saint Theophan the Recluse there are several layers that tie us to sin.  Closest to our heart is "self-deception, insensitivity and carelessness."  Then on top of that is "absent-mindedness and much-caring."  The outer layer is "prevalence of the flesh."

          Self-Deception & Carelessness -- Absent Mindedness & Busyness -- Demands of the Body

While the most important of these is the one closest to the heart we need to start with the  outer layer and work our way into the one next to our heart.  He says, "begin by removing the sinful coverings as one would remove layers of earth in order to expose a treasure buried beneath."

The first step is to discipline the demands of the body and learn to deny it pleasures, restrict indulgences and even natural needs.  The most common practice in this area is fasting.  Saint Theophan says "Through this the soul will free itself of the bonds of matter, will become more energetic, lighter, and more receptive to good impressions... the goal is very significant––it completely changes one's activity." Your habits are mastered and broken giving you a wider range of free choice.

Next is step is to address our busyness which does not leave anytime to work on ourselves.    We need to establish time where we can set aside all our cares.  This is what our daily prayer time is for.  A time to set our cares aside for a time.  When we create this space of solitude we will find that our minds are still very active.  Practices like the Jesus Prayer are helpful in this regard, but most importantly as setting aside private time to be alone for a regular prayer routine.

With our cares set aside and our mind quieted we now come close to our heart.  Saint Theophan says, "Before you is your inner self, sunk in the deep slumber of carelessness, insensitivity and blindness.  Begin to awaken it."  Now we have to know ourselves in a new and deeper way.  We have to strip away all the prejudices we have about ourselves that blind us to the sinful reality we live in. We then come in tune with the reality of the moment.

Now we can bring to our awareness what keeps us in blindness.  Here are a few common excuses that are part of self-delusion that Saint Theophan mentions.
Contenting yourself with saying:
   • "I am a Christian,"
   • "After all I am not the worst."
   • "I am not so bad."
   • "I am not sinful--am I the only one?"

I am sure you can find others excuses that keep you in blindness and filled with self-deception about the serious condition your soul is in.  This insensitive condition is called "hardness of heart."  The challenge is to learn how to soften it.

Ref: Path to Salvation pp 129 - 137

Ten Point Program for an Orthodox Life

Sunday, January 17, 2010

Why do we experience tragedy?

Sitting on the Ash Pile

Let’s be honest. Whether you are Orthodox or not, there are times when life really sucks. At such moments, we wonder where God is and why He allows bad things to happen to “good” people. The philosopher Hume once said that the question of evil is the hook upon which all philosophy comes to hang. It seems that when bad things happen to us, we are often too ready to hang our faith on the same hook.

This scripture lesson came up the other day: “We would not have you ignorant, brethren, of the trouble which came to us in Asia, that we were pressed beyond measure, above strength, insomuch that we despaired even of life.” (2Corinthians 1.8) “Despaired even of life”- now that must have been a really bad situation. I’ve been in some tough spots, but never any that bad. Why w ould God let such things happen to his chosen disciples? I can understand some sacrifice, some opposition, and a few nights in jail, but to despair of life? Isn’t that a bit much?

For philosophers, the Book of Job has never answered the question of the nature and origin of evil. Job, the righteous, not only suffered the loss of all of his material possessions and bodily health, he lost seven children in one night. In his terrible grief, he sat on an ash heap while his friends tried to comfort him by engaging in a theological debate. Certainly, since God is just and only punishes the wicked, they argue, Job must have committed some sin which resulted in his punishment. Job protested that he is innocent and doesn’t deserve such treatment. At the end of the Book, God makes an appearance and you think that we will finally get the answer to the experience of suffering.

Let me paraphrase the next part. God asks Job that if he had been around when He created the universe, could he have advised God on where to put the stars or how to set the bounds of the sea. Job replies that he could not have advised God. God then concludes that even if he explained evil and suffering to Job, he wouldn’t understand it.

All right, I get it, but it doesn’t satisfy my intellect at all. Then Job says something interesting: “I’ve heard about you, but now I see you with my own eyes. Therefore, lI abhor myself, and repent in dust and ashes.” (Job 42) As I said before, this is not an answer that satisfies the philosopher, but it satisfies the Christian. It is the Presence that resolves all issues. It also gave meaning to the experience of St. Paul in Asia. “We had the sentence of death in us, so that we should not trust in ourselves, but in God which raises the dead…” I marvel at this statement and at the faith and understanding it exhibits. Again, this doesn’t explain why bad things happen, but it shows that when the Lord lives in our hearts, there is deeper meaning and purpose to all of life, including the bad times.

You learn this lesson when you stand beside a widow during a funeral reception. People come forward and say some of the worst things you could say in a situation like that. I know that they want to try and console the widow because they love her. I also know that they want the grieving to stop because most of us are uncomfortable in the presence of grief. We just feel that there must be something that we can say that will help. In the presence of profound grief, theological debates will have not resolve the pain. It is the Presence that makes the difference, and so, you stand by the widow and say nothing. You endure the uncomfortable feeling of helplessness, and your continued silent presence does more to comfort than any word that you could say.

We need not hang on the hook of Hume because there is One that hung on a Cross. He is with us even when we despair of life, and gives meaning to the ash pile.


Saturday, January 16, 2010

Can Orthodox Christianity Speak To Eastern Religions?

by Kevin Allen

I recently had a conversation with a dear Eastern Orthodox priest, whose twenty six year old son had left home the day before to live indefinitely at a Buddhist monastery. He was heart broken. His son was not a stranger to Eastern Orthodoxy or to its monastic tradition, having even spent two months on the holy mountain of Mt. Athos.

His son’s journey is not an isolated event. Eastern religious traditions are a growing and competing force in American religious life. Buddhism is now the fourth-largest religious group in the United States, with 2.5 – 3 million adherents, approximately 800,000 of whom are American western “converts”? There are actually more Buddhists in America today than Eastern Orthodox Christians! The Dalai Lama (the leader of one of the Tibetan Buddhist sects) is one of the most recognized and admired people in the world and far better recognized than any Eastern Orthodox hierarch? Have you looked in the magazine section of Borders or Barnes and Noble lately? There are more publications with names like “Shambala Sun”, “Buddhadharma”, and “What is enlightenment?” on the shelves than Christian publications!

In addition to losing seekers to eastern spiritual traditions (many of them youth), eastern metaphysics has also seeped into our western cultural worldview without much notice. They are doing a better job (sadly) “evangelizing” our culture than we Eastern Orthodox Christians are!

The Lord Himself commands us clearly

“that repentance and remission of sins (baptism) should be preached in His name to all nations” (Luke 24:47).

Buddhists (of which there are many sects) and Hindus live among us in America in ever-growing numbers, in our college classrooms, on our soccer fields, and in our “health foods” stores – they are right in our own backyards! They are a rich, potential “mission field” for the Eastern Orthodox Church in the United States.

Unfortunately with few exceptions, like the writings of Monk Damascene [Christensen] and Kyriakos S. Markides, we are not talking to this group at all.

As a former Hindu and disciple of a well-known guru, or spiritual teacher, I can tell you Orthodox Christianity shares more “common ground” with seekers of non-Christian spiritual traditions of the east than any other Christian confession!

The truth is when Evangelical Protestants attempt to evangelize the eastern seeker they often do more harm than good, because their approach is western, rational, and doctrinal, with (generally) little understanding of the paradigms and spiritual language (or yearnings) of the seekers of these eastern faiths.

There are three “fundamental principles” that Buddhists and Hindus generally share in common:

1. A common “supra-natural” reality underlies and pervades the phenomenal world. This Supreme Reality isn’t Personal, but Trans-personal. God or Ultimate Reality in these traditions is ultimately a pure consciousness without attributes.

2. The human soul is of the same essence with this divine reality. All human nature is divine at its core. Accordingly, Christ or Buddha isn’t a savior, but becomes a paradigm of self-realization, the goal of all individuals.

3. Existence is in fundamental unity (monism). Creation isn’t what it appears to the naked eye. It is in essence “illusion” and “unreal”. There is one underlying ground of being (think “quantum field” in physics!) which unifies all beings and out of which and into which everything can be reduced.

What do these metaphysics have in common with our Eastern Orthodox Faith? Not much, on the surface. But in the eastern non-Christian spiritual traditions, knowledge is not primarily about the development of metaphysical doctrine or theology. This is one of the problems western Christians have communicating with them. Eastern religion is never theoretical or doctrinal. It’s about the struggle for liberation from death and suffering through spiritual experience.

This “existential-therapeutic-transformational” ethos is the first connection Eastern Orthodoxy has with these traditions, because Orthodoxy is essentially therapeutic and transformative in emphasis!

The second thing we agree on with Buddhists and Hindus is the fallen state of humanity. The goal of the Christian life according to the Church Fathers is to move from the “sub-natural” or “fallen state”, to the “natural” or the “according to nature state” after the Image (of God), and ultimately to the “supra-natural” or “beyond nature” state, after the Likeness. According to the teaching of the holy Fathers the stages of the spiritual life are purification, illumination and deification. While we don’t agree with Buddhists or Hindus on what “illumination” or “deification” means (because our metaphysics are different) we agree on the basic diagnosis of the fallen human condition. As I once said to a practicing Tibetan Buddhist:

“We agree on the sickness (of the human condition). Where we disagree is on the cure”.

Eastern Orthodoxy – especially the hesychasm (contemplative) tradition – teaches that true “spiritual knowledge” presupposes a “purified” and “awakened” nous (Greek), which is the “Inner ‘I’” of the soul. The true Eastern Orthodox theologian isn’t one who simply knows doctrine, but one

“who knows God, or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. “

As a well-known Orthodox theologian explains,

“When the nous is illuminated, it means that it is receiving the energy of God which illuminates it…”

This idea resonates with eastern seekers who struggle to experience – through non-Christian ascesis and/or through occult methods – spiritual illumination. They just don’t know this opportunity exists within a Christian context.

As part of their spiritual ascesis, Buddhist and Hindu dhamma (practice) emphasizes cessation of desire, which is necessary to quench the passions. Holy Tradition teaches apatheia, or detachment as a means of combating the fallen passions. Hindu and Buddhist meditation methods teach “stillness”. The word hesychia in Holy Tradition – the root of the word for hesychasm – means “stillness”! We don’t meditate using a mantra, but we pray the “Jesus Prayer”.

Buddhism, especially, teaches “mindfulness”. Holy Tradition teaches “watchfulness” so we do not fall into temptation!

Hindus and Buddhists understand it is not wise to live for the present life, but to struggle for the future one. We Orthodox agree! Americans who become Buddhist or Hindu are often fervent spiritual seekers, used to struggling with foreign languages (Sanskrit, Tibetan, Japanese) and cultures and pushing themselves outside of their “comfort zones”. We converts to the Eastern Orthodox Church can relate! Some Buddhist and Hindu sects even have complex forms of “liturgy”, including chant, prostration and veneration of icons! Tibetan Buddhism especially places high value on the lives of (their) ascetics, relics and “saints”.

The main difference in spiritual experience is that what the eastern seeker recognizes as “spiritual illumination”, achieved through deep contemplation, Holy Tradition calls “self contemplation”. Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov), who was experienced in yoga (which means ‘union’) before becoming a hesychast – monk and disciple of St. Silouan of the holy mountain wrote from personal experience,

“All contemplation arrived at by this means is self-contemplation, not contemplation of God. In these circumstances we open up for ourselves created beauty, not First Being. And in all this there is no salvation for man.”

Clement of Alexandria, two thousand years ago wrote that pre-Christian philosophers were often inspired by God, but he cautioned one to be careful what one took from them!

So we acknowledge the eastern seeker through his ascesis or contemplative methodologies may experience deep levels of created beauty, or created being (through self-contemplation), para-normal dimensions, or even the “quantum field” that modern physics has revealed! However, it is only in the Eastern Orthodox Church and through its deifying mysteries that the seeker will be introduced to the province of Uncreated Divine Life.

It is only in the Orthodox Church that the eastern seeker will hear there is more to “salvation” than simply forgiveness of sins and justification before God. He will be led to participate in the Uncreated Energies of God, so that they

“may be partakers of the divine nature” (II Peter 1:4).

As a member of the Body of Christ he will join in the deifying process, and be increasingly transformed after the Likeness! Thankfully, deification is available to all who enter the Holy Orthodox Church, are baptized (which begins the deifying process) and partake of the holy mysteries. Deification is not just for monks, ascetics and the spiritual athletes on Mount Athos!

Eastern Orthodoxy has much to share with eastern spiritual seekers. Life and death hangs in the balance in this life, not the millions of lives eastern seekers think they have! As the Apostle Paul soberly reminds us,

” it is appointed for men to die once but after this the judgment.” (Heb. 9:27)

May God give us the vision to begin to share the “true light” of the Holy Orthodox Faith with seekers of the eastern spiritual traditions.


1. Makarian Homilies; Glossary of The Philokalia
2. Hierotheos Vlachos, Life after Death; 1995; Birth of the Theotokos Monastery
3. On Prayer; Sophrony; pages 168-170


Kevin Allen is a former Hindu practitioner before becoming an Eastern Orthodox Christian, and is also the co-host of the Internet radio program “The Illumined Heart” which is broadcast weekly on Ancient Faith Radio (

Friday, January 15, 2010

To Awaken Grace Present the Word Simply Without Philosophizing

Overarching all methods to support an awakening from the "slumber of sin' and realizing grace is the Word of God.
"Faith cometh by hearing, and hearing by the word of God." (Rom 10:17)

It is essential to proclaim the story of the universal, divine way of salvation, to tell of well-known persons and places to which one who has been aroused should turn for interpretation, so he will not waste that arousal or stray off course from it, wasting time and energy fruitlessly. Catechistic teaching must be heard unceasingly...
Saint Theophan the Recluse

Saint Theophan also instructs how this is to be done using the example of the Apostles.
The preaching of the holy Apostles, those who followed them and all preachers of the Gospel in general has consisted of a simple presentation of the truth, without any philosophizing.

One should engage int he simple telling of the truth telling the story of salvation through our Lord Jesus Christ who was crucified on the Cross.  We should not clutter our presentation with intellectual concepts or any speculation about probabilities.

He says,
Truth is akin to spirit.  When it is uttered simply and sincerely, truth finds the spirit.  When it is surrounded by images and is figurative and embellished, it remains in the imagination.  When it is encumbered with concepts and arguments, it is detained in the intellect or soul, not reaching the spirit, which is left empty.  One could say that all unfruitful preaching is on account of the intellectualizing that fills it.  Just explain the truth in a simple way; say what it is, and the spirit will be overcome.

Ref: Path to Salvation pp 119-123

Thursday, January 14, 2010

How to Awaken from Slumber of Sin

Awake thou that sleepest, and arise from the dead, and Christ shall give thee light. (Eph 5:14)

Those who have studied Scripture and know the story of Jesus Christ, but have never experienced that inner fire of grace, are most likely in what Saint Theophan calls the "Slumber of Sin."  I know for myself that I, who always considered myself a Christian and for many years did not believe that I was sinful, was in this state for a long time.  Life was good.  God was there on Sunday to be worshiped and to listen to His word (Not even every Sunday to be honest). But there came a time when I was awakened from this slumber.  Saint Theophan gives us incite about how this generally happens.

As we read earlier, Saint Theophan says the Christian way of life begins with the arousal by grace.  This is a moment that is not one easily forgotten.  Here is how Saint Theophan describes it:
"During the arousal of grace, the destruction of the entire established order of self-pleasing sinful life is carried out instantaneously in the presence of the consciousness.  In its place is revealed another superior divine way, the only true and satisfying one... It is always accompanied by this feeling of being overwhelmed and a sort of fear."

This is not the kind of event that comes from attending a lecture or a  course. It is an event (or series of events) that totally changes your way of seeing and being in the world.  He is not talking about incremental change. It's possible that incremental changes could lead up to the kind of event Saint Theophan is describing, but the spiritual awakening is like the difference between night and day. Like the difference we experience when we awake from sleep in the morning. Nighttime slumber has little resemblance to our daytime activities.  When this awakening occurs it is unsettling and can be confusing because all is different.  It is different in a superior way, he says.  One is left not sure how to respond in the world. One's sinfulness is now evident in many ways.  One's spiritual desires are heightened.  There is an intense desire to want to make outward changes in one's life.

Saint Theophan tells us that this happens in two ways"
1. visibly and through the senses, or
2. where the spirit perceives it internally.

Visible awakening
Frequently God is revealed visibly appearing while either awake or asleep.  This is like Paul's conversion on the road to Damascus.  Sometimes it is someone God has sent from heavenly realm like the Mother of God or an angel.  Or it could also come as some kind of miracle.  We see revelation quite often in the lives of saints.

Saint Theophan says,
"In all such manifestation, the mind, confused by various objects and seductions of the world and hopelessly caught in the visible, sensible, external order, is confronted with the striking, unexpected and sudden appearance to it of higher beings and powers from the invisible realm."
When one has such a vision, one knows they have been in contact with a spiritual realm beyond this physical world.  It is more than a simple dream. It is different than a hallucination.  It is a jolting otherworldly experience.

Internal awakening
Awakening from the "slumber of sin" can also  take place internally either directly or indirectly. When the divine grace intervenes directly it is generally experienced by the arousal of a dissatisfaction with oneself and anguish over something. One acts as if heartbroken and has difficulty finding any consolation in visible things. As a result, seeing no hope in the things known of the every day world, one turns to the invisible and becomes ready to receive grace sincerely and surrender to it.

When it intervenes indirectly, it acts to break well established behaviors that bind the spirit such as self-indulgence, things of the world, or the acts of the devil.

In the case of self-indulgence, whether it be a dependence on some aspect of worldliness such a wealth or even learning, the divine grace destroys the supports on which the self-indulgence rests.  It weakens these bonds and provides a opportunity to lift us above our indulgence.  We are made to suffer the loss of that which we think is most essential to our way of being. This loss shakes up our inner assumptions about the life and we open to a higher vision.

Theophan gives some examples:
"He who is enslaved by pleasing the flesh shall fall ill... He who is preoccupied with his own attractiveness and strength shall be deprived of this attractiveness... He who finds refuge in his own power and strength shall be subject to slavery and humiliation.  He who relies of wealth shall have it taken away from him.  He who relies on solid personal connections shall have them cut off.  He who counts on permanence of the order established around him shall it destroyed by the death of people he knows for the loss of essential material possessions.... each of the supports in indifferent self-indulgence constitutes a turning point in life...."

Sometimes it is the worldly organization of life with its laws, principles, concepts that constrain us.  In other words, our culture and norms of our social environment.  What is needed is to break our dependence on this order so a new divine order of things can take its place.  This can happen by contemplation of divine creation or even upon entering a church.  Nature and the Church can "completely wrench the human spirit from the bonds of the world."

One can also find such conversion taking place through an encounter with a satisfied peaceful person who do not have the worldly pleasures that one possess.  From this comes disillusionment with the existing situation and a change of way of life.

Finally, "it often happens that in the end, the world itself prods and drives one away from it seemingly of its own accord, because it does not satisfy expectations or it disappoints them.  We seek happiness; but in the world there is only glory, honor, power, wealth, pleasure, none of which satisfies the seeker."

We can also be bound by satan and his demons.  This manifests invisibly as a "vague faintheartedness  and fear which can confuse the soul of the sinner... especially when he thinks about the good..." Or, "people who have despair with doubt and disbelief."  The devil often conceals himself giving assurances that he is not present.  Discovering his methods "leads a sinner to the certainty that he is in malicious, hostile hands, that he is being duped into having himself, that he is being deceitfully led down some gloomy path toward destruction, and that the demons want to rejoice in this."

For me personally, there were several steps involved that awoke me from my "slumber of sin."  I was a self-satisfied seeker relying totally on my own efforts.  But this activity remained pretty much intellectual and I saw only a few problems as my own.  I lived the good life. I guess we would call it a "happy" life. I had only the normal stresses of job and family, but everything was pretty good.  Then I embarked on a series of journeys to underdeveloped countries and experienced simple village life.  A way of life that did not rely on material goods. Returning from these visits I was left confused knowing that something was wrong with my current way of living and its dependence on material well being.  I knew I had to change my outward way of life.  This I did by joining with a small group of people who had similar feelings and started a small commune committed to living in harmony with nature and spirit. This led to the next step and final blow to my old self.  In this commune, living a simple sustainable lifestyle, I was immersed directly everyday in the natural world.  I could not avoid admiring with wonder and awe all of God's creation, especially that aspect that was not impacted by human activity. Out of this arose an intense inner desire to get closer to God, an unquenchable fire was lit within me.  I desired a personal relationship with Jesus Christ, I saw my current ego-centric way of being and wanted to change it, and I sought to immerse myself under the yoke of His Church.  That zeal has never left me. At time it is stronger than others but it is always there.  Once awakened it seems impossible to think of ever going into a state of "slumber in sin" again.  The days of self-satisfaction are gone.  My sense of my own sinfulness grows with time and thanks to God, my desire for Him continually grows.

Each awakening experience is different depending of each individual's background, experience and situation.  Most awakenings will involving some aspect of one of the alternatives outlined by Saint Theophan above.  When it comes, it is transformational.
Examine your own experience.  What does it teach you?

Next: The Word of God - This can enhance or even replace all of the above.

Reference: Path to Salvation: pp. 105-118