Friday, April 30, 2010

Work and Pray

A good summary about the necessity and practicality of integrating prayer with our daily life.

Work and Pray
 by Fr. George Morelli
Let the favor of the Lord our God be upon us, and establish thou the work of our hands upon us, yea, the work of our hands establish thou it (Ps 89: 17).
Many Eastern Church Christians starts the day with morning prayer reading Psalm 89 which asks God to bless our work. 
St. Paul tells us: 
For we are God's fellow workers; you are God's field, God's building” (1 Cor 3:9).
The Godliness of work is not unique to the Eastern Christian Church. Many religious traditions also ask God to bless the work that is done by man. 
Mahatma Gandhi said, 
“It is the quality of our work which will please God and not the quantity.”[i] He also tell us: “Infinite striving to be the best is man's duty, it is its own reward. Everything else is in God's hands.”[ii] 

In the Islamic tradition, the Koran states: 
“And say: Work; so Allah will see your work and (so will) His Apostle and the believers; and you shall be brought back to the Knower of the unseen and the seen, then He will inform you of what you did.”[iii]
St. Paul tells the Thessalonians to “...pray constantly...” (1Thes 5:17)

To the average person caught up in the exigencies of fast paced modern life this may seem all but impossible (Morelli, 2005). An Eastern Orthodox bishop, St. Theophan the Recluse (1966), however, relates some practical ways in which work and prayer can be comingled. 
“Begin retreating into solitude at your own home, and dedicate [some time] of solitude to praying above all for one thing: ‘Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk [Ps 142: 8]. Pray thus not merely in words and thought, but also from you heart.”
 Then throughout the rest of the day we can keep in mind and apply in our own lives an insight St. Theophan had: 
“I remember that St. Basil the Great [an Eastern Father of the Church, 330-379 AD] solved the question how the Apostles could pray without ceasing, in this way: in everything they did, he replied, they thought of God and lived in constant devotion to Him. This spiritual state was their unceasing prayer...What is required is a constant aliveness to God — an aliveness present when you talk, read, watch, or examine something.”
 In other words, the ‘sense of the presence of God’ can be alive within us while we work.

This will bring about a psycho-spiritual benefit for us. 
St. Isaac of Syria informs us: 
"experiencing God in prayer fills the heart with peace, establishing a person in joy and confidence” (Brock, 1997). 
As Solomon, son of David the King of Israel and ancestor of Christ, writes: 
“There is nothing better for a man than that he should eat and drink, and find enjoyment in his toil. This also, I saw, is from the hand of God...” (Ecc 2:24) 
In the words of Lebanese Maronite Christian author and poet Kahlil Gibran: 
“Work is love made visible.”[iv]

Brock, S. (1997). The Wisdom of St. Isaac the Syrian. Fairacres Oxford, England: SLG Press.
Kadloubovsky, E. & Palmer, E. M. (1966). The Art of prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. London: Faber and Faber.
Morelli, G. (2005, November 28). Being Perfect vs. Perfectionism.


Some Definitions for Reflection

Faith:  Dispassionate understanding of God.

Hope: The flight of the intellect in love towards that for which it hopes.

Patience: With the eyes of the mind always to see the invisible as visible.

Freedom from avarice:  To desire not to have possessions with the same fervor as men generally have to have possessions.

Knowledge: To lose awareness of oneself through going out to God in ecstasy.

Humility: Attentive forgetfulness of what one has accomplished.

Freedom from anger: A real longing not to lose one's temper.

Purity: Unwavering perception of God.

Love: Growing affection for those who abuse us.

Total transformation: Through delight in God, to look on the repulsiveness of death as a joy.

Saint Diadochos of Photiki (400 - 486)
Philokalia Vol 1, p 252.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Interaction of Heart and Mind in Prayer

" All these evil things come from within and defile a man."  
Jesus Christ (Mark 7:23)

Maintaing attention is a central part of prayer. Watchfulness is essential. We find our mind is continually influenced by thoughts which pollute our heart. These are not necessarily temptations that come from our external environment but are our reactions to external factors. The thing that we need to gain control over is our inward reactions that generate thoughts and bound up our heart

Saint Theophan  says,
"The mind's thoughts are all directed toward this earth, and there is no way to raise them to heaven.  Their object is vain, sensual, sinful. You have seen how fog drifts along the valley.  This is a precise picture of our thoughts. They all crawl and drift along the earth. In addition to this downward drifting, they constantly seethe, not standing still in a single place; they jostle each other, like a swarm of mosquitoes in the summer. In addition, they are always in motion.
Beneath these there lies the heart. It is from the thoughts that blows are continually struck in the heart and corresponding actions of the heart.  from this is joy, anger, envy, fear, hope, pride, despair––they arise in the heart one after the other. There is no stopping them; just as with the thoughts, there is no order whatsoever. The heart continually trembles from the emotions like an aspen leaf."
Our challenge in prayer is to cut off these thoughts.  

Elder Nikodim says, 
"When the mind is pure, then the heart will be pure. And when the heart is pure, then the mind will also be pure."
When we have mastered this we will find the mind becomes a true partner in our prayer.

Fr. Sophrony says,
"The mind becomes all ears and eyes, and sees and hears every extrinsic thought approaching from without, before it can invade the heart.  Praying the while, the mind not only refuses to admit extraneious thoughts into the heart but positively throusts them aside and preserves itself from association with them." 
Knowing the interaction between the mind and the heart is an important discovery to make about our inner life. 

See Christ the Eternal Tao pp 363-365.

Wednesday, April 28, 2010

The Meaning of Prayer in the Heart

We often hear the Jesus Prayer referred to as the prayer of the heart.  What does this mean?

When we  pray from the heart. This is also called noetic prayer.  The heart is the center of our spiritual awareness.  Jesus often referred to the heart as this spiritual center.  "Out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaks"; "... And [the people] should understand with their heart"; "Those things which proceed out of the mouth come from the heart" (Matt 12:34, 13:15, 15:18)

Father Sophrony tells us,
"The ascetic learns great mysteries of the spirit through pure prayer.  He descends into his innermost heart, into his natural heart first, and thence to those depths that are no longer of the flesh. He finds his deep heart––reaches profound spiritual, metaphysical core of his being; and looking into it sees that the existence of mankind is not something alien and extraneous to him but inextricably bound up with his own being."
Elder Nikodim expresses,
"We pray with the heart. We are aware through the heart.  But I realize, I sense that I am praying. I bring myself to an awareness.  Then the feelings become manifest. And when the feelings appear, then tears flow. Without consciousness, without feeling, no one little tear will roll out."
He says that when your prayer is with the heart, "you sense it's the Lord Himself Whom you are addressing." If you do not have this feeling then you are "only praying with your head."  It's not a prayer from the heart.
...when feeling comes, he begins to weep.  True repentance is revealed.  He becomes aware of his sins and begins to repent sincerely––'forgive me, forgive me, have mercy on me!' Everything concludes in the heart. That's how the Lord created us.  He gave us a heart––our life.
When you pronounce the words, be aware––as if you felt them.  You have to practice this.
Prayer in the heart is an advanced level of prayer and not a condition that we can force. It comes by the grace of God after we have set aside all worldly cares.

See Christ the Eternal Tao pp 359-362.

Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Prayer Demands Denial of Self

 "We will not find success in the spiritual life until we are first ready to deny ourselves everything in this temporal life in order to be united with the incarnate Word." 
Hieromonk Damascene

This thought is a difficult one to fully grasp.  Below are a few thoughts to help you start a process of reflection on this important aspect of prayer.  

Jesus says,
If anyone desires to come after me let him deny himself and take up his cross and follow me. (Matt 16:24)
If anyone comes to me and hates not his father, and mother, and wife, and children, and bretheren, and sisters, yea, and his own life also, he cannot be my disciple. (Luke 14:26)
John Climacus says,
 "Prayer is nothing other than estrangement from the world."
So what does this mean to "deny ourselves everything in this temporal life"?  What is meant by "estrangement from the world." Can we not find union with God and still be in this world? Clearly this is not what Jesus meant by His teaching.  He came to be part of this world to show us through His life how to be united with God.  He taught the Apostles the same thing.  Their lives in the world also demonstrated this.

The issue is love.  Jesus says, Love the Lord your God with all your heart, with all your soul, and with all your mind." (Matt 22:37) He tells  us to love our neighbor as ourself and even love our enemies. He asks us to become servants of others when He says, "Whoever would be first among you, let him be your servant." (Matt 20:27)

What is required is a separation from our ego, setting aside of our wants, desires, judgments, and resentments so we can enter into prayer without attachments or any sense of wrong against another person.   In the Divine Liturgy we also express this when we sing in Cherubic Hymn, "Set aside all worldly cares." We need to give up all worldly desires, attachments and all resentments before we begin to pray. 

Saint John Climacus says, 
"When you are going to stand before the Lord, let the garments of your soul be woven throughout with the thread of obliviousness to wrongs.  Otherwise, prayer will bring you no benefits."
Notice that he did not say it will make it more difficult but said it will bring you "NO benefits."  When we pray there can be nothing that we hold onto with our ego. This is nothing less than a total surrender to God.  We are lifting our soul to the limitless spiritual realm that is beyond all earthly cares.  The only desire we should have is one of union with God.  We must seek to know and unite with His will and surrender our own will to His.

Saint John Climacus says,
To some wealth is pleasant; to others glory; to others posessions; but my wish is to cling to God, and to put the hope of my dispassion in Him."
Reflect on the above thoughts. What are the implications for your prayers?

See also Christ the Eternal Tao pp 352 - 357.

Monday, April 26, 2010

Why Should we Discourage Images in Prayer?

Our Church Fathers advise us to pray without any mental images.  When we try to raise an image of Jesus, for example, this constrains us to the realities of this fallen world instead of allowing our soul to soar to the higher spiritual realms.

Saint Theophan says, 
Hold no intermediate image between the mind and the Lord when practicing the Jesus Prayer.  
Elder Porphyrios says,
Pray without forming images in your mind,  Don't try and imagine Christ.... With an image, the foccus of prayer is eaily lost, because one image can eaisly be displaced by another.  And the evil one may intrude images and we lose the grace.... Don't think anything but the words "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."
Saint Theophan even goes further highlighting that the words of the prayer are useful but only a help. Even they are not the essence of prayer. He says,
The words pronounced are merely a help and are not essential.  The principlal thing is to stand before the Lord with the mind in the heart.  
 He is not telling us not to use the words, but is helping us see the essential aspect of prayer.  He continues,
The essential part is to dwell in God, and the walking before God means that you live with conviction ever before your consciousness that God is in you, as He is everything: you live in the firm assurance that He sees all that is within you, knowing you better than you know yourself.  
This is a powerful thought.  God knows all.  There is no way we can hide anything from Him. But his can raise images of God in our mind.  Saint Theophan warns us to not let this bring up any images of God. 
This awareness of the eye of God looking at your inner being must not be accompanied by any visual concept, but must be confined to a simple conviction or feeling....  
Yet, he also tells us that the words, even though they are not the essence of prayer, they are still important. 
The words "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me" are only the instrument and not the essence of the work; but they are an instrument which is very stong and effective, ... 
Do not forget that this practice is simple, and must not have anything fanciful about it."
If we are not careful in our prayer, we can let images limit our effectiveness of prayer.  In prayer we are relating at a spiritual level where there are no forms like in this world.  

The advice is: Don't let images hold you prisoner to the things of this world.  Allow your soul to soar. If images arise, gently discard them.

Source: Christ the Eternal Tao pp 349-350

Sunday, April 25, 2010

Chrysostom on Jesus' message to the Paralytic - "Sin no More"

Saint John Chrysostom's commentary on Jesus' message to the healed paralytic: "Sin no more, that nothing worse befall you." 

HOMILY 38 - St. John Chrysostom
A fearful thing is sin, fearful, and the ruin of the soul, and the mischief oftentimes through its excess has overflowed and attacked men's bodies also. For since for the most part when the soul is diseased we feel no pain, but if the body receive though but a little hurt, we use every exertion to free it from its infirmity, because we are sensible of the infirmity, therefore God oftentimes punisheth the body for the transgressions of the soul, so that by means of the scourging of the inferior part, the better part also may receive some healing. Thus too among the Corinthians Paul restored the adulterer, checking the disease of the soul by the destruction of the flesh, and having applied the knife to the body, so repressed the evil ( 1 Cor. v. 5 ); like some excellent physician employing external cautery for dropsy or spleen, when they refuse to yield to internal remedies. This also Christ did in the case of the paralytic; as He showed when He said, "Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more, lest a worse thing come unto thee."

Now what do we learn from this? First, that his disease had been produced by his sins; secondly, that the accounts of hell fire are to be believed; thirdly, that the punishment is long, nay endless. Where now are those who say, "I murdered in an hour, I committed adultery in a little moment of time, and am I eternally punished?" For behold this man had not sinned for so many years as he suffered, for he had spent a whole lifetime in the length of his punishment; and sins are not judged by time, but by the nature of the transgressions. Besides this, we may see another thing, that though we have suffered severely for former sins, if we afterwards fall into the same, we shall suffer much more severely. And with good reason; for he who is not made better even by punishment, is afterwards led as insensible and a despiser to still heavier chastisement. The fault should of itself be sufficient to check and to render more sober the man who once has slipped, but when not even the addition of punishment effects this, he naturally requires more bitter torments. Now if even in this world when after punishment we fall into the same sins, we are chastised yet more severely then before, ought we not when after sinning we have not been punished at all, to be then very exceedingly afraid and to tremble, as being about to endure something irreparable? "And wherefore," saith some one, "are not all thus punished? for we see many bad men well in body, vigorous, and enjoying great prosperity." But let us not be confident, let us mourn for them in this case most of all, since their having suffered nothing here, helps them on to a severer vengeance hereafter. As Paul declares when he saith, "But now that we are judged, we are chastened of the Lord, that we should not be condemned with the world" ( 1 Cor. xi. 32 ); for the punishments here are for warning, there for vengeance."

What then," saith one, "do all diseases proceed from sin?" Not all, but most of them; and some proceed from different kinds of loose living, since gluttony, intemperance, and sloth, produce such like sufferings. But the one rule we have to observe, is to bear every stroke thankfully; for they are sent because of our sins, as in the Kings we see one attacked by gout ( 1 Kings xv. 23 ); they are sent also to make us approved, as the Lord saith to Job, "Thinkest thou that I have spoken to thee, save that thou mightest appear righteous?" ( Job lx. 8 , LXX.)

But why is it that in the case of these paralytics Christ bringeth forward their sins? For He saith also to him in Matthew who lay on a bed, "Son, be of good cheer, thy sins are forgiven thee" ( Matt. ix. 2 ): and to this man, "Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more." I know that some slander this paralytic, asserting that he was an accuser of Christ, and that therefore this speech was addressed to him; what then shall we say of the other in Matthew, who heard nearly the same words? For Christ saith to him also, "Thy sins be forgiven thee." Whence it is clear, that neither was this man thus addressed on the account which they allege. And this we may see more clearly from what follows; for, saith the Evangelist, "Afterward Jesus findeth him in the Temple," which is an indication of his great piety; for he departed not into the market places and walks, nor gave himself up to luxury and ease, but remained in the Temple, although about to sustain so violent an attack and to be harassed by all there. Yet none of these things persuaded him to depart from the Temple. Moreover Christ having found him, even after he had conversed with the Jews, implied nothing of the kind. For had He desired to charge him with this, He would have said to him, "Art thou again attempting the same sins as before, art thou not made better by thy cure?" Yet He said nothing of the kind, but merely secureth him for the future.

Why then, when He had cured the halt and maimed, did He not in any instance make mention of the like? Methinks that the diseases of these (the paralytic) arose from acts of sin, those of the others from natural infirmity. Or if this be not so, then by means of these men, and by the words spoken to them, He hath spoken to the rest also. For since this disease is more grievous than any other, by the greater He correcteth also the less. And as when He had healed a certain other He charged him to give glory to God, addressing this exhortation not to him only but through him to all, so He addresseth to these, and by these to all the rest of mankind, that exhortation and advice which was given to them by word of mouth. Besides this we may also say, that Jesus perceived great endurance in his soul, and addressed the exhortation to him as to one who was able to receive His command, keeping him to health both by the benefit, and by the fear of future ills.

And observe the absence of boasting. He said not, "Behold, I have made thee whole," but, "Thou art made whole; sin no more." And again, not, "lest I punish thee," but, "lest a worse thing come unto thee"; putting both expressions not personally, and showing that the cure was rather of grace than of merit. For He declared not to him that he was delivered after suffering the deserved amount of punishment, but that through lovingkindness he was made whole. Had this not been the case, He would have said, "Behold, thou hast suffered a sufficient punishment for thy sins, be thou steadfast for the future." But now He spake not so, but how? "Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more." Let us continually repeat these words to ourselves, and if after having been chastised we have been delivered, let each say to himself, "Behold, thou art made whole; sin no more." But if we suffer not punishment though continuing in the same courses, let us use for our charm that word of the Apostle, "The goodness of God leadeth[us] to repentance, but after[our] hardness and impenitent heart,[we] treasure up unto [ourselves] wrath." ( Rom. ii. 4, 5.)

And not only by strengthening the sick man's body, but also in another way, did He afford him a strong proof of His Divinity; for by saying, "Sin no more," He showed that He knew all the transgressions that had formerly been committed by him; and by this He would gain his belief as to the future.


Saturday, April 24, 2010

Pray with Spirit

Many ask, "How do I practice the Jesus Prayer?"  What I have learned is that there is no one way to follow.  You must, however, begin with sincerity, faith and a love for Christ and a commitment to carry out His will.  It is NOT a technique to bring peace of mind or a relaxed state of being.  

Here are some thoughts from Elder Nikodim of Karoulia:
"Don't just pronounce the words.  You have to see the Lord Himself in the prayer.... If with our mind we only say the words, then we will not look upon the Lord, and this is not enough for prayer."
Every Father I have read emphasizes this.  It is a PRAYER. It will not benefit you to engage in the reciting of these words If you are not truly repentant and seeking mercy from God. 
"God is spirit. As He explained to the Samaritan woman, 'You will worship in spirit.'  We pray in spirit to the Lord Himself..."
You may begin with a mental prayer, but the prayer will become one of spirit with our sincere effort. It is important to begin by saying the prayer out loud so your mind initiates it and also hears it.  This will help you control the distractions you will surely encounter.

The Elder expands on this idea of prayer in spirit:
You have to look upon the Lord with faith. Look upon the Lord and believe that the Lord is looking upon you. In spirit, pray in spirit!  God demands worshippers who worship Him in spirit. God is a Spirit and one must worship Him in spirit. We, with our spirit, pray to God in Spirit.  Our spirit is united with God.  When we turn to God the Spirit with faith, then the Lord will look upon us and the human spirit will be united with the Spirit of the Lord at the time of prayer.
Your sprit must address the Lord, and sense the Lord.  then there will be an echo; you'll receive a response.  Mercy will come to you.  This is all by faith––it's accomplished by faith––by faith and compulsion.  Thats what it is!
As you practice this prayer you will be lead to greater contrition and a deeper awareness of your sinfulness.  At the same time your love for christ and you desire to be united with Him increases even though the apparent separation may seem to increase. 
And at the time of the prayer, if you go through the whole prayer rope, then tears will begin to flow... contrition will come, and then warmth of heart will set in.
Everyone has their unique pathway to God.  The use of this prayer is one that has helped many.  For me it is one I will never put down. Please seek a guide in the use of this prayer.

More on Jesus Prayer

Quotes from The Christ the Eternal Tao, pp 346-347.

Friday, April 23, 2010

Jesus Prayer - Thoughts from the Fathers

For Eastern Orthodox Christians the Jesus Prayer is one prayer that has been recognized over the centuries to be especially powerful.  It is much more than the recitation of a few words over and over.  It is a means of joining mystically with God.
"The action of the Jesus Prayer is always hidden by the greatest mysteries.  It does not consist merely in speaking the words, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.' but reaches the heart and mysteriously settles there. Through this prayer we enter into relationship with the Lord Jesus Christ, we become accustomed to Him, we merge with Him into one whole. This prayer fills the soul with calm and joy amidst the most difficut trials, in the midst of every oppressions and human vanity."  St. Barsanuphius of Optima
It is a prayer which demands and aids in our focusing of the attention of our mind on our sinful state and our need for forgiveness by God.
"The essential properties of this prayer should be: attention ,the enclosure of the mind in the words of the prayer, extreme unhurriedness in pronouncing it, and contrition of spirit.... In the case of the Jesus Prayer, the mind is concentrated on a single thought: the thought of the sinner's forgiveness by Jesus."  St. Ignatius Brianchaninov
Through the practice of this prayer which involves many repetitions each day we are aided in developing of humility calling into us the Holy Spirit to transform our inner being into one of divine joy.
If we want to realize and know the truth... let our aim be to make the energy of prayer alone active in our hearts, for it brings warmth and joy to the spirit, and sets the heart alight with an effable love for God and man.  It is on account of this that humility and contrition flow richly from prayer. For Prayer in the beginners is the unceasing noetic activity of the Holy Spirit.  To start with it rises like a fire of joy from the heart; in the end it is like light made fragrant by Divine Energy.  St. Gregory of Sinai
For me personally, the Jesus Prayer has transformed my life.  For many years I denied my sinfulness, but now it is ever before me. I now struggle with contrition, but with hope and an inward burning zeal.  I ask for your prayers.

More on the Jesus Prayer 

Quotes found in Christ the Eternal Tao pp 341 - 344

Thursday, April 22, 2010

How Does God Love?

"We will not be able to know Christ unless He knows us." Elder Porphyrios
Doesn't God know all of us? What does the Elder mean here? To explain he quotes Saint Paul: "Now that you have known God, or rather are known by God..."(Gal 4:9). He is equating God's knowledge of us to our knowing God.  He is trying to explain something that is mystical, our relationship with God. If we don't know God we cant really say that God knows us. It's like calling someone a good friend who we have never met or only passed on the street. How can that person knows us if we have not made the effort to develop a loving relationship?

He continues,
Nor can we love Him unless He loves us. Christ will not love us if we are not worthy for Him to love us. In order for Him to love us, He must discover something special in us.
But again you will say, God is love and he loves us unconditionally. What is it He must discover. It must have something to do with how we choose to use our free will. Without our love and willful surrender to do His will, we will not experience His love, we will knot know Him. We need to open the door so He can enter. This is what we must discover in us. The Elder calls it humility.  He is saying that Gods' love, His grace that brings joy only comes when we humble ourselves and allow His grace to work from within our soul. His grace is there always, but not given without us loving Him.

He continues,
You may desire, demand, struggle and entreat, but you receive nothing. You prepare yourself to acquire those things which Christ desires in order for divine grace to enter you, but cannot enter when that special ingredient you require is lacking. What is that? It is humility. Without humility, we cannot love Christ...humility and selflessness in the worship of God...
Our challenge to get to the point described by Saint Paul: "It is no longer I who live; Christ lives in me. (Gal 2:20)

Quotes from Wounded By Love, p 109-110.

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

Do We Need To Suffer?

Every physical and spiritual task which does not involve pain, toil and trouble never bears fruit for the person who engages in it, for the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence and the violent lay hold of it (Matt 11:12). - Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov
Does this mean that must suffer to become a Christian?  Well, if we really love someone, are we not willing to make sacrifices for the well being of that person? If our lover is Christ, then surely we must be willing to suffer to carry out His will. The most extreme examples we have are the many martyrs of the Church, men and women who gave their physical lives standing witness to their God. But what does this mean that the Kingdom of Heaven is taken by violence? Our violence must be against our sinful tendencies. It must be our fierce struggle to carry out His will no matter hour our own desires are compromised or threatened. For most of us our suffering is voluntary in our ascetic disciplines to purify our inner being so we can open our hearts with love to our God.

Elder Porphyrios says,
When you love Christ you exert yourself, but in blessed exertions.  You suffer, but with joy. You make prostrations and pray because these are things you crave for with divine craving. They are at once pain and longing, passion and yearning and exaltation and joy and love.  Prostrations and vigils and fastings are exertions which are made for the Beloved, exertions in order to experience Christ. But this exerction is not made under duress; you dont protest and rebel.  Whatever you do under compulsion is very harmful both to you and to the work you are doing. The pressure and coercion provoke opposition. Exertion for Christ, true desire for Christ, is love, sacrifice and dissolution of self.  
We need to ask ourselves if we are "inflamed by love for Christ." Are we willing to make sacrifices, to voluntarily suffer, to carry out the will of God?

Elder Porphyrios says,
Do we run to the beloved when we are exhausted to find rest in prayer, or do we do it as a burdensome duty and say, 'Now I have to do my prayers and prostrations...?' What is missing when we feel like this?  Divine eros is what's missing.  Prayer of this kind is not worth the saying.  Indeed it could even be harmful.
To join with Christ in love requires a worthiness.  We must be able to do what He instructs us to do––to love others. This requires a spiritual violence and much dedicated effort which involves setting aside many of our own desires and physical pleasures. In our Love of God we seek to do everything possible to perfect ourselves to become worthy of His love.

I must admit that I most often avoid suffering and most often favor my own self interests. In this I struggle.

Quotes from Wounded By Love by Elder Porphyrios

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Christ as our Bridegroom

A common and powerful image is Christ as the Bridegroom of our soul.  Of course the other side of this is that our soul is His bride.  A bride's innocent and total love for the one she wishes to marry is brought to mind in this image. There are important implications of this. Christ as the bridegroom of our soul implies that our soul follows Christ in everything. There is a devotion that begs of a union with Him.

Elder Porphyrios says,
There is nothing higher in life than love for Christ.  Whatever we desire we find in Christ.  Christ is everything: all joy, all gladness, all Paradise.  When we have Christ within us, we possess all magnificence.  The soul that is in love with Christ is always joyful and happy, however much pain and sacrifice this may cost.
The Elder points out that a bride stays awake and dreams of her bridegroom.  Even when she sleeps her dreams are of Him. All her actions express her love and total devotion.
He says,
She adores and worships Him.  Do you understand? Worship must  spring from the whole soul and whole heart. What does that mean?  Your only thought must be of God. But the thought of God is unlike other thoughts.  It is different.  It is a kind of worship of Christ.  This is the thought that beguiles and delights.  It is not something that is done under duress.  You feel a spiritual delight and pleasure.  It's not like the homework a child does for school.  It is like the passionate love between two people, but higher and spiritual.

Monday, April 19, 2010

Christ as Friend

With the love of Christ He becomes our friend.  Saint John says, "There is no fear in love, but perfect love casts out fear, because fear involves torment. The person who fears is not perfected in love" (1 John 4:18). So as our love grows it dissolves our fear.  Christ then becomes our friend.

Elder Porphyrios says,
Let us stretch out to Him and approach Him as a friend.  Do we fall?  Do we sin?  With familiarity, love and trust let us run to Him––not with fear that He will punish us, but with the confidence which we deserve from the sense of being with a friend. We can say to him, 'I have fallen, forgive me.'  At the same time however, let us have the sense that He loves us and that He receives us with tenderness and love and forgives us.  
This requires a surrender to His lordship and a willingness to work continually to carry out His will. We cannot lead a life of disregard and willful pursuit of self-gratifying pleasure a the expense of love for others and expect Christ to be our friend.

He continues,
Don't let sin separate us from Christ. When we believe that He loves us and we love Him, we don't feel strangers and distanced from Him, even when we sin. We have secured His love, and however we behave, we know that He loves us.
With true love for Him there is no fear.  As long as we bind our soul with Him, our relationship with Him is unshakable. Love permeates and dominates.

Elder Porphyrios reminds us,
It is not the outward formalities that count; it is living with Christ that matters. When you achieve this, what else do you want? You have gained everything. You live in Christ and Christ lives in you. Thereafter everything is easy: obedience, humility and peace.
Quotes from Wounded By Love, pp 104 - 105.

Sunday, April 18, 2010

Who was the first to know of Christ's Resurrection?

Here is what Saint Gregory Palamas says:
There is something which the evangelists tell us in a veiled way, but which I shall reveal to your charity. As was right and just, the Mother of God was the first person to receive from the Lord the Good News of the Resurrection, and she saw Him risen and had the joy of His divine words before anyone else. She not only beheld Him with her eyes and heard Him with her ears, but was the first and only person to touch with her hands His most pure feet. If the evangelists do not say all this openly, it is because they do not want to put forward His Mother as a witness, lest they give unbelievers grounds for suspicion. As we are now, however, by the grace of the Resurrection, addressing believers, and the subject of today's feast obliges us to clarify everything that concerns the myrrhbearers, this too shall be revealed, with leave from Him who said, "Nothing is secret, that shall not be made manifest" (Luke 8:17).
Who were the Myrrbearers?
These are the women who followed the Lord along with His Mother and stayed with her during the time of the Passion of our Lord.  They were the ones who wrapped Christ's body in linen cloths with glue-like spices, and put it in the sepulcher.  

When there was an earthquake and the tomb was opened, the Theotokos was there. She did not fear as others ran and the angel came saying "Fear not ye: do ye seek Jesus which was crucified? He is risen. Come, see the place where the Lord Lay" (Matt 28:5-6). They then departed with "great joy" (Matt 28:8). Later others came to the tomb, some rejoining the Theotokos and went to the place e they aw and heard Him speak to them.

For complete description of the most significant event see the Eighteenth Homily by Saint Gregory Palamas, "On the Sunday of the Myrrhbearers," in Saint Gregory Palamas: The Homilies pp 144 - 151.

Saturday, April 17, 2010

Love and Fear of God

When we are called to communion in the divine Liturgy we hear, "With the fear of God, faith and love draw near."  This implies two quite dimensions in our approach to God.  One is fear and the other love.  How can we both fear and have love?

The first requirement is faith.  This is the starting point.  The second is fear of God.  Why?  We must have total respect for His infinite power.  He both gives live and takes it.  With love, through His grace, we enter Paradise and without it we condemn ourselves to hell.

What is Paradise?  Elder Porphyrios tells us,
It is Christ. Paradise begins here and now. It is exactly the same: those who experience Christ here on earth, experience Paradise... Our task is to attempt to find a way to enter into the light of Christ.
With this "light of Christ" we are blessed with immense joy of His love.  Elder Porphyrios tells us that what Christ wants most of all is "to fill us with joy, because He is the well-spring of joy.  This joy is a gift of Christ."

This gift is always waiting for us. To receive it is true life –– a life in Christ.

Elder Porphyrios says,
Christ is the source of life, the source of joy, the source of the true light, everything.  whoever loves Christ and other people truly lives life.  Life without Christ is death: it is hell, not life.  That is what hell is––the absence of love. Life is Christ. Love is the life of Christ. Either you will be in life or death.  Its up to you to decide.
The fear comes from our recognition of the awesome responsibility we have to love others.  As Elder Porphyrios says, "It is up to you to decide."  Do you want life or death?  Do you want Paradise or hell?  

It's up to each of us! 

Quotes from Wounded by Love, p 96 & 97

Friday, April 16, 2010

Worthiness and Prayer

Many of us complain that when we pray we do feel God is listening to us. "Why doesn't He answer me?" we cry out in quiet anguish.  Why is this such a common ailment?

Elder Porphyrios tells us it is due because we are not worthy. "We must become worthy in order to pray.  We are not worthy because we do not love our neighbor as ourself," he says. He then quotes Jesus Christ: "If you bring your gift to the altar and there you remember that your brother holds something against you, leave there your gift before the altar and go first be reconciled with your brother and then come and offer your gift."(Matt 5:23-4)

This tells us that if we want to be worthy we must first reconcile our differences with our brothers and sisters. Porphyrios says, "If that is not done, yo will be unable to pray.  If you are not worthy, you can do nothing. Once you have set in order all your unsettled business and prepared yourself, then go and offer your gift."

This is why there is such an emphasis on preparation for communion with fasting and repentance.  To expect to be in God's grace we have to work at acting as He instructs us.  Think about how you feel when someone asks you for advice and you lovingly give it.  But then, nothing is done to act on it.  This is what we do to God when we do not follow His simple commandment to love our neighbor.  This is what it means to be worthy. We are expected to do as He commands.

We must do as elder Porphyrios says, "abandon ourselves to the will of God."  Again he quotes Christ: "He who has my commandments and keeps them, he is the one who loves me; and he who loves me shall be loved by my Father and I will love him and will manifest myself to him." (John 14:21)

We must make an effort!

Quotes from Wounded by Love. p 116.

Thursday, April 15, 2010

Keep Inner Stillness

Good advice from Metropolitan Jonah about watchfulness, an essential skill for the Orthodox Way of Life.

"…One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves. It’s not that God stops giving us His grace. It’s that we say, “No. I don’t want it.” What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human person who has ever been born on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature. The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. “The devil made me do it” is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But, it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.
"On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle – do not react – teaches us that we need to learn to not react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence. If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St. Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to control our troubling thoughts. Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if someone says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts. Perhaps we’re habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true – as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won’t be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won’t react…"
He says, "If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us."  This is the key.  We are controlled by our thoughts and must learn to take action to control them.  Think about this: Where do they come from? Why are we so inclined to act on them.  We can learn through the practice of the ascetic disciplines and by asking for God's help in prayer overcome our tendency to simply react. Once we can maintain a continual awareness of His presence they will lose their power.

For me one of the most important practicers, in addition to regular Confession and partaking of Holy Communion, is daily prayer with the practice of the Jesus Prayer. This can leads one to continual prayer and this ever consciousness of Him.
Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA  (The Orthodox Church of America)

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

Joys Greater than This LIfe?

How can there be joys that are greater than those we get from this life?  It is often hard to remember in our daily struggles that this life is temporary and we are destined for eternal life with God.  Too often we find our minds locking us in on the activities of this world to the exclusion of God's kingdom.  This is the spiritual battle we are engaged in, to always remember to lift our eyes and hearts to that which is beyond all we can see, hear, taste, smell and touch.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says the following:
The joy that is in God is stronger than this present life.  And he who finds this joy, not only will he not pay attention to the passions, but he will not even give a thought to his own life, not will he have awareness of anything else, if his experience of this joy is true.  Love is sweeter than life.  And the concord with God from which love is born is sweeter than honey and the honey comb.  It does not seem grievous to Love to undergo a bitter death for the sake of he beloved... And to the heart which has received this joy every sweetness of this world seems superfluous.  for there is nothing which can be likened to sweetness of the knowledge of God."

Source: Wounded by Love, p 101 - Homily 38. Cf. The Ascetical Homilies of St Isaac the Syrian, Holy Transfiguration MOnastery, 1984, p 297.

Tuesday, April 13, 2010

What Rivals the Love for Christ?

Once you have the love of Christ in your heart what else is there to long for?  All the things of this world only leave us wanting more and often burden us with worries and upkeep.  But having Christ in our heart is all fulfilling and yields only joy.  As Elder Porphyrios says, "No other joy, no other beauty, nothing else can rival Him."

Once you have this love for Christ what can surpass it?  What is greater?  How can it be even greater than our love for our parents or our children?  But it is.  It is a love that never falters.  It is unwavering, unconditional and unlimited.  No other kind of love is as great as this.

Elder Porphyrios says,
Fleshly love has a point of satiety.  therefore jealousy and disgruntlement may set in...Love in Christ knows no alteration.  Worldly love remains for a time, and is gradually extinguished, whereas divine love continually grows and deepens.
This love for Christ has no point of satisfaction.  Elder Porphyrios says,
You cannot have enough of Him, the more you believe that you don't love Him and the more you desire to love Him.  At the same time, however, your soul is flooded by His presence and your joy in the Lord is inalienable. 

Source: Wounded By Love, p 100 

Monday, April 12, 2010

How Christ Transforms

The love of God transforms everything; it sanctifies, amends and changes the nature of everything. Elder Porphyrios
What was it like when you first found Christ in your heart?  How did it transform you?  For me, my life was totally changed.  The Church became the center of my life and I found that I was mired in sin but now continually growing in my relationship with God.  This Pascha celebration affirmed this for me.  It was truly the most spiritually alive Divine Liturgy of my life.  Glory be to God for all He provides for us.

Here are some thoughts from Elder Porphyrios:
When  you find Christ, you are satisfied, you desire nothing else, you find peace.  You become a different person. You live everywhere, wherever Christ is.  You live in the stars, in infinity, in heaven with the angels, with the saints, on earth with people, with plants, with animals, with everyone and everything.  when there is love for Christ, loneliness disappears.  You are peaceable, joyous, full.  Neither melancholy, nor illness, nor pressure, nor anxiety, nor depression nor hell.
Source: Wounded By Love, pp 99 - 100 

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Did St. Thomas Really Doubt?

"Although from the very early morning on the day of the resurrection the good news of the resurrection was carried throughout creation, and even though angels from heaven (Mark 16:6) and holy myrrhbearers on earth (Luke 24:9) and even the guards at the Sanhedrin (Matthew 28:11) had already told of the miracle, the apostles were still in a state of fear and doubt, hiding behind doors and locks “for the fear of the Jews” (John 20:19). The disciples’ doubt is not surprising, for they were witness to the greatest miracle in the history of creation: humans killed God, and then He rose from the dead and saved the dying human race from the claws of hell. The disciples of Christ, after their teacher’s arrest, forgot all of His prophesies concerning the things about to take place. They did not believe the miraculous story of the holy myrrhbearers (Mark 16:11, Luke 24:11), and even while talking to the Risen One face to face, they hesitated to trust their own hearts (Luke 24:25) which were burning and trembling in the presence of God (Luke 24:32). This marvelous unbelief (Luke 24:41), human weakness, incapable of encompassing the magnitude of the miracle that took place, is reflected in the famous words of the Apostle Thomas: “Unless I see the nail marks in his hands and put my finger where the nails were, and put my hand into his side, I will not believe it.” (John 20:25)

People often refer to Thomas as “doubting,” not really considering the depth and the height of the “doubt” of this holy apostle. But let us look more carefully at this man. Was his doubt the same as that of the Judeans who yelled about the Savior Whom they crucified, “Let Him come down now from the cross, and we will believe in Him.” (Matthew 27:42); or was it similar to that which we hear from our contemporaries: “If there is God, let Him show Himself to all, and we will believe in Him and live happily ever after”?

We know about his faithfulness and sacrificial love for his Teacher. After following the Savior for three years, Thomas understood very well the danger Christ faced from the scribes and the Pharisees. The other disciples also understood it very well; that is why when the Savior decided to go to Jerusalem, the apostles tried to talk Him out of it, warning Him of the danger (John 11:8). But it was St. Thomas who said, “Let us also go, that we may die with Him” (John 11:16). One does not often hear such words from a doubter! After the Ascension of the Savior, the Apostle Thomas, according to the Church Tradition, went to preach the Gospel in one of the furthest and most difficult to reach places of the ancient world—India, where he was tortured and killed for Christ.

But on that day, a week after the Resurrection, when the Savior came to His disciples and Thomas was with them, the holy apostle needed only a push, only a step, in order for this disciple who so selflessly loved his Teacher to realize to Whom he had devoted his life. “My Lord and my God!” exclaimed Thomas, who only a minute earlier had been understandably doubting the accounts of his brethren. “My Lord and my God!” exclaimed Thomas from the bottom of his loving heart. To such a person as Thomas God comes. This is the kind of person that He allows to touch Himself! "

By Fr. Sergei Sveshnikov