Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Practice of the Jesus Prayer -2

Getting Started

Before you start praying, think about who you are about to address. Make the sign of the cross and a few prostrations with the feeling of contrition and sorrow for your sinfulness. Select a comfortable position for prayer. Gently shut your eyes like the closing of tired eyes of a child falling to sleep. Set aside all your worldly cares telling yourself you will have plenty of time for them after you pray. Relax your body.

After you have quieted yourself begin by praising God with Glory to you.., Our Heavenly King Comforter…, the Trisagion prayer, 51st Psalm, and the Creed. Then you can begin to say the Jesus Prayer out loud, loud enough so the ears can hear it, slowly and concentrating on the meaning of the words.

“The words of the prayer ought to be said without the least hurry, even lingering, so that the mind can lock itself into each word…” (Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov)

Monday, June 29, 2009

Practice of the Jesus Prayer - 1

Anyone can use the Jesus prayer. It can be said at any time. To begin saying the prayer as part of our daily prayer rule we must follow the direction of Jesus. He says, "Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile" (Mark 6:31); "Study to be quiet" (I Thess. 4: 11); then pray in secret—alone and in silence. Select a place where it will be quiet and you will not be disturbed. It is best if you can protect the senses from as much stimulation as possible. It is best to pray the Jesus Prayer early in the morning before sunrise when the mind is at rest and undistracted, the body is relaxed and there is little activity to disturb your concentration. Some may find the evening to work better.

Jesus Prayer

Sunday, June 28, 2009

A Wandering Mind in Prayer?

One of the great barriers to effective prayer is a mind that is out of control and wanders off to other subjects at the same time you are reciting your prayer. It's amazing that you can be saying the words of your prayer while you mind is in great detail thinking about an event involving your best friend or some problem you are facing. Why is this a problem? Where is your attention when this happens? It's not on your prayer and not on God!

Saint Theophan advices us as follows,
"You must not allow the thoughts to wander voluntarily, but when they stray involuntarily, you must immediately turn them back, reproaching yourself, regretting and grieving over your weakness."

Notice that he used the word "immediately." This is where we have to do a bit of forcing to reign in this beast called mind and "immediatley turn it back." It's like an untrained puppy. With training it becomes a most essential part of your spiritual life.

Similarly Saint Macarius says,
"Nor should they in prayer be satisfied... while all the while their mind wanders far from Him. They must guard against every neglect of thoughts and unseemly attitude and turn the whole soul with the body back to prayer."

Notice that He says, "every neglect." You may go for minutes and not be aware that you have lost control of your prayer and your mid has taken you elsewhere. As soon as you recognize this do not be tempted to continue what is most likely a most interesting dialogue you mind is having. No distraction during prayer is acceptable.

A wandering mind is normal and something we must struggle to over come. One of the things we are doing in prayer is learning to harness this powerful part of our body so our heart, our soul, can open and become focused on God's uncreated light. It is with this discipline, a mastery of attention, that the Holy Spirit fills us with God's grace helping us to live the virtuous life.

Saint Isaac the Syrian says,

When the mind turns away from distractions and wandering thoughts... and abides quietly within itself and the heart awakens for the searching out of deliberations that are within the soul."

Attention in Prayer

Friday, June 26, 2009

The Importance of Attention in Prayer

Our minds are like wild beasts. We must learn to control their tendency to wander. In prayer absolute attention on the prayer and God is essential. You may notice how even during your normal activities during the day you are easily distracted. You probably find this even more noticeable when you are trying to pray. Harnessing the mind for effective prayer requires hard work.

Attention Requires Hard Work
Saint Theophan tell us,
"Lasting pacification of the thoughts is a gift from God, but this gift is not given without intensifying one's personal labors."
Just because we have made time for our morning and evening prayer and are praying, God will not quiet our minds for us. We must act to bring our mind to attention and then He will assist us.

Saint Macarius the Great says,
"Let him push himself to prayer even when he does not possess the prayer of the Spirit. And so. God, seeing him striving so and pushing himself by determination, even if the heart is unwilling, gives him the authentic prayer of the Spirit gives him true charity, true meekness, "the bowels of mercies" (Col 3:12), true kindness, and, simply put, fills him with the fruits of the Spirit." ...read Homily 19.3

It is through our striving and forcing ourselves that God will see that we are giving our best effort to restrain ourselves and to do good. Seeing this He will grant us true prayer and our striving will become effortless. Therefore, if we allow our mind to wander and taste of its own delights and we do not make any effort to contain it, God will see that we are not prepared for His full grace. How can He have confidence that we will be capable to do good with it if it were given?

Thursday, June 25, 2009

"Ponder in the Spirit" - Saint Symeon the New Theologian

When men Search for God with their bodily eyes they can find him nowhere, for he is invisible. But for those who ponder in the Spirit, he is present everywhere. He is in all, yet beyond all. In this, his salvation is near to those who fear him, but far away from sinful men.
Saint Symeon the New Theologian

This is the challenge of an Orthodox prayer life. Our relationship with God is of necessity beyond the physical attributes of this world. In prayer we need to lift our hearts up to this invisible realm. Stillness of mind, a pure heart, persistence, humility all lead us to the Spirit where we can do as Saint Symeon says, "ponder in the Spirit"

Wednesday, June 24, 2009

Preparing to Pray

Saint Theophan the Recluse offers us some excellent advice about how to prepare for prayer.

To pray we must draw inward in such a way that both our heart and mind are absorbed in the content of the prayer. This means that we need to become very attentive to the actual words of the prayer and set aside all other thoughts.

He uses the analogy of sitting down to write a note, article or term paper. You do not just sit down and begin writing. First you need to gather your thoughts and get yourself in the mood for this task. This kind of preparation is even more necessary when you sit down for prayer.

He writes,

"So, Morning or evening, immediately before you begin to repeat your prayers, first stand for a while, sit for awhile, or walk a little. Try to steady your mind, then turn it away fro all worldly activities and objects."

Here is is asking that we set aside all the thoughts we may have running through our minds about the problems we are embroiled in, our concerns about activities of the day, or any disagreements we may of had with family or friends and so forth. We want to pull our mind away from all the cares that we face in this world, so it can be uplifted in our prayer to the invisible realm, heaven itself, where we find God who we are about to address.

He continues,

"After this, think of who He is, Him to whom you turn in prayer. Next, recollect who you are; who it is who is about to start this invocation to Him in prayer."

God is no less than your Creator and even more, as He created all that is visible and invisible! He is all powerful and has infinite love and patience for all His creation. He wants everyone to be in union with him and to love Him as He loves us. When preparing to share your time with Him, think about how you would prepare to go to meet a very important person who help you need on a project you are involved with. You have to focus on their needs and agenda so you can present your needs in a way that they will support it. Well, in prayer you are facing the most powerful entity known and you need to be focused on who He is. Saaint Theophan is reminding us that he is not our grandfather or some other like person. Be mindful of Who God is as you enter into prayer,

Next he says,

"Do this in such a way as to waken in your heart a feeling of humility and reverent awe because you are standing in the presence of God."

Reflect on what it means to stand in the presence of God. This is what you are doing in prayer.

Saint Theophan says further,

"When the heart is conscious and feels the need for prayer, then the attentive heart itself will not let your thoughts slide to other matters. It will force you to cry out to the Lord in your prayers. Most of all, be aware of your own helplessness: were it not for God, you would be lost. If someone who is doomed to disaster were to stand before the one person who, with a glance, could save him, would he look here and there for his salvation? No, he would fall down before him and beg mercy. So it will be, when you approach Him in prayer with an awareness of all-encompassing peril and the knowledge that on can save you but God."

To frequently we try to enter into prayer without preparing ourselves. We try and enter into it without proper care or thought. Then we rush to get it over with as if it were some routine obligation we need to fulfill.

He says,

"Without preparation, how can there be a gathering of thought and feeling in prayer? Without preparation, prayer proceeds shakily instead of firmly.... Such a careless attitude toward prayer is a crime, a serious one--- a capital one. Consider prayer the central labor of your life and hold it in the center of your heart. Address in its rightful role, not as a secondary function!"

Remember always that God is your helper. Be diligent in fulfilling your prayer rule and it will bring you great benefit when you properly prepare yourself for this effort. Work hard at it. You will find many forces working to discourage you .

Saint Theophan advises,

"Once experienced, pure prayer will draw you on and enliven your spiritual life, becoming you to more attentive, more difficult, and ever-deepening prayer."

The quotes above are from Saint Theophan's 1st Homily on Prayer and from Letter 48

Tuesday, June 23, 2009

Seeking Theosis in a Busy Life - More From Saint Theophan the Recluse

Saint Theophan spoke often about the struggles we face when we are active in the affairs of the world. He writes,"There is a widely accepted misconception among us: that when one becomes involved in work at home or in business, immediately one steps out of the godly realm and away from God-pleasing activities...." He points out that we do NOT have to run from this activity to come closer to God! He writes, "Home and communities depend on concerns of daily life and society. These concerns are God-appointed obligations; fulfilling them is not a step toward the ungodly, but is a walking in the way of the Lord."

We can be seriously misled by the idea that somehow these mundane activities of this world are to be avoided. This would be a very dangerous path. Instead as we saw from his advice in the last post, in addition to the time we dedicate to our morning and evening prayer, we need to learn to glorify God in all our activities and to call on His help as we muddle though all the difficulties we face daily in our work or in taking care of our families. He writes, "grasp the concept that everything you do, inside and outside your home... is godly and God-pleasing...." He tells us that If we complete our godly deeds in an ungodly manner this will "tear your mind from God." He then instructs us, "approach daily matters with knowledge that to fulfill them is a commandment. Administer them as administering God's law."

Each of us has a place along with responsibilities that God has given to us. God is watching us and sees how we handle our assignments. We cannot hide from Him or the tasks He has given to us. So do your work, keeping in mind that all that comes to you throughout the day is sent by God.

Saint Theophan says, "By orienting yourself to God at all times, your chores at home and responsibilities outside the house will not distract your attention from God, but, on the contrary, will keep you intent on completing all tasks in a God pleasing manner...." He cautions, "Be careful to distinguish between concerns prompted by frivolity, passions, flattery and worldliness, from those that are correct, appropriate and honorable." He says that what is essential is that we have committed ourselves to live in a God-pleasing manner.

The above is from Letter 49 in the booklet On Prayer.

An Additional Thought

I pass on a thought in a similar vein from a recent podcast by Matthew Gallatin, Theosis In A Busy World. In this podcast Matthew answers a letter from a listener who feels overwhelmed by his daily duties in his quest for the proper spiritual path.

He is the author of Thirsting For God in a Land of Shallow Wells published by Conciliar Press. He lives in Northern Idaho and is a former Professor of Philosophy. You can learn earn more about Matthew’s ministry at his website.

More on Prayer... and living the Orthodox way of life.

Calling on God Throughout the Day - A Message from Saint Theophan

Saint Theophan the Recluse gives us clear advice on Prayer in his four homilies on prayer. He encourages us to work hard at our prayer because its rewards are great. I like him particularly because he is not writing to monastics, but to us working folks. Yet, he holds for us the highest aims in our spiritual life. He talks about two kinds of prayer. The first is where we begin - our morning and evening prayers. Next, we need to reach out to call on God throughout the day. He sees this as two logical steps in the development of our life of prayer.

Saint Theophan writes:
Do not think that we are talking about something very lofty which is an unattainable state for living people. No. It truly is a lofty state, but attainable by all...

The work of prayer consists of a proper completion of the two types of prayer
...pious, attentive, and feeling completion of our usual prayers, and then
...training of the soul to frequently ascend to God through divine contemplation, turning of all things to the glory of God, and frequent crying to God from the heart.

We pray in the morning and the evening: there is a great distance between them. If we only turn to God at these times, then even if we pray whole-heartedly, during the day or night, everything will fall apart, and when it is time again to pray, the soul will feel cold and empty, as before. One can pray again whole-heartedly, but if you become cold and fall apart again, what use is it? This is just building and destroying, building and destroying; it is only labor.

If now we resolve not only to pray with attention and feeling in the morning and the evening, but also to spend every day in contemplation of God, doing all things to the glory of God, and frequently calling to God from our hearts with short words of prayer, then this long period between morning and evening prayers and from evening to morning prayers will be filled with frequent turnings to God and pure prayerful actions.

Although this prayer is not yet unceasing, it is still prayer repeated very frequently, and the more often it is repeated, the closer it comes to being constant. All of this work is towards this final and necessary goal....

From frequent calling out to God, or from frequent pious movements toward God in our hearts we will constantly call upon the name of God with warmth and love. When these three things: the fear of God, the remembrance of God, or walking before God, and this turning of the heart toward God with love (loving repetition of the sweet name of the Lord in the heart) then certainly the spiritual fire of which I spoke earlier will catch in the heart, and it will bring with it profound peace, constant sobriety, and living boldness. At that point, a man enters into that state where he needs no longer to desire anything greater or unnecessary on earth, and which is truly the beginning of the blessed state which awaits all in the future.

Saint Basil speaks on Work vs. Prayer

There is no tradeoff between work and prayer. Both are essential to a healthy physical and spiritual life according to Saint Basil. It is wrong to deny prayer because of work and it is wrong to deny work because of prayer. We can learn to make our work a prayer. The Jesus Prayer and other remembrances of God during the day are a great help in this task. At the foundation a God centered work life is attentiveness based on a quiet mind as Basil explained in earlier posts..

Here is what Basil has to say to us:

As daily sustenance is necessary for everyone, so labor in proportion to one's strength is also essential. Not vainly has Solomon written in praise: “she watches over the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness” (Prov 31:27). And again, the Apostle says of himself: “nor did we eat anyone’s bread free of charge, but worked with labor and toil night and day” (2 Thess 3:8); yet, since he was preaching the Gospel, he was entitled to receive his livelihood from the Gospel. The Lord couples sloth with wickedness, saying: '‘You wicked and lazy servant" (Matt 25:26). Wise Solomon, also, praises the laborer not only in the words already quoted, but also, in rebuking the sluggard, associating him by contrast with the tiniest of insects: “Go to the ant, you sluggard!" (Prov 6:6). We have reason to fear, therefore, lest, perchance, on the day of judgment this fault also may be alleged against us, since He who has endowed us with the ability to work demands that our labor be proportioned to our capacity; for He says: “to whom much is given, from him much will be required" (Luke 12:48). Moreover, because some use prayer and psalmody as an excuse for neglecting their work, it is necessary to bear in mind that for certain other tasks a particular time is allotted, according to the words of Ecclesiastes: “To everything there is a season" (Eccl 3:1). For prayer and psalmody, however, as also, indeed, for some other duties, every hour is suitable, that, while our hands are busy at their tasks, we may praise God sometimes with the tongue (when this is possible or, rather, when it is conducive to edification); or, if not, with the heart, at least, in psalms, hymns and spiritual canticles, as it is written (Col 3:16). Thus, in the midst of our work can we fulfill the duty of prayer, giving thanks to Him who has granted strength to our hands for performing our tasks and cleverness to our minds for acquiring knowledge, and for having provided the materials, both that which is in the instruments we use and that which forms the matter of the arts in which we may be engaged, praying that the work of our hands may be directed toward its goal, the good pleasure of God.

Thus we acquire a recollected spirit-when in every action we beg from God the success of our labors and satisfy our debt of gratitude to Him who gave us the power to do the work, and when, as has been said, we keep before our minds the aim of pleasing Him.

From Church Fathers: The Long Rule pp 306-311

From a letter

Prayer is to be commended, for it engenders in the soul a distinct conception of God. And the indwelling of God is this – to have God set firm within oneself through the process of memory. We thus become a temple of God whenever earthly cares cease to interrupt the continuity of our memory of him.

The Heart of Basilian Spirituality p 120 Letter 2

Monday, June 22, 2009

Advice from Scripture on Prayer

I have not been able to find a specific article from Saint Basil addressed exclusively on prayer. But I have found some excerpts from other writings. In this one he teaches about prayer based on what the Scripture says about prayer.

Saint Basil On Prayer
a. We should persevere in watching and prayer.
Matthew 7:7-8; Luke 18.1-8; Luke 21:34-36; Col. 4:2; 1 Thess. 5:16-17
b. We should give thanks to God even for the daily sustenance required by the body, before we partake of it.
Matthew 14:19; Acts 27:35; 1 Tim. 4:4
c.We should not recite long and repetitious prayers for things that are perishable and unworthy of the Lord.
Matthew 6:7-8; Luke 12:29-30
d. How we should pray, and with what dispositions of soul.
Matthew 6:9-10; Matthew 6:33; Mark 11:25; 1 Tim. 2:8
e. That we should pray for one another and for those who are preachers of the Word of Truth.
Luke 22:31-32; Eph 6:18-20; 2 Thess 3:1
f. That we should pray even for our enemies.
Matthew 5:44-45
g. That no man ought to pray or prophesy with his head covered; and no woman, with uncovered head.
1 Cor. 11:3-5

Source: Father of the Church: Morals pp138-140

Sunday, June 21, 2009


I always have difficulty accepting the many miracles reported surrounding the relics of saints and their icons. Each time I visit the nearby Paracletos Monastery, the Abbess tells me such a story. I guess she knows I need to have my mind opened up a bit for my spiritual health. Here is a video of a Icon that teared sweet-smelling tears. It was verified and this video captures it very well. Let it open your mind to what you may think as not possible. Clearly, God has unlimited powers and works in many miraculous ways.

Saturday, June 20, 2009

Being Attentive

".....Whether you are in church, or in your house, or in the country; whether you are guarding sheep, or constructing buildings, or present at drinking parties, do not stop praying... " Father Ephraim of Syria

In our daily life there is no other way to be a Christian than to be always attentive, to act out of a quiet mind, and to practice the virtues. To do otherwise is to ignore the will of God.

Therefore be attentive to yourself, neither remaining in mortal things as if they were eternal, nor despising eternal things as if they were passing. Look down on the flesh, for it is passing away; take care of the soul, for it is something immortal… says Saint Basil

During Lent we use the following powerful prayer from Saint Ephraim in our services.

O Lord and Master of my life, take from me the spirit of sloth, despondency, lust for power and idle talk.

But grant unto me, Thy servant, a spirit of chastity/integrity, humility, patience and love.

Yea, O Lord and King, grant me to see mine own faults and not to judge my brothers and sisters. For blessed art Thou unto the ages. Amen.

"Grant me to see my own faults" this is the task of attentiveness. The Church Fathers tell us over and over to seek inwardly. Seek to quiet your mind and you will become capable of seeing your faults clearly and objectively as well as develop means to deal with them and to change the way you react to different situations/ This is a constant message they give us.

So How does one silence the mind?

There is no simple answer and the path is unique for each person. You can find your path by putting the ten points of an Orthodox Way of Life into practice.

1. Prayer
Have a regular prayer rule that includes morning and evening prayer.

2. Worshiping and Participating in Sacraments
Attend and participate in the Divine Liturgy receiving Holy Communion regularly as well as regular participation in Confession.

3. Honoring the Liturgical Cycle of the Church
Follow the seasons of the church and participate in the fasts and feasts of the Church.

4. Using the Jesus Prayer
Repeat the Holy name whenever possible throughout the day or night.

5. Slowing Down and Ordering Your Life
Set priorities and reduce the stress and friction caused by a hurried life.

6. Watchfulness
Give full attention to what you are doing at the moment.

7. Taming the Passions
Overcome your habits, attachment to your likes and dislikes, and learn to practice the virtues.

8. Putting Others First
Free yourself from your selfishness and find joy in helping others.

9. Spiritual Fellowship
Spend time regularly with other Orthodox Christians for support and inspiration.

10. Reading the Scriptures and Holy Fathers
Be inspired by the lessons of the Holy Scriptures, the wisdom of the Holy Fathers and the lives of the Saints of the Church.

Discuss this with your spiritual father.

Friday, June 19, 2009

What Did We Learn About Attentiveness from Basil?

What is the lesson from Saint Basil's discourse on attentiveness? What can we gain from this in a practical sense? Here is what I think.

First, we must learn how to have a quite mind. Basil tells us that it is with a quiet mind that we can grasp the truth contained in the Gospel. He is not referring to the reading of Scripture, but the underlying truths that the Scripture represents. This is the starting point to knowing our soul, the working of Spirit, and our relationship with God. But just a quiet mind is not sufficient. We also need a critical skill.

With an quiet mind we can learn to become attentive to the action that is taking place in our mind. This is what he calls attentiveness. Other Fathers call it watchfulness.

Learning the skill of attentiveness is what is most important because this allows us to get at the source of our sinfulness. Our mind is not physical so things happen it it very fast and without effort. Thoughts quickly arise that lead us to react even faster than we can think with actions and emotions. These can be good or evil. They can lead us to anger, to speaking out words that harm others, and to physical violence. By being attentive to what is taking place in the mind we can intercept thoughts, cast them out before they lead us to action. We can also recognize automatic patterns of response to stimulus received by our senses, our eyes, earns, nose, mouth and sense of touch. and work at changing them as well. This is all a process of knowing intimately our inner self.

In addition, because the mind and body is a microcosm of the universe, as we become attentive we can lean about the true nature of all of Creation through self-knowledge. As we appreciate the make up of our physical and spiritual being we begin to know the energies of God. We come closer to God. This is our aim.

So attentiveness is teaching us about a fundamental skill we need in the spiritual life to become more like God and to know Him. The question he leaves with us then is the following, How does one develop the quite mind so we can become attentive of this inner life?

Final thought on Attentiveness by Saint Basil

Saint Basil suggests that we should be attentive to the structure of the body and how it is an appropriate place for the rational soul to dwell. Think about how we differ from the animals. We have been fashioned by God to be able to look towards heaven and NOT to be slaves to our passions – the desires of the stomach or our sexual drives.

The nature of our makeup cannot but help to lift you to become attentive to its Creator.

Saint Basil concludes,

“Then God placed the head at the top, locating in it the most valuable of the senses. There sight, and hearing, and taste, and smell have been established, all near each other. And although confined in a small space, none of them impedes the activity of its neighbor. The eyes have laid hold of the highest lookout point so that nothing blocks their view of the body’s parts, but placed under the small projection of the eyebrows, they reach out from the prominence above in a direct line. Again, the hearing is not directed straight, but by a spiral-shaped pathway it takes hold of the noises in the air. This indeed exhibits the highest wisdom, enabling sound to pass though unhindered, or rather be led in, bending around the twists, while nothing from outside that accidentally falls in can be a hindrance to the auditory perception. Examine closely the nature of the tongue, how it is tender and nimble and is sufficient by its varied movement for every need of speech. Teeth, also organs of speech, provide strong resistance to the tongue and at the same time also take care of food, some cutting it and others grinding it. And so when you have traversed all things with suitable reflection on each, and have observed carefully how air is drawn in through breath, how warmth is kept around the heart, and the organs of digestion, and the channels of blood, from all these you will perceive the unsearchable wisdom of the Creator [Rom 11.33]. So you will also say to him with the prophet, "Your knowledge from myself has become wonderful" [Ps 138.6].

Therefore be attentive to yourself, that you may be attentive to God, to whom be glory and dominion unto the ages.”

Quotes from On the Human Condition, trans. by Nonna Vera Harrison, pp 93-105

Wednesday, June 17, 2009

Attentiveness and God

Continuing our discussion of Saint Basil’s homily on attentiveness…

When we learn to be attentive to our inner nature we also discover that we are a “small ordered world,” from which we can see the wisdom of our creator. We can learn that like God who is incorporeal and not contained by any space, and the same is true of our mind or soul. As we examen this inner nature we gain insight into the large cosmos.
You may believe that God cannot be understood by your soul because it is invisible. But, God is recognizable by His energies. Therefore do not think about knowing God through your eyes or any of your senses, but only through “supporting faith through reason.”

Saint Basil writes,
Marvel at the Creator's work, how the power of your soul has been bound together with the body, so that penetrating to its extremities it leads the many separate limbs and organs to one convergence and sharing of life. Examine what power from the soul is given to the flesh, what sympathy is given back to the soul by the flesh; how the body receives life from the soul, and the soul receives pain from the body. Examine where you have stored away the things you have learned; why the addition of things that have come later does not overshadow the knowledge of things retained, but without confusion you keep your memories distinct, inscribed on the directive faculty of the soul as if on a bronze slab, guarded closely. Examine how as the soul slips gradually toward the passions of the flesh its own beauty is destroyed; and how again cleansed from the shame of evil, through virtue it ascends quickly toward the likeness of the Creator.”

More on Attentiveness by Saint Basil

Saint Basil advises us that attentiveness will help us gain mastery of anger, temper and an uncontrolled tongue. This benefit comes when we combine attentiveness with a remembrance that all the desires for earthly pleasure that go unchecked will only bring us to a bitter end. He writes,

“Therefore be attentive to yourself, and know that the rational part of the soul is also intelligent, but the passionate part is also irrational. And the one exists by nature to rule, while the other exists to obey reason and be persuaded by it. So do not ever allow your mind, reduced to utter slavery, to become a slave of the passions; moreover, do not yield to the passions struggling against reason and let them transfer to themselves the rule of the soul.”

Quotes from On the Human Condition, trans. by Nonna Vera Harrison, pp 93-105

Tuesday, June 16, 2009

Importance of Attentiveness - Saint Basil the Great

Saint Basil in his homily “Be Attentive to Yourself” discusses a truth handed down to us from Moses: "Be attentive to yourself, lest an unlawful word come to be hidden in your heart" [Deut 15.9].

He explains that it is in our mind that we are most easily led into sin. Therefore God is advising us in this directive to focus on our most vulnerable area much like a physician will give us preventative advice on that aspect of our heath that is the weakest. So why is the mind that area of our greatest weakness? Saint Basil tells us that it is because it acts by itself, it acts quickly and effortlessly, and is active at any time or situation. Therefore, it is much easier to sin in the mind than through actions of our body. Action in the body takes time and effort as well as the interaction with others. In fact, you can be acting in a wholly virtuous manner while at the very same time your mind is involved in numerous sinful thoughts. There is no witness to sins that take place in our mind and no one to correct us. It is therefore most important to be attentive to the action of our mind. It is most important that we give priority to control its actions.

He says, “attentiveness is of two kinds: on the one hand we can gaze intently with the bodily eyes at visible things, and on the other hand by its noetic faculty the soul can apply itself to the contemplation of incorporeal things.” Here is where we can go wrong by giving priority to what we perceive through our senses because we cannot comprehend our totality by this means. Basil says, “Let the eye of your soul be sleepless to guard yourself. You walk in the midst of snares [Sir 9.13]. Hidden traps have been set by the enemy in many places.” He emphasizes that we are more than a physical being with senses and skills to maintain life, but we are also a soul and mind.

Saint Basil writes,

“Examine what sort of being you are. Know your own nature, that your body is mortal but your soul is immortal, and that our life is twofold in kind. One kind is proper to the flesh, quickly passing by, while the other is akin to the soul, not admitting of circumscription. Therefore be attentive to yourself, neither remaining in mortal things as if they were eternal, nor despising eternal things as if they were passing. Look down on the flesh, for it is passing away; take care of the soul, for it is something immortal…

For when the body enjoys well-being and becomes heavy through much fleshiness, the mind is necessarily inactive and slack in its proper activity; but when the soul is in good condition and through care of its own goods is raised up toward its proper greatness, following this the state of the body withers.”

He cautions that we must always be attentive to our inner being, our soul, and be able to recognize its strength and illness. For he says, “For many through lack of attention get great and incurable illnesses, and they do not themselves know they are ill.”

Quotes from On the Human Condition, trans by Nonna Vera Harrison, pp 93-105

Monday, June 15, 2009


To grasp the truth in the teachings of Scripture and our Church Fathers requires a calm and silent mind says, Basil the Great.

God who created us has given us the use of language, that we may reveal the plans of our heart to each other... Accordingly, since when our thought takes meaningful voice, as if carried in a ferry by our discourse, crossing the air it passes from the speaker to the hearer; and if it finds the sea calm and quiet, the discourse comes to anchor in the ears of the students as if in a tranquil harbors untroubled by storms; but if as a kind of rough upsurge the clamor of the hearers blows adversely, it will be dissolved as it is shipwrecked in the air. Therefore make it calm for the discourse through silence.... The word of truth is hard to catch.

Saturday, June 13, 2009

Jesus Prayer Not Eastern Yoga

A Gerondas from the Holy Mountain Athos enumerated the following points about the difference of the Jesus prayer from Yoga.

1. The Jesus prayer express faith in God through His Son Jesus as part of a trinitarian God. It emphasizes that salvation is attained through God which is why we ask for His mercy. Salvation cannot be attained by our own efforts.
2. We are not attempting to find some impersonal God or absolute truth through the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer focuses on a personal relationship with the God-Man Jesus.
3. We cannot fall into the sin of pride through the unceasing prayer of Jesus because in the prayer we continually seek mercy for our weaknesses. We consider ourselves unworthy of God’s grace and recognize our sinfulness in His eyes.
4. Salvation is about union with God. In this union we do not eliminate our personality. The human factor is not denied as it is in some Eastern yoga practices. We are not assimilated in this union, but retain our personhood.
5. As we progress in the prayer we gain the ability to discern error. We learn the movements of the devil and enhance our ability to distinguish between good and evil.
6. The struggle in the practice of the Jesus Prayer is connected with the cleansing of our body and soul from the negative effect of passions. We do not seek apathy or to destroy our passions, but to transform them into help to seek a relationship with God. Our salvation depends on this struggle of transformation, which requires the help of God’s grace.
7. We do not try and attain absolute nothingness, but seek to turn our heart so it brings the grace of God into our soul, so it can be spread throughout our body. We make no effort to negate or destroy the body, but see it as the temple of the Spirit. We practice the prayer because we want to live with God eternally.
8. We are not indifferent to the world. We continually pray for all beings. Salvation is a union with Christ, while we are in communion with other persons. It is not an individual goal.
9. We do not put great emphasis on psychosomatic methods or on body postures. They can only assist us in concentration.
(Metropoitan of Nafpaktos Hierotheos, A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain, pp 48 -50)

The difference from “New Age” practices or Eastern yoga meditation has been described by using the analogy of a framed masterpiece. We can admire the beautiful frame of a masterpiece, but the frame is not the masterpiece. The similarities between the Jesus Prayer and various meditation practices can be considered to be like the frame of a masterpiece. The masterpiece in the practice of the Jesus Prayer is union with Jesus Christ. The frame is only the methods used. There may be similarities with postures, techniques and other acts of the outer form of this prayer, but the content and aim is totally different and uniquely Christian.

Friday, June 12, 2009


Watchfulness is the action to guard us from our automatic reactions to thoughts stimulated by our senses. The Greek word that is translated as watchfulness is “Nepsis”. It comes from “nepho,” which means to guard, inspect, examine, watch over and keep under surveillance. Watchfulness has been described by Elder Ephriam of Philotheou as “the axe which shatters the large trees, hitting their roots. When the root is struck, it doesn’t spring up again.”

Saint Hesychios sees watchfulness as follows:
Watchfulness is a continual fixing and halting of thought at the entrance to the heart... If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare.

He shows us that this involves an effort to intercede on our thoughts, forcing them to be examined, to shine the commandments of our Lord on them. He sees this as warfare, which emphasizes the nature of this effort. We know in warfare we need to have effective weapons that are stronger than those of the enemy.

Another church elder from modern times, Piasios, tells us about some of the consequences of not being watchful.
“When our soul lives carelessly without watching over its thoughts, it will consequently fill up with dirty and sly thoughts.
As a result, people start developing psychological problems which gradually pile up.... Some people, while they are found in this situation and come face to face with the problem itself, they do not realize it, and thus are unable to humbly confess to their spiritual father their fall. Instead, they look for a “secular” solution and consult a psychiatrist, who will inevitably prescribe medication... The only solution is to become aware of the problem and confess it to a spiritual father and then humbly follow his advice.
In our days, people have lost control over their lives, and they do not know what they are doing. The reason being, that they do not wish to be guided; they want to live undisturbed, following their own free will, which will eventually bring their total destruction... when man uses his freedom and independence without taking into consideration his human weakness, he becomes deceived; he experiences and interprets everything by using his own logic. Instead of God’s grace, human logic rules his life, and his mind is in confusion. This is terrible.”
Elder Piasios

It is essential to build self-control. Most importantly, we have to learn to harness the actions of our mind which tends to run wild and unchecked. This condition forces us to rely on mental programming that needs to be changed to live the Christian life. This is what being watchful is about. Being watchful means that we have the necessary self-discipline where we are able to guard our inner sanctuary from being invaded by thoughts stimulated by our senses that lead us to sinful actions. It is an ability to intervene in the process of choosing how to act based on any kind of stimulus that leads to a thought.