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.

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