Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Illumination: Entering Within

The process that leads us to pure prayer is difficult to explain.  We are relegated to ideas such as negative theology, prayer in the heart and pure prayer.  Fr. Dimitru Staniloae does an excellent job of explaining this important step in our spiritual journey, which involves facing the abyss, darkness, a vast chasm and so forth. It is a process that involves going beyond reason, rising to the use of a higher mind that does not rely on concepts. It is a step beyond negative theology.

Fr. Dimitru writes,
In negative theology we make an abstraction of the world only by reason and not totally even then, because when we negate one of God's attributes we think about what we negate. 
So, negative theology is like a first step into this unknown space.  At this stage we begin to realize the unknowability of God through reason.  While we do so we realize the reality of His inner presence.

He continues,
In mental prayer we turn away from all things and submerge ourselves in ourselves; we make an existential abstraction, total and lasting, by all that we are.
It is through mental prayer that we will make this final journey to be filled with the joy of the divine light and a higher knowledge of the divine though a union with God.  There is a step beyond apophatic or negative theology which occurs through prayer.  As we enter into mental prayer we enter into the depths of our inner being. We discover our true self and open the doors or our heart to knowledge of God.

He continues,
In the prayer made in the heart we not only negate the world and think of it at the same time, but pure and simple we totally forget the world with our whole being.  We are left only with ourselves and not with our superselves with our traits and properties which can be seen or thought about in definite concepts. Rather we remain with our "I" from the depths, unconstrained by the thought of things, which can't be seen or defined by any concept whatsoever. We find ourselves only with the simple consciousness of the presence of the self, of its indefinable realities.
As we enter the heart in prayer, which is the center of our being or our spirit, we leave the realm of concepts, reason and our normal mental processes.  We now face the the pure self in its simplest form, free of mental concepts.  What makes up our ego-self disappears.  We are stripped or all the images we have created to make up our self-image.  We are free and pure to face our Creator.

Saint Gregory Palamas says,
In prayer the mind gradually abandons all relations with created things: first with all things evil and bad, then with neutral things capable of conformity to either good or ill, according to the intentions of the person using them.
All the Holy Fathers tell us, according to Fr. Dimitru, that the absolutely essential condition to approach the mind of the infinite God is to leave behind all perceptible and intelligible things. This we are able to do, after preparation where we conquer our passions, in mental prayer.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp. 283-284

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

Jesus Prayer: Articles and Books

Jesus Prayer: Articles and Books

"Prayer without Ceasing" is necessary for all Christians
By St Gregory Palamas
"bear in mind the method of prayer – how it is possible to pray without ceasing, namely by praying in the mind. And this we can always do if we so wish...."
On Practicing the Jesus Prayer
by St. Ignatius (Brianchaninov)
"The correct practice of the Jesus Prayer proceeds naturally from correct notions
about God, about the most holy name of the Lord Jesus, and about man's relationship
to God. ..."
The Jesus Prayer
by Saint Theophan the Recluse
"Only with the help of this prayer can the necessary order of the soul be firmly maintained; only through this prayer can we preserve our inner order undisturbed even when distracted by household cares."
Guidance about the Jesus Prayer
By Father Paisios the Athonite:
"only certainty is repentance and let every spiritual edifice be built upon it and let us continually seek repentance from God and nothing else..."

On Prayer
Purification of the Heart
The Jesus Prayer: Method
by Archimandrite Sophrony
"Through prayer in the Name of Jesus in its ultimate realization unites man with Christ fully..."
Jesus Prayer of the heart for the faithful living in the world.
By Elder Josheph
In the beginning it is necessary to say the prayer in a whisper, or even louder when confronted by duress and inner resistance. When this good habit is achieved to the point that the prayer may be sustained and said with ease, then we can turn inwardly with complete outer silence."
Omnipotent Prayer 
Elder Joseph, the quieter and Spilaiotou
Always try to make sure that the prayer of Jesus Christ is included in your daily cycle, your work, your every breath and your every sense.
Interview with Metropolitan Jonah on the Jesus Prayer - Audio
Introduction to the Jesus Prayer - by Mother Alexandra
formerly Her Royal Highness, lleana Princess of Romania and Archduchess of Austria
Jesus Prayer - by Metropolitan Anthony Bloom
"The use of the prayer is dual, it is an act of worship as is every prayer, and on the ascetical level, it is a focus that allows us to keep our attention still in the presence of God."
On the Jesus Prayer - by Tito Colliander
"Prayer will call forth in inner calm, a peaceful relaxation in grief, love, gratitude, humility."
The Jesus Prayer - by Fr. Steven Peter Tsichlis
"To enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with St. Paul's challenge to pray unceasingly, the Orthodox Tradition offers the Jesus Prayer, which is sometimes called the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer is offered as a means of concentration, as a focal point for our inner life."
Jesus Prayer by Deacon Charles Joiner
"The Jesus prayer is recognized in the Church as a very important form of prayer to help us progress in our spiritual maturity by coming closer to a unity with God. Some say it is the only prayer we need to learn. The prayer is very simple."
Praying the Jesus Prayer
by Dr. Albert Rossi, of St. Vladimir's

"The Jesus Prayer provides one good way to pray constantly. In fact, the Jesus Prayer is the most widespread and most specifically Orthodox spiritual prayer..."
Prayer of Jesus or Prayer of the Heart
by Archimandrite Fr. Jonah Mourtos
The Power of the Name
by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia
An Orthodox Christian Study on Unceasing Prayer Part 1,part 2part 3
by John K. Kotsonis, Ph.D.
Becoming the Jesus Prayer
by Fr. Michael Plekon
The Jesus Prayer
by Ken E. Norian, TSSF
Hieromonk Ilie Cleopa preaching on the levels of the Prayer of the Heart (video)
The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart(online book) by Fr. Theophanes (Constantine)
Notes on the Jesus Prayer
by Fr. Artemy Vladimirov
The Jesus Prayer - Series of poisting on Blog Scholé by Fr. James Coles
Difference Between The Jesus Prayer and a Hindu Mantra
by Dionysios Farasiotis
"What constitutes the infinite distance separating the Christian Jesus Prayer from the Hindu mantra, however, is that which lurks behind the name of the god being invoked in a mantra and invited into the soul."

The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology
by Igumen Chariton (Author)
A spiritual anthology drawn from the Greek and Russian traditions, concerned in particular with the most frequently used and best loved of all Orthodox prayers--the Jesus Prayer. Texts are taken chiefly from the letters of Bishop Theophan the Recluse, along with many other writers.

Writings from the Philokalia: On Prayer of the Heart(Paperback)
by E. Kadloubovsky (Translator), G.E.H. Palmer (Translator)
This is a collection of texts written between the fourth and fourteenth centuries by spiritual masters of the Orthodox Christian tradition. First published in Greek in 1782
On the Prayer of Jesus (Paperback)
by Ignatius Brianchaninov (Author), Kallistos Ware (Foreword)
Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807–1867) provides wise instruction and advice covering all aspects of the practice, from how to get started, to approaching difficulties that arise, to dealing with friends and family who don't get what you're doing, to making this prayer (also called the Prayer of the Heart) the foundation of your life.
AudioBook Online
The Jesus Prayer (Paperback) Online edition
by Lev Gillet (Author), Kallistos Ware (Foreword)
Starting with the veneration of the Holy Name in the Old and the New Testament, the author traces the gradual development of the Jesus Prayer first in Byzantium and then in the Slav lands. He concludes with practical suggestions for its use today, showing how it is a prayer not only of the past but equally for the twentieth century.
The Way of a Pilgrim: The Jesus Prayer Journey Annotated & Explained (Paperback)
by Gleb Pokrovsky (Author), Andrew Harvey (Foreword)
Its anonymous author was one of the wandering pilgrims who were a regular feature of the Russian countryside from medieval times up until the early twentieth century. Through his eyes we get a charming look at rural life in nineteenth-century Russia, and with him we discover the secret to putting into practice the words of St. Paul: "Pray without ceasing."
A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain: Discussion with a Hermit on the Jesus Prayer by Metropolitan Hierotheos
The bishop is a frequent pilgrim to the Holy Mountain, the spiritual heartland of the Orthodox world. After a particularly fruitful visit with a hermit monk (a God-bearing elder who prefers anonymity), he wrote down their discussion about the Jesus Prayer and published it in Greek (now in over 9 Greek editions). It appeared in English in 1991.
Excerpt - Five Stages of Contemplative Prayer
The Name of Jesus
By Irenee Hausherr
Comprehensive documentation of how the Jesus Prayer evolved He examines the documents of the first millennium and a half of Christian tradition. In the first part he recounts the names by which the faithful addressed their Lord. In the second he traces from their writings the method of continual prayer taught and practiced by eastern ascetics.
Writings from the Philokalia On Prayer Of The Heart
Trans. by E. Kadloubovsky & G. E. H. Palmer
The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart by Fr. Theophanes (Constantine)
Online- a three-volume workwritten by an Orthodox monk dedicated to the the study of the foundations of the Jesus Prayer.
The Jesus Prayer: The Ancient Desert Prayer That Tunes the Heart to God
by Frederica Mathewes-Green
"The idea is to send some time every day practicing the Prayer... not robotically but sincerely.// This brief, all -purpose, very portable prayer takes root and spreads. In the process you hone your ability to discern God's presence.... Practicing the Jesus Prayer helps you sharpen your a ability to" tune it" to his presence just as you wold practice scales to hone your ability to identify musical pitch."

Web Sites
A very nice and simple web sigt for one who is beginning to use the Jesus prayer. They offer 10 free Jesus Prayer cards which are very well done.

From the website with permission.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Illumination: Developing Pure Prayer

Fr. Dimitru next shows us the different ways to lift our minds to pure prayer.  He outlines the teachings of the following Saints. 

Saint John Chrysostom:
He teaches the return of the mind to the heart and the repetition of a short prayer addressed to Jesus.

St. Simeon the New Theologian: The Method of Holy Prayer and Attention
He outlines four levels of prayer:
1. Prayer accompanied with imagination.
2. Prayer which concentrates on the words of the prayer not accepting images or other sensations.
3. Guarding the heart and praying from the depths of the heart, calling on Jesus Christ, without distraction from passions, and with obedience to a spiritual father.
4. The final level is when the mind remains motionless in contemplation of God.

Nicephorus the Monk:
He recommends that we seek the heart from the very beginning and to coordinate our saying of the prayer with the breath, persistently reciting the prayer addressed to Jesus.

Gregory of Sinai:
Saint Gregory provides detailed instructions for the body and mind. He advises that the Jesus Prayer should be recited with both mind and mouth.
"It is necessary only to speak quietly and without agitation, so that somehow the mind doesn't trouble the feeling and attention of the mind and hinder them.  this until the mind, getting used to this work will make progress and receive the power of the spirit to be able to pray fully and persistently.  Then it is no longer necessary to speak with the mouth, but neither is it possible; then it is  enough to carry on the work with the mind."
He also instructs us to divide the Jesus prayer in half, repeating each half by itself for a time. (Lord Jesus Christ Son of God -- Have mercy on me a sinner)

Callistus and Igantius:
They add the idea of thinking of death, the judgment, the reward of good works and the punishment of evil.

Nicodemus the Aghiorite:
He emphasizes the need to give the mind something to do with the meditation of the Jesus Prayer. He also gives details on the use of the breath in prayer.

Fr. Dimitru concludes his discussion suggesting we focus on the simpler method of John Chrysostom, which is the recitation of the Jesus Prayer without the complications of body movements, positions or control of breathing.

He then reviews the lessons from the Way of the Pilgrim, a story of a Russian pilgrim who sought to find how to pray unceasingly and learned to recite the Jesus Prayer more and more each day until it became a constant prayer. It is a gripping and powerful story.

Fr. Dimitru Stailoae says,
The Jesus prayer becomes gradually a mental prayer, also the content of the mental prayer is also Jesus...   
It becomes mental prayer when there is no longer the need for either words, or methods, and the  mind is occupied with it unceasingly, along with the heart.
The practice of the Jesus prayer is important for our spiritual growth towards theosis. Some say it is essential.

For those looking for information about how to practice the Jesus prayer, I suggest you go to the website Prayer.html  Here you will find useful information and links to many articles. Also there are many posts on this blog regarding the Jesus Prayer.  This link will lead you to some of them.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 262 -282

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Illumination: Pure Prayer

The virtue of prayer brings about the mystery of our union with God, because prayer is the tie of rational creatures with the Creator. - Saint Gregory Palamas

Pure Prayer is the bridge we seek to union with God and to be participants in His divine light.  It is prayer that enables us to cross the great abyss when realize God is beyond all mental concepts and involves a higher knowledge.  It is a step that is beyond apophaticism or negative theology.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae writes,
Pure prayer is an ecstasy of interior quietness, a total cessation of thought in the face of divine mystery, before the divine light descends to the mind thus stopped by astonishment.
This pure prayer is only given to us once we have mastered our passions.

Fr. Dimitru says,
Pure prayer is made only after the mind has been raised from the contemplation of visible nature and from the world of concepts, when the mind doesn't have any image or form or concept.
It is called pure because it does not have and object and does not involve any words.  This is also called by the Church Fathers as the Prayer of the mind, or noetic prayer, where the mind is free and we are face to face with God.

Fr. Dimitru gives us a couple of conditions for reaching this level of prayer:
1. The mind must withdraw from things outside and focus on what is within, to its heart.  It is in this place called the heart, the center of our soul where we find God.
2. One should use only a few words addressed to Jesus to assure a remembrance of Him and to focus the mind on its goal.  He says, "even the most pure prayer must keep the thought of the presence of Jesus."  He advises us that the common prayer of this nature is the Jesus Prayer :Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

With the mind focused on the heart we will find that the mind no longer looks for external things. With its focus on the name of Jesus it is guarded by any sinful thoughts.  But there is a struggle involved against evil forces.

Fr. Dimitru says,
It must struggle much with the thoughts around it, to make its way toward it (the heart) and to open it... The mind with difficulty regains the habit of looking toward God... Then it lives His presence directly, or feels itself in His presence.
This state of prayer involves the opening of the heart.  We feel the pleasure of constantly remembering His name and being within with His love.

St. Diadochos writes,
Grace itself then thinks together with the soul and cries or together with it: "Lord Jesus Christ." [Because immediately]... we need His help to unite and gladden all our thoughts with His ineffable Sweetness, that we might be moved with all our heart to the remembrance and love of our God and Father.
Next: Method for the facilitation of pure prayer

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 255 - 261

Friday, June 25, 2010

illumination: Positive Theology is a Companion to Apophatic Theology

Every reality, concept or symbolic image mirrors God as well as awakens in us the proof or unexplainable feeling that God is totally different... they confront us with an infinite abyss of divine reality which we can't grasp with our minds.... But our mind, faced with this abyss still doesn't give up looking at things... and finds they don't give it the means to describe the abyss... Finally the mind realizes that not one is is suitable. Fr. Dimitru Staniloae 
Apophaticism is a stage where reason become aware of its limits. It does not mean that we must abandon all the concepts we have learned as being useless, but we accept their limits in knowing God and negate them in this context.

Fr Dimitru says,
Therefore negative theology doesn't eliminate the enriching of our spirit with concepts ever higher and more enhanced.  It also measures divinity with them and always finds it incomprehensible...
We need to first develop these concepts, because to negate we need something to negate.  So as our positive knowledge increases so does our ability to approach the unknowable God.

Fr. Dimitru says,
It is true that positive theology is a theology of the finite, but far from excluding the infinite, it makes the ascent to Him possible.  Only if it is used without negative theology does it have but a limited character... . We must have first tried, and continually be trying to approach the divinity with the rems of positive theology in order to know that they don't fit and consequently negate them...
So because of the fact that by His hidden nature God is unknowable but by His works which come into the world and are mirrored in their created effect, He is knowable, stands for the necessity of expressing God antinomically, in other words in positive terms, immediately replaced by the negative.  thus on one hand we must say that God is life, according to His life-creating power which He has manifested by working in the world, on the other hand we must say that He isn't life, because the hidden nature from which the life-giving power comes and acts in the world, isn't identified with this, but is greater than it.
Affirmative theology expresses the grain which can be taken from the "nature " of truth––negative theology, the consciousness or evidence that these grains aren't everything, that by them the knowledge of the truth isn't finished.  It expresses the consciousness or evidence of the inexhaustible mystery, which as such is the inexhaustible source of the truths which will be known in the future.  Positive theology strikes the balance of the truths already known.  Negative theology gives the assurance for the knowledge of the future.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 245 - 254 

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Illumination: Facing the Abyss

After a long and arduous struggle to tame the passions, we receive the gift of contemplation to seek the truth in all of God's creation. Along this path we continually have feelings of God's presence, but we now come to a place where we realize that we can't know God. We recognize that there is a limit to our mental ability to grasp truth. We yearn for union with Him and to be united with His divine light. But, our attempts to understand Him elude us.  We begin to think in terms of what God is not, developing what is called an apophatic sense. We begin to sense that there is an alternative path to a fuller knowledge of Him, one that goes beyond the mental concepts we have trusted in so far.  This alternative is what the theologians have described as apophaticism.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae says,
After the knowledge, by the intermediacy of nature, of the divine logoi and energies, the knowledge of the divine revealed energies follows.  Of course, the knowledge of these energies is accompanied especially in the second case, by apophaticism.  Furthermore, the knowledge of the energies enveloped in nature is accompanied by the consciousness of the unknowability of he divinely revealed energies; and the knowledge of them goes together with the consciousness of the absolute incomprehensibility of the divine nature.  This apophaticism is present at the same time as knowledge, or alternatively, on both steps, but is more accentuated on the second.
As I have personally contemplated the truth of God as found in His creation, I sense this gap between what I can know and what there is to know.  I am left with a divine "feeling" that I don't really understand. I feel as if I cant fully know the truth about that which I observe. Occasionally I come to a place where I momentarily let go of my mental concepts and this feeling intensifies, but, almost instantly, I snap back like I am afraid of losing reality.  It feels like a temporary loss of consciousness.  Its appears as a void, a silence, a great abyss, one I am not quite ready to master.  It seems like everything will be negated. I react and withdraw to a more comfortable place. I realize I am not yet prepared for this next step.

Fr. Dimitru describes this condition where we begin to feel the unexplainable divine energies as the first step of apophaticism.  The next step he describes as follows:
The moment we leave behind every consideration of concepts taken from nature and every preoccupation even to negate them when we therefore also raise ourselves beyond negation, as an intellectual operation, and beyond some apophatic feeling of them, we enter a state of silence produced by prayer.
This a a critical transition in our spiritual growth. We may experience a void, silence, darkness, a state of intense prayer or a total quietness of our mind.  To progress we have to make a total surrender to God and enter into this unknown area. We must face the abyss. It is a total surrender of our ego-centeredness, of the control that our mind uses based on worldly concepts.  

Fr Dimitru says,
The mind reaches the abyss which separates its knowledge from God, but it is still here on the human side. But carried off by God, it goes over there, to the vision of the divine light. 
There is a large chasm we need to cross and our faith must be total to cross it.  On the other side is the divine light and the union with God we seek.

Fr Dimitru says,
Certainly the vision of the divine light is also accompanied by an apophaticism, which we could call the third step.  But it is no longer an apophaticism in the sense of a void, as previous steps.  First it consists of the consciousness of the one who sees it;: that it can't be contained in concepts and expressed in words. Secondly, that beyond it is the divine being, which remains totally inaccessible.  But it has a positive content of knowledge higher than knowledge of apophatic knowledge, a feeling of higher experience and of natural feeling.... the vision of the light means that it has carried the mind across the abyss which separates us and God.
Fr. Staniloae has more to say on this. Next.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 237 - 244 

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Illumination: Going Beyond Knowledge - Apophatic Knowledge

As we begin to approach an understanding of God we find that we cannot understand Him.  He is beyond our mental grasp.  This leads us to a critical step in our spiritual journey.  We need to go beyond all mental concepts to know God. This step is referred to as one requiring apophatic knowledge.  It is a mystical way of knowing that transcends the logical mind.

We began our journey with a  positive approach to knowing God only to find that this does not lead us to knowing Him.

Fr. Dimitru says,
So at the beginning the affirmative way is less dependent on the consciousness of the ineffable character of God;  later it is more so. After a long ascent, it becomes almost totally dependent on the consciousness of the inability to comprehend and express God in concepts.
Instead of identifying positive attributes of God we begin to try and use negative ones.  This is a way of expressing our feeling of the incomprehensibility of God that develops as we ascend in our spiritual growth.  It refers to an experience that cannot be described in positive terms, an experience that is referred to by the Church Fathers as vision of God or the divine light.  It is not a rejection of the idea of knowing God.  But one that is part of a transition to the realization that there is a higher kind of knowledge that permeates our being when we come into contact with God.

V. Lossky captures this idea in his well known book Mystical Theology where he explains the teaching of Dionysius the Areopagite (Acts 17:34).  
Fr. Dimitru summarizes it as follows:
Dionysius distinguishes two possible theological ways.  One––that of cataphatic or positive theology––proceeds by affirmations; the other ––apophatic or negative theology––by negations.  The first leads us to some knowledge of God, but in an imperfect way.  The perfect way, the only way which is fitting in regard to God, who is of His very nature unknowable, is the second––which leads us finally to total ignorance.  All knowledge has as its object that which is.  Now God is beyond all that exists. In order to approach Him, it is necessary to deny all that is inferior to Him, that is to say, all that which is. ... It is by unknowing that one may know Him who is above every possible object of knowledge. Proceeding by negations one ascends from the inferior degrees of being to the highest, by progressively setting aside all that can be known, in order to draw near to the Unknown in the darkness of absolute ignorance.
This is a major transition because we have to give up all we have conceived, all that was useful in our earlier spiritual development, so we can continue on our path to union with God.

Saint Dionysius writes,
One must abandon all that is impure and all that is pure.  One must then scale the most sublime heights of sanctity leaving behind all the divine luminaries, all the heavenly sounds and words.  It is only thus that one may penetrate to the darkness wherein He who is beyond all created things makes His dwelling.
This approach, called apophatic, is an attitude of mind which does not allow the formation of concepts about God. It is based on a mystical experience and not gained through a method of abstract thought.  It requires proper preparation and a purification.

Lossky summarizes as follows:
Unknowability does not mean agnosticism or refusal to know God.  Nevertheless, this knowledge will only be attained in the way which leads not to knowledge but to union––to deification.  Thus theology will never be abstract, working through concepts, but contemplative: raising mind to those realities which pass all understanding...
The knowledge of the divine nature is above knowledge.

Saint Gregory Palamas says,
It shouldn't be called knowledge, because it is much higher than all knowledge and the viewpoint from knowledge.
It is the lived embodiment of the unknowability of God.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 230 - 236

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Illumination: Spiritual Understanding of Scripture

Man has the absolute need for these two things, if he wants to keep the right way to God without error: the spiritual understanding of Scripture and the spiritual contemplation of God in nature."
Saint Maximus the Confessor

Saint Maximus also tells us that for a spiritual understanding of Scripture it is essential to go beyond the literal understanding.  He writes,
He who doesn't enter into the divine beauty and glory found in the letter of the law falls under the power of the passions and becomes the slave of the world.
This means we must first be worthy of the Spirit and able to enter into a spiritual relationship with the words to gain deeper spiritual understanding of Scripture.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloe says,
The spiritual understanding.... requires preparation as well as the knowledge of the logoi or the living words and present workings of God by things.  Those who are full of passions, to the extent that they are glued to the visible surface of things, are also glued to the letter of the Scripture and its history... the wall which blocks the road to God, rather than being transparent for them or a guide to Him.
This implies that the most useful study of Scripture comes after we have conquered our passions.  Before this we are apt to make self-serving and highly subjective interpretations of Scripture.  This is why it is not advised for Orthodox Christians to engage in their own study or interpretation of Scripture, but instead to rely on the interpretations given to us by the Church Fathers and study in the context of the Church with the assistance of her clergy.

Scripture is divine word and the proper understanding of it involves a limitless depth and a universal validity for every age and every person.  To gain this universal understanding requires the ability to hear the words as if they are spoken by God, to us personally and at the present time.

Fr. Dimitru says,
It means that when I read the letter I hear God himself speaking to me and to us today, or about me and us, and about our duties... means to see the constant relationship between God and us, and to live it in the way it affects me at the present moment....
This is not a subjective interpretation but one that is universal and the same for all persons.  Spirit must penetrate the words of the Scripture, allowing them to be understood from our inner being.  This inner understanding is from Spirit and not the intellect that becomes available to us once we are purified of the passions which blind us to the selfless truth of things.

The Scripture gains meaning from a virtuous life and a life in the Church.  The readings of the Church Fathers help us give clear meaning to the words.

Fr. Dimitru says,
Scripture... has depths which lead to the divine infinite and make the Person of the divine Word felt.  This wisdom makes way of an infinite progress in the deeper study of the Scripture and in the increasing accentuated feeling of Christ... The progress in the deeper study of Scripture is in proportion to our progress in the life according to the Spirit, in proportion to our purification from the egotism of the passions.
This is why when we read Scripture time and time again it takes on new and deeper meanings.  As we progress spiritually, progressively revealing the influence the passions have on us, repenting and correcting our ways, gaining in self-control, we see new depths in Scripture.  The Scripture has not changed, but our perception of it changes and deepens. Once we have reached the state of dispassion where the passions no longer have any control over us we enter into the spiritual nature of Scripture and it becomes in a real way the voice of God.

Fr. Dimitru says,
In this way all things in Scripture not only become contemporary, but in some way a biography of our relationship with God.  In this sense the events of salvation of the life of Jesus become present events which happen in the depths of my life... He is resurrected in me when I reach the state of dispassion.  He is transfigured for me when I become worthy of seeing the divine light.  He penetrates into me in a hidden way at baptism. He is the effective force which guides and empowers my whole ascent along which He becomes increasingly more transparent in me by my gradual deification, making me like Him by the dialogical communication with Him...
For the spiritual man, in the depths of Scripture... the Spirit sustains his efforts of purification and illuminates for him everything around that they might become transparent symbols of divinity.  All things give him the consciousness that  "In God we live and move, and have our being," (Acts 17:28) as Saint Paul told us in Athens.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 224 - 229 

Monday, June 21, 2010

Illumination: Steps Needed to Discern Truth

"Preparation is necessary because our reason, in every condition of our life, doesn't remain invariable with the same capacity to objectively capture the truth."

The following are the steps outlined by Fr. Dimitru Staniloae to return to the way of truth.

1. The first is faith.  We need to be obedient to God's commandments.

2. Second, is a long term effort to direct our lives and to explain things in the world in light of our faith.
This involves the steps of purification outlined earlier.  We need to gain control over the passions, gain a life of virtue, and give up seeing things as objects for egoistic satisfaction.

3. Third, we need the experiences of life gained by the first two steps.
This develops valid value judgments and legitimizes an explanation of things and their logoi having their source in God.  We learn that a life directed only on fleshly things is a distortion of the full reality.  We realize a life of faith and observe the truth of life.  We understand that discernment is based on more than what we can learn from our own rationalization or judgment.  We begin to realize the logoi in things are also logoi in God.  Our discrimination of logoi becomes ever clearer.

4. Fourth, with this increased sharpness of mind our discernment is accelerated.  We can see what is evil or good in a thing or event at our first glance. With a long habit of such discernment we realize logoi do not consist of fleshly utility but in a revelation of a spiritual sense––a divine intention.  This is all gained gradually as a gift of the Holy Spirit.

5. Finally, we develop the capacity to grasp the rational relationships of things and events with the logoi of other things and events.

Fr. Dimitru concludes this chapter,
For  man to know the Logos from nature and Scripture, something necessary for him if he wants to reach perfection, he must understand both of them "in spirit" going beyond their material covering.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 214 - 223 

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Illumination: Why is Prolonged Preparation Necessary?

Without much preparation our judgment about things continually changes.  We do not always have the same capacity to grasp the truth.  Our self-interests based on actions of the passions clouds our reasoning.  It is the passions that introduce irrationality into our reasoning.  Only they are irrational.  We make our reason fit our life situation, rationalizing all of our misguided actions. We have a self-made world view, a mental model, through which we interpret the world and its events.  We tend to see created things only in terms of our own needs, as objects for material satisfaction.  We justify irrational behavior as rational and find in things and events logoi that do not belong.  This is so because of the existence of passions in us that modify our vision of the world in a way that deviates from the truth.

First, the deeper spiritual logoi are coved up.  We only see the material utilitarian aspects of things.  For example an apple is not seen has having a purpose of realizing that the creative energies of beauty and sweetness come from God.  We instead see an apple as an object to satisfy our appetite or for some nutritional value.  These material attributes blind us to the greater spiritual meanings.

Second, we try to justify all our actions based on personal motives.  The objective logoi are replaced by subjective logoi.  This subjective logoi are not the true ones but ones given to us through our passions.  It is only the objective ones that aid our spiritual growth, but without preparation they are hidden from us. When were are under the control of our passions the truth is replaced by a personal truth, a subjective truth.  We see all things relative to our personal self-interested observation.  When we embrace this subjective view as truth, we fall into an error called Relativism. We mistakenly embrace as truth that there is no absolute truth, that there are no logoi, because everyone sees the world differently.  Thus, the truth is not recognized.  It remains hidden.

This subjectivity needs to be overcome to know divine truths.  It cannot be done though any theoretical study.  It comes only with the development of dispassion based on humility and meekness, through a long process of purification.  This involves a struggle demanding much effort and faith.  The state of dispassion allows us to avoid the action of the passions to distort our judgment about things and events.  With a quiet liberated mind we can begin to observe divine truths.

Fr Dimitru Staniloae says,
Only reason which is modeled after a virtuous life, in other words after a life which has sacrificed, after prolonged exercise, egotism and the self-importance of personal opinion, can come to truth... Only the subjectivity which means the living of the surpassing of personal subjectivity can approach the truth.
Surpassing personal subjectivity is the basis for contemplation of the truths of God's creation.  This is why in our modern world such great emphasis is placed on the scientific approach.  It removes personal subjectivity.  But this approach is also limited, because it is applied only to the study of material attributes.  But a scientific approach models the objectivity needed to also view the spiritual attributes of things.  Dispassion is the equivalent "scientific method" for knowing divine truths.

This implies the development of a whole way of life, not just some rational understanding. Once purified of the passions, reason is transformed and is assisted by the powers of the soul and the whole person becomes in love with the truth.  Through this love of truth we enter into a relationship with the divine Logos.  We leave behind our opinions and only seek the truth given to us by God.  In this way mind and heart become unified.  

As Fr. Dimitru puts it, 
"The truth can't be known and confessed except with "one mind and one heart."
Next we will look at the steps for our healing and transformation of our reason.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 206 - 213

Friday, June 18, 2010

Illumination: How to Discern the Truth (logoi) in Things

After a prolonged period of purification with much spiritual exercise to subdue the passions, we can focus our mind on the contemplation of God's creation to discern the truth that lies in them, the logoi.

This truth is not grasped by our reason alone.  

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae writes,
It is reason which is exercised by the choice of rational things required by divine commands and by gradual rationalization of man gained by virtue."
This is a reason purified from the influence of all our passions and self-centeredness and informed by a selfless virtuous life.  This provides the basis for an act of "intuitive knowledge" in which reason is implicated through exercise over prolonged periods of time.  We must be aware that we can make personal judgments about things, their logoi, their purpose.  In our normal state these judgments vary from time to time but this does not change the truth about them.  It only reflects our imperfect judgment about them.  Once we realize, based on humility, that all that happens takes place by God's will, we can begin to have revealed to us the "true line" of His development of creation.

This truth of things is not something obtained with intellectual dialogue.  This is not necessary to extract their truth. We must prepare ourselves so it is revealed to us.  

There exists an objective logos––pure reason.
Fr. Dimitru says,
It imposes itself by its fully convincing and evident rationality and at the same time by its supra-rationality as a reflex of a harmonious and immutable order of the existence of a thing of fact with the framework of the whole of reality.
We can arrive at these truths only after proper preparation and the development of a high moral character.  Only then is the truth revealed to us uncluttered by our personal opinions.

Next we will address why prolonged preparation is necessary.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Contemplation of God in Creation

Before we can expect to directly contemplate God we must first contemplate Him in nature.  It is by the beauty, order and mystery of the created world that we are guided to our union with Him.

There is a reason behind every created thing. This truth is called the logoi of the thing or event.  The Church Fathers use this term to emphasize that there is an objective truth behind all things.  The logoi are their sense, purpose, cause, finality and special relationship with everything else.  This truth is not a relative truth or subjective one.  

It is true that when most of us view an object or event we will have a different view of it. What seems relative in the truth of things is only due to our self-interest or our opinions being imposed on things and events.  When we develop dispassion and humility through the steps of Purification, these self-opinions disappear so that the truth of things, the logoi, is revealed in a pure objective sense.  These logoi are the obedience that the thing has to its Creator.  They come from God as divine directives. They represent God's ideas. The reality of all creation is that they are the same no matter which person is viewing them once we strip away the clutter of ego-centeredness from the observer.

Through the logoi of things we can gain an understanding of the divine Logos which is God, supreme reason, once we have overcome the passions.  
Saint Maximus the Confessor says,
The mind which cultivates in the spirit natural contemplation... recieves the proof of the creative Logos of all things from the beautiful order of visible things"
This truth or logoi is hidden in things.  As we contemplate them we will discover rays of the divine Logos. As we discover these truths hidden in things, we gradually ascend to the knowledge of God and our personal relationship with Him.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae says,
On the road to our approach to God stands the world––we must pass through the understanding of it.... The world imposed on everyone as a stone for sharpening his spiritual faculties.... If we look at its beauty in order to praise its Creator, we are saved; if we think that its fruit is pure and simply something to eat, we are lost.  Salvation is not obtained in isolation, but in a cosmic frame. 
Through our contemplation of the things of the world we are stripping away from all things our biases, images and limited views we have imposed on them, which comes from our way of life being subjected to the passions.

In addition to nature we have the Son of God, Jesus Christ, who is the incarnation of the Divine Logos.  Therefore, by studying Scripture, the life of Jesus and his teachings, we can also gain spiritual insights.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 203 - 207 

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Illumination - Gifts of the Holy Spirit

At our Baptism and Chrismation we receive the gifts of the Holy Spirit.  But as long as we are dominated by the passions these gifts are not fully active.  They are hidden or covered.  Once we remove the passions then these gifts work in our consciousness.
Fr. Dimitru Staniloae says,
Only after the termination of the work of purification, driven especially by the powers of Baptism and of repentance, does the work of the gifts of the Holy Spirit appear first and foremost.
It is during the stage of Purification where we work to overcome the work of the passions where we begin to feel increasingly the power of the Holy Spirit.  He then works later to bring to our consciousness full illumination of the truths.

There are said to be seven gifts of the Holy Spirit:
     Fear of God to help overcome sinfulness.
     Spirit of strength to live by the virtues.
     Spirit of counsel to give us the skill of discernment.
     Spirit of understanding to realize how blessings have been revealed to us to gain virtues.
     Spirit of knowledge to know the deeper motivation of each command and virtue.
     Spirit of comprehension to know the meaning of things by identification with them.
     Spirit of wisdom which is the simple contemplation of truth of all things.

St. Maximus the Confessor describes wisdom as follows:
By this we know as far as is humanly possible, in an unknown way, the simple logoi of things found in God; we take out the truth from everything, as from a gushing spring of the heart, and we also share it in different ways with others.
It is the gifts of the Holy Spirit that guide us in the knowledge of God.  Again Fr. Dimitru cautions,
Only after the mind is cleansed not only from the passions but also from simple images and representations of things, will the direct knowledge of God be produced... 
The work of the Holy Spirit is like a light shining into a dark room.  As the light increases, the contents of the room become known.  Through illumination the Spirit will illumine our consciousness so that we are filled with divine light.  With this light all things become transparent and their meaning and relationship with God become very clear.  We are enabled to penetrate beneath the surface of things.

Fr. Dimitru says
Only in the measure in which someone becomes transparent to himself, are things made transparent to him, because this power which works in him later reaches the exterior... for the eyes of our soul to see the light of intelligible and divine realities, that is the depths of things, they must first be filled with the light which radiates from these depths.  In him who sees must be found something of what is seen.
Through the contemplation of things of the created world and the words of Scripture, we are led to a deeper illumined knowledge.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 195 - 202

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Entering the Next Phase of Spiritual Development - Illumination

We are now entering a new phase in the major steps in the Orthodox spiritual life.  The first step was called Purification.  This is the stage where we work to liberate our soul from the passions.  It is one where we develop meekness and humility, setting aside our ego-centered desires and learn to practice the virtues which are based on love.  This carries us to the next phase called Illumination or often Contemplation.  It is where the true meaning of things, the logoi, are illuminated for us.  We work to see God's purpose in all things.  With this the world becomes a teacher for us about God––the divine Logos.  Finally there is Perfection which is the direct contemplation of God or mystical knowledge.

In the phase of Illumination we will cover the following topics:

   1. The Gifts of the Holy Spirit
   2. Contemplation of God in Creation
   3. Spiritual Understanding of Scripture
   4. Negative and Apophatic Knowledge of God in general
   5. Steps of Apophatism
   6. Negative and Positive Theology: a Dynamic Relationship
   7. Pure Prayer
   8. Methods for Facilitation of Pure Prayer
   9. To Jesus by what is Deep Within Us
  10. Mental Rest: the First Step of Stillness

The First phase is a necessary preparation for the Second.  And the Second for the Third.  There is a progression in our spiritual growth.  Beware of trying to skip beyond the level which is appropriate.  It is wise to follow the guidance of a spiritual Father.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 69 -73

Monday, June 14, 2010

The Elements of Purification in Orthodox Spirituality

In the previous posts on Fr. Dimitru Staniloae's work titled Orthodox Spirituality we have reviewed part one which he titled "Purification."

In this section he discusses the passions and shows how we can progressively overcome them to attain a final state of dispassion which prepares us for the next section he titles "Illumination."

The path he outlined is as follows:

1. Faith, the Basic State for Purification.

2. The Fear of God and the Thought of Judgment

3. Repentance

4. Self-Control

5. The Guarding of the Mind or of Thoughts

6. Longsuffering, the Patient Endurance of Troubles

7. Hope

8. Meekness and Humility

9. Dispassion or Freedom from Passion

We find ourselves in a state of many cares of this world.  Our mind is taken up with worries and fears.  We find it difficult to concentrate on God, to consistently do His will, and to practice the virtues in our daily life.  We need some kind of radical transformation.  

The path to the needed transformation begins with faith in the Good News that is found in the Gospels. We believe and are Baptized where the Holy Spirit is planted in our hearts and we develop Faith.  This faith is strengthened and followed by the realization of our sinfulness and the final judgment we will eventually face.  We realize we can live a life that takes us to an eternal life with God in His kingdom, or, by ignoring His direction for us, live an eternal life separated from Him.  With this fear of God, we then seek to purify our way of life though an attitude of repentance.  We feel contrition for our weaknesses and seek God's help to overcome them.  We participate in the Sacraments of the Church for our healing and spiritual growth.  We realize our need to have more self-control so that we will not continually repeat our past patterns of living.  We engage in ascetic practices like fasting to aid the development of greater control over the passions which seem to drive us and separate us from God.  As we gain self-control we seek to get at the source of the distractions which lead us to temptations we are unable to resist.  This involves an inner guarding of the mind and referring our thoughts to Christ who is with us in our hearts. We find that there are all kinds of difficulties in this world that we cannot necessarily avoid.  We learn to endure them with patience and the guidance and comfort of God.  As we endure with patience, in us grows our hope for the next world, God's kingdom where there are no troubles. We find we begin to develop meekness and humility––a loss of our ego-centeredness.  And finally, we enter into a state of dispassion where the passions no longer have any control over us.  Our mind becomes quiet and free to pursue the contemplation of God. The soul is now in command to direct our will and we begin to live the life of virtue and love.

We are now ready to enter into the next phase of Orthodox Spirituality know as Illumination.