Saturday, July 10, 2010

Perfection: Prayer Develops Love and Union with God

It is by prayer that we grow in love.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae writes,
When we go forward by the Jesus Prayer, to mental prayer in the heart, we are sustained by love for Him.  It grows continually, and fashions us, in a spiritual imaging of His spiritual image, according to His image.  The we feel Him evermore united with our ego, in as "we" from which I can no longer leave without the danger of being lost.  And not only do I receive in me the ego, the "I" of Christ, which makes me according to His image, but also His "I" receives mine in Himself––He accepts even my body in Himself, so that He includes me in His pure senses, in His pure actions.  Thus all of us who believe become one "body" with Him and with each other, a fact which will become perfected in the future life.
This union is reached by pure prayer addressed to Jesus.  But until we are able to engage in this level of prayer we must strive to love our neighbors.  We work on this, recognizing that true love of neighbor, love that never fails, cannot be reached without prayer and asceticism. 

Love is an encounter with the infinite.  If we experience this ecstatic joy between two people it is usually only for a moment.  When we join in our love of God with prayer this state of joy can be prolonged.

Fr Dimitru writes,
We can spend a longer time in the intoxication of the love of God, as the height of pure prayer.... Prayer leads up to the "cessation" of the mind from every activity directed toward the limited.  But the intoxication of the love of God descends all at once from above. overflowing joy, which expresses the total absorption of your person in the other and of the other's in you, there is also a peaceful love, directed by rational consideration, which grows little by little.  This is a preparatory condition for the other.
So our efforts to love one another is also an important preparation for our union with God.  As we learn humility, and learn to give ourselves selflessly for the good of others, we come closer and closer to God.  As we eliminate our passions and perfect our prayer to the state where is descends into the depths of the heart in pure prayer, we experience the unlimited love of God, our total surrender out of our love for Him and His love for us. It is through prayer that love is perfected in us.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 318 - 322

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