Saturday, March 30, 2024

How to Gain Everlasting Life - A Clear and Tranquil Heart

For Christians, the pursuit of everlasting life in the Kingdom of God represents the pinnacle of spiritual aspirations. The Apostle Paul encapsulates the aim of this journey writing, "Ye have your fruit unto holiness, and the end everlasting life" (Romans 6:22). Without a clear understanding the steps necessary for this we risk misdirecting our efforts.

Saint Cassian, when he was seeking spiritual enlightenment, turned to Abba Moses, a revered figure for guidance. Abba Moses told him about the importance of concentrating on immediate tasks, much like professionals who excel by focusing on the next step towards their ultimate goal. If you want to become a medical doctor you need to first gain the necessary knowledge through education. To become an outstanding athlete you must first develop the specific skills that will make this possible. There are immediate tasks that will lead you towards a greater goal. It is the same in our spiritual development. 

In our spirit life what are the specific steps we can take immediately that will bring us closer to our eventual aim? 

Abba Moses counseled, 

“We’ll wear ourselves out to the point of exhaustion—all for nothing, because if we don’t follow a path, our work is a journey that goes nowhere… 

Our immediate goal is clarity and tranquility of the heart.

Our first step is to cultivate a pure heart, one characterized by clarity and tranquility. This should become our primary focus. To do this we need to gain vigilant control of our thoughts, discarding those that disrupt our inner peace seeing them as "destructive and toxic." The Apostles and Church Fathers have long provided a framework for this through spiritual disciplines and sacramental life, including daily prayer, fasting, participation in sacraments, worship, and the study of Scripture and holy writings. Engaging in these practices are designed to purify our hearts. Determine which of these are lacking in your daily effort.

Saint Cassian pondering the challenge posed by intrusive thoughts and how they can breed anxiety, fear, hatred, and uncertainty questioned, Can the mind ever be free of such thoughts?” Abba Moses acknowledged the impossibility of eradicating all thoughts but assured that we have the ability to choose which to entertain

One thing he suggested that may be helpful was to change our environment to foster spiritual rather than material thoughts. Engage in more spiritually nourishing activities and immersing ourselves in sacred texts like the Psalms, Scripture instead of social media, reading of novels, or other forms of entertainment or pastimes. Learn to give more time to practice the Jesus prayer, or surround yourself with holy icons. These can shift your focus from worldly distractions to filling your mind and thoughts that nurture spiritual enrichment.

Take notice! Our heart will not become clear unless we learn to control our thoughts! We will not attain our aim of eternal life in God's kingdom if we continue to allow our mind to be freely filled with the flux of thoughts from whatever is taking place in our daily world. Our progress hinges on increasing our ability to control our thoughts through free will, selecting only those conducive to spiritual growth. 

Abba Moses concludes his discussion as follows:

As I’ve said, if we repeatedly meditate on the sacred scriptures; and if we elevate our memory to the recollection of spiritual subjects, a longing for perfection, and the hope of the ultimate bliss to come—then the spiritual thoughts that spring from our meditations will naturally keep our mind occupied. “But if we’re overcome by laziness or neglect and get caught up in bad habits and pointless chitchat, or if we become entangled in mundane preoccupations and unnecessary concerns, it would be like supplying our mechanism with some kind of weed that is toxic to our heart. For according to the saying of the Lord Savior, where the treasure of our deeds or attention is, there will our heart necessarily abide.”

Our aim for eternal life in God’s kingdom requires a clear and tranquil heart. We need to set immediate goals that will aid us in this effort. This requires diligence in controlling our thoughts, changing our environment to align with the Church's teachings and an Orthodox way of life. Reflect on your spiritual goals and daily distractions. Commit to immediate changes that will further your journey towards a clear heart and ultimately, everlasting life. Set immediately goals in this regard so that you will progress on the spiritual path.

Take this moment for personal reflection, considering how to integrate these teachings into your life more deeply.

Reference: Cassian, John. How to Focus: A Monastic Guide for an Age of Distraction (Ancient Wisdom for Modern Readers). Princeton University Press. Kindle Edition.


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