Orthodox Asceticism and Spirituality for the Modern World

Orthodox Asceticism and Spirituality for the Modern World

Wednesday, June 10, 2015

The Apostles' Fast and Vulnerability as Ascesis

The Beginnings of the Fast
     Orthodox Christians fast.  A lot.
     We fast a couple of days each week of the year.
     We fast for Great Lent—a fast not entirely lost to the modern world, but one that has greatly lost its original intent and meaning.
     We fast for the Nativity of Christ, which prepares us not just for the Logos Incarnate in the world, but for the coming of Christ into our bodies, our minds, and our souls.
     We also fast—although not nearly as long—in preparation for the Nativity of the Theotokos, the ever-blessed, ever-Virgin Mary.
     And, finally, during most summers, we observe the Apostles’ Fast, also referred to by many Eastern Christians as the Saints Peter and Paul Fast.  The Apostles’ Fast began a few days ago—it is a fast from all meat and dairy products, as well as many days without alcohol and/or cooking oils.
     The Apostles’ Fast has its foundation in both Sacred Tradition and Holy Scripture.
     In Matthew’s Gospel, the disciples of Saint John the Forerunner ask Christ why it is that the Pharisees fast often, whereas His disciples do not.  Jesus’ reply: “Can the children of the bridechamber mourn as long as the Bridegroom is with them?  But the days will come when the Bridegroom will be taken away, and then shall they fast.”
     That time came—Sacred Tradition tells us—when, after Pentecost, the apostles prepared to spread Christ’s message to the ends of the known earth.  In preparation, they began a fast, coupled with intense prayer, to ready themselves for the arduous undertakings that were to follow.
     The Apostles’ Fast was established.
The Ascesis of Fasting
     Fasting—as evidenced by its almost total disregard among western Christians—is not popular in the modern world.   Even Christians who know about—or perhaps even “practice”—fasting, often misunderstand it as some form of Christian “dieting.”  But this is a mistaken view.  Here is what Father Stephen Freeman has to say about the real nature of the Church’s fasts:
Fasting is not dieting.  Fasting is not about keeping a Christian version of kosher.  Fasting is about hunger and humility (which is increased as we allow ourselves to become weak).  Fasting is about allowing our heart to break.[1]
     This may sound odd, but I enjoy fasting.  Sure, it can be tough at times (cheese and hamburgers never tasted so good as when breaking a long fast).  And, sure, it can become a real pain to follow when attempting to pick up a quick bite to eat somewhere for breakfast, lunch, or dinner.  But it also has real benefits for the Christian who wishes to draw closer in intimacy with God—and that should be all Christians.
     Now, if you wish to read a more rigorous testimony of what the Church says about the benefits, the merits, and the various reasons why an Orthodox Christian must fast in his or her ascetic struggle, there are, I assure you, better articles than this one.  This post is simply about one benefit (of many) that fasting has provided me as I continue toward “the one thing needful.”
Vulnerability and the Fast
     Several years ago, I suffered from several herniated disks in my neck that caused intense pain as the weeks, and eventually months, wore on.
     Before the ever-worsening injury began, I prided myself on how strong I was.  (I competed in powerlifting meets, and could squat over 600 pounds.  As the injury worsened, I reach the point where I could barely pick up 10 pounds without being in almost unbearable pain.)
     Nothing made it better.  There was no therapy that helped, no injection that improved it, and no narcotic pain medicine that caused it to subside.
     Eventually, I had surgery.
     And then it took me another six months of recovery before I could start a basic weight-training program again.
     Because of my pain, and its effect on my inability to do remedial tasks, I had to rely solely on others at times.  Co-workers took up my slack at work, and family members had to help with basic needs, such as driving me to and from doctor’s appointments, among various other things.
     Oddly enough, it was one of the happiest times in my life.
     I became vulnerable, and my vulnerability led me to rely, not just on others, but on God.  It was as if God said, “Okay, son, you have gone long enough in ignoring me.  It’s time to lean on my embrace, and to understand the meaning of true strength.”  (Strength is found in weakness for the ascetic who labors toward theosis.)
     I grew close to God in my vulnerability, closer than I had ever been up to that point.
     Vulnerability lowers our defenses, and can make us more receptive to God in surprising ways.
     Fasting is one way to make us more vulnerable.
     When I look upon my life, on times when God was the most present, it was often during times of difficulty and pain, and whether the pain was emotional or physical didn’t really seem to matter.
     Fasting is hard emotionally.
     It is hard physically.
     It is a cross that we willingly carry so that we might, in one way or another, die to our old selves.  And, in dying, we might enter life eternal.

[1] Taken from Father Freeman’s wonderful blog “Glory to God for All Things.”  

Saturday, May 10, 2014

Entering into Faith Slowly, Through a Process of Doubt

      My life is not my own, not really.  It belongs to God.  It always has.  His love—this furious longing that He has for His entire creation—is pursuing, prodigal, purifying.
     There is nowhere I can go to flee from His presence.  Not in the pursuit of money.  Not in relationships based solely on lust, where our pursuit of pleasure ultimately, and simply, reveals that we are searching for the highest Pleasure of all.  Not in alcohol, or whatever it is that we use to numb our inner yearning.  None of these things—none of the demons that have pursued me in life, or, rather, that I have pursued—kept Him from finding me.  Where shall I flee?  In the loftiest abode, or in the lowest hells, His Presence fills all.
     No, my life is not my own.  It is His who fashioned me from nothingness.
     But it wasn’t always like this.
     I came to faith slowly, through a process of doubt.[1]  It is in my nature, I think—it is how God made me.  My faith was never one swayed or persuaded by revivals or fiery sermons.  When I was young and my family attended a Baptist church, I probably “accepted Christ” after some such revivalistic rally, but I doubt that had much to do with my real conversion.  Or, perhaps, I should say conversions—here I am reminded of the old Benedictine saying: “pray for my conversion, and I will pray for yours.”  Faith and conversion—they are both part of an ever on-going, ever deepening process.  As we enter into the depths—for God is not found in the shallows—of a relationship with Christ, with this Personal God that is the Truth of all things—He that fills all things—we are changed, molded, transformed, converted.
     Don’t get me wrong.  I am grateful that my parents took me to church every week when I was young.[2]  Perhaps I would not be Orthodox without it, for I did find Christ there, just not in revivals or sermons.  (I doubt I ever actually listened to a sermon, to be honest—I primarily tried not to sleep through them.)  I found Him in stories from a sweet Sunday school teacher, in friends who doubted like me, in parables from Scripture, and in my inner heart.  Christ did find me there—it just took me many years to realize it—and perhaps that is why He has pursued me ever since.
     He has pursued me through doubt.
     My doubt will always be there—I believe this to be a healthy thing—but now it is tinged with something greater: the presence of Christ.  His presence—a presence of love—is an all pervading Reality indwelling in all, and somehow indwelling in what, to me, at least, seems like the oddest thing of all: myself.
     My wall of doubt was first invaded with an understanding of the meaning of faith.  I had always thought of faith as something akin to belief—growing up, I heard the two words used almost interchangeably.  But one day I read what seemed like the weirdest thing at the time: belief is what you have when you lack faith.[3]  Slowly—ever so slowly—faith began to take on a new meaning.  It took on the aspects that it always should have.  Faith as trust.  Faith as surrender.  Faith as hope.   Faith as love.
     That word has lost its meaning in our society, a society in which I say that I love the Dallas Cowboys, good craft beer, caramel macchiatos, and the music of Coldplay.  Perhaps it, somehow, goes hand in hand with our religious replacing of faith with belief, and, thus, our replacing the God of love, with the god of a religion that hinges on making sure we believe all the “right” things.
     But God is love, and faith must be forever infused with it.  The Christian God is unlike any other God, for He is love, and love alone is credible.  Religion before Christ came into the world, before He gave himself for the life of the world, was filled with gods that were petty, cruel, harsh, and vengeful.  If we turn our God into any of these things—and many people do—then we have blasphemed God, and created an idol of our own making.  Christ is the only way to salvation, which means that love (and Love) is the only way to salvation.
     Christ’s love must fills us, infuse us, and transport us to that place our souls yearn for.  And if we are to reach that Place of repose that holds the comfort of our soul’s yearning, then the process of doubt must include communion with That in which all of our doubt ultimately points toward.
     We must pray.
     We must pray to a God who often doesn’t answer—or doesn’t seem to in any sense that we can comprehend.  We must pray to a God who is silent, but not just one who is silent—the One who answers us in silence, and so we yearn for Him all the more, this hidden God.
     Perhaps it is His very hiddenness that reveals Him.
     He is hidden in the suffering of the sick, the downtrodden, the dying.  (On a personal note, I have always felt the closest to God—sensed a very real, palpable Presence—when going through difficult times, and I don’t think this is any trite sentimentality on my part.)  He is hidden in the touch of a lover’s caress, and in the kindness of a stranger’s generosity.  He is hidden in the depths of prayer, where words and thoughts cannot reach.  He is hidden in tears and laughter.  He is hidden in sunsets and sunrises, and in the cracks of daily life between the two.
     Perhaps He is simply hidden in plain sight.
     For now—for the sake of this essay—what I have written on faith, love, the hiddenness of God, and how they are intrinsically tied to doubt will have to suffice.  But one other thing I must speak of: belief.
     A few paragraphs ago, maybe I made belief seem as if it’s almost a non-factor.  It’s not.  But I don’t think it has to be—or even should be—the starting point of faith.  As faith unfolds, slowly, patiently, through a process of doubt, belief enters and begins to take root.  Faith becomes bound in love, in mystery (that is Mystery), in silence, in God’s painful hiddenness, in doubt, and, yes, in belief.  It is at this point that we can say: “I believe in one God, the Father Almighty, maker of heaven and earth, and of all things visible and invisible…”

[1] I first encountered this phrase in the writings of the Czech Catholic priest Tomas Halik.  It rang with such truth to my ears that I knew it described my personal journey.  I am not saying that this is the only way to come through faith, but I do believe it is one of the best ways to ensure that faith is deep, and that it rings with the truth of classical theism.
[2] My parents are Baptists, and let me make this perfectly clear: they are two of the sweetest, most loving parents that a son could ever ask for.  Without them, I would not be the man that I am today—their goodness has forever affected me for the better.
[3] I can’t remember where I read this, but it has struck a chord with me ever since.

Tuesday, May 6, 2014

Faith as a Deep, Abiding Trust in God

     Today, I had several conversations with people that cemented my faith in a loving, personal God.  To be honest, none of the conversations are probably of the type that you may be thinking about when you read about cementing faith in God.  No one told me some kind of life affirming story.  No one gave me some clichéd line about how loving Christ is—words such as that turn me off more than anything else.
     God is not a cliché, although we do get clichéd versions of Him.
     God is not a caricature, although many of those proclaiming to be His followers often turn Him into one.
     God—the true God that is revealed through Christ—is not the kind of God that you believe in.  He is the God that you put your faith in.
     Now, back to those conversations.  The conversations, to varying degrees, all involved suffering, which is why I was reminded of God.  I am of the firm conviction that in suffering you find God, or you at least discover His presence, even if it’s an absent presence, which, in some odd way, makes His presence all the more real.
     A dear friend of mine told me this evening about how hard it is to live with his father.  His father has severe dementia, and is often quite violent.  He tries his best to take care of his father, but some days it feels as if it’s too much.  Immediately before this, we were discussing God, and I could sense my friend’s question, although he never really asked it.  Where is God in all of this?  Why does life have to always be so difficult?
     My wife called me at lunch-time today, to tell me about a friend of ours who is going through some very difficult times, and she doesn’t know what to do.  She recently lost her job, doesn’t have another one, and is going to have to move out of her house—along with her children—but has nowhere to go.  I wanted to tell her that it would be okay, that God has a plan for her life, as hard as that is to fathom at the moment, but I didn’t say it.  (I, after all, try my best to not represent God in any clichéd manner, either.)
     The third conversation, I won’t go into any detail over.  It was simply too personal, but let’s just say that a friend of mine feels as if his life is pointless.  God has taken away everything that matters to him—or, at least, that’s how it seems.
     I sat down at my computer with a cup of coffee this evening, and I had every intention to write something decidedly different than what you are currently reading, but then I thought about these conversations, and then I thought of a quote from the Romanian priest George Calciu: “Christ did not come to explain human suffering, or to eliminate it.  Rather, He came to fill human suffering with His presence.”
     This is the God we worship as Christians.  This is the God that we put our faith in, that we believe—if we want to talk about belief—illumines our lives in all of its messiness, and in all of its brokenness.  In all of its suffering.
     And this is why, I think, that we can talk of faith as a deep, abiding trust in God.  This is faith as trust, faith as assent.  In Latin, it would be translated as assensus.  If we are to talk about belief, then we must talk about this kind of belief.  The belief that Christ is good, that we can trust in Him, that we can assent to his path, to following his Way.
     This is the Christ spoken of in a well-known prayer from Celtic Christianity[1]:
     Christ under me
     Christ over me
     Christ beside me
     On my left and my right.
     This day, be within and
     Without me,
     Lowly and meek,
     Yet all powerful.
     Be in the heart
     Of each to whom I speak,
     In the mouth of each
     Who speaks to me.
     This day, be within and
     Without me.
     Lowly and meek,
     Yet all powerful.
     Christ as a light
     Christ as a shield
     Christ beside me
     On my left and my right.
     And it is this Christ that fills life’s suffering with His presence.

     Faith as a deep, abiding trust in God.  Faith as a deep, abiding trust.  Faith as deep abiding.
     I abide in Him.
     He abides in me.
     Together we abide in one another.
     My favorite living filmmaker is Terrence Malick.  I also happen to think he is the greatest Christian filmmaker working in cinema, a fact that, unfortunately, seems to be lost on both his critics and Christians alike.
     Suffering, and the presence that fills that suffering, is at the heart of his recent movies.  In his most recent work To the Wonder—his most critically maligned film, I might add, once again because not many seem to understand it—the main character Marina falls deeply in love with Neil, but he leaves her for another woman, comes back to her, but then leaves again later.  She loves him, but her life is primarily filled with suffering due to this love.  At the end of the film, she is still suffering.  It seems as if it won’t end.  And yet her final words are: “this love that loves us… thank you.”

     Life is suffering.  But He abides in us, and we in him, this Love that loves us.
     Thank you.

[1] This is only a portion of the full prayer, often attributed to Saint Patrick.

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Being Church in the Snow

     The following is unlike anything else that I have put on this blog, or on my other blogs.  It is a personal essay written as much for myself as anyone else, but something I thought may be of interest to some.  I have long wanted to write a book of such essays.  I will try to write more similar essays if there is interest.

Being Church in the Snow

     These twelve Jesus sent out, charging them, “Go nowhere among the Gentiles, and enter no town of the Samaritans, but go rather to the lost sheep of Israel.  And preach as you go, saying ‘The kingdom of heaven is at hand.’  Heal the sick, raise the dead, cleanse lepers, cast out demons.”
Matthew 10:5-8

     “Truly I say to you, as you did it to one of the least of these my brethren, you did it to me.”
Matthew 25:40

     I left work yesterday when the snow started to fall quite hard, then began to stick to the ground.  At first it fell slowly, then a little faster.   But it didn’t matter the amount.  It was so cold that many roads became impassible.  It took me about three hours to get home, give or take a few minutes one-way or the other.  I was lucky.  It took some of my co-workers who live close to me 4, 5, or even 6 hours before they made it home.  Others didn’t make it home.  They slept in hotels, or, worse, in their cars on the side of the road, trying their best to stay warm before help could arrive.
     I only got home faster because I drive a GMC truck, a large one, the type that goes where few others can who don’t drive something similar.  I took back roads, where pavement often ends, but where the snow and the ice had accumulated much quicker than in other places.  At first, I thought it was a good idea, but wasn’t so sure once I had traveled a few miles in a little less than an hour.  There were very few people—a few trucks about the same size as mine passed me, a house scattered here or there.  I knew roughly where I was going and my plan for getting to my house.  But I became quite nervous at one point.
     I have at varying time throughout my life suffered from an almost neurotic anxiety.  I still suffer, and it was acute yesterday, crossing over steep, icy hills where my truck—large and powerful as it may be—slid this way and that, but, thank God, still managed to make it over each one.
     I practice the Jesus Prayer as much as possible.  One of my prayer ropes typically resides in my left hand, or when I’m not using it, on my right wrist.  I always fancy that it makes me more still, more calm, more loving, but then I get in situations like yesterday, and I wonder if that’s the case.  I prayed to God, begged God, to get me home safely; I prayed for my co-workers and others, ones who I didn’t know to make it home safely, for God to give them peace, to comfort them.  But I didn’t feel comfortable.  I was anxious and tense.  I kept thinking that maybe it was better if I had taken a more conventional route home, the interstate or one of the large highways.  I feared my truck was going to get stuck in a ditch or cease making it up snow-covered hills.  My cell phone was only working intermittently, and I had a brief vision of freezing to death—or coming damn close—in the Alabama backwoods, where no one knew where I was, and where no state safety crews would be able to reach me.
     The thoughts came to me: I shouldn’t feel this way.  I should trust in the loving care of God, ever-present and filling all things, even mud-drenched and ice-clad pick-up trucks.  But I did feel that way.  Nervous.  Anxious beyond what should be reasonable.  Frightened.
     But then another thought came to me for some reason: Christ’s twelve disciples.  They’ve gotten, it seems to me at least, quite a bit of bad press over the centuries.  But they also seem to deserve it.  Rarely do they seem to get the message that Jesus is giving them.  And when they actually do get it, they either seem incapable of living out its teachings, or they just forget about it altogether in a relatively brief amount of time.  Here I have in mind Peter, who in one breath, when Jesus asks him, “Who do you say that I am?” replies, without thinking but with utter certainty, “You are the Christ, the Son of the living God.”  But then, within moments, Jesus tells him, “Get thee behind me, Satan!”
     Which makes Peter, makes the other disciples, amazingly like us, amazingly like me.  We know, but we forget.  We have peace, but we have anxiety.  And, yet, these are the people that Jesus calls, not just to be his disciples, but to be his Church.
     I crossed to the top of another hill.  Now the snow was coming down with more ferocity.  The road was little more than a sheet of ice.  A car was in front of me.  It was stopped.  The hill in front of the car, in front of me, was of a very steep decline, followed by another steep incline.
     After about 5 minutes of waiting on the car in front—another truck had pulled up behind me—I stepped out of my truck, and walked up to the car.  A young girl was driving, 17 or 18 years old, another girl in the passenger seat.  They were crying.  They needed to turn their car around, knowing they weren’t going to make it up the next hill, but were too afraid to attempt to do so.  They didn’t want to end up in one of the ditches to either side of the road.
     The man in the truck behind me got out of it and approached.  He was amicable, even seemed to be in a good mood, though concerned for the upset girls.  He and I helped the girls get their car turned around.  They were thankful, wiped their tears, smiled a little, then slowly drove away.
     He asked me where I was trying to go.  I told him.  He gave me some general directions and a few tips for navigating the roads ahead.  I thanked him, but he followed me just to make sure I made it down and up the next set of hills, then he turned into what I guess was his driveway.
     The twelve that were chosen—broken men in many ways before coming to Jesus—continued to be broken men after becoming disciples.  They knew Christ as their friend who they dearly loved, and certainly dearly loved them.  They ate with him.  They sat next to him while he spoke all that he speaks in the Gospels (and more).  They walked the length and breadth of the vast countryside with him.  Yet they continued to be broken human beings.
     As we continue to be broken human beings.  Their primary calling seemed to be that they were to heal.  It seems as if that is still their primary calling, for we are now them, healing in whatever ways are possible, however large, however small.  On roads.  In the snow.

Maxims for the Spiritual Life

Maxims for the Spiritual Life

     For those few of you who enjoy reading my Orthodox blogs—a lot of folks read my strength-training blog; not so many my other two—please forgive my long delay in Orthodox blogging.
     One of the reasons for my lack of posts on Blue Jean Theosis is because I want to make sure that I actually have something to say.  I love Orthodox spirituality—and the great joy of my life has been my entrance into the One, Holy, Catholic and Apostolic Church—and I would love to do more writing on Orthodox hesychastic spirituality and its intersection with modern life, but I have often felt that my writing fails to capture the essence of my thoughts, and not just the essence of my personal thoughts, but also the “fragrance” or mindset of the Holy Fathers of the Church.  (Along a similar vein, I must confess “despondency” as my greatest sin, or at least the one I’m most frequently aware of, for we must confess our sins committed not just in “knowledge” but in “ignorance” as well, as the Divine Liturgy so often reminds us.)
     Having said that, I hope this is the first of what will be a more continual line of posts, even if the posts are rather short.  Although I often feel as if I don’t have much to write about from a unique perspective, perhaps there are those of you who will find some comfort and solace from what I have to say, even though it comes from such a broken person such as myself.  (For more on “brokenness” see my previous post “Paradox and Mystery”.)
     Earlier this morning—I’m currently “snowed in” from work even though I live in Alabama, which means I’ve had the luxury this morning of surfing the internet—I came across these 55 “maxims for the spiritual life” from Father Thomas Hopko.  Father Hopko is the Dean Emeritus of Saint Vladimir’s Seminary, and apparently this is a much-published, much-read series of maxims, but I had never seen them before until I came across them on Father Stephen Freeman’s “Glory to God for All Things” blog, so perhaps others have not read them either.
     If we were to focus on these basics each year, each week, each day of our lives, we would surely be on the road to salvation.  With that being said, here they are:
1. Be always with Christ.

2. Pray as you can, not as you want.

3. Have a keepable rule of prayer that you do by discipline.

4. Say the Lord’s Prayer several times a day.

5. Have a short prayer that you constantly repeat when your mind is not occupied with other things.

6. Make some prostrations when you pray.

7. Eat good foods in moderation.

8. Keep the Church’s fasting rules.

9. Spend some time in silence every day.

10. Do acts of mercy in secret.

11. Go to liturgical services regularly.

12. Go to confession and communion regularly.

13. Do not engage intrusive thoughts and feelings. Cut them off at the start.

14. Reveal all your thoughts and feelings regularly to a trusted person.

15. Read the scriptures regularly.

16. Read good books a little at a time.

17. Cultivate communion with the saints.

18. Be an ordinary person.

19. Be polite with everyone.

20. Maintain cleanliness and order in your home.

21. Have a healthy, wholesome hobby.

22. Exercise regularly.

23. Live a day, and a part of a day, at a time.

24. Be totally honest, first of all, with yourself.

25. Be faithful in little things.

26. Do your work, and then forget it.

27. Do the most difficult and painful things first.

28. Face reality.

29. Be grateful in all things.

30. Be cheerful.

31. Be simple, hidden, quiet and small.

32. Never bring attention to yourself.

33. Listen when people talk to you.

34. Be awake and be attentive.

35. Think and talk about things no more than necessary.

36. Speak simply, clearly, firmly and directly.

37. Flee imagination, analysis, figuring things out.

38. Flee carnal, sexual things at their first appearance.

39. Don’t complain, mumble, murmur or whine.

40. Don’t compare yourself with anyone.

41. Don’t seek or expect praise or pity from anyone.

42. We don’t judge anyone for anything.

43. Don’t try to convince anyone of anything.

44. Don’t defend or justify yourself.

45. Be defined and bound by God alone.

46. Accept criticism gratefully but test it critically.

47. Give advice to others only when asked or obligated to do so.

48. Do nothing for anyone that they can and should do for themselves.

49. Have a daily schedule of activities, avoiding whim and caprice.

50. Be merciful with yourself and with others.

51. Have no expectations except to be fiercely tempted to your last breath.

52. Focus exclusively on God and light, not on sin and darkness.

53. Endure the trial of yourself and your own faults and sins peacefully, serenely, because you know that God’s mercy is greater than your wretchedness.

54. When you fall, get up immediately and start over.

55. Get help when you need it, without fear and without shame.

Friday, August 30, 2013

Concerning Humility of Wisdom

     In the previous post, we read from Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi about “noetic prayer” for those of us living in the world, and how noetic prayer – true prayer, if you will, communing with God on the level of the nous – is essential for anyone attempting a hesychastic lifestyle.
     For those of you who may not be familiar with the term, a “hesychast” could roughly be translated as a “contemplative”.  For myself, it means “a contemplative in the Orthodox tradition”, but you would not have to be Orthodox to be a hesychast.  What you would have to be, however, is immersed not just in contemplative prayer – as it’s commonly practiced in the West, particularly among Roman Catholics and Anglicans – but also in the ascetic tradition as a whole.
     Asceticism is not a popular term in our Western society, and it has, unfortunately, almost completely disappeared from Western Christianity.[1]  However, many Eastern Orthodox would argue that a Christianity that is not ascetic is simply not Christianity.  Asceticism involves such things as repentance and fasting – among others – so that we may lower and humble ourselves before God.  It is a therapy, if you will – one that allows for noetic prayer to truly “take root” so to speak.
     Without humility, however, asceticism is not only useless, it is possibly even dangerous.
     Humility has long been extolled as the greatest of virtues among the Holy Fathers of the Church.  The piece I present here is from Elder Dorotheos of Gaza.
     First, a little background.  The following brief bio is from Orthodox Wiki (www.orthodoxwiki.org):
     Dorotheus, an Egyptian hermit, was a native of the Thebaid region in Egypt and labored in asceticism for 60 years in the Skete desert, on the Western side of the River Nile. Palladius, Bishop of Helenopolis and author of the renowned Lausiac History, was adisciple of Dorotheus in his youth, and preserved what memories we have of him. According to his work, Dorotheus led an austere and ascetical life. After finishing his prayers, he would venture into the heat of noon and gather stones along the seashore to buildcells for the other hermits. By night he would weave baskets, in exchange for which he received the supplies he needed in order to live.
     His food consisted of bread and the the grass of the wilderness and would eat only once a day and drank a little water. He barely slept, but only dozed off sometimes at work, or after eating.
     Once, St. Dorotheus sent his disciple to fetch water, but he returned saying that he saw a snake in the well and that the water in the well was now poisoned. St. Dorotheus went to the well himself, took up a ladle of water, and making the Sign of the Cross over it he drank it, saying: "Where the Cross is, there the demonic powers do no harm." St. Dorotheus died peacefully at an advanced age.
     Now, let’s turn to Dorotheos’ writing on “Concerning Humility of Wisdom”:

Concerning Humility of Wisdom
Abba Dorotheos of Gaza
     One of the elders has said: "Before everything else humility of wisdom is needful for us, so that we may be ready to say to every word which we hear, forgive me; for by humility of wisdom all the arrows of the enemy and adversary are broken." Let us examine what meaning the words of the elder has. Why does he not say that continence (temperance) is needed first of all? For the Apostle says, (I Cor. 9:25) Every man that strivest for the mastery is temperate in all things. Or why did the elder not say that before everything else the fear of God is needful for us? For in the Scriptures it is said: (Ps. 110:10) The fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom, and again, (Prov. 15:27)By the fear of the Lord everyone departs from evil. Why did he not say that before everything else alms-giving or faith is necessary for us? For it is said, (Prov. 15:27), By alms and by faithful dealings sins are purged away, and the Apostle says, (Heb. 11:6)Without faith it is impossible to please Him(God).
     Thus, if without faith it is impossible to please God, and if by means of almsgiving and faith sins are cleansed, if by the fear of the Lord everyone is brought away from evil, and if the beginning of wisdom is the fear of the Lord, and one who is laboring must be continent in everything, then why did the elder say before everything else that humility of wisdom is needful for us, setting aside everything else which is so needful? The elder wishes to show us by this that neither the very fear of God, nor almsgiving, nor faith, nor continence, nor any other virtue can be perfected without the humility of wisdom. This is why he says, "Before everything else, humility of wisdom is needful to us—so as to be ready to say to every word we hear forgive me; for by humility of wisdom are all the arrows of the adversary broken." And so you see, brethren, how great is the power of humility of wisdom; you see what force the word forgive has. But why is the devil called not only enemy, but also adversary? He is called enemy because he is the hater of mankind, the hater of good, and a slanderer; and he is called adversary because he strives to hinder every good deed. If one should wish to pray, he opposes and hinders him by means of evil remembrances, by means of captivity of the mind and despondency. If one wishes to give alms, he hinders by means of the love of money and stinginess. If one wishes to keep vigil, he hinders by means of laziness and carelessness, and in this way he opposes us in every deed when we wish to do something good. This is why he is called not only enemy, but also adversary. But by humility of wisdom, all the weapons of the enemy and adversary are broken. For in truth, great is humility of wisdom, and every one of the saints has travelled by this path; by labor they have made short their path, as the Psalmist says, Behold my lowliness and my toil, and forgive all my sins; (Ps. 24:18) and I was brought low, and He saved me(Ps. 114:6). And besides, it is humility alone that may conduct us into the Kingdom, as the elder Abba John has said—but only slowly.
     Thus, let us also be humbled a little, and we shall be saved. If we who are infirm cannot labor, then let us try to be humbled; and I believe in the mercy of God that for the little we do with humility, even we shall be in the place of the saints who have labored much and worked for God. Even if we are infirm and cannot labor—can it be that we cannot become humble? Blessed, O brethren, is he who has humility. Great is humility! One saint who had true humility said it very well: "Humility does not become angry at anyone and angers no one, and it considers anger completely foreign to itself." Great is humility, for it alone opposes vainglory and preserves a man from it. And do not people become angry also over property and food? But how is it that the elder says that humility does not become angry at anyone and angers no one? Humility is great, as we have said, and it strongly attracts to the soul the grace of God. Having come, the grace of God protects the soul from the two onerous passions mentioned above. For what can be more onerous than to become angry and to anger one's neighbor? As someone has said: "It is not at all the nature of monks to become angry, nor likewise, to anger others." For in truth, if such a one, (i.e. one who becomes angry or angers others) is not soon covered with humility then he, little by little, comes into a demonic state, disturbing others and himself being disturbed. This is why the elder said that humility does not become angry and does not anger. But what am I saying? As if humility protected from only two passions… It protects the soul also from every passion and from every temptation.
     When St. Anthony saw all the nets of the devil and, sighing, he asked God: "But who can escape them?" Then God replied to him: "Humility will escape them," and what is even more astonishing, He added: "They will not even touch you." Do you see the grace of this virtue? In truth there is nothing stronger than humility of wisdom—nothing vanquishes it. If something painful should happen to one who is humble, he immediately turns to himself, judges himself that he is worthy of this, and he does not begin to reproach anyone, or lay the blame on anyone else. In this way he bears whatever happens without disturbance, without sorrow, with complete calmness, and therefore he does not become angry, nor does he anger anyone. And thus, before everything else, humility of wisdom is needful for us.
     There are two humilities, just as there are two prides. The first pride occurs when one reproaches his brother, when one judges and dishonors him as being of no importance, and deems himself superior. If that person does not soon come to himself and strive to correct himself, little by little comes to the second kind of pride, rising up against God Himself. He ascribes all his labors and virtues to himself and not to God, as if he performed them by himself, through his own reason and efforts, and not with the help of God. In truth my brethren, I know one person who once came to such a pitiable condition. At first when any of the brethren would say something to him, he would belittle each one and reply: "What is the meaning of that? There is no one worthy apart from Zosimas and those like him." Then he began to judge these persons also and say: "There is no one worthy except for Macarius." After a little time he began to say, "Who is Macarius? There is no one worthy except for Basil and Gregory." But soon he began to judge these also, saying: "Who is Basil, and who is Gregory? There is no one worthy except for Peter and Paul." I said to him: "In truth, brother, you will soon begin to belittle them also." And believe me, in a short time he began to say: "Who is Peter? And who is Paul? No one has any significance except for the Holy Trinity." Finally he raised himself up in pride against even God Himself, and in this way he went out of his mind. Therefore, O my brethren, we must labor with all our power against the first pride, so that we may not little by little fall into the second, that is, into complete pride.
     There is a worldly pride and a monastic pride: worldly pride is when one becomes proud before his brother that he is richer or more handsome than he, or that he wears better garments than he or that he is more nobly born than he. When we see that we are becoming vainglorious over such qualities, or because our monastery is larger or richer than others, or because there are many brethren in it, then we must know that we are still in worldly pride. It likewise happens that one becomes vainglorious because of some kind of natural gifts: one, for example, is vainglorious because he has a good voice and sings well, or because he is modest, works zealously, and is efficient in service. These qualities are better than the first ones mentioned, however this is also worldly pride. Monastic pride, on the other hand, is when one becomes vainglorious because he is exercising himself in vigils, in fasting, that he is devout, that he lives well and is careful. It likewise happens that one might become humble for the sake of glory. All this has to do with monastic pride. It is possible for us not to become proud at all; but if one is unable to escape this entirely, then at least let him become proud over the qualities of monastic deeds, and not over something worldly.
     We have talked about the first kind of pride is and what is the second. We have likewise talked about worldly pride and monastic pride. Let us examine now the two kinds of humility. The first kind of humility consists in respecting one's brother as more intelligent than oneself and more excellent in every way, and in a word, as the Holy Fathers have said, it consists in considering that one is lower than all." The second kind of humility consists in ascribing one's labors to God—this is the perfect humility of the saints. It is naturally born in the soul from the fulfillment of the commandments. It is just as with a tree—when there is much fruit on it, the fruits themselves bend the branches down; and the branches on which there is no fruit strive upwards and grow straight. There are certain trees which do not give fruit; but if someone were to take a stone and hang it to the branch and bend it down, then it would give fruit. The soul also, when it is humble, produces fruit, and the more fruit it produces, the humbler it becomes; and the nearer the saints came to God, the more they saw themselves as sinners.
     I recall that once we were conversing about humility, and when one of the well-known citizens of Gaza heard us say that the closer one comes to God, the more one sees himself as a sinner, he was astonished and said: "How could this be?" Not understanding, he wished to know what these words meant. I said to him: "Noble citizen, tell me what you consider yourself to be in your city." He replied, "I consider myself to be great and the first one in the city." Then I said to him, "But if you were to go to Caeserea, then whom would you consider yourself to be there? He replied, "To be the last of the nobles who are there." "And if," I said, "you were to go to Constantinople, and come near to the Emperor, whom would you consider yourself to be there?" He replied, "Almost as a beggar." Then I said to him, "Even so, the nearer the saints came to God, the more they considered themselves to be sinners. So, when Abraham saw the Lord, he called himself earth and ashes. (Gen. 18:27); and Isaias said I am wretched and unclean (Isa. 6:5); and likewise Daniel, when he was in the pit with the lions and Habakkuk brought him bread saying: Receive the meal which God hath sent thee, replied: Thou has remembered me, O God (Dan. 14:36, 37). What humility his heart had! He was in the pit in the midst of the lions and was unharmed by them, and not once only, but twice, and after all this he was astonished and said, And thus God hath remembered me.
     Do you see the humility of the saints and how their hearts were? They even refused out of humility what was sent from God to help them, fleeing glory. Just as one who is clothed in a silk garment would run away if someone were to throw an unclean garment at him, so as not to soil his own precious garment, so also the saints, being adorned with virtues, flee human glory so as not to be defiled by it. One who seeks glory is like a naked man who desires to find some shirt or anything else with which to cover his shame; so also one who is not clothed in virtue seeks human glory. Thus the saints, sent by God to help people, in their humility refused glory. Moses said (Exod. 4:10, 12), I beg Thee to place another one who is able, for I am a stutterer.Jeremiah said: I am the youngest one (Jer. 1:6). In a word, each of the saints acquired this humility, as we have said, through the fulfillment of the commandments. But what precisely this humility is and how it is born in the soul, no one can express in words, unless a man learn this by experience; for it is impossible to learn it from words alone.
     Once Abba Zosimas spoke about humility, and a certain sophist who was present heard what he said and desired to understand it precisely. He asked him, "Tell me, why do you consider yourself sinful? Do you not know that you are holy? Do you not know that you have virtue? After all, you see how you fulfill the commandments—so how can you consider yourself sinful when you act in this way?" The elder did not know what answer to give him, but only said: "I do not know what to say to you, but I consider myself sinful." The sophist insisted, desiring to know how this could be. Then the elder, not knowing how to explain this to him, began to say to him in his holy simplicity, "Do not upset me; in truth I consider myself to be sinful."
     Seeing that the elder was perplexed as to how to reply to the sophist, I said to him: "Does not the same thing happen in the arts of both sophistry and medicine? When someone has studied an art well and is practicing it, then according to the measure of his practice the physician or sophist acquires a certain habit, but he cannot say and does not know how to explain how he became experienced. In fact, the soul acquires the habit gradually and imperceptibly, through practice in the art. So it is also with humility—from the fulfillment of the commandments there comes a certain habit of humility, but it is impossible to express this in words." When Abba Zosimas heard this he rejoiced, immediately embraced me and said, "You have understood that matter, it is precisely as you have said." Having heard these words, the sophist was satisfied and agreed.
     The elders also have told us something which helps us to understand humility. No one can explain the very condition into which the soul comes from humility. Thus, when Abba Agathon was near death and the brethren asked him, "Are you also afraid, Father?" he replied, "As much as I was able, I forced myself to keep the commandments, but I am a man, and how can I know if what I have done is pleasing to God? For one is the judgment of God, and another the judgment of man." Behold how he opened our eyes to understand humility and showed us the path whereby we acquire it. But how it is in the soul, as I have already said many times, no one can say or aphrehend through words alone—the soul can learn this but a little, and only from life. However, the Fathers have told us what brings us to humility, for in the Patericon it is written: "A certain brother asked an elder, "What is humility?" The elder replied, "Humility is a great and divine matter. Serving as a path to humility are bodily labors, performed reasonably. Also, it is when one considers himself below everyone else and constantly prays to God—this is the path to humility. But humility itself is divine and beyond understanding."
     But why did the elder say that bodily labors bring a soul to humility? In what way do bodily labors become spiritual virtues? By considering himself below everyone, as we have already said, one opposes the demons and the first kind of pride—for how can one consider himself greater than his brother, or become proud towards another or reproach or belittle anyone, if he considers himself below everyone? Likewise, to pray without ceasing also clearly opposes the second kind of pride, for it is evident that one who is humble and reverent, knowing that it is impossible to perform any kind of virtue without the help and protection of God, does not cease always to pray to God that He might have mercy on him. For one who is ceaselessly praying to God, even if he should be able to do something, knows why he did this and cannot become proud. He does not ascribe this to his own power, but he ascribes all his success to God, always gives thanks to Him, and always calls upon Him, trembling lest he be deprived of such help and his infirmity and powerlessness be discovered. And thus with humility he prays, and by prayer he becomes humble, and the more he advances always in virtues, the more he always becomes humble. And to the degree he becomes humble he receives help and advances through humility of wisdom. But why does the elder say that bodily labors bring one to humility? What relation do bodily labors have to the disposition of the soul? I will explain this for you. After transgressing the commandments the soul was given over, as St. Gregory says, to the deception of the love of pleasure and self-will and came to love the bodily. It became, as it were, united or one with the body, and everything became flesh as, is written, (Gen. 6:4) My spirit shall not remain among these men, for they are flesh. The poor soul then sympathizes with the body and with everything which is done with the body. This is why the elder also said that bodily labor also brings the soul to humility. For there is one disposition of soul in a healthy man and another in a sick man; one disposition in one who is hungry and another in one who is full. Likewise, there is one disposition of soul in a man who is riding upon a horse, another in one who is sitting on a throne, and yet another in one who is sitting on the earth; there is one disposition in one who wears beautiful clothing and another in one who wears poor clothing. Thus, labor humbles the body; and when the body is humbled, the soul is also humbled with it. So, the elder said well that bodily labor leads to humility. Therefore, when Agapius was subjected to warfare from blasphemous thoughts, knowing as a wise man that the blasphemy proceeded from pride, and that when the body is humbled then the soul is also humbled with it, he spent forty days in the open air so that his body, as the writer of his life says, began to bring forth worms as happens with wild animals. He undertook such a labor not for the sake of the blasphemy, but for the sake of humility. Thus, the elder said truly that bodily labors also lead to humility. May the good God grant us humility, for it delivers a man from many evils and protects him from great temptations. May there be glory and dominion to God forever. Amen.

[1] I believe that this is only recently the case.  As recent as 200 years ago, you would have commonly heard, or read, Western Christians – both Protestant and Roman Catholic – extol the virtues of humility, repentance, and fasting.

Wednesday, August 28, 2013

Prayer of the Heart for the Faithful Living in the World

     As I progress in my spiritual life – or at least attempt to progress, encumbered as I am by my brokenness, attempting to humble myself before the living God – I thought it would be good to include writings on this blog that help me as I continue my journey.
     This blog was, after all, originally entitled “Blue Jean Theosis” for a reason: to include a myriad of writings that would help us progress in the spiritual life, while living in the modern world that we live in.
     The first piece of writing I’ve selected to help do this is one written by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, who was a spiritual child of the relatively popular (at least among Orthodox) spiritual Elder known as Joseph the Hesychast.  (Joseph the Hesychast helped to reinvigorate Mount Athos in a time when it had fallen into a certain state of disarray, for those of you unfamiliar with the Elder.)
     If you are starting on the path of hesychasm, and are concerned about your ability to do so while living in this busy, hectic (sometimes almost frantic) world of ours, I hope you will find some aid in this article.  It is particularly interesting for anyone who is trying to use the Jesus Prayer in order to enter into a state of noetic prayer.
     Enjoy the following material, but also let it speak to your heart, and let it lead you to the One – the Personal Absolute – who made you for Himself, fashioning you in His Image and Likeness.

Prayer of the Heart for the Faithful Living in the World
By Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi

The question is always being asked, "Is it possible for those living in the world to occupy themselves with noetic [1] prayer?" To those who ask we answer quite affirmatively, "Yes." In order to make this exhortation of ours comprehensible to those interested, but at the same time to make aware those who are unaware, we will briefly explain this, so that no one will be placed in a quandary by the various interpretations and definitions of noetic prayer that exist.

Generally speaking, prayer is the sole obligatory and indispensable occupation and virtue for all rational beings, both sentient and thinking, human and angelic. For this reason we are enjoined to the unceasing practice of the prayer [2].

Prayer is not divided dogmatically into types and methods but, according to our Fathers, every type and method of prayer is beneficial, as long as it is not of diabolic delusion and influence. The goal of this all-virtuous work is to turn and keep the mind of man on God. For this purpose our Fathers devised easier methods and simplified the prayer, so that the mind might more easily and more firmly turn to and remain in God. With the rest of the virtues other parts of man's body come into play and senses intervene, whereas in blessed prayer the mind alone is fully active; thus much effort is needed to incite the mind and to bridle it, in order that the prayer may become fruitful and acceptable. Our most holy Fathers, who loved God in the fullest, had as their chief study uniting with God and remaining continuously in Him; thus they turned all of their efforts to prayer as the most efficient means to this end.

There are other forms of prayer which are known and common to almost all Christians which we will not speak about now; rather we will limit ourselves to that which is called "noetic prayer", which we are always being asked about. It is a subject that engages the multitude of the faithful since next to nothing is known regarding it, and it is often misconstrued and described rather fantastically. The precise way of putting it into practice as well as the results of this deifying virtue, which leads from purification to sanctification, we will leave for the Fathers to tell. We paupers will only mention those things which are sufficient to clarify the matter and to convince our brethren living in the world that they need to occupy themselves with the prayer.

The Fathers call it noetic because it is done with the mind, the "nous", but they also call it "sober watchfulness" [3] which means nearly the same thing. Our Fathers describe the mind as a free and inquiring being which does not tolerate confinement and is not persuaded by that which it can't conceive on its own. Primarily for this reason they selected just a few words in a single, simple prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me", so that the mind would not require a great effort in order to hold on to a long, protracted prayer. Secondly, they turned the mind within, to the center of our reason, where it resides motionless with the meaning of the divine invocation of the most sweet Name of our Lord Jesus, in order to experience as soon as possible the divine consolation. It is impossible, according to the Fathers, for our all-good Master, being thus called upon continuously, not to hear us, He Who desires so much the salvation of men.

Just as a natural virtue that is aspired to can only be achieved by the conducive means, so also this holy work requires some nearly indispensable rudiments: a degree of quiet; freedom from cares; avoidance of learning about and spreading the "news" of things going on, the "giving and taking" as the Fathers put it; self discipline in all things; and an overall silence which stems from these things. Moreover, I don't think this persistence and habit will be unattainable for devout people who take an interest in this holy activity. The good habit of a regular prayer time, morning and evening, always about the same time, would be a good beginning.

With surety we have emphasized perseverance as the most indispensable element in prayer. Rightly it is stressed by St. Paul, "Continue steadfastly in prayer."(Col. 4:2) In contrast to the rest of the virtues, prayer requires effort throughout our entire lifetime, and for this reason I repeat to those who are making the attempt not to feel encumbered, nor to consider the need for endurance as a failure in this sober-minded work.
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. In the first part of the little book (Way of the Pilgrim) a good example is given of the initiation into the prayer. Sound persistence and effort, always with the same words of the prayer not being frequently altered, will give birth to a good habit. This will bring control of the mind, at which time the presence of Grace will be manifested.

Just as every virtue has a corresponding result, so also prayer has as a result the purification of the mind and enlightenment. It arrives at the highest and perfect good, union with God; that is to say, actual divinization (theosis). However, the Fathers also have this to say: that it lies with man to seek and strive to enter the way which leads to the city; and if by chance he doesn't arrive at the endpoint, not having kept pace for whatever reason, God will number him with those who finished. To make myself more clear, especially on the subject of prayer, I will explain how all of us Christians must strive in prayer, particularly in that which is called monological [4] or noetic prayer. If one arrives at such prayer he will find much profit.

By the presence of the Jesus Prayer man is not given over to temptation which he is expecting, because its presence is sober watchfulness and its essence is prayer; therefore "the one who watches and prays does not enter into temptation." (cf. Matt. 26:41) Further, he is not given over to darkness of mind so as to become irrational and err in his judgments and decisions. He does not fall into indolence and negligence, which are the basis of many evils. Moreover, he is not overcome by passions and indulgences where he is weak, and particularly when the causes of sin are near at hand. On the contrary his zeal and devotion increase. He becomes eager for good works. He becomes meek and forgiving. He grows from day to day in his faith and love for Christ and this inflames him towards all the virtues. We have many examples in our own day of people, and particularly of young people, who with the good habit of doing the prayer have been saved from frightful dangers, from falls into great evils, or from symptoms leading toward spiritual death.

Consequently, the prayer is a duty for each one of the faithful, of every age, nationality, and status; without regard to place, time or manner. With the prayer divine Grace becomes active and provides solutions to problems and trials which trouble the faithful, so that, according to the Scriptures, "Everyone that calls on the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21)

There is no danger of delusion, as is bandied about by a few unknowledgeable people, as long as the prayer is said in a simple and humble manner. It is of the utmost importance that when the prayer is being said no image at all be portrayed in the mind; neither of our Lord Christ in any form whatever, nor of the Lady Theotokos, nor of any other person or depiction. By means of the image the mind is scattered. Likewise, by means of images the entrance for thoughts and delusions is created. The mind should remain in the meaning of the words, and with much humility the person should await divine mercy. The chance imaginations, lights, or movements, as well as noises and disturbances are unacceptable as diabolic machinations towards obstruction and deception. The manner in which Grace is manifested to initiates is by spiritual joy, by quiet and joy-producing tears, or by a peaceful and awe-inspiring fear due to the remembrance of sins, thus leading to an increase of mourning and lamentation.

Gradually Grace becomes the sense of the love of Christ, at which time the roving about of the mind ceases completely and the heart becomes so warmed in the love of Christ that it thinks it can bear no more. Still at other times one thinks and desires to remain forever exactly as one finds oneself, not seeking to see or hear anything else. All of these things, as well as various other forms of aid and comfort, are found in the initial stages by as many as try to say and maintain the prayer, in as much as it depends on them and is possible. Up to this stage, which is so simple, I think that every soul that is baptized and lives in an Orthodox manner should be able to put this into practice and to stand in this spiritual delight and joy, having at the same time the divine protection and help in all its actions and activities.

I repeat once again my exhortation to all who love God and their salvation not to put off trying this good labor and practice for the sake of the Grace and mercy which it holds out to as many as will strive a bit at this work. I say this to them for courage, that they don't hesitate or become fainthearted due to the bit of resistance or weariness which they will encounter. Contemporary elders that we have known had many disciples living in the world, men and women, married and single, who not only arrived at the beginning state but rose to higher levels through the Grace and compassion of our Christ. "It is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord to make a poor man rich." (Sir. 11:23) I think that in today's chaos of such turmoil, denial and unbelief there exists no simpler and easier spiritual practice that is feasible for almost all people, with such a multitude of benefit and opportunity for success, than this small prayer.

Whenever one is seated, moving about, or working, and if need be even in bed, and generally wherever and however one finds oneself, one can say this little prayer which contains within itself faith, confession, invocation and hope. With such little labor and insignificant effort the universal command to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17) is fulfilled to perfection. To whatever word of our Fathers one might turn, or even in their wonderful lives, he will encounter hardly any other virtue given so much praise or applied with such zeal and persistence, so that it alone constitutes the most powerful means of our success in Christ. It is not our intention to sing the praises of this queen of virtues, or to describe it, because whatever we might say would instead rather diminish it. Our aim is to exhort and encourage every believer in the working of the prayer. Afterwards, each person will learn from his own experience what we have said so poorly.

Press forward you who are doubtful, you who are despondent, you who are distressed, you who are in ignorance, you of little faith, and you who are suffering trials of various kinds; forward to consolation and to the solution to your problems. Our sweet Jesus Christ, our Life, has proclaimed to us that "without Me you can do nothing." (Jn. 15:5) Thus behold that, calling upon Him continuously, we are never alone; and consequently "we can and will do all things through Him." (cf Phil. 4:13) Behold the correct meaning and application of the significant saying of the Scripture, "Call upon Me in your day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." (Ps. 49(50):15) Let us call upon His all-holy Name not only "in the day of trouble" but continuously; so that our minds may be enlightened, that we might not enter into temptation. If anyone desires to step even higher where all-holy Grace will draw him, he will pass through this beginning point, and will be "spoken to" [5] regarding Him, when he arrives there.

As an epilogue to that which has been written we repeat our exhortation, or rather our encouragement, to all the faithful that it is possible and it is vital that they occupy themselves with the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me", the so-called "noetic prayer", with a sure faith that they will benefit greatly regardless of what level they may reach. The remembrance of death and a humble attitude, together with the other helpful things that we have mentioned, guarantee success through the grace of Christ, the invocation of Whom will be the aim of this virtuous occupation. Amen.

As several of the Greek words used in this text do not have direct English equivalents, it was decided to add a small glossary at the end to help the reader understand with more preciseness the meaning of text.
noetic: of the "nous", the intellect. The intellect in this case is not simply the reasoning faculty of man, but the faculty of the heart that is able to comprehend natural and spiritual realities through direct experience. It is the faculty by which one may know God through prayer. Thus noetic prayer is also often called the "prayer of the heart."
"the prayer": When used with the article "the", as opposed to a general type of prayer, it refers to the Jesus Prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." The Jesus Prayer is rooted in the early monastic tradition of the Church, with the words having been drawn from the New Testament.
sober watchfulness (Gr., nipsis): often translated as both "sobriety" and "watchfulness" it in fact incorporates both. It is a non-morbid seriousness in which the "nous", the intellect, maintains an alertness and awareness of its immediate state.
monological: In this instance it refers to the fact that when the prayer is being said by the person, on the humanly observable level it appears as if only the one praying is speaking; doing a monologue, that is. The activity of God usually remains imperceptible, especially for those in the beginning stages.
"spoken to": refers to the numerous biblical instances of God speaking to the hearts and minds of His righteous ones, communicating Himself directly to those who were pure of heart and seeking Him through prayer.