Chumley: “Silence (hesychia): A Method for Experiencing God “

Dr. Norris J. Chumley is on the faculty of New York University’s Tisch School of the Arts, in the Kanbar Institute for Undergraduate Film and Television.  He is also the author of several books including,  “Be Still and Know: God’s Presence in Silence,” (Fortress Press) “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer,” (HarperOne) a companion book to the feature film and public television special.

 

chumley“The practice of silence of the Greek, hesychia, the withdrawal from the external world with focus on inward stillness, contemplation, and prayer, and hesychasm, the later Athonite movement of prayer and bodily positioning in Orthodox monasticism, is a method of experiencing God predicated on the belief that a direct spiritual experience and union with God is possible. Long lines of hesychasts, from the second century to the present day, spoke and wrote about the fruits of their experiences.” ~  From the book Be Still and Know: God’s Presence in Silence.  2014

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Rohr: “Wolf in the Henhouse”

Rohr1“Unfortunately, the bottom-up, inside-out, whole-making instinct [of early Christianity] did not last. Starting in AD 313, Christianity gradually became the imperial religion of the Roman Empire. It was mostly top-down and hierarchical for the next 1700 years. As the “imperial mind” took over, religion had less to do with Jesus’ teachings on nonviolence, inclusivity, forgiveness, and simplicity, and instead became fully complicit in the world of domination, power, war, and greed itself. The wolf started living right inside the hen house, and the common pattern of low-level religion was repeated.

…I am sorry to have to share this with you, but the impact of the Church’s collusion with empire must be confessed or we will never be free from it. It also helps us understand why so many have given up on Christianity and often, unfortunately, thrown out the baby with the bathwater.”  ~Daily Meditation, 1/18/2017

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Unknown Athonite Monk: “Concerning noetic prayer, prayer of the heart, and watchful prayer.”

The following excerpt is from an anonymous 1851 manuscript called The Watchful MindIt was penned by an unknown monk on Mount Athos, the “Holy Mountain”, the continuous home of the “hesychastic” contemplative Christian prayer tradition for more than a thousand years.

monk“Beloved, when you wish to pray noetically from your depths, let the prayer of your heart imitate the sound of the cicada.  When the cicada chirps, it does so in two ways.  At first, it softly chirps five to ten times, but then its ending chirps are more pronounced, drawn out, and melodic.  And so, beloved when you pray noetically within your heart, pray in the following manner:  First say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” about ten times, forcefully from your heart and clearly with your intellect from your depths, one time with each breath.  Restrain your breath a little each time you say the prayer as your heart meditates from its depth on the words.  Once you have said the prayer in this fashion ten times or more until that place within you has become warm where you meditate upon the prayer, then say the prayer more forcefully, with greater tension and forcefulness of heart, just as the cicada ends its song with a more pronounced and melodic voice.

This prayer, which is referred to principally as noetic prayer, is also called prayer of the heart and watchful prayer.  When you say the prayer with your intellect and repeat it mystically within you in stillness, using your inner voice, it is referred to as noetic prayer.  When you say the prayer from the depths of your heart with great tension and inner force, then it is referred to as prayer of the heart.  It is referred to as watchful prayer when, because of your prayer or because of the infinite goodness of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit visits your soul and touches your heart, or you are granted a divine vision, upon which your mind’s eye becomes watchful and fixed.

When you practice noetic prayer and reverently repeat it as you should, and the grace of the Holy Spirit visits your soul, then the name of Christ that you are meditating upon with your intellect becomes greatly consoling and sweet to your mind and soul, so much that you could never repeat it enough.

When you practice prayer of the heart and the grace of God touches your heart (that is, when your heart happens upon it), causing it to conceive compunction, as the  Lady Theotokos [“God Bearer”, the Virgin Mary] conceived the Word of God by the Holy Spirit, then the name of divine Jesus, and all of Holy Scripture, becomes ineffable sweetness to the heart, and every spiritual notion of the heart (if I may put it this way) becomes a sweet flowing river of divine compunction that sweetens the heart and wondrously makes it fervent in eros and love for it Creator and God.

Sometimes, when you practice prayer of the heart with pain of an enfeebled heart and with sorrow of a humbled soul, then your soul clearly feels the consolation and visitation of the Lord.  This is what the prophet says:  “The Lord is near those who are brokenhearted.”  The Lord invisibly draws near you when you crush your heart with the prayer, as we said, in order to show you some mystical revelation.  He shows you some vision in order to make you more fervent in the spiritual work of your heart.

And so, beloved, when, by the grace of Christ, your soul beholds some vision and is filled with compunction because of your prayer, then you understand that watchful prayer is nothing other than divine grace; it is the noetic and divine vision your mind beholds, your intellect firmly fixed upon, and your soul watches.  And that the divine grace of the Holy Spirit visited your soul, gently touched your heart, and ineffably sweetened your mind, only you can understand and comprehend within yourself, because compunction ceaselessly from your heart as from an ever-flowing spring, while your mind experiences an inexpressible sweetness and your soul consolation.  At that moment your soul possesses some spiritual boldness and mystically supplicates God, its Fashioner and Creator saying, “Remember me, Oh Lord, in your Kingdom,” or some other verse of Holy Scripture.

This holy and pure supplication that takes place within the soul has such power that it penetrates the heavens and reaches the throne of the Holy Trinity, before whom it stands like sweet-smelling and fragrant incense.  The prophet said about this prayer, “Let my prayer arise as incense before you.”  The God in Trinity receives this holy supplication in an inexpressible and wondrous manner, and the supplication in turn receives the fruit of the Holy Spirit.  This fruit, received reverently and modestly, is offered and sent to the soul as a priceless and heavenly gift from the God of all as a pledge of the future kingdom and adoption.  The soul that receives the heavenly and divine fruit of the Holy Spirit because of its supplication, that is, from pure prayer, acquires divine love, spiritual joy, peace of heart, and great patience during the hardships and temptations of this age, excellence and goodness in everything, unwavering faith, Christ’s meekness, and passion-killing self-control.  All of these are called “fruit of the Holy Spirit.”  To our God be glory and power unto ages of ages. Amen.”    ~ The Watchful Mind, pp 123-125.

 

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Andrew Louth: “Eastern Christian ‘Mystical Life’. Is it ‘Theoretical’?”

Andrew Louth (1944 – ) – is a Christian theologian, Eastern Orthodox priest, and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Durham, England. He has taught at Durham since 1996, and previously taught at Oxford and the University of London. Louth is an expert in the history and theology of Eastern Christianity.

“In particular, what we find in the [Eastern] Fathers undermines any tendency towards seeing mysticism as an elite, individualist quest for ‘peak’ experiences; rather for them the ‘mystical life’ is the ‘life with Christ hid in God’ of Colossians 3:3, a life which is ecclelouthsial, that is lived in the Body of Christ, which is nourished liturgically, and which is certainly a matter of experience, though not of extraordinary ‘experiences’.  One could perhaps make this point by finally reflecting briefly on the transformation of one of the words used by the Fathers in connection with the ‘mystical life’: the word theoretikos.  The modern word ‘theoretical’ (and indeed the word theoretikos in Modern Greek) means abstract, hypothetical, speculative – the very opposite of practical and experiential.  The modern mystical quest is precisely not theoretical.  Much modern Christian apologetic exploits this split between the theoretical and the experiential and presents Christianity as a matter of lived experience, not abstract theoretical matters, among which the dogmatic is often included.  In the Greek of the Fathers, however, this split can scarcely be represented in words or concepts.  Theoretikos means contemplative; that is, seeing and knowing in a deep and transforming way.  The ‘practical’, praktikos …, is the personal struggle with our too often wayward drives and desires, which prepares for the exercise of contemplation, theoria; that is, a dispassionate seeing and awareness constituting genuine knowledge, a knowledge that is more than information, however accurate – a real participation in that which is known, in the One whom we come to know.  The word theoretikos  came to be one of the most common words in Byzantine Greek for designating the deeper meaning of the Scriptures, where one found oneself caught up in the contemplation, theoria, of Christ.  The mystical life, the ‘theoretical’ life, is what we experience when we are caught up in the contemplation of Christ, when, in that contemplation, we come to know ‘face to face’ and, as the Apostle Paul puts it, ‘know, even as I am known’ (1 Cor. 13:12).”  The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, pp. 213, 214.

 

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Clément: “The Trinity as Taught by the Church Fathers”

Olivier-Maurice Clément (1921 – 2009) – was an Orthodox Christian theologian, who taught at St. Sergius Orthodox Theological Institute in Paris, France.  There he became one of the most highly regarded witnesses to early Christianity, as well as one of the most prolific.

 

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“We are made in the image of God.  From all eternity there is present in God a unique mode of existence, which is at the same time Unity and the Person in communion; and we are all called to realize this unity in Christ, when we meet him, under the divided flames of the Spirit.  Therefore we express the metaphysics of the person in the language of Trinitarian theology.  What could be called the ‘Trinitarian person’ is not the isolated individual of Western society (whose implicit philosophy regards human beings as ‘similar’ but not ‘consubstantial’).  Nor is it the absorbed and amalgamated human being of totalitarian society,  or the systematized oriental mysticism, or of the sects. It is, and must be, a person in a relationship, in communion.  The transition from divine communion to human communion is accomplished in Christ who is consubstantial with the Father and the Spirit in his divinity and consubstantial with us in his humanity.  […]

In their expositions of the Trinity, St. Basil and St. Maximus the Confessor emphasize that the Three is not a number (St. Basil spoke in this respect of ‘meta-mathematics’).  The divine Persons are not added to one another, they exist in one another: the Father is in the Son and the Son is in the Father, the Spirit is united to the Father together with the Son and ‘completes the blessed Trinity’ as if he were ensuring the circulation of love within it.  This circulation of love was called by the Fathers perichoresis, another key word of their spirituality, along with the word we have already met, kenosisPerichoresis, the exchange of being by which each Person exists only in virtue of his relationship with the others, might be defined as a ‘joyful kenosis‘.  The kenosis of the Son in history is the extension of the kenosis of the Trinity and allows us to share in it.”   From: The Roots of Christian Mysticism, Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary, pp. 65-67.

 

 

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Louth: “The Relationship Between Mystical and Dogmatic Theology”

Andrew Louth (1944 – ) – is a Christian theologian, Eastern Orthodox priest, and Professor of Patristic and Byzantine Studies at the University of Durham, England. He has taught at Durham since 1996, and previously taught at Oxford and the University of London. Louth is an expert in the history and theology of Eastern Christianity.

louth“This formative period [1st through 5th centuries] for mystical theology was, of course, the formative period for dogmatic theology, and that the same period was determinative for both mystical and dogmatic theology is no accident since these two aspects of theology are fundamentally bound up with one another. The basic doctrines of the Trinity and Incarnation, worked out in these centuries, are mystical doctrines formulated dogmatically. That is to say, mystical theology provides the context for direct apprehensions of the God who has revealed himself in Christ and dwells within us through the Holy Spirit; while dogmatic theology attempts to incarnate those apprehensions in objectively precise terms which then, in their turn, inspire a mystical understanding of the God who has thus revealed himself which is specifically Christian.

Put like that it is difficult to see how dogmatic and mystical theology could ever have become separated; and yet there is little doubt that, in the West at least, they have so become and that ‘dogmatic and mystical theology, or theology and ‘‘spirituality’’ [have] been set apart in mutually exclusive categories, as if mysticism were for saintly women and theological study were for practical but, alas, unsaintly men’.”  From: The Origins of the Christian Mystical Tradition, p. x

 

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Leloup: “Apophasis, Hesychasm, and Divinization”

Jean-Yves Leloup (1950 – ), is an Orthodox theologian, well known in Europe, North and South America as a popular author on spirituality and psychology.

leloup“Thus, St. Thomas will say, ‘Concerning God, one cannot say what God is, but only what God is not.’  In this manner the apophatic way recalls the transcendence of God, that divine otherness which neither the mind, nor the senses of anything can grasp. […]  Apophasis is the direct apprehension of the Real just as it is, without the projections of the discursive mind that distort the Real.  It is to see without eyes, to comprehend without the mind.”

“Proceeding directly from this apophatic tradition, hesychasm will be profoundly Christocentric.  Without Christ, in fact, divinization is not possible.  Christ’s incarnation establishes the full communion between God and humanity.  God became human so that humans might become God. ‘God became the bearer of flesh so that humanity might become the bearer of the Spirit’, said Athanasius of Alexandria. […]  This paradoxical union, which is realized in the Spirit, recreates us in the image and likeness of the Son of God.  Humanity rediscovers the beauty for which it was created.”

“This union also leads the hesychasts to affirm with Gregory of Palamas the reality of the experience of God, while continuing to affirm His transcendence. […]  Two affirmations characterize hesychastic experience: the affirmation of divine transcendence, of God’s inaccessible essence, and the nearness of God, God’s immanence and presence in each of us, the divinization of humanity through the energies of the Word and the Spirit.”   From, Being Still, pp. 56, 59, 61, 62, 64

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