Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 5

“then he will see the mind appear similar to sapphire or to the color of the sky.”  Evagrius Ponticus, 4th century

This state of a quieted soul, what Evagrius calls a state of “dispassion” [apatheia] is very difficult to achieve.  Dispassion was difficult enough in the isolation of the 4th century Egyptian desert (it took years of practice to achieve) and it is infinitely more difficult for us in the modern world.  First of all, unlike the people of Evagrius’s time, we are culturally conditioned to respect and use only our rational intellect, which is not the part of us that ascends to the Lord in prayer (see the note on the “nous”, below).  Second, we are also the most over stimulated people in history; if not with the endless chatter of our own self-centered desires and judgments, then certainly with the distractions of the modern world trying to capture our attention moment by moment with dazzling technology.

Again, in “On Prayer”, Evagrius tells us: “The state of prayer is one of dispassion [apatheia], which by virtue of the most intense love [agape] transports to the noetic realm the spirit [nous] that longs for wisdom.  He who wishes to pray truly must not only control his incensive power [“thumos”- irascible faculty, anger] and his desire [epithumia], but must also free himself from every impassioned thought.”  If we wish to reach that state beyond normal prayer, that “higher state” described by John Cassian, Evagrius advises us that,  “If one wishes to see the state (katastasis) of the mind (nous) [referring to the state of contemplation, pure prayer, “gnosis”], let him deprive himself of all representations (noemata), and then he will see the mind appear similar to sapphire or to the color of the sky. But to do that without being passionless (apatheia) is impossible, for one must have the assistance of God who breathes into him the kindred light.”

This is ancient foundational Primitive Christian Prayer to which the early church aspired and practiced.  This is praying like Jesus and Paul prayed.

*The nous is the “image of God” present in the consciousness of every human. It is the highest faculty of the human soul.  The notion of man being created in the “image of God” is a constant throughout Christian theology and spirituality deriving from the creation story of Genesis 1.  Note that the idea of “nous” has been totally lost to the Western world, where it has been completely subsumed by our obsession with the “rational intellect” since the Reformation and Enlightenment.

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