Archive for October, 2017

Elder Sophrony: “Experiencing the Uncreated Light”

Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov) (1896 – 1993) – also known as Elder Sophrony, was best known as the disciple and biographer of St Silouan the Athonite and compiler of St Silouan’s works, and as the founder of the Patriarchal Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist in Tolleshunt Knights, Maldon, Essex, England.

Below is an account of an encounter of Uncreated Divine Light; the Uncreated Thaboric Light of Gregory Palamas.  It is written by a modern holy elder, Archimandrite Sophrony, described above. Five years before his repose in England at the age of 97, he recorded his experiences of Uncreated Light. These experiences had begun many years earlier, when he had been living as a monk on Mt. Athos in Greece, and, like all Orthodox monks, had been practicing, daily, the Jesus Prayer:

 

 

Sophrony

Elder Sophrony

“Now at the close of my life, (he writes,) I have decided to talk to my brethren of things I would not have ventured to utter earlier, counting it unseemly. At the beginning of my monastic life on Mt. Athos, the Lord granted me unceasing prayer. I will relate what I remember well enough, since we are talking of the prayers which marked me indelibly. This is how it often used to be:
Towards evening at sunset I would shut the window and draw three curtains over it, to make my cell as quiet and dark as possible. With my forehead bent to the floor, I would slowly repeat words of prayer, one after the other. I had no feeling of being cooped up, and my mind, oblivious to the body, lived in the light of the gospel word. Concentrated on the fathomless wisdom of Christ’s word, my spirit, freed from all material concerns, would feel flooded, as it were, with light, from the celestial sun.
At the same time, a gentle peace would fill my soul, unconscious of all the needs and cares of this earth. The Lord gave me to live in this state, and my spirit yearned to cling to his feet in gratitude for this gift. This same experience was repeated at intervals for months, perhaps years. Early in the 1930s—I was a deacon then—for two weeks, God’s tender mercy rested upon me. At dusk, when the sun was sinking behind the mountains of Olympia, I would sit on the balcony near my cell, face turned to the dying light.
In those days, I contemplated the evening light of the sun, and at the same time, another light, which softly enveloped me, and gently invaded my heart, in some curious fashion making me feel compassionate and loving towards people who treated me harshly. I would also feel a quiet sympathy for all creatures in general. When the sun had set, I would retire to my cell, as usual, to perform the devotions preparatory to celebrating the Liturgy, and the light did not leave me while I prayed.
Under the influence of this light, prayer for mankind and travail possessed my whole being. It was clear that the inescapable, countless sufferings of the entire universe, are the consequence of man’s falling away from God, our creator, who revealed himself to us. If the world loved Christ and his commandments, everything would be radically transformed, and the earth would become a wonderful paradise.”

 

 

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Igumen Damascene (Christensen): “The Jesus Prayer… is person-to-person”

Igumen Damascene (Christensen) (1961-) – is an igumen (ἡγούμενος – archimandrite or abbot) of the Serbian Orthodox Church, and abbot of St Herman of Alaska Monastery, Platina, California. He is the author of Fr Seraphim Rose: His Life and Works, 1993; Nihilism: The Root of the Revolution of the Modern Age (editor), 1994; and Christ the Eternal Tao, 1999.

 

damascene“When doing the Jesus Prayer as it should be done, one does not merely say the words, but actually prays them from the depths of one’s being, speaking person-to-person, always returning to the awareness that one is addressing someone. Here is an analogy that might make it a little more clear: I have a telephone, and I turned it off, so it is just a dead piece of metal, so I can talk on this phone, I can be saying something, but I know that nobody is listening on the other line. If I know nobody is listening, I can just talk and I am just talking into nothing. But if the phone is on, and I have called somebody, and I know that the person is on the other line, and when I am talking he or she is listening to what I am saying, then I know, and I am conscious, that I am addressing someone.

This is the way we have to be in prayer. In other words, we should not just repeat the prayer by rote: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” We should be concentrated on the words of the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ.” We are addressing Christ, we are conscious of him, we are affirming that he is the Lord, that he is the Christ, he is the Messiah, that he is God, and we ask him to have mercy on us, which means to give us all that we need for our salvation and deification, and by extension, not only on us but on everyone around us.

We are conscious of this and we are conscious of the words of the prayer, but more so, on a deeper level, we are conscious of the one that we are addressing in the prayer. We are addressing Jesus Christ. We are not speaking into a dead telephone. We are speaking to someone who is present with us, who is before us, who is closer to us than our own soul, who within, is inside of us, all around us, and so we are addressing a live, living person. This is the consciousness of addressing someone that we need to have.”

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Chumley: “… hesychia is quite possible and advisable”

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”,  “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”, a companion book to the feature film and public television special.

 

chumley“It is a primary and natural human desire to seek peace and tranquility and to be united with God, our Creator. This is hesychia, a primal state of union with God.

The mystery of creation is that the Creator is present inside, behind, above, and below what he has created! There is no separation between God and creation.  This is a major tenet of Orthodox teachings.  This means he is also present in each of us. If we make worldly things of creation a priority, we miss the subtlety of the Creator.  Remove the material and the worldly and become completely silent and still, and God the Father is there, awaiting us.  Through his grace, divinity is revealed within us. 

Removal of stimuli, and learning to not be deceived by material splendor is the practice of hesychia.  It is a method of removal from illusion and dependence on outside factors.  Stilling the mind of random thoughts (logismoi) allows us a space for God to enter our intellect, and then flow into our heart and soul (nous).  By remaining still, limiting physical activity and the myriad desires of the body (through the practice of apatheia), we also feel God’s grace in a physical way; we are gifted by grace to realize that we are the embodiment of God.

We need silence in order to hear God. We also need places of quiet and stillness, where we can contemplate God and pray.  Yet few… can or would wish to leave all behind and enter a monastic life.  Not many people have the possibility or desire to give away all possessions, leave work, families, and colleagues and take on the ascetic life.

Finding a place and time to practice moments of hesychia is quite possible and advisable.  One does not need to live in a cave, desert, or faraway forest in order to become attuned to God… Thinking of God, saying the Jesus Prayer for five to ten minutes in the morning, afternoon, and evening and tying it to inhalation and exhalation is a form of hesychasm.  It may be helpful to integrate the Jesus Prayer into one’s work and recite it before beginning a new task, or after completing work.

Even at work one may still take time to be silent at one’s desk or to utter a silent prayer before or during a business meeting. Taking a prayer-walk at lunchtime, uniting one’s steps with the Jesus Prayer may bring a deep sense of peace.  This practice of hesychia at the office may be significantly helpful in improving concentration and mood.”

~Dr. Norris Chumley, excerpts from Be Still and Know: God’s Presence in Silence, pp 117-119.

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Chrysostom: “On the Jesus Prayer”

St. John Chrysostom (344/354 – 407) -Born in Antioch. Known as ‘golden-mouthed’ (Chrysostom) because of his ability as a speaker and preacher, he became Archbishop of Constantinople in AD 397.  He was deposed in 404 for attempting to reform the higher clergy and for preaching against the luxury and depravity of the court of the Roman Emperor.  He died in exile in 407.  The principal Liturgy of the Eastern Orthodox Church is named in his honor; The Divine Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom.

 

John Chrysostom“Brothers, be always occupied with the intellectual prayer and do not move far away from God until you receive God’s mercy and pity. Never ask for anything but for His infinite mercy and this is enough for your salvation. When asking for His mercy, cry aloud in entreaty with humble and contrite heart form morning to night and, if possible, during the whole night, saying unceasingly: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on us.”
~  Saint John Chrysostom speaking on sobriety and prayer

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St. Nikodemus: Jesus Prayer… “it is the Duty of All Christians”

St. Nikodemus of the Holy Mountain or St. Nikodemus the Hagiorite (1749 – 1809) – was a  monk, mystic, theologian, and philosopher. His life’s work was a revival of traditional Christian practices and patristic literature. He wrote ascetic prayer literature and influenced the rediscovery of Hesychasm.  He is most famous for his work with St. Macarius of Corinth on The Philokalia.

 

St_ Nikodemos“…it is the duty of all Christians, small and great, always to practice the mental prayer Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, so that their mind and heart may acquire the habit of always uttering those holy words. Let this convince you how pleasing this is to God and what great good derives from it, since He, out of His infinite love for men, sent a heavenly Angel to tell us this, so that no one should have any doubt about it.”
From The Life of St. Gregory Palamas, Archbishop of Thessalonica, the Wonderworker, by St. Nikodemos of the Holy Mountain

 

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The Philokalia of the Neptic Fathers

The Philokalia (Ancient Greek: φιλοκαλία “love of the beautiful, the good) is “a collection of texts written between the 4th and 15th centuries by spiritual masters” of the Eastern Orthodox Church mystical hesychast tradition. They were originally written for the guidance and instruction of monks in “the practice of the contemplative life.”  The publishers of the current English translation state that “the Philokalia has exercised an influence far greater than that of any book other than the Bible in the recent history of the Orthodox Church.”

The Philokalia is the foundational text of hesychasm (“quietness”), the inner spiritual tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church dating back to the Desert Fathers of the 4th century.  Hesychastic practices include contemplative prayer; quiet sitting, inner stillness, and repetitive recitation of the Jesus Prayer. While traditionally taught and practiced in monasteries, hesychasm teachings have spread over the years to include laymen.


Metropolitan Kallistos (Ware), one of the editors of the current English translation, believes that the Philokalia is a:

“Book for all Christians

In the year 1782 a massive folio volume was published in Greek at the city of Venice, bearing the title Φιλοκαλία τῶν Ἱερῶν Νηπτικῶν, Philiokalia of the Holy Neptic Fathers. At the time of its first appearance this book seems to have had only a limited impact upon the Greek Orthodox world, while in the West it remained for a long time totally

Philokalia

“Philokalia”, Current English Translation

unknown. Yet in retrospect it is clear that the Philokalia was one of the most significant Greek books to be published during the whole period of the four centuries of the Turcocratia; indeed, arguably it was the most significant and influential of all. Today, after two centuries, it is still in print, both in the original Patristic Greek and in a modern Greek version; and it is available in translation, not only in most of the languages used in countries that are traditionally Orthodox, but also in virtually all the languages of Western Europe. Alike in the original and in translation, it has been regularly reprinted in the past forty years, and in Britain and the United States, not to mention other countries, the sales are increasing every year. In many circles, non-Orthodox as well as Orthodox, it has become customary to speak of a characteristically ‘Philokalic’ approach to theology and prayer, and many regard this ‘Philokalic’ standpoint as the most creative element in contemporary Orthodoxy.

There are some books which seem to have been composed not so much for their own age as for subsequent generations. Little noticed at the time of their initial publication, they only attain their full influence two or more centuries afterwards. The Philokalia is precisely such a work.

What kind of a book is the Philokalia? In the original edition of 1782, there is a final page in Italian: this is a licenza, a permission to publish, issued by the Roman Catholic censors at the University of Padua. In this they state that the volume contains nothing ‘contrary to the Holy Catholic Faith’ (contro la Santa Fede Cattolica), and nothing ‘contrary to good principles and practices’ (contro principi, e buoni costumi).  But, though bearing a Roman Catholic imprimatur, the Philokalia is in fact entirely an Orthodox book. Of the thirty-six different authors whose writings it contains -dating from the fourth to the fifteenth century- all are Greek, apart from one, who wrote in Latin, St John Cassian (d. circa 430) or ‘Cassian the Roman’ as he is styled in the Philokalia; and this exception is more apparent than real, for Cassian grew up in the Christian East and received his teaching from Evagrios of Pontus, the disciple of the Cappadocian Fathers.

Who are the editors of the Philokalia? The 1782 title page bears in large letters the name of the benefactor who financed the publication of the book: … διὰ δαπάνης τοῦ Τιμιωτάτου, καὶ Θεοσεβεστάτου Κυρίου Ἰωάννου Μαυρογορδάτου (this is perhaps the John Mavrogordato who was Prince of Moldavia during 1743 – 47). But neither on the title page nor anywhere in the 1.206 pages of the original edition are the names of the editors mentioned. There is in fact no doubt about their identity: they are St Makarios of Corinth (1731-1805) and St Nikodimos the Hagiorite (1749-1809), who were both associated with the group known collectively as the Kollyvades.

What was the purpose of St Makarios and St Nikodimos in issuing this vast collection of Patristic texts on prayer and the spiritual life? The second half of the eighteenth century constitutes a crucial turning-point in Greek cultural history. Even though the Byzantine Empire fell in 1453, it can justly be claimed that the Byzantine -or, more exactly, the Romaic- period of Orthodox history continued uninterrupted until the late eighteenth century. The Church, that is to say, continued to play a central role in the life of the people; despite Western influences, whether Roman Catholic or Protestant, theology continued to be carried out in a spirit that was basically Patristic, and most Greeks, when looking back to the past, took as their ideal the Christian Empire of Byzantium.

During the later decades of the eighteenth century, however, a new spirit began to prevail among educated Greeks, the spirit of modern Hellenism. This was more secular in its outlook than was Romaic culture, although -initially, at any rate- it was not explicitly anti-religious. Its protagonists looked back, beyond the Byzantine period, to ancient Greece, taking as their ideal the Athens of Pericles that was so greatly admired in the West, and their models were not the Greek Fathers but the authors of the classical period. These exponents of modern Hellenism were inspired, however, not simply by the Western reverence for classical studies, but more broadly by the mentality of the Enlightenment (Aufklärung), by the principles of Voltaire and the French Encyclopedists, by the ideologists of the French Revolution (which began only seven years after the publication of the Philokalia), and by the pseudo-mysticism of Freemasonry.

Needless to say, we are not to imagine that at the end of the eighteenth century there was a simple transition, with the Romaic tradition drawing abruptly to an end, and being totally replaced by the outlook of Neohellenism. On the contrary, the Romaic standpoint has continued to coexist, side by side with Neohellenism, in nineteenth and twentieth century Greece. The two approaches overlap, and there has always been – and still exists today – a subtle and complex interaction between the two. Alexander Solzenitsyn remarks in The Gulag Archipelago that the line of demarcation separating good and evil runs through the middle of every human heart. By the same token it can be said that the line of demarcation between the Romaios and the Hellene runs through the middle of the heart of each one of us.

If Adamantios Korais is the outstanding representative of modern Hellenism at the end of the eighteenth century, then the outstanding spokesmen of the Romaic or traditional Orthodox spirit during the same epoch are the editors of the Philokalia, St Nikodimos and St Makarios. They and the other Kollyvades were profoundly disturbed by the growing infiltration of the ideas of the Western Aufklärung among their fellow-countrymen. They believed that the regeneration of the Greek Church and nation could come about only through a recovery of the neptic and mystical theology of the Fathers ‘Do not set your hope in the new secularism of the West; that will prove nothing but a deceit and a disappointment’, they said in effect to their fellow-Greeks. ‘Our only true hope of renewal is to rediscover our authentic root in the Patristic and Byzantine past’. Is not their message as timely today as ever it was in the eighteenth century?

The Kollyvades proposed, therefore, a far-reaching and radical programme of ressourcement, a return to the authentic sources of Orthodox Christianity. This programme had three primary features. First, the Kollyvades insisted, in the field of worship, upon a faithful observance of the Orthodox liturgical tradition. Among other things, they urged that memorial services should be celebrated on the correct day,

philkalia greek

“Philokalia”, Greek Edition

Saturday (not Sunday); hence the sobriquet ‘Kollyvades’. But this was far from being their main liturgical concern. Much more important was their firm and unwavering advocacy of frequent communion; this proved to be highly controversial, and brought upon them persecution and exile. Secondly, they sought to bring about in theology a Patristic renaissance; and in this connection they undertook an ambitious programme of publications, in which the Philokalia played a central role. Thirdly, within the Patristic heritage, they emphasized above all else the teachings of Hesychasm, as represented in particular by St Symeon the New Theologian in the eleventh century and by St Gregory Palamas in the fourteenth. It is precisely this Hesychast tradition that forms the living heart of the Philokalia, and that gives to its varied contents a single unity.

Such, then, is the cultural context of the Philokalia. It forms part -a fundamental and primary part- of the Patristic ressourcement that the Kollyvades sought to promote. The Kollyvades looked upon the Fathers, not simply as an archeological relic from the distant past, but as a living guide for contemporary Christians. They therefore hoped that the Philokalia would not gather dust on the shelves of scholars, but that it would alter people’s lives. They meant it to have a supremely practical purpose.

In this connection it is significant that St Nicodimos and St Makarios intended the Philokalia to be a book not just for monks but for the laity, not just for specialists but for all Christians. The book is intended, so its title page explicitly states, ‘for the general benefit of the Orthodox’ (εἰς κοινὴν τῶν Ὀρθοδόξων ὠφέλειαν). It is true that virtually all the texts included were written by monks, with a monastic readership in mind. It is also true that, with the exception of seven short pieces at the end of the volume, the material is given in the original Patristic Greek, and is not translated into the Demotic, even though St Nikodimos and St Makarios used the Demotic in most of their other publications. Nevertheless, despite the linguistic difficulties in many Philokalic texts, more especially in the writings of St Maximos the Confessor and St Gregory Palamas, the editors leave no doubt concerning their purpose and their hopes. In his preface St Nikodimos affirms unambiguously that the book is addressed ‘to all of you who share the Orthodox calling, laity and monks alike’. In particular, St Nikodimos maintains, the Pauline injunction, ‘Pray without ceasing’ (1 Thessalonians 5:17), is intended not just for hermits in caves and on mountain-tops but for married Christians with responsibilities for a family, for farmers, merchants and lawyers, even for ‘kings and courtiers living in palaces’. It is a universal command. The best belongs to everyone.

St Nikodimos recognized that, in thus making Hesychast texts available to the general reader, he was exposing himself to possible misunderstanding and criticism. Thus he writes in the preface:

Here someone might object that it is not right to publish certain of the texts included in this volume, since they will sound strange to the ears of most people, and may even prove harmful to them.

Indeed, is there not a risk that, if these texts are made readily accessible for all to read in a printed edition, certain people may go astray because they lack personal guidance from an experienced spiritual father? This was an objection to which St Nikodimos’ contemporary, St Paissy Velichkovsky (1722-94), was keenly sensitive. For a long time he would not allow his Slavonic translation of the Philokalia to appear in print, precisely because he feared that the book might fall into the wrong hands; and it was only under pressure from Metropolitan Gabriel of St Petersburg that he eventually agreed to its publication. St Makarios and St Nikodimos were in full agreement with St Paissy about the immense importance of obedience to a spiritual father. But at the same time they were prepared to take the risk of printing the Philokalia. Even if a few people go astray because of their conceit and pride, says St Nikodimos, yet many will derive deep benefit, provided that they read the Philokalic texts ‘with all humility and in a spirit of mourning’. If we lack a geronta, then let us trust to the Holy Spirit; for in the last resort He is the one true spiritual guide.”

~ Met. Kallistos (Ware) from “The Inner Unity of the Philokalia and its Influence in East and West”

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Rohr: “Faith and Science; Open to Change”

Fr. Richard Rohr – is a Franciscan priest, Christian mystic, and teacher of Ancient Christian Contemplative Prayer.  He is the founding Director of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM.

 

“God comes into the world in always-surprising ways so that the sincere seeker will always find. Is sincere seeking perhaps the real meaning of walking in darkness and faith? It seems to me that many scientists today are very sincere seekers. In fact, today’s scientists often seem to have more in common with the mystics than do many religious folks who do not seek truth but only assert their dogmas and pre-emptively deny the very possibility of other people’s God-experience.

The common scientific method relies on hypothesis, experiment, trial, and error. We might even call this “practice,” just like many of us have prayer practices. Yes, much of science is limited to the material, but at least the method is more open-ended and sincere than the many religious people who do no living experiments with faith, hope, and love, but just hang on to quotes and doctrines. They lack the personal practices whereby they can test the faithfulness of divine presence and the power of divine love.

Most scientists are willing to move forward with some degree of not-knowing; in fact, this is what calls them forward and motivates them. As new discoveries are affirmed, they remain open to new evidence that would tweak or even change the previous “belief.” Many religious folks insist upon complete “knowing” at the very beginning and then being certain every step of the way, which actually keeps them more “rational” and controlling than most scientists. This is the dead end of most fundamentalist religion, and why it cannot deal with thorny issues in any creative or compassionate way. Now I know why Paul dared to speak of “the curse of the law” (Galatians 3:13). Law reigns and discernment is unnecessary, which means there is little growth or change in such people. When you do not grow, you remain an infant.

The scientific mind today often has more openness to mystery than religion does!  For example, it is willing to speak of dark matter, dark holes, chaos theory, fractals (the part replicates the whole), string theory, dark energy, and the atomic structure of all material things, which seems totally counter intuitive. Scientists “believe” in many things like electromagnetism, radioactivity, field theory, and various organisms such as viruses and bacteria before they can actually “prove” they exist. They know them first by their effects, or the evidence, and then argue backward to their existence. Isn’t this how good theologians have often tried to “prove” the existence of God?

Even though the entire world was captivated by the logical cause-and-effect worldview of Newtonian physics for several centuries, such immediately verifiable physics has now yielded to quantum physics, which is not directly visible to the ordinary observer at all—yet ends up explaining much more—without needing to throw out the simple logic of Newtonian physics in the everyday world. True transcendence always includes the previous stages, yet somehow also reshapes and expands them—just like mysticism does with our old doctrines and dogmas.

It feels as if the scientists of each age are often brilliant, seemingly “right,” but precisely because they are also tentative and searching—which creates a practical humility that we often do not see in clergy and “true believers.” A great scientist will move forward with a perpetual “beginner’s mind.”

Thus many scientists end up trusting in the reality of things that are still “invisible” and secret. It keeps them on the search. This feels like faith to me, whereas what many church people want is perfect certitude and clarity before every step forward. This does not create great or strong people.  ~ Daily Meditation, Faith and Science, Open to Change, Monday, October 23, 2017

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