Posts Tagged contemplation
St Seraphim of Sarov (1754 – 1833) – is one of the most renowned Orthodox Russian saints. He is generally considered the greatest of the 19th-century startsy (elders). Seraphim extended the monastic teachings of asceticism, contemplation, and theosis to lay Christians. He taught that the purpose of the Christian life was to acquire the Holy Spirit. Perhaps his most popular quotation amongst Orthodox believers is “Acquire a peaceful spirit, and thousands around you will be saved.”
Nikolay Motovilov was a disciple of St Seraphim and wrote down many of his conversations with the starets, including this famous Talk On the Purpose of the Christian Life, that took place in November 1831 in the forest near Sarov. Motovilov’s account is considered one of the spiritual treasures of Russian Orthodoxy.
The Acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God
Click on the graphic or the blue hyperlink below to open the document:
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) – One of the great Orthodox mystics and hesychasts explains his experience and encounter of God as light.
“This, invariably, is just what occurs concerning the invisible God. Whenever someone sees Him revealed, he sees light. While on the one hand he is amazed at what he has seen, on the other he does not know immediately who it is who has appeared, yet he dares not ask Him. And how could he? He is unable even to lift up his eyes and look on that grandeur. With fear and trembling he looks instead, as it were, at his own feet, knowing fully only that it is Someone Who has appeared before his face.
And if there happens to be some other man who has told him beforehand about such things, as having known God from before, he goes to this man [St Symeon’s elder] and says: “I have seen.” And the other says: “What did you see, child?” “Light, O my father, so sweet, sweet! So much so, father, that my reason has not the strength to tell you.”
And, while he is saying this, his heart leaps and pounds, and catches on fire with longing for what he has seen. Then, with many warm tears, he begins to say again: “That light, father, appeared to me. The walls of my cell immediately vanished and the world disappeared, fleeing I think from before His face, and I remained alone in the presence alone of the light. And I do not know, father, if this my body was there, too. I do not know if I was outside of it. For a while I did not know that I carry and am clothed with a body. And such great joy was in me and is with me now, great love and longing both, that I was moved to streams of tears like rivers, just like now as you see.”
The other then answers and says: “It is He, child.” And, at this word, he sees Him again and, little by little, comes to be completely purified and, purified, grows bold and asks that One Himself, and says: “My God, is it You?”
And He answers and says: ‘Yes, I am He, God, Who for your sake became man; and behold, I have made you, as you see, and shall make you, god’.”
~ St Symeon the New Theologian, from On the Mystical Life (Vol. 2), pp. 53-54
Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou) , Ph. D., is a disciple of Elder Sophrony, who was a disciple of St. Silouan of Mount Athos. Presently, Fr. Zacharias is a monk in the Monastery founded by Elder Sophrony: The Monastery of St. John the Baptist, Tolleshunt Knights by Maldon, Essex, England.
“The heart is within our chest. When we speak of the heart, we speak of our spiritual heart which coincides with the fleshly one; but when man receives illumination and sanctification, then his whole being becomes a heart. The heart is synonymous with the soul, with the spirit; it is a spiritual place where man finds his unity, where his nous is enthroned when it has been healed of the passions. Not only his nous, but his whole body too is concentrated there. St. Gregory Palamas says that the heart is the very body of our body, a place where man’s whole being becomes like a knot. When mind [rational faculty] and heart [noetic faculty] unite, man possesses his [whole] nature and there is no dispersion and division in him any more. That is the sanctified state of the man who is healed.
On the contrary, in our natural and fallen state, we are divided: we think one thing with our mind, we feel another with our senses, we desire yet another with our heart. However, when mind and heart are united by the grace of God, then man has only one thought — the thought of God; he has only one desire — the desire for God; and only one sensation — the noetic sensation of God.” ~ Very Rev. Archimandrite Zacharias (Zacharou)
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” and “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”, a companion book to the feature film and public television special.
“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
“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
The following excerpt is from an anonymous 1851 manuscript called The Watchful Mind. It 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.
“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.
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 ecclesial, 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.