Posts Tagged prayer
Evagrius Ponticus (c. 346-399) – was originally from Pontus, on the southern coast of the Black Sea in what is modern-day Turkey. He served as a Lector under St. Basil the Great and was made Deacon and Archdeacon under St. Gregory of Nazianzus. He was also greatly influenced by Origen of Alexandria and St. Gregory of Nyssa. In about 383, Evagrius left Constantinople, eventually retreating to the Egyptian desert and joining a cenobitic community of Desert Fathers. As a classically trained scholar, Evagrius recorded the sayings of the desert monks and developed his own theological writings.
“If you are a theologian you truly pray. If you truly pray you are a theologian.”
from “The 153 Chapters on Prayer”, Chap. 60.
Note: This chapter is one of the key passages for the full understanding of the Evagrian identification of contemplation with prayer. It is also important to understand what Evagrius meant by the term “theologian”. According to David W. Fagerberg, associate professor of theology at the University of Notre Dame, to Evagrius, a “theologian is someone who has been shaped by the cooperative exercise of grace and ascetical submission, whose eyes can see after their light has been restored, whose heart wills only one thing, whose mind has changed, whose life has been reconnected to the source of life. This does not require a PhD, it requires a conversion of life.”
Kyriacos C. Markides (born November 19, 1942) is a professor of sociology at the University of Maine. He has written several books on Christian mysticism including Mountain of Silence, Gifts of the Desert, and Inner River. The following excerpt is from the book Gifts of the Desert, and gives what I consider an enlightened interpretation of John 14:6b. The context of the excerpt below is a QA session following a lecture on Eastern Orthodox spirituality.
“Just as I was about to thank the participants for their attentiveness and end the workshop, a woman who had earlier identified herself as a “born again Christian” raised her hand with marked intensity.
‘Christ taught that only through him can one go to the Father. How should we understand this statement?’ Given my audience, it was the most challenging question I faced.
I had the feeling that she needed affirmation for her beliefs and consciously or unconsciously wished to prompt me into declaring that only Christians will inherit heaven. Feeling somewhat uneasy, I reflected for a few seconds. I knew that, whatever answer I could possibly come up with, someone might feel offended or excluded. ‘Furthermore,’ I added, ‘I am not a biblical scholar who can offer an authoritative exegesis of scripture. I am certainly not a theologian.’ Inwardly, I asked for guidance as I placed my left hand in my pocket and fiddled with a komboschini [a string of black knots made out of wool that the Athonite monks use for ceaseless prayer]. Father Maximos had given it to me after pulling it off his own hand. It offered me a sense of security at that moment.
‘Look,’ I replied finally. ‘There are two possible ways to answer your question. The first is to interpret that passage in the New Testament literally, the way many Christians today would interpret it. In this sense, nobody who is not a baptized Christian can be saved. Some denominations would even make the claim that only through their specific community can a human being find salvation. This is, let us say, an ‘exoteric’ belief shared widely among fundamentalist Christians. It is a belief, however, that divides people, raising serious questions about God’s fairness and love for all his creatures. The typical objection is this: Does it mean that the billions of people who are not born Christians and who may have never heard of Christ will be lost for eternity? From a more esoteric, ‘inner Christian’ perspective such a conclusion seems misguided, to put it mildly. It denies the possibility of salvation to the overwhelming majority of the human race. Surely this could not have been Christ’s intention when he made that statement.’
I was encouraged by the facial expressions of the participants and continued. ‘Why then don’t we make an attempt to interpret that statement in a more inclusive way? Why don’t we try to look at it in terms of its possible inner meaning? I believe the Gospel of John offers us guidelines to answer questions like yours. Christ, according to the Gospel, is ‘the true Light, which lighteth every man that cometh into the world’ [John 1:9]. Do you agree?’ After she nodded I continued. ‘Well, that says it all. Every human being has the Christ within his or her very nature. Furthermore, we are told that Christ is total and unconditional Love. Is it not, therefore, reasonable to conclude that whoever wishes to go to the Father, i.e., God, must attain the state of absolute and selfless love that Jesus embodied? If Christ is Love, then anyone who reaches the state of purification reaches the Father. No one can go to the Father, therefore, outside of total and selfless love. This is, I believe, the true spirit of the Christian message and this is what I understand the great saints of Christianity have taught either explicitly or implicitly.”
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)
The following is an excerpt from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware (b. 1934) in his Introduction to On the Prayer of Jesus , by Ignatius Brianchaninov, Kallistos Ware, Father Lazarus.
“Ignatius [Brianchaninov] distinguishes three main stages or levels on this journey inwards, which he describes as “oral”, “mental”, and “cordial”; that is to say, prayer of the lips, prayer of the mind, and prayer of the heart”.
“The third degree of prayer is attained when not only does the mind or intellect [nous] recite the Jesus Prayer with full attentiveness, but it also descends into the heart and is united with it. In this way our invocation [of Lord, Jesus, Christ, Son of God] becomes prayer of the heart, or more exactly prayer of the mind in the heart. When the hesychast tradition speaks of the “heart” in this context, the word is to be understood in its full Hebraic sense, as found in Scripture: it signifies, not merely the emotions and affections, but the moral and spiritual center of the total person, the ground and focal point of our created being, the deep self. Prayer of the heart, then, is no longer prayer of the faculty alone, but prayer of the entire person, spirit, soul, and body together. It is precisely at this stage that prayer becomes not just something that we do but something that we are – something, moreover, that we are not just from time to time but continually. In this way St. Paul’s injunction becomes a realized fact: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thess. 5:17). Nor is this all. Since the heart is not only the center of our created personhood but also the place where Christ and the Holy Spirit dwell within us, prayer of the heart is not so much something that we do as something that God does; not so much my prayer as the prayer of Christ in me (Gal. 2:20).”
“How is unceasing prayer possible? When we are singing the Psalms, when we are reading the Scriptures, when we are serving our neighbor, even then it is easy enough for the mind to wander off after irrelevant thoughts and images.
Yet the Scriptures do not require impossibilities. St. Paul himself sang the Psalms, read the Scriptures, offered his own apostolic service, and nonetheless prayed uninterruptedly.
Unceasing prayer means to have the mind always turned to God with great love, holding alive our hope in Him, having confidence in Him whatever we are doing and whatever happens to us.
That is the attitude that the Apostle had when he wrote: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?”…
Thanks to this attitude of mind, Paul prayed without ceasing. In all that he did and in all that happened to him, he kept alive his hope in God.”
– St. Maximos…
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Fr. Richard Rohr, OFM (1943- ) is a Franciscan writer, teacher, mystic, and priest. He is at the forefront of Western Latin Christian efforts to restore their lost contemplative prayer tradition. He is the founder of the Center for Action and Contemplation in Albuquerque, NM. and the Rohr Institute’s Living School for Action and Contemplation. The Living School provides a course of study grounded in the Western Christian mystical tradition of the “Alternative Orthodoxy” of St. Francis of Assisi, St. Bonaventure, and Duns Scotus.
Simone Weil, French philosopher, sought a bridge between Judaism and Christianity. “Her great message was that the trouble with Christianity is that it had made itself into a separate religion instead of recognizing that the prophetic message of Jesus might just be necessary for the reform and authenticity of all religions. But Christians made Christianity into a competition, and once we were in …competition, we had to be largely verbal [as opposed to contemplative]; soon we were aggressive and, saddest of all, we became quite violent – all in the name of God,…” ~ Yes, And Daily Devotional
Dr. Jean-Claude Larchet (1949- ) is a French Orthodox theologian and is one of the foremost Patristics scholars writing today. Dr. Larchet converted to the Orthodox Church from the Roman Catholic Church at the age of 22. He holds doctorates in philosophy (1987) and theology (1994) from the University of Strasbourg.
“God, in effect, does not grant healing unless it is asked of him, for he has granted man free will and in all the cases respects his will and will not act against it. However, the will of the individual is not always fully at his disposal. . .Those who are disturbed in a significant way cannot even ask for their own healing or give evidence of their faith. . . And yet it is possible for such individuals to be delivered and healed thanks to the faith and the prayers of those around them or accompanying them, as well as to those of the saint to whom they are entrusted.” ~ Mental Disorders & Spiritual Healing: Teachings from the Early Christian East
St. Symeon the New Theologian (949-1022) was absolutely insistent that every believer must receive a second baptism, the Baptism of the Holy Spirit. It is not to be confused with ritual Orthodox Chrismation.
“… ‘John Baptized with water, but you shall be baptized with the Holy Spirit’. If one is ignorant of the Baptism wherewith he was baptized as a child and does not even realize that he was baptized, but only accepts it by faith and then wipes it away with thousands upon thousands of sins, and if he denies the second Baptism – I mean, that which is through the Spirit, given from above by the loving-kindness of God to those who seek it by penitence – by what other means can he ever obtain salvation? By no means!” ~ The Discourses. XXXII
“What’s a “nous”?”
In the last 500 years, since about the time of the Protestant Reformation (16th century) and Enlightenment (17th century), Western culture has been obsessed with the rational, reasoning, logical mind. It has become so dominant in our thinking, that it is now the sole measure of human intelligence. Our fixation with the rational mind is not without foundation. The power of the rational mind has been the engine that gave us the scientific method of inquiry; it brought us the Industrial and Scientific revolutions; the Information Age. It has largely shaped the modern world. So, in modern society, when we speak of “mind” or “intelligence” we mean one thing and one thing only: the rational, reasoning human mind.
For Christians trying to understand the New Testament (originally written in Greek) and other early Christian spiritual writings (also predominantly in Greek), the exclusive association of “mind” and “intelligence” with man’s rational, reasoning faculties is problematic. In Christian spiritual tradition, the rational, reasoning faculty of man is not the only definition of “mind” and “intelligence”. In fact, it is not even considered the highest or most developed definition of “mind” and “intelligence”. That distinction belongs to the “nous”.
What? What’s a “nous”? I’ll bet most Westerners, even mature Christians, have never heard the word “nous”. The word “nous” (pronounced “nooce”) is Greek (νοϋς) and can be found throughout the Greek New Testament (it appears explicitly 22 times in the NT) and in scores of other early Christian (Patristic) writings.
The term “nous” can be thought of as a perceptive or receptive ability to hear God’s voice and to, perhaps, experience Him in His energies. It has often been translated simply as “mind”, as in Paul’s letter to the Romans where he wrote, “And do not be conformed to this world, but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind [nous], that you may prove what is that good and acceptable and perfect will of God.” (12:2)
More next post.
” As a consequence of the “Fall”, the “nous” became dissipated and diseased…”
The “nous” in all of humankind was severely injured, diseased, and damaged in the “Adamic Fall” (The “Fall” in the Garden of Eden). The “Fall” is seen as the misuse of free will; of focusing on oneself rather than on God for guidance, wisdom and worship. Free will gave man the right to choose. And choose he did. In the “Fall”, humans shifted their focus from God to themselves (and any number of other idols). As a consequence of the “Fall”, the “nous” became dissipated and diseased, overwhelmed with increasing concerns for individual survival and the needs and desires of the body in the physical, material world. The “nous” became estranged from God’s grace and humankind’s whole nature became sick. This sickness was handed on to later descendants as the inheritance of ancestral sin.
The Orthodox do not understand the “Fall” in legal terms, as Western Christianity does, but rather in medical terms. When Paul says in Romans 5:19, “as by one man’s disobedience many were made sinners,” it is understood in a medical sense, not a legal one. In other words, as a result of one man’s sin, human nature became sick.
The Incarnation and ministry of Jesus Christ is seen as a therapeutic (Greek therapeuo) mission of love from God to humankind in order to heal and restore our fallen sick souls. The key to this is the healing and restoration of the “nous”, the “eye of the heart”. Jesus possessed a complete human nature, not only on the lower side (body) but also on the higher spiritual side, the “nous”. His perfect human nature broke the grip of sin on fallen human nature, opening the possibility of restoring the diseased “nous” of every human being to its spiritual pre-Fall state.
In his book, Orthodox Psychotherapy: the Science of the Fathers, Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos (now Metropolitan Hierotheos) quotes Saint Maximus the Confessor (7th century) as saying “The nous functions in accordance with nature when it keeps the passions under control, contemplates the inner essences of created beings, and abides with God.” The “nous” is changed by every conceptual image that it accepts. When the “nous” is in a fallen state, confusion is created in the whole of the spiritual organism of man. In this “fallen” state, the “nous” needs therapy/purification.