Posts Tagged prayer

St. Symeon: “…by what other means can he ever obtain salvation? By no means!”

 

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.

 

St_ Symeon the New Theologian

 

“… ‘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

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Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 1

“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.

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Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 4

” 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.

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Nous (νοῦς) – “…the highest faculty in man” 6

“In Illumination, a vision of God is granted to the now-healed “nous”.”

When the “nous” is healed and restored, it is no longer dissipated among all the various senses and distractions of this world but is able instead to retire within itself to attain to a vision of God (theoria). A purified “nous” can be illuminated by grace, seeing the glory of Christ reflected in itself and seeing spiritual things clearly. In Illumination, a vision of God is granted to the now-healed “nous”. This vision of God is of His manifested energy (energeía), not His essence (oúsia), which remains beyond human conception and unknowable.

This is the spiritual development process of the early church: purification (katharsis), followed by illumination (theoria), culminating in deification (theosis). These three stages are the purpose of the mystical life of the church.

The manner of healing the “nous” is outlined by Hierotheos (Vlachos) in “Orthodox Psychotherapy“: First, the guarding of the “nous”; second, the purifying of the “nous”; and third, the returning of the “nous” to the heart through the practice (ascesis) of repentance and noetic contemplative prayer so that the “nous” might finally be illuminated by the “divine light” of God’s grace.

This noetic contemplative prayer is the Primitive Christian Prayer tradition of Jesus, Paul and the early church. This, Hierotheos assures us, is the common experience and teaching of the Church Fathers. They may have sometimes differed from one another as they sought to describe this common experience, but the variations in how they expressed themselves should be seen as just that. The true problem may not even be in their expression but in our interpretation; fragmented, locked into a rational modern worldview, and lacking in spiritual understanding as we are in comparison with them.

In closing this discussion of the “nous”, I return us to the point I made at the beginning of this series. Modern Western culture has virtually deified the rational, reasoning mind and intellect over the past 500 years. So thorough is our fixation and obsession with the rational mind, that any other conception of mind or intellect, such as “nous”, is virtually unknown, even within the church.

It is no wonder that we operate at such a low level of spiritual consciousness. But, now you know about your “nous”, the ‘eye of your soul’.   You also now know about the 2,000 year Christian tradition of the healing of the “nous” and “attaining to the likeness of God”. So, what will you do now that you’ve discovered your “nous”?

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Chrysostom: The church as “a hospital for sinners and not a court of law”

St. John Chrysostom (344/354 – 407) -Born in Antioch into an aristocratic family, John bore witness to God as the ‘friend of humankind’ and to an uncompromising ethic of social service.  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 Roman Emperor Arcadius, which earned him the enmity of empress Eudoxia.  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.

Dover Beach

John Chrysostom

“Enter into the church and wash away your sins. For there is a hospital for sinners and not a court of law.”

– John Chrysostom

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Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 1

“after the fire a still small voice”.  ~ 1 Kings 19:12

1 Kings 19 talks about Elijah running from a very evil queen Jezebel. God wants to talk with Elijah and Elijah experiences a great wind, an earthquake, and a fire, yet he does not hear the voice of God. He hears it in a “still small voice” or as the Greek Septuagint has it, “φωνὴ αὔρας λεπτῆς”, “a sound minute and poor”.

We can only hear “a sound minute and poor” when we ourselves are quiet, still, and attentive. We need to be calm in spirit, ignoring the endless blather of our own mind, and open to the moment without expectation or judgment. That is contemplation. It is how Jesus spent most of his time “praying”. It is what the early church meant by prayer.

Western Latin Christianity (Roman Catholicism) completely lost their contemplative prayer tradition by the rational argumentation of the Reformation of the 16th century and the rational intellectual revolution of the Enlightenment of 17th century. Protestantism never had a contemplative prayer tradition.

The bad news is that we in the West have no idea how to pray as Jesus prayed. The good news is that the tradition of contemplative prayer is being re-discovered in the West and has always been available in the Eastern Orthodox tradition of “hesychasm” to anyone motivated to quiet themselves and seek it.

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Contemplative Primitive Christian Prayer 2

“Very early in the morning, while it was still dark, Jesus got up, left the house and went off to a solitary place, where he prayed.” ~ Mark 1:35

In my last post, I pointed out that Western Christianity lost its mystic tradition of contemplative prayer about 500 years ago.  Contemplation was the prevailing type of Christian prayer for nearly 1,600 years in the Latin West and it still remains the principal prayer tradition of the Orthodox East.   Today, I want to follow up on that thought and discuss the fact that contemplative prayer was established as the principal type of prayer of Christianity in the very beginning, by Jesus himself.

In the very first Chapter (v. 35) of our oldest Gospel, Mark tells how Jesus habitually prayed; alone in a solitary place without distraction.  In fact, just before teaching the disciples the “Lord’s Prayer” in Matthew 6, Jesus tells them, “whenever you pray, go into your room and shut the door and pray to your Father who is in secret; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you.”(v.6).  In these passages, Jesus also tells his disciple how not to pray: “And whenever you pray, do not be like the hypocrites; for they love to stand and pray in the synagogues and at the street corners, so that they may be seen by others” (v.5); and “When you are praying, do not heap up empty phrases as the Gentiles do; for they think that they will be heard because of their many words” (v. 7).  These are not isolated incidents and remarks, but characteristic of Jesus’s prayer life throughout the Gospel accounts of his ministry.  As Luke tells us, “So He Himself often withdrew into the wilderness and prayed.” (v. 5:16).

Clearly, Jesus set Contemplative Prayer as the standard for Christians, what I will call “Primitive Christian Prayer”.  I use the word “primitive” not in the sense of the word that denotes “crude”, “unfinished”, or “simplistic”, but in the sense of  being “primary, original, and pristine”.  Primitive Christian Prayer is the way Jesus prayed.  It was the principal prayer tradition of the early Church.

You have never heard that message preached from a Protestant pulpit (or Catholic, for that matter), have you?

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