"Today the concept of truth is viewed with suspicion, because truth is identified with violence. Over history there have, unfortunately, been episodes when people sought to defend the truth with violence. But they are two contrasting realities. Truth cannot be imposed with means other than itself! Truth can only come with its own light. Yet, we need truth. ... Without truth we are blind in the world, we have no path to follow. The great gift of Christ was that He enabled us to see the face of God".Pope Benedict xvi, February 24th, 2012

The Church is ecumenical, catholic, God-human, ageless, and it is therefore a blasphemy—an unpardonable blasphemy against Christ and against the Holy Ghost—to turn the Church into a national institution, to narrow her down to petty, transient, time-bound aspirations and ways of doing things. Her purpose is beyond nationality, ecumenical, all-embracing: to unite all men in Christ, all without exception to nation or race or social strata. - St Justin Popovitch

Wednesday 27 February 2013


The central passages of the last address of pope Joseph Ratzinger, Wednesday, February 27, 2013. "I no longer bear the authority of the office, but I remain within the enclosure of Saint Peter" 

by Benedict XVI

my source: Sandro Magister
Dear brothers and sisters [...] In this moment my spirit reaches out to the whole Church scattered throughout the world; and I give thanks to God for the “news” that during these years of the Petrine ministry I have been able to receive about the faith in the Lord Jesus Christ, and about the charity that circulates in the body of the Church and makes it live in love, and about the hope that opens us and orients us toward the fullness of life, toward our homeland in heaven. […]

At this moment there is in me a great trust, because I know, we all know, that the Word of life of the Gospel is the power of the Church, it is its life. The Gospel purifies and renews, it bears fruit, wherever the community of believers listens to it and welcomes the grace of God in truth and lives in charity. This is my trust, this is my joy. 

When, on April 19 almost  eight years ago, I agreed to assume the Petrine ministry, I held firm this certainty that has always accompanied me.

At that time, as I have already expressed repeatedly, the words that resounded in my heart were these: Lord, what are you asking of me, and why are you asking it of me? It is a great weight that you are placing on my shoulders, but if You are the one who is asking me, at your word I will cast out the nets, sure that you will guide me. And the Lord has truly guided me, he has been close to me, I have been able to perceive his presence every day.

It has been a segment of the journey of the Church that has had moments of joy and light, but also moments that have not been easy; I have felt like Saint Peter with the Apostles in the boat on the Sea of Galilee: the Lord has given us so many days of sun and of gentle breeze, days in which the fish have been abundant; there have also been moments in which the waters were agitated and the wind contrary, as in all the history of the Church, and the Lord seemed to be sleeping.

But I have always known that in that boat is the Lord, and I have always known that the barque of the Church is not mine, it is not ours, but it is his and he does not let it sink; it is he who pilots it, certainly also through the men whom he has chosen, because this is how he has wanted it. This has been and is a certitude that nothing can obscure. And it is for this reason that today my heart is full of thanksgiving to God that he has never deprived the whole Church and me as well of his consolation, his light, his love.

We are in the Year of Faith, which I wanted in order to reinforce precisely our faith in God in a context that seems to put him ever more in the background. I would like to invite all of us to renew our firm trust in the Lord, to entrust ourselves like children into the arms of God, certain that those arms support us always and are that which permits us to walk every day even in weariness. I would like that each one of us should feel loved by that God who has given his Son for us and has demonstrated to us his love without limit. I would like that each one should feel the joy of being Christian.

In a beautiful prayer to be recited every day in the morning it says: “I adore you, my God, and I love you with all my heart. I thank you for having created me, made me Christian..." Yes, we are content with the gift of faith; it is the most precious good, which no one can take away from us! Let us thank the Lord for this every day, with prayer and with a consistent Christian life. God loves us, but he is waiting for us to love him too! [...]

In these last months I have felt that my powers were diminished, and I asked God with insistence, in prayer, to illuminate me with his light in order to help me make the best decision not for my own good, but for the good of the Church. I have taken this step in full awareness of its gravity and also of its novelty, but with a profound serenity of spirit. Loving the Church also means having the courage to make difficult and painful decisions, keeping always in view the good of the Church and not of oneself.

Allow me here to return once again to April 19, 2005. The gravity of the decision has lain precisely also in the fact that from that moment on, I was engaged always and forever by the Lord. Always: the one who assumes the Petrine ministry no longer has any privacy. He belongs always and completely to all, to the whole Church. His life is, so to speak, completely stripped of the private dimension. I have been able to experience, and I am experimenting it right now, that one receives life precisely in giving it away. Before I have said that many persons who love the Lord also love the successor of Saint Peter and are fond of him; that the pope truly has brothers and sisters, sons and daughters all over the world, and that he feels secure in the embrace of their communion; because he no longer belongs to himself, he belongs to all and all belong to him.

The “always" is also a “forever”: there is no more returning to the private. My decision to resign from the active exercise of the ministry does not revoke this. I am not returning to private life, to a life of travel, meetings, receptions, conferences etc. I am not abandoning the cross, but I remain in a new way with the crucified Lord. I no longer bear the authority of office for the governance of the Church, but in the service of prayer I remain, so to speak, within the enclosure of Saint Peter. St. Benedict, whose name I bear as pope, will be a great example for me in this. He showed us the way to a life that, active or passive, belongs completely to the work of God.

I thank all and each one also for the respect and understanding with which you have received this very important decision. I will continue to accompany the journey of the Church with prayer and reflection, with that dedication to the Lord and to his Bride which I have sought to live every day until now and which I want to live always.

I ask you to remember me before God, and above all to pray for the cardinals called to such a significant task, and for the new successor of the apostle Peter: may the Lord accompany him with the light and strength of his spirit. [...]


A relevant address: 

The Pope on Tradition, Ecumenism, and Vatican II

 As we know, in vast areas of the earth, faith is in danger of being put out, as a flame that finds no more fuel. We find ourselves before a profound crisis of faith, before a loss of the religious sense that is the greatest challenge for today's Church. The renewal of the faith must thus be the priority in the effort of the entire Church in our day. I hope that the Year of Faith may contribute, with the cordial collaboration of all components of the People of God, to make God present in this world and may open to man access to the faith, that he may entrust himself to that God who has loved us to the end (cf. John 13,1), in Jesus Christ, crucified and risen.

 ... The coherence of the ecumenical effort with the teaching of the Second Vatican Council and with the entire Tradition has been one of the areas to which the Congregation, in collaboration with the Pontifical Council for the Promotion of Christian Unity, has always paid attention. We can see today not a few good fruits born of the ecumenical dialogues, but we must also recognize that the risk of a false irenicism and of an indifferentism, completely separated from the mind of the Second Vatican Council, demands our vigilance. This indifferentism is caused by the ever more common opinion that truth would not be accessible to man; it would thus be necessary to limit oneself to search for rules for a praxis which would improve the world. And, therefore, faith would be replaced by a moralism with no profound meaning. The center of true ecumenism is, instead, the faith in which man finds truth, that reveals itself in the Word of God. Without faith, the entire ecumenical movement would be reduced to a kind of "social contract" to be joined for a common interest, a "praxeology" for creating a better world. The logic of the Second Vatican Council is completely different: the sincere search for full unity of all Christians is a movement animated by the Word of God, by divine Truth that is spoken to us in this Word.

 The crucial problem, that marks in a transversal way the ecumenical dialogues, is, for this reason, the question of the structure of revelation - the relationship between Sacred Scripture, the living Tradition in Holy Church, and the Ministry of the successors of the Apostles as a testimony to the true faith. And here the problematic of ecclesiology, which is part of this problem, is implied: in what way the truth of God reaches us. It is fundamental here, among other things, to distinguish between Tradition, with a capital letter, and traditions. I do not wish to enter in details, but just to make an observation. An important step in this distinction was accomplished in the preparation and application of the provisions for the groups of faithful coming from Anglicanism, who wish to join the full communion of the Church, in the unity of the common and essential divine Tradition, preserving their own spiritual traditions, liturgical and pastoral, that are consistent withh the Catholic Faith (cf. Cost. Anglicanorum coetibus, art. III). There is, in fact, a spiritual wealth in the various Christian confessions that is the expression of the one faith and gift to be shared and to be found together in the Tradition of the Church. 

 Today, therefore, one of the fundamental questions consists of the problematic of the methods to be adopted in the various ecumenical dialogues. These also must reflect the priority of faith. To know the truth is the right of the interlocutor in every true dialogue. It is the very demand of charity for brother. In this sense, it is necessary to face with courage also the controversial questions, always in the spirit of fraternity and reciprocal respect. It is important to offer a correct interpretation of that "order or 'hierarchy' of truth in Catholic doctrine," mentioned in the Decree Unitatis redintegratio (n. 11), which does not mean in any way to reduce the deposit of faith, but to make emerge the internal structure, the organicity of this one structure. Also the study documents produced by the various ecumenical dialogues have great relevance. Such texts cannot be ignored, because they are an important, though temporary, fruit of the common reflection matured throughout the years. Nevertheless, they are to be recognized in their adequate significance as contributions offered to the competent Authority of the Church, who alone is called to judge them in a definitive way. To ascribe to such texts a binding or almost conclusive weight for the ecclesial Authority would not, in a final analysis, help on the path to a full unity in the faith. 

 One last question that I would finally wish to mention is the problem of morals, which is a new challenge for the ecumenical path. In the dialogues, we must not forget the great moral questions related to human life, family, sexuality, bioethics, liberty, justice, and peace. It will be important to speak on these matters with only one voice, drawing the foundation on Scripture and on the living tradition of the Church. This tradition helps us understand the language of the Creator in his creation. By defending the fundamental values of the great tradition of the Church, we defend man, we defend creation. 

Benedict XVI

 Address to the participants of the Plenary Session of the Congregation for the Doctrine of the Faith January 27, 2012 [Rorate translation]


The Holy Spirit and Personal Guidance


"There is a question that is close to my heart. Most Christians believe that God answers prayers, and many believe that the Holy Spirit can guide your life. What is the Orthodox doctrine about the Holy Spirit? Does the Holy Spirit provide personal guidance? How is this guidance provided? Most importantly, how can we be sure of this guidance—how can we tell what is the voice of the Spirit, from our own wishful thinking or pre-conceived thoughts?

This is very important to me because I once thought my course of action was guided by the Spirit, and later discovered that it was not. I’m very uncertain how I can know what is real anymore. I feel this as a real loss in my life." - someone.


I will try to provide basic answers, point by point. If you would like me to elaborate further, all you have to do is send another email and I will be happy to do so.

What is the Orthodox doctrine about the Holy Spirit?
We believe that the Holy Spirit is God, the third person of the Holy Trinity, co-eternal and one in essence with the Father and the Son. The basic doctrine on the Holy Spirit is found in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed: “...And in the Holy Spirit, the Lord, the Giver of Life, Who proceeds from the Father, Who together with the Father and Son is worshipped and glorified, Who spoke by the prophets.” I would refer you to John 14:13-17 & 26 for the words of Jesus Christ Himself on the Holy Spirit.

Does the Holy Spirit provide personal guidance?
We believe that the Holy Spirit guides us personally and as a community, the People of God. In the Sacrament of Chrismation each one of us was “sealed with the Gift of the Holy Spirit.” In this mystery our personal relationship with the Holy Spirit is imparted and underscored. However, this mystery is imparted within the context of the entire faith community, not apart from it. Hence, while being filled with the Holy Spirit personally, this is done in the midst of the Church—the worshipping and believing community—just as it is impossible to be a Christian apart from the People of God.

[While some religious groups may stress the ultimate importance of having a “personal relationship” with Christ or the Holy Spirit, Orthodoxy sees the fulfillment of such personal relationship within the context of the Christian community, not apart from it.]

There is a well known quote from Saint Seraphim of Sarov, in which he says that the goal of our lives as Christians is to acquire the Holy Spirit. This is essential, yet it is impossible to acquire the Holy Spirit apart from the Christian community, as some non-Orthodox may teach.

How is this guidance provided? Most importantly, how can we be sure of this guidance—how can we tell what is the voice of the Spirit, from our own wishful thinking or pre-conceived thoughts?

The Holy Spirit guides us in various and diverse ways.

First, as professed in the Nicene-Constantinopolitan Creed, the Holy Spirit “spoke by the prophets,” indicating that there are those whom the Holy Spirit “uses” to guide, to encourage, to inspire, and to challenge the People of God to repent. There are still prophetic voices at work within the Church today, and we can say that in such cases the Holy Spirit continues to make His presence felt through those whom He chooses.

Second, we continually call upon the Holy Spirit to guide us in discerning His presence. Scripture warns of “other spirits” which can be deceptive and, hence, certainly not of God. The gift of discernment is critical in determining that which is genuine from that which is not—or, as you yourself state, to discern “the voice of the Spirit, from our own wishful thinking or pre-conceived thoughts.” On the one hand, the Holy Spirit guides us in discerning God’s will from our own will; on the other hand, we need to discern that which is from the Holy Spirit from that which is not. In this, prayer and meditation is critical, as one cannot begin to “discern the spirits” apart from these realities. It is difficult to explain such things in human words, apart from those of of Christ, Who says: “But the Counselor, the Holy Spirit, Whom the Father will send in my name, He will teach you all things and bring to your remembrance all that I have said to you” (Jn 14:26).

Here we discover that the Holy Spirit teaches us all things, enlightens us, and commends to our memory the way to salvation revealed by Jesus Christ in discerning the presence and operation of the Holy Spirit, one must not do so apart from that which Christ revealed

Here we may say that discernment involves finding consistency in the prompting of the Holy Spirit and the revelation of Jesus Christ. In crass terms, we might say that if something seems to be of the Holy Spirit, yet it stands in opposition to all that Christ revealed in His life, actions, and words, then the “something” is probably not of the Holy Spirit.

Here we might make a simple example: Christ teaches us to repent, to shun sin, and to turn to Him and Him alone. Saint Paul expresses this by challenging us to “put aside the old man” and “clothe” ourselves in Jesus Christ, the express image of the Father. Now imagine that someone comes and claims that he or she has received a “new” revelation which states that, while we indeed must shun sin, we cannot do so unless we have first experienced sin—thereby urging us to go out and willfully commit sins for the express purpose of repenting of them at a later point. [Believe it or not, there have actually been individuals and groups which have taught precisely this!]

Here discernment is critical: We need to weigh what the person claims in his or her “new” revelation and measure it against the life and teaching of Jesus Christ Himself, as well as the ongoing life of the People of God, the Church. If we do so, it becomes clear that the so-called “new” revelation is absolutely inconsistent with the revelation of Jesus Christ and the teaching of Saint Paul and the life and experience, the Holy Tradition, of the Church. Hence, the “new” revelation is discerned to be false, devoid of the Holy Spirit, and consequently it must be rejected. [This is a simplistic example, in which I hope the point becomes clearer.]

Often we find ourselves in situations in which we are unsure as to that which we feel or experience is of the Holy Spirit or of “another spirit.” Carefully and prayerfully weighing such situations and measuring them against the revelation as delivered to us through Jesus Christ is critical. This may take time and patience, forcing us—as the Prophet Elijah did—to sit, quietly and patiently, in all stillness, and listen to the voice of the Lord. In discerning the promptings of the Holy Spirit, it is critical to lay aside our own desires, will, and wants, and to listen to what the Lord tells us.

On Holy Saturday, as we anticipate the revelation of eternal life through the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, we sing precisely this reality: “Let all mortal flesh keep silent, and in fear and trembling stand, pondering nothing earthly minded. ...”

Sometimes we discover the answer on our own, through another person, through the community with whom we worship, or through the “least of the brethren”—but always in God’s good time, not our own. “The Holy Spirit blows as He wills.”

So discernment apart from prayer, fasting, listening, and spiritual openness firmly rooted in humility and the desire to discover God’s will is impossible.

What I write is in no way intended to be an exhaustive treatment of the questions you pose but, rather, a springboard or starting point for further reflection, study, prayer, and contemplation. In every instance, such written answers cannot replace the one-on-one relationship one should have with one’s spiritual father. But I pray that it gives further “food for thought” in terms of the specific questions you have asked.

Introduction to Precious Vessels of the Holy Spirit
The Lives & Counsels of Contemporary Elders of Greece
The Ancient Christian Ministry of Spiritual Eldership

It is not uncommon, among both non-Orthodox as well as Orthodox, in the west (and increasingly even among Orthodox in traditionally "Orthodox" countries), for the ancient tradition of spiritual eldership to be either completely unknown or misunderstood. The central role, however, that the relation of elder to spiritual child has played in the life of the Church throughout Christian history attests to its legitimacy. Similarly, the existence of living links to this Christian tradition, inherited from one generation to the next, even to the present day, attests to its vitality.

Although an academic exposition of the historical roots of eldership falls outside the scope of the present work, we do feel it necessary to look at these roots in general outline so as to place the present work in its proper context.[1] This outline necessarily begins with the New Testament witness, which may then be traced historically to the present day, and to the Greek monastic elders in this book.

Spiritual eldership, preserved by the Holy Spirit from apostolic times, descends to us in much the same way as does apostolic succession (understood as the historical succession of bishops from apostolic times until the present). As Bishop Kallistos Ware explains:

Alongside this [apostolic succession], largely hidden, existing on a 'charismatic' rather than an official level, there is secondly the apostolic succession of the spiritual fathers and mothers in each generation of the Church—the succession of the saints, stretching from the apostolic age to our own day, which Saint Symeon the New Theologian termed the "golden chain."... Both types of succession are essential for the true functioning of the Body of Christ, and it is through their interaction that the life of the Church on earth is accomplished. [2]

The foundation on which the spiritual tradition of eldership is based is found in Holy Scripture. In particular, Christ's Incarnation, Death and Resurrection, reveal His kenotic [3] Fatherly love for His children and for the world. This love has as its goal the ontological rebirth of man from within, not the ethical improvement of man (although this is an inevitable fruit of true spiritual rebirth) from without. [4] Faithfully following Christ's example, St. Paul gives us a clear picture of what the relationship of elder to spiritual child means in practical terms. His relationship to the churches he founded is not simply the relationship of teacher to disciple, "For though ye have ten thousand instructors in Christ, yet have ye not many fathers: for in Christ Jesus I have begotten you through the gospel. Wherefore I beseech you, be ye followers of me." (I Corinthians 4:15-16). St. Paul's birth imagery is significant here, as the relationship of mother to child is transposed onto the spiritual plane. His words also indicate the completely free nature of this relationship: full of love for his spiritual children, and selflessly interested in their spiritual well being, he beseeches them to follow his example. [5] In his letter to the Galatians, St. Paul uses similar imagery, "My little children, of whom I travail in birth again until Christ be formed in you." (Galatians 4:19). As becomes clear from these passages, St. Paul does not see his role as that of a simple teacher who teaches people and then leaves them to their own devices, nor as a psychologist, who tries to provide psychological answers to spiritual questions. He accepts responsibility for his children, identifying himself with them, "Who is weak, and I am not weak? Who is offended, and my heart is not ablaze with indignation?" (2 Corinthians 11:29). Bishop Kallistos develops this point a bit further, 
"He helps his children in Christ precisely because he is willing to share himself with them, identifying his own life with theirs. All this is true also of the spiritual father at a later date. Dostoevsky's description of the starets may be applied exactly to the ministry of Saint Paul: like the elder, the apostle is one who 'takes your soul and your will into his soul and will.'"[6]

 It is significant here, furthermore, that the elder does not assert his own will upon the spiritual child. On the contrary, he accepts the spiritual child as he is, receiving the child's soul into his own soul. This most basic aspect of this spiritual relationship points to one of the reasons that this ancient ministry is so uncommon, especially today.

The ability the elder has to, "take your soul and your will into his soul and will," is a fruit of his own willingness to empty himself (according to the kenosis Christ teaches by His example on the Cross) and thus make room for others. This self-emptying is not at all superficial, but very much ontological, such that there is a real identification of the elder with the life of his spiritual child. [7] Such a total commitment to other people requires complete self-sacrifice, as well as advancement along the spiritual path. Without experiential knowledge of the spiritual path the elder is practically unable to help others. [8]

When experiential knowledge of the spiritual path is absent, humanity seeks other ways to deal with its spiritual woes. The solution of modern man has been to provide materialistic answers to spiritual problis. Psychology, modern medicine, and so on attempt to heal man; however, detached as they are from genuine Orthodox Christian spiritual life, their attempts to answer the very deep existential problis of contemporary man remain hopelessly ineffectual. The Holy Spirit, abiding in the Church, and guiding Her into all truth (John 16:13) since Pentecost, has taught the Church the ways of spiritual healing, establishing Her as a "spiritual hospital." The elder acts both as this hospital's finest surgeon as well as its chief medical school instructor. [9]

The Wisdom of the Gospel: Key to the Lives and Counsels
Perhaps the most important interpretive key for approaching the lives and counsels presented herein is the realization that they may only be understood according to their own "logic," which is not the logic of this world. This logic, of course, is none other than the wisdom of Christ's life and Gospel teaching. For contemporary man, however, Christ's wisdom is truly difficult to grasp, it is a "hard" saying, and so the lives and teachings of those who have followed, experientially and existentially, the narrow path of Christ will similarly seem difficult to grasp and a "hard" saying. Early on St. Paul understood this opposition between the wisdom of the world and the wisdom of Christ,

For it is written, I will destroy the wisdom of the wise, and will bring to nothing the understanding of the prudent. Where is the wise? Where is the scribe? Where is the disputer of this world? Hath not God made foolish the wisdom of this world? For after that in the wisdom of God the world by wisdom knew not God, it pleased God by the foolishness of preaching to save them that believe. For the Jews require a sign, and the Greeks seek after wisdom: But we preach Christ crucified, unto the Jews a stumbling block, and unto the Greeks foolishness; but unto them which are called, both Jews and Greeks, Christ the power of God, and the wisdom of God. Because the foolishness of God is wiser than men; and the weakness of God is stronger than men. (1 Corinthians 1:19-25).

Accepting Christ's message (and the incarnation of this message in the lives of the elders gathered here) is particularly difficult for contemporary people, even faithful Christians, for many of us live most of our lives according to the wisdom of this world and not according to the "foolishness" of the Cross. If one is able at least to understand that a chasm lies between worldly wisdom, and the wisdom of the Gospel, it will make the comprehension of the following lives more realizable. When this shift in vision is realized, it reveals one's poverty of faith, as well as the distance between where one is, and the absolute demands of the Gospel commandments.

For the person who is seeking God the realization of the absolute difference between the wisdom of this world and the wisdom of the Gospel begets repentance. It is significant that the Greek word for repentance, metanoia, means, literally, a "change of mind." This change of mind is a prerequisite for the comprehension of the Gospel, and so it is not surprising that St. John the Baptist began his public ministry with the injunction, "Repent ye: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 3:2). Likewise, Christ began His ministry with the same message, "From that time Jesus began to preach, and to say, Repent: for the kingdom of heaven is at hand." (Matthew 4:17) That the lives and counsels of the Greek monastic elders contained in this book force the reader to shift to the wisdom of the Gospel testifies to their spiritual ministry as prophets, a ministry that monasticism has always fulfilled. [10]

In the context of the wisdom of the Gospel, those aspects of these lives that surpass human understanding should not shock or scandalize. Christ told His disciples that, "He that believeth on me, the works that I do shall he do also; and greater works than these shall he do." (John 14:12). The Church in Her wisdom and strength has preserved the witness of those who, in the two thousand years since Christ's coming, have followed faithfully in His steps. The lives of the Saints and the writings of ancient and contemporary Fathers of the Church [11] give unquestionable witness to the riches of God's mercy, and the experience of the action of the Holy Spirit. The lives and sayings contained herein are contemporary witnesses to the truth that the Holy Spirit continues to act and to inspire Christians to live lives fully dedicated to Christ.

It is to witness to this truth that the present book has been compiled. It is this witness that is the most precious aspect of these lives (and not their miraculous aspect, impressive though this may be). One may legitimately object, of course, after reading the lives, that the culture in which these men were raised is significantly different from that in which we live. The testimony we have from the Fathers of the Church, however, is that it is not the place that we live that is most significant, but rather the way that we live. They tell us, furthermore, that there are no circumstances that could prevent us from keeping Christ's commandments, from following the way Christ has shown us. [12] This is also the witness of the Scriptures wherein we understand that the Scriptural injunctions are not dependent on time or place, but are always pertinent and binding on man. [13]

To many, the absolute character of Christ's commandments may seem a heavy burden. Again, however, the wisdom of the Gospel surprises us, as Christ says, "Come unto me, all ye that labour and are heavy laden, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn of me; for I am meek and lowly in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls. For my yoke is easy, and my burden is light." (Matthew 11:28-30). [14]

Perhaps more than anything else the lives of the Saints (and of the Greek monastic elders in this book) provide an "interpretation" of Christ's Gospel, "written not with ink, but with the Spirit of the living God; not in tables of stone, but in fleshly tables of the heart." (2 Corinthians 3:3). That which is of greatest importance in these lives are not so much the details of each life, but rather the spirit that breathes in them, which shaped them into precious vessels of the Holy Spirit. These lives bear witness to the transformation of man that is possible, when the Christian gives himself wholly over to the will of God. As Elder Sophrony of Essex has written, it is not arbitrary asceticism or the possession of supernatural gifts that constitute genuine Christian spiritual life, but rather obedience to the will of God. Each person has his own capabilities and his own path to tread; the keeping of Christ's commandments, however, remains a constant. Fr. Sophrony also repeatedly insists, following the teaching of his elder, St. Silouan the Athonite, that the truth or falsity of one's path may be measured, not by one's asceticism or spiritual gifts, but by love for one's enemies, by which St. Silouan did not mean a "scornful pity; for him the compassion of a loving heart was an indication of the trueness of the Divine path." [15] In another place Fr. Sophrony develops this point more fully,

There are known instances when Blessed Staretz Silouan in prayer beheld something remote as though it were happening close by; when he saw into someone's future, or when profound secrets of the human soul were revealed to him. There are many people still alive who can bear witness to this in their own case but he himself never aspired to it and never accorded much significance to it. His soul was totally engulfed in compassion for the world. He concentrated himself utterly on prayer for the world, and in his spiritual life prized this love above all else. [16]

Fr. Sophrony's words reveal to us a mystery of the ways of Christian monasticism and eldership: according to the wisdom of this world, the monastic elder's departure from the world seems like an escape from humanity. The reality, however, is that according to the wisdom of the gospel, separation from the world enables those who love God to love the world more than those who live in the world do. It is this paradox that the monastic elder lives, and an explication of which Dr. Georgios Mantzaridis provides in his Foreword. [17]

For a more complete exposition, the reader may want to consult Bishop Kallistos Ware's "The Spiritual Father in Saint John Climacus and Saint Symeon the New Theologian," published in Studia Patristica XV111/2. Kalamazoo: Cistercian Publications-Leuven: Peeters, 1990. This article may also be found as the Foreword of Irenee Hausherr's Spiritual Direction in the Early Christian East. Kalamazoo, MI: Cistercian Publications, 1990, p. vii-xxxiii, from which we quote. Also, by the same author, "The Spiritual Guide in Orthodox Christianity," published in The Inner Kingdom: Volume One of the Collected Works. Crestwood, NY: St. Vladimir's Press, 2000, p. 127-151.
Bishop Kallistos Ware, "The Spiritual Father in Saint John Climacus and Saint Symeon the New Theologian," p. vii.
Kenosis/kenotic : Greek word meaning "self-emptying."
We are not aware of a sufficient study in English that addresses the crucial difference between an ethical and an ontological understanding of Christianity, although it is touched upon in Eugene Rose's (the future Fr. Seraphim Rose) "Christian Love," in Heavenly Realm. Platina, CA: St. Herman Brotherhood, 1984, p. 27-29.
As St. John Chrysostom assures us, "He [St. Paul] is not setting forth his dignity herein, but the excess of his love." [Homily 13, PG 61:111 (col. 109). Translation: Homilies. Found in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. First Series. Edited by Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Vol. XII, 1969 (reprint).]
Bishop Kallistos Ware, ibid., p. viii-ix.
This is the deeper meaning of Christ's second commandment, "Thou shalt love... thy neighbor as thyself." (Luke 10:27). St. Silouan the Athonite taught that this love is not quantitative (i.e., "as much as you love yourself," but qualitative (i.e., "in the same way as you love yourself,") thus emphasizing that the perfection of love for others is realized in one's complete identification with them. Dr. Mantzaridis, in his Foreword, which follows, develops precisely this point. It is only in humanity's identification with Christ and with its neighbor that the true union of mankind is possible.
St. John Climacus explains this necessary aspect of the elder: "A genuine teacher is he who has received from God the tablet of spiritual knowledge, inscribed by His Divine finger, that is, by the in-working of illumination, and who has no need of other books." [Ad Pastorem. PG 88: 1165B. Translation: Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, The Ladder of Divine Ascent. Brookline, MA: Holy Transfiguration Monastery, 1991, p. 231.
It should be noted that this charismatic ministry is not at odds with the ministry of the priest-confessor. On the contrary, both have as their goal the reconciliation of man with God. Although the priest-confessor's ministry of guidance may be hindered by the absence of experiential knowledge of the ways of spiritual growth and healing, he still bears the responsibility and blessing to hear confession, to forgive man his sins, and to reconcile man to God. For more on the Orthodox understanding of the Church as spiritual hospital, see Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlachos' Orthodox Psychotherapy. Levadia, Greece: Birth of the Theotokos Monastery, 1994.
"And God hath set some in the church, first apostles, secondarily prophets, thirdly teachers...." (1 Corinthians 12:28). This prophetic ministry was central to both the Old and New Testaments. The roots of monasticism lie in this ancient ministry, which is not so much concerned with telling the future (although this aspect of its ministry continues up to the present day), as calling the world to a change of heart, to repentance, so that the world might more easily accept the gospel message.
Fathers of the Church: This term is used in the Orthodox Church to refer to Saints of all times whose teaching has been accepted by the Church as an authentic expression of Her life and faith. Roman Catholics tend to define this term more narrowly, limiting the Fathers to those Saints of the Church who lived during the "golden age" of theology, in the first millennium of Christianity, whose writings played a significant role in the development of the dogmatic expression of the faith.
St. Symeon the New Theologian goes so far as to say that to believe otherwise is heresy, "But the men of whom I speak and whom I call heretics are those who say that there is no one in our times and in our midst who is able to keep the Gospel commandments and become like the holy Fathers." The Discourses. (Translation by C.J. deCatanzaro), Mahwah, NJ: Paulist Press, 1980, p. 312. See also, Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, St. Silouan the Athonite. Essex, England: Stavropegic Monastery of St. John the Baptist, 1991, p. 242-243.
See, Matthew 5:18, 24:35, Mark 13:31, Luke 21:33, etc.
St. John Chrysostom interprets this passage precisely within the framework we have discussed, in relation to man's attempt to be faithful to Christ's commandments, "But if virtue seems a difficult thing, consider that vice is more difficult.... Sin too has labor, and a burden that is heavy and hard to bear.... For nothing so weighs upon the soul, and presses it down, as consciousness of sin; nothing so gives it wings, and raises it on high, as the attainment of righteousness and virtue.... If we pursue such a philosophy, all these things are light, easy, and pleasurable.... Virtue's yoke is sweet and light." [Homily 38, PG 57: 428-431 (cols. 431-434). Translation: Homilies on the Gospel of St. Matthew. Found in The Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church. First Series. Translated by Rev. Sir George Prevost, Barontet, M.A., Philip Schaff, D.D., LL.D. Edited and revised, with notes by Rev. M. B. Riddle, D.D. Grand Rapids, MI: Wm. B. Eerdmans Publishing Company, Vol. X, 1975].
Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov, St. Silouan the Athonite, p. 228.
Ibid., p.130.
One final note on the application of the spiritual principles found in this book to one's own life; as with all aspects of the spiritual life, spiritual guidance is a necessary prerequisite for spiritual growth.

Tuesday 26 February 2013


The main reason why prayer (and talking about prayer) seems so difficult nowadays is that we simply do not know what we are to pray with. Where in our body are we to locate the organ of prayer? Our lips and our mouth recite prayers, our intellect practises re¬flection and meditation, our heart and mind are lifted up to God. With this language we are familiar; but what is it we intend to con¬vey by these concepts? Lips, mouth, intellect, heart and soul? What do we actually pray with?

The organ of prayer: our heart
Each person has been given by the creator an organ primarily designed to get him praying. In the creation story we read how God made man by breathing into him his living spirit (Gen. 2:7) and¬St. Paul goes on-man became a living soul (I Cor. 15:45). Adam was the prefiguration of Him who should come : Jesus, the second Adam, after whose image the first man had been created. This means that being in relation with the Holy Trinity, Father, Son and Holy Spirit, is a fundamental part of our nature. The living spirit of God is the fount of prayer in us.
In the course of the centuries this organ has acquired very diverse names in various cultures and languages; but in fact they all signify the same thing. Let us agree to call it by the oldest name it has ever had-a name that in the Bible occupies a central place : the heart. In the Old Testament the heart denotes the inward man. The New Testament builds on this notion and perfects it.
The Lord it is who probes the heart and loins (Jer. 11:20), nothing is hidden from Him : Lord ‘you examine me and know me, you know if I am standing or sitting ... God, examine me and know my heart, probe me and know my thoughts’ (Ps. 139). The heart is what we yearn with : God grants the desire of the heart (Ps. 20:4). According to the Bible even a man’s character is local¬ized in this centre : out of the heart proceed thoughts, sins, good and bad inclinations : envy and malice, joy, peace and pity. The heart may also express the whole person, for instance, in Joshua’s injunc¬tion to the Israelites regarding the occupation of the promised land ‘... take great care to practise the commandments and the Law which Moses the servant of Yahweh gave you : love Yahweh your God, follow his paths always, keep his commandments, be loyal to him and serve him with all your heart and soul’ (Josh. 22:5).
But a part of the chosen people do not heed this call and turn their heart away from the Lord : ‘... this people approaches me only in words, honours me only with lip-service while its heart is far from me’ (Isa. 29:13). The Israelites have hardened their hearts (Ezek. 2:14). Time after time God raises up prophets who will per¬sist in speaking of this apostasy : ‘But now, now-it is Yahweh who speaks-come back to me with all your heart, fasting, weeping, mourning. Let your hearts be broken, not your garments torn’ (Joel 2:12), for the Lord cannot countenance such disloyalty. He loves Israel with an everlasting love, is a jealous God. And the prophets show us how even the heart of God is turned and his mercy (heart’s compassion) is aroused (cf. Hosea 11: 8). Never will His love desert His people : ‘I did forsake you for a brief moment, but with great love will I take you back. In excess of anger, for a moment I hid my face from you. But with everlasting love I have taken pity on you, says Yahweh, your redeemer!’ (Isa. 54: 7-8).
At the very moment when the Jewish people are in deepest misery-the Babylonian exile-the prophet Ezekiel announces a new covenant : ‘I shall pour clean water over you and you will be cleansed; I shall cleanse you of all your defilement and all your idols. I shall give you a new heart, and put a new spirit in you; I shall remove the heart of stone from your bodies and give you a heart of flesh instead. I shall put my spirit in you ...’ (Ezek. 36:25-27).
Only a heart of flesh can really beat, can give life to the whole body. Only into such a heart can the Spirit make his entry; and the heart, at one time closed to the superabundance of grace, opens up again to His loving design : his Will, the Word, the Spirit.
He of whom Moses wrote in the Law-and the prophets also¬Jesus, the son of Joseph of Nazareth, brought us this New Covenant. God Himself has intervened to open up the human heart and make it once more receptive to His Word (Acts 16:14). Ascended now into heaven, He has sent us another Paraclete (‘Advocate’: John 14:16), who consoles, strengthens and encourages, the Anointing who teaches us everything (I John 2:27), the Holy Spirit who will remind us of all that Jesus has said to us (John 14: 26). ‘If your lips confess that Jesus is Lord and if you believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, then you will be saved’ (Rom. 10:9). Heart and lips, inward surrender and outward confession, beat here to one and the same rhythm. And here, eventually, prayer is born.
The beatitudes sum up in a few sentences the spiritual Law of the New Covenant : ‘How happy are the poor in spirit; ... happy those who mourn; ... happy the pure in heart : they shall see God’ (Matt. 5:3-12). When nothing any longer clouds and darkens the heart, it can be wholly opened to the Light; for God is Love and God is Light.
It will perhaps be clear by now that the heart, in the ancient sense of the word, is not the discursive intelligence with which we reason, nor the ‘feelings’ with which we respond to another person, nor yet the superficial emotion we call sentimentality. The heart is something that lies much deeper within us, the innermost core of our being, the root of our existence or, conversely, our summit, what the French mystics call ‘the very peak of the soul’ (‘la fine pointe de fame’ or ‘la cime de 1’esprit’). In our everyday life our heart is usually concealed. It hardly reaches the surface of our consciousness. We much prefer to stay put in our outward senses, in our impressions and feelings, in all that attracts -or repels us. And should we opt to live at a deeper level of our personal being, then we usually land up in abstraction : we reflect, we combine, we compare, we draw logical conclusions. But all this time our heart will be asleep-not beating yet to the rhythm of the Spirit.
Jesus was often reprimanding us: our hearts are blind, obdurate and closed (Mark 8:17). They are sluggish and slow (Luke 24:25), full of darkness, weighed down with pleasure and sorrows (Matt. 13:15). Our hearts must be circumcised. ‘Circumcise your heart then, to love the Lord your God and serve Him with all your heart and your soul’ (Deut. 10: 12-22). Then love of God and of our neighbour will be the fruit, for a sound heart produces good fruit (Matt. 7:17). It is a main enterprise for every individual to find the way back to his heart. He is an explorer, moving into that unknown, inner region. He is a pilgrim in search of his heart, of his deepest being. Everyone carries within him-to repeat the marvellous ex¬pression used by St. Peter in his first letter-’the hidden man of the heart’ (3:4). That ‘man’ is our deepest and most real being : he is who and what we are. There God meets us; and it is only from there that we in our turn can encounter people. There God addresses us; and from there we too are able to address people. There we receive from Him a new and as yet unfamiliar name, which He alone knows and which will be our name for ever in his Love; and only thence are we at length able to name another’s name, in the selfsame Love.
But so far we have not reached that point. We are only on the road towards our heart. Still, the marvellous world that awaits us there makes taking the greatest trouble worthwhile.

In a state of prayer
For our heart is already in a state of prayer. We received prayer along with grace, in our baptism. The state of grace, as we call it, at the level of the heart, actually signifies a state of prayer. From then on, in the profoundest depths of the self, we have a continuing contact with God. God’s Holy Spirit has taken us over, has assumed complete possession of us; he has become breath of our breath and Spirit of our spirit. He takes our heart in tow and turns it towards God. He is the Spirit, Paul says, who speaks without ceasing to our spirit and testifies to the fact that we are children of God. All the time, in fact, the Spirit is calling within us and He prays, Abba¬Father, with supplications and sighs that cannot be put into words but never for an instant cease within our hearts (Rom. 8:15; Gal. 4:6).
This state of prayer within us is something we always carry about, like a hidden treasure of which we are not consciously aware-or hardly so. Somewhere our heart is going full pelt, but we do not feel it. We are deaf to our praying heart, love’s savour escapes us, we fail to see the light in which we live.
For our heart, our true heart, is asleep; and it has to be woken up, gradually-through the course of a whole lifetime. So it is not really hard to pray. It was given us long since. But very seldom are we conscious of our own prayer. Every technique of prayer is attuned to that purpose. We have to become conscious of what we have already received, must learn to feel, to distinguish it in the full and peaceful assurance of the Spirit, this prayer rooted and operative somewhere deep inside us. It must be brought to the sur¬face of our consciousness. Little by little it will saturate and cap¬tivate our faculties, mind and soul and body. Our psyche and even our body must learn to answer to the rhythm of this prayer, be stirred to prayer from within, be incited to prayer, as dry wood is set ablaze. One of the Fathers puts it as tersely as this : ‘The monk’s ascesis : to set wood ablaze.”
Prayer then, is nothing other than that unconscious state of prayer which in the course of time has become completely conscious. Prayer is the abundantia cordis, the abundance of the heart, as the saying goes in the Gospels : ‘For a man’s words flow out of what fills his heart’ (Matt. 12:34; Luke 6:45). Prayer is a heart that overflows with joy, thanksgiving, gratitude and praise. It is the abundance of a heart that is truly awake.

Waking up
One condition is therefore that our heart comes awake; for as long as it remains asleep, our search for the organ of prayer in ourselves will be in vain. We can try to come at it in various ways; but the result will often be disconcerting. Some will put most re¬liance on their imagination; but there is a considerable risk of their ending up distracted and full of daydreams. Others may try through their religious feeling, but soon get bogged down in sentimentality. Yet others resort more to their intellect and try to arrive at clearer insights; but their prayer remains arid and cold and eventually ends up outside the sphere of their concrete living. Imagination, feeling and intellect are not of the Evil One. But they can only bear fruit when, much deeper within us, our heart comes to awakening and they, fed by the flame of this spiritual fire, themselves begin to glow.
Each and every method of prayer has but one objective : to find the heart and alert it. It must be a form of interior alertness, watch¬fulness. Jesus himself set ‘being awake’ and ‘praying’ side by side. The phrase ‘be awake and pray’ certainly comes from Jesus in per¬son (Matt. 26:41; Mark 13:33). Only profound and quiet concen¬tration can put us on the track of our heart and of the prayer within it.
All the time watchful and alert, therefore, we must first recover the way to our heart in order to free it and divest it of everything in which we have incapsulated it. With this in view we must mend our ways, come to our senses, get back to the true centre of our being as ‘person’, redire ad cor (Isa. 46:8), return to the heart, as people in ‘the Middle Ages liked to say. In the heart, mind and body meet, it is the central point of our being. Once back at that central point, we live at a deeper level, where we are at peace, in harmony with everything and everybody, and first and foremost with our own self. This ‘reversion’ is also ‘intro-version’, a turning inward to the self. It engenders a state of recollection and interiority. It pierces through to our deepest ‘I’, to the image of God in us. To that ontological centre where we are constantly springing from God’s creative hand and flowing back into His bosom. Praying teaches us to live from within, from the life within us. As was said of St. Bruno, every man of prayer has a cor profundum, a bottomless heart.’ The parable of the prodigal son has been interpreted by several of the Fathers in that sense (Luke 15:11-32). The younger son demands his share of the estate and leaves for a distant country, where he squanders his money on a life of debauchery. ‘When he had spent it all, that country experienced a severe famine and now he began to feel the pinch ... Then he came to his senses (literally : he turned in to his self) and said : “How many of my father’s paid servants have more food than they want.”‘ Pope Gregory the Great applies the passage to St. Benedict, the father of western monasticism, whose life as a monk he thus describes : ‘Had the prodigal son been with himself, whence then should he have returned to himself? Conversely, I might say of this venerable man (Benedict) that he dwelt with him¬self (habitare secum), for watching constantly over himself, he remained always in the presence of his Creator. He examined him¬self incessantly and did not allow his heart to divert its gaze to out¬ward things.” The passage shows us where St. Benedict’s tranquillity came from. He does not seek to escape in an activity that will keep him away from his true work, but keeps on turning to his heart.
There lies his true work : the battle with everything that would distract him from his sole Good. A twelfth-century Carthusian monk could say, therefore : Nothing makes the monk wearier than not working (Nihil laboriosius est quam non laborare)4 and so continuing always free for prayer, finding his rest in Jesus and in his Word. Again, the same Carthusian says : in this way he comes to be quietus Christo, still and tranquil before Christ. This was Benedict’s sole care also : to keep his heart free beneath the gaze of Him who offers both support and love.
To this ascesis-and especially the practice of keeping vigil-as a technique of prayer we shall return later on. Here we shall content ourselves with emphasizing that prayer has already been given us in our heart, albeit in a secret way. One cannot help but recall here the image of the treasure in the field. The application of it to prayer has indeed been made. A twelfth-century Cistercian, Guerric d’Igny, compares the heart to a field. The field of the heart must be dug over : ‘O what precious store of good works, what a wealth of spiritual fruits are hidden in the field of a man’s body and how much more, even, in his heart, if he will but dig and delve it. In so saying I do not mean to affirm with Plato that prior to its dwelling in this body, the soul already had knowledge which having been utterly forgotten and covered beneath a weight of sins is then laid bare by spiritual study (disciplina) and ascesis (labor). But I mean that reason and intelligence, which are peculiar to man, can when as¬sisted by grace become the source of all good works. If thus you will turn in your heart, keeping your body under control, do not despair of finding therein treasures of sufficient worth’ (Sermon 1 for Epi¬phany). There is a treasure, then, hidden in the field of our heart; and like the merchant of the gospel story we must sell all that we have in order to possess that field and extract the treasure from it. From time to time God allows us a glimpse of that treasure. Much effort will be needed to till the field. Our business here is not with exploiting the earth, entrusted by the Creator to the first man-a mandate that is certainly still in force. But still the sweat of our brow is required for exploiting the inner man and cultivating this fallow soil. Yet our toil will be rewarded-and more than that this spiritual labour is itself a joy and gives us true peace.
Anyone whose heart has thus been freed will be able to listen in to it: the heart is at prayer, even without our knowing it. We can surprise our heart, as it were, in the very act of prayer. The spirit of Jesus anticipates us, is stammering our prayer before us. To give ourselves over to this prayer we have to yield ourselves and stop throwing up a barrier between our heart and our ‘I’. We are not our ‘persona’, the image that we take so much trouble to create. Only when we have dropped this mask in the presence of God will we go on to uncover our real ‘I’. And we shall stare in astonishment then; for could we ever have suspected what we were really like and what God had chosen for us? How fine, how beautiful, our true likeness is, which God carries with Him all the time and which He so much longs to show us ! Out of love He has had respect for what we willed and has chosen to wait. This likeness can only be the likeness to his Son, who in advance of us lived out a true son¬ship and was obedient to the Father’s will, right up to death on the cross. From His prayer, from His striving, living and dying, we learn how to pray.
Little by little we must advance on the road to prayer. The tech¬nique is always the same. To rid our heart of its surrounding dross; to listen to it where it is already at prayer; to yield ourselves to that prayer until the Spirit’s prayer becomes our own.
As a, monk of the Byzantine period once taught : ‘Anyone who attends carefully to his heart, letting no other notions and fantasies get in, will soon observe how in the nature of things his heart engenders light. Just as coals are set ablaze and the candle is kindled by the fire, so God sets our heart aflame for contemplation, He who since our baptism has made our heart His dwelling-place.”
Another monk of that period used a different metaphor to say the same thing. He was to an extraordinary degree a man of prayer, someone absolutely carried away by prayer, which was his constant occupation. He was asked how he had reached that state. He replied that he found it hard to explain. ‘Looking back,’ he said, ‘my im¬pression is that for many, many years I was carrying prayer within my heart, but did not know it at the time. It was like a spring, but one covered by a stone. Then at a certain moment Jesus took the stone away. At that the spring began to flow and has been flowing ever since.’

my source: A Vow of Conversation

This is my report of a public lecture given by Dom André Louf in Saint Andrew’s Orthodox Parish, Ghent, as part of the colloquium on the Syrian Fathers. Please note my earlier disclaimer on the accuracy of my reporting and translations, something that may particularly apply to my reporting of this talk as I was tired and my note taking somewhat uneven! I also have the impression that Dom André skipped over some sections due to time constraints. Once the text is published I may consider doing an English translation for publication somewhere.

Dom André Louf, ocso is abbot emeritus of the abbey of Mont des Cats in France and author of several books, including Teach us to Pray, The Cistercian Way and Grace can do more. He is now a hermit and translates Syrian texts. He was responsible for the French translation of the second series of St Isaac’s homilies.

The phrase “liturgy of the heart” is not found in Scripture but it finds its roots in the reference in 1 Peter 3, 4 in which Peter speaks of the “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” (“interior disposition of the heart”, NJB, or “inner self”, NRSV), literally the hidden human being of the heart.

This interior human heart is viewed by Scripture in rather ambiguous terms. It may be orientated to wicked schemes (Gen. 6, 5), it may be hard and even turned to stone (Ex. 7, 3) but it may also be softened and humbled (2 K 22, 19) and especially contrite (Ps 50, 17) and to be healed by God (Ps 147, 3). God reproaches the uncircumcised heart (Lv 26,41; Dt 10, 16; 30, 6; Jer. 9, 26). It is on the tablets of the heart that God will write a new law (Pr. 3,3; 7, 3). With the prophet Ezekiel God promises to change the heart of stone to a heart of flesh (11, 19; 36, 26). Solomon will plead for such a heart at the beginning of his reign (1 K. 3, 9) and advises his son David to watch over his heart, for from the heart come the wellsprings of life. (Pr. 4, 23)

Jesus’ teaching on interiority lies within this tradition. He calls the pure of heart blessed, and contrasts them with closed hearts and hearts which bring forth evil (Mt. 15, 18). “Good people draw what is good from the store of goodness in their hearts; bad people draw what is bad from the store of badness. For the words of the mouth flow out of what fills the heart.” (Lk 6, 45) It is in the heart that one can ponder the Word as Mary did (Lk 2, 19) for as Paul reminds us (quoting Deuteronomy) “the word is very near to you; it is in your mouth and in your heart.” (Rm 10, 8) It is likewise the hearts that burned within when Jesus appeared to the disciples on the road to Emmaus. (Lk 24, 32) The heart is also the temple of the Holy Spirit (1 Cor. 6, 19), a temple in which an interior liturgy is celebrated (Ep. 5, 19).

Such are the biblical illusions that are summed up in the phrase “ho kruptos tès kardias anthropos” of 1 Peter 3, 4.

Paul contrasts this “inner nature” with our “outer nature” that is decaying. (2 Cor. 4, 16-18).

Could it be that this most interior reality is frightening for our contemporaries? We can even ask why the text from Ephesians 5, 19 “sing and praise in your hearts” is often translated today as “with all your heart”. While this might be linguistically defensible, no single Church Father interpreted in this way, for they understood it as alluding to the interior liturgy of the heart, which runs as a thread through the entire patristic tradition.

This liturgy of the heart is something which the Holy Spirit is constantly praying in every baptised person, whether we are aware of it or not. “…the Spirit too comes to help us in our weakness, for, when we do not know how to pray properly, then the Spirit personally makes our petitions for us in groans that cannot be put into words” (Rm 8, 26). This prayer is something which all Christians carry in their hearts, whether they are aware of it or not. In the deepest part of our being we find grace and prayer, and even if we are unaware of it the Spirit is praying “Abba, Father” in us.

If this is true, then the purpose of prayer is simply to bring us into contact with this prayer that is already being prayed in us. Any “methods” or “techniques” of prayer, or the disciplines of turning inwards and quieting the heart, only exist to help this unconscious prayer to become conscious. This is, moreover, an unconsciousness that is much deeper than the psychological unconscious which is becoming better known today. This is an unconscious that touches the very roots of our being. It is metaphysical and meta-psychological, for it is concerned with that place where our being is immersed in God and repeatedly springs up from God. This is the place where prayer does not stop, the domus interior or templum interius as it was called in the Middle Ages.

Most of the time we are not conscious of the prayer taking place in this inner temple. We can only believe in it with a growing certainty, and trust that God will lift the veil and allow a little of this unconscious prayer to emerge to consciousness. Sometimes this is merely a sudden illumination, a passing light which clarifies aspects of our existence and which never leaves us even in the midst of new periods of dryness. More often, though, it involves a slow and patient process in which something emerges towards the surface, awakening a new sensitivity or what Ruusbroec called a “feeling above all feelings”.

While it is certainly true that some circumstances are more conducive to this process than others, and thus silence, simplicity and asceticism can be important preparations for prayer, Christian prayer is never determined by such preparations. God allows prayer to arise in us “when He wills, as He wills and where He wills” as Ruusbroec says. For God is always greater than our heart and remains the only Master of our prayer. Prayer is totally gratuitous although we need to persevere in times of trial.

In persevering in times of dryness and crisis, in seeing all of our efforts ending in dead ends, and in being confronted with our own weakness that we receive the grace of recognising ourselves for the sinners who we really are. It is precisely in encountering ourselves as sinners that we also encounter the grace of God. John Cassian tells us: 

Let us in this way learn in all that we do to perceive both our own weakness and the grace of God at the same time, so that we are able to proclaim every day with the saints: “They have pushed me down to make me fall, but the Lord has supported me.”

What is our task as human beings in this process? It has only one name, and that is humility. Cassian describes this as “every day humbly following the grace of God that draws us.” Learning humility, even, or perhaps especially, through failure, is the greatest lesson that we can learn. As one of the Fathers said: “I would rather choose a defeat humbly accepted than a victory achieved with pride.”

This is the heart of the process, the point at which it is possible for a new sensitivity to be born, and it can be characterised by confusion and doubt. The old Christian literature referred to this with the imagery of “diatribe tès kardias” or “contritio cordis” or “contrition mentis”. It would be good to try and recapture something of the jolting language which has been lost in later translations, for this is not simply about “contrition” as we have come to understand it in recent spiritual literature but rather about a “broken” and “pulverised” heart that has literally been shattered. In this we are reminded of the utter poverty of the Christian. Isaac of Nineveh writes:

Believe me, my brother, you have not yet understood the power of temptation, nor the subtlety of its guiles. One day the experience will teach it to you and you will see yourself as a child who no longer knows where to look. All your knowledge will be nothing more than confusion, like that of a little child. Your spirit which appeared to be so firmly anchored in God, your precise knowledge, your balanced thought world, they will all be submerged in an ocean of doubt. Only one thing will be able to help you and will conquer them, namely, humility. Once you have grasped this, their power will disappear.

And, as Saint Basil tells us, “Often it is humility that saves someone who has sinned frequently and heavily.”

This is a painful pedagogy. Instead of fleeing from it, we are called to follow its trajectory and to make it our own, not out of masochism, but because one senses that it is the secret source of the only true life. In biblical language we can say that it is here that the heart of stone becomes broken so that may be made into a heart of flesh.

If such temptation does lead to sin then this is not due to a lack of generosity, but rather to a lack of humility. And sin offers us the chance to discover the narrow and low gate that leads to the Kingdom. Indeed, it could be that the most dangerous temptation is not the temptation that leads to sin, but rather the temptation that follows sin, namely the temptation of despair. It is only through eventually learning humility that we can escape this. And through this we learn the gift of mercy. Isaac of Nineveh writes: 

Who can still be brought into confusion by the memory of his own sins…? Will God forgive me these things whose memory so torments me? Things that I have an aversion to but which I nevertheless slip towards. And when I have done them their memory torments me more than a scorpion’s bite. I detest them and yet I find myself in their midst, and when I feel pain and sorrow over them I continue to seek them our – oh unhappy person that I am! … This is how many God fearing people think, people who desire virtue but whose weakness forces them to take into account their own frailty: they live continually imprisoned between sin and remorse. … Nevertheless, do not doubt your salvation … His mercy is much greater than you can imagine, and His grace is greater than you can dare to ask for. He looks only for the slightest sorrow …

How does this transition occur? We cannot predict when or how we will be brought into this interiority, but when it happens we know that we are not in control. We become aware of a new sensitivity and of a peace that cannot deceive us, of a centeredness and of a prayer that emerges of its own accord. There are certain times or places in our lives at which we find ourselves closer to this breakthrough, times or places where one is closer to its becoming a reality.

One of these privileged places is always the listening to the Word of God in Scripture. Scripture has the power to shake our heart awake, to drill through it, batter it open, so that prayer can spring up. Likewise, sickness, the death of someone close to us, and great temptations are favourable moments in which our longing for God means that we are more open to Him.

We find all these favourable moments brought together in the celebration of the Liturgy. The Church has instinctively sensed the mysterious affinity between the external Liturgy celebrated in churches of stone and the Liturgy celebrated in the deepest depth of each baptised Christian. The Church has learnt through experience how to harmonise these two liturgies of the praying Christian.

In our contemporary world we find conflicting desires that make such interiority difficult. On the one hand there is a desire for such interiority, but, on the other hand, there is much that makes it difficult for us to surrender to it. We cannot blame this on God, who desires to give Himself to us. But the children of the Church are also the children of their culture and find themselves in a cultural transition. It may be that there are elements in our culture, both of yesterday and of today, that make it more difficult to find real interiority. Or it may be that there are elements that at first sight make it easier to enter into such interiority – such as the reactions to the dangers below found in some youth movements which are orientated to religious experience – but which are really illusory.

We can name three negative influences in the religious culture of the last decades. The first is to reduce the Gospel to an ideology, which is more orientated to thought patterns than to life. The Second is to reduce the Gospel to activism, in which one loses contact with one’s inner life and reduces the Gospel to marketing. And the third is to reduce the Gospel to moralism in which a skewed moral vision which can hinder authentic interior experience.

[Dom André skipped over the first two points - I suspect due to time pressure - and concentrated on the third.]

The life of the Holy Spirit in us seeks ways to express itself in concrete circumstances, but if it is authentic this is, in the first place, expressed in spontaneity, freedom and deep joy. In a second moment we can describe Christian behaviour from without, such as Paul does in his teaching on the fruits of the Spirit. Such a moral pedagogy should help to bring us into contact with the inner experience and make us sensitive to the workings of the Spirit. However, it has not always been so simple. Influenced by cultural ethical schemas, morality has sometimes lost its way in abstract and absolutised studies of human behaviour which resulted in an idealised set of rules which one had to adhere to.

This is not to deny the need for ethical norms, but rather to recognise their pitfalls, and in particular the danger of separating interior disposition and exterior action. This can result in two dangers. Firstly, it can result in someone who is unable to live up to the expectations of the law becoming caught up in a spiral of guilt. The law accuses, but Jesus refuses to accuse and has come to free us from guilt. Secondly, it can result in a more subtle and dangerous danger, that of an easy conscience and apparent perfection in which one becomes cut off from the liberating action of the Holy Spirit.

Jesus avoided both of these dangers. He never drove sinners to despair and he confronted the conceit of the Pharisees. He did not come for the righteous, but for sinners.

To speak about sin and sinners is a problem in our contemporary world, which does not know how to deal with sin and sinners. Yet there is a link between sin and our access to the inner way. We may be desperate sinners who are burdened with guilt feelings. Or we may play the role of freed sinners who dream of a morality without sin. Or – and this is the worst – we may be the incurably righteous who look down on sinners. Insofar as we belong to one of these categories we are not able to access the inner way.

God longs for sinners as a Father longs for his lost son. For genuine sinners, who do not seek to gloss over or excuse their weakness, but who have become reconciled with their weakness and who rely on God’s mercy. At the moment that one receives God’s forgiveness, someone is opened up in one’s heart so that one’s heart can become transformed from a heart of stone to a heart of flesh. Sin no longer drags one down and bruises one, but has rather become the door to the depths of our heart for it leads us to the knowledge of the merciful Father.

[Irenikon] Catholic Maronite Patriarch to visit Russian Orthodox Church before conclave

Card Boutros Rai arrives in Moscow for a series of meetings with representatives of the Russian Patriarchate and Russian political leaders. Next Friday, he will celebrate Mass in Moscow's Catholic cathedral.


Moscow (AsiaNews) - Card Bechara Boutros Rai, Maronite patriarch of Antioch today, begins a visit in Moscow. He is in Russia before travelling to Rome for the conclave that will elect the new pope, Ria Novosti reported today citing Mgr Ivan Jurkovic, apostolic nuncio tothe Russian Federation. The patriarch is in Russia on the invitation of the Russian Orthodox Church.

Card Rai will leave Moscow on Friday. During his stay, he is scheduled to meet local religious and political leaders. The main issue he will discuss with his Russian hosts will be the situation of Christians in the Middle East, and the ongoing crisis in Syria where the Kremlin is trying to mediate a solution that would avoid external military interventions.

The Maronite primate's first stop will be a visit with the local Lebanese community. He will take part in the liturgy at St Maron Church where he is bringing as a gift a relic from the titular saint.

Tomorrow, he will meet Metropolitan Hilarion, head of the Moscow Patriarchate External Relations Department, followed by a meeting with
Patriarch Kirill. The latter visited Lebanon in November 2011 and visited the local Catholic Maronite Church.

Card Rai will also meet Sergei Naryshkin, speaker of Duma, the lower
house of the Russian parliament.

His visit will end with a final Mass in Immaculate Conception Catholic Cathedral where he will meet Mgr Paolo Pezzi, archbishop of Mother of God in Moscow.

Patriarch Boutros Rai recently celebrated his 73rd birthday and was elevated to the dignity of cardinal by Benedict XVI in the last consistory in November 2012. (N.A.)


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