Reflection: Prayer

justin-popovich-color-addedIt is by the ascesis of faith that a man conquers egotism, steps beyond the bounds of self, and enters into a new, transcendent reality which also transcends subjectivity.  In this new reality new laws rule; what is old has passed away and all is made new.  Plunged into the unknown depths of this new reality, the ascetic of faith is led and guided by prayer; he feels, thinks, and lives by prayer.

Tracing this path of faith in the intellect of man, St Isaac notes that the intellect is guarded and guided by prayer, every good thought being transformed by prayer into a pondering on God.  But prayer is also a hard struggle, calling the whole person into action.  Man crucifies himself in prayer, crucifying the passions and sinful thoughts that cling to his soul.  Prayer is the slaying of the carnal thoughts of man’s fleshly life.

Patient perseverance in prayer is for man a very hard ascesis, that of Continue reading Reflection: Prayer

Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 4

Warmth of Heart and Authentic Spiritual Experience in Prayer

holy friday, good friday OrthodoxThis is true life in God! To desire and seek God for the sake of God, and to possess Him and partake of Him in the way and measure that He wishes.
-St Theophan the Recluse, Unseen Warfare

Prayer is a beautiful thing, and a heart that is earnestly seeking God in purity will find Him. In my spiritual journey, I have found that Orthodoxy offers the deepest, most spiritually balanced, and safest way to experience God through prayer. While there are outward “formalities” and we do not encourage the heightened emotional states found in charismatic circles and among some Roman Catholic “contemplatives,” our prayers are far from lifeless.

In fact, St Theophan the Recluse heavily emphasizes praying with feeling and the need to have “warmth of the heart” in prayer. This is a good feeling that overflows from a heart that is open and loving toward God. On our end, we open ourselves to receiving this divine warmth through making an effort to pray and overcoming various difficulties. On His part, God bestows the gifts of warmth and grace at His discretion. Continue reading Transcendence & Spiritual Experiences, Part 4

Developing Inner Prayer, Part 2

silence at ValaamGod does not need our prayers or praise. But we as His creatures, made in His image, must return to the Source of our being in order to become fully alive and filled with love. Two of the most important steps toward developing inward and outward prayer are realizing the great love of God and then putting our faith and hope in that love.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain states, “God Himself wishes and is ready to give you all that is needed for you to serve Him rightly, and to bestow upon you every blessing you need.” Continue reading Developing Inner Prayer, Part 2

Developing Inner Prayer, Part 1

prayer at Valaam MonasteryThe convincing factor that led me to join the Orthodox Church was not the theology or the worship services, it was prayer. In only a few months, through the teachings of the fathers, I learned more about developing prayer than I had heard in my entire life. And I saw the fruit of it too.

My last blog focused on short prayers that one can say throughout the day. The most important of all of these is the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.” As St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain teaches, “Preeminence belongs to the Jesus Prayer because it unites the soul with our Lord Jesus, and the Lord Jesus is the only door to union with God, which is the aim of prayer.” Continue reading Developing Inner Prayer, Part 1

Prayerful Sighings

Colorful Tree canopyIt is not unusual for me during my prayer rule to say a handful of prayers and suddenly realize my mind has been completely absent from prayer – thinking about certain events or people. I’ve had times at the Divine Liturgy where several minutes go by, even a large portion of the service, and I realize I have hardly paid any attention to what is happening.

St Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain writes,

And so it happens; the most assiduous recital of prayer can never be practiced without the thought darting away and wandering outside. Since this disturbs the prayer and makes it impure, there is no man who practices prayer, who is not chagrined by it and does not wish to be delivered from this incapacity. Continue reading Prayerful Sighings

Prayer of the Heart and Humility

St Catherine's Orthodox ChurchIf one enters into the prayer life of Orthodoxy, you will find a great emphasis on keeping Christ on your heart and mind at all times.  The monastics and many laypeople strive to attain “prayer of the heart,” in which their heart speaks the name of Christ or what is known as the Jesus Prayer “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me” at every waking and sleeping hour.

Entering into this realm of life is exciting and transformative.  It requires two things: first of all is grace from God.  Without His grace, everything else is worthless.  Secondly, it necessitates a readiness on our part to receive him.  If our hearts and minds are full of the cares, attachments, and desires of this world and our flesh, then there is no room for grace within us.  Of course, it takes the grace of God to remove these things, but we must make ourselves available and take the tiniest step of effort toward Him.

Releasing the desires and attachments of the flesh is a slow process.  The more we dig around inside of us, Continue reading Prayer of the Heart and Humility

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 6

Ladder-cropped“LEAD US NOT INTO TEMPTATION, BUT DELIVER US FROM THE EVIL ONE”

I can think of few things as dangerous as a lack of forgiveness. Harboring a grudge completely destroys the soul. I wrote about this quite a bit in my last post, but in order to pray this part (lead us not into temptation…) in truth, the former phrase regarding forgiving others must be fully lived. We cannot even begin to pray if we have not forgiven everyone.

The Elder Porphyrios writes,

For Christ to enter within us when we invoke Him with the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ,’ our heart must be pure and free from all impediments. It must be devoid of hatred, egotism, and malice. We must love Him and He must love us…

On every occasion when something happens to you, place the blame on yourself. Pray with humility and don’t seek to justify yourself. If, for example, you find yourself the object of enmity, pray with love so that you pour love over the enmity. If you hear a slander against you, then pray and be careful, because the noise of murmurings shall not be hidden. The slightest murmuring against your neighbor affects your soul and you are unable to pray. When the Holy Spirit finds the soul in this state it does not dare to approach.”

Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 6

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 5

“FORGIVE US OUR DEBTS AS WE FORGIVE OUR DEBTORS”

Baby__s_First_Steps_by_Shadyslady1219REPENTANCE

Salvation is the therapeutic process of healing and oneness with Christ our God.  We begin our journey toward God and healing with the first step of repentance.  As a child taking their first steps excites parents, so too the angels and our Savior rejoice when we begin our baby steps in repentance.

As we mature, our steps become stronger and our strides take us further, but we never mature beyond taking steps.  In the same way, we never mature past repentance.  We do not reach a place on this side of heaven in which we no longer need to repent for wicked thoughts, words, and deeds.  Rather, as we mature spiritually, we know ourselves more fully and our repentance deepens. Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 5

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 4

Communion of the Apostles by Fr Ted“GIVE US THIS DAY OUR DAILY BREAD”

There are two interpretations that St Maximos gives for this part of the Lord’s Prayer. The first is by far the most important.

The primary understanding

I am the bread that came down from heaven and gives life to the world cries our Lord. It is this Bread, this life-giving, fulfilling, sustaining, joyful Bread that we are to ask for daily. The phrase ‘this day’ refers to the present age, our present life in these mortal bodies, as well as an everyday reliance upon the Word (Logos) within us. Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 4

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 3

creation icon“THY WILL BE DONE ON EARTH AS IT IS IN HEAVEN”

The two wills: heaven and earth

In the book of Genesis, we see God take dust of the earth and create mankind. Mysteriously, this earthen vessel was formed in the image and likeness of its Creator. When we pray for God’s will to be done on “earth” we are praying for His will to be accomplished within us earthen vessels.

In order for this to be brought forth, we must cast aside our own turbulent will and desires in order to align our being with the heavenly Will. By pursuing Christ in love and obeying His commandments, we begin to see heaven unfold in our lives.

As mentioned in the first part of this series, we must not think of heaven as being separated from us by some sort of physical distance. Heaven is not “somewhere up there” and earth “down here.” As Christ Himself said, “the Kingdom of heaven is at hand,” (Mat. 10:7) and in another place, “the Kingdom of God is within you.” (Luke 17:21)

Heaven and earth are states of being, existential realities, both Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 3

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 2

Christ PantocratorHALLOWED BE THY NAME

Just as we can blaspheme God and His name, so too God is glorified in us and through us.  Why he has chosen to use us as His instruments of glory is beyond my understanding.  But the writings of the fathers teach us that He is hallowed through us.

We hallow or sanctify the name of our heavenly Father by grace when we mortify our desire for material things and purify ourselves of corrupting passions.  Sanctification is the destruction of ungodly desires within us.  St Maximos links our desires to the “incensive power” within us that is often turbulent and fights for its will to be done.  Holiness throws water on this fire.

THY KINGDOM COME

“Thy Kingdom come” is another way of saying “may the Holy Spirit come.”  Putting away the aforementioned anger and ungodly desires through grace and our own will power, We are now made into a temple for God through the Holy Spirit by the teaching and practice of gentleness. Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 2

The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1

Jesus prayingI begin this series on the Lord’s Prayer with a bit of trepidation.  Who am I, a baby in the Orthodox faith, to attempt to explain some of the mysteries of this beautiful and divine prayer?  It has been on my heart to write about it for several months, so I decided to go ahead.

I will be greatly utilizing the writings of St Maximos the Confessor for nearly everything that is written.  Also, I pulled from the wisdom of Blessed Theophylact and some of the desert fathers.  This is not a historical or cultural interpretation of the “Our Father,” but rather a spiritual one.

“OUR FATHER WHO ART IN HEAVEN”

The opening words of this prayer contain quite a bit.  Firstly, we state “our Father” not “my Father,” which signifies the brotherhood of all believers who call upon the name of our God in faith.  We are all in this together.  We are not a collection of free agents belonging to the Father, but rather one Body in Christ unified through Him and the Holy Spirit.  This oneness of our nature is key to understanding the remainder of the prayer. Continue reading The Lord’s Prayer, Part 1