A good man out of the good treasure of his heart brings forth good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart brings forth evil. For out of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaks. Matthew 12:34-35
The heart itself is but a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and there are also lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil. But there too is God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the light and the apostles, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace—all things are there.
St. Macarius (H.43.7)
More thoughts on the place of the heart in our Christian life…
Christ’s teaching on the heart points to it as the very center of our life. He does not describe it as inherently good or inherently bad. It is inherently central. It is that place in the core of our existence from which all words and actions flow. And so Christ tells us simply that if the treasure of our heart is good – it will be evidenced by the good things we say and do – and, conversely, if the treasure of our heart is evil – it, too, will be evidenced by the evil things we say and do. What we should take from this is the realization that we are daily laying up treasure (good or evil) in the heart.
I recently gave some thought to St. Macarius’ saying on the treasures of the heart – that we find dragons and lions, poisonous beasts, etc., and that we find God, the angels, the life and the kingdom, the heavenly cities and the treasuries of grace. My thoughts stayed with his imagery as I walked myself through the day. It was obvious that over the course of the day I myself added to the treasures of my heart – and to some extent – others added to that treasure as well.
One image that came to me was travel on our busy freeways. In East Tennessee it seems that our interstate highway system is in a constant state of “under construction.” At times traffic is heavy, too fast, and frightening (especially if you add in cell-phone usage and the like as we zip along at freeway speeds). The image that came to mind was of cars barreling down the highway with dragons and lions and poisonous beasts pouring out the windows as travelers cursed one another on their daily commute. “Road rage” is a common phenomenon all across the nation. I wondered how we would react if we could actually see the “treasures” of our heart pouring out of our cars.
The same image could be applied across the whole of the day. For we are either bringing forth good out of the treasure of a good heart or pouring out dragons from the treasure of an evil heart.
There was an additional thought. The nature of the heart’s treasure is their inexhaustibility. When we pour forth our treasure we do not see its decrease. Quite the opposite – dragons begat dragons. And in the same way, every act of kindness of mercy does not diminish the kindness and mercy of our heart but multiplies them. Kindness begats kindness.
And so it is that over the course of every day we not only nurture the treasure of our own heart (for good or ill), we also add, or attempt to add, to the treasures of those around us. Some of the poisonous beasts that I find within my heart have been dwelling there a long time – placed there even when I was a child.
And so a significant question for all of us (daily) is: what treasure do I share with others?
Meditating on such imagery should also drive us deeper into repentance (not guilt, but repentance). What am I doing with the beasts that inhabit my heart? Frequent confession – telling the truth about the state of my heart is important. But equally important (perhaps moreso) is the attention we should give to the good treasures that are so lacking. Every act of kindness and mercy, every effort towards forgiveness of everyone for everything, does not exhaust the heart but stores up good treasures in the presence of the good God. Avoiding evil is an effort not to do something. I always find that such efforts alone are very weak indeed. The man who is busy being kind cannot be busy being evil. One of the powers of goodness is that it actually has substance rather than absence. And so St. Paul exhorts us, “Overcome evil by doing good” (Romans 12:21).
Icon: St. George and the Dragon (Novgorod)
Today in a rare moment of peace while driving I waited patiently for a car to back out of a one-way drive, allowing me to exit. It took awhile and the passenger in that car looked at me with a broad smile and a wave before pulling away, probably only because I hadn’t shown scorn on my face as we glanced at each other briefly through windshields as they backed up.
My patience was unusual, but I treasured the heartfelt thanks he expressed without one word.
It reinforced what I read in your prior post. Hearts can speak to hearts without words. Our perception of people’s attitudes is deep and profound. Hearts are worn on faces and words spoken can remove all doubts about them for those with discernment.
Father, do you think in the end all will be saved? sorry, it’s off topic I know.
Thank you, Father!
God alone knows.
We do not really see the evil in our own heart until the Holy Spirit reveals it to us. Then, the spiritual battle begins.
Outstanding essay by Dr. Jamie Moran on the heart.
The heart as central but not inherently good or bad, says Fr. Stephen:
Sin speaks to the sinner
in the depths of his heart.
And from within the furnace of spiritual combat, a text attributed to Macarius the Great tells us, we receive God’s grace (a force of the Holy Spirit) at our point of utter weakness, learning:
“that it is God who gives [us] strength. The [person] now truly understands how to give glory to God in the midst of total humiliation and from the depths of a broken heart as David says: ‘the sacrifice of God requires a broken heart’ (Ps 50:19). For it is from this difficult combat that humility, that broken heart, goodness, and mercy issue forth.”
(Macarius, quoted from Andre Louf’s outstanding little pamphlet, The Way of Humility.
And it even fits the title of this blog!
Fr. Stephen, it was a joy finally to meet you during our gathering at St. Seraphim this past Monday. Thanks so much for travelling all that way to talk to us, and as always, thanks for allowing our God and Savior Jesus Christ to use your reflections and words to give us all a glimpse of His never-failing mercy and compassion. Glory to God indeed!
It was indeed good to meet you as well on Monday. I found the meeting to be a joy. Perhaps it is the presence of Vladyka Dmitri, but I always find a trip to Dallas to be something of a renewal.
Vladyka Dmitri is truly a delight to be with, as is His Beatitude. His Emminence honored us with his brief presence at our Diocesan convention. One truly gets the sense of the holiness of an apostle.
Dear Father, I have just been reading the new book entitled, Living Gently in a Violent World, by Stanley Hauerwas and Jean Vanier (inspired by your references in other places on this blog to the influence of Stanley Hauerwas on your thinking–so thank you for that!). After my observations to David on another thread about my own neediness, along with the intimate presence in my life of several persons who are in various ways and degrees mentally disabled, it has been especially meaningful to me. Varnier’s contributions particularly resonate with me as he relates his journey into and the ongoing work of L’Arche communities and what he suggests as the significance of those communities. I do believe this is a good concrete example of what we as Orthodox mean by “the Church,” and by a participation in and Communion with Christ. As has been pointed out, Orthodox Christianity is not essentially a religious philosophy or system of belief, but a way of being with ourselves and others in the world.
One of the puzzles of Hauerwas’ writing is how much of it would be quite compatible with Orthodoxy, and would rarely work outside it, and yet Hauerwas himself is not Orthodox. Life is full of puzzles. But he was tremendously helpful to me – even helping me clarify the fact that I needed to become Orthodox myself (though that was an unintended effect of our relationship). I continue to enjoy his work. I’ll look for a copy of the book. Thanks for the head’s up.
I loved the images your post painted. I had this image of our hearts being filled with God’s Love as we praise Him. As we continue to praise Him, His Love spills out to those around us and as we consciously seek to share His Love (and thus empty ourselves) we see His Love flow. If I keep my life simple and begin to see my job as simply praising Him (especially when I don’t want to), I suspect I will have more of Him to give. As I learn to freely give out of His Love, I begin to see that all of the certainties I desire (fruits of the Spirit) are available through Him as I let go of me and find Him in my praise.
You’re welcome! I found my copy on the New Books shelves of my local public library (one of the top ten in the nation several years running–a constant source of temptation for my tendency to be a glutton for information!). I don’t know if he is still Methodist, but Hauerwas makes reference to serving in a Methodist Church where he was behind a push for weekly Communion–and expressed an understanding of Communion that I believe an Orthodox would be quite comfortable with! Classic Methodism is responsible for my earliest Christian formation and many of the intuitive childhood understandings of the faith I had were much more compatible with Orthodoxy than the fundamentalist and Calvinist influenced evangelicalism I came later to embrace (but was never fully at home in).
There is no question as to the content of Scripture. There are questions that would possibly go beyond the revelation of Scripture (such questions are entertained by both St. Isaac the Syrian and St. Gregory of Nyssa). I cannot go beyond Scripture – but I do not stop with a final assurance that refuses to recognize that some holy fathers of the Church have allowed themselves to wonder beyond that revelation. Thus my answer, “God alone knows.”
I believe that the rejection of Christ is the same as the rejection of salvation. However, the eternal nature of that rejection is known to God alone. I am content to leave some things with God. I believe this is an Orthodox attitude. Only the Protestants (and sometimes the Catholics) need to have an answer to everything. Orthodoxy has all the answers we need – but no answers that we do not need. This is humility.
What a wonderful article! One of your best, Father. I have been quite aware lately of my need to be present in the moment, the here and now, and that in being present, to allow Christ Himself to permeate my being – my mind and thoughts, my desires, and my actions toward others. How often I have compartamentalized my faith, time to worship, time to pray, time to read Scripture, etc. But living every moment in awareness of our God includes all of these things. We can worship Him as we drive, work, and play. We can pray without ceasing as we practice His presence for He is always present. We can recall Scripture while we are doing various tasks and integrate the word of God in those tasks.
As far as driving goes, this is where a test of true faith begins for me. Just yesterday I was brought to an awareness of how my driving is directly connected to my inner life with Christ. Do I drive aggressively without thought for my fellow human beings, or do I drive considerately, being respectful to my fellow human beings and thus glorifying God? Afterall Scripture says, “Do all that you do to the glory of God.” That is a way of life with every breathing moment.
As far as whether or not all will be saved, I think Scripture makes it plain that there will be those who will not be saved. We don’t know who they are, but the very fact that damnation is a subject and word within our Christian vocabulary reveals that some will indeed not be saved. This is a hard and sad reality, but obstinate, dicisive rejection of Christ has its consequences.