The Secular Mind Versus the Whole Heart

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Thinking is among the most misleading things in the modern world, or, to be more precise, thinking about thinking is misleading. For a culture that puts such a great emphasis on materiality, our thinking about thought is decidedly spooky. The philosophy underlying our strangely-constructed modernity is called nominalism (of which there are many formal varieties). Its imaginary construct of the world consists of decidedly separate objects, united only by our thinking about them. There are things, and then are thoughts about things. But the thoughts have nothing to do with the things, except in our heads.

The result is the strange contradiction of living in a world we conceive of as sheer material, while only truly valuing thoughts, ideas and feelings that we conceive of as existing in our heads. I have described this in numerous articles and a book as the “two-storey universe.” We are certain of the material world, and though we only value the world of ideas and feelings, we’re not so sure that they really exist. We are indeed a troubled mind.

A much older way of experiencing the world understands our existence as one of actual communion. And, strangely, this way of thinking gives far more respect and attention to materiality. Nowhere is this more evident than in the contrast between ancient Christian thought and modern Christian thought.

Some examples:

Modern Christianity (which has been around for some few hundreds of years) views the death of Christ primarily in terms of the ideas associated with it. Human beings, through their breaking of God’s commandments (ideas), incurred an infinite debt (ideas), requiring their punishment (oops! This is eternal torment in hell). Note that this is purely an idea. Christ becomes man, and on the Cross suffers and pays the debt (again an idea). Those who now trust in Him (again an idea), are forgiven (another idea).

The only value placed on the Crucifixion of Christ is an abstraction. The action itself gains value only through how it is considered by God. But this abstraction ignores the deeply literal treatments referring to the blood of Christ and His flesh. The event of Christ’s suffering, death and resurrection gain their value precisely in their materiality and of God’s interaction and communion with materiality. Something happens on the Cross that is not simply in the mind of God.

Modern memorialism is the teaching that the Eucharist is simply a memorial meal, an event in which we have certain ideas about the death of Christ. But Christ says, “Take, eat!” and “Drink ye, all of this!” The “remembrance of Him” is not in our minds – it’s in our bodies and our blood. We become one flesh with Him.

It is very troubling to some when they begin to read the Church Fathers’ teachings on the heart (nous). The Fathers were well aware of the connection between brain and thinking (any number of ancient head injuries had taught them as much). But the Fathers disturbingly (for a modern) insist on locating the heart (nous) in the physical heart itself. Most moderns quickly dismiss this as some form of ancient nonsense. But it holds a very serious insight. True knowledge and communion are not abstractions. Using the example of eating, when I consume a sandwich, I could be said to “know” it. Where does this knowing occur? My stomach knows it. My blood stream knows it. In truth, the whole of me “knows” the sandwich. It is a much broader understanding of knowing than the reductionist notions of modernity.

The Whole Heart

This far more “wholistic” understanding of human existence and knowing is actually much more sophisticated than modern two-storey notions. Modern abstractions about thinking and knowing have resulted in a fragmentation of our consciousness in which we ignore the larger part of what we actually know. We have been taught to attend to our thoughts, as though we had a disembodied existence. And to make matters worse, we have a very false, abstract notion about what thoughts themselves are.

We are material beings. We are not souls that have bodies, or bodies that have souls. The soul is the “life” of the body, but is not, strictly speaking, a thing in itself. Most moderns mistake the soul for consciousness, and they imagine that at death their consciousness migrates somewhere else (to heaven, etc). And, we do not care very much about what then happens to the body, so long as our precious consciousness abides. This, I might add, is the mythology of Star Trek, where in at least several episodes, Spock’s consciousness is deposited in various other places. It is not, however, true Christianity.

The Christian faith holds to the resurrection of the body and the soul’s proper life within that glorified body. After death, God sustains our souls (life) in existence, but this is a great mystery for which words are inadequate. It is not our proper existence nor the fullness of our being. If you ask, “But what exactly is the soul?” You will get no answer. It is the “life of the body”.

The thing which we call consciousness is itself problematic. Much of it is simply the noisy artifacts of various neuroses, and even the sound that the body itself makes. It is not unusual for modern Christians suffering from depression, for example, to reject medication declaring that they want a “spiritual solution.” This two-storey approach is itself a strange superstition in which we imagine that our “spiritual life” is somehow not physical. [see the recent articles on anxiety and depression]

Modern consciousness is nurtured by modern media. So long as we have the “sight” of something, it is enough. Even pornography is a strangely disembodied experience of an intensely embodied reality, something that adds to its perversity.

Orthodox liturgy, on the other hand, is pointedly sensual. It smells and tastes. It is physically exhausting. It engages the whole of our being. Of course, moderns are particularly troubled and report (as sin) that their “minds wander.” They will even declare that this makes them “not present” in the service. I was asked a while back about how “to be present.” I responded that you actually have no choice. Present is what you are. I have yet to have anyone confess as sin that one of their feet “fell asleep” during Liturgy. It’s much the same thing, only we have a strange perception that it’s different.

I tell newcomers to the Church that they should be prepared to be bored in services. It is not designed for the entertainment of the false consciousness, unlike so much else. It is an encounter with God, not an encounter with thinking or emoting about God.

The true spiritual life includes a recovery of the fullness of our being. St. Paul speaks of the “renewing of the mind” (nous) in Romans 12. Today, it not only needs renewing, but discovery. That discovery is not found in the maze of our thoughts. Rather, it is found moment by moment in paying attention to the whole self. As we withdraw from the noise of our false mind generated by the cacophony of our consumer world, we work slowly at encountering the world in true communion. Live slower. “Whatsoever you do, in thought, word and deed, do it as unto the Lord.” This does not mean ignoring your activity and “thinking about God.” It means, when you walk, walk with God. When you eat, eat with God in thanksgiving. Give your body as much credit as you’ve been giving to your mind. I strongly expect that the nature of our activities would change if this were so.

Some complain about their minds wandering when they pray. I have ADD, my “mind” always “wanders.” But I don’t worry so much about it. When I pray, I stand before the icons. If my mind wanders, I remain standing. The icons have been given to us for “communion,” and that communion is real regardless of the noise of my mind. The noise is not me; it’s noise.

Our glorification of ideas perverts our Christian understanding. Christ said, “Where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” But we distort this and think it means, “Your treasure will be where your heart is.” We think that the thought is what matters. But Christ was quite materialist (wholistic) about the matter. Your treasure (your stuff) controls your thoughts. If you say you care about the poor, give them some of your stuff. If you don’t care about them, give them some of your stuff. If you give enough, over time you will come to care. The heart follows.

Prayer is very much like this as well. We imagine prayer to be some sort of mental force. Thus, when a matter seems desperate, we call on others to pray with us and for us, imagining that the more minds we can join in prayer, the more powerful the prayer becomes. This is simply secular nonsense. If you want powerful prayer, then do as the Fathers did, fast and give alms. Deny yourself, and give stuff away to the poor. Ask the poor who benefit from your generosity to pray for you. They will with glad hearts.

I will praise you with my whole heart. (Psalm 138:1)

You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart… (Matt. 22:37)

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

Quit thinking so much. It’s beside the point.

102 comments:

  1. Fr. Stephen:
    The two passages for Ash Wednesday (BCP) came to mind upon reading your articulation of the relationship between heart and treasure. First, Joel commands: “rend your heart, and not your garments.” Then the Gospel lesson contains the passage you have included here: “for where your treasure is, there will your heart be also.” It would seem that this latter principle is a premise paired up with the striking commands that precede it: present yourself bodily (in the open) as if you are NOT fasting because the physical display otherwise is attached to the false reward of appearing such and such to men. Present yourself secretly “unto thy Father” who “shall reward thee openly.”

    So, we see the contrasts between treasures on earth and treasure in heaven, and we are tempted to introduce a “two-storey” dualism in the process. My question: how do we maintain our vigilance against the dualisms you decry in light of these words from Joel and Matthew? Are they relevant to your present concern, or are they more about other dualities, between man-favor v. God-favor, between corruptible treasure and incorruptible, between the kind of reward we get when we seek things in the “open” v. “in secret?”

  2. Thank you, Father. I wonder about something. I used to read a lot to understand things in order to (in fine Protestant fashion) fashion strong arguments/rebuttals for discussion. Since becoming Orthodox, I have received the instruction to “watch what goes into your heart”. In pondering this, I have stopped listening to most music and am a bit more careful about what movies I watch (I find I cannot yet move fully away from the distraction they create though).

    And I have tried to read books that are less theological or apologetic. I have been drawn to reading the lives of various people and, I believe, I gain quite a lot from reading of their struggles. I am currently reading a book about Chiara Corbella Petrillo, a Catholic woman, and have Father George Calciu on the waiting list. Not heavy, theologically speaking, but full of life and shining with various nuggets of wisdom throughout. I find this a very edifying approach; when I seek something deeper, I can always take up a thicker book!

  3. Fr. Stephen,
    I concur with Fr. Mark…it is a post that I will read several times letting it’s truth percolate all the way down through soul/sole and body! As I’ve mentioned before my wife and I attend a monastery. I’ve noticed a pious habit some of the nuns and congregants do. After a yawn they will cross their mouth. It has for sometime seemed strange to me, for yawning almost always is an involuntary act. Now perhaps they are thanking God for the yawn. But more likely they are asking God to excuse (forgive?) their yawning. It’s much like being bored in liturgy and thinking it a sin, or like one’s foot falling asleep, for which I doubt one would cross herself. This is probably picayune but it did ring a bell with some of what you wrote. It appears to be asking God to overlook something quite natural. . However, I believe we can give glory to God for all, even our sleepiness during liturgy. 🙂

  4. When I was a Protestant Seminarian I knew something was wrong with the Soteriology I was taught. When I preached about it, I discovered I contradicted myself. I went back to the books and found the ideas presented were contradictory. It was one of the reasons that I began to study Orthodoxy. Now I have learned why I thought the Protestant Systematic was erroneous and your article articulates what I could not precisely find words to express. Thank you Father for your words of wisdom.

  5. Thank you Father Stephen, my heart is helped greatly as I read the truths you are able to put into words..
    Since I was a little girl I ‘knew’ there was a communion/closeness with Jesus to be had that could make me whole. And full. I experienced it a handful of times. For moments I lived and swam in His love and forgiveness. But I was like Humpty Dumpty and had a great fall, falling farther and farther away from any help to learn how to live this life in Christ Himself. I looked everywhere in the land of ideas and became disembodied enough to harm myself through a longstanding self-punishing eating disorder in response to my great anxiety and depression. I had demons prayed out of me, the Holy Spirit fill me, counselors counsel me and the 12 Step Program humble me – when it takes a miracle for you to eat three meals a day like a normal person, your intellect takes a beating. I knew Christ in my anger and despair when 30 years ago I shook my fist at Him for not curing me, as I deserved since I was working so hard (I prayed more than my Protestant pastors prayed) – and He intervened and ended 12 years of self-punitive eating/purging. He did it, I gave up. He came to me – the real me, floundering between thinking I was superwoman and worm of the earth. Screaming in an abyss of haughtiness and nothingness, He heard me and made Himself known to me.

    And He keeps coming to me – through ‘food’ – and not ideas or thinking or any intellectual prowess . Six years ago He brought me to Orthodoxy through beginning to pray the Jesus prayer, a form of food I had never known as a Protestant He now feeds me through the Divine Liturgy entering into my very body and blood with His resurrected body and blood. The more He feeds me with Himself, the greater my repentance of loving food and the filling of myself without Him. He communes with me in my very body, the body I had rejected and punished and nearly destroyed. And through cautious fasting, I learn how to be physically empty so there is more room for Him in me.

    Taste and see that the Lord is good – I am only beginning to experience His fullness – and I am so very grateful that He keeps coming to me in the darkness of my passions.

  6. Fr. Stephen,
    Your article also brought to mind this quote from St. John of Damascus taken from a much longer article . “I do not worship matter, I worship the God of matter, who became matter for my sake, and deigned to inhabit matter, who worked out my salvation through matter. I will not cease from honoring that matter which works for my salvation. I venerate it, though not as God.”

  7. Dean,
    To the best of my knowledge, the practice is a pious Greek custom, spread in the US through the monasteries and disciples of Elder Ephraim (that’s where I seen most of it). I would assume it’s some part of the nuns’ obedience. Any explanation for the practice would be pious musing. It is not a widespread Orthodox practice. It’s about like saying, “God bless you!” when someone sneezes. Yawning is not a sin, nor is an opportunity or work of the evil one.

  8. Thank you Father Stephen for your wisdom.
    My thoughts turn to scripture: Romans 12:2
    “Do not be conformed to this world, but be transformed by the renewal of your mind, that by testing oneself we may discern what the will of God is, what is good and acceptable and perfect.”
    Don’t participate to the patterns of the world, but be transformed by the renewing of ones mind. By working on this one can test and approve what God’s will is – His good, pleasing and perfect will.
    Do we superficially tend to cut our practice loose from faith and by so doing look for grapes from the thorns and figs from the thistles? Wrong thinking will not lead to right doing. True Christian living in the eyes of God is the logical way of life for the true believer. God makes us holy through salvation-true liberation, and we are to show that liberation in all the phases of our life, not just the public portion. It’s illogical for us to call ourselves Christians and live like the world.
    My trial: Whatever our gifts or situations may be, let me try to apply myself humbly, diligently, cheerfully and in simplicity, not seeking my own credit or profit, but the good of many at all times.
    In our present times, I thank you Lord for bringing change to government of these United State and all nations in this world. Thank you for changing the voices of influence to speak in agreement with Your word. I ask for leadership filled with the spirit of wisdom and might, to surround those in command with Godly counsel and insight removing those of authority who stubbornly oppose righteousness and replace them with men and women who will follow You and Your course for every nation.

  9. Perhaps just noise in my mind, but this reminds me of the relationship between software and hardware. Without the hardware, the software is just electric energy, and the bugs wouldn’t be as easy to find 🙂 .

  10. Father,
    I have been protestant all my life, mostly of Calvinist variety. It is truly modern as you say. As I am humbly converting to Orthodoxy, this is one of the most powerful and refreshing differences between modern and ancient Christian faith. To a protestant, salvation is “considering” Christ your Savior and God “considers” you His child. Who you are, your true reality, as it were, never changes. Justification is when God “thinks” differently about you, not a real change.

    There is a lot of “thinking” happening in Protestant and modern circles. I could defend prayer and quote scripture and condemn those who didn’t “think” the same doctrine…but I never prayed. I only “thought” about it. I “thought” a lot about repentance, but I never did it. I only “thought” I did and that was enough. I was never a disciple of Jesus Christ. I “thought” I was and that was plenty.

    Lord have mercy.

  11. Debbie, I relate to your journey. As Father Stephen describes, our treasure is where the heart is and Christ meets us in our hearts. My own journey in chemistry which was a place where my heart was (perhaps still is) was the place where Christ met and still meets me.

    As Father Stephen points out, in this culture we have a tendency to create a dualism between the material world and the ‘world of our thoughts’. Initially, the surprise to me that Christ met me there (in the chemical/physics data) was to meet Christ Himself, an entity that I considered to be a theological (and mental/abstract) construct. To find Him there, enabled me to discover a fundamental reality in the molecular (and sub-molecular ) world that presents the Gospel (Death trampling down Death) embedded in it. Because of the pervasiveness of nominalism in this culture and therefore in its science, even trying to articulate what I saw as ‘real’ becomes difficult. It’s as though I keep wanting to say it’s what ‘I saw’ not what ‘is there’ (and everywhere) in the molecular/submolecular world.

    I have really benefited from reading Fr Stephen’s book, “Everywhere Present”, and highly recommend it. Reading it introduces us (those of us who have been acculturated to the nominalism in this culture) to the classical Christian context of our life experiences.

    I like what you have said Fr Stephen, about ‘treasure’. It is where we place our time, energy, and money. I note that I do not spend a lot of time, energy or money on the poor. And this gives me pause about my prayer. But as I consider this further, perhaps, sometimes ‘the one who is poor’ might not always be so obvious to us. Perhaps it can be as simple as a kind word to a needful heart that is the offering that is asked of us in any given moment.

    Thank you so much for your ministry Fr Stephen.

  12. Please forgive these multiple entries. On further reflection on my own heart, I don’t know if I really think of money as treasure. This may be a delusion. It is something I have to deal with in terms of economics, but don’t know whether that is my own driving force. However time is a treasure for me. Having time to enjoy life. It’s frequently said one ‘makes time’ but that seems so much tied to one’s capacity and circumstances.

  13. I took “Where your treasure is there your heart will be also” to mean something like “Where your car is there your ride to work will be also.” In other words, the human heart contains the treasure.

  14. I like your analogy, David. Living this way I believe might be more difficult than how I first thought of it, a way of thinking which undoubtedly is influenced by this culture. When I think of money I might say that my heart isn’t in it. But I could say that a beautiful place like my parish church is in my heart. This way of thinking may be closer to the wider western culture ways of thinking. Fr also mentions a behavioral approach –put your time and money where you want your heart to be– that’s closer to your analogy I think. But admittedly I’m getting myself confused in attempts to make this distinction.

  15. “On further reflection on my own heart, I don’t know if I really think of money as treasure. This may be a delusion. It is something I have to deal with in terms of economics, but don’t know whether that is my own driving force. “

    Dee, I suspect, given that the Greek word for treasure in “where your treasure is, there will your heart be also”, θησαυρος, is the word from which the English word “Thesaurus” meaning “treasury, storehouse” is derived, then one’s treasure would be that which they desire to acquire and keep. I don’t see anything inherently delusional in not thinking of money as treasure, though perhaps that’s because I’ve always been more or less the same way.

    Whomever,
    The topic of this article is one that has been weighing on my mind lately. That is to say:”How does one respond to the pressure to reduce God/Christianity/faith etc. to just another opinion one holds, especially in a culture which encourages such a mindset?” At nearly 28, I’ve yet to find a job that will work out without interfering with the practice of the Christian faith, as they either require one to work weekends (not go to church) or are the kind which one has to buy their way (or their child’s way) into. My focus in my current situation has been on Christ’s statement “you cannot serve both God and mammon.” therefore anything requiring weekends is out; as well as that of (if memory serves) St. Paul: “as much as it depends on you, live peaceably with all men.”, so anything that involves someone who isn’t near of kin spending money, save that which is already set aside for the paying of employees, is also out. These rules I’ve set for myself are there for one purpose: that I may not abandon my desire to become Orthodox, especially not for the sake of a paycheck. (Nearest parish is 30 miles north and no one in my household drives, and I don’t know anyone local who’s Orthodox IRL, so that hinders my path to what I’ve come to believe is the faith which was passed down by the Apostles). “Internet/book Orthodoxy”, which, I fully realize, can only be (at best) like smelling a meal as opposed to eating it, is currently the only connection I have, weak though it is. But having smelled the meal, (what little of Orthodoxy that can be encountered in writing) I long for the feast. (The actual practice of Orthodoxy.) Pray for me that I may not stray from the course, no matter how long or difficult it may be.

  16. Dean I have seen the yawn + crossing the mouth at one local Greek parish. I think it is just a way of offering even our tiredness during services to God. But I imagine it might be a common practice in Greece.

    There is a woman in our parish who crosses herself every time her children take communion. I find these are really beautiful ways to praise God and give thanks. I find it in many of the more ethnic parishes.

    We don’t have these customs so much here and it is why I wish for there to be devout cradle orthodox in our parishes – they have much to impart – and as Fr Stephen said, the heart always follows.

  17. Also, Father Stephen

    “The thing which we call consciousness is itself problematic.” and “The soul is the “life” of the body, but is not, strictly speaking, a thing in itself.”

    Is consciousness that faculty which resides in the brain, but separate from the soul? Does the soul reside in the nous and is the nous also “the deep heart of man”?

    These statements resonate with me… in that my brother died of a traumatic brain injury a few years ago. They found no brain activity in him and we stopped life support. I will – however – never forget that when I spoke or sang to him in the hospital, his breathing always – every time – calmed.

  18. Oops, something deleted before I posted –

    So my question is about how does the soul interact with the body, clearly it does, – but is very separate from the consciousness of the brain. It is amazing to me that my brothers respiration would change and calm when we were with him and yet no brain activity.

    I know those are kind of existential questions, that probably have no answer – but they gave us great comfort.

  19. Fr. Stephen wrote:
    “give stuff away to the poor. Ask the poor who benefit from your generosity to pray for you.”

    I have heard of this as a tradition in some, if not all, orthodox countries, though when I tried to reference the practice recently while emailing my Protestant pastor, I couldn’t find anything that directly addressed this. We had a sermon recently where the pastor was really struggling with how to help the poor without feeding their addictions, their missteps, their perceived dishonesty, etc… He suggested giving cans of food instead of money, to try to insure that the donation went to “socially approved” uses.

    Based upon what I had read, my response was, “Trust God, give money, and ask for prayer.” I explained that it was a very old custom, and then couldn’t find a good reference to support it. Does anyone have a more detailed history of this? It seems totally logical in light of my Orthodox understanding, but trying to explain a beggar’s intercessory prayer, the communion that takes place between a beggar and a benefactor, and the beauty of almsgiving, to Protestant ears was a difficult undertaking, and I’m certain that I wasn’t as convincing as I wanted to be.

    Thank-you all, in prayer,
    Matthew

  20. Matt Z,

    ”How does one respond to the pressure to reduce God/Christianity/faith etc. to just another opinion one holds, especially in a culture which encourages such a mindset?”

    I think that Fr. answers this question in the post above:

    “We work slowly at encountering the world in true communion. Live slower. “Whatsoever you do, in thought, word and deed, do it as unto the Lord.” This does not mean ignoring your activity and “thinking about God.” It means, when you walk, walk with God. When you eat, eat with God in thanksgiving. “

  21. Victoria,

    If we accept that the soul is the life of the body, then the brain, being an organ of the body, possesses the life of the body. Therefore, the mind, which is associated with the brain, is not separable from the soul. How it is related to the soul I wouldn’t hazard to guess.

  22. Victoria,
    Some of our questions, such as you have asked, are based on things that we think of as important from a modern point of view. “Consciousness,” as far as I can tell, has no ancient antecedent – it’s a modern word. There is reason (dianoia), little bothersome thoughts (logismoi), there are passions and emotions. They certainly have a relationship with the brain. Some think that the center of consciousness, what we experience as the “self,” is something other than “brain.” I saw a recent article by a brain surgeon to that effect.

    But, the “soul” is not the same thing as consciousness, though it clearly has some role or part in it. These are very difficult things to fit together, in that they speak very different languages with very different concepts of what it means to be a person.

    In the 1600’s, the famous French philosopher, Rene Descartes, said, “I think, therefore I am.” It was a very “modern” notion, in which consciousness is equated with existence itself. It was a symptom of a growing way of thinking that isolated thinking from everything else. I’m simplifying, but that’s the general run of it.

    The soul, as I mentioned, is the “life” of the body, but that does not mean it is the “bios” or the biological life-force of the body – not exactly. It’s more mysterious than that. But the Christian definition of death is the departure of the soul from the body. You’ll see some writings that describe the soul as “immortal,” but this is only true because God sustains the soul in its existence, and not because the soul is naturally immortal. At death, God receives our souls and sustains them in their existence. It is said that they “anticipate” their final disposition – that is – the good begin to have something of a foretaste of heaven – the bad begin to have something of a foretaste of hell. The discussion of heaven and hell is another thing. But what it means to be truly human always includes having a body. We await the resurrection of our bodies at the Last Day. Then we will be in a transfigured existence, like that of the resurrected Christ.

    Many modern people think of the mind as the real seat of our identity, and the body as a mere vessel or receptacle. That is not the Christian teaching. Our bodies are “temples of the Holy Spirit.” We venerate the incorrupt bodies of the saints (that is, many of the saints’ bodies do not show signs of decomposition after death). All of this is why Orthodox Christianity discourages very strongly against cremation.

  23. Matthew,

    From THE SHEPHERD OF HERMAS., an ancient Christian text.

    “As I was walking in the field, and observing an elm and vine, and determining in my own mind respecting them and their fruits, the Shepherd appears to me, and says, “What is it that you are thinking about the elm and vine?” “I am considering,” I reply, “that they become each other exceedingly well.” “These two trees,” he continues, “are intended as an example for the servants of God.” “I would like to know,” said I, “the example which these trees you say, are intended to teach.” “Do you see,” he says, “the elm and the vine?” “I see them sir,” I replied. “This vine,” he continued, “produces fruit, and the elm is an unfruitful tree; but unless the vine be trained upon the elm, it cannot bear much fruit when extended at length upon the ground; and the fruit which it does bear is rotten, because the plant is not suspended upon the elm. When, therefore, the vine is cast upon the elm, it yields fruit both from itself and from the elm. You see, moreover, that the elm also produces much fruit, not less than the vine, but even more; because,” he continued, “the vine, when suspended upon the elm, yields much fruit, and good; but when thrown upon the ground, what it produces is small and rotten. This similitude, therefore, is for the servants of God — for the poor man and for the rich.” “How so, sir?” said I; “explain the matter to me.” “Listen,” he said: “The rich man has much wealth, but is poor in matters relating to the Lord, because he is distracted about his riches; and he offers very few confessions and intercessions to the Lord, and those which he does offer are small and weak, and have no power above. But when the rich man refreshes the poor, and assists him in his necessities, believing that what he does to the poor man will be able to find its reward with God — because the poor man is rich in intercession and confession, and his intercession has great power with God — then the rich man helps the poor in all things without hesitation; and the poor man, being helped by the rich, intercedes for him, giving thanks to God for him who bestows gifts upon him. And he still continues to interest himself zealously for the poor man, that his wants may be constantly supplied. For he knows that the intercession of the poor man is acceptable and influential with God. Both, accordingly, accomplish their work. The poor man makes intercession; a work in which he is rich, which he received from the Lord, and with which he recompenses the master who helps him. And the rich man, in like manner, unhesitatingly bestows upon the poor man the riches which he received from the Lord. And this is a great work, and acceptable before God, because he understands the object of his wealth, and has given to the poor of the gifts of the Lord, and rightly discharged his service to Him. Among men, however, the elm appears not to produce fruit, and they do not know nor understand that if a drought come, the elm, which contains water, nourishes the vine; and the vine, having an unfailing supply of water, yields double fruit both for itself and for the elm. So also poor men interceding with the Lord on behalf of the rich, increase their riches; and the rich, again, aiding the poor in their necessities, satisfy their souls. Both, therefore, are partners in the righteous work. He who does these things shall not be deserted by God, but shall be enrolled in the books of the living. Blessed are they who have riches, and who understand that they are from the Lord. “

  24. David,

    While that is somewhat helpful, I was raised in the Evangelical Christian tradition, so I can see how one could reduce walking with God to merely having thoughts and emotions about God, which seems like it would be missing Fr. Stephen’s point completely.

    The Christian life was never meant to be lived separately from the sacramental life of the Church. As I understand it, it is meant to consist of our lives outside of liturgy being a continuation of the liturgy, which implies “not forsaking the assembling of yourselves together”, as St. Paul (or whoever wrote Hebrews) wrote. The modern “secular” world, and secularized two-storey Christianity both largely ignore this.

    So, what does walking with God actually look like? And how does one whose present circumstances keep them from the sacramental life of the Church (when they desire union with the Church) do it? Or can it even be done in such circumstances?

  25. A couple of experiences came to me while reading your post:

    Just yesterday evening, my youngest son (age 8) told me we love God with our heart and mind. He pointed to my chest and my head during his declaration. Finally, he then pointed back to the chest, “This is the most important.” I smiled and thought, “How anti-modern of him!”

    A few years ago while teaching at a classical school, we read Athanasius’s On the Incarnation. The flesh and blood of the incarnation finally came home to me. My students were rather bored with the text. I had the impression it was just a thought experiment to them.

  26. Matt Z,

    Everything–your entire life–is a sacramental walk. As an example, when I pray I thank God for my work. Then I go to work thankfully and I perform my work with gratitude. Thankfulness to God characterizes HOW I work. I struggle to work in a way that is free of pride, ambition, and vanity. Therefore, I am in communion with God through my work. Does that help or is that too simplistic?

  27. Fr.
    The scripture says to be transformed by making your mind over by proving to yourself that the will of God is perfect. This passage might lend itself to thinking that through argument, reason, and debate one proves to oneself that God’s will is good and if one is successful in this then the mind is transformed. Would you comment on that, please? Also, would you mind saying a few words on the relationship between metanoia, nous, and consciousness. I have always interpreted “change of mind” to mean the conscious mind, but now I’m wondering whether noia refers to the nous.

  28. David,

    That does help, but it can be stretched too far to where it makes participation in the Mysteries,
    (Baptism, Eucharist, Confession, etc.), which can only be received through/at the Church optional, which I’m sure is not your intention. So it seems to me there needs to be some kind of guard against a life of thanksgiving toward God turning into some “spiritual-but-not-religious” mindset.

  29. Every one of your blog posts hits me like a steamroller. Just amazing. You’re now one of my favorites. I’m a fairly recent convert to Orthodoxy, and my parish, regrettably, does not have a Bible Study. What I do have is several blogs I follow, and that’s how I learn. I’m just bowled over. Again.

  30. Dear Father Stephen,

    Your article brought to mind a popular song from a few years ago. It is a song by the band Bastille, called “Pompeii”, which I think is a splendid piece of art. In it, a connexion is suggested between the inner confusion of life (“I was left to my own devices”, “We were caught up and lost in all of our vices”) and the collapse of the outer city “that we love” as the “great clouds roll over the hills bringing great darkness from above” (Pompeii indeed, but makes one think of the Cities of the Plain as well). In the video, the inhabitants of the city have eyes clouded with ash. The song asks: “how am I going to be an optimist about this?” It is not a depressing song, I’d say, but it is fittingly disquieting. It refuses to think to a conclusion of any sort; the singer runs through the city until his eyes are seen darkened as everybody else’s. I wonder if perhaps the ashes are not the reason for optimism; it is mercy perhaps to have the outer and inner confusion confounded.

    I think what you are doing with your writing is wonderful because it speaks to people shaped by contemporary culture in a way they can understand. Much of the popular art of our time rebels against the monstrous heresies that have ruled the modern world. The mindless tones that accompany us in consumerism and delusions often speak the words of the Fathers. Sin cannot destroy the goodness of the material world; heresies cannot destroy the catholic Orthodoxy. We keep our mind in hell and despair not. Rather sing as the ashes fall upon us. What an awful lot!

    Glory to God for all things!

    Yours,

    V.

  31. Dean,
    I have never quite inquired like you but my thoughts are that the simple yawn is seen as a physical manifestation of man’s natural incapacity in self-hegemony, as if it is a routine, involuntary expression of our complete inability in self-sovereignty; the crossing of the mouth is therefore like (1) an admission & confession to God that we would like to give our 100% to Him, but this 100% is (evidently) not subject to ourselves (we cannot even stay still in His presence) in order to freely consecrate it to Him, so we (2) bring Him into our ‘non-selfdetermination’ with this crossing.

  32. Dino,
    I think your response is one pay grade above me…my self-hegemony aside, lol! 🙂 Thank you for your many years of patience with us American converts. I really have learned to love many Greeks, having associated with a host of them these last 14 years at the monastery.
    Evlogeite!

  33. David,
    We cannot make our mind over…it is the work of God. Those verse in Romans 12 belong together. “Present your bodies as a living sacrifice…” “Don’t be conformed to this world.” “Be transformed…by the renewing of your mind.”

    It does not mean that we prove to ourselves what is the will of God, etc. It’s more like, so that we become the living proof of the will of God.

    It begins, interestingly, with our bodies. First, St. Paul, I think, has in mind withdrawing from the immoral use of the body that was so common in Roman society, and secondly, the adoption of a Christian pattern of discipline: prayers, fasting, vigils, etc.

    This offering of the self (body and all) to God, turning away from the patterns of this world (the word for conform is “schematizo”) is our part of the “metamophosis” of the “mind.” But God alone can do the transforming.

    St Paul uses the word “nous” here, but it’s proper to realize that his vocabulary is not exactly the same as the later Church. Nous comes to be a very technical term. For Paul, it’s more generic. I would translate it “way of seeing.”

    I think about the relationship of those words…”consciousness” is a bit problematic.

  34. David Bohm is physicist that argues that many issues over “will” and human “freedom” are imbedded in the subject-predicate construction of our language. We posit an active agent even when it is unnecessary. For example “It is raining” implies that there is an “it” that is doing the raining, but there is no such it. Again, we have reified an abstraction. What has been termed as “agentic locution” forces us to think about the world as populated by thinking-things-that-do-things. So, when it comes to processes like repentance and the over-valuation of the mind, I’m wondering to what extent process oriented thinking is more appropriate.

  35. Father Stephen;

    You indicated in this excellent article that the Nous may be found in the heart. But I have read some articles in reference to the practice of the Jesus prayer that talk about the Nous descending from the mind/brain to the heart with continued and regular recital of the Prayer.

    So, for the average person, is the Nous normally found in the mind? Does prayer, especially monastic prayer, cause the Nous to descend into the heart? Is the Nous normally held captive by the passions and logismoi found in the secular mind? And it is safe for a non-monastic believer to attempt to induce the Nous to descend into the heart?

  36. Father Bless!
    Great article, thank you! As usual for me, it leads to a need for further clarification. Father, would you explain what we mean by “spirit” in relation to our soul. (hard to find a clear answer anywhere on this question)
    I understand somewhat that the spirit is what enlivens the soul…that it is subject to whatever we present ourselves to…that when the Bible speaks of “darkness” and spiritual death it is the condition of our spirit that is not quickened or made alive by the Holy Spirit. Could you please clarify these thoughts and tie it in with the concept of “soul”?
    Again, much thanks.

  37. Dino, I had to think about your last comment and reread a couple times before it clicked what you are saying. It fits well, if I am understanding you, with what I have understood taught to be the purpose of the Jesus Prayer, which is to keep bringing our awareness back to God’s living presence in the here and now. We cannot change ourselves, but when we are able to begin to perceive God, that vision changes us. This is the work of grace.

  38. Thank you Father Stephen! So many of our ‘beliefs’ are ideas – I am guilty of believing many of my ideas.
    A note on the yawn saga.
    St Anthony the Great states (in poor translation from Ancient Greek):
    “I have seen the traps of the enemy (devil) spread out on earth and they are so many. Who can cross this world without getting caught? And I heard a voice saying: “humility”.
    The devil always finds ways to trap the human. He causes disturbances, paralysis of the mind, sleep, yawns, laziness, madness, cowardice, thoughts, carnal war, whatever one can imagine. For in the Sunday prayer we say “and lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from Evil” (Matthew 13), that is to say, deliver us from him who tries to tempt us, who fights against us.
    The explanation I had heard growing up as a boy in Greece was that yawning is seen as a sign of akidía; laziness, drowsiness? Crossing the mouth was done to forbid the akidia demon’s entry from the mouth.
    Although, I too agree that Dino put it much more eloquently 🙂

  39. John H,
    Tricky questions! Not at all easy to answer. The nous is often identified with the heart – but you’re right, the tradition also speaks of the nous “descending into the heart.” This is another way to speak of the cleansing of the nous (from bondage to passions and logismoi, etc.), and a restoration of integrity, where nous and heart are one.

    “Mind” is such a problematic term, because it is used in so many different ways. In some writing it’s used to mean the nous. But in contemporary usage it means pretty much everything going on in my “head.”

    What I trying to do, here and there, is make some distinctions. The logismoi are not quite “thoughts” in that we don’t “think” them in a way that an active, transitive verb is proper. I.e. we’re not willfully causing them. They are more like noise – artifacts of the passions. Or, in modern psychology, they are ‘self-talk’ the voice of very deep inner injuries. In that sense, they are like “pain” signals that your broken leg is sending to your brain – only this pain comes in the form of words.

    There is dianoia – closer to “reason,” and consists of actual thoughts, and our thought processes, in which we are really and truly thinking. As I write, I’m thinking about what I’m saying. I should say, that sometimes, when I write, I’m having to ignore a world of logismoi, especially if I’m responding to a shame-inducing comment (more common on Facebook – which could be renamed “Shamebook” or maybe “Shamefacedbook”.

    The passions assault us in many ways – desires, aching, anger, etc. and they stir up various logismoi as well. It is possible to “give consent” to the passions and enlist the dianoia in the process such that I’m trying to figure out how to serve the passions, etc.

    Consciousness is a very modern term – I can’t think of an equivalent in patristic usage. It’s a modern “catch-all” term that pretty much just means my waking awareness of my brain’s activity. On this side of Descartes (“I think therefore I am”), moderns tend to confuse consciousness with the self. It’s not, though the self has something to do with it. But somehow, if we are speaking of the self, we must speak of something larger than consciousness – because we can be unconscious and still be ourselves. To be honest, I don’t think very much in terms of consciousness.

    In my personal life, as noted in some of the earlier articles, I work at making a distinction between “me” and much of the noise in my brain, whether it is the distracting voices of ADD, or the muffled sounds of anxiety and depression. When I tune those things out, I notice that I’m still there. So, who is it that is observing these things and making some choices to ignore them? This, I think, is something of the self, even the true self (or what will become the true self), and indeed is the nous. I don’t want to call it the “ego” because I think much of the modern notion of “ego” includes all the noise and passions. I prefer the word “self.”

    It also seems to me that there has been a continuity of that self through all the years of my life. The self that now considers the things of an older man, seems to be little different than the self that considered the things of a child or a teen. The things it considers have changed a great deal, but the point-of-view (or whatever) that is doing the considering seems quite stable and identical.

    I was in hospital once with a gall bladder attack. They gave me a shot of morphine. I felt amazing. I did an experiment while I was laying there and thought about all the people and things that bothered me – and I couldn’t seem to feel bothered. All was well. Now, that’s an effect of the drug. But the “me” who was asking the question was unchanged. The identity had not shifted at all. Thus, I assume that if all the junk, passions, noise, neuroses, etc. dropped away, I would still be there – but I would “feel” much different. If death ends any amount of that stuff, it will come as a very welcome thing, indeed.

    To a degree, entering into the true self, and letting all of that stuff go, has something of a freeing, peaceful effect as well – only without the drugs. The drugs only mimic it in a poor manner.

    The nous will “descend” into the heart as a gift of grace. We should not attempt to make it do so. We pray. Pray consistently, abandoning yourself to the will of God. The nous will descend as God wills. I have this only second-hand. My nous is still on the loose!

  40. Matt Z,

    I agree. I think the point I would underscore is that sacramental life is not restricted solely to the church because the sacraments should yield a sacramental life outside the church. The body and blood are in your body and blood so whatever you are doing in and with your body should be understood as sacramental.

  41. John H
    When we know that the Nous can only ever descend inside the deep heart through Grace, then we needn’t fear techniques : we are employing them in full awareness of our nothingness. The philokalic methods of trying to bring our ‘attention’ (the most practical translation of Nous) from head to heart are there for a reason. The real thing will never happen with any permanence however until we have completely surrendered ourselves to God’s will. While we still remain in our customary ‘mixture’ of doing His will a little as well as ours (a little or a lot), it will not happen. Foretastes might start to become more frequent, especially when we are consistent in our night time “appearance” before God, or just at random times that Grace chooses whether we have just partaken of the holy mysteries or simply as we are doing the most seemingly irrelevant act. However no matter what the way in which we persevere in our efforts towards: “not my will but Yours” God’s grace will never cease from working on us until everything is imbued and transformed if we desire so.

  42. David,

    That’s true, but only fully applicable to baptized/chrismated Orthodox Christians, as the non-Orthodox and not-yet-Orthodox can not receive the Eucharist.

    So, what’s a person to do they are drawn to the Orthodox faith, but their present circumstances prevents them from having a flesh-and-blood connection with a parish, and thus for the time being can only direct their hearts and minds toward the Orthodox faith? How do they prepare their hearts and minds for when they are able to get to a parish to receive the Orthodox faith? And how do they deal with pressures that make it easier to just reduce Christianity to a set of religious thoughts and feelings, and decide to cut out Church altogether as if it were unimportant?

  43. Matt Z,
    I wanted to thank you for your reflections above in your comment to my reflections. I found your definition of treasure very helpful.

    I live in a rural place and for various reasons have to travel a distance (50 miles) for some of the work that I currently do. But I’m very grateful also that there is an Orthodox Church nearby for when I finally wanted to come to Liturgy as a regular practice. I might suggest that you contact the nearest parish and perhaps speak to a priest about your intentions to convert to Orthodoxy if that is your intention. The priest might be able to suggest ways that you might come the distance and perhaps there might be a place where you might stay that might accommodate your needs.

    I’m offering a little of my history of my conversion to Orthodoxy, in case it might help:

    In my own conversion, there was definitely a rather long process of reading Orthodox theology before I even considered visiting a church. This was mainly because I had a lot of misgivings about becoming a practicing Christian. As strange as it sounds I really didn’t want to become a Christian (as I had defined that) but was driven to understand Orthodox theology more deeply and eventually came to realize I wanted to visit an Orthodox Church for the sake of understanding the theology. At the time I first stepped into a church, I really didn’t want to talk to anyone but just wanted to experience the Liturgy. Afterward a friendly and somewhat shy person approached me as I tried to quickly dodge any contact and walk out the door. Her humble demeanor encouraged me to stay for the coffee hour, more than anything else. So again, it is rather ironic that I didn’t want contact, to speak to anyone, and yet, the shy kindness of this person (who later became my sponsor) was enough to draw me in.

    I would like to encourage you to attempt the trip to the nearest parish. But I realize that your circumstances might make it very difficult. Just contacting the priest and hearing a voice that is near you might be helpful to engage you in the Orthodox life.

    Beyond the person to person contact, there are Liturgies that are broadcast in ‘real time’ I believe, through the “Ancient Faith” radio (I believe this is true I’ll have to check it out). But it maybe only for special feast days.

    Once I started coming to our local parish (alone–my loved one will not come with me, but some of my extended family did eventually), it would be another year and a half before I would be baptized and partake of the Eucharist. This was a somewhat lengthy process that I needed for prayer and preparation. For various reasons during that time of my catechism, I would again ‘duck-out’ during Communion. That behavior seemed appropriate to me but it wasn’t commonly done in my parish, but I needed the time to ‘be with God’ in a prayerful way, if not in a sacramental way.

    So this is offered as part of the process of what my catechism was like. In the meantime, I had a lot of questions also, as you might.

    God bless you in your striving and seeking.

  44. Dino,
    As I read what you wrote my heart was saying, yes, yes! His coming to us is completely a matter of grace, never something forced. It may occur in our nighttime meetings with Him. But it always comes unbidden, as a gift. This Spring I was driving alone in the country on a narrow road. His Presence became so overwhelming, so wonderful, I had to pull to the roadside. It did not last long, a few minutes. And I proceeded. These moments are pure grace gifts, gems that come to us in an otherwise bumpy ride on life’s road. You mention that they only come as we fully surrender our will to His. I’m still daily working on that one.

  45. Fr. Sophrony’s words on prayer maybe fitting for this discussion:

    “In the early days of my life on Mt. Athos I remember asking one of the hermits to talk to me about prayer. Discerning in my request a wish to hear about prayer at its most sublime, he replied, ‘Let us discuss what we are capable of. To talk of what is beyond us would be idle chatter.’ I felt ashamed but still ventured to say, ‘I really do want to know about more perfect prayer–prayer that surpasses me. Not because I am pretentious. No. But because it seems to me vital to glimpse a guiding star to check whether I am on the right path. In ancient times mariners took their bearings by an incredibly remote star. In the same way I should like to have a true criterion, however out of reach, so that I shall not be content with the little I have so far discovered.’
    The holy man agreed that this was not only permissable but right and proper.”

  46. Matt Z,

    If there is a parish you can attend, then by all means attend.

    From reading the Bible and prayer God led me to Orthodoxy before I knew to call it Orthodoxy. In fact, that was the very thing that cemented my faith in the one true church: They told me what I had already learned.

    If it is you hearts desire, God will make you Orthodox.

  47. Dee, and other scientists who have written here-

    I recently visited my family back east and spent good time talking to my scientist brother in law. Your comments here about seeing, or even discovering, God in science helped me a great deal. My bil is so very smart, and as we talked I began to recognize that he is looking for truth! Had I attempted to evangelize him in a typical evangelical way, he’d have dismissed me outright. Instead I could recognize and affirm what truth and integrity I saw in him. It was brilliant. He even offered to send an article on ensoulment by a catholic theologian.

    Anyway, thanks again to you!

  48. Father Stephen-

    I have read this post a couple times now. I am new to Orthodoxy and started a simple prayer rule. Everyone says to start small. I only pray it in the morning, but try to do it daily, and in front of the icons if at all possible. We asked our priest to be our spiritual father, and we attend the Divine Liturgy weekly. During the week I was reading the daily scripture readings with my kids, but summertime has disrupted any regularity in this.

    In the beginning, not so long ago, when just reading about Orthodoxy, I was entranced by its beauty and so many points of agreement in my soul. Now, as I struggle for consistency in new practices, I begin to see my utter lack. I’d have said I am lacking before, but now there’s a visceral knowing that is new and painful. Prayer also seems a bit unreal.

    From your post it would seem that I ought to continue as I am, and one day my heart will follow, that I am present in a way I hadn’t recognized, that my self is dis-integrated more deeply that I know. It can be discouraging. It does not ‘feel’ victorious or successful. I think this all might be evidence that It-Orthodoxy-is actually doing what it is supposed to do-expose the truth of my weakness and need for God and His healing.

    Thoughts, anyone?

  49. Kristin,
    Glory to God that your conversation with your brother in law revealed such longing. I’m grateful for whatever ways my witness and story might help. More often I feel like a fool for revealing this history, but hoped it might be helpful.

    You also express a journey that I too have experienced . Perhaps Fr Stephen might offer some words about this. My priest suggested I read St Siluoan the Anthonite’s biography. He experienced a rather dramatic awakening after feeling a kind of ‘loss’ of grace for a time; he had felt a loss of God’s presence while he was a rather new monk.

    When I first started to pray before the ikons at home, I felt self conscious and doubtful about my sincerity. I mentioned this to my catechumen teacher, and he offered an answer exactly what you say–persevere in the prayers. Your heart will follow.

  50. About giving to the poors and ask for praying and the misterious relationship between giver and begger, I want to know more of the traditions of the Orthodoxy in this. And what’s the situation when the begger is not a christian or without any religion?

    Thank you and sorry about my english.

  51. Kristen,

    You story sounds very much like mine and has been echoed by others. I would say that our goal right now would be to strive for consistency.

  52. Consistency…every book on parenting emphasizes a child’s need for consistency from the parent…the only consistency I have is in my inconsistency! It would seem in all things. Hence keeping a small prayer rule, and for now only in the mornings. I hope to build on this. Lord have mercy! Indeed I think it is in these little things where growth must happen since the so called mountaintop experiences are infrequent. Faithfulness in the little things, right?

  53. I keep thinking of the woman in Fr Stephen’s book who was wanting God to “go upstairs” so as to not be distracted, so she could finish her work. I laughed when I first read that a few years ago. Thought how I knew better. I don’t.
    I do wake up and go to bed thinking about God. All day my mind thinks about how His love, His patience, His sacrifice. I try to illuminate the dark corners or my mind, yet I still manage most of the time, to do things without Him. I unconsciously think I am alone (like the woman) . That my heart is hidden from Him, when it is actually hidden from myself.

    I need to get quiet enough to feel the shame instead of running from it.

  54. Thank you, Dee, and David.

    AFR does broadcast the Liturgy every Sunday at, I think, 9:30 central, but I often lose track of time and miss it. And I have watched the occasional video feed of the Liturgy, which I find preferable to mere audio, so I know visually what can be expected.

    One of the things which drew me toward Orthodoxy was one of the first times I watched a live broadcast of the Liturgy, when at a certain point (I couldn’t tell you which) I noticed what appeared to be a small group of men behind the Priest, and I wondered what it was they were doing, until I realized I was looking at an icon. But even then, it somehow made sense to me that they were not merely depicted, but somehow actually present. That the Saints are not just deceased people from the past whom we merely remember with admiration until we meet them at the resurrection, but are alive in Christ right now.

  55. Kristin,
    Wonderful to hear about your entrance into Orthodoxy. Your devotion is sweet. I echo those above who say to keep on pressing forward. Be encouraged that you experience these, if you will, unwelcome feelings. It’s all part of the transition, and I’m not so sure that it fully ever goes away! It seems that if it does, that place is called “perfection”. In this respect, no better word have we than “journey”, It’s such a wonderful thing to embrace this ancient faith…and the growth is unending.
    I am a convert of a little over a year…not much to offer you in the specifics, but I offer lots of encouragement. I burned myself out in the very beginning by trying to adhere to all the “rules” to a tee…despite the warnings against doing that. Now I’m falling into a rhythm that doesn’t bring unwelcome despair. Another thing that I had a great deal of trouble with was the words in the prayers that speak of my unworthiness and sinfulness, etc. I already knew what a mess I was (am), and I found those words brought more despair. So, I know what your saying about feeling inadequate. This is what happens when encountering the truths in Orthodoxy…these things were not mentioned in the churches I was in previously. Orthodoxy presents the stark reality of existence. There’s a lot of what is described as “paradox”, seeming contradictions but really not. Things are not as they appear at first glance. Anyway, one more thing I want to share…I had mentioned to my Priest at one time that I have a great deal of trouble accepting my sinfulness, have trouble “getting over it”…he saw something in me because he gave a very accurate response…along with reminding me of the mercy of Christ, he reminded me that that despair was a focus too much on myself…a form of pride…and to remember along with our sins, the love, forgiveness, and guidance of Christ…for He came, died, and rose to save us…not just to make us “better” so we can feel good about ourselves. I needed to hear that!
    Sorry, one more thing!…regarding these issues above, I found the readings of St. Theophan the Recluse very helpful.
    God bless, Kristin.

  56. Matt Z…I LOVE where you described “the small group of men behind the Priest”! and what it spoke to you. I too am beginning to realize the reality of our great cloud of witnesses … heard it called the Church Triumphant!
    I really hope for your sake that you find a Church to attend “bodily”…to be inside and be present brings a reality I just can’t describe. It’s a shame there’s so few Orthodox Churches compared to the thousands of others. I travel an hour… there’s only two in the whole of southern Arizona. Anyway, I wish you the best.

  57. Paula, thank you for posting these words given to you: for He came, died, and rose to save us…not just to make us “better” so we can feel good about ourselves.

    I needed that. For so long I thought the purpose of reading, studying, praying was to become better so God would love me. Actually, I still struggle with that…

  58. Paula, not sure where you are but there are 2 Orthodox monasteries in Southern Arizona – St. Paisius Serbian and St. Anthony Greek.

  59. Thank you, Paula! I find your words kind and encouraging. The transition from Protestant to Orthodox is fraught with challenges. I waver at times since the paradigm shifts loom large. I feel like I’ve just discovered a mountain before me that is so large I cannot see the summit. But we can only ascend one step at a time, right? So I read this blog, listen to a podcast here and there, but want to prioritize the rule in the morning. Fasting–I’m waiting to slowly begin that. It’s a little further up the mountain!

    You must live closer to Tucson. Here in the Phoenix area there are a few churches, though not super close to me. I attend one 30 miles away. But we love it!

  60. Hi Helen,
    I still struggle with these things too! Exactly…if I “do”, He’ll love me more. Fact is He couldn’t love us anymore than He always has loved us! Such healing we need to our souls!
    Yes, those monasteries are fairly close…St. Paisius about an hour away. I just have to stop procrastinating and go! A friend from Church just recently mentioned to me how blessed she was after her visits to the monasteries…especially recalling this experience soon after becoming a convert. A word she used was the “holiness” of these places…and spoke of the blessing in speaking to the monastics there. Looking forward to my first visit!

  61. Father Stephen and Dino,
    I would like to thank you both so much for responding to my queries. The source of my questions concerning the Nous descending into the heart is a book by Met. Hierotheos of Nafpaktos entitled “A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain”, which recounts a series of conversations between Met. Hierotheos and an unnamed Elder of Mt. Athos concerning the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Your colleague Father Aidan posted excerpts from the book on his Blog, Eclectic Orthodoxy. I would commend those posts to all of your readers.

    In those conversations with the anonymous holy Elder, Met. Hierotheos identifies five stages to the recital of the Jesus Prayer:
    1. Verbal repetition on a daily basis;
    2. Silent repetition through the Nous (attention) only.
    Eventually, solely through the grace of God, and not our own efforts, the ascetic practicing the prayer may reach the three final stages, which are:
    3. The descent of the Nous into the Heart;
    4. The automatic repetition of the prayer throughout the day while the Nous is resting in the Heart; and
    5. The Vision of the Uncreated Light by the Nous, which may now be characterized as being the “Eye of the Heart”
    Dino, at one point the Holy Elder indicates that the Heart is roughly equivalent to what modern psychology terms the subconscious. I think that this dovetails rather nicely with St. Macarius’ characterization of the Heart as the place where one may find both passions and holy thoughts, angels and dragons.
    And Father Stephen, I too am only at the very earliest stages of spiritual practice. My Nous is also very much on the loose!!! I need to discipline myself to pray for even a half hour per day, but with the grace of God it seems to be getting easier.

  62. That Elder that was unnamed at the time is, allegedly, Father Sophrony when he was living in his cave on Athos. Elder Sophrony later said that for the genuine practitioner of the Jesus prayer, there eventually comes a time when there exists no subconscious/unconscious as he becomes all /entirely conscious with the Grace of the Holy Spirit.

  63. Thank you one and ALL for sharing your Orthodox experience and questions on this blog – Father Stephen, thank you forgiving us a safe place to learn and grow. My heart wants to respond to so many of you, to express how you have encouraged and helped me and to offer some encouragement as well but my ADD brain infuriatingly distracts me at every turn from getting my thoughts in order enough to share. But here goes what I can at this moment

    Dee of St Hermans – thank you for acknowledging some comprehension of my experiences with food and body – I have some background in the Natural Sciences which I can also relate to as another portal to experiencing God even though chemistry and I never had a good relationship!

    Kristen, yes keep at prayer – keep at it, keep at it, keep at it…showing up physically is no small thing, you are presenting your body to God at a minimum, which is a part of your self even if thoughts or feelings betray you – and you are in the company of the Saints who are praying for you and with you as you stand before Icons – keep showing up to pray however shortly or inconsistently… and God in His Goodness will reveal Himself to you and you will be changed…my Spiritual Father told me to let any intrusive thoughts float away like clouds without thinking about them!

    Matt Z; how wonderfully you described experiencing the reality communion of the Saints – and yes, there is more – this is a reality that I had no comprehension or experience of prior to becoming Orthodox and is becoming more and more a great source of comfort and companionship for me. I am easily overwhelmed by the physical presence of people but not with the Saints…

    Father Stephen; God transforms me, not me or my thoughts or my efforts – I can never hear this truth too many times – I present my body, He does the transforming – I keep trying to transform my mind with my mind…I love hearing you speak about the reality of Divine Liturgy being our work – more work of presenting ourselves to God so He can change us…thank you.

  64. Debbie A,
    I really like how you wrote directly above, “…thank you forgiving us a safe place to learn and grow.”
    Whether you meant it or not, I have to share that I really did a “double-take” on the “forgiving” part and that “typo” really got me thinking about the “for” giveness of gratitude, the “giving” of forgiveness and repentance. The “for” us and on and on…. Sorry, this may seem like nick-pick eureka, but to me its like those visual puzzles where you see the black squares and then the white ones. And then it gets all sub(con)conscious and dizzy. LOL! Thanks for that, in all seriousness, I copied that and will be thinking about it for awhile!

  65. MattZ. Have you ever read the story of St. Mary of Egypt? She seems to be almost modern in that she was cut off from communion with God in the Sacraments by indulgence of her passions. She wandered alone in the desert for many years learning to subdue those passions and only received the full Sacrament shortly before her death.

    Life is to be lived sacramental. Offering everything up to God in Thanksgiving. Every breath, thought and action.

    Pray unceasingly. That life is not do much an extension of the Sacraments as the Sacraments are a natural outgrowth of that life. It is a symphony.

    Most of what we think of as separation and dichotomy in our lives is a false artifact of modernity–a blasphemy that Descartes so aptly summarized.

    God is with you no matter where you are. He will bring you to the Sacrament. The other disciplines of the Church are always at hand.

    The wisdom of Shakespeare reflecting the Gospel once again: “If it be now, ’tis not to come; if it is not to come, it will be now; if it be not now, yet it will come; the readiness is all.”

  66. Michael,

    I read St. Mary of Egypt’s life last week. I’m just not too sure about drawing too close a comparison between my current separation from parish life and hers. That she only received the Sacrament near the end of her life, and in the desert, seems like something that should be treated as an exception rather than a rule. With the nature of St. Mary’s passions, her being a sex addict from puberty; living separately from people in general and men in particular was probably the best thing for her salvation. That’s not quite the same as treating Church as something unimportant.

    My current separation from parish life is largely a matter of just getting there, and getting there somewhat consistently. Perhaps that I’ve had to wait,
    and can’t just jump right in, is somehow for my salvation.

    As for the disciplines of the Church, what would be the best way to approach them in the mean time?

  67. Matt Z not an exact analogy to be sure but it is indicative of the manner in which God is with us no matter our circumstance. The fact that her situation is extreme has always given hope to me for less extreme situation. Whether it is physical distance, passions or something else. God knows and responds to those who turn to Him.

  68. Matt Z
    As for the disciplines of the Church….
    A good place to start might with the Orthodox Study Bible. It has morning and evening prayers in the back as well as a daily reading guide. It also has copious notes. Another good source for daily saints and readings is GOARCH, the Greek Orthodox Web site. You can order an Orthodox Bible from Ancient Faith Min is tries or on Amazon. Give alms…to the poor. If you’ve an evangelical background, a tithe or offerings. Practice mercy and kindness. Pray, if you can, the Jesus prayer daily…one version is…Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. Start with perhaps 10 minutes. Repeat each word carefully, slowly, in a quiet place. It will help your mind not to wander. Purchase an icon of Christ and of the Theotokos. These can be had on line. If you’ve a color printer you can print your own to start. The Antiochian Orthodox Church has a plethora of icons on its site. Orthodox fast on Wednesday and Friday. Not a complete fast, more like vegan eating on those days. You’ll learn more later. Begin slowly. Novices often want to go gung-ho and burn out. Do what you can in the beginning, but be consistent. God knows your heart and its yearnings. He will guide if you but ask. Hope this helps.

  69. Sbdn Andrew and Matt Z,
    Yes Fr Seraphim Alden’s podcasts are very edifying I ‘second’ Sbdn’s suggestion, if you haven’t heard them yet.

    But Matt again I want to really encourage ‘person to person’ contact and perhaps discover ways that might be offered to help you come to a Church. This is what happened with St Mary of Egypt, when she came to a Church. It changed her life.

    Perhaps also prayers said before icons that you might download from the internet. This is also how I began my prayers. First icons I downloaded were of Christ and the Theotokos. These are suggestions about prayers which helped and continue to help me.

    Please forgive my forwardness. My desire only is to encourage you.

  70. After re-reading St Mary’s story I realize that what I wrote might seem really odd about discovering ways to come to a Church. My apology for that faux pas. My intention was merely to point out that not so much the way that she got there, but being in a Church encountering Cross of Christ and the icon of the Theotokos was the beginning of a changed life.

  71. Michael, Dean, sbdn Andrew, Dee,

    Thank you all for your comments/advice.

    Dee,

    As it was St. Mary’s inability to physically enter a church which lead her to repentance, I’m not seeing any faux pas.

  72. About giving to the poors and ask for praying and the misterious relationship between giver and begger, I want to know more of the traditions of the Orthodoxy in this. And what’s the situation when the begger is not a christian or without any religion?

    Hello Jose, and welcome. The Orthodox tradition of giving is rooted in Thanksgiving. What we have is a gift of God; if we love our neighbor, we give it in their need. We trust God will take care of our own needs. As the giving is rooted in our thanks to God, it does not matter whether the beggar is Christian or religious at all; it is an expression of our heart, to draw us close to God in this world. We do not attempt to control what the other person does with the gift. But we can still ask for their prayers and thank God for them; perhaps this will also be a ministry to them of God’s love.

    Hence keeping a small prayer rule, and for now only in the mornings. I hope to build on this. Lord have mercy! Indeed I think it is in these little things where growth must happen since the so called mountaintop experiences are infrequent. Faithfulness in the little things, right?

    Kristin, I just finished reading a book on a Catholic woman who many consider a Saint: Chiara Corbella Petrillo. I would recommend it. Everything we do is an effort to take just one (more) little step. This woman’s life is an amazing testament to the small steps she and her husband took and their faith in God’s goodness. (Note: Amazon link: https://www.amazon.com/Chiara-Corbella-Petrillo-Simone-Troisi/dp/1622823052/ref=sr_1_1?s=books&ie=UTF8&qid=1499700398&sr=1-1&keywords=chiara+corbella+petrillo). It speaks very much of many of the same things Father regularly writes here.

  73. I am Roman Catholic and I thoroughly enjoy reading Father Freeman’s work. They are much more apt to induce me to consider things. This one is especially affecting. I think it has helped me change the way i perceive things a bit.

  74. Dino

    Are there any sources linking Metropolitan Hieotheos’ book to Elder Sophrony ? Whilst the Metropolitan has not revealed the Elder he spoke to, the most widely held view in Greece is that he was Elder Ephrem Katounakiotis, spriritual child of Elder Joseph the hesychast.

  75. If I recall well now, as I remembered this from many years back, I think it was a conversation between Father Theoklitos of the Dionysiou Monastery with Met. Hierotheos that revealed this. It’s been a long time…
    (I remember now that Father Theoklitos explicitly said that it could not have been Elder Ephraim of Katounakia if one considers the special interest of the unknown Elder in Far Eastern practices)

  76. Dear Fr. Stephen,

    Did you find actually find it mentioned in the book? I have been thumbing through “I knew a man in Christ” since Dino’s mention, but cannot find it. You may remember that Dr. Clark Carlton mentioned this conversation in his lecture “Glory to God and the Salvation of men” (one of my very favorite lectures of his, ever!).

    I meant to ask Fr. Zacharias if he knew (he knows Met. Hierotheos well), but always forget… You know what it is like when one enters his presence, it’s exactly what Met. Hierotheos says about being in the presence of Elder Sophrony… 🙂
    We are so blessed to still have access to such people. Dino probably has met more of them the rest of us combined, and I’d like to take this opportunity (again!) to thank him for sharing with us!

  77. Thank you for all that you do, Fr. Stephen. Although I don’t always comment, I read almost all of your posts! (As many as I have time to do.) I often go back to read what I missed earlier.

  78. Brian says: July 6, 2017 at 8:30 pm
    From the Shepherd of Hermas…

    Good text. I even have it, though I missed that part. Try presenting that to a Protestant pastor though… Anything written pre-Luther, not in the Bible, is suspect. (And yes, that is intended to be sarcastic/ironic).

    As I was emailing my pastor (and yes, as long as I am not baptized into Orthodoxy, he is my pastor, as flawed as our delusions may be), I was thinking in my mind of an article I read – maybe by an old Russian monk – who said, “back in the good old days, this was our tradition”, and, “here’s why…”

    THAT is what I was looking for. Though you confirmed in my heart the truth of my Orthodox understanding.
    Thank-You.

    Matthew

  79. Matt Z.

    I have been reading your exchanges with intense interest. Coming from an eccentric Protestant Sect myself (SDA), I had a lot of issues I had to deal with. The works/faith debate was a debate the overcame my life for many years. What is good? What is not good? Is it possible to be too good? To bad? I thought it ironic when the Pastor lamented that one of our young parishioners had converted over to a dualistist paganism – I don’t know if it was Hinduism, Bhuddism, or something else, but in my mind I was thinking that we as Protestants were sowing the seeds of our own destruction with our debates. Fr has written extensively on this subject. The only thing I can add is an excerpt from my own experience.

    One of my children’s teachers told her that with every sin she committed, Christ’s pain was that much worse. Somewhat related, as a Saturday Sabbath keeper, I wondered if I committed sin with each minute I worked over sundown Friday night, each hour, or if it was a one time thing each week. It got to the point where I used an ocean as my metaphor for sin in this world; and with that metaphor, I was drowning.

    It was only when introduced to the idea of the River of Fire that everything made sense. Of course there are nuances, but we are saved. We’ve always been saved. Since the Crucifixion we have been saved. The only question that remains is how will we respond? I try to focus every act of every day now on what it means to my salvation. Not really the acts themselves, but the thinking behind them. Can I love this person more than I already do? Can I ease this person’s journey just a little bit more? Or as Matthew Gallatin asks, “Have I disdained a beggar?” Does a cutting remark in my direction have merit? if it doesn’t, does it hurt me to apologize anyway, as long as it will help another? There are a million ways per moment that you can sin, yes, but there are just as many ways to enter into communion, to enter into a sacramental life where every action is pregnant with possibility for restoration with your fellow man and with God. I was heady when I first felt the possibilities; the air vibrated, and I’m not joking.

    Unfortunately my family is not there yet. I try to incorporate Orthodoxy thinking where I can into my daily life. One of the Priests here says I know more about the Ancient faith than he does. I envy him. But like St. Thomas, others have a blessing I will never experience. Should I be sad? No. I am still blessed to have been introduced to Orthodoxy, and I cherish the faith. I read what I can, talk with who I can, and try to discern truth from error using what I have read, and from what I have heard from the Paschal Celebrations, Liturgy, Vespers, and from the priests who will talk with me – not all do, now that I have proven to be an unrepentant Protestant.

    Trying to live a sacramental life outside the church is a fools errand, I would never suggest that someone should try, and its against everything in tradition. However, I have a faith I never had before; I hold to that, and place my hope in Christ to do the rest.

  80. Matthew,

    So, I’m unclear, are you becoming Orthodox? I’m assuming that by “unrepentant Protestant” that you mean that you appreciate Orthodoxy, but only as an outsider. Would you mind elaborating?

  81. David

    As of right now I remain in the faith I was born into, which is a Protestant sect. Change is hard, especially when surrounded by family and traditions that you have held close for 50 years. Moreover, there is a sense that anyone who leaves our sect, rejects the truth that they have been given in favor of a lesser truth that ultimately leads to damnation. The “Unrepentant” should probably have been in quotes, as I am unrepentant in my love for Orthodoxy, while retaining also an unrepentant affection for the faith of my friends and family.

  82. Matthew, seek Jesus Christ to love Him as a person, not an idea, and He will lead you to Himself.

  83. Matthew,

    I was raised in Jehovah’s Witnesses. I’m guessing SDA means Seventh Day Adventist?
    I understand the immense pressure that Protestant cults can place on a person that “apostatizes.” I am not disfellowshipped, but none of my family will have anything to do with me since I “left the Truth.”

    All I can say is that those people have no clue how far from the truth they really are.

    Pray. Pray on your knees. Pray with your face in the dirt.

  84. David,

    Call them a cult if you want, many protestants do, but Questions on Doctrine was pretty mainstream. I found it interesting that while our foundational documents were always concerned with Roman Catholics and Apostate Protestants, nothing was ever said about Holy Orthodoxy. In hindsight, I see that as Providential in my quest, and it proved to me how myopic my view of history was based upon the narrative I grew up with.

    My biggest problem in explaining Orthodoxy to others is in differentiating Orthodoxy from Roman Catholicism. The differences in veneration of the Theotokos for instance. It was actually the study of indulgences (Luther’s faith vs Roman works) that pointed me to Orthodoxy. Wikipedia had a comment that has since been deleted, that pointed me in the right direction, and I’ve never looked back.

    Anyway, I have very little bad to say about growing up an Adventist except that the narratives of a loving father contrasted so incongruently with the pagan legal system offered as the reason for my joy, that I had to ask questions. Questions all Protestants who grow up with the “Solas” should ask.

    Adventists are looking for God just as much as the rest of us, and they are no more flawed in their own way than anyone else. Others have had bad experiences, I know, and I don’t want to diminish their pain, but my pastor is a shepherd looking to support his flock and he is curious about my journey, my concerns inform his sermons, usually for the better. We actively email back and forth regularly. My history has no great traumas compelling me to leave, and I am comfortable living the peculiarities of being a cultural Adventist. Lastly, I am actually getting to an age where I am treasuring the few things in my life that have been consistent through the years, and reminiscing about things that I used to do, that I might want to revive. In all of this is a backdrop of Cultural Identity that I don’t see as a bad thing, and that I’m not eagar to leave.

    Thank-You for your prayers though. My delusions are obviously well entrenched, and will not be eliminated tomorrow.

    Matthew

  85. Matthew

    Prayer is certainly the only way to seek the Lord. OnTuesday 11th July we celebrated Elder Sophrony’s memory at the monastery he founded in Essex UK. I copy below one of his prayers, which you may have come across already, to help us all in our struggle. God bless you.

    Prayer of Elder Sophrony

    O Eternal Lord and Creator of all things, in your inscrutable goodness you have called me into this life and have given me the grace of baptism and the seal of the gift of the Holy Spirit.  You have instilled in me the desire to seek your face.  Hear my prayer!

    I have no life, no light, no joy, no strength, no wisdom without you, O God.  Because of my unrighteousness, I dare not lift my eyes in your presence.  But I obey you who said: Therefore I tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, believe that you have received it, and it will be yours.  (Mark 11)  Truly, truly I say to you, if you ask anything of the Father He will give it to you in my name.  Until now you have asked nothing in my name.  Ask, and you will receive, that your joy may be full.  (John 16)

    Therefore I now dare to approach you.  Purify me from all stain of flesh and spirit.  Teach me to pray rightly.  Bless this day which you give to me, your unworthy servant.

    By the power of your blessing enable me at all times to speak and to act with a pure spirit to your glory with faith, hope and love, humility, gentleness, peace, purity, simplicity, sobriety, courage and wisdom.  Let me always be aware of your presence.

    In your boundless goodness, O Lord God, show me your will and grant me to walk in your sight without sin.

    O Lord, unto whom all hearts are open, you know what I need and what is necessary for me.  You know my blindness and my ignorance.  You know my infirmity and corruption.  My pain and anguish are not hidden from you.  Therefore I beg you:  Hear my prayer and teach me by the power of your Holy Spirit the way in which I should walk.  And when my perverted will leads me otherwise, O Lord, do not spare me, but force me back to your way.

    Grant me, Lord, to hold fast to what is good by the power of your love.  Preserve me from every word and act which corrupts the soul, and from every impulse that is unpleasing in your sight and harmful to the people around me.  Teach me what I should say and how I should speak.  If it be your holy will that I be quiet and make no answer, inspire me to be silent in a peaceful spirit that causes neither harm nor hurt to my fellow human beings.

    Establish me in the path of your commandments, and until my last breath do not let me stray from the light of your ordinances.  May your commandments be the sole law of my being in this life and for all eternity.

    O Lord, I pray to you:  Have mercy on me.  Spare me in my affliction and misery and hide not the way of salvation from me.

    In my foolishness, O God, I plead with you for many and great things.  Yet I am ever mindful of my wickedness, my baseness, my vileness.  Have pity on me!  Cast me not away from your presence because of my foolish presumption.  Increase rather in me the right presumption of your grace and grant that I, the worst of people, may love you with all my mind, all my heart, all my soul and all my strength, as you have commanded.

    By your Holy Spirit, Lord, teach me good judgment and sound knowledge.  Let me know the truth before I die.  Maintain my life in this world until the end that I may offer worthy repentance.  Do not take me away while my mind is still blind and bound by darkness.  When you are pleased to end my life, give me warning that I may prepare my soul to come before you.  Be with me, Lord, at that awesome hour and assure me by your grace of the joy of my salvation.

    Cleanse me from secret faults.  Purify me from hidden iniquities.  Give me a good answer at your dread judgment seat.

    Lord of great mercy and measureless love for all people:  Hear my prayer!  Amen.

  86. Nikolaos,
    Thank you for sharing with us this beautiful prayer of Elder Sophrony. I know it as “Prayer at Daybreak” (a slightly different rendering, so it’s lovely to read this version), and praying it every morning for several years now, I grow to love it more and more. It truly has the the power to change one’s day, and life. I heard that Father Sophrony prayed it himself, and it often took him a whole hour (!) even if it can be read in much shorter time. I always recommend to friends to memorize it… 🙂

    What a blessing that you could attend the commemorations at the monastery! I love the monastery and all the monastics there, having had a blessing to visit a few times. But for me it’s a long trip over the ocean.. 🙂 I always look for opportunities to visit as often as I can and connect with others who do. If you are willing, please email me on my gmail. I would like to ask you some questions.

    agatamcc
    Agata in Minnesota

  87. Thank-You so much for this prayer. Since I have been exposed to this Ancient Faith, I have come to appreciate and treasure scripted prayers. Prayers that seem to have been well thought out and crafted by a union of Man and the Holy Spirit.

    Its odd in my mind to think that for many years I was slightly suspicious of scripted prayers, when the most famous prayer of all is a scripted prayer taught by none other than Christ himself. He didn’t teach a technique, but gave us an actual prayer.

    Lord have mercy.

    Matthew

  88. Dear Dr Steven,

    Many thanks for your enlightening article.
    I would kindly like to ask you something on behalf of a friend.
    From the last paragraph of your article she understood that you Uncondiotionally deny intercession prayer – something impossible in Orthodoxy.
    Could you please elaborate on the matter?
    Many thanks,
    Christos

  89. Christos,
    Sorry to have created any confusion for your friend (or others). Intercessory prayer is deeply important and powerful. “The prayer of a righteous man has great power in its effects.” (James. 5:16) We intercede in every service of the Church. My point was how we think and understand intercessory prayer. There is, of course, a mystery in prayer and I do not mean to explain any of it away. However, in some Christian circles people have come to think of intercessory prayer as a mental force – as if our thoughts were making something happen. In America, it’s not uncommon for people to say that they are “sending good thoughts your way” as an equivalent to praying for someone.

    There is also the practice of getting as many people as possible to pray for something or someone, with the implied idea that the more people who pray, the more powerful it is. The Lord spoke about “two or three” praying in agreement. But He was not meaning, that “two or three thousand.” There is a kind of anxiety in such prayer – the sense that if we could do more and more – then we could control the outcome.

    Prayer is union with God. The mystery of prayer is that, somehow, He invites to be part of His will and work in the world. We are commanded to intercede for others – love could not do anything else! But it is wise to intercede according to the Scriptures. The Scriptures nowhere encourage us to anxiously gather as many as possible to pray. They tell us of the power of a righteous man’s prayer – it is good to ask the righteous to pray for us! They tell us of two or three praying in agreement – it is good to share our intercession with a few others. They tell us also of the importance and power of fasting when we pray. They tell us of the power that giving alms and showing mercy to the poor gives to our prayer.

    These were the intention of the paragraph. I hope it helps.

  90. I blogged less than two months ago about how, when I had been consciously Christian since age 4 or 5, at age 20 or so I was pulled back from the brink of apostasy by the epiphany that Christ had actually arisen from the dead. Yet I had never denied the Resurrection and would never have thought to do so.
    How could that have been?
    I think your opening paragraphs indirectly explain it: I was a modern, nominalist Christian – nominally very orthodox (in Evangelical terms), but strictly in terms of ideas or ideology.
    Thank you.

  91. Fr. Stephen, thanks for those observations for Christis on true Orthodox intercessory prayer as communion with God vs. the kind of anxious “crowd prayer” efforts in which many modern Christians engage. The latter perspective seems to me to be a spillover from the New Age, “New Thought”, and the various “Prosperity” (false) Gospels that have arisen from this essentially occult mindset about the nature of prayer.

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