Archive for the ‘Spiritual Classics’ Category

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Kyrie eleison (Lord have mercy!)

February 18, 2008

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The Meaning of Kyrie Eleison

St. Symeon of Thessaloniki writes about the Kyrie Eleison prayer: “ ‘Have mercy upon us, O God, according to your great mercy, we beseech you … ‘ This expression is appropriate, since we should not ask for anything except for mercy, as we have neither boldness nor access to offer anything as our own … So as sinners and condemned through sin we cannot, nor dare not, say anything to our Loving Master except ‘have mercy.’ “

The excellent book “Orthodox Worship” describes the meaning of the word mercy as follows:

“The word mercy in English is the translation of the Greek word eleos. This word has the same ultimate root as the old Greek word for oil, or more precisely, olive oil; a substance which was used extensively as a soothing agent for bruises and minor wounds. The oil was poured onto the wound and gently massaged in, thus soothing, comforting and making whole the injured part. The Hebrew word which is also translated as eleos and mercy is hesed, and means steadfast love. The Greek words for ‘Lord, have mercy,’ are ‘Kyrie, eleison’ ­ that is to say, ‘Lord, soothe me, comfort me, take away my pain, show me your steadfast love.’ Thus mercy does not refer so much to justice or acquittal ­ a very Western interpretation ­ but to the infinite loving-kindness of God, and his compassion for his suffering children! It is in this sense that we pray ‘Lord, have mercy,’ with great frequency throughout the Divine Liturgy.”*

From the Liturgy

I share with you the following prayer from the liturgy because it reminds us that God’s awesomeness, His majesty and His power are exceeded only by His mercy:

“O Lord our God, Whose power is unimaginable and Whose glory is inconceivable, Whose mercy is immeasurable and Whose love for mankind is beyond all words, in Your compassion, Lord, look down on us and on this holy house, and grant us and those who are praying with us the riches of Your mercy and compassion. For to You are due all glory, honor and worship, to the Father and to the Son and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages.”

From the Scriptures

Think of the people who approached Jesus with this simple prayer, “Kyrie eleison”, “Lord, have mercy”:

The Canaanite woman whose daughter was tormented by a devil. She persisted in her plea for mercy until her daughter was healed.

The man whose son was possessed by an evil spirit that threw him into the fire. He came to Jesus with the plea Kyrie eleison. The prayer was answered and his son was healed.

The two blind men sitting by the road outside Jericho who cried out to Jesus, Kyrie eleison. That cry was heard by Jesus who healed both of them.

A final example. Jesus is left alone with the adulteress. Misery is left alone face to face with mercy. And she hears from the mouth of Jesus the words, “Neither do I condemn thee. Go and sin no more.” That is God’s mercy!

In all these instances Kyrie eleison was not a prayer that people recited unthinkingly and mechanically, but a cry of sincere faith that came from their hearts, a cry of desperate need and dependence on Jesus. Such a prayer God will not despise.

Not What We Deserve

A precious story pictures a mother pleading with Napoleon to spare her condemned son’s life. The emperor said the crime was dreadful; justice demanded his life. “Sir,” sobbed the mother, “Not justice, but mercy.” “He does not deserve mercy,” was the answer. “But, sir, if he deserved it, it would not be mercy,” said the mother. “Ah yes, how true,” said Napoleon. “I will have mercy.”

We dare not stand before the throne of God and ask that we be given what we deserve. Our only cry is, “Lord, be merciful.” And the miracle is that there is mercy. At the very heart of the universe beats the heart of God’s love. “I tell you,” said Jesus about the publican, “this man went down to his house justified rather than the other.”

Not My Rights

C. S. Lewis tells an interesting story in his book “The Great Divorce.” A busload of ghosts is making an excursion from hell up to heaven with a view of remaining there permanently. They meet the citizens of heaven and one very big ghost from hell is astonished to find there a man, who on earth, had been tried and executed for murder.

“What I would like to know,” he explodes, “is what are you doing here, you a murderer, while I a pillar of society, a self-respecting decent citizen am forced to walk the streets down there in smoke and fumes and must live in a place like a pigsty.” His friend from heaven tries to explain that he has been forgiven, that both he and the man he had murdered have been reunited before the judgment seat of Christ. But the big ghost from hell replies, “I just can’t buy that!” “My rights!” he keeps shouting, “I have got to have my rights the same as you!” “Oh no!” his friend from heaven keeps reassuring him, “It’s not as bad as all that! You don’t want your rights! Why, if I had gotten my rights, I would never be here. You’ll not get your rights, you’ll get something far better. You will get the mercy of God.”

This is why we pray so often in the liturgy: “Lord, have mercy.” This prayer, uttered with the least particle of faith, will open the way for God’s forgiveness and for the coming of His kingdom in our hearts.

Another one of the most precious prayers of the Orthodox Church ­ the Jesus Prayer ­ claims nothing but God’s mercy: “Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.”

St. Isaac the Syrian said once:

“Never say that God is just. If he were just you would be in hell. Rely only on His injustice which is mercy, love and forgiveness.”

“Have mercy upon me, O God … according unto the multitude of thy tender mercies blot out my transgressions.” (Ps. 51.1)

What You Need Is Mercy

Once a woman hired an artist to paint her portrait. When he finished it, the woman complained that the portrait didn’t do her justice. The artist laughed and said, “Lady, you don’t need justice. You need mercy.”

One man said, “This is what I felt Jesus was saying to me as He looked down from the cross. He said, ‘You don’t need justice. You need mercy. Here is the mercy you need. It’s being poured out for you by the love of God. In spite of your tainted past, God loves you and wants to cleanse you.’ ”

Let us then with confidence draw near to the throne of grace, that we may receive mercy and find grace to help in time of need (Heb. 4.16).

“Why Should I Let You into Heaven?”

What if you die and appear before God. And this can happen at any moment since we are but a heartbeat away from Him. And God asks you, “Why should I let you into heaven?” What would you say?

One person replied, “Like the publican I would fall to my knees, beat my breast, and with my eyes cast on the ground, I would plead, ‘Lord, be merciful to me, the sinner.’ ”

Or, I would say as the prodigal did in the Gospel lesson, “Father I have sinned against heaven and before you; I am no longer worthy to be called your son; treat me as one of the hired servants.”

“Even if we reach the summit of virtue, we are saved only by God’s mercy,” said St. John Chrysostom.

But God who is rich in mercy, out of the great love with which He loved us, even when we were dead through our trespasses, made us alive together with Christ (by grace you have been saved) and raised us up with Him, and made us sit with him in the heavenly places in Christ Jesus. (Eph. 2:4-6).

Be Merciful as God Is Merciful

We cannot pray for mercy without being willing to extend mercy to others. That is the point of Jesus’s parable about the two debtors (Matt. 18:23-35). Matthew uses a form of the same Greek word eleison in presenting Jesus’ teaching, “Should you not have had mercy on your fellow servant, as I had mercy on you?”

The mercy we ask for is the mercy we must give to others. Lord, have mercy ­ and make us merciful.

A dying Christian was asked on his death bed, “Are you going to receive your reward?” “No, no!” he breathed. “I go to receive not my reward but God’s mercy.”

Prayer from the Triodion

“As the Prodigal Son I come to Thee, merciful Lord. I have wasted my whole life in a foreign land; I have scattered the wealth which Thou gavest me, O Father. Receive me in repentance, O God, and have mercy upon me.”

 


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Hesychasm

February 18, 2008

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Hesychasm is a mystical tradition of experiential prayer in the Orthodox Church. It is described in great detail in the Philokalia, a compilation of what various saints wrote about prayer and the spiritual life.

The Hesychastic prayer

In practice, the Hesychastic prayer bears some superficial resemblance to mystical prayer or meditation in Eastern religions (e.g., Buddhism and Hinduism, especially Yoga), although this similarity is often overly emphasized in popular accounts.

For example, it may involve specific body postures and be accompanied by very deliberate breathing patterns. It involves acquiring an inner stillness, ignoring the physical senses. The hesychasts interpreted Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to “go into your closet to pray” to mean that they should ignore sensory input and withdraw inwards to pray. It often includes many repetitions of the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, son of God, have mercy on me[, a sinner].”. While some might compare it with a mantra, to use the Jesus Prayer in such a fashion is to violate its purpose. One is never to treat it as a string of syllables for which the “surface” meaning is secondary. Likewise, hollow repetition is considered to be worthless (or even spiritually damaging) in the hesychast tradition.

Saint Theophan the Recluse once related that body postures and breathing techniques were virtually forbidden in his youth, since, instead of gaining the Spirit of God, people succeeded only “in ruining their lungs.”

Gregory Palamas: Defender of Hesychasm

Hesychasm was defended theologically by Gregory Palamas at about three separate Hesychast Synods in Constantinople from 1341 to 1351; he was asked to by his fellow monks on Mt. Athos to defend it from the attacks of Barlaam of Calabria, who advocated a more intellectualist approach to prayer.

Some words from St. John Climacus

From Step 6 – On Remembrance of Death in The Ladder of Divine Ascent:

Every word is preceded by thought. And the remembrance of death and sins precedes weeping and mourning. Not every desire for death is good. Some, constantly sinning from force of habit, pray for death with humility. And some, who do not want to repent, invoke death out of despair. And some, out of self-esteem consider themselves dispassionate, and for a while have no fear of death. And some (if such can now be found), through the action of the Holy Spirit, ask for their departure. Some inquire and wonder: “Why, when the remembrance of death is so beneficial to us, has God hidden from us the knowledge of the hour of death?” – not knowing that in this way God wonderfully accomplishes our salvation. For no one who foreknew his death would at once proceed to baptism or the monastic life; but everyone would spend all his days in iniquities, and only on the day of his death, would he approach baptism and repentance. From long habit, he would become confirmed in vice, and would remain utterly incorrigible. And I cannot be silent about the story of Hesychius the Horebite. He passed his life in complete negligence, without paying the least attention to his soul. Then he became extremely ill, and for an hour he expired. And when he came to himself, he begged us all to leave him immediately. And he built up the door of his cell, and he stayed in it for twelve years without ever uttering a word to anyone, and without eating anything but bread and water. And, always remaining motionless, he was so rapt in spirit at what he had seen in his ecstasy, that he never changed this manner of life but was always as if out of his mind, and silently shed hot tears. But when he was about to die, we broke open the door and went in, and after many questions, this alone was all we heard from him: “Forgive me! No one who has acquired the remembrance of death will ever be able to sin.” We were amazed to see that one who had before been so negligent was so suddenly transfigured by this blessed change and transformation. We reverently buried him in the cemetery near the fort, and after some days we looked for his holy relics, but did not find them. So by Hesychius’s true and praiseworthy repentance, the Lord showed us that He accepts those who desire to amend, even after long negligence.

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Gift of Tears

February 18, 2008

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When we are baptized we often find ourselves crying tears of joy. And we can also look at the baptismal water as immersion in tears. But these tears only cover the moment of baptism backward. Back towards the past that we just left. They do nothing for the future. But our present day tears offer us a new and perhaps daily baptism. When we repent and cry tears of repentence we wash ourselves anew. St Symeon the New Theologian links tears to the baptism of the Holy Spirit.

St John Chrysostom  writes “The fire of sin is intense, but it is put out by only a small amount of tears, for the tear puts out a furnace of faults, and cleans our soul of sin.”

Isaiah 38:5 “Thus says the Lord… I have seen your tears, behold, I will add fifteen year to your life.”

St Symeon the New Theologian writes a strong reply on tears. “No one will ever prove from the divine Scriptures that any person was ever cleansed without tears and constant compunction. No one ever became holy  or recieved the Holy Spirit, or had the vision of God experienced His dwelling within himself, or ever had Him dwelling in his heart, without previous repentance and compunction and constant tears ever flowing as from a fountain. Such tears flood and wash out the house of the soul: they moisten and refresh the soul that has been possesed and inflamed by the unapproachable fire.”

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The Passions

February 18, 2008

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The Passions are the fleshly desires and the urge after things not of the Spirit. We readily think of drunkeness, orgies, idolatry, pride, pornography, lust, greed, etc… The Fathers of the Philokalia help us by giving us by reminding us of our God given weapons of spiritual warfare.

1 Prayer
2 Remembering the name of Jesus
3 Remembering the Lords passion, his last night before His death and His sufferings.
4 Nepsis, watchfulness, vigilance
5 By starving our passions, by not fueling them.
6 By waging war with them through ascesis.
7 By putting on the full armor of God. And by reading the Holy Scriptures and church writings.
8 Through partaking of the sacrements, ie.. the Holy Eucharist and Confession. And by being prepared to take the sacrements.

Our biggest struggle with the passions is our own mind. In taming our thoughts. (logismoi) For by our thoughts we arouse our passions. And if we are not careful our thoughts that go unchecked become a obsession that gets acted upon. In the Philokalia, the authors felt the need to name some of the more serious passions and give us a way to fight them. First in line is;
*Pride- St John Climacus wrote, “Pride is denial of God” As we know pride is the sin that befell Satan in heaven. Climacus also says that pride is like a “bitter Pharisee, a cruel judge. It is the foe of God, it is the root of blashemy.”

*Addiction is also a form of passion. Perhaps you are addicted to some form of flesh. It may seem simple enough in moderation, but you have allowed it to become a passion, a addiction.
The ancients would raise the passions to the level of Gods and bow down and worship them. For example; Aphrodite was the god of lust, Jupiter the god of war, Bacchus of appetite and Venus and sexuality.

The passions distort. If ever a man has been in prison for a long period of time, even though he hates it with his soul, he longs to return to it, because of his addiction to the famaliar, to the safe and perhaps to the wicked.

*Self- Many who win great victories in life, politics, business, sports, wars, etc… have only later to lose everything due to the inability to control self.

St Justin the Martyr, “To yield and give in to our sinful desires is the lowest form of slavery. To rule over such desires is the only true freedom.”

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Theosis

February 18, 2008

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Theosis simply put is “Union with God”.  It was Theia Enosis(union with God) that Christ asked the Father for when

He prayed that …“they also may be one in us.” (as we are one) John 17:21.

Another common means of expressing Theosis by orthodox is that we are “partakers of Divine Nature”.

Theosis also relates to salvation in many respects. And Theosis is seen in a very favorable light by Orthodox. It is the good news of the gospel, that we are to share in the very life of God. “Who is man that You are mindful of him?”

Salvation in orthodox terms is not only forgiveness of sins, and reconcilliation or justification by faith, but also the renewing and restoration of God’s image in us, “Let us make man in our image.”

Therefore the restoration of what was lost, by Theosis with Christ and the price He paid for us to restore our fallen state back into relationship with the Creator. Thusly Theosis is our great potential.

We can think of theosis as the transfiguration of man, restoration of communion with God, recieving the Holy Spirit who then dwells within us, becoming temples of the Holy Spirit, ascending to the throne of God, participating in the kingdom of God, and by grace being what God is by nature. St Paul in

Eph. 3:19 “we are made to be filled with all the fullness of God.”

St Symeon the New Theologian states “we become gods by disposition and grace, heirs of God and joint heirs with Christ, and together with this we receive the mind of Christ; and through it all we see God and Christ Himself, living in us according to His divinity, moving in a conscious way within us.”

Maximus the Confessor :“Man by the grace of God can become that which God is..” Zen Buddhism says, “In the begining there was nothing. The purpose of life is to achieve nothingness.”
Orthodox Theosis says,  “In the begining there was God. The purpose of life is to achieve union with God not in His essence but through His energies.”

Orthodox Scholar Anthony Coniaris states that “many of those who are baptized have in them the seed of theosis but have never made a authentic act of personal faith.”


St Gregory of Nyssa wrote; “…composed of bread and wine. He thus is commingled with us, so that by our union with the immortal, we might share in immortality.”

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Asceticism

February 17, 2008

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Asceticism has as its root word and element the word Askesis. Askesis can be defined as struggle, the effort of working towards Theosis. And the part that hurts but that lets us know of His love for us, pruning. Such as pruning a tree.

John 15:2 “He prunes, that it may bear more fruit.”.

Askesis is never to be considered a means to an end in itself. It is only part of the path towards Theosis. St Seraphim of Sarov states:

“The true aim of our Christian life consists in the acquisition of the Holy Spirit of God. As for fasts, and vigils, and prayer, and almsgiving, and every good deed done for Christs sake, they are only means for acquiring the Holy Spirit of God.”

The true end of askesis is the mystical union with God, Theosis.  St Paul tells us in 1 Cor. 9:27 “…I pommel my body and subdue it, lest after preaching to others I myself should be disfigured.”

Askesis may also be called the cost of discipleship. We think in the modern world of cheap grace. Of no price to be paid for the intimacy with God. Yet the bible tells us that we must die to flesh, and live in the spirit for we are new creatures. It is the goal of Askesis that we die to self, that we yield ourselves totally to our Master, so that we might have union with Him, that we might become one flesh.

Romans 6:1 “dead unto sin, but alive unto God through Jesus Christ our Lord.”

In askesis we are set free from the flesh. We no longer are slaves to sin. We overcome obesity, by our fasting. We overcome a lack of intimacy and power by constant prayer. We overcome the enemy and his doubt casting by constant communication with the Holy Spirit.

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Nepsis

February 17, 2008

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Nepsis is a greek word which means to be watchfull, alert, vigilant and to basically keep a look out. Jesus tells us in the gospel of St Luke 12:37 “Blessed are those servants whom the Lord when He comes, shall find watching.”

St Symeon the New Theologian wrote regarding prayer;

“Attention must be so united to prayer as the body is to the soul…Attention must go forward and observe the enemies like a scout, and it must engage in combat with sin, and resist the bad thoughts that come to the soul. Prayer must follow attention, banishing and destroying at once all the evil thoughts which attention previously fought, because by itself attention cannot destroy them.”

In the divine liturgy of St John Chrysosotom he calls for us to “Watch, therefore, at all times praying.” St Thoephan said that when we pray/

“When praying to God, start as if you had never prayed before.”

To be involved in Nepsis: watchfullness and alert is not only to guard our thoughts against the devil and sin, but also to guard our thoughts on the mind of Christ. To resist the devil by being alert, thus able to concentrate on Christ. St Symeon the New Theologian regarded the struggle of Nepsis thusly.

“Our whole soul should have at every moment a clear eye, able to watch and notice the thoughts entering our heart from the evil one and repel them. The heart must be always burning with faith, humility and love. Do not fear the conflict, and do not flee from it; where there is no struggle, there is no virtue.”

Scripture tells us to put on the full body of armor, for we do not fight against flesh and blood. Nepsis, the struggle. Guard our hearts and minds on the things of God. The Philokalia tells us:

“Vigilance is a firm control of the mind. Post it at the door of the heart, so that it sees marauding thoughts as they come, hears what they say, and knows what these robbers are doing, and what images are being projected….so as to seduce the mind by phantasy.” St Maximus wrote; “let us not sleep, but keep watch about Our Lord and Saviour, to make sure with unceasing vigil that no one should steal Him away from the Sepulchre of our hearts, lest we may have to say at some time; they came while we were sleeping and stole Him away. For we lapse into sleep. So with unceasing watch let us keep Him within the sepulchre of our souls; there let Him rest, there let Him sleep; there when He wills, let Him rise again. Jesus asked his disciples”Could you not pray a little longer?”

With Nepsis and watchfullness, comes a charismatic gift, discernment. By being watchfull we can be alert to things coming into the body of Christ that are harmful, or are from the enemy, thus the gift of discernment is needed by all christians and therefore could benefit from Nepsis. One of the enemies of the christian is a group of thoughts called Logismoi in Greek. The Desert Fathers thought that these were thoughts brought in by demons. These thoughts darken the mind, they bring in doubt, they leave the gate open to other non Godly thoughts. The look good on the outside, but on the inside they are dead mens bones.

How do we practice Nepsis, by the help of the Holy Spirit. He enables us to fight all good battles.