Concerning Prayer and Reading

The following is a letter to a nun who asked about what she should read:
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           Before telling you how you should concentrate on your reading let us consider these words of St. Theophan the Recluse: training must be twofold outer and inner.  Outer in reading books, inner in thoughts of God; outer in love of wisdom, inner in love of God; outer in words, inner in prayer; outer in keenness of intellect, inner in warmth of spirit; Outer in technique [by “technique” he is most likely speaking of the whole of physical external discipline], inner in vision [“vision” does not mean to see something with your eyes but rather purity of mind, clarity of thought, depth of meanings]. The exterior mind is puffed up (cf. ICor. 8.1), the inner humbles itself; the exterior is full of curiosity, desiring to know all, the inner pays attention to itself and desires nothing other than to know God.
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          The mind has a delight in acquiring knowledge and “is full of curiosity, desiring to know all.” This is easy and likable, it is attractive and we find a certain pleasure in this yet “knowledge puffs up” (ICor. 8:1).   Because prayer is more difficult and bought at a high price most people like to spend more time reading than praying. It is so easy to find people (even monastics) who will spend a long time reading about prayer, talking about prayer or going to lectures about prayer , but it is so hard to find people (even monastics) who will spend a long time praying. Do what you can. We indeed have to suffer a lot in prayer, we will be scattered a lot in prayer. “This is normal but you have to keep on going.  Eventually thoughts will calm down”—these words were spoken by a Hieromonk of Philotheou. Yet this leads to humility. Even with inattentive prayer we learn humility.  Through prayer we learn true knowledge or the knowledge of the truth—we see our own deficiency and God’s mercy, love and omnipotence.
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And when prayer is active within by God’s mercy, love and omnipotence; the mind dwells within, the inner man is imbued with the feeling of humility, as St Theophan wrote: the inner [mind] humbles itself. In this state the greatest saint considers himself the least of all men. In this state, faith and hope in God casts out any despair at the thought of one’s weakness and in its place there is peace.
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          But what about reading?  What is our aim in our reading?  Well I would say it is good to be well read but it is better to read well. Do not read for factual knowledge but actual knowledge. Factual knowledge sharpens the mind but actual knowledge warms the heart.  St. John of Kronstadt says that in educating it is extremely dangerous to develop only the mind and intellect and not to pay attention to the heart.  Our reading can bear spiritual fruit such as we read in Galatians: “the fruit of the Spirit is love, joy, peace, patience, kindness goodness, faithfulness, gentleness, self—control,” Read with the intention of gathering spiritual fruit and not mere information for the head.  For instance, we can read of the sufferings of Christ and sharpen our love for Him.  We can read of the martyrs and by inspired with faith and zeal.  We can read of the unmercenary and almsgiving saints and implant compassion for others in our hearts.  Again we can read of the humble acts of some of the saints and be moved to humility.
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     Sometimes what one reads can set the tone of their prayer.  At times when prayer becomes exhausting turn back to the things you have found in your reading which warm the heart. In this way let prayer and reading support each other, but give much more time to prayer, honor prayer above all.  Through reading we know about God, but through prayer we know God.
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Concerning Converts Entering the Church

     The following is a letter written to a small number of persons who were interested in coming into the Orthodox Church:
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     I have been asked to help a small group prepare to become Orthodox.  This is missionary work, a work of which I lack experience and therefore am reluctant as this appears to be something which is beyond my capacity.  But since I fear shunning responsibility and am acquainted with so many experienced clergy to rely on for help I will continue.
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     What is the Missionary Work of the Church?
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     Protopresbyter John S. Romanides has some enlightening thoughts to share concerning contemporary missionary efforts and those of the early Church; he writes:
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     The missionary effort of the early Church was not like that of today’s Orthodox Church, which sometimes consists of advertising our beautiful beliefs and traditional form of worship as though they were nothing but products for sale.  For example we talk like this: “Take a look, folks! We have the most beautiful doctrines, the most beautiful worship, the most beautiful chanting, and the most beautiful vestments”….We try to dazzle them with our staffs, our robes, and our head coverings so that we can carry out our missionary work.  Of course, there is some sense and some success in doing missionary work this way, but it is not genuine missionary work like that of the early Church.
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     Today’s missionary work consists mainly of this: we enlighten superstitious people and make them Orthodox Christians. without trying to heal them.  By doing this, however, we are just replacing or exchanging their former beliefs with a new set of beliefs.  We are replacing one superstition with another.  And I say this because when Orthodoxy is presented in this way and is offered in this way how is it different from superstition? ( Patristic Theology, pp.34-5)
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Father John also tells us what is the true missionary work of the Church:
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The chief concern of the Orthodox Church is the healing of the human soul.  The Church has always considered the soul as a part of the human being that needs healing. (ibid., p.19)          
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This is what our Lord spoke of when He preached in the synagogue of His home town Nazareth:
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     The Spirit of the Lord is upon me, because he hath anointed me to preach the gospel to the poor; he hath sent me to heal the brokenhearted, to preach deliverance to the captives, and recovering of sight to the blind, to set at liberty them that are bruised. (Luke 4:18)
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     How does this healing take place?
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     This healing takes place through Orthodox Life.  In this introduction to a study of Orthodoxy I have chosen to concentrate on the subject of Orthodox Life because even if we confess proper doctrine yet do not live the faith we confess then it will avail nothing for a relationship with God in this life or salvation in that which is to come.  Therefore, when someone comes to the Orthodox Church, he must not only have the desire for the fullness of truth revealed by God but also—and more important—a commitment in his manner of life.  So what does Orthodox life consist of?  Repentance, repentance is a process of both purification and enlightenment.  Again I refer to Father John Romanides who both exposes erroneous thought on this subject and points out to us the true way of repentance:
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     For Orthodoxy today repentance is identified merely with the acceptance of Christ.  That is to say, we accept Christ.  And because we accept Him, we go to Church, we light a candle or two, and become good little boys and girls.  If we are young we go to Sunday school.  If we are adults, we go to a religious meeting now and then.  And supposedly we are living repentance; supposedly we are repentant.  Or else, if we have done something bad in our life, we show some regret and ask forgiveness and call what we are doing repentance.  However this is not repentance.  It is simply regret.  Regret is the beginning of repentance, but the human soul is not purified by mere regret.  In order for one’s soul to be purified of the passions, the fear of God and repentance must first be present and continue throughout the stage of purification until it is completed with divine illumination.  (Patristc Theology, pp. 35-6)
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This is what the holy Apostle Paul wrote of thus:
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     I beseech you therefore, brethren, by the mercies of God, that ye present your bodies a living sacrifice, holy, acceptable unto God, which is your reasonable service. And be not conformed to this world: but be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind. (Rom. 12:1-2)
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And again:
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    But we all, with open face beholding as in a glass the glory of the Lord, are changed into the same image from glory to glory, even as by the Spirit of the Lord. (IICor. 3:18)
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     How do we repent?
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     The Greek word for repentance literally means a change of mind.  This “change” is not only a decision but is also what the Apostle Paul said in the above quote: “be ye transformed by the renewing of your mind”.  The mind must be cleansed of all impure thoughts and delivered from the vanity of this world and set on God and the things of God—this is a long drawn out process accomplished by various persons in varying degrees.  In the Russian the word for repent signifies mourning, lamenting and weeping—this is not only a one time action for a sin committed in deed but also an ongoing mourning in prayer over our fallen state and separation from God.  The latter may not only be a matter of self reproach but also the desire of a loving heart for the Lord Who so greatly loves us.  This is to repent in an Orthodox manner.  It is a progression from one degree of purification to another and then continues on in a progression from one degree of illumination to another.  And this foundation of our life in Christ was pointed out by our Lord in His first recorded words of public preaching: “Repent for the kingdom of heaven is at hand.” (Mat. 4:17)
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In Summary
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     Therefore if we want to become Orthodox we must first be resolved—according to the ability of each—to live a life in Christ.  And now setting this foundation we can move on to our study.