Strict/too Strict

Strict/too Strict (continued)

In continuing to write about the topic “Strict/too Strict” I will get back to the error or deficiency in our struggles which I mentioned previously.  As was stated in the former post in addition to straying through the extremes of neglect or strictness we can still err while observing what is required, while fulfilling the normal expected precepts of the letter.  How can we err?  Before giving an answer, I shall first refer at some excerpts from two of our saints, and begin with St. Theophan the Recluse. He writes:

Prayer is the primary work of the moral and religious life.  The root of this life is a free and conscious relationship with God, which then directs everything.  It is the practice of prayer that expresses this free and conscious attitude towards God,…Our prayer reflects our attitude to God, and our attitude to God is reflected in prayer.  And since this attitude is not identical in different people, so the kind of prayer is not identical either.  He who is careless of salvation has a different attitude to God from him who has abandoned sin and is zealous for virtue, but has not yet entered within himself, and works for the Lord only outwardly.  Finally, he who has entered within and carries the Lord in himself, standing before Him has yet another attitude.  The first man is negligent in prayer just as he is negligent in life; and he prays in church and at home merely according to the established custom, without attention or feeling.  The second man reads many prayers and goes often to church, trying at the same time to keep his attention from wandering and to experience feelings in accordance with the prayers which are read, although he is very seldom successful.  The third man, wholly concentrated within, stands with his mind before God, and prays to Him in his heart without distraction, without long verbal prayers. (The Art of Prayer, Igumen Chariton, Faber and Faber London 1973, pp. 61-2)

Now let us take another example and have a look at the teaching of St. Paisius Velichkovsky on the Jesus Prayer. We see the following:

I wish to speak also of people who uproot passions.  There are those who rejoice when offended, “but because they hope to have a reward.  Such a person uproots passions, but not wisely.  Another rejoices when offended and feels that the offense was deserved, since he provoked it himself.  Such a person uproots passions wisely.  Finally, there is such a person who not only rejoices when offended and considers himself blameworthy, but also grieves over his offender’s embarrassment.  May God lead us into such a condition of soul!  For a clearer understanding of each of these ways of life let us also say the following: the first one, submitting himself to the law, performs only his chanting, while the second motivates himself toward mental activity and always has with himself the name of Jesus Christ for the destruction of the enemy and the passions.  One rejoices if he only completes his chanting, while the other thanks God if he performs prayer in silence, without being disturbed by evil thoughts.  One desires quantity, while the other—quality.  One, as he rushes to fulfill the proper amount of chanting, soon develops a joyful conceit, on which he depends to nurture and grow an internal Pharisee within himself, if he does not hearken to himself.  The other, in attaching great value to the quality of the prayer, has an understanding of his weakness and God’s help.  While praying, or rather while calling upon the Lord Jesus against the wiles of the enemy, the passions, and evil thoughts, he sees their destruction by Christ’s awesome name and comprehends God’s strength and help.  On the other hand being constrained and confused by evil thoughts, he understands his weakness, for he cannot withstand them by virtue of his strength alone.  And it is this which comprises his whole rule and his whole life.  And although the enemy can suggest joyous conceit and pharisaic thoughts to him as well, he encounters in this spiritual warrior a readiness to call upon Christ against all evil thoughts, and in this way he does not attain success in his wiles.  (Starets Paisii Velichkovskii, Fr. Sergii Chetverikov, Norland Publishing Company, 1980, pp.166-7)

So we can err by missing the point of our prayers and church services, which is to enter within.   As we have seen above in St. Theophan, he who, “has abandoned sin and is zealous for virtue, but has not yet entered within himself, and works for the Lord only outwardly”; however, “he who has entered within and carries the Lord in himself”. Elsewhere St Theophan teaches us: “The principle thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before Him unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.” (The Art of Prayer, p. 63)  Likewise St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us: “The sign of a wise soul is when a man has his mind descend within himself and has activity in his heart.” (In the Footsteps of a Saint, St. Tikhon’s Seminary Press, p. 27)  Finally, St. Ignatius Brianchaninov has expressed the opinion that in paradise Adam had union of mind and heart, yet this was disrupted by the fall. (see The Arena, Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov, Madras, 1970, p.85)  The Liturgical commemoration for the Sunday before Great Lent is “The Expulsion from Paradise”.  Our aim should be to return to the paradise which we lost.  Paradise is within, if we descend with the mind into the heart; we shall be at the meeting place between God and man.  Amen.  So be it.