Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

Priest as Mediator between God and Man (continuation)

We have talked a little about repentance, so let’s now move on to saying something about role of prayer in this. Elder Joseph the Younger (aka Joseph of Vatopeidi) in his book about his Elder, Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles- Experiences – Teachings, categorizes his Elder’s teachings. In the chapter, “On Prayer”, he writes about these points I have brought up, and so he relates the following. (Note that in the quotations that follow – for the sake of greater clarity – I have paraphrased a few phrases for this particular blog. My clarifications are noted in brackets []. )
Elder Joseph writes:
“Protracted and uninterrupted prayerful attention of the heart—which is the most difficult of all ascetic exercises and struggles—produces permanent sensation within the heart. In parallel, the mind with its incessant mourning also regains its natural illumination, becoming a ‘Christ-mind’ (cf. 1 Cor. 2:16); upon which the experience of God abiding and acting within him, transports the small and limited human being to the sphere of Godlikeness. ‘I say, You are gods and sons of the Most High, all of you’ (Ps. 82:6). In consequence, as an ecumenical totality [as an all- inclusive completeness] he contains his neighbor within himself and communes with him, ‘rejoicing with those who rejoice, weeping with those who weep’, as the Apostle puts it.” (Rom. 12:15) (Elder Joseph the Hesychast: Struggles – Experiences – Teachings by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi, 1999 The Holy and Great Monastery of Vatopaidi, p. 202)
In another place he relates:
“The paternal quality [characteristic] of the grace of true prayer experienced by the Elder was crowned by his communion with the suffering of all mankind, something that we saw him living out intensely and almost continuously. Many times we would see him immersed calmly in himself and he seemed not to be with us; then his expression would change, and in a sorrowful manner he would sigh gently. ‘What the matter Elder?’ we would ask out of youthful curiosity. ‘Someone is suffering children’, he would say. The confirmation of this would come a few days later, when we received a letter describing some incident that had occurred. ‘How does it happen Elder, that those who pray more are more communal that other people?’—because we could see that such people felt everyone to be their neighbor and communed with each person in a very practical way, despite the fact that these men of prayer are virtually hidden and unknown. He then gave us to understand, in his own words, the universality of prayer, the chief bearer of ecumenicity [this term is superlative and implies the bringing together of or connecting the universe]. Through prayer the unity of all in God is realized in a more perfect way as everything is brought to unity with Christ and to communion with God. Perhaps at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself in the subtle philosophical terms of theology when speaking of these subjects which he ‘underwent’.” (ibid. pp. 200-201)

Although Joseph the Younger says, “at times he somewhat lacked the power to express himself” I believe, “the universality of prayer” is further explained in the following excerpt:

“The Elder used to tell us that the experience of love for one’s neighbor is revealed to him who prays in truth; and more specifically, ‘When grace is operative in the soul of someone who is praying, then he is flooded with the love of God so that he can no longer bear what he experiences. Afterwards this love turns toward the world and man, whom he comes to love so much that he seeks to take upon himself the whole of human pain and misfortune so that everyone else might be freed from it. In general he suffers with every grief and misery, and even for dumb animals, so that he weeps when he thinks that they are suffering. These are the properties of love, but it is prayer that activates them and calls them forth. This is why those who are advanced in prayer do not cease to pray for the world. To them belongs the continuation of life, however strange and audacious this may seem. And you should know that if such people disappear, then the end of this world will come.’” (ibid. pp. 206-7)
Here, Joseph the Younger continues:
“God as self-same consummate love [since He Himself is all love] communicates [imparts] and transmits a part of His consummate goodness to His creatures, in a manner and to a degree known to Himself. It follows as a consequence of this that the same should be done by His deified servants, who through their prayer and supplication also communicate something to the world [ impart “love”—the Greek text reads “love” in place of “something”— to the world]. The conclusion is that if love is the body, its energy and power is prayer; and the proof is that through prayer the fulfillment of love can be achieved with great success on a world-wide scale, where so many other means are powerless.”
“Abba Barsanuphius mentions in his discourses that in his generation there were three people who were able by their prayers to pacify warring nations and in general to keep the world from destruction. At other times we find that the Saints by their prayers have dispelled the threat of calamities, famines and pandemic plagues. What manner of practical contribution or personal service could bring such benefit to whole peoples and countries as does prayer? And again, the general practice of people asking others to prayer for them—is not this an indication of the priority of prayer, that prayer is the greatest surety of success?
“This also reveals the character of prayer as ecumenical [that is, it is available to all, all can participate in it, it is open to all]. Prayer alone can include within it and encompass what is far off and what is scattered, making them one (cf. John 11:22), and can bind together members that are at odds with each other, that they may recognize his neighbor as members of one another who nevertheless live separately. Prayer for human suffering in general shows love, as does prayer for the enlightenment of those who have gone astray and for their return and repentance and knowledge of God. But prayer for enemies is the climax of the rational perfection of beings in whom ‘what is mortal is swallowed up by life” (cf. 1Cor. 15:54). Those who pray for their enemies, becoming and remaining deified, reflect in their godlike character that godly property of praying ‘if it were possible, to be accursed and cut off from Christ for the sake of these brethren who have wronged me!’ (cf. Rom. 9:3). This also is the last word of our Lord on the Cross, as He prays for those who have crucified Him”. (cf. Luke 23:34) (ibid. pp. 207-8)

Although Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi is speaking of a high spiritual state that few attain, we are still responsible to struggle according to our strength to advance in this direction. It is awesome and fearful to be faced with the reality of what is open to us. (to be continued…)