Sunday, November 30, 2014
As with fasting, praying at night humbles the mind and body so as to make the heart more still and attentive to God. For this reason, vigils are a special blessing to the ascetic not to be neglected.
The best, most graceful time for a monk's spiritual exercises is at night. As the holy Fathers said: "It is during nighttime that the monk must best be engaged in his work." Blessed Philotheus of Sinai teaches that the mind is purified best at night. And St. Isaac the Syrian says: "Consider every prayer which we offer up in the night to be more important than all our daily actions. For the sweet consolation which the one who fasts receives during the day comes out of the light received during the monk's nocturnal exercises."
If we understood the value of our souls and could see the preciousness of the gifts that God has given us we would labor to deepen and preserve them. No amount of ascetic labor would, so long as suited to our station in life, seem excessive or beyond our strength. Sorsky exhorts us not to make asceticism and the spiritual disciplines something of the past and not necessary for ourselves. We have received the same call to holiness. The only thing that makes it impossible is the lack of a serious desire to repent.
We can at least be conscious of the folly that engrosses us, of how we throw away our talents in the pursuit of material things as we give ourselves over to cares and anxieties that are harmful for our souls. And we regard all such pursuit as good and praiseworthy! But woe to us! We do not understand the worth of our souls. We do not understand that we have not been called to live such an evil life, as St. Isaac says. Woe to us if we think our life in this world - its sufferings, its joys, its rest - have importance for us! Woe to us if by the life of our soul, so weighted down by laziness, worldly curiosity, and lack of concern, we should be convinced that the style of life that was proper to that lived by the ancient saints is no longer necessary for us nor is it possible for us to live such ascetical exploits. No, this cannot be so, in no way! Such practices are not possible only for those who are immersed by self-indulging passions because of their own free will who do not seriously desire to repent, namely, to truly come under the guidance of the divine Holy Spirit, but who are given over to useless, worldly cares.
Saturday, November 29, 2014
Sorsky encourages the pray-er to hold fast to silence and when it has been achieved in the mind and heart not to seek that which is of lesser value. We must come to seek out the silence of prayer as the most sublime gift we could receive and as that which fills us with the greatest joy. Let go of the trivial matters of the world and the trivial nature of your thoughts and meet God who is peace and tranquility.
. . . to leave God within you in order to seek him from outside is like leaving him from the heights to call on him by stooping lower. But when you allow any distraction to disturb the mind, such draws the mind away from silence. For silence is had only in peace and tranquility, since God is peace and is beyond all agitation and noise.
For the minds of those who idly turn away from the remembrance of God and busy themselves with trivial matters commit spiritual adultery. St. Isaac writes sublimely on such matters and insists on this: "When such person possess such unspeakable joy, it cuts away any lip-prayer. Then the mouth and tongue become silenced. Also the heart is silenced, which stands as a guard over fantasies along with the mind which directs the feeling senses and controls the thoughts that are like swift and bold flying birds."
. . . even though there are many good works, their value is only a partial good. The prayer of the heart is the source of all good and is likened to gardens that are refreshed by water, so does this prayer of the heart refresh the soul . . .
Blessed is the person who seriously meditates on the Writings of all the Spirit-filled Fathers and follows their teachings and examples. Such a person is completely taken up with this prayer and is able to overcome always every kind of thought, not only an evil one, but also one that seemingly is a good one. And in this manner, he attains perfect silence even in his thoughts, for the prayer is the peak and crown of all ascetical practices. For Symeon the New Theologian teach that true silence and tranquility (hesychia) is to seek the Lord in the heart, that is, to push the mind into the heart consciously and to pray and be concerned only with this.