Philokalia

Philokalia

Tuesday, November 19, 2019

Group Lectio Divina: Ancient Practice for Modern Times


“‘If you love the truth, love silence’ ...if you were going to underline one sentence, or memorize, it should be these last couple...‘If you love the truth, love silence; it will make you illumined in God like the sun, and will deliver you from the illusions of ignorance. Silence unites you to God Himself.’ That is an extraordinary statement...‘Silence unites you to God Himself.’ What would make us want and desire silence more than that thought? That in that silence, as we’ve so often said here before, stealing from a Carthusian, silence allows God to speak a word that is equal to Himself. It allows God to communicate to us in and through our faith, that is beyond intellect, beyond imagination, that allows us to encounter God as He is in Himself. That we are able to experience the love of God but also to be transformed by that love...when we begin to see silence in that way, that’s when we are going to begin to thirst for it and have it be something that shapes our life...silence becomes the way by which we breathe spiritually. Any comments on this last sentence?” 
- Podcast, The Ancient Christian Writers Series, September 5, 2019. 


We read a paragraph slowly and prayerfully: “If you love the truth, love silence,” “If you love the truth, love silence.” I offer some brief commentary and open the floor for discussion with the group...questions, comments, and the passage is often read again: “If you love the truth, love silence.” In preparation for this group I have read the text many times, making notes as I go along of things that I would like to draw attention to. During the group, I read the text again. I read the whole of the text for over a year as I prepared to introduce it to the group. Now, we only have one hundred pages left...we joke that it will only be one more year...we began reading three years ago. Though they have been read so many times in silence, the words are now animated with new life as they are read out loud. Having read the text so many times, I see them once more in a new way as the comments of those in the group cast light on things I never considered. Surely, God is very much a part of this process and His Spirit guides and directs us on our journey. 
The Ancient Christian Writers Series is a group at the Oratory dedicated to studying the writings of great spiritual masters of the Church. For twenty-five years, I have been blessed to lead it. I began this group while serving as a campus minister and thus I scheduled it academically. While beneficial, the group had its limitations: it could only meet over the course of a single school year, had to break for summer and other holidays and, most significantly, it necessitated the use of abridged versions of the texts. Over time, the group broke free from these initial constraints. No longer scheduled according to the academic calendar, and comprised primarily of members of the Secular Oratory, our reading continues uninterrupted throughout the year. Truly, we have come upon a precious opportunity for study and comprehension; we can now study a single text over the course of two, three or even four years. Most importantly, we read every single word – slowly and contemplatively, allowing our hearts to be opened to the wisdom within. 
This contemplative approach, far from being something new, is something very ancient. Before the advent of the printing press books were rare, of great value, and often available only in the monasteries whose scribes produced them. These books were treated by the monks who owned or, more often, borrowed them, as treasures. They were read slowly, and with the aim of absorbing and retaining the precious wisdom contained within. Monks would often memorize long passages or whole portions of books – even the entirety of the New Testament! This scarcity that existed in the past may seem to us – we who live in a digital age and who have unlimited access to books ancient and new – to be a great limitation. Not so. For the monks, the precious nature of their books sharpened their attention and deepened their love. The monks read closely and slowly; they read out loud; they carefully contemplated the words they read; and they copied out passages when possible. Out of this loving, contemplative way of approaching sacred texts the practice of Lectio Divina emerged. 
Lectio Divina is the name given to a way of reading spiritual texts that closely resembles that of the monastic tradition. In Lectio Divina a sacred text is read slowly, repeated, meditated upon and prayed about until the whole person is absorbed in contemplation. This way of reading has been practiced most often with the Sacred Scriptures, but is also used when reading the writings of the Fathers. In lingering over the texts, reading slowly and prayerfully, what develops is a communal Lectio Divina.
For six years now, those who attend the Ancient Christian Writers Series have had the extraordinary opportunity to read and hear the writings of the Fathers - out loud and verbatim. We have spent these years studying The Conferences of Saint John Cassian and The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian. We have not gathered to have a brief conversation with these holy guides, nor to catch a word of wisdom to take away with us at the end of a short visit. Rather, we have entered into retreat - into a journey of spiritual transformation - with them. Here, week after week we sit at their feet. The meaning of their words are unpacked; we become familiar with their use of words; we begin to understand from them what it is to be a human being in relation to God. The pace is at first unnaturally, even painfully, slow. We live in a day and culture when reading has been reduced to information gathering and comprehension to the quick and momentary memorization of bullet points. We consume the knowledge and wisdom of others in small, fast bites. Slowing ourselves down reorients us. Slowing down reminds us that we are on a journey and that understanding comes not through skimming over the surface but through allowing roots to take hold. Slowing down reminds us that this life has been given to us not that we might blaze through it as we are, but for repentance and for transformation. 
In their writings, the ancient Christian Fathers communicate to us an experiential knowledge that can only be transmitted if we undertake to live the same radically converted life that they did. Reading the Fathers cannot be abstracted from the ascetical life anymore than reading the gospel can be abstracted from conversion of life and a deep relationship with Christ. Beautiful things grow slowly and this is true of the spiritual life. To read - to truly take the wisdom of the Fathers into oneself - is to allow God to reshape the mind and the heart and even the way that we view reality itself. In relinquishing the speed at which we read, the speed at which we blaze through and consume, we allow God to speak the word of truth that He desires us to hear: the Word of God that is equal to Himself.

Fr. David Abernethy, C.O.
As written for and printed in the Oratory Times 

Friday, August 17, 2018

Love overlooks the flaws of another



Love overlooks the flaws of another



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immerlein: Amma Syncletica said: “In the beginning there is...



immerlein:

Amma Syncletica said: “In the beginning there is struggle and a lot of work for those who come near to God. But after that there is indescribable joy. It is just like building a fire: at first it is smoky and your eyes water, but later you get the desired result. Thus we ought to light the divine fire in ourselves with tears and effort.”



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Thursday, August 16, 2018

Dying to Self, Alive to God






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cassianus: “We don’t understand that this enemy that we have...



cassianus:

“We don’t understand that this enemy that we have inside us is not our self; it’s not our personality. It’s only a temptation. This is the seed of the problem of the ego. We unite our personality, which is a priceless event, with our faults. We confuse our personality with our sin; we marry these two things, and we have a wrong impression of what we are. We don’t know what we are, and we need someone to show us who we are; we need someone to open our eyes so that we can at least see our darkness.” - Archimandrite Dionysios



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The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian - Homily Forty-seven Part II and Homily Forty-eight Part I

We picked up this evening with homily 47 where Saint Isaac continues to discuss the distinction between natural knowledge and spiritual knowledge. Natural knowledge provides us with the ability to distinguish between good and evil. When we foster this knowledge and embrace it, repentance is born in the heart and we turn more more fully away from our sin toward God. It is then that we can receive the gift of faith through which we obtain spiritual knowledge. Such faith gives rise to the vision of the divine. We see more fully our identity in Christ and the life He has made possible for us. What is laborious and toilsome then becomes light and easy because we are no longer driven by fear or sorrow alone but by love. In Homily 48, St. Isaac begins to take us through various aspects of the spiritual life starting with the necessity of humility in all things. It reaches its perfection when we see our weakness and poverty fully. Along with humility we must foster a spirit of gratitude; avoiding the murmuring disposition that arises when we lose sight of God’s mercy and love. When suffering or when faced with evil we must not lose sight of the fact that God is the Lord of Love and the Governor of History. All things are in His hands despite the evil that so often manifests itself within the world and even the Church.

wisdomoftheholyfathers: From St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in...



wisdomoftheholyfathers:

From St. John of Kronstadt (My Life in Christ: Part II, Holy Trinity Monastery pg. 283):
“Let others mock at you, oppose you, when you are under the influence of any passion; do not be in the least offended with those who mock at or oppose you, for they do you good; crucify your self-love and acknowledge the wrong, the error of your heart. But have the deepest pity for those who mock at words and works of faith and piety, of righteousness; for those who oppose the good which you are doing… God preserve you from getting exasperated at them…”



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St. Silouan on bravery



St. Silouan on bravery



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~~Icon of Saints John Climacus, John of Damascus and Arsenius...



~~Icon of Saints John Climacus, John of Damascus and Arsenius the Great

They used to say of Arsenius that no one could understand the depths of his monastic life. Once when he was living in Lower Egypt, and suffering from importunate visitors, he decided to leave his cell. He took nothing with him and said to his disciples, Alexander and Zoilus, “Alexander, you go on board a ship, and you, Zoilus, come with me to the Nile, and find me a little boat that is sailing to Alexandria, and then go and join your brother.”

Zoilus was sad at this, but said nothing, and so they parted, Arsenius went down to the district near Alexandria, and there fell gravely ill. His disciples said to each other, “Do you think one of us has upset him? Is that why he has left us?”

They examined themselves but could not see any way in which they had been ungrateful to him, or had ever disobeyed him. When Arsenius had recovered from his illness, he said to himself, “I will go back to my brothers.”

So he went to the place called Petra, where Alexander and Zoilus, his servants were. While he was by the river bank, he met an Ethiopian girl, who came up and touched his cloak. He rebuked her but she said, “If you are a monk, go to the mountain.”

At these words he was stricken to the heart, and said to himself, “Arsenius, if you are a monk, go to the mountain.” On the way his disciples Alexander and Zoilus met him, and fell at his feet. Arsenius also threw himself on the ground and they all wept. Then Arsenius said, “Didn’t you hear that I was ill?”

They said to him, “Yes, we heard about it.”

He said, “Then why didn’t you come to see me?”

Alexander said, “We were upset by your going away from us, for many people were shocked about it and said, ‘they must have disobeyed the hermit or surely he would not have left them.’”

Arsenius said to them, “Yes, I knew that would be said, but now it shall be said, 'The dove found rest for her foot, and so returned to Noah in the ark.’” The feelings of his disciples were healed by this, and they stayed with him until the end of his life.

When he lay dying, they were very distressed. He said to them, “The hour is not yet come, but when it does come I will tell you. You will be judged with me before the judgement seat of Christ, if you let anyone else touch my dead body.”

They said, “Whatever shall we do? We don’t know how to clothe or bury a dead body.”

Then Arsenius said, “I suppose you know enough to tie a rope to my leg and pull me up the mountain?”

When he was about to commit his soul to God, they saw him weeping, and said, “Abba, are even you afraid of death?”

He said, “Yes, indeed. The fear which possesses me now has been with me since I became a monk: and I am very much afraid.” So he slept in peace.

Arsenius always used to say this, “Why words, did I let you get out? I have often been very sorry that I have spoken, never that I have been silent.”

When Poemen heard that Arsenius had departed this life, he wept and said, “You are blessed, Arsenius, for you wept for yourself in this world. Whoever does not weep for himself in this world, shall lament for ever in the next. We cannot escape lamentation; if we do not lament here of our own will, we shall later be forced to lament against our will.”



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City a Desert ~ Episode 71: Mark the Ascetic - On the Spiritual Law Part...