Friday, May 11, 2012

Claiming Our Inheritance: The Relevance of the Philokalia Today

As Christians, we have received a great legacy through the Church and the Fathers - the grace of baptism, the Eucharist, the Scriptures, the privilege of prayer, the deposit of faith and the writings of the Fathers on the spiritual life.  Yet, how many have left the Church.  And among those who remain within it, how many have never claimed their inheritance or are even aware of it?  

The inheritance is not ours until we claim it and it is precisely through the Philokalia that we embrace these great treasures.  Anthony Coniaris writes that among the Orthodox Christians the influence of the Philokalia is second only to the Bible.  This is so, he tells us, because the Philokalia “is nothing more than a living out of the Bible.”  We have squandered our inheritance and the result is that we find ourselves living in a spiritual and moral vacuum.  The Philokalia seeks to show us how to develop our inner powers and wake from the illusion of sin, how to overcome inner fragmentation caused by our disordered passions and how to foster the privilege of prayer through inner stillness.  Through baptism we have received the grace of God for growth in the life of Christ and this ember must be fanned into the full flame of faith.  St. Nicodemus puts it this way: “Because, brethren, we have fallen into sins after baptism and consequently have buried the grace of the Holy Spirit which was given to us at our Baptism, it is necessary that we make every effort to recover that original grace which is found deeply buried underneath our passions, like an ember in ashes.  This ember of grace we must fan into a new flame in our hearts.  In order to do that, we must remove the passions from our hearts as ashes from a fireplace and replace them with the firewood of obedience in the life-giving commandments of the Lord.  We can blow upon the spark with heartfelt repentance of the mind and with the repetition of this prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son and Word of God, have mercy on me.”  When this prayer remains permanently in our heart, it cleanses us from the ashes of the passions, and finding the ember of grace within, it strikes up a wondrous and strange fire.  This fire, on the one hand, burns away the temptation of evil thoughts, and, on the other, it sweetens the whole inner person and enlightens the mind.”  The Philokalia,then, is not some relic from the past but “a living guide for contemporary Christians.”  It is meant to alter peoples lives and to have a supremely practical purpose. 

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