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Archive for February 2015

The group began Conference Ten, the high point of Cassian teaching on imageless and unceasing prayer.  Cassian sets the stage by seeking to put the notion of imageless prayer in highest possible relief through giving an account of the monk Serapion's fall into the anthropromorphite heresy.   Serapion's mind becomes cluttered with the erroneous and deadly image of a God with human contours; unable to let go of the confines of what the imagination and intellect can construct to be drawn by faith into the intimacy and mystery of the Triune God.  It is through the pathos of this story that Cassian brings his readers to see the beauty of pure prayer and the unbroken communion with God it promises. When such prayer is attained, everything a person does is God.  And this, which is the end of all perfection, is equivalent to transforming one's whole life into a single and continuous prayer. 

A lengthy discussion then ensued regarding the simplicity of life that must be fostered in order for the silence of solitude to emerge in which such unceasing prayer can take place.  The group considered the types of pseudo contemplation that have arisen in the modern culture that sadly make genuine prayer more and more unlikely.

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Along with Cassian and Germanus, we came to the end of the first conference on prayer with Abba Issac, where discussion focussed on the different origins of tears (consciousness of one's own sins, fear of Gehenna, the sins of others, and the hardships of this life in the face of a deep longing for heaven).  Tears are to be fostered as a part of compunction, but never forced once one has reached deeper level of prayer, so as not to focus on things of lesser importance.  

Prayers are heard or not heard for various reasons.  Our hearts must be filled with a kind of urgency that gives rise to persistence in prayer and we must not doubt that God will hear and answer our prayers in due course, so long as like our Lord we seek only the will of God and what is for our salvation.
Prayer is to be engaged in silently; not only so as not to disturb others but in order not to reveal to demons the more intimate aspects of our relationship with God.  Some things are only to be shared between the soul and the Heavenly Bridegroom.

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Continuing our discussion of Conference Nine, we picked up with Abba Isaac's exposition of the final petitions of the Our Father: "And subject us not to the trial . . . but deliver us from evil."  Trial is an inevitable part of the human condition and the spiritual life, but we seek in such trials the protection of God and the grace of perseverance and long-suffering so as not to succumb to the evil of the loss of our faith or to act in a way contrary to God's will.  We ask not to be tried beyond our capacity.

When praying, care must be given not to seek those things that our transitory in nature and nothing base or temporal. To do so is to offer great injury to God's largesse and grandeur with the paltriness of our prayer.
Abba Isaac then moves on to discuss the more sublime character of "wordless prayer" that transcends understanding and to which few are called.  It is a infusion of divine light through which God can in a brief moment fill the mind and heart.  The precondition of this prayer is the breaking and humbling of the heart which is expressed through compunction and the overflow of tears that purify the heart.
A rather lengthy discussion ensued about the potential enigma of philokalic spirituality to the Western mind - the setting aside of imagination and the focus on taking every thought captive so as to eventually be brought to unceasing prayer.  

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The group continued to discuss Abba Isaac's breathtaking exposition of the "Our Father"; considering the third, fourth and fifth petitions. The beauty of his words are only equaled by their challenge.  We are called to desire above all to live the "angelic" life (to be wrapped in our desire to fulfill God's will in every aspect of our lives), to seek to nourish ourselves upon His Word (discerning the gift that we receive daily and receiving it with reverence and awe), and to cry out for God's forgiveness (understanding that the mercy we receive depends on the mercy we offer to others).  

Lengthy discussion ensued regarding the secularism and worldliness that has colored many people's experience of the faith and what it means to pray the "Our Father" and to receive the Holy Eucharist.  

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