SPIRITUAL WARFARE, PART #2 (from “Wisdom from Mount Athos,” St. Silouan)

Who shall describe the joy of knowing the Lord and of reaching out towards Him day and night insatiably?” asks St. Silouan. The premise of the spiritual warfare is that the beauty and inner peace of the destination make lifelong warfare worthwhile. There is, in fact, “nothing more precious than to know God; and nothing worse than not to know Him.”  

Such overwhelming desire, however, is fraught with danger if it is overtaken by our personal wants and driven by our own will. This is where delusion sets in. Silouan, for example, warns about forcing visions to occur and mistake them for true messages from God.

And I beseech those who see visions and put their trust in them to understand that this is a source of evil pride and, side by side with pride, sweet vanity…

He reminds us that visions cannot be gained by our own will and that “…without the Holy Spirit it is impossible to come to knowledge of what is of heaven.” 

Far from acquiring knowledge of God, acting on our own is, in fact, a type of spiritual materialism –adopting a worldly, materialistic framework in the spiritual realm. It treats deification transactionally, as a precious good we can buy and consume on demand.

The peril of such spiritual materialism is nothing less than the loss of our soul and invitation to the devil.

Silouan, however, does not want us to despair and gives us a map for gaining and restoring union with God.  He reminds us that the antidote to the fallacy of achieving union with God through our own means, is humility.

without humility it is impossible to vanquish the enemy…Only when you humble yourself will you experience “perfect rest.”   And only in a state of inner rest and peace can our prayer be “clear and unsullied.”

The journey back to God starts by putting “one’s trust in your confessor and not in yourself. Thinking that we can wrestle evil on our own is delusional. Obedience is essential to healing and spiritual restoration.”  

Silouan gives us hope in our fallen state by encouraging us not be afraid. In the place of fear, he admonishes calm acceptance of the current state of the soul and repentance.

The soul that has come to know God” does not despair of any beguilement the devil has brought about but accepts it and repents.

Paradoxically, Silouan calls the soul that is humble and obedient “courageous.”  This is because it takes courage to forsake pride, as manifested in daily habits and beliefs.  

The soul.” He tells us, “is a creature of habit.”  It is far harder to overcome habits than it is to argue against a big idea, withdraw support from a political candidate or make life-changing decisions, such as marrying or accepting jobs.

Over time our mental associations, justifications, reactions, tastes and routines become embedded into our daily, default patterns of thinking and acting. We mistake them for our true identity and rarely question them. Vanity, greed and love of material things are hardest to overcome, St. SIlouan tells us.

The hardest thing of all is to subdue the flesh for God’s sake and to overcome self-love.

Yet, Silouan, reminds us that repentance must not lead to self-pity and despair:

 Man must condemn himself in his soul but not despair of the compassion and love of God

Our spiritual warfare takes place at every hour of the day and every day of our lives. It represents the way of life for a Christian. Yet it is not a joyless or pointless effort as we experience moments of true union with God, and the unspeakable delight of inner peace.

So soon as the Lord lays His hand upon my soul, she becomes a new being

St. Silouan ends the chapter with his description of the meaning of spiritual warfare. The relentless struggle to gain true knowledge of God and continuously regain it when we lose it constitutes, in itself, a constant relationship with God and a source of mutual joy:

Thus, the soul spends her whole life waging war. But do you not lose heart over the struggle, for the Lord loves a brave fighter.

OUR WEAPONS OF SPIRITUAL WARFARE (FROM WISDOM FROM MOUNT ATHOS BY STARRETZ SILOUAN)

pp. 115-119

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Spiritual warfare is the very foundation of living as a Christian, according to St. Silouan.

All those who would follow our Lord Jesus Christ are engaged in spiritual warfare

Inner peace and grace are not gained and preserved meekly and timidly but through continuous and ferocious battle against the distractions that derail us. Silouan uses fiery language to describe the nature and intensity of the battle.

Our battle rages every day and every hour

This is necessary considering the constant lapses into passions that, unless we are trained, are the default position of our souls.

Silouan, like other ascetic writers, sheds a bright light on our daily experience of being, and away from abstract theory. He forces us to pause and look under a microscope at the countless harmless little lies, the small indulgences, figures of speech and automatic thinking patterns and reactions that have become habits. He puts us in the uncomfortable position of taking seriously the things we routinely dismiss as small and understandable manifestations of “just being human.”  We did not commit murder or burglary after all. Silouan turns on its head the notion of “sin.”

Passing judgement, envying or belittling others, bragging, looking down on our fellow men, considering our judgment to be infallible,  fantasizing, controlling, following our will, longing for power and influence, reacting through anger, manipulating things to get our way etc. are not harmless little indulgences but drops of evil that increasingly clog our soul and distance us from God. Their everydayness and automatic, unthinking way we employ them make them especially formidable enemies.

This is why our battle must especially intense and “rage every day and every hour.”

The state of inner peace is fragile for all those who have not ascended to the realm of theosis. How many times have you experienced the loss of joy or calmness just because of your perception of one look from another person as disrespectful; a memory of the unfairness of a former boss; the realization that someone, other than you, is the center of attention and garners a group’s admiration, interpreting someone’s silence as rejection, considering your son’s academic failures as a direct mirror of your own worth…

“One unfriendly look,” writes Silouan, “and grace and the love of God is gone.”

Conversely,

Often a single sympathetic greeting will work a happy change in the soul; and contrarywise

This is where hope and the path of salvation lie.

Following this path is not a loose proposition of occasional virtue, avoiding virtue at inconvenient times or following your whim. As Silouan advises:

All things whatsoever the Lord commanded must be fulfilled with exactitude.

These descriptions of ephemerality and unexpectedness of grace sum up Silouan’s prescription for conducting spiritual war. Be alert to the state of your soul in daily experience rather than focus on abstract theory. Battle as fiercely as possible the devil hidden, sometimes, in barely noticeable thoughts and reactions. Look for the grace of small, often dismissed, moments of “a single sympathetic greeting,” a feeling of compassion for the person who offended you, a moment of silence and restraint when faced with someone spouting offensive political opinions, and build  them into your arsenal of spiritual warfare.

Silouan returns to his theme of simplicity and ease from his previous chapters. Upholding virtues and experiencing a state of grace is not difficult or complicated once you are no longer driven by the desire to assert your will and your heart is filled with love.  

St. John the Divine declares that God’s commandments are not grievous but a light burden. But they are light only where there us love—where live is not present everything is difficult.

Yet, actively desiring and willing a state of grace means that your will for control and self-glorification are at work. In that case, the effort weighs you down, disappointment, emptiness, anger and impatience set in and the “burden” is no longer “light.”

Humility here is juxtaposed to the entitlement implicit in our efforts to bring about grace at will.

But do not think about seeing God; rather humble yourself and let your thought be that when you die you will be case into a dark prison, and there languish and pie for the Lord…When we weep and humble our souls the grace of God preserve us, whereas if we forsake weeping and humility we may ne led astray by intrusive thoughts of visions. The humble soul neither has nor desires to have visions, but praus God with an undisturbed mind; while the mid that is puffed up is not free from intrusive thoughts and imaginings…

Silouan sums up the path to grace and most potent weapon in spiritual warfare thus:

Keep thy mind in hell and despair not

FINDING PEACE AND GRACE, PART III (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

109-114

“Adam’s soul,” St. Silouan writes, “was perfect in the love of God and he knew the sweetness of Paradise, but his soul was unpracticed and he did not resist when Eve tempted him as the sorely-afflicted Job resisted when tempted by his wide.”

 Both Adam and Job had experienced the love of God and the grace of the Holy Spirit. They were in fact “perfect.” Yet one lost grace and the other preserved it. Why? Silouan introduces the word “practiced” in order to explain how Job, even while enduring hardships, retained God’s grace.  

Spiritual warfare,” Fr. David noted, “is scientific.” It is not simply basking in God’s love, doing good or preserving the commandments. It is a detailed and systematic process of daily “training” –following the coach’s regiment, practicing, and building the spiritual muscles, skills, speed and “mental toughness” that are essential for victory.

In the Ladder of Divine Ascent, St. John Climacos illustrates such “scientific” spiritual “training process” through a ladder of 30 steps which, those who wish unity with God, must ascend one-by-one. Each step represents a virtue to be acquired, or a vice to be surrendered.

Like a sergeant training a recruit, Silouan acquaints us with the weapons and tools in our individual arsenal.

In this spiritual warfare of ours we must look to the state of our ammunition and provender. Our ammunition is our humility, our provender—the grace of God.

“Simple,” someone may say. “I’ve heard of this.” Yet Silouan often talks about the difference between abstract knowledge and its embodiment and application. Here he talks about the need for spiritual alertness, discernment, and deployment. How often do we recognize the hidden and underutilized spiritual resources within us? How often do we immediately deploy such God-given abilities (such as for humility) at the moment we become outraged by an insult or scornful toward a different political opinion?  A great deal of “training” is required.

The practiced soul knows well the weapons at its disposal, recognizes when to utilize them and does not allow inflamed passions, distractions, laziness or intimidation to prevent it from their deployment.  

Yet, in spite the rigor and scientific nature of the warfare, there is a clarity and simplicity to it.

Fierce is the war we wage; yet it is a wise was and a simple one. If the soul grows to love humility, then all the snares of our enemies are overturned, and his fortresses taken.

There is a simple choice before us between fighting to get our way and satisfy our wants —prestige, wealth, indulgence of passion, lack or restrictions, etc.—and submitting our will to God to acquire peace.

But if you find fault and are rebellious, if you want your own way, your soul will fail

 It is as simple as this.

Silouan paints vivid pictures of why grace is worth every degree of sacrifice:

When the soul is full of the love of God, out of the infinity of her joy she sorrows and prays in tears for the whole world…

When grace is in us, we are truly humble, wise, submissive, meek and pleasing to God and man; but when we lose grace, we wither away like a shoot but from the vine.

Our lives with grace are simply “easy,” Silouan tells us. We no longer have to struggle to resist temptations and acquire virtues we are not accustomed to live with. We are united with God and now embody the virtues that were once external.

Guard the grace of God; with grace life is easy… When grace is in us, we are truly humble, wise, submissive, meek and pleasing to God and man; but when we lose grace, we wither away like a shoot but from the vine.

The short, temporary satisfaction of getting our way is replaced by true and lasting joy and peace.

With God all is well, all is pleasant and joyous; the soul is at peace in God and walks, as it were, in a fair garden in which live the Lord and the Mother of God.

CONCERNING PEACE AND GRACE, PART II (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos, by St. Silouan)

pp. 103-109

You tried to be patient and respectful with your boss but what he did yesterday was the last straw. After working for years on analyzing patterns in client attrition and authoring a report on what you thought was a brilliant retention strategy, you were excluded from its presentation to the CEO. In fact, your boss took all the credit and has now excluded you from the team that will work on retention solutions. You are fuming. You share your problems with sympathetic friends. Each commiserating friend adds a reason for justifying your anger: You were disrespected! Utterly humiliated! Your work was unappreciated! You had more expertise and brilliance than any of them!

Your anger turns into outrage and you confront your boss. When you are done,  you experience moments of triumph and satisfaction as you recall—one by one—your brilliant arguments and witty insults. “Boy, did I ever put this idiot in his place!”

Then what! Your boss doesn’t come to you with tears of regret and repentance. Your name as the author of the report still does not reach the CEO. You stew in ever increasing anger and self-pity and can concentrate on little else. Perhaps you become listless and cannot sleep. Perhaps your passing moments of triumph turn to self-aggrandizement, delusion, disappointment, or depression.

In a nutshell this is the vicious cycle that St. Silouan sketches for us and admonishes us to avoid if we want peace and grace in our hearts. Anger at our superior or state of life will give us temporary, inauthentic relief before dominating and darkening your soul.

The counter to anger (however justified it may be), is love:

Peace in our souls is not possible if we do not beg the Lord with all our hearts to give us love for all men

When offended, harmed or disappointed by others, Silouan asks us to keep in sight our larger purpose of maintaining peace in our soul and gives us perspective.

Guard the peace of the grace of the Holy Spirit in your soul. Do not lose it over petty rifles. If you give peace to your brother, the Lord will give you incomparably more…

We are angered, embittered, disappointed or anxious when others do not follow the script of behavior that we have in mind for them, or when the course of our actual lives differs from that of our imagined lives.  Silouan clarifies and simplifies the cause and effect analysis without the need of elaborate theories or metaphors:

if you cling to your own will, you will be vanquished by the enemy and despondency will beset your soul.

Conversely, when we can uncover our shared humanity with others–a commonality that undergirds even the most hateful acts–  and after we have tasted the presence of God in us, we no longer have time or space for the unquiet thoughts that crowd our minds:

The love of the Lord is such burning love that the soul which has once tasted thereof has no other desire.

Yet Silouan cautions us, even as he opens the door to the solution. There is a danger in attempting to will God’s peace on our own will. It is a mistake to seek immediate spiritual experience as a shortcut to the steps that lead there. “This is the road to delusion,” Fr. David commented during our discussion.

Man of himself is not able to fulfill God’s commandments,” Silouan tells us. Before experiencing God’s peace, we need to prepare our soul to receive the Holy Spirit:

But what the soul needs is the Lord and the grace of the Holy Spirit, without which the soul is dead…without grace a man is spiritually blind…

Without the Holy Spirit, and the uncreated grace it bestows on us, we cannot trust our judgment and have difficulty separating truth from delusion:

Till the advent of the grace man lives  his life and thinks that all is well and prosperous with his soul; but when grace visits him and dwells within him, he sees himself quite otherwise, and losing grace again he realizes his unhappy state

Silouan adopts a poetic sensibility and his paragraphs flow like a love poem to the Holy Spirit.

No I have not forgotten how great was the mercy that God poured on me

And I remember the sweetness of the grace of the Holy Spirit

And know the love of the Lord

And how sweet this love is for soul and body

 Without the Holy Spirit dwelling within us, we may understand the principles of peace and grace, but we are unable to experience them.

If our soul “does not know the Holy Spirit,” St. Silouan says, it “does not know how sweet He (the Lord) is.”

 

 

 

 

FINDING PEACE AND GRACE (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

PP. 98-102

We have now come to a chapter about what we most long for: peace.

St. Silouan simplifies and sums up the nature of this quest:

…the man who likes to have his own way will never know peace…

It is as simple as that.

I think of my lifelong struggle to have “my own way:” persuading 3 different graduate schools to collaborate on my own concoction of an interdisciplinary doctoral program; exhausting myself to function independently and against the status quo in institutions I worked for; wanting to control others’ opinions of me; struggling to influence the course of things,  to persuade, change, even “punish.”

Getting one’s way in careers, child-rearing, business dealings or personal relationships is generally considered a sign of strength and success.

This leaves us stuck between longing for peace and devoting the bulk of our efforts and mindshare to the fulfillment of our own will; making the world conform to the script we created in our mind.

None of the remedies for salvation—virtue, prayer, fasting, charity—are adequate in themselves without abandoning our efforts at having things “go our way;” without humility and submission to God’s will. Without them, resentment and self-pity will rise within us and bring about turmoil and despair.

But if a man murmur against his fate he will never have peace in his soul, even though he fast and spend much time in prayer.

The acceptance St. Silouan advocates is not the same as resignation. Acceptance signifies the recognition that God’s will and not yours is in charge. Resignation means giving up in despair. In fact, resignation often follows disillusionment over our futile attempts to control.

Far from resignation, acceptance of God’s will is a difficult discipline of maintaining dispassion and inner peace in the face of hardship and pain.

…we are living through the final period, yet must we still preserve our soul’s peace, without which we cannot be saved.

The humble Christian, far from being weak or passive, is a spiritual warrior who does not react emotionally to circumstances and does not allow his soul to become de-stabilized by affliction and external circumstances, no matter how dire.

How do we acquire the strength to maintain peace and grace in our souls, regardless of “living through the final period?”

By loving others, St. Silouan tells us. He brings as an example Father John Kronstadt who maintained inner peace in the face of distraction “because he loved the people and never ceased praying to the Lord for us.”

Pray to the Lord to give you a tender heart which God loves,” St. Silouan exhorts.

Though a man pray much, and fast, but has not love for his enemies he can have no peace of soul.

When St. Paissy the Great prayed for his disciple who had denied Christ, the Lord spoke to him directly, recognizing that he had achieved likeness to Him and hence Grace:

Paisy, thou hast become like unto Me in thy love

Achieving and maintaining inner peace is not an aside activity. It requires consistent focus and a complete re-orientation toward God.

Explore God’s Law, day and night

We have seen in patristic writings how upon reaching the stage of theosis we are freed from complexity and fragmentation—circular thinking, ambivalence, conflicting priorities and truths, confusion, instability. Instead we experience clarity, peace and unity, driven by a single, simple and unclouded perception of the truth.

Without a complete re-orientation toward God we are vulnerable to the enemy and risk losing whatever peace we have achieved.

Then the enemy, seeing that the soul is not in God, causes ger to waver, and unrestricted he can instill what he will in the mind. The soul is then driven from one set of thoughts to another, so that she spends the whole day in this confusion and is unable to contemplate God with a single mind.

The Mystery of Humility (From the book, Wisdom from Mount Athos by St. Silouan)

Chapter 9, On Humility, pp. 91-97

As Christians, we constantly talk, read, or hear about the concept of humility. In this chapter, St. Silouan wants us to meditate on this concept and understand it on a deeper level, with our hearts as well as our minds.

“To believe in God,” he tells us (italics are mine), “is good, but it is more blessed to know God.” Silouan urges us to delve from the level of mere familiarity and theoretical understanding to that of divine knowledge and experience.

Humility is not simply a set of rules or pattern of behavior. It is a mystery, modeled for us by Christ.

The mystery of the humility of Christ is a great mystery, impossible to unfold.

Yet, unless we experience Christ-like humility in our souls, the Holy Spirit cannot dwell within us.

The Lord does not manifest Himself to the proud soul…Her pride will not make way for the grace of the Holy Spirit, and God is known only through the Holy Spirit.

God’s presence brings us peace.  Even then, however, there is the danger of the very humility we are experiencing generating pride for our accomplishment of having achieved it.

The moment the soul exalts herself above her fellows,” St. Silouan reminds us, “she is attacked by some thought of impulse unpleasing to God.” Inner peace is shattered, and the passions of envy, resentment, anguish, ambition, hatred, control, and others overwhelm our soul.

There is no other gateway to peace, love and union with God than humility.  “Thus,” St. Silouan concludes, “the whole spiritual warfare wages around humility.”

This is significant. Without humility, we cannot experience God and His peace. Our most fundamental, daily battle, therefore, must be against the first indications of pride in our hearts and the onslaught of passions it subsequently unleashes.

Paradoxically, true humility frees and uplifts our souls rather than make them subservient. This is because, free from the pursuit of glory and the fear of loss and humiliation, our inner peace no longer depends on external circumstances such as others’ approval or rejection.

The proud man fears reproach, while the humble man cares for nothing.

Silouan compares the state of such soul to the sea.

The soul of the humble man is like the sea: throw a stone into the sea—for a moment it will ruffle the surface a little, and then sink to the bottom…

St. Silouan does not minimize the difficulty in attaining and maintaining humility, however:

Humility is not learned in a trice,” he says. It takes a long time to cultivate.  Some, in fact, have grown old trying to achieve humility without ever succeeding. And, in the spirit of humility, he makes an astonishing confession

Day and night, all my life long,” he admits, “I have striven after humility, yet I am not able to capture it.”

We are startled by this passage. We have unknowingly assumed that saints and great patristic writers who advocate for virtues must already possess them. Yet St. Silouan is not afraid to admit to something that would jeopardize his “status” and reputation as a great, “saintly” figure.

His advice, then, is not theoretical but stems from soul-wrenching personal struggles and hard-earned conclusions and insights. Silouan does not talk down to readers delivering superior knowledge that he, alone, possesses. He addresses us as fellow sojourners and spiritual co-warriors and, hence, lifts up our souls through love.

Humility, he reminds us, starts with, as well as enables, love:

From love the souls wishes every human being more good that she wishes herself, and delights when she sees others happier, and grieves when she sees them suffering.

The acquisition of humility is a hard, life-long, and daily pursuit. Yet Silouan wants us to know that we are not alone in this struggle. God, himself, wants to dwell within us.

And the Lord desires to be with us Himself, and in us.

God’s absence, then, is due to our own choice of pride over humility.

The Lord is our joy and our gladness, and when pride causes us to withdraw from Him, it means that we deliver ourselves up of our own accord to suffering. Anguish if heart, dejection, and evil thought lacerate us.

In the end, St. Silouan holds out hope in the knowledge that God will give peace to “every humble soul:”

Blessed is the humble soul. She is beloved by God…

When the soul has given herself to the will of God the mind contains nothing but God, and the soul stands before God with a pure mind.

 

 

 

KEEP THY MIND IN HELL AND DESPAIR NOT. (WISDOM FROM MOUNT ATHOS, St. Silouan)

No pain or deprivation is worse than the state of pride. Hence no amount of sacrifice is too much to defeat pride and replace it with humility. This is one of the premises of this chapter by St. Silouan.

Pride and vainglory trap us inside ourselves and separate us from God. Under their yoke, we live in the grip of suspicion, jealousy, resentment, fear, and loneliness. We suffer constant anxiety over loss of status or material things.

Pride creates a constantly increasing shadowy corner within us that unexpectedly surfaces and fill us with darkness. This is where panic dwells over potential failure, loss of control, separation, disapproval, or ridicule. This is where we bury resentments, disappointments over things that did not go our way; exhaustion over pushing against the grain to impose our will; and a secret worry about being frauds; that the image of ourselves that we project does not correspond to our authentic selves.

Our minds are too weighed down with our own concerns to have room for God. “Our hearts are cold, and we have no understanding of Christ’s humility or love.”

The ailing soul is full of pride,” St. Silouan tells us. That is, if we are filled with despair and turmoil, the root cause is always pride.

Silouan, himself, experienced this loss of grace after the Holy Spirit descended on him. Caught up in the sweetness and peace of this presence, he took pride in it and lost track of his battle with the enemy. He recognized this as a pattern:

“…when my mind emerges from the fire the suggestions of passion gather strength again.”

Silouan realized that the state of grace is fragile, and we cannot let our defenses down. In the grip of fresh joy or success, we must always remember the hell we came from.

“Keep thy mind in hell and despair not.”

Without consciously keeping hell and death in sight, we fall into pride. Hence, we have only ourselves to blame if we fall from grace or never achieve it.

Silouan recognized the devastation the pride has wrought on our souls. It is especially tragic when we do not recognize pride as the cause of our pain. If someone does not know God and has not experienced grace, he may be “unaware of his poverty and ruin,” thinking himself fortunate or superior because of wealth or material successes, while experiencing the void of hopelessness and discontent, deep inside

Humility is the opposite of pride. “Humility,” St. Silouan tells us, “is the light in which we may behold the Light which is God as the Psalmist sang: ‘In Thy light we shall see Light’

Without having to fight for control, we experience peace and are open to God’s presence.

This is why, instead of asking for comfort, freedom from pain or material things, St. Silouan, asks for tears in his prayer. It is by embracing tears and keeping his mind in hell, that he can experience the greater happiness of humility and the presence of God.

Thou, O Lord, showest me Thy glory because Though lovest Thy creatures, but do Though give me tears and the power to thank Thee

Great pains are needed, and many tears must be shed to preserve the humble spirit of Christ; but without it the light of life is extinguished and the soul dies

St. Siouan makes it clear that, even if you have learned to “keep your mind in hell,” you are still not able to experience humility without the Holy Spirit. There is a difference, he tells us, between believing in your mind that God exists “and knowing God by the Holy Spirit.”

The spirit of the man who has come to know God by the Holy Spirit burns day and night with love of God, and his souls can form no earthly attachment

What if someone has never experienced the grace of God so that he does not know enough about what is missing to desire humility? Silouan gives us courage. Surely, we all have had a glimpse of grace, he tells us; a moment when God’s presence was palpable within us, though we may not have been able to identify the source.  We all have had enough of a glimmer of God that we experience a deep desire for Him, though we may be unable to pinpoint and name the nature off this desire. And, as Silouan tells us, “the Holy Spirit moves to God those who desire it.”

What we should do then “to have peace in soul and body?”

“Love all men and be prepared for death, St. Silouan concludes. “The man who is mindful of death is not beguiled by the world.

Emptying ourselves of pride will bring about the peace and love that stem from humility:

We will find that:

our “human soul wishes good to all men and in all things is content.” 

And we will be able to experience Christ’s love to the fullest:

When the Lord enlightens you your soul will feel His presence, will feel that the Lord has forgiven you and loves you…

These are the gifts of humility in heart.

 

Prayer Born of Love: (From Wisdom from Mount Athos, St. Silouan)

On prayer, pp. 82-85 (part II)

When St. Silouan hears the account of a soldier who claims that his life was saved in a battle because he prayed, he immediately believes him. He could tell by the attitude of his body,” that “he had been utterly wrapped up in God.”

True prayer, then, is not achieved through just the right words or posture but by our willingness to be completely “wrapped up in God” – oblivious to the world, the chores that we cram in our “to do” lists, the stories of future glory we fantasize about and the resentments and hurt feelings that dominate our thoughts.

This is why St. Silouan writes:

Uninterrupted prayer is born of love, but fault-finding, idle talk and self-indulgence are the death of prayer.

Understanding this concept, however, does not enable us to pray with our heart. Another danger awaits us.

Have you ever found yourself so eager to experience a state of ecstatic love for God that you become impatient and try to bring about the outcome on your own? Have you ever had such a yearning for total union with Him– a soul totally “wrapped up in God,” free of mundane worries and anxieties – that you “will” this state to happen, pushing yourself to feel strong emotions or mistaking sentimentality for true connection with God?

St. Silouan knows this temptation well and reminds us:

Some are there who have injured their heats in their efforts to force their minds to pray in their hearts, so much so that afterwards they were unable to say the words of their prayers with their lips either.

This is because by forcing our agenda about when to experience a prayer of the heart, we are following our own will and only listening to our own voice.

A man is beguiled by listening to his own self…” Silouan says.

The prayer of the heart does not come about through our own will but from God when we have emptied ourselves of worldly attachments, are humble and submissive to Him.

The Lord loves us and in his mercy, he gives us prayer …God bestows His gifts on the simple, lowly and obedient soul

 

Making the World a Church (From St. Silouan’s “Wisdom from Mount Athos”)

Chapter “On Prayer,” pp.79-82

I always thought of prayer as an act, within a finite space and time. That is, “always” until I read this chapter by St. Silouan.

‘He who loves the Lord,” he tells us, “is always mindful of Him, and remembrance of God begets prayer.”

“Always mindful” implies a continuous state of mind and relationship with God. You no longer need designated times to talk to God—when you attend church or it is time for your morning prayers. Prayer has become a habit and part of your life. Your mind and heart are always full of His presence while you walk, lie down, talk, work, shop or watch TV.

This means that, instead of searching for ways to render our prayer perfect, we must strive to cultivate a “prayerful mind;” a mind that is “intent on God and in humbleness of spirit stands before the face of the Lord, who knoweth the soul of him who prays.”

To get there we first need a guide. Humility and submission are prerequisites of true prayer. Reliance on our own resources puts our own will above all else and allows it to become a barrier between us and God.

Our distance from God, and a truly prayerful mind, starts with judgment. Since we hear only our own voice on what “feels” right, what the right approach is, whom to trust and whom to forgive, we constantly judge others.

Like C.S Lewis’ “Screwtape Letters,” this chapter offers us glimpses of the gradual erosion of trust and inner peace as judgment replaces submission. What if I know more about prayer than my priest confessor? “My confessor lacks experience and is occupied with vain things.” How can I let him guide me? I can’t respect a man with a dull intellect. I, on the other hand, am a very insightful and erudite person. Why can’t I learn through books?”

St. Silouan is unequivocal about what humility and submission to God are. Even if our confessor lacks the qualities we believe are necessary in a spiritual guide, he tells us, accepting his guidance gives us the humility and serenity that will enable us to enter into union with God and partake of his mercy.

After all, St. Silouan reminds us, we are not alone. “…The Holy Spirit dwells in your confessor and he will tell you what is right.”

Cutting off the temptation of judging others and eliminating the anguish of being the sole “experts” and drivers of outcomes, brings peace.  It is in this peace that we recognize our true kinship with God and our desire for union with Him grows.

My soul yearns after the Living God, and my spirit strains toward Him, my Heavenly Father, my kin.

The narrative here shifts from the external—criticisms of our confessor, theories, reliance on books—to the internal region of the heart, from description to exclamation, from rules about prayer to the state of a prayerful mind.

The Lord made us his Kin by the Holy Spirit. The Lord is dear to the heart—He is our joy and gladness, and our firm hope.

When our mind is prayerful, prayer brings more peace and complete reconciliation.

He who prays aright has the peace of God in his soul…The man of prayer should feel tenderly toward every living being. The man of prayer loves all men and has compassion for all, for the grace of the Holy Spirit has taught him love.

When prayer is a continuous state of mind, and takes place in our hearts, there are no unreconciled contradictions and conflicting allegiances.

Though we recognize and castigate wrongs, we still love and pray for our enemies. Our relationship with God is not one-dimensional and one-sided – from high to low and low to high. We can now love God, not only out of fear but because we recognize our kinship with Him and long to be one with Him.

Our prayer is no longer limited to place and time. It transforms our vision of ourselves and relationship with the world. It expands us and effaces limits.

For the man who prays in his heart, the whole world is a church.

FREEDOM IN GOD (From: St. Silouan, Wisdom from Mount Athos)

From the chapter, On the Will of God and on Freedom, pp, 72-78

St. Silouan talks about two paradoxes: giving free reign to your own will leads to enslavement, and, conversely, submitting to God results in the only true freedom that you can experience.

Let’s break down what St. Silouan defines as “slavery” and “true freedom.”

  • Exercising your will and enjoying the “quick fix” of removing inconvenient restraints brings about momentary relief without halting the tyranny of lingering resentments, obsessive and circular thinking, fear, and anxiety.

Submission to God’s will, on the other hand, lifts us above the quagmire of self-preoccupation that sinks us deeper and deeper into isolation from God and despair. It purifies and calms our souls and unites us with God.

The man who is given over to the will of God is occupied only with God. The grace of God helps him to continue in prayer. Though he may be working or talking his soul is absorbed in God because he has given himself over to God’s will wherefore the Lord has him in His care.

  • I know when I have truly distanced myself from God by the increased turmoil within me: impatience and irritability towards others; focusing on losses or fantasy over what I already have; unflattering comparisons between my life and that of others; discontent; mourning over speculations of what might have been or rehashing perceived insults against me—with each new recollection fueling a fresh wave of anger.

Submission to God frees us from the oppression of this treadmill of passions and brings us serenity, joy and union with God.

When the Holy Spirit dwells in us it feels like we have paradise within us.

  • There is an image I recall from a book or movie. It is of a mother waiting for her son to arrive from China at an airport. She is so worried about his safety that she comes up with a sort of mental exercise of continuously visualizing the airplane staying in the air and landing safely. She is afraid to interrupt her visualization even for one minute from fear that the airplane might crash without it.

Relying on our own will and resources gives the same delusion that, were it not for our efforts—worries, advice, interference, anxiety etc.—our world would collapse. Like the mother in this example, we are weighed down by the burden we take on of “holding the airplane in the air” through sheer will power, and become exhausted.

There is no empty space for God in a soul that is consumed by the effort of controlling what is not within its control and exhausted by its futile endeavors. It is a soul that is unable to experience inner peace, rejoice over what it has or pray.

Giving ourselves to the will of God frees us from the delusion of willing the airplane to remain in the air, allows us clarity, serenity and true prayer.

But the man who is entirely given to the will of God can pray with a pure mind, his soul loves the Lord, and he finds everything pleasant and agreeable.

The man who is given over to the will of God is occupied only with God. The grace of God helps him to continue in prayer. Though he may be working or talking his soul is absorbed in God because he has given himself over to God’s will wherefore the Lord has him in His care.

  • Holding on to grudges, judging the magnitude of others’ sins and deciding whom we are willing to forgive and who is unforgivable is another way that we allow our will to place a burden on us—appointing ourselves to be judges and becoming saddled with the unbearable weight of hatred and resentment.

Forgiveness of others and God’s forgiveness of us is fundamental to submission to God.

  • Cleary we cannot submit ourselves to God, and abandon the illusion of control, without humility.

I learned that freedom is with God and is given of God to humble hearts who have repented and sacrificed their will before Him

What blocks us from true freedom is pride. St. Silouan laments for the human condition of pride and the sorrow of losing paradise because of it. All he can affirm is the eternal longing for God and the glimpse he offers of paradise regained through submission.

Though man lives on earth…in his love for God he forgets everything that is of this world. But our trouble is that through the pride of our mind we do not continue in this grace, and so grace forsakes us , and the soul seeks it, weeping and sobbing and saying:

“my soul longs for the Lord”