C- Prayer and
Prayer is the
main activity in Orthodox Spirituality, and is simply the experience of being
in the presence of God. And as St. Basil the Great said, it is the adherence
to God in all the moments and incidences of life. In the Tradition of
Orthodox Spirituality, prayer is considered a necessary instrument of
salvation; and as is well known, prayer is the foundation of all the different
aspects of Christian life and its activities, especially in church services and
The desert fathers
distinguished three degrees of Christian prayer:
degrees of prayer constitute in themselves a whole program of spiritual life.
It matters little whether prayer is vocal or mental; the most loving prayer,
either vocal or mental, is always the best. What really matters is that
prayer should be full of love and sincerity to The Lord; so that whether prayer
was vocal or mental, being extended with love makes it best.
In contrast with
prayer, contemplation is not necessary for salvation. But, as a general
rule, true and constant fervent prayer becomes contemplative.
contemplation? Contemplation is not synonymous with high intellectual speculations
or extraordinary insight, which are the property of certain rare and
specifically chosen souls. According to the classics of spiritual life,
contemplation begins with the “prayer of simplicity” or “prayer of simple
The prayer of simplicity
consists in placing yourself in the presence of God and maintaining yourself in
His presence for a certain time in an interior silence which is as complete as
possible, while you concentrate upon the divine Object, reduce to unity the
multiplicity of your thought and feelings and endeavor to keep yourself quiet
without words or argument. This prayer of simplicity is the frontier and
the most elementary degree of contemplation. It is not difficult. Anyone
who is even to a slight degree accustomed to pray is sure to have experienced
this form of contemplation, for a few minutes at least. For those who
have experienced this prayer it is fruitful and marvelously joyful and is like
a shower of rain falling on the garden of the soul. It gives most powerful
assistance to the efforts which we make in the moral order to avoid sin and
accomplish the divine will.
It is good to
make acts of contemplation. But to live a contemplative life is better
still. We must not imagine that the contemplative life means a life in
which one does nothing but contemplate. Were that so, the contemplative
life would be possible only in the desert or cloister, while it is, as a matter
of fact, open to all.
contemplation is simply life directed towards contemplation, a life organized
in a certain way so that works of contemplation are fairly often possible in
it, not too many times, but at least few times, and they form the summit of
this life. If you give a few minutes every day to the prayer of
simplicity; if you can seclude your inner self to a certain degree from other
people and other things, so that you can go to your inner soul and not allow
other people or other things to dominate you; and if, in your thinking and your
reading, you bring with you a certain preoccupation with God and attentiveness
to His presence, you are already beginning to lead the contemplative life, even
if you are still in the world and not in the desert.
described as "acquired" if acts of contemplation are the result of personal
effort. It is "infused" or "granted", if the acts of
contemplation are produced by divine grace without, or almost without, human
effort. Acquired contemplation belongs to the ascetical life.
Infused contemplation belongs to the mystical life. This last one
is the normal culmination of the contemplative life.
There are many
forms and stages of contemplative life in the Eastern Fathers:
of simple regard", the "prayer of quiet", and "full
union" are degrees of "hesychia"
(or peacefulness), which is, in one form or another; the introduction to the
Eastern Fathers' contemplation. Above the hesychia
comes the "ecstatic union", of which instances are found in
the new testament and which are
described exactly by the desert Fathers and by St. Dionysius The Areopagite (in their theory of the ekstasis and of the circular movement, kyklike kinesis, bringing the soul back to
God). But what is called in the Western spirituality "the
transforming union", or the "spiritual marriage", we
find it described by Eastern Fathers who conceive spiritual life as a
deification (theosis) and those who lay stress
on nuptial (i.e. of marriage) relation between the soul and her Lord (like
Origen and Methodius the bishop of Olympus in the third century).
In addition to
those stages or degrees, there is an unnoticed transition or an uninterrupted
chain of middle stages that connect those states together. Thus it
happens, in Orthodox practice that the name of Jesus (which is truly the
essence of "Jesus prayer" and its strength ),
may be used not only as a starting point in the contemplative life, but also in
continuous support of mystical states from hesychia
What was said
about mystical life must also be said about contemplative life. They are
not the privilege of certain exceptional souls. Although it is completely
true that monastic life provides specially favorable conditions for practicing
contemplation, but it is also true that it is open and available to everyone.
Marriage, family life, a profession or a trade does not exclude in any
way the ability for contemplative prayer and mystical graces. An outer
situation, whatever may be the distraction it causes, will never in itself
prevent the ability of contemplative prayer. It is well known that the
medical profession may require concentration on worldly cares more than many
other professions. But, despite that, the book of "Sayings of the
Desert Fathers" tells us about a physician in Alexandria who was
spiritually equal to St. Anthony who was the greatest of the Christian
ascetics: "Abba Anthony of the desert was informed that, in the city,
there is one that is as him, and is a physician who gives the needy
everything that he can give; and he daily praises God saying the thrice holy
hymn (i.e. holy, holy, holy) with the angels.
contemplative or the mystic is a very special source of overflowing blessing
for the environment where he lives. Leaving aside some of the more
elevated mystical states like ecstasy and the spiritual marriage, we can say
that prayer of simplicity and the spiritual stages following it like the quiet
prayer and non-ecstatic union prayer - we would, according to the Eastern
terminology, rather say, the "initial hysichast
states" - are the normal end of any habitual and loving prayer-life
that has as its object the keeping of the Savior's teachings; and is
accompanied by faithfulness to them. Contemplation is often the
best means of becoming faithful to those teachings. For contemplation
increases love, and love makes us able to keep the commandments. Therefore
we can move from love to the keeping of the commandments, but the converse is
We must say and
repeat many times, that we should not consider contemplation equal to
perfection because perfection is charity (love). But contemplation which
would be the utmost exercise of love, would also be the acme of perfection.
Such a contemplation would constitute a goal to which it would indeed be
worth subordinating all human life.
ends Chapter 2 of the Book)
To meditate on the Cross, making peace
between earth and heaven
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