Western Rite Critic

A Balance to Contagious Enthusiasm

Meditation during prayer

Orthodox MeditationWe recently read a discussion on meditation “prior” to prayer, which included this: “I suggested meditation on the mystery under consideration prior to prayer, precisely as a means to “warm up the heart” as recommended by, e.g., St. Theophan the Recluse.”

Since we don’t know exactly what is meant by this discussion, we offer some theses on the subject:

* Meditation is not prior to prayer but an act of prayer (with the understanding that much that we consider prayer is prior to ‘true prayer’).

* By preparation for prayer, what the Saint is describing is a process of movement from attention to the world to prayerful attention – in short, preparation for prayer is actually movement into true prayer, or beginning to pray, or becoming prayerful. The use of the vehicles of prayer, icons, candles, and even the words are part of these means of preparation.

* The notion that one should have a separate period of meditation on the sufferings of Christ, and afterwards begin praying, strikes us as a Latin approach to piety that is foreign to Orthodox piety, but we are willing to be corrected on this.

* We still have concern that a danger of the use of a heterodox format for meditation in prayer (much less in any way separated programmatically from prayer) is the use of imagination in prayer (the consensus patrum is against this) and its inevitable transformation into fantasy, and fantasy’s transformation into prelest against which, says St. Seraphim, the fathers armed themselves more fiercely than anything.

* “Warming up” is actually warming the heart by means of movement from the cold attention to the world and its cares to the warm attention to union with God. It is not a separate activity ‘prior’ to prayer in the sense that the cited article seems to be indicating. In fact, it would seem to us to be slightly dangerous to engage in any meditation on a subject separate (even if prior) to prayer, since this could only be, in our view, a flight of the imagination’s fancy.

* The kind of attention ‘prior to prayer’ that we are familiar with takes the form of standing in silence and removing from our hearts and minds the attentions to the world, but also removing from our minds and guarding against all false images. This is very important. The notion that these moments of readiness are to be filled with imagination or constructed images of Christ, makes us uncomfortable. It is one thing to be wounded with the fact of Christ’s suffering for us, with its meaning and implications, and it’s another to play in our minds a virtual movie of the Passion, the focus of which becomes rather inevitably a reconstruction of the details. We aren’t meaning to be sticklers, but we think we’re reading these texts slightly differently than some others.

* This puts forth the question not of whether meditation on the Passion is proper in fact (which is and has been acknowledged), but what exactly is meant when the fathers talk of ‘meditating’ on the sufferings of Christ: “the crown of thorns, the robe, the reed, the blows, the smiting on the cheek, the spittings, the irony” [source1] [source2]. Are we talking about running a mental movie, or else what the meaning of these things is for us? We think the latter, and we think that when the fathers speak of considering, meditating, fixing in mind the thorns, they mean not a mental movie but a kind of contemplation (with the aim of prayer, never dangerously separate from prayer) of Christ’s suffering for us. In other words, it proceeds in terms of meaning more than images.

* We take as our primary text Orthodox iconography, and it’s treatment of the Passion, which is not the realism of Latin painting, but the expressionism of Orthodox attitudes on the subject. To the extent that images provide us with impetus to prayer, the icons are the standard, and teach us what kind of images we mean, and indeed offer us an objectivity of images that does not require a subjective searching of mental and cultural movie references, or an illicit realism, which is not ‘real’ at all.

* It’s not as easy as posing various rabbinical authorities against one another in a as though we’re doing either Talmud or mediaeval scholasticism or messing around with Orthodox action figures with their various superpowers: Sts. Diadochos, Maximos, and Peter of Damascus on the one hand and Sts. Ephrem, Tikhon, and John Chrysostom on the other. It’s tantalizing to the Western mind to believe that there are different “schools” of thought on this within the one true faith, and all are equally ‘valid’, but this is to scholasticize Orthodoxy in a neo-Marcionist way; it begs the question by presuming a Western cultural hermeneutic and arriving, of course, at a Latin understanding of how we read the Fathers on these subjects. A better way than to hurl quotations at one another is to presume that there is one consensus of the Fathers, if read in an Orthodox manner, and to read them looking for this consensus and understanding of what they mean in the living context of how the Church has lived and prayed at all times and in every place. Then we will be truly catholic in mind as well as in name. That said, we offer the following texts, since they were first cited by the enthusiasts rather than ourselves, as key texts for consideration of this question:

Some helpful texts:

Do you wish to enter Paradise more quickly? This is what you must do: When you pray, do not complete your prayer before arousing in your heart some feeling toward God—reverence, loyalty, thanksgiving, exaltation, humility, contrition, or assurance and hope in God . . . – St. Theophan the Recluse: Letters

Elder Joseph the Hesychast, an amazing monk of blessed memory, taught his disciples to say the prayer out loud together at the beginning of their vigil so as to warm up the heart, the soul, the mind — and to scare the demons with the spiritually potent name of our Lord. – [source[

From St. Theophan (1st Homily on Prayer):

On the feast day of the Entrance into the Temple of the Most-holy Theotokos, I find it timely to give you instruction in prayer – the main work of the temple. A temple is a place of prayer and arena of prayer’s development. For us, entry into the temple is entry into a prayerful spirit. The Lord has the kindness to call our hearts His temple, where we enter mentally and stand before Him, ascending to Him like the fragrant smoke of incense. We are going to study how to attain this state.

Gathering in the temple, you pray, of course. And in praying here, you surely ought not abandon prayer at home. Therefore, it would be extraneous to speak to you about our duty to pray, when you already pray. But I do not think that it is extraneous in any way to give you two or three rules about how to pray, if not in the way of teaching, then simply as a reminder. The work of prayer is the first work in Christian life. If in everyday affairs the saying: “live and learn” is true, then so much more it applies to prayer, which never stops and which has no limit.

Let me recall a wise custom of the ancient Holy Fathers: when greeting each other, they did not ask about health or anything else, but rather about prayer, saying “How is your prayer?” The activity of prayer was considered by them to a be a sign of the spiritual life, and they called it the breath of the spirit. If the body has breath, it lives; if breathing stops, life comes to an end. So it is with the spirit. If there is prayer, the soul lives; without prayer, there is no spiritual life.

However, not every act of prayer is prayer. Standing at home before your icons, or here in church, and venerating them is not yet prayer, but the “equipment” of prayer. Reading prayers either by heart or from a book, or hearing someone else read them is not yet prayer, but only a tool or method for obtaining and awakening prayer. Prayer itself is the piercing of our hearts by pious feelings towards God, one after another – feelings of humility, submission, gratitude, doxology, forgiveness, heart-felt prostration, brokenness, conformity to the will of God, etc. All of our effort should be directed so that during our prayers, these feelings and feelings like them should fill our souls, so that the heart would not be empty when the lips are reading the prayers, or when the ears hear and the body bows in prostrations, but that there would be some qualitative feeling, some striving toward God. When these feelings are present, our praying is prayer, and when they are absent, it is not yet prayer.

It seems that nothing should be simpler and more natural for us than prayer and our hearts’ striving for God. But in fact it is not always like this for everyone. One must awaken and strengthen a prayerful spirit in oneself, that is one must bring up a prayerful spirit. The first means to this is to read or to hear prayers said. Pray as you should, and you will certainly awaken and strengthen the ascent of your heart to God and you will come into a spirit of prayer.

In our prayer books, there are prayers of the Holy Fathers – Ephraim the Syrian, Makarios the Egyptian, Basil the Great, John Chrysostom, and other great men of prayer. Being filled with the spirit of prayer, they were able to up that living spirit into words, and handed it down to us. When one enters into these prayers with attention and effort, then that great and prayerful spirit will in turn enter into him. He will taste the power of prayer. We must pray so that our mind and heart receive the content of the prayers that we read. In this way the act of praying becomes a font of true prayer in us. I will give here three very simple instructions: 1. always begin praying with at least a little preparation; 2. do not pray carelessly, but with attention and feeling; and 3. do not go on to ordinary work immediately after prayer.

Even if prayer is common for us, it always demands preparation. What is more common for those who can read and write than reading and writing? However, sitting down to read or write, we do not immediately begin, but we calm ourselves before beginning, at least to the point that we can read or write in a peaceful state. Even more so preparation for the work of prayer is necessary before praying, especially when what we have been doing before praying is of a totally different nature from prayer.

Thus, going to pray, in the morning or in the evening, stand for a moment, or sit, or walk, and strive in this time to focus your thoughts, casting off from them all earthly activities and objects. Then call to mind the One to Whom you are praying, Who He is and who you are, as you begin this prayerful petition to Him. From this, awaken in your soul the feeling of humility and reverent awe of standing before God in your heart. As you stand piously before God, all of this preparation may seem small and insignificant, but it is not small in meaning. This is the beginning of prayer and a good beginning is half the work.

Having stood up in your heart, now stand before your icons, make a few prostrations, and begin with the usual prayers: “Glory to Thee, our God, glory to Thee. O Heavenly King…”, and so on. Do not read hurriedly; pay attention to every word and let the meaning of each word enter into your heart. Accompany your words with prostrations. With this effort, the reading of prayers becomes pleasant to God and fruit-bearing. Pay attention to every word, and let the sense of each word enter into your heart; understand what you are reading and feel what you are understanding. No other rules are necessary. These two – understanding and feeling – have the effect of making prayer fitting, and fruitful. For example, you read: “cleanse us from every stain” – feel your stain, desire cleanliness, and ask it from the Lord with hope. You read: “forgive us our debts as we forgive our debtors” – forgive all in your soul, and having forgiven everyone everything in your heart, ask for forgiveness for yourself from the Lord. You read: “Thy will be done” – completely give up your own will to the Lord in your heart, and honestly be prepared to meet everything that the Lord is well-pleased to send to to you with a good heart. If you read each verse of your prayers in this way, then you will be truly praying.

In order to facilitate the development of true prayer, take these steps: 1) keep a prayer rule according to the blessing of your spiritual father – not more than you can read unhurriedly on a normal day; 2) before you pray, in your free time become familiar with the prayer in your rule, fully take in each word and feel it, so that you would know in advance what should be in your soul as you read. It will be even better if you learn the prayers by heart. When you do this, then all of your prayers will be easy for you to remember and feel. There is only one final difficulty: your thoughts will always stray to other subjects, therefore: 3) you must struggle to keep your attention focused on the words of your prayer, knowing in advance that your mind will wander.

When your mind does wander during prayer, bring it back. When it wanders again, bring it back again. Each and every time that you read a prayer while your thoughts are wandering (and consequently you read it without attention and feeling,) then do not fail to read it again. Even if your mind wanders several times in the same place, read it again and again until you read it all the way through with understanding and feeling. In this way, you will overcome this difficulty so that the next time, perhaps, it will not come up again, or if it does return, it will be weaker. This is how one must act when the mind wanders. On the other hand it may happen that a particular word or phrase might act so strongly on the soul, that the soul no longer wants to continue with the prayer, and even though the lips continue praying, the mind keeps wandering back to that place which first acted on it. In this case: 4) stop, do not read further, but stand with attention and feeling in that place, and use the prayer in that place and the feelings engendered by it to feed your soul. Do not hurry to get yourself out of this state. If time cannot wait, it is better to leave your rule unfinished than to disturb this prayerful state. Maybe this feeling will stay with you all day like your guardian Angel! This sort of grace-filled action on the soul during prayer means that the spirit of prayer is becoming internalized, and consequently, maintaining this state is the most hopeful means of raising up and strengthening a spirit of prayer in your heart.

Finally, when you finish your prayers, do not immediately go off to any sort of work, but remain and think at least a little about what you have just finished and what now lies before you. If some feeling was given to you during prayer, keep it after you pray. If you completed your prayer rule in the true spirit of prayer, then you will not wish to quickly go about other work; this is a property of prayer. Thus our ancestors said when they returned from Constantinople: “he who has tasted sweet things does not desire bitter things”. So it is with each person who has prayed well during his prayers. One should recognize that tasting this sweetness of prayer is the very goal of praying, and if praying leads to a prayerful spirit, then it is exactly through such a tasting.

If you will follow these few rules, then you will quickly see the fruit of prayerful labor. And he who fulfills them already without this instruction, of course, is already tasting this fruit. All praying leaves prayer in the soul – continual prayer in this manner gives it root, and patience in this work establishes a prayerful spirit. May God grant this to you by the prayers of our All-pure Mistress, the Theotokos!

From St. Theophan (letter 48)

Do this also. Prepare yourself to stand properly before God—don’t just jump into prayer after gossiping and gadding about or doing house chores. Schedule the time and rouse the urge to pray precisely at that hour. Another opportunity may not come.

Don’t forget to re-establish your sense of spiritual need. Bring your need for God to the front of your mind, then begin to draw your mind into your heart by organizing your thoughts into prayer and calling forth your desire to find their fulfillment in God.

When the heart is conscious and feels the need for prayer, then the attentive heart itself will not let your thoughts slide to other matters. It will force you to cry out to the Lord in your prayers. Most of all, be aware of your own helplessness: were it not for God, you would be lost. If someone who is doomed to disaster were to stand before the one person who, with a glance, could save him, would he look here and there for his salvation? No, he would fall down before him and beg mercy. So it will be when you approach Him in prayer with an awareness of all-encompassing peril and the knowledge that no one can save you but God.

All of us have this little sin hanging about us. Though we make painstaking preparations for every other task (no matter how trivial), we do not prepare for prayer. We take up prayer with flighty thoughts, willy-nilly, and rush to get it over with, as if it were an incidental, though unavoidable, bother—and not the center of our life, as it should be.

Without preparation, how can there be a gathering of thought and feeling in prayer? Without preparation, prayer proceeds shakily instead of firmly.

No, you must determine to deny yourself this little sin and under no circumstance allow yourself to come to prayer with your heart and mind unprepared, your thoughts and feelings scattered in a dozen directions. Such a careless attitude toward prayer is a crime, a serious one—a capital one. Consider prayer the central labor of your life and hold it in the center of your heart. Address it in its rightful role, not as a secondary function!

Toil! God will be your helper. Take care to fulfill your prayer rule. If you begin to fulfill it, soon, very soon, you will see the fruits of your labor. Strive to experience the sweetness of pure prayer. Once experienced, pure prayer will draw you on and enliven your spiritual life, beckoning you to more attentive, more difficult, and ever-deepening prayer.


Some of the comments in The Lion are likely to give some of our readers pause. We’d be interested to know what you think of the piece.


April 14, 2008 - Posted by | Western Rite Pieties, Western Rite Quotes | , , , , , , ,


  1. The neo-papist/reformist model starts out: “Easy on ourselves, easy on you.” Then things change to “Easy on outselves, like it or not, hard on you.” Why? Because the all of a sudden experience of “What’s going on here?” was there from the beginning, whether in the guise of economia or relevancy or development or ecumenism or the need of bringing people in, the source of one’s liberality was never really one’s self.

    What does come into play, along with the green light to use one’s imagination all you want amid heterodox devotions is the need to use one’s imagination to see everything as AOK, even when an authority attempts to turn a scandal into some kind of a blessing. Is the payback to such authorities for letting people do their own thing letting these same authorities do whatever they want?

    Comment by publican123 | April 19, 2008 | Reply

  2. Yes, this stuff is happening frequently. I’m with Jerry MaGuire. I’d like us to be willing to be smaller, poorer, and less acceptable to the “industry”. Our own megachurches have made it so easy to be an Orthodox Christian that the very concept is redefined along Protestant lines. Once saved, always saved. We’re Orthodox b/c Fr. So and So says so, because those around us say so, because we’re admitted to Communion. But it doesn’t really affect how we live our lives. All this will be made clean in the end. Somewhere along the lines is someone who doesn’t believe in judgment, doesn’t believe that what we’ve done or not done really will be judged. Somewhere along the lines is a believer in a different god. And our weaknesses have been complicit. It’s another reason why saying Bishop So and So has no problem with it means nothing to anyone with any integrity anymore, and they’re busy reshaping those places into neopapal institutions where ordinary people are afraid to ask questions and express concerns because they’re met with “how dare you ask me that; you’ve no right to ask me that” or you hear them mouthing phrases like “we were taught you never question the priest” and colorful buzzwords like “obedience” and “submission” become the watchwords of a transformation that pious middlemen and prayerful moderates let slide right on by, with any justification that tells us it’s really not that bad and makes them feel better.

    Give me an ardent, enraged ecumenist any day over those who tell us nothing’s happening; at least with the one I know what I’m looking at. With the other, it’s like a chameleon mind. Either way, it won’t work out like they think.

    Comment by tuD | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  3. With respect to “modern Orthodox” parents I have heard it said that “If they get something out of another church, fine” even someone like Pastor Joel O. of megachurch, TV booksigning, beautiful wife fame. When the real horror becomes not making a lot of money…

    The other thought process goes like this: Orthodox Chrustianity isn’t easy. Let’s make it easier.

    Is the way of American culture really easier? Is the “world” an easier place?

    The statistics say: easy at the beginning, then not so easy, but then cruel and filled with heartache.

    The longsuffering in the Gospels is very different from the culture’s happy dance into despair and emptiness.

    Sidetrips into heterodox devotions seem another way to postpone the conversion taught by the Fathers more than simply just another way to “warm up” for prayer.

    Again, when the teaching on prelest is off the table, there are fewer prosrations, less need to reverence icons, since it comes down to “getting it” and why make a big deal about how.

    Comment by publican123 | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  4. I guess the gluttony I am referring to is more the in-house prayer group variety that inlcudes 3 hours worth of Rosary, Stations, Divine Mercy, readings from Marian Movement for Priests, etc… not the simple family prayer time variety, the occasional Charismatic prayer interlude…

    With respect to FMG, no need to call a code but be appreciative when due.

    “Balance” I’ve heard used with reference to Greek philosophy by a Greek Orthodox when really it was a cultural thing not without implicit eference to American pop-psychology. In my understanding, “balance” in an Orthodox sense is meaningless outside the Liturgy and Calendar or with the very real organic relationship to one’s Confessor.

    We can perhaps find some consolation in this: it took a St. Maximus the Confessor to correct the use of Dionysius the Areopagite (see Lossky). It might be said that much of Orthodoxy in America has to be wrestled not from the hands of neo-Platonists but Consumerists.

    Comment by publican123 | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  5. Publican,

    On the Lion. Hah! You found it. The one quotation that really kind of makes your flesh crawl. 🙂 I wasn’t going to say anything, but at least someone did.

    You’re right; that’s why we read the passion gospels in the first place. At the appropriate time, in the appropriate context, and within the safeguards of the appropriate liturgical movement and guidance.

    I think the assessment of ‘gluttony’ with regard to some RC devotionalism is reasonable. That said, there was a time, still remembered by some of the most aged among the Roman Catholics, when a greater attendance at vigils, more rigorous fasting (not going around pondering together what each of us will ‘give up’ this year), and greater participation in liturgics, and so on, were the norm. And I think it’s right to miss those days. We had more in common, then.

    I never think heterodox family members are a justification for the presence or lack of devotions, one way or another. Christ said from the Cross that we have a new family, and there are things in our tradition that underscore and bear this out most explicitly, namely certain traditions of godparent-godchild relationships (the nounos is closer than a birth father), name days as “new birth’ days, and even the acceptance of a new name in our greetings, pieties, and approaching the mysteries. These are widely iconoclasted right now, in keeping with cultural Westernization, but the tradition is not erased, and some of us still hold very firmly to them. I think once we introduce the logic that heterodox family members should be a consideration when evaluating our devotional practices, i.e. what is Orthodox to do or not do, it’s a slippery slope to oblivion.

    I understand certain economies there, but an economia, by definition, is not the normal policy of the rule. When we marry, we marry in the Church, leaving father and mother to cleave to our spouse in the Mystery. If we’ve married outside the Church, or only one of us has converted, we’ve created a non-normal situation that certainly has no bearing on the Orthodoxy of a particular devotion. If we’re holding back our children until adulthood or some mythical age of accountability, as is the despicable and entirely heretical practice of some Orthodox parents, their ideas of parenting are the problem, rather than Orthodoxy.

    And with the extended family, it’s a matter of respecting one’s Faith enough to keep it and not shove it under a rug in embarrassment or in yielding to social norms to conceal the warfare between the world and the church. It’s not pious to stop someone in the middle of a conversation with “I have to pray the rosary now”, but what qualms could one have about excusing oneself at 9pm instead of 10pm from the family room, and quietly going into one’s closet to pray? Or about crossing oneself, not dramatically but certainly properly and with reverence, when passing a cemetary or a church.

    I’m not misunderstanding your analysis, which is not saying any of this. Just that it might not be wise to introduce that element into the argument.

    Comment by tuD | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  6. Publican,

    Well said on “balance”. Balance can actually be a heresy and a heretical piety, if mis-used. Whenever I hear it, I tend to think it’s a cultural precept being used rather than a Christian one. In that regard, I’ve only been delightedly found wrong a couple of times. Whenever I hear someone marketing a “balanced approach”, “balanced point of view”, “balanced perspective”, I am reminded of a statement by a traditional Orthodox speaker at a conference rife with ecumenistic hugging and handshaking. He stood up and said, “I am here to tell you about Orthodoxy, which is not an approach, not a point of view, and not a perspective; it’s the truth.” The words “balanced approach” are what logicians call a ‘thought-terminating cliche’. They’re a canard that no one can challenge. Like the phrase ‘whatever’, or, if you’re under 20, “what ev”. 🙂

    On FMG, it’s creepy how she can be taken as a “spokesman” for Orthodoxy. I recently clarified this for a heterodox friend who really had a problem with Orthodoxy and it was, of all things, Frederica! I told her we don’t have “spokesmen” except for the fathers, and they must be taken in consensus. But I hadn’t read much FMG, so I started reading, and I actually think it’s mostly a style thing. She writes extremely well, and she’s capable of making her points simply, cogently, concisely. And usually, they’re good points. Her style can come off a little… um… James Dobson, but that’s more about our own experiences and what’s been used to bludgeon us prior to ever encountering an FMG. Overall, you get used to her somewhat soccer-mom-ish sound (which I tend to think is more to reach and help her partly-converted audience, including myself, keep converting to a more Orthodox attitude), and occasional misfires of content (which people seem more likely to overlook when a Fr. Alexander (Schmemann), or Fr. John (Meyendorff) have them). Her recent article on men in the church might offend some people, but so do icons (face it, the world and the world in the church is still in the 8th century dealing with all the same issues), and frankly I thought it was brilliant and simply articulated what a lot of people wish they had just come out and said. FMG is the type that’ll see the emperor with no clothes, and go home and write an article about it just about the time people are starting to see underwear.

    But you’re right, she’s not our spokesman. She’s a part of the one spokesman, like we all rightly are. We’re all rightly icons, part of the one image. May your prayers make it so for me.

    Incidentally, people sometimes make the same mistake about Frank Schaeffer. And puh-leeeez don’t anyone start picking on the poor man. He may ask for it, sometimes, but he’s realizing how some Orthodox are reading the way he speaks, and I think he’s getting a bad rap sometimes. Perhaps he’s kind of like St. Augustine. They each say many pious things, and some things that really were probably better left to personal thought processes, but they’re not spokesmen for Orthodoxy in the sense that people think. And yet, sometimes they are.

    Comment by tuD | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  7. Fr. Augustine,

    I think it’s a matter of experience then. There are indeed gigantic Orthodox complexes appearing in US suburban centers. Exceedingly wealthy, casting off old buildings for new, immense parking lots guarded and directed by private security, multiple chapels, fabulous wealth, that are whitewashed. Where there are a few icons, they are close to the ceiling, out of reach, and not venerated. They are replaced by windows (sometimes glass, sometimes stained glass with cartoonish images). The exception is the iconostasis, which usually contains a few icons painted in the “aged and faded” style to look hundreds of years old. There are no icons (e.g. of the feast and of the patron saint) placed for veneration at the front of the Church, or before the iconostasis. On occasion, they are outside in the “lobby”. One may be able to light a candle in the lobby but never in the temple. And likewise, common areas like the meeting and dining halls have no icons (to avoid “offending the protestant visitors”), but are likewise whitewashed. Perhaps one finds a single icon of the Last Supper. Throughout such complexes, one only occasionally finds icons placed more as decoration (often inaccessibly) than for veneration – it’s almost like we’re drinking the same diet coke (Protestantism) but there’s a little cherry flavour added (Orthodoxy). Just enough to say, ‘this is our variation’. Combined with pews, organs, and a lot of watering down, it has effectively eliminated the keeping of basic pieties in such places. One stands once or twice. Kneels once on the kneelers. Crosses oneself a handful of times. But that’s about it. File out in an orderly manner, while chatting. Overall, a premium is placed on absence of movement and motion, absence of physical activity and involvement, absence of material pieties (prostrations are unheard of), and absence of iconography. These places are ultimately iconoclastic, if not officially, yet in terms of atmosphere. Protestant visitors come out saying “Today, I feel like I went to Church.”

    I would like to think that iconoclasm doesn’t exist among the Orthodox, too. I would like to think it, but experience tells me otherwise. That we should be surprised, that we should think this isn’t a common impulse and a constant assault of the world in the churches, to me, is akin to thinking oneself unlikely to fall into sin. Our first mistake was resting on our laurels. The Triumph of Orthodoxy must be maintained; it was not won in a merely static way.

    Incidentally, father. Nearly any time I think I’m disagreeing with you (nearly), you show me I’ve jumped the gun and am not really disagreeing. I think we’re sometimes speaking and hearing different languages, moreso my deficiency than yours. I’m going to work, in my unworthiness, on trying to get clarification when I’m about to disagree. It’s an extra step, but I think it’s worth it. On the one hand, I’ve liked to think that the back and forth of this forum makes that unnecessary, but I don’t think it really does. I don’t want to alienate or lose your wisdom, insight, and candor here, and I think it would benefit others too. I’m sure I’ll fail at it, but fyi: I plan to work on it.

    Comment by tuD | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  8. Correction from The Lion: “Perhaps the ideal way to meditate on the Passion of Christ are the Stations of the Cross.” The article then goes on to speak about the Sorrowful Mysteries of the Rosary.

    The problems associated with being wealthy are best spoken of in the Gospels. I also frankly do not see how the Sufferings of Our Lord are better spoken of than in the Gospels.

    With respect to the GOA… I would not use the Greeks to not so subtlely defend the AA. When someone else loses their job, that doesn’t put more money in my bank account or make me a millionaire. I am not a saint because someone else went to jail.

    It is arguable that laxity or nominalism is more easily remedied than recasting Orthodoxy in heterodox ways.

    The Lion article underscores the tendency to convert by changing one’s affiliation. It shows little appraciation for the connection between public and private prayer and the strong Liturgical/monastic rooting in Orthodoxy. Moreover it makes absolutely no assessment of the effects of devotionalism in Catholicism in partuclar, and that type of gluttony where there’s always one more devotion to do, and the “less fervent” family members feel excluded, turned off, to put it bluntly, and perhaps rightly so, by people engaged in devotional marathons.

    The most dangerous nominalism is a philospohical one which asserts implictly that since prayer, fasting, almsgiving are “means” that the particular characteristics of these are not entirely relevant or of consequence. It seems the Fathers say otherwise. We should fall on our knees in gratitude when reading their counsels, especially in this age.

    Comment by publican123 | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  9. The priest I know is one of the best men I’ve ever met. I don’t say such things lightly, but he is shrouded in the odor of true sanctity.

    Yes, we all know the difference between “wealthy trends” and “impoverishment.”

    I was politely trying to say, that I’ve never seen a wealthy Church prefer to look poor, so I think practical concerns are almost always the reason for this phenomenon. My experience, is that a wealthy parish has Orthodox ego and one-upmanship (very common in our Greek Churches), or that it has “dilletantism” – in which case, they try to look as perfect as possible so they can drone on about how mystical their Church is when festival week comes around (but secretly, they hardly observe Orthodox spiritual practices at all). I’ve never been in a parish that was white-washed, that wasn’t clearly struggling.

    Comment by fatheraugustine | April 18, 2008 | Reply

  10. I have to say, that to assert that the Stations are “perhaps the best way. etc”…

    This is what happens when people take a word like “balance” and see separate natures to be meditated upon instead of One Christ in His Suffering, Death and Resurrection…

    Does on say “Now I’m considering the Human Nature” “Now I’m considering the Divine Nature”…

    Why is Fredrica Matthews-Green a cited spokeperson for Orthodoxy? If anything she supports the necessity of monastcism in Orthodoxy vs. conferences.

    Comment by publican123 | April 17, 2008 | Reply

  11. With respect to the Father Seraphim Rose reference: clarified. I had extrapolated it a bit. My mistake.

    With respect to the “whitewashed” and let’s be specific cinderblock I saw in one Antiochian Byzantine Rite parish, maybe not the same one referred to… I think it more accurately comes down to priorities and vision. Saying a parish doesn’t have something in the “budget” may or may not mean they don’t have the money but that the inclination is not there. Saying “desperately” and then not having soenthing done about it especially over a period of years… In the case of the Antiochian Archdiocese the sense of mission is very keen. Inside, the church looks like a “mission parish” though a fairly well-established suburban Byzantine Rite church. In this parish, there was no shortage of people wearing vestments.

    In all fairness, when a parish promotes itself as pan-Orthodox this may be the result or not.

    Similarly, the pan-Orthodox view can be found in The Lion article… with some more blank walls…

    Comment by publican123 | April 17, 2008 | Reply

  12. [rolling eyes] Sometimes there is communion on the tailgate of a pickup, but we know the difference between a trend in rather wealthy churches and mere impoverishment. Too much “balancing” is liable to trivialize any observation; I take it we actually do believe there are such things as trends.

    Comment by tuD | April 17, 2008 | Reply

  13. Incidentally, about whitewashed mausoleums. I have a priest-friend in the Antiochian Church, whose Church walls are bare white. I asked him why they weren’t frescoed, and he told me they desperately wanted to have them done, but had no budget.

    Of course, they had hung wall icons about at eye level, but were unable to frescoe the ceilings or dome.

    So, sometimes, there might be practical reasons!

    Comment by fatheraugustine | April 16, 2008 | Reply

  14. Well, it sounds like we’re agreed!

    Somebody asked about Fr. Seraphim Rose being mentioned, and wanting to know more. I don’t know what more to say, other than my spiritual father was very close with Fr. Seraphim Rose. When my spiritual father first set foot into an Orthodox Church, he received a blessing from St. John the Wonderworker. Shortly after St. John’s repose, he had decided to become Orthodox and the equally holy Archbishop Anthony instructed Fr. Seraphim Rose to see to his instruction. So, Fr. Seraphim received him into Orthodoxy (and, I’m trying to remember if he stood in as his Godfather, or not). When it came time for my spiritual father to be ordained to the priesthood, he was prepared for it (as he had been counselled throughout his Orthodox life) by Fr. Seraphim. He was then ordained at St. Herman’s monastery in Platina.

    I trust that he passes on to me what he received from Fr. Seraphim Rose, and I often have the opportunity to question him rather directly about what St. John and Fr. Seraphim of Saintly memory taught. I am unable to express my gratitude for this blessing.

    If people want me to clarify anything more about my post, I’d be happy to – being as I promised a more detailed reply today. Upon rereading it, however, it all seems clear enough to me!

    Comment by fatheraugustine | April 16, 2008 | Reply

  15. First, Father Augustine, thank you for your gentle and thoughtful post.

    I agree there’s a deep geneological quality in Holy Orthodoxy. This is only my opinion, but I think it’s most pious to keep that which was transmitted by one’s fathers and elders in the Faith, and indeed to pass it on to one’s children in the Faith. In my own particular ‘family tree’ there are many devotions, phrases of prayer, and so on that are part of a ‘family style’. Therefore, even if I thought a practice was ill-advised (and I don’t, given the way you’ve clarified and described this), I would see it with a lot more latitude if it were passed on directly as from father to son by pious and holy men. After all, St. Seraphim is often cited as counselling his followers to keep certain rules that, while they might make some of us uncomfortable, one cannot speak against in terms of that kind of relationship, though we might counsel others quite differently and have received quite different counsel.

    It is one thing to receive something from one’s spiritual father, who received it from his spiritual father, so that there is an organic quality to this process – a human-ness of piety that’s very fitting to Orthodoxy. It’s another to scour the interactions of such men for proof-texts and references to justify one’s personal innovations. I don’t believe you’re doing the latter, tho sometimes I have asked that question, and you always clarify and indicate that your proposition is offered as a thesis – i.e. you’re conducting inquiry (out loud) rather than taking a firm position.

    Likewise, then, while seeing wide latitude in the kind of organic transmission of pieities mentioned above, and being able to say nothing against it, even if one were so inclined, where there is not very clear error: still, I personally have no problem with what you’ve described in the above post.

    You speak of focusing during reading of the Holy Scriptures as prepatory to true prayer, but it would be prayerful reading of the scriptures, and the phrase or idea is the focus, you indicated. Likewise, you’re rejecting the kind of fantasies encouraged by an Ignatius Loyola, which is comforting. I don’t think it’s impious for Orthodox faithful to be on their guard against that which growls like, smells like, looks like that which in the past has led our people to slaughter. It is the duty of Orthodox families, including the wider family of Orthodox, to watch over their own and guard them from wolves. This can get extreme in some hands, but it’s helpful that you put to rest even moderate concern by saying clearly “this is not that”.

    But also, you mention the use of Orthodox iconography, including holy writ, the icon of the Word, to direct one’s thoughts in prayer; who can dispute this? Who of us, standing in prayer in a cathedral or a mission parish, the walls covered inch to inch with icons(*), and is not guided in prayer to the healthy, holy, venerable images written in an Orthodox manner, and indeed teaching us what kind of images are profitable for the mind. Comparing this with the Stations, including images of fictional events, images that are quite often not written according to the ancient Orthodox traditions, and images which in their sequencing and relationship convey and perpetuate a heterodox attitude toward the Passion rather than a fully Orthodox one, I can see nothing but profit in your words.

    I have no issue with the word ‘meditation’, incidentally, but I think it is properly a mode of prayer, is all, rather than the imaginative preparatory (let alone substitutionary) exercise so often thought of in heterodox circles. Is there good mainstream Orthodox writing on meditation? I’ve read some of the fathers distinguishing types of prayer. The important thing seems to be always what we mean, because it is precisely a facet of post-Schism culture that words have come to have dual meanings, one meaning among the faithful, and another in the dominant culture which, the child begins drinking in at the same moment he begins to be made Orthodox. We have always to distinguish these. Words like “salvation”, “love”, “true”, “pious”, “religion”, and “meditation” are just examples.

    * despite the modernist fashion these days of whitewashed mausoleums of worship

    Comment by tuD | April 16, 2008 | Reply

  16. What I appreciate about this original post is how thorough it is, not words which can be taken out of context to “prove” some point about a particular prayer.

    I would however appreciate some clarification on Father Seraphim Rose’s being mentioned, as already spoken of as to be further elaborated by Father Augustine.

    Comment by publican123 | April 16, 2008 | Reply

  17. Well, since I’m the one who suggested a meditative excercise “prior to prayer,” I should respond to this.

    First: I’ve not been avoiding the forum, just so people know! I’ve started school recently, and time is sometimes wanting.

    Second: it’s late. So, I’ll make a more detailed reply at another time (hopefully tomorrow), but for now I’ll simply say: this practice was recommended to me by my spiritual father. My spiritual father was formed by Fr. Seraphim Rose, and was in fact ordained at Platina after being trained by him. His bishop was the holy Anthony of San Francisco. I’m not “arguing from authority” here – I don’t think that any of this “proves” their argument as correct. But, just as some have mentioned their desire to stand with Babushkas, the names of St. John, Archbishop Anthony and Seraphim Rose inspire some confidence in me. It predisposes me to believe there may be some merit in the practice!

    Third: this meditative act is not properly called meditation, I suppose. Still less does it involve the imagination in the sense of “making things up,” although I suppose it used the imagination insofar as it often involved conceptualizing what I was reading about in scriptures or prayer – or seeing in an icon. One can hardly read about clothing him with a purple garment, and not immediately think of Christ clothed in a purple garment. That’s imagination, but it’s a far cry from “using the imagination” in the sense of inventing details on our own initiative and trying to be creative. It thoroughly rejected “Ignatian”-style imaginations about details, etc. Rather, I was instructed to latch onto some phrase or idea (usually the Passion would be the most fruitful source of such material) which struck my heart and produced feelings of repentance and need for God. This feeling, I was supposed to “fan” so as to warm my heart and predispose it for prayer. I know that I have read St. Theophan argue quite specifically for this exact approach. And, the same basic ideas are present in the letters of St. Theophan provided here, most especially in this passage:

    “Do you wish to enter Paradise more quickly? This is what you must do: When you pray, do not complete your prayer before arousing in your heart some feeling toward God—reverence, loyalty, thanksgiving, exaltation, humility, contrition, or assurance and hope in God . . .”

    And, as far as “prior to prayer” goes, I precisely meant what St. Theophan speaks of when he mentions reading prayers by rote, looking at icons, etc. For example, I have a prayerbook of a bishop Aelfwine – it contains prayers to be read/said before a crucifix. The prayers are addressed to the crucified Christ, now looking to his feet, his hands, the wound in his side, and contemplating/allegorizing such things. This is “prior to prayer,” for me: they are prayers used to arouse the feelings in the heart, of which St. Theophan speaks.

    I once said that the Stations of the Cross may be an effective way of performing this “prior to prayer” stage. I said that, while expressing my hesitancy on account of my uncertainty regarding the provenance of the Stations of the Cross. Now knowing that it does not arise from a local, Orthodox devotion in Jerusalem (and that several of its events are false), I would have to say that I am colder towards it. I guess a simple person, using it in ignorance and with the right intent, could still warm his heart before prayer with it (provided of course, he’s not wandering about from place to place while people dramatize the events, and all that other hooey).

    Okay, more later. I hope.


    Comment by fatheraugustine | April 16, 2008 | Reply

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