Saturday, 24 August 2013

Saint Gregory Of Sinai - How to Master the Intellect in Prayer


No one can master the intellect unless he himself is mastered by the Spirit. For the intellect is uncontrollable, not because it is by nature ever-active, but because through our continual remissness it has been given over to distraction and has become used to that. When we violated the commandments of Him who in baptism regenerates us we separated ourselves from God and lost our conscious awareness of Him and our union with Him.
-- Sundered from that union and estranged from God, the intellect is led captive everywhere; and it cannot regain its stability unless it submits to God and is stilled by Him, joyfully uniting with Him through unceasing and diligent prayer and through noetically confessing all our lapses to Him each day. God immediately forgives everything to those who ask forgiveness in a spirit of humility and contrition and who ceaselessly invoke His holy name. As the Psalmist says, "Confess to the Lord and call upon His holy name" (Psalms 105:1).

-- Holding the breath also helps to stabilize the intellect, but only temporarily, for after a little it lapses into distraction again. But when prayer is activated, then it really does keep the intellect in its presence, and it gladdens it and frees it from captivity. But it may sometimes happen that the intellect, rooted in the heart, is praying, yet the mind wanders and gives its attention to other things; for the mind is brought under control only in those who have been made perfect by the Holy Spirit and who have attained a state of total concentration upon Christ Jesus.


-- In the case of a beginner in the art of spiritual warfare, God alone can expel thoughts, for it is only those strong in such warfare who are in a position to wrestle with them and banish them. Yet even they do not achieve this by themselves, but they fight against them with God's assistance, clothed in the armor of His grace.

-- So when thoughts invade you, in place of weapons call on the Lord Jesus frequently and persistently and then they will retreat; for they cannot bear the warmth produced in the heart by prayer and they flee as if scorched by fire. St. John Climacus tells us, "Lash your enemies with the name of Jesus," because God is a fire that cauterizes wickedness (Deuteronomy 4:24 and Hebrews 12:29). The Lord is prompt to help, and will speedily come to the defense of those who wholeheartedly call on Him day and night (Luke 18:7).

-- But if prayer is not yet activated in you, you can put these thoughts to flight in another manner, by imitating Moses (Exodus 17:11-12): rise up, lift hands and eyes to heaven, and God will rout them. Then sit down again and begin to pray resolutely. This is what you should do if you have not yet acquired the power of prayer.

-- Yet even if prayer is activated in you and you are attacked by the more obdurate and grievous of the bodily passions -- namely, listlessness and lust -- you should sometimes rise up and lift your hands for help against them. But you should do this only seldom, and then sit down again, for there is a danger of the enemy deluding you by showing you some illusory form of the truth. For only in those who are pure and perfect does God keep the intellect steadfast and intact wherever it is, whether above or below, or in the heart.

from The Philokalia: Volume IV, edited and translated by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), pp. 276 - 278.

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