Monday, 22 April 2013

Teachings of the 'Startsi' of Valamo Monastery on Prayer


[Schema Monk Agapii] -- In the beginning the Jesus Prayer is mostly uttered with unwillingness and constraint. But if we have a firm intention to subdue all our passions, through prayer and with the help of divine grace, then with frequent practice of the Prayer and perseverance, as the passions grow less, the Prayer itself will become gradually easier and more attractive.

In oral prayer we must try in every possible way to keep our mind fixed on the words of the prayer, saying it without haste and concentrating all our attention on the meaning of the words. When the mind becomes distracted by alien thoughts, we must bring it back undiscouraged to the words of the prayer.

Freedom from distraction is not given to the mind quickly, nor whenever we wish it. It comes when we have first humbled ourselves, and when God chooses to grant this blessing to us. This divine gift does not depend upon the length of time we pray or the number of prayers we recite. What is needed is a humble heart, the grace of Christ, and constant effort.

From oral prayer recited with attention we pass over to inner or mental prayer. This is so called because in such prayer our mind is swept towards God and sees Him alone.

To practice inner prayer, it is essential to keep our attention in the heart before the Lord. In response to our zeal and humble striving in prayer, the Lord bestows upon our mind His first gift -- the gift of recollection and concentration in prayer. When attention is directed towards the Lord effortlessly and without interruption, this is attention given by grace, whereas our own attention is always forced. This inner prayer, if all goes well, in due time passes into prayer of the heart: the transition is easily made, provided we have an experienced teacher to guide us. When the feelings of our heart are with God and love for God fills our heart, such prayer is called prayer of the heart.

It is said in the Gospels: "If any man will come after me, let him deny himself, and take up his cross, and follow me" (Matthew 16:24). When we pray, then, we must first give up our own will and our own ideas, and then take up our cross, which is the labor of body and soul that is unavoidable in this spiritual quest. Having surrendered ourselves entirely to the never- sleeping care of God, we should joyfully and humbly endure the sweat and labor, for the sake of the true reward God will grant to the zealous when the right time comes. Then God, imparting His grace to us, will put an end to the wanderings of our mind and will place it -- together with the remembrance of Himself -- immovably within the heart. When this dwelling of the mind in the heart has become something natural and constant, the Fathers call it "union of mind and heart." In this state the mind has no longer any desire to be outside the heart. On the contrary, if outward circumstances or some long conversation keeps the mind away from its attention to the heart, it experiences an irresistible longing to return within, a craving and spiritual thirst: its one desire is to set to work once more with renewed zeal in building its inner house.

When this inner order is established, everything in a man passes from the head into the heart. Then a kind of inner light illumines all that is within him, and whatever he does, says, or thinks, is performed with full awareness and attention. He is able to discern clearly the nature of the thoughts, intentions, and desires that come to him; he willingly submits his mind, heart, and will to Christ, eagerly obeying every commandment of God and the Fathers. Should he deviate from them in any respect, he expiates his fault with heart-felt repentance and contrition, humbly prostrating himself before God in unfeigned sorrow, begging and confidently awaiting help from above in his weakness. And God, seeing this humility, does not deprive the suppliant of His grace.

Prayer of the mind in the heart comes quickly to some people, while for others the process is slow. Thus of three people known to me, it entered into one as soon as he was told about it, in that same hour; to another it came in six months' time; to a third after ten months, while in the case of one great staretz it came only after two years. Why this happens so, God alone knows.

Know also that before the passions are destroyed prayer is of one kind, and after the heart has been purified of passions it is of another kind. The first kind helps to purify the heart of passions, while the second is a spiritual token of future bliss. This is what you should do; when you can actually feel the mind entering the heart and are consciously aware of the effects of prayer, give full sway to such a prayer, banishing all that is hostile to it; and so long as it continues active within you, do nothing else. But when you do not feel thus carried away, practice oral prayer with prostrations, striving in all possible ways to keep your attention in the heart before the face of the Lord. This manner of praying will also enable the heart to acquire warmth.

Watch and be sober, and especially during the prayer of the mind and heart. No one pleases God more than he who practices the prayer of mind and heart aright. When outward surroundings make prayer difficult, or when you have no time to pray, at such times, whatever you may be doing, strive to preserve the spirit of prayer in yourself by all possible means, remembering God and striving in every way to see Him before you with the eyes of your mind, in fear and love. Feeling His presence before you, surrender yourself to His almighty power, all-seeing and omniscient, in worshipful submission laying all your activities before Him, in such a way that in every action, word and thought you remember God and His holy will. Such, in brief, is the spirit of prayer. Whoever has a love for prayer must without fail possess this spirit, and, as far as possible, must submit his understanding to God's understanding by means of constant attention of the heart, humbly and reverently obeying the commands of God. In the same way he should submit his wishes and desires to God's will, and surrender himself completely to the designs of God's providence.

In all possible ways we should combat the spirit of arbitrary self-will and the impulse to shake off all restraint. It is a spirit that whispers to us: This is beyond my strength, for that I have no time, it is too soon yet for me to undertake this, I should wait, my monastic duties prevent me -- and plenty of other excuses of like kind. He who listens to this spirit will never acquire the habit of prayer. Closely connected with this spirit is the spirit of self-justification: when we have been carried away into wrong-doing by the spirit of willful arbitrariness and are therefore worried by our conscience, this second spirit approaches and sets to work on us. In such a case the spirit of self-justification uses all kinds of wiles to deceive the conscience and to present our wrong as being right. May God protect you against these evil spirits.

[Igumen Varlaam] -- The Apostle writes: "For our rejoicing is this, the testimony of our conscience" (II Corinthians 1:12). Simeon the New Theologian says: "If our conscience is pure, we are given the prayer of mind and heart; but without a pure conscience we cannot succeed in any spiritual endeavor."

[Igumen Nazarii] -- With reverence call in secret upon the Name of Jesus, thus: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner."

Try to make this prayer enter ever more deeply into your soul and heart. Prayer the prayer with your mind and thought, and do not let it leave your lips even for a moment. Combine it, if possible, with your breathing, and with all your strength try through the prayer to force yourself to a heart-felt contrition, repenting over your sins with tears. If there are no tears, at least there should be contrition and mourning in the heart. 

From "The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology," compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E. M. Palmer, (London: Faber & Faber, 1966, pp. 275 - 279



26. Presumptuousness may have many forms; one may be presumptuous by word, gesture, or look. It may lead a man to chatter, to worldly talk, to doing something ridiculous, provoking others to unseemly mirth. It is presumptuousness, too, if a man touches another without need, points at someone who is laughing, pushes him, snatches something out of his hands, shamelessly stares at him; all this is the work of presumptuousness, all this comes of having no fear of God in the soul and so little by little a man becomes utterly careless. Therefore God, when He gave the commandments of the law, said, "Ye shall cause the children of Israel to beware of their uncleannesses" (Leviticus 15:31), for without reverence and modesty man cannot honor even God Himself, nor can he keep a single commandment. Hence nothing is more harmful than presumptuousness; it is the mother of all passions, since it banishes reverence, drives the fear of God away from the soul, and gives birth to carelessness.
28. Over whatever you have to do, even if it be very urgent and demands great care, I would not have you argue or be agitated. For rest assured, everything you do, be it great or small, is but one eighth of the problem, whereas to keep one's state undisturbed even if thereby one should fail to accomplish the task, is the other seven eighths. So if you are busy at some task and wish to do it perfectly, try to accomplish it -- which, as I said, would be one eighth of the problem, and at the same time to preserve your state unharmed -- which constitutes seven eighths. If, however, in order to accomplish your task you would inevitably be carried away and harm yourself or another by arguing with him, you should not lose seven for the sake of preserving one eighth.

29. The wise Solomon says in the Proverbs, "They that have no guidance fall like leaves: but in counsel there is safety" (Proverbs 11:14). So you see what the Holy Scriptures teach us? They enjoin us not to rely on ourselves, not to regard ourselves as knowing all, not to believe that we can control ourselves, for we need help, are in need of those who would counsel us according to God. No men are more unfortunate or nearer perdition than those who have no teachers on the way of God. For what does it mean that where no guidance is, the people fall like leaves? A leaf is at first green, flourishing, beautiful; then it gradually withers, falls and is finally trampled underfoot. So is it with a man who has no guide; at first he is always zealous in fasting, vigil, silence, obedience and other virtues; then his zeal little by little cools down and, having no one to instruct, support and fire him with zeal, he insensibly withers, falls and finally becomes a slave of the enemies, who do with him what they will.

30. Of those who revel their thoughts and actions and who do everything with counsel the Wise One says, "in much counsel there is safety" (Proverbs 9:14). He does not say, "in the counsels of many" that is, in seeking counsel from everyone, but in seeking counsel in all things -- naturally from one we trust; and not in such a way as to tell one thing and conceal another, but to reveal everything and seek counsel in all things. For such a man, safety is assured "in much counsel."

31. When we do not reveal our thoughts and intentions and do not seek the counsel of the experienced, we hold on to our own will and follow our own justifications. Then, apparently doing something good, we spread nets for ourselves, and so without realizing it we perish. For how can we understand the will of God or completely surrender ourselves to it, when we trust ourselves and cling to our own will? Therefore Abba Pimen said that "our will is a brass wall between man and God."

32. The devil trips up as he likes the man who trusts his own mind and keeps to his own will. But he has no access to a man who does everything with counsel. That is why he hates questions and the guidance in response, hates the very voice, the very sound of such words. Is it not clear why? Because he knows that his evil wiles will at once be exposed when people begin to ask questions and talk of useful things. And there is nothing he fears more than being exposed, for then he can no longer be wily as he wills. When a man asks and hears the advice of someone experienced, "do this, but do not do that" or, "now is not the time for that" or sometimes "now is the time," the devil cannot find how to harm or bring him down, since he always seeks counsel and protects himself on all sides. So the saying "in much counsel there is safety" is fulfilled for him.

33. The enemy likes those who rely on their own understanding, for they help him and sets traps for themselves. I know of no other way for a monk to fall than when he trusts his own heart. Some say a man falls because of this or that, but I know of no other fall except when a man follows his own lead. If you see a man fallen, know that he followed his own lead. Nothing is more dangerous, nothing more pernicious than this.

 from E. Kadloubovsky and G. E. H. Palmer, "Early Fathers from the Philokalia," (London: Faber and Faber, 1981), pp. 160 - 163

Γέροντας Παΐσιος:Απάντηση στο ερώτημα «Μπορούμε να δουλεύουμε τις Κυριακές»;

Κανονικά πριν από τον Εσπερινό της γιορτής ή της Κυριακής σταματάει κάθε εργασία.
Καλύτερα είναι να δουλέψει κανείς περισσότερο την προπαραμονή, όταν αυτό μπορεί να ρυθμισθεί, και να μη δουλέψει μετά τον Εσπερινό της παραμονής. Άλλο είναι να κάνει κανείς σε μια γιορτή ή την Κυριακή ένα ελαφρό πράγμα το απόγευμα, όταν είναι μεγάλη ανάγκη, αλλά και αυτό πάλι με τρόπο.
Παλιά και οι χωρικοί που ήταν έξω στα χωράφια, μόλις άκουγαν την καμπάνα του Εσπερινού, έκαναν τον σταυρό τους και σταματούσαν την δουλειά. Το ίδιο και οι γυναίκες που κάθονταν στην γειτονιά. Σηκώνονταν, έκαναν τον σταυρό τους και άφηναν το πλέξιμο ή ό,τι άλλο έκαναν.
Και ο Θεός τους ευλογούσε. Είχαν την υγεία τους και χαίρονταν… Τώρα κατήργησαν τις γιορτές, απομακρύνθηκαν από τον Θεό και την Εκκλησία και τελικά όσα βγάζουν από την δουλειά τους τα δίνουν στους γιατρούς και στα νοσοκομεία…
Μια φορά ήρθε ένας πατέρας στο Καλύβι και μου λέει: «Το παιδί μου αρρωσταίνει συχνά και οι γιατροί δεν μπορούν να βρουν τι έχει».
«Να σταματήσεις να δουλεύεις Κυριακή και όλα θ’ αλλάξουν», του είπα.
Πράγματι σταμάτησε, και το παιδάκι του έγινε καλά.
Πάντα λέω στους λαϊκούς να σταματήσουν να δουλεύουν Κυριακές και γιορτές, για να μην τους βρουν στην ζωή τους συμφορές. Όλοι μπορούν να ρυθμίσουν την δουλειά τους. Όλη η βάση είναι η πνευματική ευαισθησία. Αν υπάρχει ευαισθησία, βρίσκονται λύσεις για όλα.
Και αν λίγο ζημιωθούν από μια λύση, θα πάρουν ευλογία διπλή. Πολλοί όμως δεν το καταλαβαίνουν. Ούτε στην Θεία Λειτουργία πηγαίνουν. Η Θεία Λειτουργία αγιάζει. Αν δεν πάει ο Χριστιανός την Κυριακή στην Εκκλησία, πως θα αγιασθή;
Δυστυχώς όμως πάνε σιγά-σιγά οι άνθρωποι να μην αφήσουν ούτε γιορτές ούτε τίποτε. Βλέπεις, ακόμη και τα ονόματα τα αλλάζουν, για να μη θυμούνται τους Αγίους τους.
Το Βασιλική το κάνουν Βίκυ· το Ζωή, Ζωζώ, και έτσι λέει δυο φορές… «ζώο»! Έβαλαν την γιορτή της Μάνας, του Μάη, του Απρίλη… Σε λίγο θα πουν: «Σήμερα είναι η γιορτή της αγκινάρας, την άλλη του κυπαρισσιού, την άλλη τα γενέθλια αυτού που βρήκε την ατομική βόμβα ή το ποδόσφαιρο». Δεν αφήνει όμως ο Θεός…
Κυριακή πρωί. Ώρα Θείας Λειτουργίας. Όμως στην νεοελληνική μας κοινωνία των… προχωρημένων αντιλήψεων η ζωή διοργανώνεται αγνοώντας χαρακτηριστικά, τι σημαίνει κάλεσμα της καμπάνας και σύναξη στην θεία λειτουργία.
- Φροντιστήρια κανονίζουν μαθήματα την iδια ώρα με την λειτουργία.
- Εκδρομεiς και ταξιδιώτες κανονίζουν ταξίδια Κυριακή πρωί-πρωί.
- Εργαζόμενοι ρυθμίζουν τις δουλειές τους ή τον ύπνο τους την ίδια ώρα, που στους ναούς γίνεται η λειτουργία.
Πόσο θλιβερή άγνοια έχουν! Τι χάνουν! Τι στερούνται προτιμώντας κάτι άλλο, ούτε καν το σκέπτονται! Ω αν καταλάβαιναν, σε τι προσφορά πλούτου χάριτος στρέφουν την πλάτη τους! Ω αν ήξεραν, τι «δικαιώματα» δίνουν στο διάβολο και πόσο πιο ευάλωτοι γίνονται στις παγίδες του, μένοντας γυμνοί από την «χάρη» της θείας λειτουργίας! Ω αν εiχαν επίγνωση, πόσο τραγικά λάθος αξιολογήσεις κάνουν, αδικώντας έτσι τον εαυτό τους!…
Κάποτε, ένας ψαράς επήγε σε έναν ευλαβέστατο και άγιο μοναχό στο Άγιο Όρος Κυριακή βράδυ φρέσκα ψάρια για την εορτή πού θα είχε την άλλη ήμέρα, την Δευτέρα. Ο Γέροντας παραξενεύτηκε, και τον ερώτησε:
-Ποτέ τα έπιασες; Εκείνος απάντησε:
-Σήμερα το πρωί. Εiναι φρέσκα-φρέσκα! Τότε ο άγιος έκεiνος τού λέει:
-Παιδί μου, δεν μπορώ να τα αγοράσω. Εiναι αφορισμένα. Γιατί τα έπιασες την Κυριακή.
Ο ψαράς δεν μπορούσε να το καταλάβει αυτό. Τότε του λέει ο Γέροντας:
Θέλεις να βεβαιωθείς γι” αυτό; Δώσε ένα ψάρι στο γάτο μου. Και θα το ιδεiς. Δεν θα το φάει. Και πράγματι. Ο γάτος δεν το έφαγε. Βέβαια αυτό δεν ήταν φυσικό.
Οι γάτες «τρελαίνονται» για ψάρια. Καί δεν γνωρίζουν, σαν ζώα, καταστάσεις χάριτος. Ο γάτος εκείνος δεν έφαγε το ψάρι, κατά ειδική υπερφυσική ενέργεια τoυ Θεού. Όχι για την ψυχή του. Αλλά για την ψυχή τού ψαρά. Πού από άγνοια δεν σεβόταν την αργία τής Κυριακής.
Αυτό, φυσικά, συγκλόνισε τον ψαρά, και στο εξής σεβόταν τις Κυριακές και τις μεγάλες εορτές.
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