Friday, 14 June 2013

Elder Ephraim of Arizona-On Prayer of the Nous and Heart.

Chapter Fifteen.

On Prayer of the Nous and Heart.

Pray, I beg you, according to the instruction of the Apostle Paul: “Pray without ceasing” (1 Thes. 5:17 ). The Watchful Fathers say, “If you are a theologian, you will pray truly, and if you pray truly, you are a theologian” (The Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 62 ). Indeed, the Watchful Fathers of the desert teach that through various kinds of ascesis, praxis*, contemplation, and the moral and spiritual philosophy of watchfulness and prayer, the nous of man is purified, illumined, and perfected, and subsequently it acquires the gift of theology—not academic theology which the theologians in universities possess, but theology proceeding and gushing forth from the divine spring from which the rivers of true, divine theology eternally flow forth. The holy Watchful Fathers say that a nous that has ceased to contemplate God becomes either carnal or savage. But conversely, through prayer and especially through noetic prayer, the nous becomes godlike and is illuminated by divine radiance. A person’s salvation depends on prayer, for this is what unites him with God and brings him near God. When he is near God, it is natural for him not to deviate from the moral road because he pays attention to every step he takes. Nevertheless, in spite of all this attentiveness, the devil never stops stalking us constantly, in order to find us at a moment of weakness and thus drag us onto his road, which always leads sharply downhill. For this reason, my beloved children, it is a must, an indispensable requirement that we always be armed with the continuous prayer of our sweetest Jesus. We must not forget that the demons assail and attack prayer in order to render it ineffective by means of evil distractions. Thoughts of every kind encircle the poor man’s nous at the time of prayer in order to plunder the fruit of prayer and leave only its bones—that is, the labor and effort—for him who prays. This is why one who desires to pray well should drive away every sort of care and any thought whatsoever in advance, before beginning to say the prayer. The nous as an overseer should supervise very attentively the words spoken by the mouth, so that prayer becomes a fruitful spring of divine help and grace. According to the Fathers, Satan will always position himself as a thorn and stumbling block for holy prayer. This is because he is greatly troubled and burned by it. Therefore, my children, compel yourselves in prayer, and also remember me, your wretched Elder, so that the Lord may have mercy on me.

*Praxis (πράξις )
Praxis is the practice of the virtues, in contrast with theoria. It refers to the external aspect of the ascetical life (namely, purification, fasting, vigils, metanoias, etc., and in general the keeping of the commandments ) and is an indispensable prerequisite of theoria.

2. The main goal of the monastic life is to unite monks very strongly with God, Who is the ultimate. When a person is united with God and God dwells within his heart, he lacks nothing. There is no void within his soul. Furthermore, he does not even lack any material thing necessary for living in this present life. This is but one more proof of how much God loves those who obey Him. Prayer is the means by which we are united very closely with God. By “prayer”, we do not mean just praying now and then in front of icons, but along with this—which we must do—a monk uses seven words of prayer, which he says when he works, when he eats, when he sits, and when he occupies himself with anything whatsoever, without stopping! We say these words with the mouth, with the nous, or with the heart: “LORD JESUS CHRIST, HAVE MERCY ON ME”. Saying them constantly does not tire us. In the beginning one must persist a little; but later, he becomes accustomed to it and says the prayer with great ease and does not want to stop. When he says it, he feels so much spiritual exultation that even at the most difficult moments, if there are any, he is not disturbed or troubled. Rather, with patience he takes refuge in Christ, Whom he entreats to have mercy on him, and Christ consoles him and gives him joy. What is more beautiful than to entreat Christ at every moment and to say His holy name with these lips of clay? Is there a greater honor? These words contain our whole faith. In saying “Lord”, we believe that we are servants of God and that He is our lord. This honors Christ, that we make Him our lord, but it also honors us, who are servants of such a lord, Who is God. When we say “Jesus”, which is the human name of God, all the earthly life of Christ, from His birth to His Ascension, comes to mind. In saying “Christ”, which means anointed by God, king of heaven and earth, we confess and believe that Christ is our God, Who created everything and is in heaven and will come again to judge the world. In saying “have mercy on me”, we entreat God to send us His help and His mercy, for we acknowledge that without divine help we are not able to do anything. This, in brief, is the explanation of these holy words. Whoever says them experiences many things. With my whole heart I pray that our sweet Jesus will give you this prayer within your soul, that you may taste the spiritual ambrosia of prayer and are replenished overall.

3. To guard love, the pinnacle of virtues, diligence in prayer is an immediate spiritual necessity. Struggle in prayer if you want our Christ to dwell in you, and He, the most experienced general, will struggle together with you. He will fight for us and grant us the victory. We become like roaring lions when we get a good grip on the prayer—not when we pray carelessly or lukewarmly, but with strength of soul! Invigorate yourselves with the thought that the prayer is everything. Without the prayer, expect a general decline, going from one fall to another. If we hold on to the prayer with all our strength during temptations, we will certainly overcome the devil and we shall ascribe the victory to the all-holy name of Christ.

4. My child, with the weapon of prayer in your hands, fight for the divine battlements. Whoever struggles is crowned, not with olive branches, but with the unfading crown of eternal glory in the heavenly Jerusalem! This struggle is worth it because the glory it brings remains unfading and eternal, whereas the glory of athletes who struggle for transient things is ephemeral and vain! Therefore, we must struggle by making sacrifices and bearing privations, so that the holy name of God may be also glorified by us worthless ones.

5. My children, I beg you, for the love of God, do not stop saying the prayer of our Christ, not even for a moment. Your lips should continuously murmur the name of Jesus Who destroys the devil and all his plots. Cry out incessantly to our Christ, and at once He will hasten wholeheartedly to help us. Just as iron cannot be grabbed or even approached when it is red-hot, the same thing happens with the soul of him who says the prayer with the fervor of Christ. The demons do not approach it—and how could they? For if they draw near it, they will be burned by the divine fire which the divine name contains. Whoever prays is enlightened, and whoever does not pray is darkened. Prayer is the provider of divine light. This is why everyone who prays well becomes all radiant, and the Spirit of God dwells in him. If despondency, indifference, listlessness, etc., approach us, let us pray with fear, pain, and great noetic vigilance, and we will immediately experience the miracle of consolation and joy by the grace of God. It is not possible for a person who prays to hold a grudge against someone or to refuse to forgive him for any fault whatsoever. Everything is reduced to ashes when it comes near the fire of the Jesus prayer. So, my children, struggle in the salvific and sanctifying prayer of our Christ, so that you may become radiant and holy. Pray also for me, the indolent sinner, so that God may be merciful on the multitude of my sins, as well as on my countless liabilities.

6. My children, always remember Jesus so that in all your weaknesses you may find the appropriate medicine. Are you in pain? By calling on Jesus you will find relief and enlightenment. Are you in affliction? Call on Jesus and behold, consolation will dawn in the realm of your heart. Are you overcome by discouragement? Do not neglect to set your hopes on Jesus, and your soul will be filled with courage and strength. Are you bothered by carnal thoughts that allure you to sensual pleasure? Take the consuming fire of the name of Jesus and set fire to the tares. Are you oppressed by some worldly affair? Say: “Enlighten me, my Jesus, how to deal with the matter which lies before me. Work it out in accordance with Thy holy will”. And behold, you will be at peace and will walk with hope. In all and through all, set the name of Jesus as a foundation, support, adornment, and protection, and do not be afraid of the enemies. But when you go through anything without Jesus, then you should be afraid. Without medication do not expect to be healed—putrefaction will be the result. Make an effort in the prayer, my child, and then you will experience enormous benefit and refreshment and repose of soul.

7. Cry out the name of God; He is ready to help everyone who asks. Do not forget the prayer; man’s entire being is sanctified by the prayer. It is the only thing which those who do not struggle to the point of shedding blood are unable to do. What is more beautiful than prayer! Whoever prays is enlightened and comes to know the will of God. And how does he know it? When he prays well, of course. And when does he pray well? When he sends his prayers to God with all the right ingredients. And what are the ingredients that make prayer savory? Humility, tears, self-reproach, simplicity, and especially obedience with love. Prayer sheds light, and this light shows the right path which God wills. The prayer should be said without flagging; by praying thus you will remain invulnerable on all sides. When you find yourselves in a state of passionate thoughts, resume the prayer eagerly and assiduously, and immediately you will find relief. Hold on to the Jesus prayer steadfastly.

8. Say the prayer with pain and mourning of soul, and then you will feel different. Pay attention only to yourself! Then you will see yourself and you will feel pain, and that pain will bring you the mercy of God. Do not pay attention to heartbeats when you say the prayer. Just keep your mind from wandering away from the prayer—this is the center and the aim of prayer. Pray continuously with the Jesus prayer; it will set everything right. Whoever prays is enlightened, whereas whoever neglects prayer—like me—is darkened. Prayer is heavenly light, and whoever has the prayer within him or on his lips has the light of prayer welling up within his heart, and this enlightens him what to think and how to guard himself against the snares of the devil.

9. Compel yourselves in the Jesus prayer; this will become everything for you—food and drink and clothing and light and consolation and spiritual life. This prayer becomes everything for him who possesses it. Without it, the emptiness of the soul cannot be satisfied. Do you want to love Christ? Long for the prayer and embrace humility, and then you will realize that the kingdom of God is within us. Do not let evil thoughts rule over you; drive them out immediately with the prayer. Oh, this prayer—what miracles it performs! Cry out the prayer, and your guardian angel will send you spiritual fragrance! The angels greatly rejoice when a person prays with the prayer of our sweetest Jesus. May Jesus be the delight of your soul.

10. Cry out the prayer without ceasing. May God grant you a blessed beginning! May it not abandon you, or rather, may you not abandon the prayer—the life of the soul, the breath of the heart, the sweet-scented springtime which creates a spiritual spring in the struggling soul. My children, prayer and humility are the all-powerful weapons which we must keep continuously in our hands with sleepless attentiveness, because these, with God’s help, will give us the victory against the demons.

11. Patience, my children; do not lose your courage. Say the prayer intensely; do not scatter your mind among earthly things, even if you have cares—consider them as passing. Just keep prayer and the remembrance of death continually before your eyes: “I beheld the Lord always before me, that I might not be shaken” (Ps. 15:8 ). If you pray intensely and without ceasing, you will not fall. You should realize, though, that if you neglect prayer, you will suffer a general fall.

12. Persist in the prayer; do not think that great things are achieved so easily. You will labor; you will sweat—and God will see your labor and humility, and then He will easily bestow upon you the gift of prayer. The more you say the prayer, the more you will bring joy to me –primarily to God—and the more you will alleviate your souls. You must help each other in this sense: when you say the prayer out loud, and someone else is not saying it and his mind is wandering elsewhere, as soon as he hears the others saying it, he wakes up from his daydreaming. Then his conscience reproves him because he is not saying the prayer, too, but is just sitting there, letting his mind wander. So he also begins to say the prayer, and thus the sayings are fulfilled: “A brother helped by a brother is like a strong city” (Prov. 18:19 ), and, “bear one another’s burdens” (Gal. 6:2 ).

13. Pray as often as possible. Try to feel compunction and to weep, and you will see how much you will be relieved from thoughts and grief. Prayer is a conversation of man with God. He who prays with a broken and humbled spirit is filled with divine gifts and blessings—that is, with joy, peace, comfort, illumination,and consolation—and he, too, becomes blessed. Prayer is the double-edged sword that slays despair, saves from danger, assuages grief, and so on. Prayer is a preventive medicine for all diseases of soul and body. Likewise, entreat the Mother of Light, the immaculate Theotokos, to help you, for she is the greatest means of consolation after God. When a person calls upon her holy name, he immediately senses her help. She is a mother; when she was on earth, as a human being and fellow-sufferer she suffered the same things we do, and for this reason, she has great sympathy for pained souls and swiftly comes to help them.

14. Let our throat become hoarse from crying out the sweetest name of Jesus all day long, and it will become “sweeter than honey and honeycomb” (Ps. 18:10 ) to the noetic larynx—the heart. With no other name will we be able to overcome the passions within us, except with the name of Jesus. With no other name will we be able to expel the darkness from our heart and to have the radiance of luminous knowledge shine forth in our nous, except with the name of Jesus. With this name we shall arm ourse;ves, and in every war and battle we shall call on Him as our general for help. And at the first call, He comes; then our soul is filled with courage and we fearlessly advance towards the unseen war, with Jesus as our champion. Let us struggle in our thoughts, always hoping on God. Let us always stand armed with the prayer and vigilance. Let us always be on the watch for thieves—thoughts from the left—without leaving those from the right unexamined, lest we accept evil thoughts which feign innocence.

15. Work at noetic prayer with much diligence, patience, persistence, and humility. You should know that thiw method of prayer is not achieved by chance; it takes quite a struggle, as well as much time. We must not forget that the devil hates noetic prayer more than we can imagine, and consequently we shall face fierce opposition from him in various ways. Therefore, have forcefulness, courage, patience, persistence, humility, and a loving disposition towards our Jesus. Do not be discouraged at the first difficulties of the struggle; good things are achieved with labor and pain. But when you see fruit—and oh, what fruit!—then you yourselves will say, “it was worth the effort for such a spiritual harvest”.

16. Pray, pray—just pray continuously now. The miracles of ardent prayer are beyond description and explanation. One marvels how the sea subsides and how the fierce winds stop! Many times temptations arise like a fearful storm and relentless winds that threaten us with total destruction. But by crying out the prayer: “Master, save us, we are perishing” (Lk. 8:24 ), you will see that all becomes calm miraculously, and we are saved. Amen.

17. My child, I received both of your letters. You seek to acquire divine love and unceasing prayer—supremely rich gifts; gifts which require afflictions, trials, time, etc. Therefore, my child, your trials are normal, and you should not wonder why you have them. So struggle to obtain divine love by constantly saying the Jesus prayer. At every fall, do not despair, but rally yourself for a counterattack!

18.We live in this vain world, but it must not attract and engross our heart so as to deaden its spiritual stamina and separate it from its Maker and God. Therefore, we ought to pray constantly, my child, in order to communicate ceaselessly with our Christ and draw spiritual strength from Him, so that we may face every demonic attack victoriously. Pray with the Jesus prayer, and He, the wonder-working Lord, first of all will forgive us the multitude of our sins, and secondly, by His grace will help us defeat the flesh, the world, and the devil—our three great enemies. Moreover, prayer is the provider of joy and peace in God. Consider how much we need joy of soul and especially divine joy. Therefore, let us see to it that at all costs we take advantage of all our spare time and utilize it for prayer.

19. Pray, my child, because everything depends on prayer—especially the salvation of our souls. When we pray with pain and humility, God hears our prayer and responds according to what is beneficial to us. Often it happens that after we pray for something, the will of God is expressed in a way that is completely different from what we had prayed for. This often grieves us, because our own will was not done. We do not understand the depth of the divine judgments and that, despite all the disparity between the expression of the divine will and our own will, the omniscient God is working things out for our benefit in many different ways. Therefore, my child, let us muster all the strength of our soul to persevere and implement that great virtue which is called Patience.

20. Glory to His holy name, because we came to know Him and worship Him as much as we are able, and we shun the confusion and vanity of this age. “Glory to God Who loved us and washed us from our sins in His own blood” (Rev. 1:5 ). Know, my child, that when the heart is free from the things of this world and occupies itself with the study of the divine Scriptures, vain thoughts flee, and the nous is confined to thinking divine thoughts. It is not interested in this present life, but by the great pleasure of continuous meditation it is lifted up to God. Through the continuous invocation of the name of God by means of the unceasing prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, man receives a sense of the other life, of the age to come, and of the hope which is stored up for the righteous. He foretastes the magnificence of that life and says with astonishment, “Oh, the depth of the riches of the wisdom and knowledge of the unsearchable God!” (cf. Rom. 11:33 ) –for He has prepared another world that is so wondrous in order to bring into it all the prudent people to keep them there in life everlasting.

21. My children, work diligently at the spiritual fragrance—I am speaking of prayer—this holy conversation with Jesus, which abundantly provides His blessings. Yes, children of the Spirit, love prayer with your whole heart so that all of you become a fragrance of grace, and that you smell sweet to those near you and make them say, “Truly, monasticism makes monks give off an angelic fragrance through spiritual grace”. So, let the filthy passions be far from you, for they cause a foul smell and make a bad impression.

22. Let us compel ourselves, children, in the prayer of our sweetest Jesus, so that He may grant us His mercy, so that we may be united with His grace in order to carry out His divine commandments and acquire His love. And when we acquire it, it makes us gods by grace and by participation—and then the path of our Christ will not be harsh and steep for us, but sweet and pleasant. And then we shall carry out His commandments with great ease.

Taken From The Book "Counsels From The Holy Mountain"by Elder Ephraim of Arizona(Philotheou Mt.Athos)
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