Monday, 24 June 2013

Γέροντας Νεκτάριος Μουλατσιώτης-Ο πόλεμος κατά των σαρκικών παθών

Ομιλία Γέροντος Νεκταρίου Μουλατσιώτη με θέμα: "Ο ΠΟΛΕΜΟΣ ΚΑΤΑ ΤΩΝ ΣΑΡΚΙΚΩΝ ΠΑΘΩΝ" Η ομιλία πραγματοποιήθηκε στην Ιερά Μονή Αγίων Αυγουστίνου Ιππώνος και Σεραφείμ του Σαρώφ στο Τρίκορφο Φωκίδος, την Τετάρτη 29 Μαΐου 2013.

Elder Ephraim Of Arizona(Philotheou Mt.Athos)-On The Path to Unceasing Prayer

 Elder Ephraim Of Arizona

Chapter Fifteen.

The Path to Unceasing Prayer.

The heart of man is the center of movements above nature, in accordance with nature, and contrary to nature. Everything begins from the heart. If the heart of man is purified, he sees God. But how can we see God? Does God perhaps have human form? Does He have the shape of a human? No, of course not! God is invisible; God is Spirit. He is able, however, to reign in man’s heart when it becomes a vessel fit to receive Him. For the heart of man to become a vessel fit to receive God, it must be cleansed of unclean thoughts. But in order for the heart to be cleansed, some kind of cleaner must enter into it. 
This cleaner is prayer. Wherever the king goes, his enemies are driven out. And when Christ—or rather, His holy Name—enters into the heart, the phalanxes of demons are put to flight. When Christ is enthroned well within, then everything becomes submissive. It is like when a good king conquers a country and is enthroned in the capital; then he subjugates all the rebels with his army. That is, he pursues the enemies and pacifies the country from internal troubles, and then there is peace. Meanwhile, the king sits on his throne and sees that everything has been subdued. Then he rejoices and delights in seeing that the labor and fight have ended and that they have brought obedience, peace, and all the desired results. Thus it is also with the kingdom of our heart. It has enemies within it; it has rebels; it has thoughts; it has passions and weaknesses; it has storms and disturbances—all these are within man’s heart. For the kingdom of the heart to be pacified and subjugated, Christ, the King, must come with His regiments to take control of it and drive out the enemy, the devil. He must subjugate every agitation from the passions and weaknesses, and reign as an omnipotent emperor.

The resulting condition is called by the Fathers “stillness of the heart”—when prayer reigns unceasingly, bringing about purity and stillness of heart. There are many ways to pray. In the beginning, we must first pray orally in order to attain our final goal. This method is necessary because the nous of man is in perpetual motion. And since it moves not in accordance with nature as it should, but rather is misused because of our indifference, it roams the entire world and rests in different pleasures. Sometimes it goes to carnal thoughts and enjoys their pleasure; sometimes it goes to other passions, and at other times it loafs around indifferently here and there. Wherever it may go, wherever it may stay, it finds some sort of pleasure. Therefore, a person who aims to gain “prayer without ceasing” (cf. 1 Thes. 5:17 ) must collect his scattered nous—that vagabond that roams around all the alleys—so that it may be tidied up and become neat and clean. In order to collect it, however, we have to offer it something sweet; for as we have said, it finds pleasure and delight in roaming here and there. Again, we have to attract it with something that has pleasure. For this reason, in the beginning we need to say the prayer with the mouth. The beginner who is taught the prayer must begin to say with his mouth, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, and must make an effort to pull his nous away from worldly things. The sound that comes out—the sound of his voice—will attract his nous to pay attention to the prayer, and thus, little by little it will get used to being collected instead of scattered. Of course, the effort, the attention, the intention with which we pursue unceasing prayer, as well as keeping the goal in mind, all help us to concentrate our nous. In time, as we say the prayer in this manner, it also begins to create within us a certain pleasure, a certain joy and peace, something spiritual which we did not have before. Little by little this attracts the nous. 
As oral prayer progresses and attracts the nous inward, it also begins to give the nous the freedom to say the prayer on its own, without the mouth saying it—that is, it begins to bear some fruit. Later, when the prayer is said sometimes with the mouth, sometimes with the nous, it begins to take over the soul. Then, as the nous occupies itself with the prayer, it begins to enter the heart, to the effect that one feels his heart saying the prayer as he just stands there. However, in order to reach this point, the correct method of saying the prayer will greatly help. When we abandon the regular and natural rhythm of inhaling and exhaling, and breathe in and out slowly, less oxygen goes to the heart. This creates a certain pain, a kind of constriction in the heart. This pain naturally results in attracting the nous and making it pay attention to the heart. This attraction of the nous to the heart brings about their union. It is just as when one has a toothache: the nous may roam about, but it returns to the tooth because of the pain. So as the prayer is said rhythmically with controlled breathing, the nous will go down where the pain is, and thus distraction is eliminated. Once distraction has been eliminated in this way, the nous will find stillness—it will not find a reason to be scattered, since the pain collects it. Controlled breathing (along with attentiveness ) is necessary to keep the nous from escaping. In this way we shall be able to cut off distraction, which bleeds the essence out of prayer. In other words, distraction takes away the benefit of saying the prayer. By eliminating distraction, we give the nous the ease to pay attention to the heart. So we begin by breathing very slowly and joining to our breath the prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. We may say the prayer either once, twice, or three times as we inhale. Then as we exhale, again we join the prayer to it. We might say the prayer three times when we exhale and two times when we inhale—however we are able. In any case, it is this sense that we say the prayer rhythmically with our breathing. Now then, if we are able to say the prayer noetically with controlled breathing, fine. If, however, we have difficulty because the tempter creates problems, we should breathe through the mouth and our tongue may move slightly, which is very beneficial in the beginning. As we inhale through the mouth or the nose, we should be saying the prayer while the nous is in the heart. The nous should pay attention to the heart without imagining it. The nous should simply position itself in the place of the heart, and we should not imagine the heart, because if we imagine it, delusion will gradually enter, and we will be praying with the imagination. Prayer has no danger of delusion when it is done without distraction, without form, with a simple nous, without any shape or figure at all. The nous must be pure of every divine and human imagination. We must not imagine Christ or the Panagia or anything else. Only the nous should be noetically present in the heart, in the chest—nothing else. It should only take care to be in there. But at the same time, along with the breathing, the nous should say the prayer without imagining anything else. The heart should work the prayer like a motor, and the nous should follow the words of the prayer as a simple observer. This is the unerring path of prayer. When we practice this method, in the beginning we will find some difficulty, but afterwards we will find breadth, height, depth. First, a certain joy mixed with pain will come. Then gradually come joy, peace, tranquility; and once the nous is sweetened, it will not be able to tear itself away from prayer in the heart. Such a state will arise that we will not want to tear ourselves away from it. We will sit or stand in a corner, bend our heads down, and we will not want to tear ourselves away from it for hours on end. We might sit there for one, two, three, four, five, six hours rooted to the spot, without wanting to get up and without the nous going anywhere else. We will observe that as soon as it wants to go somewhere else, bending our head down brings it right back. In other words, a kind of captivity in prayer occurs. This method of prayer is very effective. First, it will bring undistracted prayer; it will bring joy and peace. Simultaneously, it will bring clarity of the nous and tears of joy. The nous will become receptive to theorias. Afterwards, it will create absolute stillness of the heart. One will not hear anything at all. He will think he is in the Sahara desert. At the same time the prayer will be said more rapidly. He might want to say it rapidly, or he might want to say it slowly. We should say it however it pleases the soul, however the soul wants it at that time. So we will say, “Lord… Jesus… Christ… have mercy… on me… Lord… Jesus…”, while the nous will be following the prayer as a machinist follows the machine that is working. And then once we cannot inhale anymore, we will exhale slowly, “Lord… Jesus… Christ… have mercy… on me… Lord… Jesus…,” until we reach the end. Then we inhale again slowly—not hastily, but gently, calmly, quietly, without haste, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. And you will see later, while you are working, that as soon as you take a breath you will say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. Then as you exhale, you will say the prayer again.
The heart and the nous on their own will be so pleased with this method that no matter where you are, the nous will say the prayer at every breath. Of course, you might not say the prayer three times at each breath—in any case, you will say it at least once. Then later, you will acquire a rhythm like the rhythm of a machine masterfully tuned, and then you will see the results that this prayer has. It will attract you more and more. You will say, “Fifteen minutes must have passed”, whereas in fact, two hours will have passed. That is how much a person will not want to take his nous away from his heart and from listening to the prayer. Who needs chanting, or anything else for that matter? This is why the Fathers in the desert did not need such things. Of course, these are sanctioned by the Church, but the people who have found this method of noetic prayer, which is much higher than the conventional prayers, abandoned the conventionalities and laid hold of the essence. Since we have lost the essence—perhaps because we don’t have teachers to tell us how to pray, or because we don’t have the motivation and the desire—we have laid hold of the conventional prayers. 
Thus, today’s monks do their Vespers, their services, and beyond that, nothing. They also work and say that they do their duty in doing so—but they haven’t done their duty! St. John the Almsgiver formed a monastery and said, “Fathers, you do your spiritual duties, and I shall take care of your food, so that you won’t have material cares and thus deprive yourselves of prayer. I shall provide you with the necessities, and you pray”. The abbot answered, “Your All-holiness, Master, we do fulfill our duties. We read the First Hour, the Third, the Sixth, the Ninth, Vespers, Compline, and serve Liturgy…” “Ah!” he replied. “It is obvious that you are negligent! Then what do you do the rest of the time?” What was St. John trying to say with this? He was saying that they did not fulfill their duty because they did not pray without ceasing. When we get up for our vigil, after we say the “Heavenly King…,” the Trisagion, the Fiftieth Psalm, and the Creed, we should bend our head a little on top of our chest, and we should try to tear our nous away from everything and put it inside our chest, within our heart. As we bend our head, we should compel our nous to go in there. Once it enters, we should begin by saying with the breathing, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. And you will see. Of course in the beginning, there may be some small difficulty, but a little perseverance and patience will bring the desire result. Then once one’s heart has been ignited and sweetened and he gets the knack of it, nothing can stop him, even if he sits there all night. And then you will see that time passes and you will say, “But I just started to pray”. And you will find immense benefit from this method of prayer. For what purpose did we come here? Didn’t we come to find God? Didn’t we come to find His grace? Didn’t we come to find peace? Didn’t we come to be delivered from the passions? Well then, with this prayer all these things are accomplished. The prayer will produce a warmth, a flame within the soul. After the prayer generates this warmth, the warmth will bring more prayer, and so forth. Then once this happens, you will see that little by little, weaknesses are burned up, thoughts are burned up, the passions are burned up, and we end up with purity of heart. And then the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit will come and make an abode, a dwelling in the heart. The Holy Fathers say that the nous is easily defiled and easily purified, whereas the heart is purified with difficulty and defiled with difficulty. The nous is easily defiled when it is distracted by something evil. The heart, however, does not immediately participate in the defilement. When the heart has created a good spiritual condition but later loses it somehow and the nous begins to be defiled by various things, the heart does not change easily—for previously it had been changed by grace, and so evil progresses slowly and with difficulty. Therefore, prayer is needed to transform the heart from being fleshy, passionate, end egocentric, into dispassionate, so that it feels no passions. When the center is purified, the rays and the circumference will become pure. Prayer will drive out despair, hopelessness, negligence, and laziness, because it will produce a new resolve, a fresh desire for new struggles. So when we sense this transformation within us, then we will understand precisely what the fruit and the goal of prayer are. Then we will understand that the kingdom of heaven is within our heart: “The kingdom of God is within you” (Lk. 17:21 ). It is there, within the heart, that we will find the precious pearl, by digging with the prayer, breathing in and out, and striving to keep our nous attentive in our heart. What is that pearl? It is the grace of the Holy Spirit, which we received when we are baptized. But whether out of ignorance or because we progressed in the passions, this grace has been buried. Another helpful method is to inhale and follow the air as it descends from the nose to the larynx, to the lungs, and then to the heart. There is where we should stay, once we take several breaths. This is where we should hold the nous: in the heart. In the meantime, we should breathe slowly, gently, calmly—not hastily. In the beginning, the devil brings distress and the heart feels some difficulty, and other negative feelings. But gradually it will begin to break through this difficulty and the beauty of it will begin. And then there is no need for a teacher—the prayer itself will teach us. You will see that, automatically, the nous and the heart on their own will desire to pray in this manner, because they perceive the benefit to be much more than what you imagine it to be now. For here everything is capitalized on. Here is gold—not coins or silver or anything else. This is solid gold. Who can discover gold somewhere and not go there to collect it with all his eagerness and greediness? I marveled at my Elder. We had special stools for prayer; they were just like regular chairs but lower, and the armrests were higher for more comfort. He would sit there for hours on end, saying, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”. And when divine grace was active and the nous was clear, he would stop saying the prayer and begin theoria with his nous. But when he didn’t find theoria and his nous was wandering, he put it in his heart again and obtained benefit from prayer. Thus he obtained benefit either from the prayer or from theoria, and in this way he would spend seven, eight, nine hours. After praying and praying, you think that you have just started. What are three or four hours? And if the nous wants to escape, to “unwind”, it is pulled back as if there were something in the heart pulling it back and attracting it. Little by little, a person who occupies himself with this prayer is perfected inwardly. His heart is purified more and more, and subsequently he acquires prayer of the heart*. Then he attains high levels of prayer. On its own, the nous follows the heart as it says the prayer. At this level, inhaling and exhaling the prayer is unnecessary. This is called prayer of the heart. Our Holy Fathers, after occupying themselves with the prayer for many years, gradually acquired ardor and then eros for God. Then, once divine eros greatly increased, they went out of themselves and came to theoria and had ecstasies; God took them. Did He take them with their soul? With their body? (cf. 2 Cor. 12:2 ). It is not important; in any case, they went out of themselves. A person does not know if he goes up there with his heart or with his body. He only knows that this high level of prayer brought him to theoria. We see that when St. Gregory of Sinai went to St. Maximos Kafsokalyvis, whom they considered deluded, he asked him, “Geronta, tell me: have you acquired the prayer?” He answered, “Forgive me, father, I am deluded. Do you have anything to eat?” Then St. Gregory answered, “I wish I had your delusion”, and repeated, “Tell me, have you acquired the prayer?” “Well…, that is precisely why I go into the wilderness, so that I can retain the prayer”, said St. Maximos. “Have you experienced the fruits of the Holy Spirit?” St. Gregory continued asking. “Eh, those things are from God”, answered St. Maximos. “And where does your nous go when you have the prayer and the grace of God comes?” “It ascends to divine things. It goes to the Last Judgment, to paradise, to hell, to the Second Coming; God takes it to heavenly light, to the state of heaven”. All these things spring from noetic prayer. Without it, none of this happens. We see how much this method of prayer helps one to attain ceaseless prayer. He who practices prayer in this manner, even when he is at work doing his handicraft, will say the prayer as he inhales and exhales, without even wanting to. The prayer will stick to his breathing. As soon as he inhales, he will start saying the prayer without wanting to—this method has such beautiful results. We must begin with desire, with eagerness, with zeal. One has a little difficulty in the beginning, but the road will open, and then no one can stop him. Let the others say whatever they want afterwards—his soul has been sweetened, and no one can stop him. Then you will see that you find grace, alleviation from the passions, and especially alleviation from filthy thoughts. You will find great relief. They will be obliterated with time. They will be wiped out from the nous through prayer, and the heart will become completely well. The heart will become like the heart of a child who feels no passions. It will see everything naturally. Since we had acquired the habit of saying the prayer with inhaling and exhaling, when we served and had to say the petitions, sometimes—in the beginning, of course—I nearly said, “Lord Jesus Christ…” instead of the words of the petitions! For it was a matter of breathing, and the prayer had stuck to it. A person grows so accustomed to it that nothing can make it leave afterwards. That is how much it overcomes a person—of course, in proportion to the energy he employs. In the beginning, he will be able to say it for a short period of time; the next day, more; the next day even more; and then he will say it constantly. When we were on the Holy Mountain and our Elder was alive, we said the prayer for two, three, four, five hours with inhaling and exhaling. Of course, when sleep fought us, we got up and went outside to say the prayer out loud, for more “relaxation”, so to speak. But when sleep was not an issue, we stayed inside all night. 

St. Gregory Palamas says that when the prayer is said with every breath, in time a subtle fragrance comes out of the nostrils. Indeed, this is the case. Through prayer a fragrant air will be produced which is nothing but a fruit of prayer. When we were beginners and were saying the prayer like that, there was so much fragrance that everything smelled sweet—our beards, and even out of our chests came so much fragrance. The air we inhaled and exhaled was all fragrant, and I thought to myself, “What is this prayer?” It is the name of Christ! And what doesn’t the name of Christ contain within it? By the name of Christ, the Holy Gifts are sanctified; by the name of Christ, baptism is done, the Holy Spirit comes, the saints raised the dead. By the name of Christ, everything is done. One of the Watchful Fathers said that when the soul departs from a person who has acquired the prayer, it is not possible for the demons to remain near him, since his soul departs with this prayer. The name of Christ is his weapon. His soul is armored with the prayer. How can the demons approach him? That is how great its benefit is. This is why the angel who taught St. Pachomios said, “Many learned men abandoned their studies and their scholarly works, occupied themselves with this prayer, and attained sanctity”. Likewise, the hermitess Photini (The hermitess Photini lived in complete seclusion near the Jordan River in the beginning of the twentieth century. Her life has been published in Greek by Archimandrite Joachim Spetsieris. God willing, we shall publish it in English in the near future. ) wrote that the services are like one’s daily wages: if you worked, you are paid and can buy food; if you didn’t work, you don’t get anything. This is how the conventional prayers of the Church are. But unceasing, noetic prayer gives you not only your daily wages, but it produces great spiritual wealth, and you can put it in the bank and get rich. With this prayer, a person sits and listens to his heart working. This work is very productive! Just as a machine works on its own once we get it started, the same thing happens when one progresses in the science of prayer. As in the old days, machines were manually operated and required a lot of labor, but once it is made automatic and electric, it is more productive and requires less labor. The same thing happens with prayer. In the beginning, it requires labor to regulate the prayer with one’s breathing. But afterwards the work becomes automatic, and the nous monitors it as a machinist monitors a motor. Prayer is aided by keeping silent, by not having boldness or pride. Pride is a very great obstacle to prayer. When praying, as soon as the nous has proud thoughts, criticize yourselves constantly so that pride does not raise its ugly head. It is beneficial even to hit yourselves with a cane and call yourselves names so that pride does not raise its head at all. A person should not be thinking anything at times of prayer but should only try to pray with fear. The more he adorns his prayer with love and humility and the fear of God, the more progress he will have. If you try this out in practice, you will see for yourselves. Just as when we go into a candy store we find chocolates, pastries, and various sweets, so also in the spiritual candy store one finds many different sweets, and we will take whatever the baker gives us. We will do our duty to regulate our prayer and humble ourselves, and then whatever God sends is His business. We will do all the formalities, but it is God Who will give the substance to prayer. But the more humbly we pray, the more benefit we will have. Most importantly, though, the nous must be attentive to the words of the prayer, without thinking anything else at all. This is the heart of the whole matter. It is impossible for a person praying in this manner to be deluded. So this is how we will pray from now on. This method will be our rule of prayer, because it will greatly assist us to see our passions, our faults. All this effort will help us collect our nous. However, light and moving around create commotion in the nous. But when a person remains in one place, whether standing, sitting, or kneeling, his nous has no commotion. This method has a lot of substance in it.
 If you work at it, you will see for yourselves, and you will find great things. There was a certain pilgrim who had been initiated in noetic prayer. Because he had much meditation, self-denial, and freedom from cares—since he was not bound with a family, work, or any other things—he said the prayer continuously and felt very great love for Christ. That is, he really did have divine eros in his soul. He had a great desire to go to the all-holy tomb of Christ; he thought that there he would in some way have his fill of love for his dearly beloved Christ. So he went down to Jerusalem to the tomb of Christ and went inside to venerate it. Certainly he felt intense feelings of passionate spiritual eros. He reflected that here the One Whom he worshipped—Jesus Christ—had been buried and that here was His empty tomb, and so forth. As he venerated the holy tomb, right there upon the tomb, he gave up his soul! When the others saw this, they said, “Let’s see what this man had hidden in his heart!” They did an autopsy, cut open his heart, and were amazed: there within his heart were written the words, “Jesus, my sweet love”. (A similar phenomenon occurred with the heart of St. Ignatios the God-bearer. ). 

Do you see how rich the prayer had made this man? How much it had enriched him with divine love? Just think where he found himself after his death! Certainly angels receive his soul and took it before the throne of Christ crowned in splendor. Only through noetic prayer does man reach dispassion. Neither by much reading nor with much chanting or by any other way is it possible to attain dispassion. He who prays in this way will learn on his own to hate idle talk and boldness, and will try to find time alone in order not to lose the spiritual state he finds through prayer. I pray that God will give you the feeling of this prayer. And when grace comes, then you will discover these things in practice and understand what I am telling you now.

*Prayer of the heart (καρδιακή προσευχή )
«Prayer of the heart» is the highest form of prayer in which the nous is kept in the heart by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and prays there without distraction. Beyond this form of prayer is theoria.

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

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