“But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart”
While in the womb of the Advent Fast, awaiting the birth of Christ, let us enter into the prayer life of the Theotokos, whom St. Gregory Palamas called the first hesyachist and reflect on the value of secret meditation of the heart, which Mary pioneered. “But Mary kept all these things and pondered them in her heart.” (Lk. 2:19)
My resources for this podcast are:
The Life of the Virgin Mary, The Theotokos
Holy Apostles Convent with quotes from St. Gregory Palamas
The Art of Prayer, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo
Quotes from St. Theophan the Recluse
From the Life of Mary quoting St. Gregory Palamas
“The sojourn of the Virgin Mary in the temple is described by St. Gregory Palamas in terms that make Mary the model of the hesychastic life. Extolling constant prayer, the saint indicates that the Virgin was the first to take it upon herself to pray unceasingly. According to St. Gregory her asceticsim therein did not lead her to come to an understanding of the grace received from the time of her conception, but to learn more of the nature of the sins of Adam. It was there that she perceived and realized that ‘no one could halt the murderous rush, which was bearing away the human race.’
Thus she was filled with pity for people who were brought to ruin and condemnations for disobedience. Therefore, she resolved to have her heart, mind and soul to dwell on God, and endeavored to remain attentive and struggle in prayer. She would pray for the human race and God’s great mercy.
She understood the most excellent way to converse with God was through holy silence and silence of the mind. Hence, she withdrew from the world and put away all earthly things. Through this, by God’s grace, she pioneered a new path to God, the path of silencing the thoughts. Abiding in prayer day and night, and maintaining silence, she cleansed her heart and was inexpressibly united with God.
Rising above all creation and creatures, the all holy Virgin contemplated God’s glory more fully than did Moses, and communed with divine grace in such a way that defies words and even reason… the young virgin Mary gave herself up entirely to God and repulsed from herself every impulse to sin, yet still she felt the weakness of human nature more powerfully than others.
Therefore, she greatly desired the coming of the Savior… She became an abode of every virtue, turning her mind away from every worldly and carnal desire. This was fitting for her who was to conceive God within herself.
St. Gregory Palamas praises Mary in superlative terms, writing: ‘Today a new world and a wonderful paradise has appeared. In it and from it a new Adam is born to reform the old Adam and renew the whole world… God has kept this Virgin for Himself before all ages. He chose her from among all generations and bestowed on her grace higher than that given to all others, making her, even before her wondrous childbirth, the saint of saints, giving her the honor of His own house in the Holy of Holies… wishing to create an image of absolute beauty and to manifest clearly, to angels and men, the power of His art. God made Mary truly all beautiful… He made of her blend of all divine, angelic and human perfection, a sublime beauty embellishing the two worlds, rising from earth to heaven and surpassing even the latter.’”
We can see from these revelations given to St. Gregory that Mary developed and diligently practiced secret meditation on God in her heart, which for her led to the incarnation of God within her womb. This was Mary’s role in our salvation.
Where can the diligent practice of secret mediation of the heart lead us?
Let’s explore what St. Theophan the Recluse has to say about secret meditation of the heart…
“Gather yourself together in your heart, and there practice secret meditation. By this means, with the help of God’s grace, the spirit of God will be maintained in its true character – burning sometimes less and sometimes more brightly. Secret meditation sets our feet on the path of inner prayer, which is the most direct road to salvation. We may leave all else and turn to this work and all will be well. Conversely, if we fulfill all other duties and neglect this one task we shall bear no fruit.”
St. Theophan is telling us that secret meditation is “The one thing needful.” How do we start to dwell in our heart in prayer?
“Some Godly thoughts come nearer to the heart than others. Should this be so after you have finished your prayers, continue to remain dwelling on such a thought and feeding on it. This is the way to unceasing prayer.”
Here are some examples of what St. Theophan is talking about:
Secret meditation most often takes the form of indwelling The Jesus Prayer, prayers to our Most Holy Theotokos and other supplications to the Saints. Other Fathers have also recommended the recitation of a verse from the Psalms, a part of a prayer you love, and or hymns from church. For example: Because I am musically oriented and love to sing –I indwell hymns through out my day. Be creative, as you would with anyone you love. If you are prone to depression or despondency, it is good to indwell joyful praises to God – that bring forth gratitude, which is a good remedy for despondency.
Wouldn’t we all rather give our praises to God than negative thoughts? Our goal is to quietly and secretly please God and express our unique love towards Him.
‘Praying always with prayer and supplication in the spirit.’ (Eph. 6:18)
“Prayer must not be an occupation for a certain period of time, but a permanent state of spirit… In other words, prayer must not only be outward, but also inward, an activity of the mind in the heart. In this lies the essence of prayer, which is raising the mind and heart towards God.
It is clear that the practice of prayer is not something carried out at certain hours, but requires a permanent walking before God, a dedication of all one’s activities to Him…its secret is love of the Lord. As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.”
St. Theophan the Recluse
“As a bride, loving the bridegroom is not separated from him in remembrance and feeling, so the soul, united with God in love remains in constancy to Him, directing warm appeals to Him from the heart.” This is what the Theotokos did! What love she developed for God! Mary can help us if we just call on her with love and faith to devote more of our day to God as did Elder Joseph who has these words to say about calling on the Panagia, our heavenly Mother:
“Embrace in your arms the icon of the Panagia as if she were alive, as you embraced your dear mother when you were little. Tell her all your pain, wet her icon with your pure tears, then you will derive consistent consolation. She will intercede with her Son, Who is so good, Who loves the good, has mercy on the bad, and forgives repenting sinners. He will open the noetic eyes of your soul and fill your heart with love and divine eros. And then your eyes will become two fountains of tears.” Elder Joseph
Glory to God and his Saints! Let us strive to use the remainder of this fasting period to incorporate a little more unceasing prayer into our daily life.
For new listeners who want to draw closer to the Mother of God in prayer this Advent, I want to extend an invitation to join me and other listeners each day in praying either an Akathist or Canon to the Mother of God. I found a lovely download of both the Akathist to the Mother of God and to Jesus for only $7.95 on Orthodox Christian Recorded Books, http://www.ocrb.org/, that I am using to help me fulfill my prayer commitment.
Since this is the Christmas Season, I also invite those of you who are looking for a unique gift for friends or family to consider giving them a copy of my book, The Pearl of Great Price, The Spiritual Journey of a New Age Seeker to the Light of Christ and the Orthodox Church through the OCN Amazon Store banner on any OCN website page. With every purchase you make on Amazon through the OCN Amazon Store you will be supporting the wonderful work of the Orthodox Christian Network.
If you want a signed copy with a spiritual thought as well, you can obtain that through my author’s website, once again, pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com. Please make sure you order your copy from before the 12th of December for Western Christmas.
I have yet one more podcast in this series on the Drawing Closer to the Mother of God – airing mid-December.
May God continue bless you in your efforts and struggles this Advent,