Tag Archives: St Theophan the Recluse

Sensual Judgment and Curiosity, the Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness, airing March 2015


IMG_1552

Sensual Judgment and Curiosity

The Robbers of Our Communion with God and Inner Stillness

“Try to be free of curiosity, for it can defile stillness as nothing else can.” St. John Climacus

In this podcast Veronica examines the sensual aspect of our fallen nature and how our physical senses and curious tendencies can entice and entrap our souls robbing us of our stillness and relationship with God.

‘Have mercy on me O God, have mercy on me.’ If we were still in paradise, what would be most natural for us would be to turn our minds and hearts towards our Creator, but here we are in the fallen world.

Least we should be lulled to sleep by the world and its temptations, Lent serves to remind us, ‘We are fallen.’ We are being mislead, but by what? ‘How, dear Lord can we be lead astray so often?’ How is it that we continually put distance between God and ourselves – all the while thinking, ‘There is nothing amiss. Everything is fine.’

My research for this podcast started with the term ‘sensual judgment’ used by St. Nicholai Velomirovic in a passage in The Prologue. I pondered its meaning for a few moments. ‘Sensual judgment’ was a show-stopper for me. I had never thought of judgment being in relationship with sensuality or being based upon sensual perceptions. The more I pondered the deeper meaning of ‘sensual judgment’ – the more I thought the term so accurate.

I recalled when I was seeped in the New Age and Eastern religions I thought how I felt and what I perceived through my senses, including my ‘sixth sense’, was an accurate perception of reality.

However, when I became Orthodox I realized I had been trapped in my sensual perceptions and far, far away from true spiritual discernment. I was in a state of ‘sensual judgment’, for I was using what my senses perceived as my measuring stick for reality, my means of judging what was good. If it felt good – then it must be good – right? Wrong! This was a life changing understanding for me.

What about now? Am I still under to dominion of my senses. Yes! Perhaps I am less captured, but an onion has many layers… So let’s take a good look at this onion called ‘sensual judgment’ and how our senses, fueled by curiosity, imagination and self-will can lead us astray rob us of our communication with God and our inner stillness.

Here is what St. Nicholai has to say about the milk of sensual judgment and the gradualness of spiritual development:

“For when for the time ye ought to be teachers, we have need that one teach you again which be the first principles of the oracles of God; and are become such as have need of milk, and not of strong meat. For everyone that uses milk is unskillful in the word of righteousness: for he is a babe. But strong meat belongs to them that are of full age, even those who by reason of use have their senses exercised to discern both good and evil.” (Hebrews 6:12–14)

Those who are fed on the milk of sensual judgment cannot easily differentiate between good and evil. They generally come to the conclusion that all faiths are of equal value, that sin is the indispensable shadow of virtue and that evil is a necessary companion of good.

A true Christian cannot come to these utterly mistaken conclusions. For a true Christian is a mature man, who does not feed on milk, who is distrustful of sensuality, who has a finer judgment and makes a finer distinction between the value of the enduring and transient. To the Christian, surely, clear guidance is given by the revelation of God to distinguish between good and evil; but he has need of long and serious study to reach perfection, to be able to know in every given situation what is good and what is evil…

St. Nickolai Velomirovic, The Prologue, Jan. 11th

No wonder one Lent is not sufficient to change us! Who has not been raised on the milk of sensual judgment? How is it that our senses often run our lives?

For help with these questions I turned to St. Theophan the Recluse and his book, The Path of Salvation.  What follows are instructions St. Theophan is giving to parents for raising their children to be the master of their passions. How I wish my parents had read this book!

St. Theophan:

It is impossible not to use the senses, for it is only through them that one may note the things one must know for the glory of God and for our own good. But in doing this it is impossible to avoid curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose–what is being done where, and how things are… Curiosity consists of trying to know everything without order, without aim, without distinguishing whether it is needful or not.

…curiosity, which is an irresistible inclination to see and hear without purpose – what a shocker this was to me! I thought curiosity was a good thing. Here is my first example of how sensual judgment has misdirected me. Curiosity is not a ‘good’ thing. Curiosity is a distraction and the dictionary definitions of curiosity back this up as you will see…

Definitions for curiosity:

1) A desire to learn or to know. (this desire must be directed and have a purpose according to St. Theophan

2) The desire to know about matters of no concern to one; nosiness.

3) Something novel or extraordinary that arouses interest.

The last two definitions brought to my mind gossip and the arousal of my passions in unhealthy ways.

My husband and I were discussing how pernicious unstructured curiosity is.

Here are a few examples we thought of in our own experience about this:

The distraction of computers and other devices like our cell phones – how we are going from site to site or video game or other games. Channel surfing and watching too much TV – we are curious about the previews of movies or TV shows

These are all things the Church asks us to moderate or abandon during Lent – for good reason. We thought of all the time we have wasted in our life with these distractions, which means that time could have been given to God or others we love.

 

How many of us suffer from distraction during our prayers? Here St. Theophan is explaining the reason why. Curiosity leads to imagination and fantasy. I can see how I just follow my thoughts during prayers. I am curious and attracted by them and off I go…. 5 min. later I ask myself, ‘Where have I been?’ How many wasted moments has curiosity bought me?

Back to St. Theophan

One who is unable to master the senses and imagination will inevitably be distracted…being overcome by curiosity, which will chase him from one subject to another until he is exhausted and all this without fruit.

What the senses do is to see, to hear, to feel–in general to experience, to test. This is why our senses are the first rousers of curiosity, which later, because of them, goes over into the imagination and memory and, having acquired a seed in them, becomes an unconquerable tyrant for the soul.

Great Lent is our opportunity to turn the tables on this so-called tyrant of our soul, our senses. How do we do this?

Back to St. Theophan:

When man was in union with God, he found delight in divine and sacred things by the grace of God. After his fall he lost this taste and thirsted for what is sensual. The grace of baptism has removed this, but sensuality is again ready to fill the heart. One must not allow this; one must guard the heart.

The most effective means for the education of the true taste in the heart is a church–centered life… sympathy for everything sacred, pleasure in remaining in the midst for the sake of quietness and warmth, separation from what is bright and attractive and worldly vanity…

A soul that has been calmed and ordered in this way will not, in accordance with its natural disorderliness, hinder the development of the Spirit. This is a person who is committed to …having unfailingly in mind not to ignite the passion for sensual enjoyments, and to train one to deny oneself.

Thus here is more validation for the need of our fasting periods. We are fasting not just from food, but, from the indulgence of our senses, curiosity and imagination. If we want to be that spiritually mature man that St. Nickolai referred to, who has true spiritual discernment we need to learn to control the sensual aspect of our fallen nature. No wonder Lent is so challenging!

In conclusion here is what both St. Theophan and St. Nicholai have to say to encourage us to ‘fight the good fight’ this Lent…

…The beginning of a Christian life in a man is a kind of re-creation, an endowing of new powers, of new life… This seed of life (the resolution one makes to live a Christian life) is not surrounded by elements favorable to him. And besides this, the whole man–his body and soul–remain unadapted to the new life, unsubmissive to the yoke of Christ. Therefore from this moment begins in a man a labor of sweat–a labor to educate his whole self, all his faculties, according to the Christian standard.

Back to St. Nicholai to complete what he started…

Let us strive, my brethren, each day and each hour, to refine our hearts, that they may be able at all times to differentiate between good and evil…

O Lord, Thou lover of mankind, warm our hearts with the good that is from Thee. Bring us to our senses, Lord, that we may learn to distinguish good from evil. Strengthen us, O Master, that we may always cleave to good and cast away evil, to Thy glory and our salvation. To Thee be glory and praise forever. Amen.

Amen! Thank you St. Nicholai and St. Theophan!

My next podcast will focus on Inner Stillness – The Fruit of Our Spiritual Labors.

God bless you Lenten struggles!!!

Veronica

Part 1, Spiritual Violence, airing September 19th


Sunrise During a Forest Fire

Sunrise During a Forest Fire

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

(Matt 11: 12)

Our Lord’s life and ministry was one of spiritual violence – from the death of 14,000 children by Herod to His own voluntary death. Let us explore His words in greater depth to understand what Christ meant by “the violent take it (the Kingdom of Heaven) by force.”

First let us listen to Blessed Theophylact and his commentary on this passage from the gospel of Matthew, which is proceeded by:

“Christ by saying of Himself that He is greater than John the Baptist, strongly urges them to believe in Him, showing that many are by force acquiring the Kingdom of Heaven, that is, faith in Him. And there is need of great force, for in order to leave father and mother and to despise one’s own life, how much force is needed?”

Good question to leave us with!

Our first step in acquiring the Kingdom of Heaven, according to not only St. Theophylact, but many Saints of the Church, is our faith in Christ, which I have discussed in past podcasts. I invite those of you who are new listeners to go back and listen to some of my podcasts on faith.

Our second step, which is what we are going to explore in this first of two podcasts on spiritual violence is ‘the violent’, which is us, as the Church Militant on earth, ‘take the Kingdom of Heaven by force’. Blessed Theophylact is saying that there is a need for great force – what does he mean?

For an answer to this question I will turn to St Theophan the Recluse:

“…In a Christian it is a battle with oneself involving much labor, intense and sorrowful, and he must dispose his faculties for something for which they have no inclination. (This lack of inclination is due to our fallen world and nature.) Like a soldier, he must take every step of land, even his own, from his enemies by means of warfare, with the double-edged sword of forcing himself and opposing himself.

St Theophan the Recluse, The Path to Salvation

Let us explore these two concepts of forcing and opposing one’s self:

Forcing is an act of will. In the case of a Christian, we must first put our faith and will in God’s will and love, striving to follow His commandments and Christ’s life example. This is an essential effort on our part that is uncomfortable to our fallen nature, yet so essential to our spiritual nature. It feels violent and that is where the term spiritual violence comes from. It feels as if we are opposing ourselves, which is partially true. The opposition, which will give life to our spirit in Christ, is against our fallen nature, our passions, sinful thoughts and actions.

Now let us review how we oppose our fallen nature, passions and sinful thoughts and actions:

Going back to our Lord’s quote again:

“And from the days of John the Baptist until now the kingdom of heaven suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force.”

St. John spoke of the baptism of repentance – but in and of itself, repentance before Christ was incomplete. That is why Christ says “the violent take it by force”, for we need to have repentance with faith and love in Christ to win our spiritual battles or we lack the force to ‘fight the good fight’. Repentance is a form of spiritual violence we render on ourselves, a form of ascesis, to draw to us the grace of God, which will aid us in our battles.

Christos Yannaras, The Feedom of Morality, says the following about repentance and being a soldier for Christ:

“Repentance is a change in our mode of existence: man ceases to trust in his own individuality. He realizes that existing as an individual, even a virtuous individual, does not save him from corruption and death, from his agonizing existential thirst for life. This is why he takes refuge in the Church, where he exists as someone loving and loved. He is loved by the Saints, who give him a ‘name’ of personal distinctiveness and take him into the communion of their love despite his sinfulness; and he himself strives to love others despite their sinfulness, to live free from the necessities of his mortal nature. He struggles to overcome his individual resistances, his individual wishes and autonomous impulses, not in order to “improve himself” individually, but in order to measure up to the “frenzied” love of Christ and the Saints, to the preconditions required for personal life (in Christ) as opposed to natural survival.”

In light of this passage, how shallow is the worldly concept of improving one’s self! How much time have we spent pursing this goal rather than winning the Kingdom of Heaven? Can we see how much ‘improving ourselves’ is in opposition the teachings of Christ?

How much more inspirational it is to ‘measure up to the “frenzied” love of Christ and the Saints, to the preconditions required for personal life (in Christ) as opposed to natural survival.’

Thus we must assert ourselves in Christ, for the sake of Christ and love of our neighbors, which draws God’s grace to us.

What are other tools our Lord gave us in our efforts to render spiritual violence to our passions and sinful inclinations and aid our regeneration by grace? Let’s see what St. Paul has to say:

“For Though we walk in the flesh, we do not war after the flesh: for the weapons of our warfare are not carnal, but mighty through God to the pulling down of strongholds (our passions and ingrained worldly beliefs we have constructed to defend ourselves without God.); casting down imaginations (Again here the Holy Fathers caution us to avoid slipping into our imagination which can lead us astry – we rather want to strive to seek inspiration from all the Church has provided us), and every high thing that exalted itself against the knowledge of God, and bringing into captivity every thought to the obedience of Christ; and having inner readiness to revenge all disobedience, when your obedience is fulfilled.”

(2 Cor 10:3-6)

This is spiritual violence – when we realize our enemies are not our neighbors but our sinful thoughts and actions. Let us get angry at them rather than at others! Again what is our goal in being an active member of the Church Militant?

Let’s go back to St Theophan the Recluse for the answer to this question:

“Finally after long labors and exertions, the Christian principles appear victorious reigning without opposition; they penetrate the whole composition of human nature, dislodging from it demands and inclinations hostile to themselves, and place it in the state of passionlessness and purity, making it worthy of the blessedness of the pure in heart–to see God in themselves in sincerest communion with Him.”

St Theophan the Recluse, The Path to Salvation

May God aid us in our spiritual struggles! My God help us to win the Kingdom of Heaven! Let us go forth and participate more fully in the Church Militant and our regeneration by grace.

In part 2 of this series on spiritual violence we will explore more of the tools Christians use to ‘fight the good fight’ and attract the grace of God to us.

In Christ,

Veronica

Part 2 on Prayer, The Reverent Approach to Loving Union with God, airing August 20th


IMG_0591

Part 2 on Prayer

The Reverent Approach

to Loving Union with God

 

 

 

If we live in the world – we most likely are struggling with our prayer life. How can we transform our prayers so that they are more meaningful? How can we focus our mind in our hearts so that we can commune more deeply with our Creator? Let’s find out!

My resources for this podcast are from the Art of Prayer by Igumen Chariton of Valamo quoting St. Dimitri of Rostov and St. Theophan the Recluse

Now to one of my favorite Saints, St. Theophan the Recluse

Three types of prayer: of the lips, of the mind, of the heart

“What is the cause of this division of prayer into parts? Because it happens that sometimes through our negligence the tongue recites the only words of prayer, but the mind wanders elsewhere: or the mind understands the words of the prayer of the heart does not respond to them with feeling. In the first case prayer is only oral, and is not prayer at all, in the second, mental prayer joins the oral, but this prayer is still imperfect and incomplete. Complete and real prayer comes only when prayer of the word and thought is joined by prayer of feeling.

What constitutes real prayer?

Spiritual or inner prayer comes when he who prays, after gathering his mind within his heart, from there directs his prayer to God in words no longer oral but silent: glorifying Him and giving thanks, confessing his sins with contrition before God, and asking from Him the spiritual and physical blessings that he needs. You must pray not only with words, but with the mind, and not only with the mind but with the heart, so that the mind understands and sees clearly what is said in words, and the heart feels what the mind is thinking. All these combined together constitute real prayer, and if any of them are absent your prayer is either not perfect or is not prayer at all.”

From what St. Theophan has stated, I am reminded that a lot of my time in prayer is filled with distraction and or lack of feeling. Here is more of what St. Theophan has to say about the right feeling to have in prayer…

“Feeling towards God–even without words–is a prayer – words support and sometimes deepen the feeling.

This gift of feeling is given to you by the mercy of God. How?

First and foremost by having humility, ascribing everything to grace, and nothing to yourself. Secondly by regarding yourself as dust and ashes.”

This is a reminder that humility and contrition are the first steps towards gathering our mind into our heart so as to have the proper attitude when approaching prayer. Asking God in His tender mercy to awaken the proper feeling within us. What is the next step…?

Body, soul and spirit

“The body is made of earth; yet it is not something dead but alive and endowed with a living soul. Into this soul is breathed a spirit–the Spirit of God, intended to know God, to reverence Him…

This brings us back to one of our other important themes in my podcasts – the fear of God and the proper reverence towards Him with love…with bowed head, humbly standing in prayer before the holy icons, all the Saints and God, we…

Draw down our mind into our heart

Turn to the Lord, drawing down the attention of the mind into the heart and calling Him there. With the mind firmly established in the heart, stand before the Lord with all reference and devotion. If we were to follow this small rule unfailingly, then passionate desires and feelings would never arise, nor would any other thought in our prayers.”

How I struggle and forget to follow St. Theophan’s rule of preparation, but what a difference it makes! That is why we cross ourselves and venerate icons when entering church – to put ourselves in the right place and frame of mind and heart. This is so important when approaching prayer especially at home.

Taking 2 minutes to prepare ourselves for prayer, presenting ourselves humbly to our Creator with contrition…. I am personally taking a new commitment to do this and encourage those of you who feel so moved to join me. These detailed steps can be downloaded from my blog. Go to pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com and click on the navigation button for my blog.

What is next?

Most elders suggest you start with the normal beginning of prayer and recite about 5-10 minutes of oral prayers like the 50th Psalm and the Creed so as to gather your thoughts. They also call this drawing in the nous. St. John of the Ladder says, ‘Confine your mind within the words of the prayer.

Back to St. Dimitri for a few more helpful suggestions:

Prayer should be short, but often repeated

“From those who have experience in raising their mind to God, I learned that, in the case of prayer made by the mind from the heart, a short prayer, often repeated, is warmer and more useful than a long one… Short yet frequent prayer, has more stability, because the mind, immersed for a short time in God, can perform it with greater warmth. And St. John of the Ladder also teaches: ‘Do not try to use many words, lest your mind become distracted by the search for the words. Because of one short sentence, the publican received the mercy of God, and one brief affirmation of belief saved the Robber. An excessive multitude of words in prayer disperses the mind in dreams, while one word or short sentence helps to collect the mind.’

And so collect all your thoughts: laying aside all outer worldly cares, direct your mind towards God, concentrating it holy upon Him.”

Loving union with God

“… the duty of all Christians–especially of those who’s calling dedicates them to the spiritual life–is to strive always and in every way to be united with God, their creator, lover, benefactor, and their supreme good, by whom and for whom they were created. This is because the center and final purpose of the soul, which God created, must be God Himself alone, and nothing else …

No unity with God as possible except by an exceeding great love… To kindle in his heart such a divine love, to unite with God in an inseparable union of love, it is necessary for man to pray often, raising the mind to Him. For as the flame increases when it is constantly fed, so prayer, made often, with the mind dwelling even more deeply in God, arouses divine love in the heart. And the heart, set on fire, will warm all the inner man, will enlighten and teach him, revealing to him all its unknown and hidden wisdom, making him like a flaming seraph, always standing before God within his spirit, always looking at Him within his mind, and drawing from this vision the sweetness of spiritual joy.”

Thank you St. Dimitri and St. Theophan!

My next two podcasts will feature quotes in support of OCN’s effort to raise our awareness and prayerful support of all the Christians in the Middle East that are enduring suffering and persecution for Christ’s sake. Until then, please keep our brothers and sisters in Christ throughout the world in your hearts and prayers…

God bless you!

Veronica

Ps

All the photographs I post on my blog were taken by either my husband or me. If you would like to see more of our photographs and the wilderness cards we sell go to:

http://www.pearlofgreatpriceorthodox.com/pearl-wilderness-cards_280.html%5B/embed%5D