Essays















Postscript to the preface

St Symeon the New Theologian says (Philokalia, Vol. 4, page 68), that somebody who imagines himself before God, and fills his intellect with divine thoughts and 'images of celestial beauty' will, if this form of prayer is carried out in seclusion, and without aid from other people from time to time, perhaps result in madness and suicide. I would say that it ends more often, in failure and people giving up any attempt at prayer. This demonstrative, emotional, histrionic form of pushing yourself into heaven and before God, with complaints, words, and contrition, does not get you anywhere on the path of spirituality, because it is a delusional form of mental activity, a form of imaginative projection from our own minds. It is my experience that if prayer is not focused within, into your own self, but if it is rather aimed at heaven in a desperate and emotional way, which involves an expectation of visions, and so on, then this prayer becomes a weight, and something we learn to resent. A couple of us were painting a house the other day, and my mate told me that he gave up on religion when he finally became sick to his soul with having to constantly think of God and the saints, and the rites of the church, and so on - in the pursuit of calmness and grace. I, who have tried this, agree with him. Let God watch you; don't try to think of God when praying. If we don't concentrate on our own self, our own heart, in the way I have described, then we will be either controlled by imaginary visions which become the object of intense and delusional longing; or, we are subject to our own wandering and deceitful commonplace thoughts and desires, which we never learn to push away from us; that is, if we can't focus on our inner heart in silence, then the chaos of our fallen everyday minds will constantly pollute our silence. So, only look within and observe your own heart; don't fight with it, either. Just watch it as it tries to talk and cogitate at you. And that old personality and mind will, by some miraculous virtue of cowardice in our own self, disappear. We are left standing in the void, where we may meet God, if he so chooses. We do not set out, in prayer, to please God, and to show our devotion by the suffering and madness we can undergo in in our private devotions! We set out to wait, and to be blessed, in the silence; not even to wait, but just to disappear leaving nothing behind but mere conscious concentration on concentration itself. There is a place for images, particularly icons; images of Christ and celestial things. The icon is made, in the way Orthodoxy has of being always right, so that it watches you; it opens up to the other world and watches you. And this is what I mean exactly: let God watch you and imagine and create you. Don't, in prayer, think that you should see God, and create Him. Let yourself enter your own self, with no other aim than to find your eternal self. The rest follows of its own accord. Theophane the Recluse It goes without saying that I consider Igumen Chariton's collection, mostly from Theophan the Recluse, translated as The Art of Prayer, to be mostly useless, and to represent what Symeon the New Theologian advises us against. The work is full of this kind of thing: 'What is important is not the position of the body but the inner state. Our whole aim is to stand with attention in the heart, and look towards God, and cry out to Him' (The Art of Prayer, Faber, 125). If one tries to do this, and to follow this advice, we will become full of fear, contrition, and misery, as Theophan says that one must be. He says that we do this out of service to God. The contradiction between Symeon and Theophane deserves to be noticed.



Design Jason Powell, 2020.

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