Daily Meditations

Prayer of the Heart in an Age of Technology and Distraction, Part 9

November 7th, 2019

By Fr. Maximos (Constas)

The metaphors used by Scripture and the Church are not random and arbitrary, and the deeper you dig into any particular symbol the more meaning it will generate. Those who work with plants and gardening, or maybe biologists who know about reproduction, and the activity of seeds and sperm will be able to unpack even more insight. But the thing about a seed is that seeds remain dormant until they are cultivated. I could place a seed right here on the lectern, and it could sit here for the rest of the year, two years, five years, and it’s never going to sprout, because it’s not being cultivated. Archaeologists have discovered seeds in places like the Egyptian tombs buried along with pharaoh. For thousands of years these seeds have been lying dormant. Because you are priests and work closely with people and their spiritual lives and struggles you know there are people who go through their whole lives with that seed remaining absolutely dormant, and often it’s in some crisis or on the death bed that a person’s thoughts and energies are redirected, that they actually come into contact with that little seed that’s been covered over by sins and passions and forgetfulness. All of the ashes get blown away and that seed comes alive. Sins and distractions are ways of covering that light or repressing that seed and preventing it from doing what it needs to do. And to the extent that we’re lost amidst external sensations, we are surrounded by lights, but there is no Light. All of this prevents us from encountering and cultivating the presence of the Holy Spirit within us.

St. Macarius says in his homily no. 28 (from another collection that is not yet available in English): “Isaiah 42:14: I have been silent, I have waited patiently, I have endured like a woman in travail. If you see in yourself that the source of the Holy Spirit is overflowing within you, this is the sign that just as the Savior said the Kingdom of Heaven is not here nor there but it is within you.” If you feel that spark and stirring within you, know that this is the Kingdom of Heaven with you. “And St. Paul says the Kingdom of God does not consist in words but in power”—which in Greek also means potentiality, of the Holy Spirit waiting for us to cooperate with Him. “There are some who speak about the Kingdom, but who do nothing about it. And there are others who do something about it without uttering a word, and on these latter the Holy Spirit has descended and fulfilled in them the words of John the Evangelist: to those who believed on him he gave them the power to become sons of God, not from flesh or blood or the will of man, but they were born of God.” Being born presupposes that seed. There’s no growth without a seed. “These are the ones who have experienced the joy which overcame Mary, insofar as the Spirit of God shall come upon you, and the power of the Most High shall overshadow you. For just as pain and sorrow came upon Eve and all her offspring until now, so too does the joy of Mary come upon all of her descendants… Let the wise virgin soul know that she should bear Christ in her herself just as Mary did. I mean in her heart, just as Mary held Him in her womb.”

We’ve been hearing in the hymnography over the last few days of this parallel of Christ being held in the womb of Mary and being held in the arms of Symeon. It’s even in the Kontakion—“You who sanctified the virginal womb and blessed the arms of Symeon.” This is another enwombing or bearing of the Word. “And then the soul will be able to say and to sing with understanding, (Isaiah 26:17:) on account of the fear of you O Lord we have conceived in the womb and we went into labor and gave birth to the spirit of salvation.” You don’t have to go to St. Anthony or St. Basil—it’s all the way back in the prophets and Deuteronomy. The tradition is there but you have to know what you’re looking for, to understand anthropology. “If you have this treasure in your vessel of clay, this means that the one who said let light shine from the darkness has shone in your heart the light of knowledge of the Gospel. For if Christ dwells in you this means that God has made His abode and dwelling place in you. If, that is, you have been accounted worthy of becoming a temple of God.” This is Pauline language. “You have become a temple of God through the purity of your heart so that the spirit of God now dwells in you and fills you with the assurance of faith. Once we were children of Eve, now we are children of Mary. Once we were under the sway of evil thoughts, now we are under the sway of the Holy Spirit.”

This Macarian sermon is probably a fourth century text but if we jump to the thirteenth and fourteenth centuries we’ll find similar language. There is a passage of Gregory of Sinai from the Philokalia in which he plays out this idea of the seed of the Holy Spirit through the life of Christ so that the life of Christ is two things—the historical life of Christ and a spiritual allegory for the life of the believer. He says “everyone baptized into Christ must pass progressively through all the stages of Christ’s own life. For in Baptism he receives the power to progress and through the commandments he can discover and learn how to accomplish such progression. To Christ’s conception corresponds the foretaste of the gift of the Holy Spirit. To His Nativity, the actual experience of joyousness; to His Baptism the cleansing force of the fire of the Spirit; to His Transfiguration, the contemplation of the Divine light; to His Crucifixion, the dying to all things; to His burial, the indwelling of Divine love buried in the heart; to His Resurrection the soul’s life-quickening resurrection; and to His Ascension, Divine ecstasy and the transport of the intellect to God.” Every major Gospel event becomes a type or pattern for the Christian life. The inwardness is essential because that’s the path to the indwelling of the Spirit within us, and when we’re far from this we’re far from the source of our own salvation.

~ “Prayer of the Heart in an Age of Technology and Distraction” delivered by Fr. Maximos (Constas) on Feb. 2014 to the clergy of diocese of LA and the West of Antiochian of N. America at the invitation of His Eminence Metropolitan Joseph. The audio version of this lecture first appeared on Patristic Nectar Publications, and is published here by permission.

Fr. Maximos is the presidential research scholar at Holy Cross Greek Orthodox School of theology in Brookline, MA. He is an Athonite monk, one-time professor at Harvard Divinity School, accomplished author and translator and lectures internationally in both academic and parochial venues.