Prayer of the Heart in an Age of Technology and Distraction, Part 15
By Fr. Maximos (Constas)
The Church knows of no better way to abide in Jesus than to invoke His name constantly, and thereby also invoke and be in His presence. What better way to abide in Christ and become a tabernacle for the Divine Name, to have Him abiding in you and you abiding in Him? Is the point to accumulate wisdom, data about theology and Church history, or is the point to become transparent to Wisdom? I can fill myself with theories and ideas and knowledge and say clever things, but so what? That’s not what we’re about. Now it’s pointless anyway, because any information can be Googled. If all we give our people is something they can find on the internet, then we’re giving them nothing—it’s just information. It needs to be more than that. The idea is not to fill ourselves with book learning, but to empty ourselves of the thoughts, especially the dark and impassioned thoughts, distractions, co-dependencies, resentments, and so on, so that we can’t say there’s no room in the inn here because I’m all filled up with dirty animals. The communion prayer says, “I have no place for you in me because I am fallen and miserable and wretched.” If those stables can be cleansed, and I can let go of all that stuff I’m holding onto, then there’s openness and now the grace of God can be manifest in my life, and through me it can be made manifest to other people. This is what it means to be the light, and to let the light from God so shine before men. The problem that many clergy have is that they’re in the way of their own work. Everybody has virtue and goodness and the presence of God in them, but the accident that is ourselves gets in the way of that and we often say things that hurt people and turns them from the Church. We need to get out of the way and let God do His work—to have a purified heart, mind, and soul so that the light of Christ passes through you and illumines those around you. That’s what we’re about.
I have been in the presence of various people who change something in you just by a look. You feel moved to pray and you don’t know how it happened. One of the younger monks came as a visitor many years ago. He was in a rock band at the time and had no interest in the Church—he just went to Athos with some friends because it was the cool thing to do. He came to the monastery after Pascha and he saw a little old monk sitting in his stall holding his Paschal candle—not talking, just sitting. Seeing that image of a life devoted to God, someone who had sacrificed everything to live with God, the idea came into his mind that that’s what he wanted to be. Not a word was said, no books were read. No conversation was had. But that man had transparency through the grace of God. St. Isaac the Syrian says that when the virtuous man speaks, grace is communicated through his words to the listener. That’s also true if the virtuous man is silent. Everything he does—his moves, his gestures, the way he sits, the way he eats becomes transparent to the grace of God. And not too many years later that young man became a monk in that monastery. The older monk had died, and the young man received the name of that older monk. He literally became that man. That’s who he wanted to be and that’s who he became.
Keeping mind the progression of the talks, the next thing to talk about is that if we realize the distractions are a problem and we realize the Kingdom is in us by the grace of the Holy Spirit given to us in Baptism, and that the Jesus Prayer, that inner vigilance, is a wonderful and speedy way to engage the grace of the Spirit, we will very quickly encounter what spiritual writers refer to as “the thoughts”, or in Greek “logismoi,” usually meaning dark and negative thoughts—anger, desire, resentment, etc. We will encounter these obstacles as we seek to engage the grace of the Holy Spirit within us. A quick definition: St. Maximus the Confessor in The Chapters on Love makes a distinction between things in the world and their mental representations. Gold, for example, is a natural mineral, but the mental image that I develop about gold and money and wealth is something very different. The one is free, created by God, but this is an impassioned image and thought that I become fixated upon. His other example is a woman’s face. Like the gold, the woman is a beautiful, natural creation of God, but I can have an idea of woman, or I can have particular types of women in my mind that distort the way that I experience real women. For laypeople, their spiritual struggle is with the actual objects—not to steal, not to commit adultery. But for monastics our struggle is with the thoughts, according to St. Maximus. Everything in the world began as a thought, and in all of the vicious things that we do there is a thought backing them, an impulse that we did not check.
~ “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.