Orthodox Contemplation (Part I)

Holy Martyrs Africanus, Publius and Terence

Beloved brothers and sisters in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


O Lord and Master of my life, Give me not a spirit of laziness, of aimless curiosity, A spirit of lust for power over others and of vain talk. (Prostration) Rather, grace me, Your servant, With the Spirit of purity, humility, patience and love. (Prostration) Yes, O Lord King, Grant me discernment to see my own faults, And not to judge and condemn my fellow human beings. (Prostration) For You are Blessed unto the ages of ages. Amen.


by Saint John Climacus (of the Ladder)

"If you promised Christ to travel the straight and narrow road, then keep your stomach in check; for if you give in to it, if you enlarge it, you are breaking your promise. Listen and hear the word of warning: 'Wide and spacious is the road of gluttony. It leads to the catastrophe of fornication, and there are many who travel that way. The gate is narrow and the way of fasting is hard, that way leading to the life of purity, and there are few to make the journey" (cf. St. Matthew 7:13-14).

The fallen Lucifer is prince of the demons, and gluttony is prince of the passions. So when you sit at a well-laden table, remember death and remember judgment, and even then you will only manage to restrain yourself a little. And when you drink, keep always in mind the vinegar and gall of your Lord. Then indeed you will be either temperate or sighing; you will keep your mind humble. For you must not fool yourself."




On March 13th Our Holy Orthodox Christian Church commemorates, honors and entreats the holy intercessions of the following Saints, Forefathers, Fathers, Patriarchs, Prophets, Apostles, Preachers, Evangelists, Martyrs, Confessors, Ascetics, Teachers, and every righteous spirit made perfect in Our Holy Orthodox Christian faith: Saint Publius, Bishop of Athens; Saint Sabinus (Abibus) of Egypt; Translation (Anakomide) of the holy relics of Saint Nikephoros the Confessor, Patriarch of Constantinople; Saint Alexander of Macedonia; Saint Stephen (Bekh), Bishop of Izhevsk; Saints Africanus, Publius, and Terence of Carthage; Saint Christina of Persia; Saint Aninas of Euphrates; Saint Leander, bishop of Seville.

+By the holy intercessions of Your Saints, Holy Martyrs, Holy Bishops, Holy Confessors, Holy Patriarchs, Holy Mothers, Holy Fathers, Holy Ascetics, O Christ Our God, have mercy on us and save us. Amen.

HIEROMARTYR PUBLIUS, BISHOP OF ATHENS AND DISCIPLE OF SAINT DIONYSIUS THE AREOPAGITE. Saint Publius was the fourth bishop of Athens, Greece; the second and third bishops were martyred. Christians of second century Athens lived in secrecy, but Bishop Publius publicly debated the idol worshippers and won converts. Because of his success, a petition was sent to the pagan Roman emperor Marcus Aurelius, who ordered bishop Publius to be executed.


Isaiah 6:1-12; Genesis 5:1-24
Proverbs 6:3-20


"If you do not want sin, brother, remember all of the eternal and ineffable good things that God has prepared for you in the heavens in order for you to delight in them after death. Imprint on your imagination well the delight of that most-sweet Paradise, the unspeakable glory of heaven, and the blessed vision and knowledge of God, which is the absolute subject and principle delight of all beatitudes. Remember the inseparable company you will have with the Angels unto the ages of ages, friendship and converse your will have in the Kingdom of Heaven with the Forefathers, with the Prophets, with the Apostles, with the Martyrs, with the Hierarchs, with the Ascetic Fathers and Mothers, and simply with all of the Righteous and the Saints. And how can I describe for you brother, one by one, the future good things of Paradise in which you will delight? They are not only beyond any words and description, but also incomprehensible to the mind". (Saint Nikodemos the Hagiorite)


"Let us now set out with joy upon the second week of the Fast; and like Elijah, the Tishbite let us fashion for ourselves from day to day, O brethren, a fiery chariot from the four great virtues, let us exalt our minds through freedom from the passions; let us arm our flesh with purity and our hands with acts of compassion; let us make our feet beautiful with the preaching of the Gospel; and let us put the enemy to flight and gain the victory." (Vespers on Second Sunday of Lent: Sticheron, Tone Six)

"Stadion of virtues", characterized by the hymnodist of the holy period of Lent, it is a time of intense spiritual struggle and Christian athletes come freely in the spiritual arena (παλαίστρα) or wrestling ring-ready, with resolve and above all the will to fight the "good fight".

The spiritual struggle focuses on three key points, (1) a willingness to forgive our fellow man (2) the sincere and not hypocritical exercise (askesis) and promotion of virtue and especially fasting (3) the focus on human spiritual and heavenly treasures which, in relation to the earthly is incorruptible and eternal.

According to Metropolitan Kallistos Ware, "It is customary to divide the spiritual Way into three stages". For Saint Dionysius the Areopagite these are purification, illumination and union--a scheme adopted in the West. Saint Gregory of Nyssa, taking as his model the life of Moses, speaks of light, cloud and darkness. But in this chapter (The Orthodox Way, ch. 6) we shall follow the somewhat different threefold scheme devised by Origen, rendered more precise by Evagrius, and fully developed by Saint Maximus the Confessor. The first stage here is praktiki or the practice of the virtues; the second stage is physiki or the contemplation of nature; the third and final stage, our journey's end, is theologia or "theology" in the strict sense of the word, that is, the contemplation of God Himself.

The first stage, the practice of the virtues, begins with repentance...At the second stage the contemplation of nature, the Christian sharpens his perception of the "isness" of created things, and so discovers the Creator present in everything. This leads him to the third stage, the direct vision of God, Who is not only in everything but above and beyond everything. At this third stage, no longer does the Christian experience God solely through the intermediary of his conscience or of created things, but he meets the Creator face to face in an unmediated union of love. The full vision of the Divine Glory is reserved for the Age to come, yet even in this present life the Saints enjoy the sure pledge and firstfruits of the coming harvest.


The Active Life

The active life is marked above all by four qualities: repentance, watchfulness, discrimination and the guarding of the heart.

  1. Repentance. Repentance marks the starting-point of our journey. The Greek term metanoia signifies primarily a "change of mind." Correctly understood, repentance is not negative but positive. It means not self-pity or remorse but conversion, the re-centering of our whole life upon the Holy Trinity. It is to look not backward with regret but forward with hope--not downwards at our own shortcomings but upwards at God's love. It is to see, not what we have failed to be, but what by Divine grace we can now become; and it is to act upon what we see. To repent is to open our eyes to the Light. Repentance is not just a single act, an initial step, but a continuing state, an attitude of heart and will that needs to be ceaselessly renewed up to the end of life.
  2. Watchfulness. To repent is to wake up. Repentance, change of mind, leads to watchfulness. The Greek term here, nepsis, means literally sobriety and wakefulness. It signifies attentiveness, vigilance, recollection. When the prodigal son repented, it is said, "he came to himself" (St. Luke 15:17). The "neptic" person is one who has come to himself, who does not daydream, drifting aimlessly under the influence of passing impulses, but possesses a sense of direction and purpose. Watchfulness means to be present where we are--at this specific point in space, at this particular moment in time. The "neptic" person, then, is gathered into the here and the now. He is the one who seizes the kairos, the decisive moment of opportunity.
  3. Discrimination. Growing in watchfulness and self-knowledge, the traveler upon the Way begins to acquire the power of discrimination or discernment (Greek diakrisis). This acts as a spiritual sense of taste. If developed through ascetic effort and prayer, it enables us to distinguish between the varying thoughts and impulses within ourselves. We learn the difference between the evil and the good, between the superfluous and the meaningful, between the fantasies inspired by the devil and the images marked upon our creative imagination by celestial archetypes.
  4. Guarding the heart. Through discrimination, then, we begin to take more careful note of what is happening within us, and so we learn to guard our hearts, shutting the door against temptations and provocations of the enemy (Satan). "Guard your heart with all diligence" Proverbs 4:23. The heart is the spiritual center of our being, the human person as made in God's image--the deepest and truest self, the inner shrine to be entered only through sacrifice and death. The heart is thus closely related to the spiritual intellect (nous) and in some contexts the two terms are almost interchangeable.

An essential aspect of guarding the heart is warfare against the passions. By "passion" here is meant not just sexual lust, but any disordered appetite or longing that violently takes a possession of the soul: anger, jealousy, gluttony, avarice, lust for power, pride and the rest. Many of the Holy Fathers treat the passions as something intrinsically evil, as inward disease alien to humanity's true nature.

Some of them, however, adopt a more positive standpoint, regarding the passions as dynamic impulses originally in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin. On this second and more subtle view, our aim is not to eliminate the passions but to redirect their energy. Uncontrolled rage must be turned into righteous indignation, spiteful jealousy into zeal for the truth, sexual lust into an eros that is pure in its fervor. The passions, then, are to be purified, not eradicated; to be used positively, not negatively. To ourselves and to others we say, not "Suppress," but "transfigure."

Purification of the passions leads eventually, by God's grace, to what Evagrius terms apatheia or "dispassion." By this he means, not a negative condition of indifference or insensitivity in which we no longer feel temptation, but a positive state of reintegration and spiritual freedom in which we no longer yield to temptation. Perhaps apatheia can be best be translated "purity of heart". It signifies advancing from instability to stability, from duplicity to simplicity or singleness of heart, from the immaturity of fear and suspicion to the maturity of innocence and trust. The "dispassioned" person, far from being apathetic, is the one whose heart burns for God, for other humans, for every living creature, for all that God had made.

(Source: Orthodox Contemplation: Excerpts from Metropolitan Kallistos Ware's The Orthodox Way with commentary questions on using images in prayer by Brad Jersak)

With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia,
The sinner and unworthy servant of God

+Father George