Orthodox Spiritual Life (Part II)

St. John Maximovitch the Metropolitan of Tobolsk

St. John Maximovitch the Metropolitan of Tobolsk

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE. Ο ΧΡΙΣΤΟΣ ΕΝ ΤΩ ΜΕΣΩ ΗΜΩΝ! ΚΑΙ ΗΝ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΙ ΚΑΙ ΕΣΤΑΙ.

ORTHODOX SPIRITUAL LIFE: THE ACQUISITION OF THE HOLY SPIRIT (Part II)
According to Saint Silouan the Athonite

Before moving on to Saint Silouan's teaching on the acquisition of the grace of the Holy Spirit, some other important points must be mentioned. The spiritual experiences he describes are of a highly personal and mystical character. They are not intended for academic discussion, neither are they an attempt at self-aggrandizement. Rather, he shares his insight out of love for the Church. Saint Silouan's desire was to help those who are struggling and seeking direction in their spiritual life. As a true staretz (Russian term for spiritual 'elder') he offers his teachings as a guide, mapping out the spiritual path that leads to Christ. Saint Silouan certainly would not have diverted his precious time for prayer in favor of writing, had he not been called to do so for the benefit of others.

Also, one should not expect to find in the writings of Saint Silouan a systematic handbook on 'how to' acquire the grace of the Holy Spirit. Obviously, as a monk of Mount Athos, he would understand that the acquisition of divine grace is a natural outcome of participation in the fullness of the ascetic, sacramental (mysteriaki) and liturgical life of the Church. The customary practices of prayer, fasting, vigils and other forms of ascesis expected of a monk would not have been questioned by Saint Silouan. Indeed, ascesis is a way of life: "Work out your own salvation with fear and trembling for God is at work in you, both to will and to work for His good pleasure" (Phil. 2:12-13 RSV).

It must be emphasized, however, that ascetic practice in itself is not what attracts the grace of the Holy Spirit. Ascesis is not an end unto itself, but a means to an end. (Saint John Cassian wrote: "Fasts and vigils, study of Scripture, renouncing possessions and everything worldly are not in themselves perfection, as we have said; they are its tools. For perfection is not to be found in them; it is acquired through them." On the Holy Fathers of Sketis and on Discrimination, The Philokalia, vol 1, p. 96). The aim is to overcome the selfish will through repentance and self-denial. What is sought after is not ascetic discipline on its own, but the fruit of ascesis, i.e., purification from the passions. Purification from the passions or catharsis is the process of redirecting and controlling the fallen desires of man. Purification goes beyond simply refraining from passionate impulses. It leads ultimately to the point of rejecting even the thought of the passion: "And those who belong to Christ Jesus have crucified the flesh with its passions and desires" (Galatians 5:24 [RSV]).

The process of purification leads to the acquisition of spiritual virtues. In this way one progresses in love, prayer, and participation in divine grace--if God wills to grant it. The intrinsic relationship between the purification from passions and participation in the grace of the Holy Spirit is crucial. According to Elder Sophrony, "Passionlessness may be defined as the acquiring of the Holy Spirit." The believer must thus be purified from anger, resentment and other similar passions that defile him and alienate the grace of God (see Saint Maximos the Confessor, Chapters on Love 4. 76-77).

Saint Silouan offers some particular points of advice on the acquisition of grace. These are scattered throughout his writings and are interrelated with a variety of differing themes. His practical advice is not presented methodically, but interspersed within his teaching as a whole. For instance, he refers to the spiritual benefit of temperance in bodily gestures, "To possess grace a man must be temperate in all things--in his gestures, in speech, in what he lets his eyes look upon, in his thoughts, in the food he eats. And every form of temperance is furthered by meditation in the word of God." Elsewhere he elaborates on the benefit of Scriptural reading, "...you must read the Holy Scriptures--grace lives in them and this grace will delight you, and you will come to know the Lord..." At another point he mentions the importance of repentance in relation to the acquisition of divine grace.

One factor of particular significance that Saint Silouan mentions repeatedly with regard to the acquisition of grace is the keeping of the Commandments. The term 'commandments' refers usually to the Ten Commandments (also called the 'Decalogue' [Decalogos]) of the Old Testament which were revealed to Moses on Mt. Sinai (see Exodus 20: 1-17). They summarize man's responsibilities towards God and his neighbor. Even more importantly, however, Saint Silouan also has in mind the Commandments of Christ, i.e., the 'double Commandment' of love (St. Matthew 22:36-40), His 'new' Commandment (St. John 13:34), as well as the other Commandments of the Lord (see St. Matthew 5:21-48.) Refer to St. John 14:21, "they who have my Commandments and keep them are those who love Me; and those who love Me will be loved by My Father, and I will love them and reveal Myself to them" (NRSV).

Saint Silouan emphasizes, however, that the keeping of the Commandments is impossible for him who relies solely on his own strength. In order to keep the Commandments, the believer must always seek the help of the Lord. Furthermore, Saint Silouan does not view the Commandments of the Lord as simply ethical teachings that facilitate the proper functioning of society. The Commandments are words of life that direct man to live according to the will of God. (Elder Sophrony elaborates, "Honest abiding in the sphere of Christ's Commandments heals our sinful mortality, and all life becomes penetrated by the Uncreated Light of Divine Eternity" (Archim. Sophrony, "We shall See Him As He Is," Essex, England 1988, p. 120). Saint Gregory of Sinai refers to the keeping of the Commandments emphasizing the requirement of a faithful heart that actively seeks the will of God, "On your path obedience to the Commandments seek the Lord in your heart…for it is impossible rightly to follow the Commandments and to do rightly unless the heart too is right"( Saint Gregory of Sinai, Texts on Commandments and Dogmas 15, Writings from the Philokalia - On Prayer of the Heart, p. 40.) Saint Gregory expounds further, "Understand that the law of the Commandments means acting in the heart…but nowadays ignorance teaches the pious a faith manifested in words, dead and unfeeling, instead of the faith of Grace." (Texts on Commandments and Dogmas 23 and 28, pp. 42-43; PG 150).

(Next: The synergy of divine grace and human freedom)

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MY BLESSING TO ALL OF YOU

The Grace of our Lord Jesus Christ, and the love of God and Father, and the communion of the Holy Spirit be with you all. Amen.

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Glory Be To GOD For All Things!

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A fatherly advice: As a Christian community we are a community of faith and prayer. No priest has a monopoly on prayer, faith or holiness. We all have the same divine Commandments to follow and it is a requirement for all Christians to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5:17).

I ask all of you to pray along with me for Saint Andrew, the Holy Apostles, to intercede for our parish and seek good weather for our festival. Please use the following prayer as your guide:

PRAYER IN TIME OF BAD WEATHER

+In the Name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit. Amen.

Let us pray to the Lord. Lord, have mercy.

O Master, Lord our God, Who in ancient times, having heard the prayer of Elijah Your Prophet, condescended for a time to hold back rain from the earth: Now, O Creator and Merciful Lord Who loves mankind: Look down on the humble prayer of us Your humble and unworthy servants, and as You are compassionate, overlook our transgressions. Out of Your same love for mankind, send streams of it to Your inheritance, and let the sun shine on us who are beseeching and entreating mercy from You...and let not storms and floods cover us. But be merciful on the works of Your hands, for You are gracious, and quickly deliver us from all evil...Yours it is to be merciful and to save us, O our God, and to You we ascribe glory: to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit, now and ever and unto ages of ages. Amen.

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

+Father George