An Attitude of Listening to God

Icon of the Mother of God '“of the Akathist” of Zographou Monastery

Icon of the Mother of God '“of the Akathist” of Zographou Monastery

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.

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AN ATTITUDE OF LISTENING TO GOD

During a somewhat casual conversation that strayed from subject-to-subject within my family circle a few days ago, we collectively arrived at a very rare consensus of opinion: There is just too much "noise" at practically any venue one chooses to attend or visit.

It started with the realization that now even at a sports stadium, there is pop/rock music blaring away all through the event while television screens in the concession area promote or allow one to watch the game while away from one's seat. Advertising is, of course, ubiquitous. It is as if there is a concerted effort to make sure that no one remains "un-entertained," even if only for a moment. That is just one example from among many. And recently when in a restaurant, from my particular vantage point I was able to view four television screens at once--there were a few more behind me--each airing a different program. (Of the four, I chose "Judge Judy" by the way). Simultaneously, loud rock music was blaring over the speakers! We were fairly shouting across the table at each other just to make conversation.

Are we, in turn, in danger of inevitably fearing silence? Or will silence be experienced as a lack of something--anything--to keep us distracted? This brings to mind a dystopian novella by E.M. Foster, The Machine Stops. In a remote future, the "machine"--controlled by the State--provides a distinct "hum" in the background that keeps everyone settled and secure. The drama of the story is about the panic that sets in when the "machine stops." Silence can be unsettling.

Thinking this over, I recently received a newsletter from a monastery in New Mexico dedicated to the Archangel Michael. Perhaps this is typically monastic, but I found this insightful passage in the newsletter. It is from a very prominent Greek Orthodox theologian, Metropolitan Hierotheos Vlahos, on the meaning of hesychia or stillness. Combining genuine theology with what we would call spirituality, he writes that "Theology means speaking about God based on knowledge and experience of Him. Hesychia (Stillness) is the way in which we acquire this spiritual knowledge of God. We live in an age of constant activity, the gratification of the senses, uncontrolled imagination and speculation that wear people out. They are searching for inner stillness--hesychia--from the world of the senses and imagination, but also the theology--knowledge of God--to give their lives meaning."

Prominent as hesychia is in this passage, perhaps we need to ask exactly what does hesychia mean? It is not exactly a household term (not even in Orthodox Christian households) or a word used with familiarity in the "public square." In fact, the use of the word could very likely draw a quizzical (or dismissive) expression. Thus, it is helpful to present a working definition of this term since it is so often used in our spiritual vocabulary. We hear it often, and perhaps are uncertain how best to translate, or at least understand it. I will turn to the translation work of such prominent scholars and theologians as Archbishop Kallistos Ware, Philip Sherrard and Norman Russell for providing such a working definition, as they have worked on translating texts from our spiritual tradition--and these are often "hesychastic texts" --for many decades. The fruit of this translation work is now accessible in the four volumes of The Philokalia which have been published to date.

In the useful Glossary provided at the back of each volume, and under the word "stillness," we will find the following: "stillness (hesychia): from which are derived the words hesychasm and hesychast, used to denote the whole spiritual tradition represented in The Philokalia as well as the person who pursues this spiritual path it delineates; a state of inner tranquility or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of the heart. Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him" (Volume 4, p. 434-435).

"Inner tranquility," "mental quietude," "concentration," "pure prayer," and "guarding of the heart." The Saints tell us that through these practices we can become open to God and actually listen to Him. Are such practices on our spiritual radar screens? Do we deep down long for a taste of such stillness?

As the daily cacophony of amped-up noise continues to crescendo, perhaps that of which Metropolitan Hierotheos reminds us is worth a bit of our attention and receptivity. (Source: Orthodox Church in America)

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Please note: There is so much more to our Orthodox Christian Faith then we know. The average Orthodox Christian has never had a formal catechism or religious education and therefore the Orthodox person remains religiously illiterate. The spiritual struggle to understand the Orthodox Christian faith becomes not only a challenge for him/her but an experience of frustration.  

For an Orthodox Christian today however who has the desire to learn more about the Faith and how to live as an Orthodox Christian in a secular world much of the information is online and on various authentic Orthodox Christian websites. 

Knowing how busy our life is today, one can still use the technology and resources to accomplish that goal. Even when one is traveling one can turn to his smartphone or computer and enrich and strengthen his knowledge of the Faith.  

Unfortunately, however, the Orthodox Christian parishioner is too busy with other non-spiritual activities and projects. Activities and projects that are important and even necessary but are of little spiritual value. Almost everything is about raising funds. Funds are necessary for the local parish to operate and meet its financial needs but we also have to make time for our spiritual welfare and growth.  

The answer to the parish financial problem can be solved if all the parish stewards would financially support it. There are people who are served by the parish and yet they do not feel any obligation to share in the operation of the church. Where is the conscience? Where is the sense of duty? Where is the philotimo?

By making the local parish financially independent the Orthodox stewards can turn their attention to their spiritual life. A successful Orthodox Christian parish is one which is totally committed to our Savior and God Jesus Christ and is constantly engaged in prayer, worship, and philanthropy. 

When the adults and parents in the Orthodox Christian community are unaware of what they believe and how to practice their faith daily, the children are completely lost and have no connection with Christ and the Church. According to the Greek Orthodox Archdiocese of America, the Church is losing 60% of the young men and women to other Faiths or to no church at all. I believe this constitutes a spiritual crisis! What are we doing? Whatever happened to the kat' oikon ekklesia (the domestic church?) or the Christian home? Many of our children do not even know who Christ is! Has the Orthodox Christian family and home ceased to be Christian? Why are the parents not teaching their children our God-given values, morality, and the Christian way of life? Instead are caving into the secular, unbelieving, paganistic, and destructive society?

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"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!" -- Saint John Chrysostomos

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

+Father George