The Mystery of Man's Heart

Icon of the Mother of God of Tolga

Icon of the Mother of God of Tolga

My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,


By Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex

Question 1: Forgive this very naive question: Where is the heart? Not "What is the heart?"

Answer 1: The heart is within our chest. When we speak of the heart, we speak of our spiritual heart which coincides with the fleshly one; but when man receives illumination and sanctification, then his whole being becomes a heart. The heart is synonymous with the soul, with the spirit; it is a spiritual place where man finds his unity, where his mind is enthroned when it has been healed of the passions. Not only his mind, but his whole body too is concentrated there.

Saint Gregory Palamas says that "the heart is the very body of our body", a place where man's whole being becomes like a knot. When mind and heart unite, man possesses his nature and there is no dispersion and division in him anymore. That is the sanctified state of the man who is healed. On the contrary, in our natural and fallen state, we are divided; we think one thing with our mind, we feel another with our senses, we desire yet another with our heart. However, when mind and heart are united by the grace of God, then man has only one thought--the thought of God; he has only one desire--the desire for God; and he has only one sensation--the noetic sensation of God. That is why repentance and tears are so much appreciated; they help us to find that healing, that state of integrity because no human being can weep having two thoughts; we weep because of one thought that hurts us. If we are hurt by the thought that we are separated from God, that "salvation is far from the sinner" and all those things that inspire this pain in our heart, then, of course, we can cry; but if we have two thoughts, we cannot cry.

The Saints do not have two thoughts, they may have only one thought, but through that thought, they see the whole of cosmic being, heaven, and earth. That thought becomes a pair of binoculars through which they see and discern everything. Tears are much appreciated in spiritual life because, sooner or later, they make the heart surface. If we have tears because we desire God and we want to be reconciled with Him, surely the heart will be found and the mind will descend into it and God will reign there with grace.

Question 2: If a person arrives at that sate of having acquired a humble heart, it is possible then to fall back to the old state, and if so, is it harder to get back or is it easier?

Answer 2: We go up and down all the time, but we never stop seeking and "fishing" for those humble thoughts that unite the mind with the heart. For example, all the thoughts of the Holy Scriptures can help us, because they come from the humble Spirit of God. Therefore, any thought expressed in the Holy Scripture can become a 'burning coal' that will touch the heart as it touched the lips of Isaiah. That is why we should always study the word of God and have it dwelling richly in our heart, as Saint Paul says: "Let the word of Christ dwell in you richly in all wisdom; teaching and admonishing one another in psalms and hymns and spiritual songs, singing with grace in your hearts to the Lord" (Col. 3:16).

It is easy for grace to ignite one of these thoughts at the time of prayer, and then we have one verse from the Scripture to pray with for a long time. And the Holy Spirit prays with us because this particular word is given by Him. This single thought that brings tears and repentance may come from the Holy Scripture, quickened by grace; it may come directly from God Himself, through prayer; it may come from the hymnology of the Church, from a word of an elder (geronda) or a brother; it can come from anywhere. God is constantly seeking our heart, and He can provoke it with whatever is at hand. We only have to be ready to "snatch" it.

Prayer of self-condemnation is especially helpful. The prayers before Holy Communion are full of these thoughts of self-condemnation before the thrice-Holy God. I think that if we read them carefully we would always receive great help; one day one sentence from those prayers will stay with us and work repentance, another day another one, and so on. Prayer of self-condemnation helps a lot because it follows the path of Christ, which goes downward. He is the One Who first went down, and He then "ascended up on high, he led captivity captive and gave gifts unto men" (Eph. 4:8). For this reason, Father Sophrony says that those who are led by the Holy Spirit never cease to blame themselves before God and this leads them downwards.

But we must be careful because not everybody can bear this. Those who are healthy psychologically can do so and find great strength and consolation, but for those who are less strong, there is another way which involves giving thanks to God continuously and balancing the prayer by ending it with the words "although I am unworthy", O Lord." Saint Maximus the Confessor says that true humility is to bear in mind that we have our being "on loan" from God. We find humility if we thank God continuously for everything. If we thank Him for every single breath He gives us. In one of the prayers before the Sacrament of Baptism, we say that God has spread out the air for us to breathe, and we find a similar idea in one of the prayers of the kneeling service at Pentecost.  Consequently, if we thank God for everything and for every single breath of air that He gives us, we will maintain a humble spirit. (Source: Orthodox Heritage)

(To be continued)


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


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

+Father George