The Mystery of Man's Heart (Part II)

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


By Archimandrite Zacharias of Essex

Question 3: In our journey to the heart, as we come to know God more, there is spiritual growth. Part of our journey is also learning and studying, and I was wondering if you could comment on the balance between the knowledge and growth of the mind versus the knowledge and growth of the heart. How do we know whether they are growing together or whether they are growing apart? And as we learn, we realize that we will never truly learn anything anyway, and it seems that the heart goes one way and the mind realizes that it will never know it at all.

Answer 3: I think it is true that intellectual work is not very favorable for the activity of the heart, but it is necessary and we have to go through it, at least for a number of years. It is necessary for the life of the Church, especially if we are to serve people. The only thing that can protect us is if we do it in obedience to the Church--to a bishop or a spiritual father. That will protect us and keep us for a time.

I remember when I was studying theology, I was trying to keep the prayer. It was not possible. One week I kept the prayer, but the following week I could not keep up with my work. When I tried to catch up with the work, I lost the prayer. I did not have any stability in those years. Sorry to speak of my personal experience, but looking back, I can say that it was very profitable because I was told to do it and I did it, and the prayers of the one who asked me to do it protected me.

Once I said to one of my elders at the monastery, "Nowadays, the work of a spiritual father is so difficult and dangerous; you have to be incorruptible to do it." And he replied, "No, that is wrong. You do not have to be incorruptible; you have to have a point of reference." And he was right: a point of reference in the person of an elder (geronda) in the Church keeps the spirit of humility, that is to say, it protects us from danger. We do not have to be incorruptible, but we have to have a trustworthy point of reference. Nobody is incorruptible.

Question 4: In our modern culture that is so materialistic, scientific and focused on biology and the natural sciences, how can we even become aware that the heart is something more than just a muscle? How can we become aware of ourselves as being something more than just a brain or a circulatory system?

Answer 4: We must learn the language of God. I wanted to talk to you about this later, but I will say a few words now.

Since all of us have sinned, we all have a common language, the language of pain. When we come to God, we will inevitably have to suffer in order to be purified. If we speak to God with that pain, if we pour out our heart to God with that pain, then God will listen to us, and the heart will be activated.

I have an example from the First Book of Samuel. The Prophetess Hannah was childless, but she had had a servant who had many children. This servant despised her; she was very proud and arrogant because she was so vainglorious about her family. Hannah did not take any revenge, although she was the mistress, she went to the temple and she poured out her heart to God in pain. Of course, God heard her and answered her prayer, and the following year she came back to the temple with her newborn son, Samuel.

When we suffer tribulation, pain or illness in our life, we must remember to pour out our heart to God rather than seek human consolation, by going from one person to another and talking about it. This might give us some psychological consolation, but we lose all the tension of life, that energy of pain which is so precious when we direct it towards God. This is one way.

The other way, as I have said before, is to find someone who can teach us how to speak to God. In the temple, little Samuel was sixteen or seventeen when he heard a voice calling him and he ran to Eli, the priest of the temple, and the priest said to him, "Go back to sleep, nobody called you." The same thing happened a second time. Again he ran to Eli, saying to him, "Did you call me?" and the priest sent him back to sleep once more. When the same thing happened a third time, Eli, who had been initiated into the life of the Spirit, understood that this was a prophetic calling from God, and he advised him, "Go, and if you are called again say, 'Here am I, speak for Thy servant heareth" (cf. 1 Samuel 3:1-20). Indeed, the voice called again and Samuel received the prophetic anointing.

Similarly, we learn to speak to God with our heart through obedience to our elders (gerondes) and, in fact, the ministry of a priest is to teach his people this language of God in the same away as Eli taught Samuel. We all have a common language of pain, of suffering: one way or another we all go through it in this life because God loves us.

(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