Sunday, November 10, 2013

A Peace The World Cannot Understand

Icon of St. Seraphim of Sarov, found here.
"Repudiate the world and all that is in it; close the innermost part of your soul to everyone; crucify your flesh together with the passions and lust and, finding yourself in incessant prayer, select a narrow path which leads to eternal life."

- St. Theophil of the Kiev Caves

One of the greatest marks of my life as an anti-Christian was a distinct lack of peace.  Here, I am not speaking of the "inner peace" espoused by the New Age, which is little more than a spiritual Band-Aid..  No, my lack of peace was my lack of peace with God Himself.

For years, I found myself walking up and down the streets of my home city, night after night, walking away from everything and towards nothing in particular other than some new life, some new day.  My lack of knowing the peace of Christ was a painful and deadening affliction, one that brought me down to the lower levels of a Dantean Inferno within my own heart.

The peace of Christ as the only true interior peace, the one "which passeth all understanding" (Phil. 4:7), is something worth striving for, worth cultivating, and infinitely worth knowing.  St. Seraphim of Sarov tells us that "When one walks in a peaceful state, it is as if one ladles out spiritual gifts with a spoon,"1 and is famously remembered for his admonition to "Acquire inward peace, and thousands around you will find their salvation."2

"Look at the worldly and at the whole world that exalts itself above the people of God: are the image of God and his truth not distorted in it?  They have science, and in science only that which is subject to the senses.  But the spiritual world, the higher half of man's being, is altogether rejected, banished with a sort of triumph, even with hatred."3 (Fyodor Dostoevsky) Indeed, "their world is formless and tumultuous chaos, a chaos of the forces of nature and of the human soul; their life is illusion."4 (Karl Barth)

In such a world as this, peace can seem impossible to find.  But if one cultivates the peace of Christ in one's heart, through interior prayer, then one need not look far.  In fact, one need never look to the world outside of the heart, for within one's soul resides and stands before God in silent and continual prayer.  Here, in the heart, there is peace.  "The patient and diligent worker will not fail to be satisfied and consoled; he will rejoice at an infinite abundance of spiritual fruits such as he can form no conception of in his carnal and natural state."5 (St. Ignatius Brianchaninov)

Cultivating such interior peace is quite difficult, and I am no expert on the subject.  I just know that when I pray the Jesus Prayer within, silently in my heart, I begin to experience a peace that I have never known in my life as a Christian.  I have felt almost ecstatic when praying the Rosary, a certain sweetness - but when praying the Jesus Prayer, in humbling myself before Christ in this manner, I have felt and known a new kind of deeper peace.  This interior peace that comes with praying the Jesus Prayer is something I want to know, experience, and grow in, as a plant grows in fertile soil. 

1 - Spiritual Instructions, 24
2 - qtd. in Ware, The Orthodox Way, ch. 5
3 - The Brothers Karamazov, VI:3
4 - The Epistle to the Romans, I:16
5 - On the Prayer of Jesus, III

6 comments:

  1. I would like to hear how you practice the Jesus Prayer. I have tried off and on to practice but have never found anyone to teach me. I know it from the famous book on the life of the Russian pilgrim, The Way of the Pilgrim. What has helped you?

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  2. Can you share how you practice the Jesus Prayer? I don't have a spiritual father so I have learned it just from reading books, particularly The Way of the Pilgrim. I have been trying to practice this prayer more regularly and would welcome any advice on its practice.

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    1. Hi John,
      I am not even remotely close to having the insight to teach on the practice of it, but I can recommend some books to you to help you get started. We sell a ton of books on the subject in general there as well - http://monkrock.com/index.cfm?load=page&page=36&group=89.
      My favorite, aside from The Way of a Pilgrim is The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology. On the Prayer of Jesus by St. Ignatius Brianchaninov is recommended as well.

      I would also recommend talking to an Eastern Orthodox/Catholic priest on the subject if you are able to.

      The best path to me however, seems in accord with what St. Ignatius Brianchaninov says - that is, to simply begin. Be sure to talk to a spiritual director though, and get lots of guidance.

      God give you peace!
      Jason

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    2. Thanks Jason! I appreciate your advice and am going over to the monk rock online store to purchase the books you recommend. I had not heard of them or read them before.

      Anyway, your other piece of advice on best path to take is indeed right on the mark. This is what I have often felt. If I could only pray as long as I read about praying I'd be a holier man than I am!!! So, read but definitely make sure you start applying what you've read.

      God bless you.

      John

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  3. Whenever I start feeling overwhelmed by anxiety or being plagued by intrusive thoughts, I just start saying, in triplets:

    Lord Jesus Christ, help me, a sinner.
    Mary, Mother of God, help me, a sinner.

    Usually by the 3rd repetition, the anxiety subsides. If not, I continue.

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    1. An interesting addition to the mix with the Marian prayer!

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