Focus on the Faith
Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky – The Man Behind the Philokalia
by Fr. Seraphim Rose of Platina
DECEMBER 21, 1972, marked the 250th anniversary of the birth of Schema-Archimandrite Paisius Velichkovsky. This remarkable anniversary went almost totally unnoticed in the Orthodox world, which is so occupied with its worldly problems and its very struggle for survival. And yet, for Orthodox Christians of the 20th century there is no more important Holy Father of recent times than Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky. This is so not merely because of his holy life; not merely because, like another Saint Gregory Palamas, he defended the hesychast practice of the mental Prayer of Jesus; not only because he, through his many disciples, inspired the great monastic revival of the 19th century which flowered most notably in the holy Elders of Optina Monastery; but most of all because he redirected the attention of Orthodox Christians to the sources of Holy Orthodoxy, which are the only foundation of true Orthodox life and thought whether of the past or of the present, whether of monks or of laymen.
Having come to love the Holy Fathers and true Orthodox piety in his childhood, Blessed Paisius at the age of 17 saw that even in the best Orthodox school of Russia he was not being given the pure teaching of Holy Orthodoxy from the patristic sources, but rather something second-hand and accompanied by useless pagan learning; and, further, that an over-emphasis on the formal side of the Church’s existence, greatly furthered by the Government in its attempt to make the Church a “department” of the State, promoted chiefly the idea that church-minded people, the clergy and even the monks, occupied a definite place in the apparatus of the Church organization.This overemphasis of a real but decidedly secondary aspect of church life tended to obscure the primary aspect: the love and zeal for true Orthodoxy and true piety, which are what inspire every genuine Orthodox Christian, whether clergy, monk, or layman. Seeing the difficulty of exercising his love and zeal in the Russia of his time, Paisius left his homeland in search of a place where his tender Orthodox conscience could mature in blessed freedom and in the opportunity to draw instruction and inspiration from the unadulterated sources of Orthodoxy.
Having come to spiritual maturity, Blessed Paisius then himself became a source and seedbed for the great monastic and patristic revival of Holy Russia in the 19th century. True patristic spirituality and its hesychast tradition, to be sure, never died out in Russia, not even in the 18th century, that age of pseudo-enlightenment when the Empress Catherine closed most of the Orthodox monasteries and strictly regulated the rest of them; no, it remained and provided the fertile ground on which the disciples and the example of Blessed Paisius were to bear such great spiritual fruits. But it required the patristic bees of the great Elder Paisius, bringing back the pollen of the true and free tradition of Orthodoxy under the much more favorable climate of the 19th century, to cause the native Russian trees to give forth such a marvelous abundance of spiritual fruit.
Taken from the Introduction to Blessed Paisius Velichkovsky, by Schema-monk Metrophanes, trans. by Fr. Seraphim Rose (St. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 1976.
From the Lives of the Saints
—Excerpts from Orthodoxwiki
St. Nectarios of Pentapolis 11/9
St. Nectarios (1846-1920), Metropolitan of Pentapolis and Wonderworker of Aegina, was officially recognized as a saint by the Ecumenical Patriarchate of Constantinople in 1961. His feast day is celebrated on November 9. He is often referred to as Nectarios of Pentapolis or Nectarios of Aegina, and his name is sometimes spelled Nektarios.
Saint John Chrysostom 11/13
Our father among the saints John Chrysostom (347-407), Archbishop of Constantinople, was a notable Christian bishop and preacher from the fourth and fifth centuries in Syria and Constantinople. He is famous for his eloquence in public speaking, his philanthropy, his denunciation of abuse of authority in the Church and in the Roman Empire of the time, and for a Divine Liturgy attributed to him. He had notable ascetic sensibilities. After his death he was named Chrysostom, which comes from the Greek Χρυσόστομος, “golden-mouthed.” The Orthodox Church honors him as a saint (feast day, November 13) and counts him among the Three Holy Hierarchs (feast day, January 30), together with Saints Basil the Great and Gregory the Theologian. Another feast day associated with him is January 27, which commemorates the event in 437, thirty years after the saint’s repose, when his relics were brought back to Constantinople from the place of his death.
St. Gregory Palamas 11/14
Our father among the saints Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), Archbishop of Thessalonica, was a monk of Mount Athos in Greece (at Vatopedi Monastery and Esphigmenou Monastery), and later became Archbishop of Thessalonica. He was a preeminent theologian and a proponent of hesychastic theology. His feast days in the Church are November 14 and the second Sunday of Great Lent as the Sunday of St. Gregory Palamas.
St. Paisius Velichkovsky 11/15
Our venerable father Paisius Velichkovsky, also Paisius of Neamt, led the renaissance in Orthodox monasticism in the late eighteenth century, helping the Church recover from the decline in monastic life and spirituality caused by the troubles and conflicts of the previous centuries. His effort was centered on the spirituality of the hesychastic tradition, which was expressed in the popularity of counseling by starets (elders) in nineteenth-century Russia. His feast is celebrated on November 15.
The feast of the Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple 11/21
The Entrance of the Theotokos into the Temple, also called The Presentation, is one of the Great Feasts of the Orthodox Church, celebrated on November 21.
According to Tradition, the Theotokos was taken – presented – by her parents Joachim and Anna into the Jewish Temple in Jerusalem as a young girl, where she lived and served as a Temple virgin until her betrothal to St. Joseph. One of the earliest sources of this tradition is the non-canonical Protoevangelion of James, also called the Infancy Gospel of James.
Mary was solemnly received by the temple community which was headed by the priest Zacharias, the father of John the Baptist. She was led to the holy place to become herself the “holy of holies” of God, the living sanctuary and temple of the Divine child who was to be born in her. The Church also sees this feast as a feast which marks the end of the physical temple in Jerusalem as the dwelling place of God.
St. Innocent of Irkutsk 11/26
Our father among the saints Innocent of Irkutsk was an educator and early missionary to Siberia where he was appointed the first bishop of Irkutsk in central Siberia. His dedication to the task of preaching the Gospel and teaching the people of the area in their languages would be continued by his namesake Innocent of Alaska. St Innocent’s repose is commemorated on November 26. He is also remembered on February 9, the day of his glorification and translation, and on September 2, the date of the second translation of his relics to Irkutsk in 1990.
Orthopraxis – Introduction to the Jesus Prayer
by H.R.H. Princess Ileana of Romania
We honor two saints this month that are instrumental in preserving the Philokalia – the essential manual of hesychasm. But the heights of hesychasm are beyond many monastics of our day, let alone those of us in the world. Many of us have even been advised against reading the Philokalia early in our journey. How can we proceed? Our modern holy fathers and mothers have taught us a way to begin that is not too advanced for us – baby steps in the path that lead to holy hesychia. One such instructor is H.R.H Princess Ileana of Romania, who began this journey as a layperson, later becoming a Nun. Some of us at St. Nicholas knew her. She is an example of traveling far by the simple means of the Jesus Prayer.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.
I have often read the Jesus Prayer in prayer books and heard it in church, but my attention was drawn to it first some years ago in Romania. There in a small Monastery of Sâmbata, tucked away at the foot of the Carpathians in the heart of the deep forest, its little white church reflected in a crystal-clear mountain pond, I met a monk who practiced the “prayer of the heart”. Profound peace and silence reigned at Sâmbata in those days; it was a place of rest and strength—I pray God it still is.
I have wandered far since I last saw Sâmbata, and all the while the Jesus Prayer lay as a precious gift buried in my heart. It remained inactive until a few years ago, when I read The Way of a Pilgrim. Since then I have been seeking to practice it continually. At times I lapse; nonetheless, the prayer has opened unbelievable vistas within my heart and soul.
The Jesus Prayer, or the Prayer of the Heart, centers on the Holy Name itself. It may be said in its entirety: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner;” it may be changed to “us sinners” or to other persons named, or it may be shortened. The power lies in the name of Jesus; thus “Jesus,” alone, may fulfill the whole need of the one who prays.
The Prayer goes back to the New Testament and has had a long, traditional use. The method of contemplation based upon the Holy Name is attributed to St. Simeon, called the “New Theologian” (949-1022). When he was 14 years old, St. Simeon had a vision of heavenly light in which he seemed to be separated from his body. Amazed, and overcome with an overpowering joy, he felt a consuming humility, and cried, borrowing the Publican’s prayer (Luke 18:13), “Lord Jesus, have mercy upon me.” Long after the vision had disappeared, the great joy returned to St. Simeon each time he repeated the prayer; and he taught his disciples to worship likewise. The prayer evolved into its expanded form: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.” In this guise it has come down to us from generation to generation of pious monks and laymen.
The invocation of the Holy Name is not peculiar to the Orthodox Church but is used by Roman Catholics, Anglicans, and Protestants, though to a lesser degree. On Mount Sinai and Athos the monks worked out a whole system of contemplation based upon this simple prayer, practiced in complete silence. These monks came to be known as “Quietists” (in Greek: “Hesychasts”).
St. Gregory Palamas (1296-1359), the last of the great Church Fathers, became the exponent of the Hesychasts. He won, after a long drawn out battle, an irrefutable place for the Jesus Prayer and the Quietists within the Church. In the 18th century when tsardom hampered monasticism in Russia, and the Turks crushed Orthodoxy in Greece, the Neamtzu monastery in Moldavia (Romania) became one of the great centers for the Jesus Prayer.
The Prayer is held to be so outstandingly spiritual because it is focused wholly on Jesus: all thoughts, striving, hope, faith and love are outpoured in devotion to God the Son. It fulfills two basic injunctions of the New Testament. In one, Jesus said: “I say unto you, Whatsoever ye shall ask the Father in my name, he will give it you. Hitherto have ye asked nothing in my name: ask, and ye shall receive, that your joy may be full” (John 16: 23, 24). In the other precept we find St. Paul’s injunction to pray without ceasing, (1. Thess. 5:17). Further, it follows Jesus’ instructions upon how to pray (which He gave at the same time He taught His followers the Lord’s Prayer): “When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret; and thy Father which seeth in secret shall reward thee openly” (Matt. 6:6).
And Jesus taught that all impetus, good and bad, originates in men’s hearts. “A good man out of the good treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is good; and an evil man out of the evil treasure of his heart bringeth forth that which is evil: for of the abundance of the heart his mouth speaketh” (Luke 6:45).
Upon these and many other precepts of the New Testament as well as the Old, the Holy Fathers, even before St. Simeon, based their fervent and simple prayer. They developed a method of contemplation in which unceasing prayer became as natural as breathing, following the rhythmic cadence of the heart beat.
All roads that lead to God are beset with pitfalls because the enemy (Satan) ever lies in wait to trip us up. He naturally attacks most assiduously when we are bent on finding our way to salvation, for that is what he most strives to hinder. In mystical prayer the temptations we encounter exceed all others in danger; because our thoughts are on a higher level, the allurements are proportionally subtler. Someone said that “mysticism started in mist and ended in schism”; this cynical remark, spoken by an unbeliever, has a certain truth in it. Mysticism is of real spiritual value only when it is practiced with absolute sobriety.
At one time a controversy arose concerning certain Quietists who fell into excessive acts of piety and fasting because they lost the sense of moderation upon which our Church lays so great a value. We need not dwell upon misuses of the Jesus Prayer, except to realize that all exaggerations are harmful and that we should at all times use self-restraint. “Practice of the Jesus Prayer is the traditional fulfillment of the injunction of the Apostle Paul to ‘pray always:’ it has nothing to do with the mysticism which is the heritage of pagan ancestry.”
The Orthodox Church is full of deep mystic life which she guards and encompasses with the strength of her traditional rules; thus her mystics seldom go astray. “The ‘ascetical life’ is a life in which ‘acquired’ virtues, i.e. virtues resulting from a personal effort, only accompanied by that general grace which God grants to every good will, prevail. The ‘mystical life’ is a life in which the gifts of the Holy Spirit are predominant over human efforts, and in which ‘infused’ virtues are predominant over the ‘acquired’ ones; the soul has become more passive than active. Let us use a classical comparison. Between the ascetic life, that is, the life in which human action predominates, and the mystical life, that is, the life in which God’s action predominates, there is the same difference as between rowing a boat and sailing it; the oar is the ascetic effort, the sail is the mystical passivity which is unfurled to catch the divine wind.” The Jesus Prayer is the core of mystical prayer, and it can be used by anyone, at any time. There is nothing mysterious about this (let us not confuse “mysterious” with “mystic”). We start by following the precepts and examples frequently given by our Lord. First, go aside into a quiet place: “Come ye yourselves apart into a desert place, and rest awhile” (Mark 6:31); “Study to be quiet” (I. Thess. 4: 11); then pray in secret—alone and in silence.
The phrases “to pray in secret, alone and in silence” need, I feel, a little expanding. “Secret” should be understood as it is used in the Bible: for instance, Jesus tells us to do our charity secretly-not letting the left hand know what the right one does. We should not parade our devotions, nor boast about them. “Alone” means to separate ourselves from our immediate surroundings and disturbing influences. As a matter of fact, never are we in so much company as when we pray”… seeing we also are compassed about with so great a cloud of witnesses…” (Hebrews 12:1). The witnesses are all those who pray: Angels, Archangels, saints and sinners, the living and the dead. It is in prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, that we become keenly aware of belonging to the living body of Christ. In “silence” implies that we do not speak our prayer audibly. We do not even meditate on the words; we use them only to reach beyond them to the essence itself.
In our busy lives this is not easy, yet it can be done-we can each of us find a few minutes in which to use a prayer consisting of only a few words, or even only one. This prayer should be repeated quietly, unhurriedly, thoughtfully. Each thought should be concentrated on Jesus, forgetting all else, both joys and sorrows. Any stray thought, however good or pious, can become an obstacle.
When you embrace a dear one you do not stop to meditate how and why you love—you just love wholeheartedly. It is the same when spiritually we grasp Jesus the Christ to our heart. If we pay heed to the depth and quality of our love, it means that we are preoccupied with our own reactions, rather than giving ourselves unreservedly to Jesus —holding nothing back. Think the prayer as you breathe in and out; calm both mind and body, using as rhythm the heartbeat. Do not search for words, but go on repeating the Prayer, or Jesus’ name alone, in love and adoration. That is ALL! Strange—in this little there is more than all!
It is good to have regular hours for prayer and to retire whenever possible to the same room or place, possibly before an icon. The icon is loaded with the objective presence of the One depicted, and thus greatly assists our invocation. Orthodox monks and nuns find that to use a rosary helps to keep the attention fixed. Or you may find it best quietly to close your eyes—focusing them inward.
The Jesus Prayer can be used for worship and petition; as intercession, invocation, adoration, and as thanksgiving. It is a means by which we lay all that is in our hearts, both for God and man, at the feet of Jesus. It is a means of communion with God and with all those who pray. The fact that we can train our hearts to go on praying even when we sleep, keeps us uninterruptedly within the community of prayer. This is no fanciful statement; many have experienced this life-giving fact. We cannot, of course, attain this continuity of prayer all at once, but it is achievable; for all that is worthwhile we must “… run with patience the race that is set before us …” (Hebrews 12:1).
I had a most striking proof of uninterrupted communion with all those who pray when I lately underwent surgery. I lay long under anesthesia. “Jesus” had been my last conscious thought, and the first word on my lips as I awoke. It was marvelous beyond words to find that although I knew nothing of what was happening to my body I never lost cognizance of being prayed-for and of praying myself. After such an experience one no longer wonders that there are great souls who devote their lives exclusively to prayer.
Prayer has always been of very real importance to me, and the habit formed in early childhood of morning and evening prayer has never left me; but in the practice of the Jesus Prayer I am but a beginner. I would, nonetheless, like to awaken interest in this prayer because, even if I have only touched the hem of a heavenly garment, I have touched it—and the joy is so great I would share it with others. It is not every man’s way of prayer; you may not find in it the same joy that I find, for your way may be quite a different one—yet equally bountiful.
In fear and joy, in loneliness and companionship, it is ever with me. Not only in the silence of daily devotions, but at all times and in all places. It transforms, for me, frowns into smiles; it beautifies, as if a film had been washed off an old picture so that the colors appear clear and bright, like nature on a warm spring day after a shower. Even despair has become attenuated and repentance has achieved its purpose.
When I arise in the morning, it starts me joyfully upon a new day. When I travel by air, land, or sea, it sings within my breast. When I stand upon a platform and face my listeners, it beats encouragement. When I gather my children around me, it murmurs a blessing. And at the end of a weary day, when I lay me down to rest, I give my heart over to Jesus: “(Lord) into thy hands I commend my spirit”. I sleep—but my heart as it beats prays on: “JESUS”.
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