Prayer and the Heart

To brood on evil makes the heart brazen; but to destroy evil through self-restraint and hope breaks the heart

There is a breaking of the heart which is gentle and makes it deeply penitent, and there is a breaking which is violent and harmful, shattering it completely.

Vigils, prayer, and patient acceptance of what comes constitute a breaking that does not harm but benefits the heart, provided we do not destroy the balance between them through excess. He who perseveres in them will be helped in other ways as well; but he wo is slack and negligent will suffer intolerably on leaving this life.

A self-indulgent heart becomes a prison and chain for the soul when it leaves this life; whereas an assiduous heart is an open door.

‘The iron gate that leads into the city’ is a hard heart [Acts 12.10]; but to one who suffers hardship and affliction the gate will open of its own accord, as it did to Peter.

There are many differing methods of prayer. No method is harmful; if it were, it would be not prayer but the activity of Satan.

A man wanted to do evil, but first prayed as usual; and finding himself prevented by God, he was then extremely thankful.

When David wanted to kill Nabal the Carmelite, but was reminded of the divine retribution and abandoned his intention, he was extremely thankful. Again, we know what he did when he forgot God, and how he did not stop until Nathan the Prophet reminded him [cf. 1 Sam 25; 2 Sam 12].

At the times when you remember God, increase your prayers, so that when you forget Him, the Lord may remind you.

St Mark the Ascetic. On the Spiritual Law, 17-25. Philokalia volume 1, pp 111-112

8 Replies to “Prayer and the Heart”

  1. I’ve just started reading a book on the Orthodox “prayer of the heart” (Herzensgebet). This’ll be my first contact with Orthodox spirituality, but it was pationately recommended to me (in fact donated to me) by an adorable lady in my Free Evangelical Church.

  2. Phil, I’d recommend the Philokalia, too (the first four volumes are translated into English, and the fifth may or may not yet be published). Prayer of the Heart is the focus of the collection. I wonder if the book that the lady gave to you is perhaps a translation of the volume titled in English Writings from the Philokalia on the Prayer of the Heart? It’s a selection from the five-volume (or six in Russian) Philokalia/Dobrotolubiye collections.

    That being said, Prayer of the Heart is not something that is intended for all, but is to be attempted only with spiritual maturity developed under the direction of an Orthodox spiritual father who is himself mature in its practice. Most of us can take only baby steps along this path, and it is all too easy to suffer illusions of having attained it quickly and with little effort. The Philokalia was designed as instructive material for those living an Orthodox monastic life, with the dogmatic, spiritual and communal support that is a part of such a life. For the rest of us, they are instructive in inculcating the necessary dogmatic foundation of a life lived in prayer to God, and useful for our prayer lives in general. That is one of the issues that you’ll see in “Orthodox spirituality”: the dogmatic is the foundation. That is, in Orthodoxy dogma is not in opposition to “spiritual” things, but the “spiritual” is an outgrowth of dogma. Without proper dogma there is no proper prayer, no true mystical/liturgical life at all. It is all of a piece. So keep that in mind as you read if it seems a bit heavy theologically. And enjoy it!

  3. Wow, thanks for the info. I’m still reading the intro, so I’ve heard of the Philokalia, but not of the necessary monastic context. Translated from the german, it’s something like Candid Stories of a Russian Pilgrim. The author is unkown, from the 19th century. It was preserved by various bishps etc. The lady was adamant that it had changed her life and she recommends it to everyone. So, I read with eager anticipation, knowing, of course, that its effectiveness depends on the Holy Spirit and my own response.

    in Orthodoxy dogma is not in opposition to “spiritual” things, but the “spiritual” is an outgrowth of dogma.

    Great, as a Childsian I’m big into dogma. The same applies to exegesis, cf. here.

  4. Ah! I’ll bet that’s “The Way of the Pilgrim” as they call it in English. Does it start like this?: “By the grace of God I am a Christian, by my deeds a great sinner, and by my calling a homeless wanderer of humblest origin, roaming from place to place. My possessions consist of a knapsack with dry crusts of bread on my back and in my bosom the Holy Bible. This is all!”

    That beginning and book hooked a friend of mine to convert from agnostic Jew to Orthodox Christian. He then lived for ten years on Mount Athos, and recently wrote a book about the experience, which I’ve described briefly here.

    The Way of the Pilgrim is immensely popular in Orthodox circles, especially in its original Russian context. It’s a classic.

    In addition to the Philokalia, I’d also recommend the small but potent book by the recently reposed Metropolitan Anthony (Bloom) of Sourozh, Beginning to Pray, a snippet from which I quoted here. It’s available here and elsewhere, and is very inexpensive for the benefit one might gain from it.

  5. Sorry that I’ve come back to this so late. I don’t have any mechanism for being informed whether you have responded or not …

    That story concerning your friend sounds fascinating. I’m not sure I’ll be converting just yet, I still find the spirituality foreign and alien. However, I’m also aware of the profound limitations of my own spirituality and this book is encouraging me to take the matter more seriously in a disciplined, aware kind of way.

    Thanks again for the info.

  6. You’re very welcome, Phil. I’m happy to help.

    It’s definitely a good idea to introduce some discipline. People seem so often to take that as a bad thing, but it’s really necessary to be disciplined in any endeavour if we’re to succeed in it. It’s too easy to let things slip, in a world of such distractions. But then there’s also a way in which too much discipline can take the place of awareness. So, there’s a balance that needs to be worked at to be achieved.

    I think you’d enjoy my friend’s book, too, as it deals precisely with finding that balance. There’s a link to it in that comment. As kind of a gung-ho young man, he converted to Orthodox Christianity and went to live in a super-traditionalist monastery on Mt Athos: no half-measures in his conversion! He describes his slow change to a more relflective as opposed to reflexive mentality.

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