In last week’s message I tried to show you how our created nature before the “Fall” was in a state of “Theoria” (vision) of God. Prelasparian man was in communion with God and had to struggle to not only stay in that state, but through that struggle he would grow more perfect in that union.
In essences, both Prelasparian man and man after the “Fall” have to struggle and work to reach perfection or a more closer union with God. However, without Christ we would be unable, through our efforts, to do this on our own. There was a 5th century monk from Britain named Pelagian, who denied original sin, and that man did not inherit any sin from Adam. Also he believed that man is born without sin, and that through his own efforts of free will he could achieve salvation. If this was the case than Christ would not have been necessary to reinstate and initiate our salvation, it would be up to us. Pelagian and his teachings were condemned by the Third Ecumenical Council as a heresy.
Our created nature changed with the “Fall” and we needed redemption from that day on. Nevertheless, as I stated last week, we must still actively work and suffer to achieve Theosis through Purification, Illumination, and then Theosis. It is very easy to quote the fathers and think that we are reaching Theosis through our efforts, but in actuality it is a constant battle taking place within us, and especially within the soul.
The soul itself has three categories and they must be studied if we expect to progress spiritually. St. Theophan the Recluse (1815 - 1894), was the Bishop of Tambov in Russia, who articulated these three categories in his book entitled, “The Spiritual Life: And How To Be Attuned To It.” He states that “We have already long since looked over and divided all motions of the soul into three categories: thoughts, desires, and senses, each of which had received its name from a particular aspect of the soul – the intellectual (thinking), the desiring, and the sensual.” St. Theophan realized that the soul is in constant motion, and the three are continually assessing and questioning one thing or another.
It is no wonder that the “Desert Fathers” learned early on about the benefits of hesychia. It is the ability to be silent in prayer, by eliminating all images and random thoughts that arise within them. Our soul is like an airport receiving hundred or even thousands of images and thoughts passing through it. How many of you have watched young children in Church never settling down and sitting quietly? Are we like them even today? Thoughts travel through us in rapid succession, and we can never really focus on what is before us. Only to be constantly distracted by them.
As a result prayer becomes difficult, and our thoughts have command over us, taking us from one idea or thought to another. The wandering and scattering of the soul through the thoughts, images, and memory, “is the complete opposite of what our intellectual faculty is supposed to be. That is its illness, which is so inculcated in it and so endemic to everyone, that it would be impossible to find a single human being who is capable of continuously conducting the substantial labor of thinking, who is not subject to this scattering and wandering of various thoughts, which divert him from his occupation and pull him in different directions.”
Do not let your thoughts interrupt your prayer, but when they barge in push them away and refocus your attention by the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. This is the first lesson needed to enter a deeper prayer level, and it will help you at other times as well. Control of your thoughts is a grace that leads to mastering ones body, soul, and spirit.
Finally, Archimandrite Georgios, Abbott of the Holy Monastery of St. Gregorios at Agion Oros, say, “nepsis and hesychia constitute the essential point of life in accordance with the gospel. According to the holy fathers, nepsis is the vigilance of the nous and watchfulness at the gates of the heart, so that every thought that moves in it can be controlled. The neptic work is practiced in various ways, but in all its forms it presumes renunciation of the world, obedience and hesychia. Hesychia is distancing oneself from worldly distractions, while sacred hesychia of the heart is rejection of thoughts which are not according to God.” I know that it takes years before you can do this, but do not let that reason stop you from starting on your journey to quiet your thought. I will continue next week with the other aspects and characteristics of the soul. Amen!
Christ Is Risen! Truly He Has Risen! Χριστός Άνέστη! Άληθῶς Άνέστη!
*Very Rev. Archimandrite Vasilios Bassakyros, Presiding Priest of St. John The Baptist Greek Orthodox Church (Manhattan)