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authentic knowledge of man by insisting on the perspective of the ‘heart’. He said that Christians of the East distinguish between three kinds of knowledge, the highest being self-knowledge obtained through contemplation, whereby man returns deeply into himself, recognizes himself as the divine image and purifying himself of sin, meets the living God to the point of becoming ‘divine’ himself by the gift of grace. This is knowledge of the heart. The meaning of the heart here is more than a human faculty; it is the principle of personal unity, where the person recollects himself to live in the knowledge and love of the Lord. It is not enough to know and think about things, they must become life, therefore Eastern authors invite us to ‘come down from the head to the heart’. Pope John Paul II says that due to today’s culture, which puts great amounts of information at our disposal, which however is not enough for an authentic process of humanization, there is a greater need then ever to rediscover the dimensions of the ‘heart’, we need more heart.1 Many Eastern authors refer to the heart to distinguish themselves from the rationalist ‘West’, who often seem to forget that the very basis of Christian life is in fact the ‘heart’. These Eastern authors refer to the ‘heart’ very often in their writings. They speak of custody of the heart, of purity of the heart, of the thoughts, desires, and resolutions of the heart, of prayer of the heart, of the divine presence in the heart, and so on.
To help us understand the importance that Eastern authors give to the ‘heart’, we should first try to comprehend the Biblical concept, which is the way it is to be understood in Orthodox spiritual texts. The ‘heart’ the Bible speaks of is not simply the physical organ in the chest, nor is it the emotional centre psychologists refer
POPE JOHN PAUL II, Angelus Eastern Spirituality emphasizes the Heart (29 September 1996) (online) : www.ewtn.com/library/papaldoc/JP960929.html. 2 SPIDLIK Thomas, The Spiritual Heritage of the Christian East in Catholic Eastern Churches: Heritage and Identity, edited and with an introduction by Paul Pallath, Rome 1994, 79.
It is also the place where good and evil thoughts originate. is the nous or the mind. but it is the centre that integrates the fullness of spiritual life with all the faculties of the human being. there must be in man a mysterious place. and learns to guard the heart against temptation: ‘Guard your heart with all diligence’ (Prov 4. that guides it. feelings. which is the same view 3 SPIDLIK Thomas. intuition. Plato believed ‘that which is the best in the soul’. today is again referred to as the heart. and the will. as made in God’s image. as the mind is but one of our faculties. try to find the point of contact between God and man in the depths or the essence of the soul. However this reference may cause problems as it may seem that this is one of many ways to come in contact with God. and decisions. It is in the heart that we find our faith and love of God which has been poured in by the Holy Spirit. through which God enters the lives of men with all His treasures. This point. and therefore the traditional definition of prayer has been modified to mean an ascent of the spirit and of the heart to God. The heart radiates and penetrates everywhere. 2 . This tradition which has been Christianized continues in its classical definition of prayer as the elevation of the mind towards God.23).to. it is however hidden in its most mysterious depth. It is the most profound place for a human being’s knowledge. Through discernment. La Spiritualità dell’Oriente Cristiano. Milano 1995. The Fathers believed that just as the pupil of the eye is the point of contact between the external and internal world. 105.3 Theophan the Recluse says that the heart possesses the energy of all the forces of the body and soul. Subsequent spiritual writers rather than referring to an organ or faculty. man learns to notice what is happening within him. and this is the point of contact with God. even though the highest. Manuale sistematico. including reason. Therefore we find that the term ‘kardia’ has regained its position. and it is in this unfathomable depth that the human self is found.
the task of the heart is also to unite the Creator to his creation. St.the Bible has of the heart. and is the constant disposition of the heart. then through the human heart. The definition of a spiritual man includes the presence of the Holy Spirit. as the heart is the way that guides men to unity. Therefore if the heart is the centre of the human person. which are evil passions. which is a habitual disposition that merits being called prayer. The doctrine of man being created in God’s image means that deep within the innermost self of the person. This state of prayer is the state of the spiritual life. Being made in God’s image means man is a mirror of the divine. And once these enemies. man enters into a relationship with all that exists.“The kingdom of God is within you” we are told in Luke 17. including the rest of mankind. The heart integrates the human person and is the source of human acts. This search for this interior kingdom is something common in all the writings of the Fathers. and he sees God reflected in the purity of his own heart – “Blessed are the pure in heart. It unifies the person and gives continuity to the numerous series of events in the life of a person. notwithstanding the acts it produces. because through knowing oneself then one will get to know God and therefore become like God. 21. and so you will see the things that are in heaven. have been overcome. there is a point of direct meeting and union with God . Enter eagerly into the treasure house that is within you. in fact due to the coming of the Holy Spirit. then heaven and earth will be at peace with you. which has been purified. Isaac the Syrian writes: Be at peace with your own soul. He knows God by knowing himself. 8. the Kingdom of God is within us and as consequence the heart is the battlefield where one fights the enemies of God. katastatis. The ideal for the Eastern Christian has always been the state of Prayer. for they shall see God” Matthew 5. for there is but one single entry to them both. The ladder that leads to the kingdom is hidden 3 .
which corresponded to ‘katharsis’ – purging. and was the method of cleansing the affective part of the soul. We know ourselves and others through the feelings of the heart. therefore in Scripture we see that the notion of purity becomes interior and moral. By adhering to the commandments and growing in awareness of what is right and wrong. tr. which was acquired by ritual and not by moral actions. and depending on how pure it is. But we must bear in mind that these feelings are not all of equal value. But this concept developed and became more profound. Flee from sin. 4 . and begins with repentance.4 There lies however a difficulty in the practical teaching of how to maintain the steadfast disposition of the heart. and referred to the disposition needed to approach sacred things. When speaking of repentance. 55. with God’s help man struggles to free himself from passionate impulses. The first step in attaining this purity is through the practice of virtues. said man could know himself by having the soul present to itself. then it will have a direct intuition of itself. we have to keep in mind that it is 4 ST. ISAAC THE SYRIAN. and their validity depends on the interior purity of man. man then attains purity of heart. and in your soul you will discover the stairs by which to ascend. The Orthodox Way. Within the heart there is a complete.within your soul. instinctive understanding of the human person. The Fathers to answer the question of how man can know himself. Ascetical Homilies 2. New York 1995. and can evaluate their moral value. The heart however remains a mystery. The Fathers presented perfection as the restoration of the primitive condition. As individuals we are conscious of our acts. it is the hidden part of man which is known only to God. Purity is a common concept in ancient religions. and this leads to question whether the heart can be controlled. 11 quoted in KALLISTOS Ware. Holy Transfiguration Monastery. dive into yourself. By wielding the power of one’s free will and by listening to one’s conscience. which is metanoia.
6 KALLISTOS Ware. therefore to avoid the mind wandering off. no longer talking about or to God but simply listening. 5 . This involves openness of the human heart towards God’s love. This purification of the passions through God’s grace eventually leads to what Evagrius refers to as apatheia. it is the experience of how good God is. service to others. the Hesychast 5 SPIDLIK Thomas. yet at the same time to allow it to reach out beyond itself into stillness. reading Scripture. Being pure of heart means that one is no longer dominated by selfishness and uncontrolled desire and therefore becomes capable of true love. because the fountain of past sins is a form of consolation. This leads to contemplation. and know that I am God’ (Ps 46. and the one that searches for this prayer of stillness is a Hesychast. the more one realizes that God is above and beyond nature. which can be defined as ‘purity of the heart’. penthos. New York 1995. through regular use of the Sacraments of Confession and Communion. ‘be still. On the level of the soul one is purified through prayer. On the level of the body one is purified through fasting and abstinence.6 This inner silence or stillness in Greek is known as hesychia. which is what drives away sin.not the same thing as compunction. 82. The Orthodox Way. 10). wherein one finds God in all creation. and the more one contemplates God in nature. therefore one begins to wait upon God in quietness and silence. 122. One’s heart burns with love for God and others. Rome 1994. But to be able to do this one has to learn how to listen and not speak. The ascetics believed that forgiveness never allowed the fountain of tears to dry. that of body and soul. and for all that God has created. edited and with an introduction by Paul Pallath. from duplicity to simplicity or singleness of heart. The Spiritual Heritage of the Christian East in Catholic Eastern Churches: Heritage and Identity. This leads to reaching out towards the eternal Truth that lies beyond all human words and thoughts. This means progressing from instability to stability.5 Purification has to be carried out on two levels.
With the help of God the Jesus Prayer develops into a ‘prayer of loving attention’ or ‘prayer of simple gaze’. It begins as a ‘prayer of the lips’. a verbal prayer. mental prayer. Son of God. as invocation. even whilst doing other things. affections as well as the physical body. to a higher one. it is not just something thought or said. it is living prayer. and good works to his prayer”. where the soul rests in God. At this point it becomes a prayer that involves the whole person. Then it develops inward becoming ‘prayer of the mind’. 84. since the essential aim of the spiritual Way is not to say prayers. The Jesus Prayer is not a hypnotic incantation to be said mechanically. where it doesn’t depend on his effort anymore and may become what Orthodox writers call ‘self-acting’. therefore the prayer becomes ‘prayer of the heart’. which is constant. 7 SPIDLIK Thomas. involving intellect. It is also referred to as the ‘heart of Orthodoxy’.7 Therefore the Jesus Prayer starts as a verbal prayer like any other prayer. with nothing to disturb it. have mercy on me’. There are three stages in saying the Jesus Prayer. ‘Lord Jesus Christ. 6 . The Spiritual Heritage of the Christian East in Catholic Eastern Churches: Heritage and Identity. edited and with an introduction by Paul Pallath. Origen states “He prays without ceasing who adds prayer to works that are of obligation. but with purpose. and has kept the same form for many centuries. but what one is.applies himself to the frequent repetition of the name of Jesus within a short prayer. Finally the mind ‘descends’ into the heart and is united with it. This therefore brings about in the person that prays an unceasing state of prayer. It is referred to as the ‘Jesus Prayer’. Rome 1994. will. At a certain point the hesychast’s prayer goes beyond this level. At times ‘a sinner’ is added at the end. but to become prayer. due to its simplicity to progress beyond language and image to the mystery of God. however the rhythmic repetition of the short phrase allows the Hesychast. which is a literal transcription of the Greek ‘euche Iesou’. reason.
000.' for in the human heart the Kingdom of God can be contained. Little Russian Philokalia I. 'and all the rest I Myself will add to thee. Sometimes those that recite the Jesus Prayer are awarded moments of rapture. the ‘breath of the spirit’. it is the faith.org/web/20021003143226/home. Prayer is everything. and becomes the prayer of “Christ in me”. The Orthodox Way.8 The pilgrim. an unexpected free gift. give me thy heart.000. This at times is artificially induced with a psychosomatic method which is achieved through a slowing of the breathing. a growing love of God and to the Taboric light. We have also seen how the prayer of the heart becomes the heart of prayer. which is the divine light from the Transfigured Christ.earthlink. SERAPHIM OF SAROV.net. 'Son. We have briefly examined the importance of the heart in Eastern Spirituality. as his lips and tongue pronounce the words by themselves. where the words disappear completely or fade into the background.000 aspirations a day. 123.' He says. thus making the heart the place of the perpetual presence of Christ. ST. 8 9 7 . salvation. The Lord seeks a heart filled to overflowing with love for God and our neighbour. St. it is the expression of the life of the Holy Spirit within us.9 KALLISTOS Ware. Herman of Alaska Brotherhood 104-105 (online) : web. in ‘The Way of the Pilgrim’ repeats the invocations. and how it is to be understood in the full Biblical sense. New York 1995. starting at 3. a search for the ‘me’ in the depths of the heart and the unceasing invocation of the name of Jesus thus leading to joy. then to 6.It stops being “my” prayer. and the pilgrim is conscious that his prayer is being recited within the beating of his heart. then 12. Man here is transfigured through the Holy Spirit and becomes an inexorable fountain of love. This movement is then shifted from his tongue to his heart. Eventually he doesn’t need to count anymore. this is the throne on which He loves to sit and on which He appears in the fullness of His heavenly glory.archive.
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