Wednesday, January 20, 2010


Have you read Francis Schaeffer?  Well, back in the seventies I was very interested in  what he wrote. There was one thing he pointed out to me that stuck.  He said, "If the God of the Christians did not exist in Trinity, I would still be an unbeliever."

He explained that his conviction was based on the idea of God as love.  God is love; God is also free under no compulsion, nor any necessity to do or think or behave in any way.  Because God is love, if He did not exist as multiple persons in one Godhead, then for God to be able to love, He would be under 'necessity' to create a creature to be the object of His love.  The idea that God is free would be sullied.  It is therefore 'necessary' that God exist as more than one person in order that He be free. Of course to use the word 'necessary' with respect to God is in itself fraought with difficulty.

Later, in reading St. Pavel Florensky, martyr of the Boshevik era, it came to me why God would of 'necessity' need to be a Triad rather than a Dyad.  If God existed as two persons, say Father and Son, then he would have the Son to love, but He would not be in principle free to chose the Son to love. He would only have the Son as His object of love.  however, with the Three, The Father not only has another to love, but is, in principle free to love the other or not because he always has the choice of the third where his love may be expressed.

More digressions on the Trinity.  Another foundational principle of the Godhead driven home principally in Orthodoxy is that the distance between God and the Creature is infinite, so that if a man can conceive of God as He is according to His inner being, His essence, then it is not God at all but a creation of human thought and reason, a part of creation, an idol.  The idea of the Trinity cannot be understand with reason or human thought, for the idea of the Trinity is 3=1, something we cannot comprehend. It is an antinomy. If we have a God who can be explained in his inner being in rational terms, He is not the God of Abraham and Isaac and Jacob and Paul and Peter, and Pavel Florensky- but is the God of our own imaginings, the God of the philosophers and not the God who is God. Vladimir Lossky makes this point in his fantastic book,  The Mystical Theology of the Eastern Church.
Some of Judaic orientation may remember the Shema, " the Lord thy God is One God", but the Hebrew word for One in this case, 'echod', means a composite unity (  see:  ,   and , and )  The idea of God as Trinity began in the Old Testament, but was not fully revealed until the New, in the Baptism of Christ.  As the troparion goes,  "When Christ was baptized in the Jordan the worship of the Trinity was made manifest."

Another way of saying this is that God in His transcendence exists in infinite distance from the creature.  And this brings us to another antinomy concerning the Godhead, that is chiefly in a repository of the Orthodox East.  While God is utterly unknowable in His Essence , He is profoundly knowable in His Energies.  The Energies of God being defined as the existence of God truly as Himself but outside of His Essence.
This is a distinction critical to thinking Christianity, if we wish to avoid all sorts of theological errors.  So here we have an antinomy- God is not knowable and God is knowable.  How both could be we have not a clue.  Here again is an antinomy that exists in the nature of the Godhead and for me, is an ,aha, moment- here is the God who is beyond all thought and sense experience , for the only way to talk about him is through the mystery of antinomy.  Here is the Gospel of the Cross, calling for us to die to our reasoning brain as we move beyond the cosmos that we can comprehend towards union with Him whom we cannot. 

At the high level of Western theology, the mark of this has been missed, principally because the West, Catholic and Protestant,  begin in their Theology with the Unity of the Godhead in the One Essence common to all three of the Persons.  the unity is then an impersonal absolute, not really much different from  Buddhism or Unitarianism and certainly within the realm of the thinking of philosophers and not the God of the antinomies, beyond all thought and sense experience.  This tendency reduces the three persons of the Trinity into modes or expressions of the One Essence, and the relationships between them become one of the categories of Aristotelean logic, that of relationship, and so become subject to philosophical manipluations, and, once again, is not the God Who Is.  Scripture and the Orthodox East preserve the Unity of the Godhead in the Father, who is the source both of the Son and of the Spirit, both without beginning, and also of the Essence which is imparted to the Son and the Spirit as well.  The modes of generation of the Son and the Spirit, begetting and proceeding are not relationships but simply indicate their being distinct persons. what begetting is and proceeding is, is not know. It exists in mystery.  So, the Father who is the Source, is the source of the Unity. The Unity is Personal.  And our calling then is to participate in the Communion of love that Exists between Father and Son and Holy Spirit.

Consequently our prayer life and our experience must be that of the Trinity in some way.  The experience of God is possible because, while He is unknowable in His Essence, He is knowable in His Energies and assimilable- the Energies being the same thing as Grace, or Divine Enabling,and also being that aspect of Divine Nature, spoken of by the Apostle Peter in his epistle as that of which we must become 'partakers'.   The economic mode of the Trinity, how God in His Divine Energies, comes to us, is that the Spirit manifests the Son, who in turn shows us the Father.  (Economia, in the East, is talk about God in His Theophanies or manifestations; whereas Theologia, is the thought about Him concerning His Essence)
This means that our prayer experience to be fully Christian must also be an experience of the Trinity.  When Jesus was baptized in the Jordan, the Orthodox song goes, the worship of the Trinity was manifest.
When we first are drawn by the Gospel, we see Jesus, in all his incarnate glory, and then we see His passion, his death, resurrection and ascension.  And If we get it, we get a personal relationship to Jesus, enabled by the Spirit.  Road to Emmaus.  But a funny thing happens after forty days. Christ ascends to the Father.  For us who have been baptized into Christ, this returning to the Father, must become in prayer an existential reality. For the Son is always returning to the Father, and in Him it is His purpose for us to return to the Father as well. Well, a return to the Father is a return towards the Essential existence of the Father and Son and Holy Spirit, and the practical consequence is that such a return is a return into a 'Stillness.' the Son is ever taking us back to the Stillness of the Father.  And there we have some classical mystics camping out-  The Unknowing-  and so forth, of a few.  Also the comment by St. Ignatius the Godbearer in the First century, "those who have truly acquired the word of Jesus must go on to know His stillness so as to be perfect."

This is the "Be Still" of the Psalms. It is the Secret Place of the Most High.  There are 'places' in the Most High that we experience before entering the Stillness, but They are the experiences of His energies- of the release of forgiven sins, of comforts in distress, of consolations, of feelings of love and Divine Providences.  But the Stillness is an all together different place.
Since the Stillness is Beyond Word it is also beyond the experience of most who must have everything spelled out in detail in Scripture; it does not lend itself easily to words, and so usually exists within the Tradition of the Ancient churches- chiefly within the monastic Traditions.  the Coptics have it.  The Catholics sort of have it, in a distorted way, but it is there with some problems.  the Orthodox have it.  Yet Scripture itself calls us to obey the Traditions whether by Word or by Epistle.  And point out that the Church is the pillar and ground of the Truth.  In fact, Christ never promised a New Canon upon which to base anything. He promised a Church, and an indefectible Church because it was to be His Body.  It's inerrance, therefore was not because there was a Book over it to keep it in check, nor a Pope over it to keep it in check, but a Holy Spirit within it to keep it in all the Truth and a Communion with the Blood of Christ that would keep it within the Truth- The Church would be kept by Communion with the Life of God.  Since the Truth is a Person, the Incarnate One, His Body is the only acceptable locus where all the Fullness of Truth exist and be preserved.

So the Tradition of the Stillness that is a vital part of Christian prayer and experience is an open secret that is preserved amongst those dedicated chiefly to practicing it- the monks.  Therefore, for me it is a great tragedy when any Christian Body does not have monks, engaged full time in prayer.  Luther rejected the monks and if you have ever been around Lutherans, or studied their history, it is so terribly obvious.  In the 19th Century there was only one pastor who excelled in the mystical life, Blumhardt was his name, if I remember correctly.  And in reaction to German scholasticism, head religion, emerged pietism, as a reaction to dead Church life, which morphed later into revivalism and into evangelicalism of the mid Twentieth Century and now is find another metamorphosis in the spiritual formation movement which is a reformation of evangelical piestism, never find its proper incarnation in the life of a Church whose very mode of being nurtures the mystical and gives it objective boundaries, and shapes properly the mind of those who yearn for the mystical depths, so that their seekings and explorations do not go astray but return to the ever-renewing life of the Trinity.

Then these thoughts.  The 'problem' in the Catholic West as far as communicating about its msyticism exist because the scholasticism of St. Thomas who continued to insist along with St. Augustine that grace was a creature, thereby removing from us the very possibility of the experience of God. In, in addition to that, he shifted the organ of revelation to the intelligence, the thinking aspects of the brain, rather than the "Orthodox" nous, the eye of the heart, bringing theology down into the domain of philosophy,rather than those things written by those who pray.  Although they talk about their experience it is a distinct thought world from their theologizing so it seems to me.  And as the evangelicals import spiritual techologies into their Chritianity, chiefly from the mystical Traditions of the West, they will eventually come up short attempting to explain what is going on, and there will be the inevitable conflicts as those with pockets of Orthodox doctrine collide with those who are following their experience and without the words or tradition that make the two a whole.  So, I see, for example, conflicts on the ACU Facebook page, people decrying the wholesale capitulation of ACU to the Spiritual Formation movement and resorting to 'lighthouse trails' sort of materials to rebut the tendency.  Lord have mercy.
The whole problem is the problem of trying to transplant one Organ of the ancient Church into a body that is not complementary to it.  It is, in fact, the whole problem of the tribulation of Western Christianity.  The Incarnational nature of the Church was forever lost at the time of the Great Schism/Reformation event and everhereafter exists in a paroxysm of agony suspended from an over-active reasoning brain, and a lost wandering nous seeking somewhere to land. Lord, have mercy

The Answer

I grew up in the Church of Christ, and believed what I was told. I still believe much of what I was told. I was told that baptism is necessary for salvation.  At age 11 I believed that I would go to hell because I was not baptized and so I went forward and was baptized.  I believed that Jesus had died for my sins and had risen from the dead.  When I was baptized I remember that my first thought was 'is that all there is to this?'  It was a prayer and I did not know it.  As far as I knew, that was it. I tried to keep the commands of the Bible and embrace its doctrines. 

When I was a teenager, I tried to convince people of my position.  I told my chemistry teacher who was the wife of an Episcopal priest, that salvation required that one be baptized by immersion. She looked at me quizically, and said nothing, but the look on her face seemed to be saying, now , as I think about it,  'what question is this kid answering, and how can I respond at all since he does not even know the questions that need to be asked?"  I also showed film strips, the Jewell Miller filmstrips to a man studying to be a Presbyterian pastor at the local Presbyterian seminary.  He made polite comments that totally bypassed the doctrinal points I was wanting to drive home.

I suffered a lot , and after a while and a period where I tried to be an atheist I had an adult conversion, and it was a conversion into the experience of the grace of God, and the dimension of the Holy Spirit, and the realm of prayer.  For a while, I joined the evangelicals I now hung out with in relegating baptism to a symbol, and also made the baptism in the Holy Spirit a second experience in the life of a believer, one accompanied, necessarily, by speaking in tongues.  The whole experience of grace and of the life of the Holy Spirit and of the dimension of prayer was so breath-takingly transforming, that I discounted everything that had gone before. Worship became emotion-charged and vigorous.   Now I would try to convince people to have a personal relationship to Jesus, and for those that had such a relationship, to provoke them to have a baptism of the Holy Spirit with the evidence of speaking in tongues.
In my enthusiasm there were a few that took me up on it.  Not very many, but a few.  The lady in the elevator. The guy buying a stereo from me.  The lady who would become my wife.  and Joel, who I prayed for and it came out in tongues and it was in Hebrew, and it was Jesus talking to him, and Joel, the secular Jew, became Joel the completed Christian Jew.
But, for the most part, there remained unanswered questions, and persistent personal spiritual struggles that did not yield themselves to Quiet times, and Scripture reading, and to tongues, and enthusiastic worship, and the utter confusion as to the interpretation of Scripture, and the nagging thought that things I had left behind, somehow, had their place in the full scheme of things.

In the midst of all of this, I was dragged to the conclusion that I had missed some very big aspects of Scripture and of Christianity, and I prayed to find the Catholic Church.  I was not big enough to understand the breadth of the faith on my own, and there had to be a Church, somewhere, that God had put on earth to express the fullness of the Faith.
I wound up becoming Eastern Orthodox. Baptism was now put back into the formula, and yet it was also with grace and the work of the Spirit, and a method for growth in grace.  I knew about the Methodists but despite all my years of looking around, had not grasped the method of growth in Christ.  In Orthodoxy, we had hesychasm, with its pursuit of unceasing prayer, that one might enter the unceasing 'memory' of God and so grow in Theosis, becoming God's by grace.  At the heart of this, no longer was speaking in tongues, and baptisms in the Spirit, but ascetic spiritual struggle, outward stillness (hesychasm), and the pursuit of unceasing prayer chiefly through the "Jesus Prayer", that would eventuate in a series of transitions so that God would live in our life more and more.  So now, the answer was, and is, 'the Jesus Prayer'.  But the Jesus Prayer, not without context- with the context of the Church Orthodox, whose very life and organization worked integrally with the Prayer to take us ever deeper and deeper into God.
There still existed the 'personal relationship', but it had been 'rounded out.' We were now called to a relationship in and with and through the Holy Trinity.  Prayer and communion with God that used to be a friend-to-friend chat with Jesus,  transitioned into a participation in the very life of the Trinity.  Hearing the word of Jesus was very important as an evangelical, but St. Ignatius the God-bearer pointed out in the First Century that those who 'have truly received the word of Jesus must go on to know the Silence so as to be perfect.'   Jesus, who is revealed by the Spirit, brings us into the Stillness of the Father, deep within our hearts. The experience deep within the heart corresponds to the seating of Christ in the heavenlies at the right hand of the Father at the time of His ascension.  So, we experience the converting work of the Spirit and undertake to keep the commands of God; next we see and hear Jesus in our hearts.  Truly receiving the word of Jesus eventuates in our entering into the Stillness of the Father. From there we grow on up towards fully participation in the life of God by grace; we grow towards becoming Gods by grace. Note that I say by grace, for it is not according to nature, but by the gift of grace.  
So, what of Baptism that I believed in as a child? It is not irrelevant. It is the very conduit of grace; it is the grace that initiates Christian life. But it is a grace that must be opened by obedience, through prayer, through keeping the commands, by hungering for God, through sufferings, through the Holy Spirit.  What of  the crisis experience of being 'baptized in the Holy Spirit?'  It is not irrelevant. The whole Christian struggle is one of the pursuit of the Holy Spirit. It is a process through which we acquire progressively more and more of the Spirit. It is not a one time crisis experience but a way of life that may be punctuated by crises that are met by new infusions of the Spirit in varying degrees of novelty.  But I would suggest that the Orthodox focus on the process, leaving the crises in the hands of God, is more sound, and safer, and is even what the more sound and safe Pentecostals, charismatics and deeper life evangelicals would state as well.What of the personal relationship to Jesus? It must be there, and there are many Orthodox, mostly ones who've grown up in the Church, who have missed this all together and it leaves them with a very outward Faith. 

That having been said, I must say that the Jesus Prayer and the pursuit of unceasing prayer, the fruit of which is an unceasing communion with God, is much more to the heart of the matter, and has had more power in my life than any of the other emphases or focuses. Adding to the life of prayer, to the personal relationship to Jesus, if you will, the dimension of the Stillness of the Father, that comes by the prayer of the heart, brings to Christian life, and especially that of Westerners, aspects of Christian faith that have been almost totally lost to us.   It makes sense for the Orthodox Church has been around from the beginning and has two thousand years of experience with this thing called Christianity and, if It is listened to, will save many of us from much wasted effort in re-inventing the wheel. Although I am expecting that all of us must discover through many tribulations, the richness of the Faith once delivered, for ourselves.
So, I think of the Scripture,  forbid not to speak in tongues, and in another place, desire the best gifts.  Baptism is necessary for salvation, unless God decides to do it differently- He is perfectly free to do as He pleases.  But if one camps out there, one will perish, for Baptism is the Portal into the life but not the consummation of it. A personal relationship to Jesus is vital, but the worship and experience we have been called to is a full Trinitarian experience of God.  Crisis experiences of the Spirit may be life-changing, but they are nothing but clanging symbols and will bring great delusion, unless incarnated in a life that is devoted to unceasing communion with God, relative lack of hold on the world and its trinkets, and a moving forward towards full union with God that only a life centered around unceasing prayer can bring.  (For a good treatment of spiritual growth I point any reader to the link to the right to Metropolitan Jonah's sermon on the same.)
What then of my past ecclesiastical affections and their emphases?  In the Church of Christ we insisted that the Church was one, and that there was one Church, and that we were It.  What of this claim?  Well, Scripture and 1500 years of Christian history suggest that the Church is and ought to be a Visible Unity.  But, unlike the Church of Christ, and the other Campbellite groups, the Church did not disappear so as to require 'restoration' or even 'reformation'.
The Church has always persisted in unity according to Christ's promise, and a visible unity, according to His prayers, all of which are answered.  The Church as the Church, for the most part, departed from the full Faith at the time of the Great Schism, and even more so at the time of the Reformation, even that it is to be admitted that much in the way of Orthopraxy of the Faith was recovered piecemeal in the time of the Reformation, if not the Doctrine or the Ecclesiastical Unity of the  Faith.  So, on that score I was sincere, and entirely wrong.
However, that does not mean that I was not of the Church even though I was not in the Church at that time. Grace extends far beyond the boundaries of the Visible Church, and Christ spoke of those who while not with Him, since they were not against Him, were 'of' Him.
What then of the prevailing Evangelical belief that the things they call 'ordinances' are symbols of the faith. I would suggest that this is a reversion to Judaistic thinking.  The worship of the Old Testament was in symbol- in type and shadow. But with Christ, the fullness has come, and worship is no longer in symbol or type.  Baptism for example, in the epistle of Peter, is called an anti-type- that is something, a reality, a grace, to which an Old Testament type, in this case, Noah's escape by the Flood, pointed to.  And because of the Incarnation, Communion is not a symbol but a participation in the Body and Blood of Christ- is a sacrament or mystery built upon and confessing the Incarnation of Grace, begun in the Virginal Conception, and continued in the Mystery of the Church, the body of Christ.
Though there be many who dispute it, there was much Holy Spirit reality in the pentecostal/charismatic movement.  Because it was a Spirit movement outside the confines of Orthodoxy it was also subject to bastardizing, and to counterfeiting, and to debasing.  But there was much reality there, and I learned things there, that I probably would never have learned or experienced had I grown up and continued only in the Orthodox Church.  With them and the missionary evangelicals I learned the practical usage of day to day authority of the power of the devil.  I have seen real exorcisms. I have found such training valuable in the raising of my children and in the maintenance of my own spiritual health. Tongues was a great help from time to time, and seemed to pump prime as it were, my prayers with the understanding, and would often bring me peace in a way that other spiritual techonologies could not.  There were times when I was led to interpret tongues, and to prophecy in meetings and it was real.  There was also a lot of flim flam, most of it well intentioned, and some of it patently from the evil one.  These things were a part of my Christian life, and were also found in Scripture, though apparently not all of the Churches.  What of this?
It seems to me that the phenomena just described exist more on the frontier of the advance of the Faith; on the mission fields and in newly plowed hearts coming to the Lord.  The flashy miraculous stuff always seems to be taking place out there on the edges of the advance of the Kingdom.  In more established places, the grace and workings of God are more incarnated, and less of the epiphenomenon.  I can still pray in tongues any time I wish, but the 'itch' that needs scratching, is scratched better, with other things.  So, if you are out there and not Orthodox and have no desire to look this way, and your itches are being taken care of with the twigs that are growing nearby, then, praise God, His mercy endures to all generations. But if there is a continued yearning and searching and an itch that persists, then it may be, it just may be, that the Lord is saying to look this way. Maybe there is something this way that will meet you at your point of need, and your point of growth.

The Stillness Must Win Out

     A dear friend, a priest of the Orthodox Church, an anchorite, who has been shut up to prayer for 19 years with Psoriatic Arthritis in 41 joints of his body, said to me concerning prayer, "The silence must win out."  He was repeating to me what has been said concerning prayer since the beginning of the Church and before.  "Be still and know that I am God."  St. Ignatius the God-bearer said, "those who have acquired the word of Jesus, must go on to know His Stillness so as to be perfect."
Yet for many Chrstian life begins with a great burst of emotion.  When one is awakened to a relationship to God through Jesus Christ, has experienced the forgiveness of sins, has begun to feel the Energies of God vivifying his soul and body,  in the Protestant and evangelical West, one feels very drawn, not into silence, but great emotional excitement and celebration and all that goes with it these days-  praise choruses, guitar Liturgies,  emotion- filled preaching, dancing in the aisles, and so forth.  This is the common response.  Yet, as reinforcing as these things are to early Christian life, there is an inherent roadblock in them as well, if the great Saints of the ages are to believed, yes, and even if Scripture is to be believed as well.
The early experience of Christian life is often loaded with feeling, and the structures that support those stages of Christian life support that and institutionalize that.  The experience of the Energies of God in the early stages are but a preparation for a deepening of ones inner life- and that preparation for entry into the the Stillness that is in the heart.
Early Christian life is usually characterized by a real sense of the forgiveness of sins and of  the experience of the voice of the Lord in the leadings of the Holy Spirit.  Yet the eye of the understanding (Eph 1:18), called the 'nous' in the classical prayer literature of the Church, is still not yet at the place where it needs to be.
The nous, which is the subtle attention of our souls, is still an exile from the heart, and  needs to find its way back.  The very songs and styles of worship that often accompany the early stages of Christian growth, send the nous in the wrong direction- they send the nous out into the feelings, or if the person is intellectually inclined, out into the thoughts, neither of which is the place that the nous needs to recover.  The nous needs to find its way back into the heart, in the place where the Revelation of the Father takes place. The Spirit is sent into the world to reveal to us Jesus. Jesus who is the Word of God, in turns shows us the Father, in whose Presence we find the great Stillness, which , rather than being any abyss of nothingness,  comes to be experienced as the Home that we had always been exiled from.
The Stillness must win out.  Sufferings and the process of repentance and the process of learning unceasing prayer will enable the young believer, in time, to differentiate his heart and with perseverance, allow his nous to return to the heart.  However, such a process will inevitably lead him out of the forms of worship where he at one time felt comfortable.  He will find himself gradually estranged from them, as he finds himself being progressively called into degrees of stillness.  The pursuit of the Stillness of the heart begins with bodily stillness, putting away the myriad of sensory distractions and activities that draw the nous away from its pursuit of God.
The outer Stillness may be confused for the deeper Stillness of the heart, for it is an image of it, and an anticipation of it and preparatory for it.
I remember in 2006 when I had begun to pray an abridged form of the Hours of Prayer. I talked to a monk and told him of my struggles in keeping the Hours.  He said to me 'you are not there yet.' I am certain he meant that I had not yet found the descent of the nous into the heart and the Stillness. I thought perhaps I had.  I had a similitude of stillness but it was not the stillness of having the descent of the nous into the heart. It was the preparatory forms of outward bodily stillness I had found.  He also talked about experiencing the services on a 'different level', and of praying the Jesus prayer while the Services were going on.    I thought perhaps I knew what he was talking about. I know now that I did not.  At that time I had found my nous, and the process was going on where it was being withdrawn from the senses and the emotions and the thoughts; my nous knew the word of Jesus, His Voice, but had not yet found its way back to the Father.  The Silence had not yet won out.
Orthodox worship is configured so as to assist the descent of the nous into the heart and to call it away from the distractions both of intellectualism and emotionalism.  Orthodox worship forms are configured to help us so that the Silence wins out.
During the years I was a charismatic Christian there was great blessing in the exhuberant and emotion-packed and romantic songs of praise and worship that we sang. But it was also my observation that there was an invisible ceiling in those assemblies that prevented Christian growth.  Everyone seemed to be locked in a spiritual adolescence.  There is great vigor in adolescence; however, its immaturity fails to come up to the high standard of revealing who God is in Christ.
The forms of our worship therefore are not a matter simply of taste, but actually conform us to something, or block our being conformed to something else.  The forms of our worship matter, and that means that Church matters, for It,  the Church, is given to us as the pillar and ground of our growth in Christ.  It was Church that both wrote the Bible and decided which books would be in it and those that would not.  It is within Church that we either experience the icons of the Father in the hierarchy of the Church, and so learn both submission and obedience, and the fruits of that which are blessing and growth.  There is no growth apart from relationship to fathers, to the Father.  Thus, it is not only the worship forms that help to foster or hinder growth in Christ, but also the forms of authority that we have as well.
In the heavenlies, the Father is the Source, from which the Son is eternally begotten, and the Spirit eternally proceeds.  In His humanity the Son of God always submitted His will to the Divine will of the Father.  In the Church, it is in the icons of the Christ, the pastors and the Bishops that we find the locus to submit in Christ to the will of the Father, so fostering our growth. It is not, therefore, a matter of personal taste what sort of Church government we have, but the government must be an icon, an image of the heavenly government, for us to grow. Fathers foster growth.
Out of this also flows an attitude towards the past and those who went before  us.  As we must honor the Fathers in our midst in order to grow, we must also honor the Fathers before us in order to avoid error and to grow as well.  It is the adolescent who stands proudly aloof from the fathers, in his exalted sense of self-worth, judging those who went before him, not having within him the humility that comes from seeing his own imperfections, nor having the experience that causes him to treat all men subject to the human condition to the greatest of benefits of the doubt.
Church matters.  If we would grow and the Stillness win out, we must find ourselves in that which Christ prepared for us to take us on to God.  The Church is the ground and pillar of the Truth.  

Stillness- Be Still and Know That I Am God

Forgive me. I think of the words of St. Pambo, or a variation thereof, "If I cannot help you with my silence, I cannot help you with my words." I put the lie to that by putting my hand to keyboard and purporting to write something that I hope you will read. ............................................................................................................................................................

Accept that as the Silence that Helps. It seems to me that the call to Contemplative Prayer from the West, and the Call to Unceasing Prayer that leads to the descent of the nous (understanding/attention) into the heart (and the Stillness of the Father) are pointing us to the same Thing. The Thing that troubles me in both expressions of the Truth of Centering Prayer and of Hesychasm is that language is so very inadequate to express the profundity of what is being described.
Throughout my childhood in my wakening moments I had the desire to hide in a cave. Oh, I so wanted that cave! But what was it? I did not know. I did not know that the hunger for that cave, that hiddenness, that place of security, corresponded to a Place to which we are all called to resort.
That Place is the Stillness of the Father, to which the Word ever calls us. It is so aptly expressed at the website Contemplative Outreach in its discourse on the Lectio Divina of the Desert Fathers
"In the Trinity, the Eternal Word is always emerging from the infinite silence of the Father and always returning".
The infinite silence of the Father is not the mere cessation of outward and physical bustle and noise, but it is an entering into- into an Unknowing where we find ourselves at home and in the security that we always sought and the communion that we alway desired. Outward stillness is often a necessary precursor to inner Stillness, as the experience of the desert for many Christian ascetics is the necessary precursor for encounter with God. But outer stillness, outward hesychasm is a preparation- a pre-condition for entry into the Divine Stillness.
Such expression finds its roots at the beginning of the Christian Tradition. St. Ignatius the God-bearer said, "those who acquire the word of Jesus must also acquire is stillness so as to be perfect." The Stillness of the Father is no new aspiration of the heart, no aberration of the Christian yearning, but is fully Apostolic, and fully Trinitarian.
Orthodox Psychotherapy puts it so succintly "That is why man, in order to come nearer to God, is not satisfied only to receive His revealed energies but must also advance towards receiving in silence the mystery of His unknowing. It is not enough to hear His word, but one must also advance towards the unhearing of His stillness. This second part leads to perfection, and so the first is presupposed. In fact, as St. Ignatius the Godbearer observed, only `he who has truly acquired the word of Jesus can also hear His stillness, so as to be perfect'. So then the movement of man towards God should not be only a movement of action, but also a movement of hiddenness; it should not only be a witness of confession, but also a witness of silence and stillness"

Hesychasm for Laymen

Metropolitan Jonah recently delivered a message on spiritual growth to our Diocese. He is not only our Metropolitan but locum tenans of the South, and that is us- we Christians here in Atlanta.  In the message he underscored that the spirituality of Hesychasm, is at the heart of  the Orthodox method of spiritual growth, and within or related to hesychasm was the pursuit of unceasing prayer, and particularly aided by the Jesus Prayer. So, in the Orthodox Method, we have hesychasm, the pursuit of unceasing prayer, and the Jesus Prayer.
As I read the offerings of Orthodox on the internet, I find almost nothing of practical value on the practice of hesychasm for laymen.  We read about the hesychasm of the monks and the ascetics, but not much of the layman and it seems like it is almost a territory that we laymen are not able to enter.
Yet I would like to suggest that the Holy Spirit also works with laymen in the pursuit of hesychasm, which is not the pursuit of stillness for itself , but as a means of becoming participants in the Divine Nature.  Hesychasm means Stillness, and what stillness has to do with the pursuit of God is especially difficult for Western Christian expecially since we tend to be so fixed on doing things to advance the Kingdom over Being certain sort of people.  And as Laymen we are busy in the world  having families and jobs and being involved in bunches of activities that keep us- busy.
However, the faith is one faith. There is not the faith for monks and the faith for laymen.  It is all one faith.  Monks are specialists is it true and it is their special calling that keeps alive the vision of prayer and of hesychasm itself. We would be lost without them. Churches that have lost monasticism or have had it sullied by modern trends of social gospel and activism to replace the life of prayer, have suffered an incalculable loss, for it is the monks that have kept the high tradition of prayer, and of stillness alive as a witness to us who do not have the calling or luxury of monastic poverty and givenness to prayer.
So, the Holy Spirit is working in our midst, if we will but listen to the word of Jesus; He is working to call us to hesychasm, to Stillness. The Hesychast interprets Christ's injunction in the Gospel of Matthew to "go into your closet to pray," to mean that he should ignore the senses and withdraw inward. St John of Sinai writes: "Hesychasm is the enclosing of the bodiless mind (nous) in the bodily house of the body." (Ladder, Step 27, 5, (Step 27, 6 in the Holy Transfiguration edition).) {quoted from } But what is it exactly that we are being called to?  The human personality is deranged by its fall into sin, and as participants in Adam's fall we suffer from this derangement.  On the level of man's psychology the nous of man has lost its primordial focus on the vision of God and has changed its gaze outward into the senses and the thoughts.  Man's nous has been cut off from the Stillness that is the Presence of the Father, and that ought to reside as the Secret Place within each man's heart and be the residing place of each man's nous or spiritual attention or spiritual focus or spiritual eye.
The nous then as the eye of the heart has lost the vision of God and needs to find its way back.  Classical outlines of the spiritual life speak of purgation, illumination and Theosis as the steps back into full union with God.   The call of hesychasm is an aspect of that and involves the weaning of the attention off things that are sinful, of course, but also things  of the world that are not evil, in and of themselves, but are distractions to the real call of our nous and the source of a fundamental derangement and dis-integration of the human personality.  This aspect of hesychasm is outward or bodily hesychasm for it does not yet reach in a conscious way the inner sanctum of the heart, an experience that comes as a consequence of and subsequent to the practice of bodily hesychams.  Outward hesychasm finds its fruition in the eventual descent of the nous into the heart, which is recognized by the experience of a deep inner Stillness that one has not experienced before, no matter how zealous a Christian. One may have experience great relief and peace through forgiveness of sins, and great joy at the Providences of God, and been astute in the perception of the voice of Jesus and the leadings of the Spirit, but those are not the same thing.  As St. Ignatius the God-bearer said, 'those who have really acquired the word of Jesus must go on to know His Stillness so as to be perfect.  "Be Still and know that I am God",  says the Scriptures.  The word of Jesus was sent out into the world and is revealed to the human heart by the Holy Spirit. The word of Jesus in turn, to complete the transaction with the human heart, must necessarily lead us ever back to the Stillness of the Father.
This process is seen in the very work of the Incarnate son of God, who came into the world, who was revealed and believed in, who suffered, died and was buried, and who rose again from the dead. Who, thereafer, ascended into heaven and was seated at the right hand of the Father.  Such cycle must also be recapitulated in us who belong to Him.  It is three-fold; it is Trinitarian. Scripture speaks of the three stage of Christian life, 'little children, young men, and fathers', writes the Revelator in his epistle.  Little children experience the converting work of the Spirit, young men learn to acquire the word of Jesus and begin to move forward in spiritual victory, and fathers- fathers, know the Father, by having entered the Secret Place of the most high.
Well, back to Western Christianity.  So focused on justification and conversion has been the evangelical movement and so hostile in a reactive sort of way to anything of Tradition that was not explicitly spelled out in Scripture, the Western Christian man for the most part lost the aspect of the Faith that is the descent of the nous into the heart, the seating of the soul in heavenly places at the right hand of the Father, and has confused aspects of Christian life for the secret place that were not precisely what the Christian Tradition had in mind.
Even the leading thinkers of Christian formation, such as Dallas Willard and Richard Foster do not seem to have gotten a clear bead on it, even though Dallas Willard's books on spiritual life are some of the best out there, period. 
Well, we've lost our way.  How do we find our way as laymen back into a life that has practical hesychasm?
The more gross aspects has to do with obedience to the commands of Jesus.  Decades ago the word of Jesus to me  'thou shalt not look on a woman to lust after her in your heart' became a powerful focus in the organization of my inner life in a hesychastic direction. Young men, might I say all men of the normal orientation, spend a lot of time looking and lusting, and the Holy Spirit spends a lot of time, if we are attentive in reproving such behavior.  If one pays attention to those promptings of the Spirit one will begin to get an inner sense of the item of human personality which is called the 'nous' traditionally and which will eventually descend into the heart into the stillness of the Father if we give heed to the word of Jesus.  It worked for me that way.  The constant vigilence, guarding the heart, by not giving my eyes or my thoughts over to lust, had a way of giving shape to my nous, even at the time, I did not, as an evangelical, have a name for it, and would have called it my spirit.  It formed a habit of inner possession of my nous, as it were, and the rudiments of governing my mind that also has bearing on the hesychastic life.
Any number of other commands could have that same effect on one's inner life.  Thou shalt not covet.  Thou shalt not speak evil of the ruler of thy people.  In everything give thanks.  When you speak, speak as the oracles of God.  All these commands, when heeded and practiced have the habit of forming our inner life so that we gain a spiritual sense of our nous, a constant inner spirituality before God.  Yet these are aspects of outward hesychasm  and as salutory as they are, are also preparation for the things of God that are to come along the way.
The things I have mentioned have to do with aspects of thought and behavior that involve sin. there is also the aspect of bodily hesychasm that has to do with things that are not sin, in and of themselves, but things that preoccupy our attention and keep us from being the little Christs, the participants in the Divine nature, the Gods we are called to be by grace.  And we poor Americans are so beset with these things.  Our whole continent is one big, grand theme park for the titillation of our senses, the entertainment of our bodies, the satiation of our appetites, the comfort of our bodies, the distraction of our attentions- away from the emptiness that exists within at the core of our being.  Imagine being by yourself in a room with no computer, no television, no radio, no magazine, no art on the wall and no window to look out of, for three hours.  You are left to yourself. When you are left to yourself, would that be a miserable and painful experience? Is there so little down there deep within that if you were left with yourself alone, that it would be painful and miserable?
For most of us the answer is, yes, and for that reason we keep up the distractions of thought or of sense or of activity, to avoid the inner emptiness.
Yet that is not what we are supposed to be inwardly. We are supposed to be, deep down within our heart, a glorious Temple, wherein exists all the angels of heaven, the souls of just men made perfect, and the on-going communion of the Holy Spirit.  There is supposed to be a Place down there where there is the perfect home for our souls to rest.  That is where Jesus proposes to take us if we give heed to his word, yet it is the ignorance of that place by most of us in the West that keeps us frenetic in our activities, frenetic in our worship, frenetic in our sensory stimulation, and with lives often shattered. 
The Place that we seek is the citadel of our hearts, where, for the Christian dwells the Godhead, where is the Stillness of the Father, which is our native Home.  Hesychasm is a help to getting there. But, as I have said, the Holy Spirit will also work, not only on those sins that distract  us, but also the things that are not sins in themselves, but which also distract us from being who we ought to be in the Godhead, by keeping our spiritual attttention, our nous, the eye of our heart pre-occupied.  The list of these sort of things is legion.  The most common ones are the most obvious. Television, radio, computer time, Ipods, stereos, entertainment events, games, sports, culinary preoccupation, preoccupations with comforts and so forth.  If one is listening to the Spirit, one will notice that the Spirit is calling us away from inordinate time on the internet, from time soaking up television, from ceaseless business pursing this or that activity, even from the ceaseless spiritual activities that sometimes draw us away from where we ought to be.  I mention the Spirit as the one who does the work, but it must be said, that the Tradtion points to a spiritual father who will point the way.  Unfortunately, we have so few spiritual fathers that have found their way, that most of us are left to our own devices, to our readings, and to the sense of the voice of the Spirit that we have hopefully acquired through the years.  There are very few starets, spiritual elders, to lead the way. But we must take heart, Ezekiel 34 tells us when the spiritual leaders fail us the Lord will be the shepherd and bishop of our souls.  Fear not, for it is the Father's good pleasure to give you the Kingdom, says the Good Shepherd.
Pay attention to the subtle nudges of the Spirit. You are watching that tv program, and yet it does not bring you the satisfaction you thought it would or that it once did; that could be a call to turn off the television and sit still and read the Psalms.  The radio you listen to on the way to work- brings a sense of disquiet. that could be the Spirit saying, turn off the radio and listen to me and say the Jesus Prayer and pray the Trisagion Prayers.
The classical music you click on when you get home to an empty house- it may sound to you strangely vain-glorious and pompous instead of grand-  is that the Spirit calling you to quiet and stillness that you may draw near to God?  The disquiet you feel preparing grand feasts for your dinner, could that be a call to simpler foods so that you are not spending your energies titillating your gustatory organs?   The volume of books you plow through every week; are you beginning to feel an ennui in the reading of them? That cold be the Spirit calling you towards the Stillness.  All these things and a myriad more like them, are the things that the Spirit will call us away from in order that we might approach the threshold of inner hesychasm.
These are things that laymen can turn away from and find copious amounts of time for the work of Stillness.
These are the things that one can refrain from. There are also positive things that we laymen can do to pursue hesychasm in our life.  The practice of the Jesus prayer is chief among them.  The Jesus prayer is great as a discipline of the Spirit when we are in the waiting places of our busy lives. Waiting in the doctor's office; waiting in lines of traffic of in the grocery store; while commuting to and from work. There are so many times that the Jesus Prayer can be practiced.  There are the times when you are doing repetitive activities that don't require much mental activity.  Slicing the veggies.  the repetitive actions of housekeeping or of factory work. While standing and waiting at the Trade Show waiting on prospective customers to show up.  Between innings at your child's softball game.  At the side of a loved one's bed of sickness.  All sorts of opportunities to pursue God through the Jesus Prayer. 
The use of the Jesus Prayer historically has led many Christians towards Theosis and along they way they found the descent of the nous into the heart.  The found the Stillness of the Father.  The classical book The Way of the Pilgrim is just such a story of one such layman. His was a unique circumstance. He was called to a life of pilgrimage that was especially suited for the pursuit of unceasing prayer, of which hesychasm is the concomitant. Nevertheless, we are all called to such a life, and if we are seeking the Way will be opened, no matter the structure of our life.
Such was the case for me.  My life required a three year hiatus for the pursuit of unceasing prayer.  I went to prison.  I went because of a conscientious struggle with our Government but they decided I ought to be in jail and 96 percent of the time they take a person to Court that is where they go.  But Federal Prison Camp was a temporary call to a sort of monasticism.  Prior to going I went on a pilgrimage to St. Gregory Palamas monastery and the idea came to me there to take up the habit of praying the Hours of prayer, in Reader's fashion, as did the monks. So when I got back home from the pilgrimage, as I had been rendered unemployed by the actions of the Court, I had time to take my Horologion and pray the Hours of Prayer.  Along the way I was also able to memorize most of the prayer snd the Psalms that are routinely done in the Hours, including Matins and Vespers, so that, when the locked me up, I was pretty well equipped to continue the Hours as time allowed.  Circumstances also had it that I was placed in a 'job' that had no work and I had a corner of a carpenter's shop where I could be by myself all day.   There were the natural  impediments to distractions of normal life, and I found I had no desire to watch television, nor to listen to the radio. My reading was very limited. There it was, my monks cell for the prayer of the Hours, and in the morning was the handball court where  no one was yet active, and in the evening the track where one could have relative time to oneself for Vespers.  I undertook the Hours, and for several months I also added an almost daily prayer routine, trying to pray for every person that I could remember from the entirety of my life.
Towards the end of my stay, the Spirit was working and I came to the point that all my thoughts and my words were shown to be intersticed with pride.  There seemed to be nothing left to do.  I decided for my final 33 days, to do nothing but pray the Jesus Prayer. It was an amazing experience and things took place that I never expected would be my experience.  For this reaons and others the whole episode, as traumatic as it was, was worth it.  The Orthodox path of hesychasm; the pursuit of unceasing prayer; the use of the Jesus prayer all showed them to be intimately vital and real as far as the pursuit of deepening life in God is concerned. 
Since that time the Prayers memorized and some of the habits of prayer had continued to mold my days.  I find one can pray some of the Hours while on breaks at work, or while commuting to and from work, and as Iwork the night shift, in the late hours of the night when I am at home, and all is quiet.  The descent of the nous is real, and the pursuit of unceasing prayer is something that is the calling of us all, layman or monk.
I only wish had had enough faith and vision that I could have sold my business years ago, and taken off two years for prayer, but I was too spiritually dull to have conceived such a plan.  Perhaps there are those of you out there who want more of God.  Why not sell your businesses and take a three year Sabbatical, to spend time seeking God thorugh unceasing prayer? You might find things beyond your wildest imaginations.