Archive for June, 2007

The Struggle for Communion

June 30, 2007


For many Protestants whose Church experience was largely shaped in the past few decades, one of the most disconcerting aspects of a first visit to an Orthodox Church is the fact that not everybody, not all Baptized Christians, are permitted to receive communion. Indeed, communion is restricted to Orthodox Christians who have made preparation to receive (that’s another topic). For some this is a surprise, for others, not, and for still some few, this is a welcome fact. When I first visited in an Orthodox Church I fell into this last group. I did not rejoice that I was not able to take communion, but I rejoiced that I was not allowed to (in the state of schism in which I was living). Someone was saying to me, “There are things in your Christian life that must be addressed before you approach the Cup.” I understood this as healthy.

Indeed the rapid disappearance of communion discipline across much of Christianity in the latter half of the 20th century became as well a rapid re-interpretation of the sacrament and the radical exaltation of the individual over the Church. I have several reflections to offer in this vein.

First – the rapid disappearance of communion discipline meant the disappearance of boundaries. Nothing in the Church any longer said, “No.” With this, the Christian life itself loses definition. “Communion” with Christ becomes a purely subjective event, itself stripped of meaning because of the lack of boundaries. If there is no “No,” neither can there be a “Yes.” The Garden of Eden, paradise of perfection, contained a single “No,” one boundary. And yet that boundary alone defined communion with God. In not eating of that tree, Adam and Eve could live in obedience. Every other meal takes on its meaning of blessed communion because it is eaten in obedience. With the act of disobedience and the destruction of the only boundary given by God, every tree becomes a potential tree of death. Indeed, Holy Communion itself can become a Cup of Death according to St. Paul’s admonitions in 1 Corinthians.

Second – with the abolition of boundaries, communion ceases to be a struggle, and loses the ascesis that is essential to a healthy Christian life. Communion with God is a gift from God – but like the Kingdom of God, the “violent take it by force” (Matt. 11:12). This rather odd verse is a reference to those who pursue God in such a way that it is not inappropriate to use the word “violent” to describe it. St. John the Baptist’s ministry was marked by his fasting and struggles in prayer. It is such efforts that are “violent” in the Christian life. It should be normative in the Christian life that the holy mysteries are approached with ascesis. Rather than approaching God with an attitude of entitlement (“this is my communion”) we approach struggling against sin in our life: repenting, confessing, forgiving, fasting. In a Christian life they are acts of love.

In all of our healthy relationships some level of ascesis is practiced though we rarely reconize it or call it by that name. In marriage we understand that husbands are to “love their wives even as Christ loved the Church” (Eph. 5:25) that is, they are to lay down their lives for them. A marriage built on romantic phrases rather than sacrificial acts of love can all too easily be a marriage destined to fail.

It is not that we earn grace or salvation – I would argue strongly that every effort of “struggle” is itself an effort made possible and infused with grace. But the gift of our salvation should not be likened to a man who never picked up a baseball bat suddenly walking up to the plate at the last out in the ninth inning, facing a pitcher with an ERA below 1 and smacking the baseball deep into the stands in center field. I’ll grant that grace could work like that, but it would be Walt Disney and not Jesus Christ. Thus the God who saves us by grace tells us to “keep my commandments,” and any number of other things. [An exception: the wise thief. Ninth inning. Though even he surely knew a struggle as he fought his way to the words: “Remember me in your kingdom.”] God will not abandon us as we take up that struggle – but struggle we must – for such is the life of grace.

Before I was received into the Orthodox Church, of necessity I took a different “approach” to communion. Attending services I knew that I would not yet be able to approach the Cup. But I kept the fast. From midnight forward I ate nothing. Thus like the rest of the congregation, I sang in hunger as Heaven surrounded us and God gave Himself to us on His most Holy Altar. I could not eat – but I could struggle to eat – I could be hungry.

Hunger is not the fullness of the faith – but, if I may be so bold – it is part of the fullness. And at certain times part of the fullness is more than nothing.

I think this is an important point for much of our life. There is a fullness of the Cup of Salvation that most of us have not yet tasted, even if we come to the Cup each Sunday. I do not yet know the fullness of loving my enemies, or forgiving my friends, or walking without fear (we can each make this part of the list longer). But I can know the fullness of hunger for these things and the daily toil of struggling for them by grace.

And by grace I pray at last to have been brought across that boundary of sin that separates me from others and myself, united to Christ and the liberty that comes from Him alone.

Kind Words and Wisdom

June 29, 2007


I have added to my blogroll (under the category of “Catholic”) Moretben’s Undercroft. I always find him to be a good read, and more than occasionally to be a very kind reader of Glory to God for All Things. His words of kindness are a reminder of our common human bond and of so much that we all share together in our hearts. In a very recent post, he included the following quote that struck my heart quite deeply:

Perhaps the greatest damage done by Pope Paul VI’s reform of the Mass (and by the ongoing process that has outstripped it), the greatest spiritual deficit, is this: we are now positively obliged to talk about the liturgy. Even those who want to preserve the liturgy or pray in the spirit of the liturgy, and even those who make great sacrifices to remain faithful to it – all have lost something priceless, namely, the innocence that accepts it as something God-given, something that comes down to man as gift from heaven.

Those of us who are defenders of the great and sacred liturgy, the classical Roman liturgy, have all become – whether in a small way or a big way – liturgical experts. In order to counter the arguments of the reform, which was padded with technical, archaeological, and historical scholarship, we had to delve into questions of worship and liturgy-something that is utterly foreign to the religious man. We have let ourselves be led into a kind of scholastic and juridical way of considering the liturgy. What is absolutely indispensable for genuine liturgy? When are the celebrant’s whims tolerable, and when do they become unacceptable? We have got used to accepting liturgy on the basis of the minimum requirements, whereas the criteria ought to be maximal. And finally, we have started to evaluate liturgy – a monstrous act! We sit in the pews and ask ourselves, was that Holy Mass, or wasn’t it? I go to church to see God and come away like a theatre critic. And if, now and again, we have the privilege of celebrating a Holy Mass that allows us to forget, for a while, the huge historical and religious catastrophe that has profoundly damaged the bridge between man and God, we cannot forget all the efforts that had to be made so that this Mass could take place, how many letters had to be written, how many sacrifices made this Holy Sacrifice possible, so that (among other things) we could pray for a bishop who does not want our prayers at all and would prefer not to have his name mentioned in the Canon.

What have we lost? The opportunity to lead a hidden religious life, days begun with a quiet Mass in a modest little neighbourhood church; a life in which we learn, over decades, discreetly guided by priests, to mingle our own sacrifice with Christ’s sacrifice; a Holy Mass in which we ponder our own sins and the graces given to us – and nothing else: rarely is this possible any more for a Catholic aware of liturgical tradition, once the liturgy’s unquestioned status has been destroyed.”
Martin Mosebachfrom The Heresy of Formlessness

I read his entire post aloud to my wife. Afterward we marveled at its accuracy and went back in our memories to 1976, the year before I entered seminary, when we worshipped regularly at the old Episcopal parish in our downtown. We had no news of liturgy, just dusty prayerbooks and the daily pace of the Church year. We remembered it because in the next year we were plunged into the life of seminary – which, of course, is always a place to lose innocence, not realizing (because you are innocent) that it is a precious gift. The line in Moretben’s quote: “I go to Church and come away a theatre critic,” was dead on.

I must add, that part of the joy in being Orthodox (in my present situation which I expect to be my only situation) is the return of some form of innocence. I am well aware of those who think about the Liturgy and tweak and suggest. Our seminaries are not immune. But my peace is to delightfully obey my Archbishop and to pray. Just assembling services in accordance to the rubrics in an Orthodox setting is far more than enough – who needs to tinker?

But I reference the article on The Undercroft and commend a good blog to you, adding my thanks to Moretben for his frequent kind words and links to Glory to God for All Things.

The God Who Is Beautiful

June 28, 2007


Everything is beautiful in a person when he turns toward God, and everything is ugly when is is turned away from God.

Fr. Pavel Florensky

I come to the end of a day that has been filled with other activity and little time for writing. But in my reading at bedtime I came across the above quote. It obviously contains a world of truth, indeed, from a certain perspective it contains the whole of the Gospel. It is both commentary on how we see the world (as beautiful or ugly) or how we are within ourselves. The ugliness of sin is one of its most important components – and the inability to distinguish between the truly beautiful and the false beauty of so much of contemporary life offers a profound diagnosis of our lives and culture.

To say that God is Beautiful carries with it also profound insights into what we mean by knowledge of God. “How do we know God?” is a question on which I have posted several times of late. If we ask the question, “How do we recognize Beauty?” then we have also shifted the ground from questions of intellect or pure rationality and onto grounds of aethetics and relationship. The recognition of beauty is a universal experience (as is the misperception of beauty). But the capacity to recognize beauty points as well to a capacity within us to know God. I would offer that this capacity is itself a gift of grace – particularly when we admit that the recognition of beauty is subject to delusion.

In a famous passage from The Brothers Karamazov, Dostoevsky’s Dmitri Karamazov has this to say on beauty as well as delusion:

Beauty is a terrible and awful thing! It is terrible because it has not been fathomed and never can be fathomed, for God sets us nothing but an enigma. Here the boundaries meet and all contradictions exist side by side. I am not a cultivated man, brother, but I’ve thought a lot about this. It’s terrible what mysteries there are! Too many mysteries weigh men down on earth. We must solve them as we can, and try to keep a dry skin in the water. Beauty! I can’t endure the thought that a man of lofty mind and heart begins with the ideal of the Theotokos (Madonna)  and ends with the ideal of Sodom. What’s still more awful is that a man with the ideal of Sodom in his soul does not renounce the ideal of the Madonna, and his heart may be on fire with that ideal, genuinely on fire, just as in his days of youth and innocence. Yes, man is broad, too broad, indeed. I’d have him narrower. The devil only knows what to make of it! What to the mind is shameful is beauty and nothing else to the heart. Is there beauty in Sodom? Believe me, that for the immense mass of mankind beauty is found in Sodom. Did you know that secret? The awful thing is that beauty is mysterious as well as terrible. God and the devil are fighting there and the battlefield is the heart of man.”

Dostoevsky’s paradox, that “beauty,” for the mass of mankind, is found in Sodom, is a paradox that can hold two meanings. Either it can mean that even the corrupted “beauty” of Sodom can be redeemed (this is not Dostoevsky’s own intention) or that our heart can be so corrupted that we perceive the things of Sodom to be beautiful (closer to Dostoevsky’s point). We can also bring in a third – that of Florensky quoted above – that the “beauty” found in Sodom is corrupted precisely because it is turned away from God. It’s repentance can also be its restoration of true beauty.

I prefer this third thought (which is more or less the same as the first) in that it carries within it the reminder that when God created the world He said, “It is good (beautiful)” [both the Hebrew and the Greek of Genesis carry this double meaning].

We were created to perceive the Beautiful, even to pursue it. This is also to say that we were created to know God and to have the capacity, by grace, to know Him. Consider the Evangelical imperative: “Go and make disciples.” What would it mean in our proclamation of the gospel were we to have within it an understanding that we are calling people to Beauty? The report of St. Vladimir’s emissaries to Constantinople that when they attended worship among the Orthodox they “did not know whether we were on earth or in heaven. We only know that of a truth, God is with them,” is history’s most profound confirmation of this proclamation.

St. Paul confirms the same when he describes the progressive work of our salvation as “the knowledge of God in the face of Jesus Christ.” If we would have our hearts cured of the illness that mistakes Sodom for the Kingdom of God, then we should turn our eyes to the face of Christ. There the heart’s battle will find its Champion and beauty will find its Prototype.

Things I Never Did for Summer Vacation

June 28, 2007


I am frequently impressed by the things done by youth these days  (yes, they do many positive things). When I was in high-school summer was job time. In college, summer was again, job time. Of course, I had no international connections at the time.

One of the youth from our parish, Ryan Erickson, is a student at the University of Chicago, active in the Orthodox Christian Fellowship (the college organization). This summer he is in Georgia (the one that is not to my South) where he is learning Georgian (an amazing feat to me) and assisting in hospital settings. He is a pre-med student. His trip is under the auspices of the Orthodox Christian Fellowship. There are many activities such as this available each year – one of my daughters went to Guatemala for Spring Break one year to help in an orphanage. Again, I am more than impressed by such youth – I am in awe.

I offer a link to Ryan’s website. Keep up with him and ask God’s blessings on young people whose idea of a summer vacation is serving others around the world.

Where the Heart Resides

June 27, 2007


One of the questions that surrounds the knowledge of God, as spoken of by the Scriptures and the Fathers of the Eastern Church, is that of where the heart resides. By this, I do not mean where the heart is located (in the chest or wherever), but where the heart itself lives. Though the heart is by no means disconnected from our rationality, it is also resident in many other places of our lives.

The heart resides in a place that can be addressed in many ways – even ways that we do not normally think of as avenues of communication.

I can recall some years ago being invited to an Episcopal Church to speak to a womens’ group on praying with icons. I was not Orthodox at the time, but I had written my Master’s Thesis on the subject of the theology of icons, all of which made me a likely candidate for a morning’s program.

What struck me at the time (I had brought a number of exemplary icons for my talk) was the interest of the group in wanting me to teach them how to “read” the icons. I do not know another word for it – although I do not think this was their own term. But it was clear that they were trying to read the icons as though it was simply a pictographic form of writing. “What does the icon say?”

The expectation was that praying with icons was simply another form of directing your attention, and that if you knew the key you might have greater understanding as you prayed.

Now it is certainly true that icons have a language of sorts and that they can even be “read.” “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words,” the Fathers of the Seventh Council proclaimed. But you cannot do with color what Scripture does with words in the same manner. Color is one thing and words are another. Both reveal and make present and communicate the Truth of the faith. But that communication is not simply the same thing (or else why would you have both instead of one?).

The group became very disappointed with me as I began to explain that “praying with icons” is pretty much literally that – you pray and you are with icons. It sounds terribly prosaic until you have prayed with icons enough to know what it means. I would compare the phrase to “swimming with water.” I’m not certain you can swim without water – but I’m sure the experience would be quite different. It is, of course, possible to pray without icons – but the experience is quite different as well.

So where is it that the heart resides when it prays with icons? Obviously, with training, it learns to dwell amidst the icons and thus amidst that (or Whom) the icons make present.

I know a woman who came to faith (from agnosticism or atheism, take your pick) in the midst of a Church service, by simply addressing an icon of Christ. She posed a simple question, and the answer came not in words, but in a knowledge and a relationship that had been silent, missing, or unlocatable before. I know for a fact that I could not have done the same thing with words, had I even known what words to speak (and how could I know such a thing?).

There is a story from frontier America of the early Quaker missionary, John Woolman. He was addressing a group of Native Americans with a translator. Quakers (then and now) can be a different sort. Woolman became tired of the process of preaching and translating, and finally asked the translator to be quiet as he continued to share the gospel with his non-English speaking audience. At the end of his talk, one of the natives approached him and said, “I like to hear the place where the words come from.” A peculiar reaction – and yet if you have ever heard inspired speech, you may know precisely what was meant.

Where does the heart reside? We may not always be able to say, but the multi-voiced Tradition of the Church knows precisely where it resides, and when left alone without the insistence of rational control, frequently finds its target and does what we do not of ourselves know how to do. Thanks be to God.

Many years! Fr. Al

June 27, 2007

I read with sadness that Fr. Al Kimel is ending his blog, Pontifications. I would not be writing here except for his gracious invitation several years ago to write occasional pieces on his blog. It was his suggestion as well that I try to do this on my own. These are only two of many kindnesses (and among the smallest) I have received from him over the years. His farewell note goes deep to the heart – and I well understand his words. May God bless him and give him many years and days of peace. I will always count it a blessing to call him my friend.

Ars Gratia Artis

June 26, 2007


This is for my daughter – who is a young artist and in the Governor’s School for the Arts this summer. I say this is for her – though I’m not sure she reads the blog everyday – and, of course, I’m letting the rest of you thousand or two people read it, too, so I guess this is for all of us.

The question: what is art?

I watched a wonderful video that my daughter produced on the subject. Now I have to add my two cents, which are mostly a critique of Enlightenment and modern thought on the subject of art, and a suggestion of art’s true home.

Human beings have always done activities that today we describe as art. But generally, those activities in most cultures throughout most of time were done for religious purposes. Artistic work was a work of devotion, or a work of magic (in some religious settings). In various civilizations art would spring out into different directions – though its roots were still in temple and altar.

In Christianity, of course (and my daughter knows this, I know), we produced icons as devotional items. An icon makes present that which it represents. When we gather in worship, surrounded by icons, we are surrounded by the saints. Traditionally icons were and are painted anonymously (though I can think of numerous exceptions to this) – precisely because the icon is about the saint, or Christ, or the Theotokos, and not about the painter.

During the Renaissance (when greater learning about the “arts” was brought to Western Europe by exiled Byzantines) we begin to see a new movement, “art for art’s sake.” Indeed, it was almost the birth of “art” as “art” (art no longer serving a religious purpose exclusively). Today, art has frequently become almost exclusively about the artist – representing thoughts or feelings. Artists become heroes or at least culture “icons” (ironically).

But there is a root of art that remains and will never fade away. It is the use of art as a means of knowing God, of understanding our relationship with Him. The Seventh Council taught, “Icons do with color what Scripture does with words.” This is a deeply profound theological statement, revealing much about the meaning of icons and their very nature.

I strongly suspect that even in modern “art for art’s sake” there is a religious root – maybe not recognized – certainly not properly tutored or directed – but we were created for God and our “instinct” for God, if I can use such a phrase, has never truly disappeared. And though our hunger for God is frequently deeply hidden in the work and the art we make, nevertheless it remains.

I would even say the same, despite its many abuses, about music. God Himself sings (Zeph. 3:17), the Scriptures tell us, and thus, I believe, we sing as well. We just do not always know the right song or Whom to sing it to.

The greatest and deepest joys that we know as human beings, is when we know how to sing, and to Whom to sing. When we know how to paint, and Whom to paint. Our singing and our painting, of course, are not confined to that alone, but they never become what they could be until they find the place from where they come.

I would say the same is true of the written word. And so we write, we sing, we paint, we dance, we do all of these wonderfully human and marvelous activities – but they all have at their root the Song of Heaven, the Hymn of God, the Dance of the Angels, the Word of God, the very Face of God in Christ reflecting to us our own true selves, created in His image. May we all, artists of Creation, serve as artists of the Creator, to Whom be praise.

Fools for Christ – Remembering What Matters

June 25, 2007


I have been viewing the movie, Ostrov, which I reviewed here, simply because watching it feeds me where watching something else would not. I think I have been particularly fed by mediatating on the actions of the character of Fr. Anatoly, who is something of a “fool for Christ.” He is not the most learned (not learned at all particularly) but he knows what a man must know: God. In that, he is a point of salvation and healing for those around him.

I think (some days more than others) about what I am doing as a priest – whether it is in my parish – in some of the diocesan or national responsibilities I’ve been given, and with this ministry of Glory to God for All Things, which, some days feeds me greatly. I like to write. But it is also good to stop and remember what I am doing lest I forget myself, or lest someone else think I am trying to do something I am not.

I am not the source of all the best Orthodox answers (many, many priests know far more than me). I can help point someone to such sources. My thoughts and writings, when confined to what feeds my soul, and what I myself know to be true through my own Christian life, have the possibility of feeding others. I fled, and still seek to flee, sites of great controversy, partly because (even though matters of great importance are discussed) I find there to be little light shed in such locations. I believe that in prayer, in studying Scripture, and in frequenting the sacraments of confession and communion, most hard questions will find their answers because the answer to all things is God. There can be no substitute for God.

Thus I think the most effective ministries always have something of the “fool” about them. The “fool” in the since that one is pointing beyond oneself and towards Christ. St. John the Baptist spoke correctly when he said, “He [Christ] must increase and I must decrease.” That answers most things. Within my first weeks of writing on this site I offered a short piece, “What matters.” I am reprinting it here (as our readership has increased more people – including me – need to read it or reread it). By your prayers, I will continue to write – daily as possible – about what matters. I usually write at the end of the day, because it is when my head seems most to clear. It is easier to pray and to think – and to write. May God bless all who visit the site with the apprehension in your own heart of what matters.

What Matters – first posted on October 19, 2006

God matters and what matters to God matters. I know that sounds very redundant, but I’m not sure how else I want to say it. There are many things that do not matter – because they do not matter to God. Knowing the difference between the two – what matters to God and what does not requires that we know God.

And this is theology – to know God. If I have a commitment in theology, it is to insist that we never forget that it is to know God. Many of the arguments (unending) and debates (interminable) are not about what we know, but about what we think.

Thinking is not bad, nor is it wrong, but thinking is not the same thing as theology. It is, of course, possible to think about theology, but this is not to be confused with theology itself.

Knowing God is not in itself an intellectual activity for God is not an idea, nor a thought. God may be known because He is person. Indeed, He is only made known to us as person (we do not know His essence). We cannot know God objectively – that is He is not the object of our knowledge. He is known as we know a person. This is always a free gift, given to us in love. Thus knowledge of God is always a revelation, always a matter of grace, never a matter of achievement or attainment.

It matters that we know God because knowledge of God is life itself. “This is eternal life,” Jesus said, “to know Thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ whom Thou hast sent.”

The Orthodox way of life is only about knowing God. Everything we do, whether it is prayer, communion, confession, forgiveness, fasting – all of it is about knowing God. If it is about something else, then it is delusion and a distraction from our life’s only purpose.

Knowing God is not a distraction from knowing other persons, nor is knowing other persons a distraction from knowing God. But, like God, knowing other persons is not the same thing as thinking about them, much less is it objectifying them.

Knowing others is so far from being a distraction from knowing God, that it is actually essential to knowing God. We cannot say we love God, whom we have not seen, and hate our brother whom we do see, St. John tells us. We only know God to the extent that we love our enemies (1 John 4:7-8).

And this matters.

This blog does not matter – except that I may share something that makes it possible for someone to know God or someone may share something that allows themselves to be known. This matters.

On a Birthday – Many Years!

June 23, 2007


Please indulge me in a personal post – I will be in Murfreesboro, TN, visiting with my youngest daughter who is in Governor’s School this summer on Saturday of this week, and on Sunday, my family and I will observe the birthday of my wife. My wish for “Many Years!” is for my wife for whom I give thanks to God constantly. I will be back to blogging regularly come Monday morning.

My wife and I met in a small prayergroup in her freshman year of college. I can say without fear of contradiction that she has been my closest spiritual friend since near that day. The journey we have made, we made very much together. I have trusted both her judgment and depended on her ceaseless prayers.

The joy I have in my children, I credit to the mercies of God, my wife’s prayers, and the tolerance they have all shone to me – and in that order. For her I credit the mercies of God and the ceaseless prayers of her parents and their godly example (may her Father’s memory be eternal)! “The prayers of parents are the foundation of a home.”

I am a man whom God rescued and has blessed beyond measure and surrounded me with godly advice and counsel and delivered me from the pit times without number. I do not deserve the life I have and so I say, ‘Glory to God for all things!’

A good wife who can find? She is far more precious than jewels. 

The heart of her husband trusts in her, and he will have no lack of gain. 

She does him good, and not harm, all the days of her life. 

She seeks wool and flax, and works with willing hands. 

She is like the ships of the merchant, she brings her food from afar. 

She rises while it is yet night and provides food for her household and tasks for her maidens.

She considers a field and buys it; with the fruit of her hands she plants a vineyard. 

She girds her loins with strength and makes her arms strong. 

She perceives that her merchandise is profitable. Her lamp does not go out at night. 

She puts her hands to the distaff, and her hands hold the spindle. 

She opens her hand to the poor, and reaches out her hands to the needy. 

She is not afraid of snow for her household, for all her household are clothed in scarlet. 

She makes herself coverings; her clothing is fine linen and purple. 

Her husband is known in the gates, when he sits among the elders of the land. 

She makes linen garments and sells them; she delivers girdles to the merchant. 

Strength and dignity are her clothing, and she laughs at the time to come. 

She opens her mouth with wisdom, and the teaching of kindness is on her tongue. 

She looks well to the ways of her household, and does not eat the bread of idleness. 

Her children rise up and call her blessed; her husband also, and he praises her: 

“Many women have done excellently, but you surpass them all.” 

Charm is deceitful, and beauty is vain, but a woman who fears the LORD is to be praised.

Give her of the fruit of her hands, and let her works praise her in the gates.

Proverbs 31:10-31 

The Struggle in Prayer

June 23, 2007


Prayer is infinite creation, the supreme art. Over and over again we experience an eager upsurge towards God, followed only by a falling away from His light. Time and again we are conscious of the mind’s inability to rise to Him. There are moments when we feel ourselves on the verge of insanity. ‘Thou didst give me Thy precept to love but there is no strength in me for love. Come and perform in me all that Thou hast commanded, for Thy commandment overtaxes my powers. My mind is too frail to comprehend Thee. My spirit cannot see into the mysteries of Thy will. My days pass in endless conflict. I am tortured by the fear of losing Thee because of the evil thoughts in my heart.’

Sometimes prayer seems to flag and we cry, ‘Make haste unto me, O God’ (Psalm 70:5). But if we do not let go of the hem of His garment, help will come. It is vital to dwell in prayer in order to counteract the persistently destructive influence of the outside world.

Prayer cannot fail to revive in us the divine breath which God breathed into Adam’s nostrils and by virtue of which Adam ‘became a living soul’ (Gen. 2:7). Then our regenerated spirit will marvel at the sublime mystery of being, and our hearts echo the Psalmist’s praise of the wonderful works of the Lord. We shall apprehend the meaning of Christ’s words, ‘I am come that [men] might have life, and that they might have it more abundantly’ (John 10:10).

From His Life is Mine by the Elder Sophrony