Archive for November 6th, 2008

Faces in the Dark

November 6, 2008

dostoevskyprison 

One of the finest short contemporary classics of Orthodox spiritual writing is Tito Colliander’s Way of the Ascetics. The following excerpt is from his “Chapter Thirteen: On Progress in Depth.”

THE external rudiments lead us now to the welfare that goes on in the depths. As when one peels an onion, one layer after another is removed, and the innermost core, out of which growth reaches up toward the light, lies revealed. There, in your own innermost chamber, you will glimpse the heavenly chamber, for they are one and the same, according to St. Isaac the Syrian.

When you strive now to enter your inmost depths, you will be aware, beside your own true face, of what St. Hesychius of Jerusalem calls the gloomy faces of thought’s [dark figures], but what St. Macarius of Egypt likens to a crawling serpent that has nestled there and wounded your soul’s most vital organ. If now you have slain this serpent, he says, you may pride yourself on your purity before God. But if you have not, bow humbly, as a needy sinner, and pray to God about all that lurks within you.

How can we make a beginning, then, we who have never penetrated into the heart? We stand outside, but let us knock with fasting and prayer, as the Lord commands when He says: Knock and it shall be opened unto you (Matthew 7:7). For to knock is to act. And if we stand fast in the word of the Lord, in poverty, in humility, in all that the injunctions of the Gospel require, and night and day hammer upon God’s spiritual door, then we shall be able to get what we seek. Whoever will escape darkness and captivity can walk out into freedom through that door. There he receives the disposition to spiritual freedom, and the possibility of reaching Christ, the heavenly King, says St. Macarius.

Coming to grips with the fact that, spirtually, the world is not “two-storey” or bifurcated into sacred and secular, is primarily an act of coming to grips with our own heart. It is in the heart that we find both the gate of paradise as well as the “gloomy dark faces.” And these things will not be found by contemplating the stars or thinking about a heaven that is somewhere else.

Listening recently to the newly-ordained Bishop Jonah, I noted the emphasis he placed on frequent confession. For it is particularly in this sacrament that, with time, patience and fearless honesty, we begin to see the outlines and contours of our heart. We can learn, through prayer, how to enter and remain in the heart (when confession becomes even yet more important) and to have an inward communion that is the gift of God dwelling in us.

I particularly appreciate Colliander’s last statement:

And if we stand fast in the word of the Lord, in poverty, in humility, in all that the injunctions of the Gospel require, and night and day hammer upon God’s spiritual door, then we shall be able to get what we seek. Whoever will escape darkness and captivity can walk out into freedom through that door. There he receives the disposition to spiritual freedom, and the possibility of reaching Christ, the heavenly King, says St. Macarius.