Thursday, December 10, 2015

Crossing the great abyss with prayer ( Fr. Dimitru Staniloae )

The virtue of prayer brings about the mystery of our union with God, because prayer is the tie of rational creatures with the Creator. - Saint Gregory Palamas

Pure Prayer is the bridge we seek to union with God and to be participants in His divine light. It is prayer that enables us to cross the great abyss when realize God is beyond all mental concepts and involves a higher knowledge. It is a step that is beyond apophaticism or negative theology.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae writes,
Pure prayer is an ecstasy of interior quietness, a total cessation of thought in the face of divine mystery, before the divine light descends to the mind thus stopped by astonishment.
This pure prayer is only given to us once we have mastered our passions.

Fr. Dimitru says,
Pure prayer is made only after the mind has been raised from the contemplation of visible nature and from the world of concepts, when the mind doesn't have any image or form or concept.
It is called pure because it does not have and object and does not involve any words. This is also called by the Church Fathers as the Prayer of the mind, or noetic prayer, where the mind is free and we are face to face with God.

Fr. Dimitru gives us a couple of conditions for reaching this level of prayer:
1. The mind must withdraw from things outside and focus on what is within, to its heart. It is in this place called the heart, the center of our soul where we find God.
2. One should use only a few words addressed to Jesus to assure a remembrance of Him and to focus the mind on its goal. He says, "even the most pure prayer must keep the thought of the presence of Jesus." He advises us that the common prayer of this nature is the Jesus Prayer :Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."

With the mind focused on the heart we will find that the mind no longer looks for external things. With its focus on the name of Jesus it is guarded by any sinful thoughts. But there is a struggle involved against evil forces.

Fr. Dimitru says,
It must struggle much with the thoughts around it, to make its way toward it (the heart) and to open it... The mind with difficulty regains the habit of looking toward God... Then it lives His presence directly, or feels itself in His presence.
This state of prayer involves the opening of the heart. We feel the pleasure of constantly remembering His name and being within with His love.

St. Diadochos writes,
Grace itself then thinks together with the soul and cries or together with it: "Lord Jesus Christ." [Because immediately]... we need His help to unite and gladden all our thoughts with His ineffable Sweetness, that we might be moved with all our heart to the remembrance and love of our God and Father.

Fr. Dimitru Staniloae