The Coronavirus Diary of a Joyous Pustinik — 37

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Touching Heaven! 

Christ is Risen!

I’m back!

I have all my data and files retrieved and installed on my new laptop. So once more I am able to inflict my poems on you. My “tech savvy” trusted helper patiently guided me through the installation, asking nothing in return. Such love and kindness inculcates a bond of respect.

However, I am going to miss my old keyboard, my new laptop is so sensitive to the touch! Things are different and yet the same- the same files but a new approach, a new style, a new image.

Quite recently, I met a former pupil in the city centre whom I had taught at school. He said:

“Hello sir!”  I haven’t been referred to as sir for some time! I searched my memory for a name, I hardly recognised him, not simply because of his physical maturity but because he had grown in confidence from the rather shy student I began to remember. He had changed and yet he was the same- his voice deeper but with the same inflection, accent and tone. When he began to speak, I knew who he was. What a joy it was to see him and to hear his news.

In the appearances of our Lord after his resurrection, his disciples do not always recognise him. The nature of His glorious resurrected body was so different and yet the same. His resurrected body contain the wounds of the crucifixion and yet it was transformed. His voice, His words, His actions reveal his identity.

2 Corinthians 3:18

But we all, with unveiled face, beholding as in a mirror the glory of the Lord, are being transformed into the same image from glory to glory, just as by the Spirit of the Lord.

 

Touching Heaven

John 21:4 “Jesus stood on the shore; yet the disciples did not know that it was Jesus.”

 

The young monk stood upright head bowed in prayer.

Barefoot, he perched on rocks breathing the fresh spring air

The blue, tranquil lake lapped at his feet.

His eyes closed in mystery towards the setting sun,

Hands held aloft in reverence for the Holy One

Harmony of God and nature’s seat.

His leather holy belt hung at his waist

A sign of his ascetic labour and a taste

Of blessed Communion, Oh so sweet.

The stillness mirrored in his soul

Deep thoughts of Christ to make him whole

His heart in tandem with creation’s beat.

Here where sea and sky converge

This figure and Christ’s image merge

Earth touches heaven and for an instant meet!

To the Glory of God

 

“That is what the torment of hell is in my opinion: remorse. But love inebriates the souls of the sons and daughters of heaven by its delectability.”

St. Isaac the Syrian

The Prayer of the Heart During the Coronavirus Pandemic

What is the “Jesus Prayer”, the “Prayer of the mind” and the “Prayer of the heart”?

Metropolitan Neofytos Morfou has gathered several  very short prayers that we can use in our everyday life, especially during the Coronavirus pandemic:

  1. “Great is the Name of the Holy Trinity.”
  2. “Most Holy Theotokos save us and put us under your protecting veil.”
  3. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me/us”. 
  4. “Holy Cross of Christ save us through your power”. 
  5. “Great Archangel of our Lord Michael protect us”. 
  6. “Great Archangel of our Lord Gabriel illumine us”. 
  7. “Saint of God Nikiforos pray for us.” [Here any Saint can be invoked]
  8. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servants”.  The first time we add their Baptismal names, and then we continue “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your servants”.
  9. “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on all your world.”
  10. Then for the Departed, we pray to the Conqueror of Death: the first time “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your departed servants”, then we add their Baptismal names, and we conclude “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on your departed servants”, as many times as we can.
  11. “Lord Jesus Christ grant me the patience and faith of the Saints”
  12. “Lord Jesus Christ grant me the repentance and tears of the Saints”

The more we practice them the more they deepen and encompass our mind and heart:

“… Noetic prayer” (also called “the prayer of the mind”) and “the prayer of the heart” are just two special stages of the Jesus prayer.

God willing, if a person advances in prayer, then the prayer starts to “work”—that is to say, work alone, in the person’s “mind.” The person doesn’t make any effort anymore, but the prayer is said unceasingly by God’s grace, even if the person is speaking, eating, or even sleeping. When we say that the prayer is said in a person’s “mind”—that is, the “prayer of the mind” or “noetic prayer,” we say that the prayer is said in the rational aspects (parts) of the soul that is in the areas of logic and intellect (νούς), usually translated as “mind.”

If a person advances more, then God’s grace takes the prayer from the mind into the “heart”—that is, into the irrational aspects of the soul—the inflammatory aspect and the appetitive aspect.

Then, the “mind” and the “heart” become united—and the person will overcome the internal chaotic behaviour of his/her aspects, and will then reach a deep, peaceful power: joy and wisdom conferred by the Grace in the unity of their soul. …”

Source: The Ascetic Experience

Have your Bishops and Fathers suggested any other prayers to fight fear, acedia and binge-watching TV/ social media/internet? Metropolitan Morfou Neophytos has encouraged all of us to use these very short prayers together with the Lord’s Prayer, O Heavenly King, the Psalter and Supplications to our Saints.

Journey of a Young Artist

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Jonathan Jackson and The Seeds of “The Mystery of Art”

 

Whoever wants to become a Christian, must first become a poet— Saint Porphyrios
When I was young, they brought me to Babylon
And the night hung over my head
The smoke came into my dreams 
In the valley of dry bones

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with God
My eyes were seared and my blood was bruised
But I was hidden within a song

All around were the sounds of Babylon
But all I heard, were the hymns of heaven

It was under the skies of Babylon 
Where my soul fell in love with her 
I was barely coming clean and she had already seen
A war on her innocence

I spoke of the Christ underneath the clouds 
And woke her from the sleep of death

She took my hand and walked me through the crowd
Why, is anybody’s guess?

All around, was the gold of Babylon
But all I saw, was an angel of heaven

You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church
You can shut me up but you cannot quiet
The silence of the Mystic Church

 

I would like to start with the journey of how this book, “The Mystery of Art” began. It was not an intellectual or abstract search. The questions and explorations on this subject were immediate and crucial for me growing up. I began working as a professional actor at the age of 11 on General Hospital. At The age of 12, by God’s grace I had a profound encounter with Christ. My father would give us cassette tapes of sermons to listen to and one night, I heard a sermon on “The holiness of God and the pride of the human heart.” I don’t know why and I don’t know how these things occur, but I was cut to the heart. I suddenly realized how far away from God I truly was. How prideful and full of selfishness and egoism I was. It scared me to be honest. And yet, paradoxically, in that very moment of feeling the weight of my sinfulness—how my supposed righteousness is like “filthy rags” before the holiness of God, as Isaiah says—a Divine Presence also overwhelmed me. I felt like a great sinner who was also mysteriously loved beyond comprehension.

Around the same time, I read C.S. Lewis’ chapter called “The Great Sin”, which is all about Pride. I read Matthew 25, the Last Judgment and Matthew 5 when Christ says, “You have heard that it was said, ‘You shall not commit adultery.’ But I tell you that anyone who looks at a woman lustfully has already committed adultery with her in his heart.” I knew I could never impress God with my self-righteousness, so I cried out for mercy, I cried out for grace. And the compassions of God washed over me.

This was a turning point in my life. Nothing was the same after this encounter. I began to hear and perceive my own thoughts with great clarity. This was frightening too because I was suddenly aware of all the judgments and horrible thoughts I had about people. But the Holy Spirit was so merciful in this process. He never made me feel condemned. Convicted, yes. But never condemned. He would always whisper, “I’m not showing you this to condemn you, I’m showing you this darkness, so you can be healed.”

I began to think about God all the time. Throughout the following years there were many struggles and trials but the mystery of God became the most beautiful, the most attractive, the most intriguing and important pursuit in my life.

Naturally and organically, I had a desire to incorporate the Holy Spirit into the work I was doing. I had studied a few different acting methods but for the most part, my own personal method was being birthed through experience. Working with Anthony Geary and Genie Francis and other incredible performers like Michelle Pfeiffer and Sir Ben Kingsley. It was very much like Orthodoxy in the sense that I was a sponge, soaking everything in through experience and not through theory.

Within a short period of time after this initial encounter of grace, I was given some very heavy storylines to portray. I was about 15 years old and my character Lucky Spencer finds a young girl in the woods, who has just been raped. It is winter and the poor girl is freezing out in the cold, left for dead. He rescues her and they develop a friendship. He spends months taking care of her and being by her side as she tries to heal from this horrific event.

On a Soap Opera, you are on TV almost every day; especially when your storyline in prominent. In a more direct way than most artistic mediums, you are living the day-to-day story of your character. I was portraying this storyline for months. It was during this time that I first remember bringing God into my preparation as an actor. I began to ask Him, “How could you allow this innocent creature to suffer in this way?” “How can anyone be healed from such a wound?”

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They were questions my character could have been asking God and questions most of us have asked before. What it began to do for me, was nudge my work towards something inherently spiritual and although I would not have known it at the time, something sacramental.

Over the following years I portrayed a lot of dark and tragic roles: someone struggling with suicide, a heroine addict, a murderer among others. It was around this time when I began to ask God, “How can I portray these dark and troubled characters dynamically and truthfully, without being consumed by the darkness myself?” There are many tragic stories of young actors who become drug addicts after playing one in a film. The stories of drug overdoses and suicides among young actors and actresses are too many. I instinctively steered away from “Method Acting” and sought a different path, even though I didn’t know exactly what that would be.

It was around this time when I discovered Dostoevsky. It’s amazing to me now, being Orthodox that I wasn’t able to comprehend anything about the Orthodox Church as I read his books. It was like a veil, I suppose. But what I did discover was a kindred soul. Here was someone who was writing about very dark and tragic characters and themes but from a place of beauty—from a place of the Light of Christ. Prince Myshkin, from the “The Idiot”, changed my life. I clung to Dostoevsky in my heart as I approached portraying these dark characters and prayed, “Lord, please help me to portray the darkness of this world from a place of purity and light. Please, help me not to be overcome by the darkness, but to infiltrate the darkness with Your Light. Without you I can do nothing. I am nothing, I have nothing and I can do nothing without You, Lord. Amen.”

This is a snap shot so to speak, of the journey towards writing, “The Mystery Of Art”. These were the seeds, which by God’s grace, grew over time. There were so many important and profound spiritual realities that I wasn’t exposed to at the time, because I had not encountered the Holy Orthodox Church. I was grasping in the dark, looking for answers, feeling my way towards Christ, as best I could, but I always knew that something was missing; something significant and crucial to my relationship with God. There is a beautiful Scripture in the Gospel of John where Christ says,

“And I have other sheep that are not of this fold. I must bring them also, and they will listen to my voice. So there will be one flock, one shepherd.” (John 10:16)

I was one those lambs who was not of this fold. But through the grace of Jesus Christ, the Good Shepherd and your prayers, He found me and brought me home. My journey to the Orthodox Faith took many years and was paved with blood and heartache. I carried all of these artistic questions and experiences with me as my family and I came into the Church for salvation, deliverance and healing.

See also: Jonathan Jackson’s Orthodox Acceptance Speech at the Emmy’s

See photos from his visit to Mount Athos for the first time with his 11 year-old son Caleb (2015), where they stayed  for five days visiting Simonopetra and Xenophontos monasteries, and spent most of his time at Vatopaidi Monastery (Friday till Tuesday) where he met the Abbot, Elder Ephraim, and attended an all-night vigil on Saturday night.

While at Vatopaidi Monastery, Jonathan also gave a testimony of how he converted to Orthodoxy for Pemptousia, which can be seen here.

Holy Mountain’s Secret Cry

 

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Metropolitan of Nafpaktos and Agios Vlasios, Hierotheos, speaks on Mount Athos’ secret cry:  the Prayer of the Heart

 

As biological life is transmitted, so spiritual tradition is a whole life.

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A guide speaks theoretically, but the Fathers beget spiritually.

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The Holy Mountain is a living organism.

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May the Lord find us worthy to hear its secret cry!

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Already in his youth, Metropolitan Hierotheos was particularly interested in the Fathers of the Church, working for a time in the monastery libraries of Mount Athos, on the recording of the codices. He was especially interested in the teaching of St. Gregory Palamas.

The influence of Fr. John Romanidis, the study of the patristic texts and particularly those of the hesychast Fathers of the Philokalia, many years of studying St. Gregory Palamas, association with the monks of the Holy Mountain (Mount Athos), and many years of pastoral experience, all brought him to the realisation that Orthodox theology is a science of the healing of man and that the neptic fathers can help the modern restless man who is disturbed by many internal and existential problems.

Within this framework he has written a multitude of books, the fruit of his pastoral work, among which is Orthodox Psychotherapy. Some of these books have been translated into various languages, such as English, French, Spanish, Russian, and Arabic. With these books he conveys the Orthodox spirit of the Philokalia to the restless and disturbed man of our time.

Books

 

 

His ‘Silent’ Assemblies

Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, the Jesus Prayer and his ‘Silent’ Assemblies

As well as the liturgy and other services, Fr. Symeon also held ‘silent’ assemblies. No-one spoke. Or rather, no-one heard because everybody was speaking mystically to God, using a prayer-rope and saying the Jesus Prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me’. The church of Saint Athanasios was completely full. Everyone seated, heads bowed, holding a prayer-rope and seeking God’s mercy. These assemblies also lasted an hour. [Ed. In this, Elder Sophrony’s influence, fruit of Elder Symeon’s frequent visits to Essex Monastery and meetings with its abbot, cannot be exaggerated.]

Fr. Symeon laid great stress on sermons. He considered it as importance as a service, as indeed it is. The Word of God must first be received through the hearing, as the proclamation of the Gospel, so that people will believe and then receive Him as Holy Communion. The Elder spoke not only at the liturgy but on many other occasions as well. His discourse was always original. I asked him once: ‘How do you manage it? You’ve spoken for so many years and yet you don’t repeat yourself’. He laughed and I don’t remember his reply, but Fr. Symeon certainly spoke from his overflowing heart. His heart must have been overflowing, because he wouldn’t otherwise have been able to say new things all the time or he’d have addressed the brain rather than the heart. The Elder’s heart was always filled to overflowing because he nourished it continually with study, prayer and spiritual experiences. He told me once that, in confession, he heard problems that bothered a lot of people, but he didn’t have time to go into them in detail with each person. He spoke about them in his sermons. In the end, however, he always left the final word with God. ‘Let’s see what God will enlighten us to say today’, careful always that what he said was not his own words, but those of God.

Fr. Symeon’s sermons weren’t oratory. There were no well-turned phrases, rhetorical figures, great eloquence or any of the things that people admire in a fine speaker. His manner was simple, though he could be intense when the subject moved him to be. Fr. Symeon loved preaching. He went to great effort to get across to his audience not ideas but his very soul. A profound anatomist of the human soul, he analyzed issues clearly, as if he were holding a scalpel, cutting to the bone. He helped his listeners to understand the depths of their soul and brought them from there to repentance. Under his stole, they felt the love of God. And these souls multiplied when, on the initiative of the nuns of the monastery of The Birth of the Mother of God, in collaboration with other spiritual children of Fr. Symeon’s, his sermons began to be circulated more widely, first as recordings and then as a long series of volumes.

After services and preaching, the third main thrust of Fr. Symeon’s work was confession. What started with a few, later became a great number. How many days, and how many hours a day, do you need to confess a thousand, a thousand five hundred people? Where would they even have room to wait? The Elder found a solution. He gave out numbers.  He reckoned on seeing fifty a day. So, depending on the number they were given, each person knew which day, and roughly what time, the Elder would see them. Fr Symeon, closed all day within the confessional, would forget to eat, listening to the pain and shouldering the burden of the penitents. He gave remission, advice, directions, courage for the struggle and strength so that people could, by God’s grace, kill off their old self, so that new person could arise, walking in ‘the newness of life’.

In confession, he wasn’t a harsh judge. Nor was he a chastiser or punisher. You weren’t afraid, you didn’t despair. You felt he put himself in your position and understood you completely, was deeply empathetic and suffered with you. He was the doctor who cured you, the father who loved you, the friend who accompanied you. Confession wasn’t depressing, formal or legalistic. It happened once that we were together at a conference for confessors in the Monastery of the Comforter in Attica. Most of the time he listened without speaking. One spiritual guide asked him: ‘How is it, Father Symeon, that you have such success at confession?’. ‘I try to make sure’, he replied, ‘to be as low as possible, so that, however low people fall, I’ll be even lower and I’ll be there to catch them’. Wise words which embrace the whole meaning, the whole practice of the sacrament.

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The Myrrhbearing Women approach the Lord with the logic of the heart

Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, the Jesus Prayer and his ‘Silent’ Assemblies

The Myrrhbearing women, despite knowing they were unable to roll the stone from the tomb, they decided to.  And as a result of this, they were first both to see and to learn of the Resurrection of the Lord. Moved by love (the logic of the heart, as Pascal says) they desired with great boldness to go again to the tomb, to anoint Christ’s lifeless body with myrrh. And just like that, they neither thought of what would happen next, nor whether they’d be able to enter or not. Along the way, they said only this: “Who will roll away the stone for us?” Despite all this, they did not stop, nor did they turn back, but instead kept going. This wealth of the emotional world, the all-consuming love belonging to the female nature, is a good characteristic. However, one must not rely on this alone.

It is not enough for the inside of an automobile to have only the steering wheel: what is needed is the driving force. It is necessary, therefore, for man to reach that point where the world of his heart, that sentimental treasure, becomes one with his nous. And this, as the Fathers say, is something achieved by the Jesus prayer.With the Jesus prayer, the nous descends into the heart and man’s powers are made one (just as sin has brought the division of his powers). For this reason, a saint moves simply, as he has only a conscious mind –not a subconscious nor an unconscious.

Therefore, the Myrrhbearing Women were animated by a simple, humble method. Putting their nous in their hearts –burning with the love of God– they succeeded in approaching the Risen Christ, and naturally were made holy.

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Neptic ‘Psychotherapy’

The three levels of the soul

Father Symeon Kragiopoulos, the Jesus Prayer and his ‘Silent’ Assemblies

Conscious, subconscious, unconscious

The three levels of the soulAccording to what the expert scientists, the psychologists, say, our soul is divided into three levels. It is somewhat like an edifice which is filled with much unknown material.

The topmost part of the mind is the conscious, namely the part with which we understand ourselves.  This is where we become aware of our thoughts, our feelings, our entire disposition, and where we control and know these things. Beneath this level is the subconscious. The content of our subconscious is unknown. However, on occasion, because it is close to the conscious mind, it allows us to sense what it might contain.  Now and then, something springs from the subconscious and enters our conscious mind.

Even lower, in the deepest regions, or what we might call the basement of our soul, is the unconscious. The content of the unconscious is terra incognita, unknown land, and it is entirely unknowable to us. And so it is there, deep within us, that exist our personal experiences, our personal conditions. However, because these exist in the unconscious –in this dark basement- we neither know what exactly exists there nor can we control this content. According to the language of psychology, these experiences are repressed emotions and impulses that are pushed into the depths of the unconscious mind. According to the psychologists, this content of the unconscious gains autonomy and does whatever it wants. It doesn’t consider, nor does it ask, us.

That this is autonomic, all of us know. The moment you want to do the right thing, another power comes over you and forces you to do something else, something you don’t want to do, but which you do anyway.

Certainly these things were known to the fathers of the Church, and in particular the neptic fathers. For this reason, they preferred first that they themselves  –and later also advised others to –stay in the silence of the desert, and say the Jesus prayer (noetic prayer), trying to plummet the deepest depths of their souls, and in this way to start to know the content of the subconscious, and the unconscious,  in order to control it, and not allow it be autonomic and to do whatever it desired.

Because of this, a saint does not have a conscious, a subconscious, and an unconscious. The whole content of his soul is conscious. The saint controls it, and is not at the beck and call of repressed emotions and impulses.

We will see how man can become simple, and not be led blindly by the content which exists in the basement of his soul.

Holy Hesychasterion “The Nativity of Theotokos” Publications.

Archimandrite Symeon Kragiopoulos

For The Portrait of a Spiritual Father – I, The Theologian and the ‘Liturgical’ Being (his famous church services and vigils), go to here

 (To be continued)