Source: “Wounded by Love: The Life and Wisdom of Elder Porphyrios, ”
published by Denise Harvey, Limni, Evia, Greece (2005), pp. 122-126.
Listen and I’ll tell you about something that happened to me a few days ago. A monk who practices the Jesus Prayer came here from the Holy Mountain and he asked me:
—How do you say the Jesus Prayer? Do you sit on a low stool? Do you lower your head and concentrate?
— No, I replied. I say, Lord Jesus Christ... clearly in my mind, giving attention to the words. LordJesus Christ, have mercy on me... Lord Jesus... That’s how I do it in my mind and pay attention only to the words.
—That’s not right at all, Elder, he said. The way you describe it is quite erroneous, not to say deluded. The mind needs to be in the heart. That’s why it’s called “prayer of the heart.”
—I’ll tell you something else, I said to him. Sometimes when I would be facing some temptation, I would bring into my mind the image of Christ on the cross with his transfixed hands and feet dripping blood and with the crown of thorns piercing his brow and with myself kneeling before him and saying to Him, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.
—-And you didn’t bring your mind into your heart?’ he interrupted.
—No, I replied.
— You are deluded, he said to me. The mind must be in the heart. Again, that’s why it’s called “prayer of the heart.” Delusion!
He got up to leave.
—Elder! I said to him. Listen and I’ll tell you something. When I am repeating the prayer in my mind, sometimes my joy becomes more and more intense. Moreover, when my joy becomes ever stronger with the words, Lord Jesus Christ..., I feel my mind leaping within me along with my heart. That is, I feel my mind plummeting into my heart and there I experience all this joy as I say the prayer.
I begin with the mind and then my mind moves on its own when joy comes.
—So that’s how you pray! That indeed is the way!’ he said to me. Forgive me for accusing you of “delusion.”
It is the mind that thinks. The heart does not think. Have your mind on God and your heart will leap for joy spontaneously. It will feel compunction. For Christ to enter your heart you must love Him. In order to love Him, He must first love you. God must first know you and then you Him. He will stoop to you, if you first seek Him. In order for Him to love you, you must be worthy. In order to be worthy, you must prepare yourself.
First, you must shun all self-interest. Prayer must be entirely selfless. Everything must happen mystically and without self- interest. That is, do not think that if you concentrate with your mind then grace will come into your heart also and you will experience that leap of joy. Do not pray with that motive, but with simplicity and humility. Aspire always to the glory of God. What did I tell you about the nightingale? It sings without anyone seeing. Be like that—selfless. Give yourself over to the worship of God in secret.
However, be careful! As we said, do not let your left hand know what your right hand is doing.
(Mt 6:3). Do not let your malicious self know what is going on. Live in Paradise and do not let your evil self-know and envy it. Do not forget that there exists the envy of the evil one.
Preparation is also to learn to keep the commandments of God. To expel the passions—condemnation, anger, etc.—in a subtle way.
That is, do not strike at the evil directly, but, disdaining the passion, turn with love to God. Occupy yourself with singing hymns, the triumphant hymns of the saints and martyrs and the Psalms of David. Study Holy Scripture and the Church Fathers. In this way your soul will be softened, sanctified and assimilated to God. It will be ready to hear the disclosures of God. ‘Gradually grace will visit you. You will enter into joy. You will begin to live in peace and then you will become stronger by virtue of the divine grace. You will not become angry, or irritated, you will not be offended, you will not judge others, but rather receive everyone with love. You will have that which
Saint Paul describes: Love does not boast... it does not behave in an unseemly manner... it does not rejoice in injustice, but rejoices in truth; it covers and protects all things, it believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails, (Cor 13:4-8). The prayer purifies the soul and keeps the mind in check. The most perfect work is done in the depths of the human soul, which is hermetically sealed and known only to God. And so we witness something extraordinary: people who are transformed into children of God, even though they had reached the very depths of their self-destructiveness.
And I, too, wretched and crocked-up fellow that I am, make this effort. I do not give myself over openly in prayer, but secretly I pray. Do you understand? The grace of God comes and overshadows you too. It brings a freshness and joy to youalso as we live together, eat together, talk and pray and simply keep company with one another. Do you understand?
Only someone who is thoughtless, someone who is “thick-skinned” and cannot be moved by prayer, remains a stranger to grace.
Pray for God to reveal to you the unseen things. There is much that we do not know. Say to Christ, “Whatever You want.Whatever Your love desires.” He will lead you. Look to Him.Prayer of the Heart Is Impossible Without a Spiritual Guide
If you are going to occupy yourself with prayer of the heart exclusively you must have the guidance of a spiritual father. Prayer of the heart is impossible without a spiritual guide.
There is a danger of the soul being deluded. Care is needed. Your spiritual guide will teach you how to get into the right order for prayer, because if you do not get into the right order, there is a danger of your seeing the luciferic light, of living in delusion and being plunged into darkness, and then one becomes aggressive and changes character and so on. This is the splitting of the personality.
Do you see how delusion is created? If, however, you progress in prayer with the counsels of a spiritual father, you will see the true light.
The spiritual guide must be experienced in prayer of the heart. If he prays mechanically and has not experienced prayer with the grace of God, he is unable to tell someone else how to pray. Certainly, he will be able to say what he has read in books and what the Fathers say. Whole books have been written which talk about prayer. And so many people read them and none knows how to pray. “But,” you will object, “we read these books, we learn the method of prayer, we prepare ourselves and God gives His blessing and sends us His grace and we understand them.” That is all very well, but it is a mystery. Prayer is a mystery, and above all prayer of the heart is a mystery.
The most dreadful delusion can be created by spiritual prayer. Other prayers are prayed to a large extent by our mind. We simply say them and our ears hear them. They aresaid in a different way. But spiritual prayer is something else.
And if in this spiritual dimension desire is enkindled, not by your good self, but by the other self, the egotistical self, then undoubtedly you will begin to see lights, but not the light of Christ, and undoubtedly you will begin to experience a pseudo-joy. But in your outward life, in your relations with other people, you will be ever more aggressive and irascible, more quick-tempered and fretful. These are the signs of the person who is deluded. The person who is deluded does not accept that he is suffering from delusion. He is fanatical and does harm. This is what happens with zealots, those who act with a zeal that is not tempered by divine knowledge. Listen to an example of this: Saint Makarios, the famous Desert Father, had decided to go to a church festival along with the monk who was sub- servient to him. The young monk had gone on ahead. He was a beginner and had a beginner’s zeal. As he was walking along he met an idolater, a priest of a pagan temple. He spoke harshly to him and said:
—Where are you off to, you deluded soul?
The priest was enraged and attacked the novice, leaving him virtually unconscious.
A short time later the priest met the elder. When Abba Makarios, blessed as he was by divine grace, saw the man in a state of shock and aggravation, he said to him:
—Good man of God, where are you going to?
As soon as the priest heard these words his heart softened, he stopped in his tracks, and said:
—Your words have calmed me down.
—Yes, said Abba Makarios. I see you’re in a hurry, only you don’t know where you’re hurrying to.
But he said it in a humble and brotherly tone of love.
—When you speak, said the idolater, your words open my heart, but a short time ago another monk spoke to me in a very different way and I gave him a good beating. Abba Makarios spoke to him in such an inspired way, that the idolater gradually changed his beliefs, became a monk and was saved. With his good words and manners he com- municated the good spirit. He communicated the uncreated energy and entered the soul of the idolater. The novice, on the contrary, communicated a spirit of anger and aggression from the spirit he had within him.
Do you see what delusion means? When you have a spiritual guide you are not in danger of delusion. When you have a good, God-inspired elder you learn the secrets of prayer.
You pray with your elder and you gradually begin to enter into the spiritual life and to learn how the elder prays. He is not able to tell you, “Do this or do that.” But you do what you see him do. When you go to your elder, certainly, he tells you about the prayer of the heart. You need to know, however, that if he does not experience the prayer of the heart himself, he will not be able to communicate anything.
But when the elder has experienced (and continues to experience) the prayer of the heart, something mysterious takes place. The mystery is that the novice hears his words, but more importantly, he sees the way his heart opens and how he speaks to God in his heart. His soul watches him. And not only this, but soul communicates with soul and the one soul senses the other. The novice feels how the whole “frame of mind’ is created, how this state is created through divine grace.
This is not a simple matter. This is the teaching. We say that prayer cannot be taught, but in point of fact it can be taught when you live with someone who truly prays. When you take a book about prayer and read it, it may be that you do not understand anything. However, when you have an elder next to you who prays, whatever he tells you about prayer you understand and take to heart. You enter into his prayer, and you pray too without realizing it. You communicate. It’s not the book or the knowledge, it’s the sensation, it’s the manner, it’s the opening of the heart, it’s the embrace of prayer.
And is not what we are doing now as I am speaking to you, is this too not a prayer? Am I not speaking from my heart and do we not feel that leaping sensation of joy and impellent desire? If this is not prayer, how can it be explained that we have such a sense of strong desire?
It is a great art to succeed in having your soul sanctified. A person can become a saint anywhere. He can become a saint in Omonia Square (the commercial center of Athens, also synonymous with vice and corruption), if he wants. At your work, whatever it may be, you can become a saint through meekness, patience, and love. Make a new start every day, with new resolution, with enthusiasm and love, prayer and silence — not with anxiety so that you get a pain in the chest.
Our religion is perfectly and profoundly conceived. What is simple is also what is most precious. Accordingly, in your spiritual life engage in your daily contest simply, easily, and without force. The soul is sanctified and purified through the study of the Fathers, through the memorization of the psalms and of portions of Scripture, through the singing of hymns and through the repetition of the Jesus Prayer. Devote your efforts, therefore, to these spiritual things and ignore all the other things.
St. Porphyrios the Kapsokalivite (+1991) Orthodox Heritage Vol. 15, Issue 07-08