St. Mary Orthodox Church

Cambridge, MA

September 2014

Dear Brothers and Sisters in Christ,

It is important to spend time looking within. We need to know what is going on under our own noses. Too much emphasis in religion is placed on externals which are important, of course, but what goes on within is far more important.

The Elder Thaddeus points out that often we "long after God in our hearts but oppose Him in our thoughts." Thus, we are divided. St. James speaks of being "double-minded." Jesus teaches that loving God calls for all our heart, soul, mind, and strength. If any of those things are left out, then we cannot love God as we should. Jesus also points out that "a house divided against itself cannot stand." This division between mind and heart deals a death-blow to the spiritual life before it is even begun.

So it is most necessary to discover how we are like that divided house and, if so, see how we might bring it all together. As we pray in the Divine Liturgy we want to be the kind of people who both think and do the things that are "well pleasing to God."

Can't do that if we don't look within. We need to know what's going on in there!

This is where the value of silence and solitude and meditation is most keenly felt. Without them we cannot see or hear or know the state ofour intemal lives. This is why you often read in the writings of Orthodox mystics that prayer is really only possible if we are able to control our thoughts. This is why St. John Chrysostom wrote that "prayer is the controlling of thoughts." This is also why in some prayer manuals we read instructions to calm our minds of collect our thoughts before we pray. Fr. Alexander Elchaninov speaks of this as well comparing the wandering of the mind to an octopus painfully sending its tentacles out all over the world. We want to reel in our tentacles, calm our minds and still our hearts before we attempt to pray.

Why? Because we want to be single-minded when we approach God in prayer. We want to be able to focus completely on prayer without being distracted by all the noise in our minds. We want to apply all our heart, soul, mind, and strength to the effort to be fully present when we pray. In other words, we want to be fully present to Him who is always fully present to us.

This takes work and practice. It is like a muscie that needs exercise. The ability to be fully present and focused, as Jacob Needleman wrote in LOST CHRISTIANITY, is the main power of the soul and what is missing in Christianity today. The unmindful soul is a weak soul. I think it is way past time to revive these practices in our own lives.

With much love in Christ,

Fr. Antony Hughes