25 October OS 2017 – Tuesday of the 6th Week of St. Luke, Holy Martyrs Marcian and Martyrius
Two years ago, I offered these thoughts on the daily Gospel for the 6th Tuesday of St. Luke:
The reading from the Holy Gospel today is Luke 11: 1-10.
At that time, it came to pass, that, as he was praying in a certain place, when he ceased, one of his disciples said unto him, Lord, teach us to pray, as John also taught his disciples. And he said unto them, When ye pray, say, Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name. Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done, as in heaven, so in earth. Give us day by day our daily bread. And forgive us our sins; for we also forgive every one that is indebted to us. And lead us not into temptation; but deliver us from evil. And he said unto them, Which of you shall have a friend, and shall go unto him at midnight, and say unto him, Friend, lend me three loaves; For a friend of mine in his journey is come to me, and I have nothing to set before him? And he from within shall answer and say, Trouble me not: the door is now shut, and my children are with me in bed; I cannot rise and give thee. I say unto you, Though he will not rise and give him, because he is his friend, yet because of his importunity he will rise and give him as many as he needeth. And I say unto you, Ask, and it shall be given you; seek, and ye shall find; knock, and it shall be opened unto you. For every one that asketh receiveth; and he that seeketh findeth; and to him that knocketh it shall be opened.
St. Theophan the Recluse, in discussing the Lord’s teaching on prayer, addresses the need to pray from the heart:
…We must concern ourselves about only one thing: that when we stand at prayer, at home or in church, we have true prayer in our soul: a true turning and lifting up of our mind and heart to God. Let everyone do this as he is able. …do not mutter the prayers like a wound-up machine that plays songs. No matter how long you stand like that, and mumble the prayers, you have no prayer, when your mind is wandering and your heart is full of empty feelings. But if you stand at prayer and are accustomed to it, what does it cost you to draw your mind and heart there as well? Draw them there, even if they have become stubborn. Then true prayer will form and will attract God’s mercy, and God’s promise, “Ask, and it shall be given you,” will be fulfilled. Often it is not given because there is no petition, only a posture of petitioning. – Thoughts for Each Day of the Year, pp. 237-238
Here St. Theophan assumes that the reader is already someone who has the habit of regular prayer. He is most certainly not saying, “Only pray when you feel like it,” which is the perverse meaning people give this command to pray from the heart. Not only must we force ourselves to pray when we do not feel like it, but when we are forcing our bodies to stand up and our lips to move, we also must force the mind to pay attention. When the Lord sees our repeated efforts to pray with attention, He will give feeling to the heart, in due season.
Why are we Orthodox, or why should someone become Orthodox? There are a number of reasons, of course: It is demonstrably the visible One, True Church; the Orthodox Church has not changed the original teachings of Christ and the Apostles; the Orthodox Church has the most complete, most theologically rich, most beautiful, organically continuous and unadulterated system of Christian public worship; etc. Another way, however, of looking at it is this: Only in the Orthodox Church can we find both the grace and the correct instruction to enable us to enter into an un-deluded and authentic interior life. The institution of the Church, the dogmas of the Church, the public worship of the Church – God has given us all this to enable us to choose “the one thing needful,” an authentic life lived with God in the inner man, in the soul.
This is the subtlest but strongest argument for Orthodoxy: Orthodoxy enables us to be friends with the Lord, as Adam and Eve were in Paradise. In order to experience this, however, one has to do Orthodoxy, one has to engage in some kind of interior struggle, or Orthodoxy increasingly will make no sense, until one finally gives up and lapses into a purely nominal identification (the case with most “ethnic” Orthodox) or leaves the Church altogether (the case with fallen away, one-time enthusiastic adult converts), or remains active in Church life in a purely superficial sense, consumed by ecclesiastical politics, social connections among families in the ethnic community, parish social and fundraising events, and intra-parish squabbles. The danger of the last option is that such a person usually imagines that he is actually practicing the Faith and goes to the grave having abandoned the path to salvation without even noticing it.
The reality is that what goes on inside of us is bigger than what goes on outside of us. One human heart in which God dwells by His uncreated energies is larger than the entire physical universe. Our real life is inside of us. This is where the issues of life, the main battles of life, are fought. Most people, sadly, surrender without firing a shot, because they do not even know where the battlefield is, or that there is a war going on.
God knows better than we what obstacles we face to attain a focused interior state. He knows better than we what an idiotically distracted way of life the “advanced” societies of the 21st century thrust upon their inmates. He does not demand that we attain a high spiritual state before we die; He does, however, demand that we get on the road to a high spiritual state and keep going, or at least not wander into other paths. He wants us to get on the ladder of divine ascent and stay on it, even if it means climbing with painful slowness or just hanging on to the lowest rung.
Let us, then, renew our resolve to set aside time every day to be alone with our Creator and Redeemer, and to struggle for regularity and attention in prayer.