Orthodox America

 Perfecting the Mind 

O thou who art the compassionately loving Mother of the merciful God, have mercy on me and give me ... humility in my thoughts, and the recall of my  reasoning powers from their captivity.

From the Prayers of Thanksgiving after Holy Communion


The Church offers to perfect our insufficiency of purity, i.e., of integrity. In the first place this means integrity as the consciousness of our fallen state, and, further, integrity as our obedient response to the summons of the Holy Church.

In particular, let us turn our attention to the state of the integrity of our mind. Our mind often "floats" spiritually. And this is well and good if this "floating" occurs in the direction away from the shores of our old man towards the tranquil harbor of the eternal Heavenly Kingdom.

At present we observe a sharp polarization of society, which is taking place as a result of the fragmentation of human thought, human belief. Some believe in the Truth, and they strive to be obedient to the Truth in their lives. Others believe in human falsehood, and when this falsehood has sufficiently permeated their consciousness, they either battle against God, or give themselves over to spiritual sleep - dreaming that our life is somehow within our control and that therefore we can occupy ourselves with pleasing ourselves according to all kinds of self-fabricated criteria of hedonism, altruism, humanism, socialism... Currently they intend to cripple Orthodox Serbia in the name of NATO-ism. And how often does a man imagine that he is an eagle, soaring aloft on wings of his human achievements, while in reality he more nearly resembles a wet chicken, a milksop, always wallowing in his own passions. How many catastrophes there are nowadays across the globe, and still man takes no notice of warnings from above. Let us examine the human mind, which today human sinfulness prides itself on. How the sinful world esteems the power of the mind, on the one hand, and what do the Holy Fathers teach about it? In the first case - this is the presence of a sharp mind but one that is limited by its own pride; where as in the second - this is a mind that is simple, humble, but at the same time rich in spirit, the Holy Spirit.

We are capable of nourishing our bodies. But how are we to nourish our minds? Here the Church instructs us in the divinely-inspired words: "Lift up my downward looking mind to Thee," we read in the Prayer following the Canon of Repentance; "Enlighten the eyes of our understanding and raise up our mind from the heavy sleep of indolence..," "Lord, grant us to pass the night of the whole present life with wakeful heart and sober thought," we read in the Morning Prayers. In the Prayers of Thanksgiving, we entreat the Mother of God, "enlighten the spiritual eyes of my heart." Turning to our guardian angel, we pray, "guide my mind by thy prayers..." Saint John Chrysostom says to a certain sorrowing widow: "If you submit to wisdom and reflect on just who took your husband, and on the fact that we, in bearing magnanimously our orphanhood, bring our minds as a sacrifice to God, then you will be able to overcome your grief." It is interesting that the Holy Fathers, in comparing the mind of Adam before the Fall with the fallen mind, say that whereas the mind of Adam soared like a bird in flight, the most brilliant mind of fallen man creeps like a turtle...

Saint John Damascene teaches us that "everything divine is above being, word, and intellectual understanding. For example, whoever tries to reason how and why God brought everything from non-being into being, and whosoever wants to attain this by his own rational powers will be unable to do so. But he who, guided by faith, will contemplate the goodness, omnipotence, truth, wisdom, and righteousness of God, for such a one the way will be smooth and even and he will find the straight path."

Saint Isaac the Syrian speaks about the difference between the natural mind and the spiritual mind. The holy Apostle James, in his epistle, contrasts the wisdom that is from above with the wisdom that is earthly, sensual, devilish (James 3:14-18).

What is it that can help us Christians to develop our mind spiritually, so that it will not lead us into "a far country"?

During the Divine Liturgy we hear the words, "The doors, the doors, in wisdom let us attend." And the question arises - are we to be numbered among the faithful, or are we penitents?

This is, after all, a terrifying exclamation. And just what are we to do?

Shall we run away from this summons, sensing here a severe command, warning those who are unworthy, who have somehow brazenly penetrated into a holy place? Or shall we fall prostrate, knowing ourselves to be "faithful," even though we may have thoughtlessly fallen away from faith, but feeling ready now, in our unworthiness, which has become so apparent, to doxologize Christ our God - even if only from afar? to call out to Him, to His merciful kindness: "...the doors, the doors..."

But before us there are not only those doors that close, but doors that open: the doors of repentance, doors of mercy. This is the leaven that can raise our minds.

Among the papers of the holy Elder Ambrose of Optina, there was found a letter from one of his spiritual daughters, a letter he had taken care to preserve. It was written by a landowner- benefactress, renowned for her deeds of charity. This is what she related to the elder concerning a dream she had:

"A field. On it was a crowd of people - simple  peasants. In the distance there was Christ. A woman ran towards Him, with the blessed assurance that she was one of "His," one of His children. But Christ took no notice of her; it was as if He did not see her. A line of people pass by - and the Lord looks at each one of them. Only the landlady remains unacknowledged, she who had served Him so ardently in deeds of piety and charity. Finally, only the two of them are left, she and the Lord. Exhausted with grief and dread, she falls down at His holy feet and cries, "Lord, Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner!" And at that moment she feels upon her head the beneficent touch of the divine hand, and she hears the sweet voice of the sweetest Lord Jesus, "It is such people that I need..."

Deacon Andrei Rudenko
Holy Trinity Monastery

Translated from Pravoslavnaya Rus', No. 12, 1999.

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