Orthodox America

A Rule of Attention to Oneself  

Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov

Written for a certain pious layman because of his desire to lead an attentive life in the world.

 The heart of all exercises in the Lord is attention. Without attention all these exercises are sterile, dead. Pie who wants to be saved must so dispose himself that he can preserve attention to himself, not only in seclusion but also amidst distractions into which he is often drawn by circumstances against his will. Let the fear of God outweigh all other feelings on the scales of the heart; then it will be easy to preserve attention to oneself, both in the silence of a cell and amid noise surrounding one on all sides.

Wise moderation in food, lessening the heat of the blood; is of great benefit in preserving heedfulness; but heating of the blood-whether from unnecessary consumption of food, from excessive bodily activity, from the flaming of anger or vainglory,. or from other causes-gives birth to a multitude of thoughts and fantasies, in other words, distraction, The Holy Fathers prescribe for the person who wishes to be attentive to himself first of all constant moderation in food (Philokalia, St. Philotheus of Sinai).

On awakening from sleep-an image of the awakening from the dead which awaits all men- direct your thoughts to God, offering as a sacrifice to God the first fruits of the thoughts of your mind before it accepts any vain impressions. In silence, having done all that is necessary for the body upon rising, carefully read the usual rule of prayer, concerning yourself not so much with the quantity of prayer as with the quality of it, i.e., that it be done with attention in order that the heart might come to life through prayerful compunction.

After the rule of prayer, again being mindful to preserve attentiveness, read the New Testament, concentrating on the Gospels. During this reading, diligently note all the promises and commandments of Christ, so as to direct your own activity-in thought, word and deed-according to them.. The amount of reading should be determined by the person's strength and circumstances. One ought not to burden the mind with extra reading of prayers and Scripture.. .[which may lead to] frustration with pious exercises and despair. For the beginner the Holy Fathers recommend frequent prayers. but not lengthy ones. And when the mind attains spiritual growth, is strengthened and comes to adulthood, then it will be in a condition to pray without ceasing. To Christians who have attained perfect growth in the Lord the words of the Apostle Paul are applicable:

I will, therefore, that men pray everywhere, lifting up holy hands, without wrath and doubting. (I Tim. 2:8)

Enlightened by the Sun of Righteousness, our Lord Jesus Christ, by means of prayer and reading, let every man go about his daily work, preserving attention so that in all his deeds and words, in his whole being. there reigns and acts the all-holy will of God, revealed and explained to men in the Gospel commandments.

If free moments arise during the day, use them for reading with attention certain appointed prayers or passages of Scripture; use these to strengthen your spiritual powers, exhausted by activity amid the vain world if it happens that you say or do something contrary to the commandments of God, immediately treat the sin with repentance, and by means of sincere repentance return to God's path, from which you wandered by violating God's will. Do not stagnate outside God's path. Oppose the sinful thoughts, fantasies and feelings which occur with the faith and humility of the commandments of the Gospel, saying with the Holy Patriarch Joseph: How can I do this great wickedness and sin against God? (Gen. 39:9). He who is attentive to himself must deny himself all day-dreaming, no matter how seductive and alluring; all day-dreaming is wandering of the mind outside truth1 in a land of visions which do not exist and cannot come into existence, which captivate the mind and deceive it. The results of daydreaming are loss of attention to oneself, mental distraction and hardness of heart during prayer; hence-spiritual sickness.

In the evening? on going to sleep (an image of death for the life of that day); examine your actions during the day that has passed. Such an examination is not difficult for one who leads an attentive life, because attention destroys that forgetfulness which is so characteristic of a distracted person. And thus, recalling all your sins in deed, word, thought and feeling, offer repentance over them to God with the disposition and heartfelt promise of correction. Then, having read the rule of prayer, end with divine contemplation a day begun with divine contemplation. 

(Reprinted from Orthodox Life, Nov -Dec., 1970)

From the Essays of Bishop Ignatius Brianchaninov

'The world loves its own,' said the Saviour. When the world hears the Word of God universally proclaimed in the spirit of this world, that is, when God's teaching is used merely as a mask td cover the teaching of this world, it is accepted with great acclaim. But when the world senses in the Word the presence of an other-worldly spirit, acting destructively upon the stronghold of this world, then it is seized with hatred and begins to persecute him who proclaims the Word

"It is very dangerous to acquire wisdom which is not of Christ and, developing one's fallen nature, to be one in spirit with this world. Those who pursue this course unfailingly become seized with enmity towards the Holy Spirit...

"Some time ago the apostasy began to develop very rapidly, freely and openly. Its consequences are sure to be most grievous.

"The fruit of grace is accompanied by sweetness, consolation, tears in which sorrow is mixed with joy. immerse yourself in humility and love towards your neighbor, abandoning yourself'. In this way you will find the Lord. It is of less use to know all about heaven and earth than to be aware of one's failings and sins. This latter knowledge is of such benefit, as well as being so lofty, that it is a gift of grace sent down by .God. and cultivated by prayer.