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Harmony and Balance in the Patristic and Ascetic Writings


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#1 Anna Stickles

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Posted 30 September 2016 - 11:23 PM

         I want to say though that some people accompany yoga with ideas and practices that are unfamiliar in Greek and Russian Orthodoxy. One idea some people add (mentioned in the Convent article above) is that of balance. The idea is that good life and mental
and physical health demands "balance". However, can we really say that this concept is part of Greek Orthodoxy or mentioned by Greek Orthodox writers? I think not. We might say that the person works too hard, therefore he is stressful and he needs to relax and take a break, be calm. This is a reassertion of his "balance. But is that a teaching?


                    

What ascetic writings teach Balance in Orthodoxy? The stylite movement does not seem to have "balance". Living on a pillar seems only balanced enough so you don't fall off the pillar.

 

If we look at the lives of the Saints what we see is that they have attained inner balance and stability, such that when faced with extremes they do not break down or become unbalanced. 

 

Just yesterday I was looking at an article giving an explication of St Gregory of Nyssa's writings on the Inscriptions in the Psalms here is a quote from the article.

 

The music which reflects the wisdom of God in creating the cosmos is expressed in moderation and good order. The concord of creation is a harmony of opposites which produces a hymn of glory to God. “The accord and affinity of all things with one another which is controlled in an orderly and sequential manner is the primal, archetypal, true music." ...

 

Human existence is a kind of music. The question is what kind of music – whether it is in accord with God and the nature of the cosmos or not. This question for Gregory has to do with the proper ordering of daily life. For Gregory, the good life is kata physin: in accord with nature.

 

The Psalms also are a music in accord with nature. The Word of God “admonishes that your life be a psalm which does not
resound with earthly sounds, but by sounds, I mean thoughts, but which produces a sound from the upper and heavenly realms which is pure and audible.”
Man’s life becomes a well-ordered psalm precisely through praying the psalms and putting into practice their divine teachings. The rhythms of their words and music heal the rhythms of human life, bring it to harmony and moderation:

 

 

 

In this singing nature reflects on itself in a certain manner, and heals itself. For the proper rhythm of life, which singing
seems to me to recommend symbolically, is a cure of nature. For perhaps the very fact that the character of those who live virtuously need not  be devoid of the Muses, unharmonious and out of tune, is an encouragement to the more sublime state of life. Neither must the string be drawn taut beyond measure, for that which is well-tuned certainly breaks when it is strained beyond what the string can bear, nor on the contrary must one slacken the tension immoderately through pleasure, for the soul which becomes relaxed in such passions becomes deaf and dumb. In all other matters we must tighten and relax the tension at the right time, looking at this, that our way of life in the customs may continue always melodious and rhythmical, being neither immoderately slack nor strained beyond measure.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 30 September 2016 - 11:33 PM.


#2 Anna Stickles

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Posted 30 September 2016 - 11:30 PM

The whole cycle of Liturgical fasts and feasts is another way that we experience this rhythm of tension and relaxation. and of course as part of the Church cycles what we are living in is not something of or from ourselves, but we live this as from God and in obedience to Him.

 

Here are a couple of stories


 

A hunter in the desert saw Abba Anthony enjoying himself with the
brethren and he was shocked. Wanting to show him that it was necessary
sometimes to meet the needs of the brethren, the old man said to
him,”Put an arrow in your bow and shoot it.”


So he did. The old man then said, “Shoot another,” and he did so. and again.... and again...


Then the old man said,”Shoot yet again,” and the hunter replied, “If I bend my bow so much I will break it.”


Then the old man said to him, “It is the same with the work of God.
If we stretch the brethren beyond measure they will soon break.
Sometimes it is necessary to come down to meet their needs.”


When he heard these words the hunter was pierced by compunction and,
greatly edified by the old man, he went away. As for the brethren, they
went home strengthened.

 

He said also “Just as fish die if they stay too long out of water, so
the monks who loiter outside their cells or pass their time with men of
the world lose the intensity of inner peace. So like a fish going
towards the sea, we must hurry to reach our cell, for fear thast if we
delay outside we will lose our interior watchfulness.”

Edited by Anna Stickles, 30 September 2016 - 11:32 PM.


#3 Anna Stickles

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Posted 30 September 2016 - 11:50 PM

http://orthodoxwayof...02/balance.html



#4 Lakis Papas

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Posted 01 October 2016 - 01:21 AM

I suggest to use the phrase "peace in heart". I personally find "balance" to be loaded with secular weight.

#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 01 October 2016 - 01:45 PM

I do not find the words 'harmony' and 'balance' very appropriate. The two words seem similar since both imply bringing parts into a just proportion. To think of how we arrange our lives to accommodate our spiritual life and our life in the world implies a separation of the two whereas do we not aim to combine them? The Fathers (in translation) refer to stillness, peace, and tranquillity in the heart. These are contrasted with 'disturbance', 'agitation', and 'turmoil'. There can be no harmony or balance here; rather, as the Fathers say, there is unending struggle. The peace or stillness of the heart about which the Fathers write is no final or restful condition but is unending and something we must try to guard and fight to preserve. As St Theophan the Recluse puts it, 'Human life is nothing but unceasing warfare and endless temptations'.



#6 Anna Stickles

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Posted 01 October 2016 - 07:08 PM

Could we say that "peace" is another of those words that is often loaded with secular and new age religious baggage?  maybe to get past these linguistic barriers we can discuss how these terms are used in our Tradition.

 

"balance" I admit is not a word that I often see, "proper proportion" fits well with the quotes above - St Gregory refers to order, harmony, proper measure, moderation.  Also the idea of a proper rhythm of tension and relaxation.  The whole idea of beauty which is often encountered in the Fathers also includes the idea of proportion, harmony, balance, rhythm. It is particularly in this whole idea of balance as it is understood in art that I think fits better with our tradition then ideas that have their root in physics. 

 

Peace is often thought of merely as the lack of turmoil, (in the secular world this translates as "live and let live" - each having their own separate lives where they are not bothered by other people)  but in our tradition peace includes this idea of harmony - stillness and peace are not merely the lack of turmoil, not merely negative statements, but also positive statements about the presence of God and the order and beauty He gave to creation. Before sin introduced discord everything was in perfect harmony and accord. This is why we don't see the saints merely sitting still and at rest, but we see how even wild animals become tame and living in harmony with them.

 


Wouldn't you say that lack of dissension in a positive sense implies harmony?

Now peace is defined as harmony among those who are divided.

When, therefore, we end that civil war within our nature and cultivate peace
within ourselves, we become peace. By this peace we demonstrate that the name
of Christ, which we bear, is authentic and appropriate."



St. Gregory of Nyssa "On Christian Perfection"

 



 


Edited by Anna Stickles, 01 October 2016 - 07:15 PM.


#7 Lakis Papas

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Posted 01 October 2016 - 10:07 PM

Ascetic life is based on moderate mindset that uses few material things but measures them as surplus which others can also take some part.

Sharing is the moto of ascetism, without exercising any balance, when material things are in question.

Om spiritual matters, the rule is to be in peace with God, first of all, and then with all people, and with nature.

The methodology of spiritual life is Nepsis, that is to keep always the eyes of mind open, and keep the heart clean of sinn, and keep guard against the temptations of devil.

#8 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 02 October 2016 - 08:14 AM

'Could we say that "peace" is another of those words that is often loaded with secular and new age religious baggage? maybe to get past these linguistic barriers we can discuss how these terms are used in our Tradition.'

 

Like 'stillness' (hesychia), the word 'peace' (eirini) is a patristic term and I think we should be able to use it in the context of Orthodox spiritual life.
 






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