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Concerning false perceptions of grace


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#41 Anna Stickles

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 11:07 AM

The greatest danger is to have any kind of experience, whether that which seems to be the grace of God or a vision or other phenomena, and then to think highly of one's self as though one has attained something special. If grace visits us in one way or another, we can humble ourselves by understanding that the weak need such consolations, since the weak and unbelieving often lose faith without these special blessings. The strong, the diligent, and the zealous, on the other hand, are faithful to God even without receiving special consolations from Him (like the Righteous Job). What is all important is that we seek to acquire the grace of God and not rather seek to acquire an “experience” of the grace of God. “God gives grace to the humble, but resists the proud” (James 4:6, similar to 1 Peter 5:5).

... This acquisition of grace may be, and perhaps should be, somewhat imperceptible to the person who is actually acquiring this grace, for such a person’s vigilance over their own heart, and constant struggle to purify the heart of sinful passions, prevents one from being preoccupied in any way with themselves or their own “feelings” and achievements.


Thanks Jason for this. Just to add to it, I have read several quotes in various books of spiritual council that talk about how one starts out good - a real experience of grace- but that then afterwords vanity and a certain amount of delusion enter in when one remembers the experience. If this is not struggled against it can eventually ruin the good effect from the original experience. The analogy that was used was building a wall and then turning around and tearing it down again.

Grace itself, in response to our own effort of will, I think, is what gives us the strength to control our wandering thoughts and desires so we don't keep getting caught in rounds of vanity building memories and tearing down what God is trying to build. But it is all a process and a struggle against the instability of our created nature.

#42 Anna Stickles

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 11:54 AM

On the whole yoga thing, it seems to me that delusion depends on our perception of what is going on.

Two things I keep finding in the Father's teaching is:
One-there is only one Good - God, although this manifests itself in many diverse ways. So really all peace, all health, all goods are from God and of Him, and He is their source.

Two- that good which God has implanted in His creation is unstable, subject to corruption. Because it is created and came from nonexistence, back into nonexistence is it's tendency.

In talking about baptism and our new birth, and how our will needs to be cooperating with God in this effort of being born again, St Gregory of Nyssa offers us this choice:

"Since then there is a two fold division of existences, into created and uncreated, and since the uncreated world possesses within itself immutability and immobility, while the created is liable to change and alteration [which will we choose], that which is always found in a state of change or of that which possesses a nature that is changeless, steadfast, and ever consistent and unvarying in goodness?... So that if a man does not conduct himself towards the uncreated nature, but to that which he is kindred to, and equally in bondage with himself, he is of the birth which is from below, and not of that which is from above. But the gospel tells us that the birth of the saved is from above." The Great Catechism, ch 39

So it seems to me that if we think that what is at work in some kind of yoga or other program based on physical or psychological healing methods is grace, obviously this is delusion and St Paul could say to us, "Having begun with the Spirit are you now being made perfect in the flesh? Have you suffered so many things in vain - if indeed it was in vain?" Gal 3:3-4

But if we recognize that our source of peace and emotional and physical health is created, material, earthly, not uncreated nor from God and that we are "eating here" due to our own weakness and lack of grace then I don't think this is delusion.

To move from dependence on the created to dependence on the uncreated seems to be what our ascetical efforts are about, but the church teaches us that we make this move in a discerning and balanced way, as a real cooperation with God, not as a move of our own pride in our time or way. We have to be willing to go through the suffering this move entails, but in God's time and way.

#43 Christina M.

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 01:33 PM

Jason, thanks for pointing out that text by St. Gregory of Sinai. I just finished reading it, but to tell you the truth it was a little too complex for me. (That's why I was never attracted to reading the Philokalia, even though it's full of treasures.)

Take the following quote for example; Can anyone explain to me what this means? I have no idea what he means by "trembling".

There are several kinds of trembling. That of wrath is one, that of joy is another, and that of the soul's incensive power, when the heart's blood is over-heated, is another, that of old age is another, that of sin or delusion is another, and that of the curse which was laid on the human race because of Cain is another. In the early stages of spiritual warfare, however, it sometimes but not always happens that the trembling induced by joy and that induced by sin contend with one another. The first is the tremulous sense of jubilation, when grace refreshes the soul with great joyfulness accompanied by tears; the second is characterized by a disordered fervor, stupor and obduracy that consume the soul, inflame the sexual organs, and impel one to assent through the imagination to erotic physical obscenities.

The above writing sounds very deep and filled with wisdom, but I honestly didn't gain anything from it because I didn't understand it. Maybe I'm just stupider than the average person...

Earlier in the text he mentions different kinds of "joy", although I really didn't understand that part either.

Natural vs supernatural (or "created" vs "uncreated") joy is an interesting topic though. Does anyone know if there are any (understandable) texts explaining the difference and possible confusion between natural joy and the joy from God? I'm sure the conclusion will always be "we need humility and experience to discern the difference between the two", but I think it's still interesting to read about.

IMO, out of all of the natural emotions that a beginner might confuse with grace, I think joy would be at the top of the list. Sometimes when we feel great joy over worldly or mundane matters, we might confusedly think that we are close to God. For example, when a child receives birthday presents he might feel a great joy for many days, and if he is a struggling Christian he might think that he is close to God at that time, even though in reality he might be further away from God on account of his attraction to worldly goods.

Likewise when we have a strong will which is fulfilled we might feel great joy, (even if our will was against the will of God), and we might mistakenly think that we are joyful on account of a healthy spiritual state. Furthermore we might even thank God that our (evil) will was fulfilled. Sometimes we mistakenly view the fulfillment as a "miracle" or "answered prayer", and we might feel spiritual exultation because of this. I think this is another good example of how we might confuse natural feelings with the grace of God.

In reality I think it is safer if we just always assume that we never have grace, no matter how we might feel, which I think is what Effie was saying above. If someone asked me in person about the grace of God, I would always respond: "I don't know anything about grace. I'm just a sinner." But I still think it's beneficial to read what the Fathers wrote on these subjects.

I am surprised that there doesn't seem to be many writings on distinguishing between natural feelings and the grace of God, because I would have thought it was something important that everyone should be aware of.

P.S. Anna Stickles I am so happy to see that you are back!! :)

#44 Nina

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 02:40 PM

In reality I think it is safer if we just always assume that we never have grace, no matter how we might feel,


Well, there is grace and grace. I can recognize the Grace of God in my life - this is not from me, this is what Fathers have told us. For instance, each moment we breath it is a miracle and it is because the Source of Life gives us His Grace so we may live and repent. Each aversion of the evil from our lives is because of the Grace of God. Also every single good deed we do is because of the Grace of God. And so on.

Yes, I am not humble, but I think we do not have to be falsely humble. This is why Fathers advise that false humility is delusional.

#45 Christina M.

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 03:32 PM

Well, there is grace and grace. I can recognize the Grace of God in my life - this is not from me, this is what Fathers have told us. For instance, each moment we breath it is a miracle and it is because the Source of Life gives us His Grace so we may live and repent. Each aversion of the evil from our lives is because of the Grace of God. Also every single good deed we do is because of the Grace of God. And so on.

Dear Nina,
If you read the thread more closely, you will see that it concerns only the type of grace which is perceived as pleasant feelings inside the heart, and we are not talking about the providential grace which upholds all of creation.

This thread is really not about false humility, but since you seem so concerned about the topic, I will share my opinions.

You know, when people put themselves down too much is also delusion Fathers have said. I do that a lot.

Yes, I am not humble, but I think we do not have to be falsely humble. This is why Fathers advise that false humility is delusional.


The problem with most of us is not that we put ourselves down too much, but rather that we protect our egos too much. Even if we blamed ourselves too much, it would still be better than protecting our egos even just once. If most of us blamed ourselves half as often as we protect our egos, this forum (and our lives) would be a much more peaceful place.

It is true, as St John Climacus says, that public humiliation can sometimes be caused by pride, but publicly protecting our egos (i.e. the inability to apologize, arguing over nothing, inability to accept fault, etc.) is caused by pride 100% of the time. Personally, I'd rather err towards self-accusation than self-justification.

One day blessed Theophilus the archbishop came to the mountain of Nitria and the abba of the mountain came to meet him. The archbishop said to him, 'Father, in this way of life which you follow, what do you find to be best?' The old man said to him, 'The act of accusing myself, and of constantly reproaching myself.' Abba Theophilus said to him, 'There is no other way but this.'


Abba John said, 'We have put the light burden on one side, that is to say, self-accusation, and we have loaded ourselves with a heavy one, that is to say, self-justification.'



#46 Nina

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Posted 11 May 2011 - 03:51 PM

Dear Nina,
If you read the thread more closely, you will see that it concerns only the type of grace which is perceived as pleasant feelings inside the heart,


Dear Christina,

Obviously I am not qualified to participate in this thread since the only pleasant feelings inside my heart I have felt have been with people I love and falling in love. So it has nothing to do with God. Therefore I see how behind I am in this aspect.


and we are not talking about the providential grace which upholds all of creation.


I did not speak only about the Divine Providence. Good things we do are driven by the Grace of God which has a salvific quality. But these are the only ones I know about.

This thread is really not about false humility, but since you seem so concerned about the topic, I will share my opinions.


I am not concerned with any topic but if you read the messages that is what appeared at that particular moment of the thread. All posters have mentioned humility as it is tied closely with attracting Grace. There is nothing wrong to mention also what Fathers say about false humility as it falls in the category of delusion which this thread has dealt also with.

If most of us blamed ourselves half as often as we protect our egos, this forum (and our lives) would be a much more peaceful place.


I had no idea this thread had as goal world peace and the peace of the forum.

It is true, as St John Climacus says, that public humiliation can sometimes be caused by pride, but publicly protecting our egos (i.e. the inability to apologize, arguing over nothing, inability to accept fault, etc.) is caused by pride 100% of the time. Personally, I'd rather err towards self-accusation than self-justification.


How does this relate?

#47 Anna Stickles

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 10:47 PM

Hi Christina,

You asked about joy,
I found the primary quote I was thinking of on joy

"Both the joy and the sadness that we experience should be of equal measure and restrained, for just as unlimited grief leads to despair, so hyperbolic joy eventually leads the soul to pride.

And to those who are yet but children in their progress in the spiritual life, I would say this: the midpoint and the border between enlightenment and abandonment are testing and patience, just as hope is the border between sadness and joy. Behold, in this regard, what the Prophet-King David says: "I waited patiently for the Lord, and He was attentive unto me" (Ps 39:1) and "According to the multitude of my sorrows in my heart, Thy comforts have given gladness to my soul." Ps 93:19 The Evergetinos: The complete Text, vol 4.


See also this thread on The Place of Joy in Orthodoxy and John Klimakos: On Repentance That Leads to Joy

I think that one thing to keep in mind is that in Galations it does not talk about the fruits of the Spirit, but the Fruit -singular- of the Spirit. So often the Fathers talk about the consequences of the Fall in terms, not of the total annilation of goodness, but rather our fragmentation. Therefore we see all around us the virtues in singular, but in this we recognize it as something distorted and still fallen. Examples are those who exhibit self-control as a kind of stoic endurance but who then go home and abuse their family. Or those who are gentle with some people in some situations but critical or angry in others. Fallen humanity is both inconsistent and fragmented in virtue.

In Christ the virtues exist as a harmonious whole which is continously alive in every situation, and this is what we see in the lives of the saints -a state of constant joy and hope tempered by gentleness, patience, meekness. And all this strengthened by courage, fortitude, and self-control. Stablilized by peace, and manifesting itself toward others in a selfless love that gives all and asks for nothing in return.

I think both the quote above and the article that Fr Irenei wrote on St John Klimakos are trying to say something of how God leads us in moving toward this wholistic unity rather then getting stuck in something incomplete. A true fruit sweet and ripe - not just a flower or something unripe and sour. :-)

At least part of what consitutes delusion must be mistaking the flower for the fruit, and how many heresies are the result of an over-emphasis on one thing at the expense of the whole.

#48 Christina M.

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Posted 12 May 2011 - 11:54 PM

Thanks a lot for the links and the info, Anna! I very much enjoyed reading that thread about joy.

(Rick: I wasn't surprised that you were all over (and started) that thread! :) We have similar interests.)

I think this quote by Fr. Irenei is relevant to this thread's topic:

And so, as we progress and ascend along the path of mournful repentance, and as we attain again to the natures which are properly ours, we begin to feel joy in new and powerful ways. This is not the joy that we have formerly known, brought on by the gratification of our fallen desires. It is, rather, a holy and spiritual joy, given of God Himself and wrought in the human person through the process of spiritual growth.

This shows that the joy from grace is felt in "new and powerful ways", and it doesn't feel the same as the joy brought on by the "gratification of our fallen desires".

Why didn't I see Fr. Irenei's name as the author of that article? I looked all over. How then did you know that he wrote it?

#49 Rick H.

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 12:15 PM

Anna,

Thanks very much for your post above about yoga.

That might be the single most balanced and best written post on the subject that I have ever read. Line by line, point by point, you have laid down in a very organized way true wisdom, I think, that almost encompasses the whole subject.

Your post is very black and white and direct. I like that. It really speaks to me personally, especially at the end where you write of dependence. As I move through your post and reread it and enjoy it and appreciate it, I find myself agreeing with everything that you wrote in each line (can you hear it coming Anna?) . . . BUT, the conclusion seems to me to be that with the sharp dichotomy that you have put into place between the natural and the supernatural, I think you are saying that God's Grace would 'never' be at work in this "yoga thing." Possibly, you did not mean to say this, but this is what it looks like to me. I think you are saying that if anyone thinks they are experiencing of perceiving God's Grace on some level then this is a false perception and the person is deluded.

It seems to me that you are laying down a dogmatic principle in a way that applies to all (a one size fits all rule). Is this what you want to do Anna?

One line in a post by Antonios caught my attention in the atheist missionary thread the other day. I wonder if you read it:


"God is natural, supernatural, and even the very opposite of natural, the Source of Being, the First Cause and Life-Giving Spirit, the I AM."


Along with your post above, Antonios's writing here has really stuck with over the past few days.

And, this is why I think I have hesitated to even make this post, because this is exactly where the conversation normally blows apart and you have done such a good job with your stand alone post. I really don't want to mess it up, if that makes any sense. I really value your writing/thinking here!

But, I have to ask. Is this what you want to say?

#50 Christina M.

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 12:42 PM

Is anyone able to explain what the "trembling" means in the first quote in post #43? Thanks.

Concerning the "grace and yoga" issue, here's my humble opinion: Anything which helps us to still our thoughts has the potential to aid us in keeping our minds on God, which then has the potential to incite God to give us his grace. Hence the stillness of thoughts and the peace of body and soul which someone might feel after doing yoga ARE NOT AT ALL the grace of God (and that's why this issue is directly relevant to this thread), but they may have the potential to make us more prepared to receive the grace of God.

In this manner, anything which helps us to pray more has the potential to help us be closer to God. For some people it may be yoga. For others, it may be: riding a bicycle, sitting outside in nature, doing aerobics, eating healthily, lifting weights, taking the proper medications, playing the piano, etc. Nobody would say that the peace or health derived from such practices is a direct action of the deifying grace of God, but it is very possible that such practices prepare the soul and body to be more receptive of deifying grace.

We know that grace is a gift, and it's only up to God whether or not He wants to give it. I don't think anyone would say that "yoga" pleases God and incites Him to give us grace. But I think that most Fathers would agree that a still mind which is focused on God usually does incite Him to grant us His gifts, and also makes us more prepared to receive and to recognize these gifts.

I really don't like using "yoga" as an example in such instances, because there is some controversy surrounding the topic. I hope we don't get into a debate here about whether or not yoga is demonic or dangerous. There are tons of other threads on this forum which debate that issue.

#51 Melaniya

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 03:27 PM

Is anyone able to explain what the "trembling" means in the first quote in post #43? Thanks.


Christina dear sister in Christ, thank you for starting this thread!

I think "trembling" is what in Church Slavonic is called трепет -
it can mean trepidation, excitement, or awe, depending on the context (which is probably why St. Gregory explained it as having several forms). It's the condition that goes along with any emotional experience (which is usually also experienced in the body).

#52 Christina M.

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Posted 13 May 2011 - 05:34 PM

Thanks for the answer, Melaniya! :) It makes a lot more sense the way you've explained it. My favorite is "the condition that goes along with any emotional experience", because that fits in St. Gregory's quote very well.

#53 Anna Stickles

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Posted 14 May 2011 - 05:15 PM

Rick,

If participation in God's grace as manifested in the natural, material, creation could save us, what need would we have of Christ? Why partake of the Eucharist and not just eat bread?

Yoga is participation in the natural material creation and whatever benefits we receive from this are natural material benefits. This isn't bad. But it's not particularly Christian either.

Christina,
It's not a still mind, but a humble mind that invites God's grace. And humility comes through struggle with our passions and coming to know in real experience our weakness. Very often the types of activities you mention are band-aids that hide our real problems. The desert Fathers sat in caves or cells doing nothing but struggling with their thoughts and they starved their bodies, not catered to them. This is not to say we should attempt this. It would be too hard for us.

But the point I think is that anyone can be at peace in amenable conditions, but Christ was at peace when spat upon, insulted, and when he suffered physically. Christ always offers us a cross that reveals to us our true fallen condition, not a band-aid to make us feel better. Although He also offers us his comfort in our suffering, having pity on our fallen condition. This is so we can come to repentance and a real resurrection into a new life, not merely some stillness of mind

#54 Rick H.

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Posted 14 May 2011 - 05:45 PM

If participation in God's grace as manifested in the natural, material, creation could save us, what need would we have of Christ? Why partake of the Eucharist and not just eat bread?


I don't really understand why you are asking these questions Anna.

I guess we could say there are many-many activities that are not particularly Christian from watching the sun rise to hiking on a trail. But, I would not be comfortable being dogmatic about where and when God might (or might not) give a greater grace, or where His Spirit might blow. Actually, I would be very unwilling to say when or where He would "never" give His grace to us. Although, if we did really want to say this this would make a determination of true and false grace much easier if we were this dogmatic!

#55 Christina M.

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Posted 14 May 2011 - 05:59 PM

Anna, how could I not agree with you? :) You have written a very "Orthodox" post! Thank you.

When I mentioned the benefits of a "still mind", I was not trying to say that this was the only thing necessary to be close to God. Of course I would put humility about everything else as well. The reason why I mentioned "still mind" is because one of the natural fruits of yoga is to calm the "monkey mind", and it is this aspect of it which I think could be beneficial to the health of the mind for certain people. I seriously doubt that yoga would help anyone to become more humble or to gain any other virtues, and this is why I focused my last post on the benefits of having a "still mind".

The desert Fathers sat in caves or cells doing nothing but struggling with their thoughts and they starved their bodies, not catered to them. This is not to say we should attempt this. It would be too hard for us.

Not only would this be too hard for us on account of our passions, but most of the time it is just not possible on account of our responsibilities. Most of us have to work 40 hours a week just to get by. I can see why the Holy Fathers didn't need yoga, exercise, food, stress-relieving activities, etc, because they were able to dedicate their entire lives to God. I believe it is a different situation for those of us who are living and working in the world.

That's why I think that having a still mind can be beneficial to most of us in our stressful times, even if we just use "band-aids" (like exercise or other stress-relievers) to help calm our minds. Many times people have to spend the majority of their time at work, which fills them with stress and too many thoughts. Then when they get home they might have a little time left to pray, but prayer can be very difficult when we have "monkey minds". For this reason I wrote that sometimes yoga, exercising, and other activities can help people to have a more still mind, and I think it can be beneficial sometimes for people who have stressful lives.

But I agree with you that humility and overcoming the passions is more important than anything else. And in reality, humility is probably the best aid towards having a still mind.

I have a tendency to (over)stress the importance of proper nutrition (as opposed to "humbling" the body through fasting) because illnesses for someone with an already-stressful life can make the life unbearable, and can make it even more difficult to pray and be close to God. I realize that this is not a very "patristic" standpoint, and I also realize that I will not find much support for this viewpoint on this forum. But to me this seems practical, at least for those of us who are not able to live in monasteries. On the topic of proper nutrition, I would say that I have a personal problem and a bias which is not patristic, and you have correctly "called me out" on that one! :) I used to not care at all about nutrition, until I started having serious illnesses which made it impossible for me to pray or do any spiritual work. Then when I started learning that proper nutrition can help me to start praying again, I started taking it seriously, and perhaps that's why I over-stress it sometimes. I apologize if I frequently present a non-patristic viewpoint to others on this forum.

#56 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 07:27 PM

There is the understanding that bodily suffering causes the soul to suffer and that bodily health brings a sense of well-being to the soul.

But we have been talking in this thread about delusion and recognizing different manifestations of God's grace for what they are. Someone, (St Isaac of Syria?) has said, "there is a state according to nature and a state above nature."

What I was trying to get at in my previous posts is that the sense of well being that the soul experiences because of greater bodily well-being is not the sense of well-being that the soul experiences when grace that makes itself manifest in the heart. And it would be delusion to confuse these two.

Also the virtue that comes along with greater bodily-well being is not spiritual virtue. It is virtue according to nature to feel more loving, peaceful and able to pay more attention to others when we are feeling good, but more irritable, self-absorbed, and unhappy when feeling bad. This instability and impermanence in virtue is the characteristic of natural virtue since this is naturally what happens to the soul when it is feeling relieved, or it is suffering.

However, the state above nature is what we see in the martyrs and saints. Here the well-being of the soul is dependent not on the well-being of the body, but rather on the energy that comes from God through the heart. Since this energy is more substantial, the soul can still be in a state of well-being even in the presence of great physical or emotional suffering. In this case the soul may still be suffering because of it's connection to the body, but the life and grace coming to the soul through the heart is strong enough that the soul does not fall into the normal state of irritability, depression and darkness. Rather it still is in a state of light and peace, joy, gentleness and meekness even in the midst of suffering.

This is very different from a stoic ignoring of the pain that some people might be able to accomplish through their own strength of will, in which the soul is often really still in a state of internally controlled anger, causing a kind of insensitivity due to hardness.

Also the spiritual virtue that accompanies this grace can be recognized because it operates under different laws then natural virtue. There is a story about Elder Barsanuphius of Optina. He was feeling sick one day and decided that he would go lay down and could not continue to see the many visitors that had come to him for council. After laying down he continued to get worse and worse, but eventually he decided to get up and go take care of his visitors anyway. At this point he felt much better and had to the strength he needed. One sees this in stories of other saints, how in their struggle, selflessness begets the energy to be more selfless, while if they give in to the natural inclination to be more self-centered in the midst of their suffering they end up losing what grace they had.

You can see then that natural virtue is dependent on physical well-being while spiritual virtue is dependent on God's energy at work in our heart.

So we must struggle against the natural tendencies as to where we seek our sense of well-being and not mistake the material for the eternal, or the earthly for what Christ is offering us in the resurrection. We have to guard against the danger of getting caught up into falling into a pursuit of material peace and well-being, rejecting the cross and the eternal kingdom that Christ offers us

But also we need to take a proper measure of ourselves. There are plenty of warnings in the spiritual councils on taking practical stock of our own weakness. Christina, from what I have seen in the spiritual councils I have read, your last paragraph is very patristic - I have seen a number of things that talk about not over stressing the body because it can effect us badly. This is part of learning to submit to God's will.

Rick, I hope this clears up where I was going in my previous posts to you. Sorry if I was not very clear.

#57 Anna Stickles

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 08:51 PM

Just one more quickie. I've been rather distracted lately and forgot to answer this

Why didn't I see Fr. Irenei's name as the author of that article? I looked all over. How then did you know that he wrote it?


Maybe because it's not there and I just thought I remembered his name on it. :O sheepish look.

#58 Rick H.

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Posted 15 May 2011 - 10:25 PM

What I was trying to get at in my previous posts is that the sense of well being that the soul experiences because of greater bodily well-being is not the sense of well-being that the soul experiences when grace that makes itself manifest in the heart.


Hi Anna,

I think you communicated this very well in your first post, and again in this above post! As I said, this is excellent writing and thinking--very organized--for which I am very grateful!

Especially, as it relates to this thread "Concerning False Perceptions of Grace," you have addressed the question 'directly' and answered it very well (both times).

I must not be asking my question well enough for it to even be understandable though. I'm afraid I'm not communicating very well here. Maybe I got off track because of my particular interest in this, but I will try again.

It seems to me when I read your writing above that you are saying that God would never offer His Grace in terms of experience/encounter to us through natural vehicles. I think you are saying that if we think we have encountered God outside of decidedly Eastern Orthodox practices then we are deluded.

Am I understanding you correctly here Anna? Is this what you are saying?

I love your terminology and appreciate your distinction made between the material and the eternal. I think we are all in agreement here on this (and is actually what prompts such questions as asked in this thread).

I am asking if you are saying that if anyone thinks they have met God through such vehicles as watching a sun rise, or just mowing the grass or other mundane activities whereby there was a "surprise visit," or through some activities where there was an attempt to find stillness and focus in the hope of meeting God . . .

Oh, wait a minute here . . . I just remembered you are somewhat sensitive to anything even remotely 'smelling' of that Centering Prayer 'thing.' Hmm . . . You know I'm not a fan of that "Bastardized Hindu something" as Owen calls it, but I wonder if it has occurred to you, Anna, that just as you strongly reject this, you would strongly reject the 'yoga thing' and maybe other things whether they be contrived attempts to experience/encounter the Spirit of God, or just activities that seem to lend themselves to this (if that makes any sense). :0)

Oh well . . . back to the subject . . . to be clear, I think you are saying if anyone thinks they have had an experience with God through the instrumentality of yoga, or nature walks, or whatever then they are deluded without exception. I think you are laying this down as a 100% rule, and this is what I am saying I would be uncomfortable doing. This is what I am asking you if you are saying (viz. no way, no how, not never, not ever)?

#59 Rick H.

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 11:22 AM

So it seems to me that if we think that what is at work in some kind of yoga or other program based on physical or psychological healing methods is grace, obviously this is delusion . . .


Here is what I mean Anna. It appears that you are concluding above and in your posts that Grace would never be found by means of any physical or psychological technique--as you say "obviously this is delusion."

I appreciate the distinctions that you have made repeatedly between the natural/material and the supernatural/eternal. These are good distinctions to have in place. But, I am asking how can you say it would be delusion if *anyone* thinks God is working through *any* of a plethora of "physical or psychological" programs or techniques that one might be involved in at a given time in one's life? This is a very broad stroke to make.

We could build a very-very long list of things that would fall under these two categories, and again I would be uncomfortable telling any one person that God would never work through a certain event or time in a person's individual life on her path to Salvation.

I don't have time this morning to track down the post, but in one of these threads on this subject Father Irenaeus concluded that it is not up to him to pronounce what brings healing and what does not in the lives of people in general, but this is something to be determined on an individual basis by one's own spiritual father. I wish I had time to find it it is worded very well and says it better than I could.

Again I see the clear and very good distinctions that you have made between God's Grace and say a sugar buzz. But, it sounds like you are concluding that any and all programs based on physical or psychological methods cannot be used as vehicles of God's Grace by God in the life of a person, and if one thinks this has happened at a certain point in his life or is happening now then this person is deluded.

Edited by Rick H., 16 May 2011 - 11:48 AM.
placing emphasis on *anyone* and *any*


#60 Jason Hunt

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Posted 16 May 2011 - 02:16 PM

Here is what I mean Anna. It appears that you are concluding above and in your posts that Grace would never be found by means of any physical or psychological technique--as you say "obviously this is delusion."

I appreciate the distinctions that you have made repeatedly between the natural/material and the supernatural/eternal. These are good distinctions to have in place. But, I am asking how can you say it would be delusion if *anyone* thinks God is working through *any* of a plethora of "physical or psychological" programs or techniques that one might be involved in at a given time in one's life? This is a very broad stroke to make.


I am obviously not Anna, and certainly do not want to speak for her, but hopefully it will be okay for me to make a few comments.

I would agree that it would be delusion, always and in every case, to attach the grace of God to any method or any physical or psychological technique. In other words, to say that certain techniques or practices lead one to the experience of God, or produce the experience of the grace of God, would be a complete delusion. However, I would not say that it is impossible for God to use anything in particular to draw a person to Himself. The Spirit of God who is “everywhere present and fillest all things” can draw a person to God through any means, but this fact does not sanctify these means, or render them holy or sacramental in themselves. For instance, God may draw near to a person who has overdosed on drugs, and in this place of abasement and brokenness, God may meet a person in some way and encourage him to seek God. That, however, would not imply that we should use drugs in order to draw near to God. One could say that St. Mary of Egypt’s way of life prior to her conversion was a means by which God led her to Himself through such a radical life of repentance, but this does not sanctify her debauchery and shameful behavior prior to conversion. Likewise, the Lord’s revelation of Himself to Saul on the road to Damascus does not sanctify or justify Saul’s manner of life prior to his conversion as though his former way of life should be emulated in order to have the Lord reveal Himself to us. I mention these things only to say that God may use many and any circumstances to draw people to Himself, but that does not then sanctify these means and circumstances as though they are ways that we should follow in order to “experience” God or the action of His grace within us.

Regarding the beauty of nature, bodily health, the company of loved ones, exercise, and generally things in life which one could consider “good”: all that is good in the created world may lead a person to think about God, to be thankful to God, and to be in awe of God to a certain extent, but they are not means by which we come to experience God’s sanctifying grace within us. In general, all things that are of the created world can actually become idols and impenetrable obstacles to the knowledge of God if we seek to obtain from the created world that which can only received from the Uncreated God. Any experience of creation or of our created natures, even the most exalted experiences of our created natures, if we take such experiences as being the action of the grace of God within us, can become an idol that prevents us from ever having true knowledge of God. This is why we have so many ascetics in the Orthodox Church who, in order to more perfectly seek God and acquire the dwelling of His Uncreated grace within them, despised all of the “good” things of this world, abandoned family and friends, shut themselves up in caves and uninhabitable places, struggled to reduce sleep and other bodily comforts as much as possible, and ate only enough to sustain their bodily existence. They did so precisely because while these various things (sleep, food, family, friends, the beauty of nature) are not themselves inherently evil, any of them can become idols for us and impenetrable obstacles to our salvation if we depend on, and derive our satisfaction from, any such thing rather than from God Himself.

For the Orthodox Christian, I do not think we should strive for any “experience” of God’s grace, but rather we should seek to acquire God’s Grace within us and to become a dwelling place of God’s deifying grace. While the grace of God may act on a non-Orthodox person in a certain way, as God acted upon Moses and the Prophets of the Old Testament, our sanctification by God’s grace begins with our baptism in the Orthodox Church. As St. Diadochus of Photiki said in the Philokalia:

Before holy Baptism, grace encourages the soul from the outside, while Satan lurks in
its depths, trying to block all the noetic faculty’s ways of approaching the Divine. But
from the moment that we are reborn through Baptism, the demon is outside, grace is
within. Thus whereas before Baptism error ruled the soul, after Baptism truth rules it.
Nevertheless, even after Baptism Satan (can) still act upon the soul. . . .


Here, St. Diadochus acknowledges the action of grace which can act upon the soul of a non-Orthodox person, and yet he distinguishes this from the action of grace within the soul which is made possible by an Orthodox baptism. Following baptism, we continue to participate in the process of theosis as we follow Christ’s commandments, repent of our sins, practice the virtues, and participate in the deifying mysteries of the Church. With this understanding of an Orthodox baptism marking the very beginning of God’s grace working within us (as opposed to acting upon our souls from the outside), the contemporary Elder Haralambos (+2001), a disciple of Elder Joseph the Heyschast and the former Abbot of the Dionysiou monastery on Mt. Athos once said:

You ask me if noetic prayer is for all Christians or just for monks.

From what the Holy Fathers write, but also from my experience as a spiritual father, we say that noetic prayer is for all Christians. However, I don't mean heretics, let alone those of other faiths. I will explain why. Before a person is baptised he doesn't have grace because Adam's violation drove out grace. Grace returns inside us with holy baptism. But how is it possible, without the grace of baptism, to find God inside you again?


Yoga, a healthy meal, a walk along a mountain spring, etc., may lead a person to exalted experiences of the created world or of one’s own created nature. If mistaken for the experience of God, this can be an impenetrable obstacle to coming to know the true God. I have shared the following quote in another post on this forum, but I think the following words from Elder Sophrony of Essex and Hieromonk Damascene, taken from the latter’s book “Christ the Eternal Tao”, are particularly relevant here:

In “Christ the Eternal Tao”, Fr. Damascene says concerning the experience of inner light:

“Here we are treading on dangerous ground, so it is necessary to step lightly. This is where many who have practiced watchfulness have fallen into delusion over the centuries. Everything depends on the purity of one's intention in going within. If one's intention (conscious or unconscious) is not to face one's sin-condition, repent and thus be reconciled to God, but instead to "be spiritual" while continuing to worship oneself, then one can - upon becoming aware of the light of one's spirit - begin to worship it as God. This is the ultimate delusion.”


Archimandrite Sophrony is then quoted as saying:

"Attaining the bounds where 'day and night come to an end,' man contemplates the beauty of his own spirit which many identify with Divine Being. They do see a light but it is not the True Light in which there 'is no darkness at all.' It is the natural light peculiar to the mind of man created in God's image.

"The mental light, which excels every other light of empirical knowledge, might still just as well be called darkness, since it is the darkness of divestiture and God is not in it. And perhaps in this instance more than any other we should listen to the Lord's warning, 'Take heed therefore that the light which is in you be not darkness.' The first prehistoric, cosmic catastrophe - the fall of Lucifer, son of the morning, who became the prince of darkness - was due to his enamored contemplation of his own beauty, which ended up in his self-deification."


Fr. Damascene comments on this passage:

“The darkness of divestiture of which Fr. Sophrony speaks is the state of having risen above all thought processes, which we have described earlier. If a person's motive is prideful, he will stop at this point, admiring his own brilliance; but that brilliance will still be darkness. He will think he has found God, but God will not be there. He will find a kind of peace, but it will be a peace apart from God.

“To go beyond thought is not yet to attain true knowledge. Such knowledge comes from the Word speaking wordlessly in the spirit that is yearning for Him; it does not come from the spirit itself. The Word will come and make His abode with the spirit only if the person approaches Him in absolute humility, for He Himself is humility, and like attracts like.”


Fr. Sophrony writes further on those who go within themselves without humility:

"since those who enter for the first time into the sphere of the 'silence of the mind' experience a certain mystic awe, they mistake their contemplation for mystical communion with the Divine, whereas in reality they are still within the confines of created human nature. The mind, it is true, here passes beyond the frontiers of time and space, and it is this that gives it a sense of grasping eternal wisdom. This is as far as human intelligence can go along the path of natural development and self-contemplation...

"Dwelling in the darkness of divestiture, the mind knows a peculiar delight and sense of peace... Clearing the frontiers of time, such contemplation approaches the mind to knowledge of the intransitory, thereby possessing man of new but still abstract cognition. Woe to him who mistakes this wisdom for knowledge of the true God, and this contemplation for a communion in Divine Being. Woe to him because the darkness of divestiture on the borders of true vision becomes an impenetrable pass and a stronger barrier between himself and God than the darkness due to the uprising of gross passion, or the darkness of obviously demonic instigations, or the darkness which results from loss of Grace and abandonment by God. Woe to him, for he will have gone astray and fallen into delusion, since God is not in the darkness of divestiture."


At the end of this passage, Fr Damascene comments that:

We do not practice watchfulness so that we can become silent and peaceful. Rather, we become silent so that we can know the unpleasant truth about ourselves, and so that we "hear" the Tao/Logos speaking directly to our inward being. He does not speak in an audible voice; His voice makes no noise even in the mind... Scripture calls His voice still and small. We cannot hear it unless we tune in to it by separating from all the static noise in our heads.


In the book, this passage precedes a presentation by Fr. Damascene on the Orthodox tradition and practice of the Jesus Prayer.

These words of Fr. Damascene and Elder Sophrony explain how one can experience a certain “timelessness” and “mystic awe” through the silencing of the mind, but that this experience is only that of our created nature. This is not necessarily “bad” unless we are deceived into taking this experience for the experience of God. If we think we are experiencing God, this deception, as Elder Sophrony says, will be the biggest obstacle to actually coming to know God and having His grace work within us. If we think we are experiencing God, we end up in the self-worship and self-deification of Lucifer.

After several years in the Centering Prayer/Christian Meditation movements, and several years practicing yoga and other such things prior to my Orthodox baptism, I became convinced that these practices all lead to the exalted experience of one’s own created nature. This experience of one’s created nature is referred to in the Centering Prayer/Christian Meditation movements as the experience of God, and so it is not surprising why practitioners in these movements typically believe that Hindus, Buddhists, “Christian mystics”, New Agers, and others all are experiencing the same reality but simply use different words to describe the reality. In truth, they are experiencing the same reality, but it is the reality of their own created nature and not the reality of God Himself or His Uncreated Energies. Since only in the Orthodox Church can one find a complete process for the reception of God’s grace within the soul, and the deification of body and soul by God’s Uncreated grace after baptism, there is no need to borrow foreign methods to attempt to contribute anything towards this process. If we do attempt to adopt foreign “spiritual” practices, thinking that they will assist us in the process of theosis, very likely they will lead us in a very different direction and have very different results, both in this life and in the life to come.

All the “good” that we experience within creation should cause us to be thankful to God who is the source of every earthly and spiritual blessing. Yet, we have to constantly humble ourselves and make sure that our love of God and commitment to God is not dependent on any earthly and created blessing, spiritually imitating the self-deprivation of the holy ascetics, lest we forsake and abandon God altogether as soon as we suffer some misfortune, or as soon as our earthly hopes and dreams are not realized.




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