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#1 RomanSee

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Posted 07 February 2013 - 11:25 PM

While I understand that the idea of nepsis is usually associated with Orthodox monasticism, does anyone have any links or relevant books that talk about this concept? Is this accessible to the laity or is this state of watchfullness only attempted by the monks? What do you know about nepsis?

 

Thanks,

 

Anthony



#2 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 12:03 AM

"Behold, the Bridegroom cometh in the middle of the night, and blessed is that servant whom He shall find watching. But unworthy is he whom He shall find sleeping. Beware therefore O my soul, and be not overcome by sleep, lest thou be given over to death and be shut out from the Kingdom. But return to soberness and cry aloud: Holy, Holy, Holy art Thou, O God; through the Theotokos, have mercy on us." Troparion from the Bridegroom Matins

 

It isn't just for monastics (any more)!



#3 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 10:38 AM

These sayings of Christ from the Gospels seem to be addressed to all Christians:


Watch therefore: for ye know not what hour your Lord doth come. 


But know this, that if the goodman of the house had known in what watch the thief would come, he would have watched, and would not have suffered his house to be broken up.


Watch therefore, for ye know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man cometh.


Watch and pray, that ye enter not into temptation: the spirit indeed is willing, but the flesh is weak.


And what I say unto you I say unto all, Watch.


Watch ye therefore, and pray always, that ye may be accounted worthy to escape all these things that shall come to pass, and to stand before the Son of man.



 

 



 

 



 


Edited by Andreas Moran, 08 February 2013 - 10:39 AM.


#4 RomanSee

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 02:54 PM

So maybe I misunderstood, nepsis is more of a state of watchfulness of Christ rather than a meditative state?



#5 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 03:31 PM

I wouldn't say you misunderstood it; it's just that watchfulness is meant for all and has its roots in scripture (OT and NT) and the service texts.  Its importance for monastics is reflected in the Philokalia.  According to the Holy Fathers, the heart of watchfulness is so guarding oneself that one does not judge others, but it is an aspect of Orthodox ascesis. The man living in the world has the task of guarding himself against the assaults of the world which are all too many and strong in our times.  The monastic's way of life means nepsis has a special place in his strivings since it is to be combined with noetic prayer.


Edited by Andreas Moran, 08 February 2013 - 03:31 PM.


#6 Anna Stickles

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 03:44 PM

Just a little addition to what Andreas said, the monastic literature talks a lot about a state of watchfulness associated with guarding the heart, but as stated this is for those who have reached a certain level of prayer and inner awareness. However, even lay people are called to guard their senses (what we watch on TV or read, etc.) and our actions (what we say or do - making sure it is sober and kind, not self indulgent, etc.), and to the degree we are able, our thoughts and emotions (guarding against pride, anger or negative judgments, excessive grief or anxiety, etc).

 

As far as I understand it this is where even novice monastics start, and this is how we all as Christians grow in this spiritual discipline.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 08 February 2013 - 03:49 PM.


#7 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 09:04 PM

As far as I can tell, nepsis is not some form of meditation, or at least certainly not the whole meaning. The word “nepsis” comes from “nepho,” which means to be sleepless, to guard, to inspect, examine, watch over, keep under surveillance. We are all called to watchfulness, to be "on guard" against the wiles of the evil one. Even as the Apostle Paul admonishes us, we must "test all things, keep what is good" (1 Thessalonians 5:21).



#8 RomanSee

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Posted 08 February 2013 - 11:47 PM

Thanks for all the responses. I ask only because wikipedia defines it as:

 

"Nepsis is a state of watchfulness or sobriety acquired following a long period of catharsis."

 

In fairness it does mention that the end goal is ultimately theosis.


Edited by Anthony D., 08 February 2013 - 11:47 PM.


#9 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 12:15 AM

Catharsis: from the Greek κάθαρσις Katharsis meaning "purification" or "cleansing" (also literally from the Ancient Greek gerund Ancient Greek: καθαίρειν transliterated as kathairein "to purify, purge," and adjective katharos "pure or clean" ancient and modern Greek.

 

Still not seeing any connection to meditation. Asceticism yes, meditation, not so much. Orthodoxy is not all that keen on "meditation".



#10 RomanSee

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 04:06 AM

I guess I misunderstood, I pictured "cleansing" as sort of emptying all emotions. But after reading up on it some more i'm starting to understand it better.



#11 Lakis Papas

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 12:47 PM

Ancient Greeks used the verb "nepho" (νήφω) for abstinence from wine. From this verb comes the word "nepsis" (νήψις).
 
In ecclesiastical terminology "nepsis" means awake and sleepless supervision and vigilance of the mind and heart. It is produced by the verb "nepho" that has the significance of being in a state of careful, alert, awake, with a clear mind. In other words it means to be aware of my internal spiritual status at every time and to control the flow of thoughts and sensations with my mind with full clarity - in order to keep praying to God.
 
Nepsis refers to an inner spiritual process. There are temptations from both the inside and the outside environment. All temptations and impulses are subject to an internal process of evaluation and recognition. The correct functioning of this process has been brought to constant vigilance to repel external or internal attacks, which are trying to challenge the mind and remove it from the heart, where it stands to guard the purity of the heart during prayer.
 
A brief explanation is this:
 
  • The physical condition of the heart is to address God at all times (keep praying 24 hours per day)
  • The natural state of the mind is to remain focused on the heart, while heart is praying to God unceasingly 
  • Because of the fall, the physical condition is changed. There is disruption of the internal unity of heart-mind, so the mind is distracted from monitoring the heart and is paying attention to other factors.
  • The constant vigilance to keep the mind in the heart, is called nepsis.


#12 RomanSee

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 01:57 PM

Wow very informative Lakis, thanks. I am assuming that one of the ways to maintain this state is to use the Jesus Prayer at all times?



#13 Owen Jones

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 03:01 PM

Actually, Orthodoxy is very keen on meditation, Orthros, liturgy, all of the divine services are an extended meditation on Scripture.  That's what Christian meditation is -- recitation of Scripture.  In fact, we are commanded by Scripture to meditate on Scripture, meaning to chew over, like a cow chewing its cud.  Says the highly discplined expert who meditates on Scripture every day!  Let's not confuse it with TM.



#14 Herman Blaydoe

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 04:33 PM

As long as we are indeed careful and specific in our definition of "meditation", I agree. I do NOT think that Orthodoxy uses the word in the same way that Thomas Merton does, for example.



#15 Lakis Papas

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 05:26 PM

Wow very informative Lakis, thanks. I am assuming that one of the ways to maintain this state is to use the Jesus Prayer at all times?

 

I agree. But Church Fathers call them arts, both prayer and nepsis.

 

As man can not learn an art by himself and needs an experienced person to instruct him, so it is impossible to learn these spiritual arts without the help of an experienced instructor. Rare are those who received them directly from God without guidance.



#16 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 05:54 PM

We certainly should not eschew the word ‘meditation’ since it is used in scripture: the word (as a translation from the Greek μελετι and the verb μελετω and from the Latin meditatio) appears a number of times in the psalms (esp 118 LXX) and in 1 Timothy 4:15.


Orthodox meditation is unlike the discursive meditation which characterised the Counter-Reformation.  As St Theophan the Recluse says, meditation involves not permitting ‘any concepts, images, or visions’.  St Peter of Damascus writes of a man having ‘a psalm on his lips, another a verse of a hymn’ and of attending ‘with the intellect to psalms and troparia’.  He describes meditation as the first stage of contemplation (theoria).  The Beatitudes are seen as describing aspects of meditation. 


Meditation includes reading with understanding.  The Discourse of Abba Philemon (Philokalia vol 2) says much these matters in the context of ‘inward mediation’ which is bound up with stillness, attentiveness and noetic prayer.



 


Edited by Andreas Moran, 09 February 2013 - 05:55 PM.


#17 Anna Stickles

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 07:57 PM

Wow very informative Lakis, thanks. I am assuming that one of the ways to maintain this state is to use the Jesus Prayer at all times?

"Year after year monks repeat the (Jesus) prayer with their lips, without trying any artificial means to join mind and heart, The attention is concentrated on harmonizing their life with the commandments of Christ. According to ancient tradition mind unites with the heart through divine action when the monk continues in obedience and abstinence; when the mind, the heart and the very body of the 'old man' to a sufficient degree are freed from the dominion over them of sin."

 

"There is nothing automatic or 'magic' about the Jesus Prayer. Unless we labor to keep His commandments, we call upon His name in vain.He himself declared; 'Many will call upon me in that day , Lord Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?... and in Thy name done many wonderful works? and then I will profess unto them I never knew you; depart from me, ye that work iniquity' (Matt. 7:22-3)"  Elder Sophrony

 In other words, what the elder is saying here is that it is obedience to the Gospel commands that gradually cleanses us, as a wholistic effort in all our interactions with people and situations we encounter, not a meditative effort where we struggle to get rid of all emotions. And one can see here too that,  for the mind to be in the heart, and practice the guarding of the heart  is a gift of grace that comes after a long struggle in this effort at cleansing through obedience.


Edited by Anna Stickles, 09 February 2013 - 08:08 PM.


#18 RomanSee

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 08:53 PM

 In other words, what the elder is saying here is that it is obedience to the Gospel commands that gradually cleanses us, as a wholistic effort in all our interactions with people and situations we encounter, not a meditative effort where we struggle to get rid of all emotions. And one can see here too that,  for the mind to be in the heart, and practice the guarding of the heart  is a gift of grace that comes after a long struggle in this effort at cleansing through obedience.

 

Okay now that's interesting.

 

So unless we also keep the commandments then our prayers are simply in vain. Makes sense if we look at this in the context of St. James, James 2:17.

 

It seems like you are saying nepsis comes from a struggle to keep the commands and do good deeds. If this is the core element of faith, which I think I agree with, then what further role does the Jesus Prayer 24/7 play in this, if faith and salvation ultimately come through deeds and not by lip confession?


"But someone will say, 'You have faith, and i have works.' Show me your faith without your works and I will show you my faith by my works." James 2:18

 

 

 

Thanks.



#19 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 09:10 PM

It is all to do with love.  Nepsis means being watchful in guarding oneself from the distractions of the world which disperse the mind and so lead it away from love of God.  Equally, nepsis means loving our neighbour - not judging him - because, as St Silouan and Elder Sophrony say, the man who does not love his neighbour (he who does not pray for his enemies) does not love God.  The connection with continually saying the Jesus Prayer does not apply to most since to do so is a gift vouchsafed to few and usually only then after years of ascetic struggle.  (The early experience of St Silouan is exceptional.)   But for others, saying the Jesus Prayer (and doing so assumes full participation in the sacramental life of the Orthodox Church) is the attempt to re-orient the mind and heart to God and away from anything that distracts from this.


Edited by Andreas Moran, 09 February 2013 - 09:12 PM.


#20 RomanSee

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Posted 09 February 2013 - 09:50 PM

Thanks I feel much clearer on the issue. This has raised another question but it is unrelated and I will still a new thread to address it.

 

Here's the problem I have with this concept of applying nepsis to activites such as reading certain material, playing certain games, or watching certain TV shows.

 

I feel it's counter-productive to completely abstain from watching a video or a book written by an atheist, or any other person with "unorthodox" (little "o" there) beliefs all in the name of guarding one's soul. Anna and many others have made reference to this before, and I am having a hard trouble grasping it.

 

St. Peter says that we must

"Always be prepared to give an answer to everyone who asks you to give the reason for the hope that you have." 1 Peter 3:15

 

How can we hope to do this if we don't read and understand the argument of the opposition? I love Fr. Thomas Hopko and he put out a really great series on "Darwin and Christianity" (link here) and it is clear that he did his research. I know many of you are familiar with the series and I think you can agree he did extensive reading from both sides of the isle. The book that eventually led me to Christianity was one by Timothy Keller (found here) in which he looks at the major points made by skeptics of Christianity and even quotes them in their original works. Not to mention he was a protestant with a very protestant understanding of the fall and original sin, and yet I still found my way to Orthodoxy. How can we give an answer if we do not read/watch things that often challenge or even undermine our faith?

 

Therefore I have trouble understanding the relation between nepsis and abstention from unsavory literature. I hope you all can help me. I don't mean to pick on Anna in the slightest, she merely made reference to it and brought it to my attention again.  :)

 

-Anthony


Edited by Anthony D., 09 February 2013 - 09:59 PM.





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