Blessed are the pure in the heart for they will see God (I)

Archimandrite Ephrem Philoteus

May the most immaculate and holy Spirit enlighten my darkness to tell you some words about the most beautiful prayer and purity of the soul.

The prayer is the talk of the man with God. God is Spirit. And as saint Dyonisios Areopagite say God is above spirit. Thus due to His nature God is so bondless so present everywhere that the man can be in any moment with Him and by the spirit of faith to see Him and speak to Him. Nobody is so close to us permanently as God is.

Great honor is for the man to dare and be worthy to talk with a high rank person here on earth and he considers himself important because of this relationship. But God is above all men and angels. And we are all worthy of this honor, to speak with Him and see Him through the eyes of faith.

All the hymns of our Church, the troparions, the praises are prayers. But much more important than these prayers is this small prayer called mental prayer which consists of only five words: `Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me!` With this small prayer we can communicate with God permanently, ceaselessly. Apostle Paul asks us the same:

`Pray without cease, give thanks in all circumstances; for this is God’s will for you in Christ Jesus.`[1]

The hermits of the first Christian centuries lived in caves and deserts in remote corners of the world. In those times there were no printed books as we have today and because of this reason they did not have many to read. But what did they do all day and night in the desert? They had the university of the universe. From creation they rose to the contemplation of the Creator of everything, God. A hermit was walking one day and he saw a very beautiful flower. He hit it and said: `Don’t shout so loudly!` By doing this he wanted to say that this flower speaks a lot about God’s wisdom. Therefore if such a small flower is so wonderful God the Creator of everything is even more!

The Holy Fathers said that all the creatures speak in their own way. And the man for reaching this stage to listen to the voices of the creatures has to purify his soul, mind and heart by ascetic struggle.

Great Arsenios lived in the world and he was a great erudite and philosopher. Then he went in the desert, lived in complete reclusion and struggled in a very severe way  to purify his soul. He did not speak with the people and did not see anyone. However this one who was so wise in the world by spiritual strife and reclusion received and came to know the philosophy of the Spirit which is far greater than the worldly one. They say that he raised his hands for prayer at sunset and let them down at sunrise. He kept his arms up all night long. But how could he do this? In a natural way it would be very hard. But with the help of God there is nothing unattainable. His whole mind and heart were in the rapture of contemplation in the Holy Spirit and he was initiated in the heavenly mysteries. He communicated with God directly.

From this we understand that the essential and successful thing somebody needs for uniting with God is to separate himself for a while of the rest of people and the worldly worries and by finding peace of mind to be able to communicate through prayer with the Spring of all bliss, God. The mind of the man is what leads the work of his spirit. If the mind is purified by the dirty thoughts which taint it then the heart will reach purity in time.

`Blessed are the pure in the heart for they will see God` [2]

And since God is not anthropomorphous to be seen with his physical eyes, He reveals Himself in the heart of the man in a mysterious ineffable way when he purifies himself. When the Christian prays correctly with a focused mind, meaning that his mind is humbly focused on the meaning of the words, of the prayer then he begins to feel the fruit of prayer. And the fruit of a humble prayer is that the man reaches humility and tears and repentance or a great joy and love for God.

The Niptic Fathers of our Church speak a lot about the mental prayer. They say that no other means purifies our mind better than vigilance. When the mind takes heed and by vigilance is saved of dispersion and of the attacks of the evil thoughts the heart is freed of passions. When the passions are rooted and tangled in the heart of the man then the purification is very difficult.

The imagination is the tentacle which spreads all over awfully. It is the eye of the mind which penetrates the most unimaginable and audacious lands. And from there it begins the unlawful deed. The greatest sins are committed because of the imagination. Everything is gathered in the mind by the five senses of the body – persons, things, dirty images – all these are a poison which spreads in the whole being of the man. Thus someone becomes dirty and sinful and has no daring before God. If the spiritual man does not refrain this impetus of the imagination, he cannot reach a good spiritual condition. Vigilance is what guards the imagination and forbids the images which give birth to evil thoughts and keep the mind clean.

When there are no images and the man gives a correct occupation to the mind by prayer then the mind communicates correctly with God. The struggle is not easy because the mind never stops its activity. But what we give to it, this is what it will activate in us. It is like the mill which works. If the miller throws in it wheat, it will grind wheat. If somebody goes and throws rubbish in it, then it will grind rubbish. Thus the result will be in accordance with what we allow the mind to receive in itself.

That is why it is necessary to guard our mind by prayer, by fear of God and by wisdom so that when we are challenged by bad thoughts and sinful images to have focused all the attention of our mind. Because when we receive them many bad things appear which upset us inwardly. On the contrary when we impede them there is no anxiety in the inner self. When the mind preserves itself clean and rejects the devil and sin then the inner house of our heart and soul will be in a good condition.

As for instance when the door of our house opens in the road, in the boulevard, anyone can knock at it. Even a thief can ask to be received inside. If we don’t open for him nothing serious happens. But if we don’t take heed and we don’t search to see who knocks at the door and he cheats us by his words and we open then from there it begins the toil and the struggle to chase him away of the house. And if we let him go farther inside the strife will be even harder. This evil man may tie the landlord of his hands and feet and become the master of the house.

It is the same with the evil thought. It knocks at the door and wants to enter. When we have no vigilance and we begin to talk with it, it’s as if we opened the door to it.

A sinful thought may come in any situation. When we don’t have attention we don’t have vigilance and we let the thought to enter and this will generate images thoughts about persons, things, scenes. And everything the man saw or tasted and touched in the past with his five senses begins to hurt his mind. And if he is reckless again the war becomes stronger. It will irritate the heart and cause staining. When the man gives rights to the devil by a certain passion very hardly he will take back that right from him. The devil revenges furiously because he says: `I fought so much to take this soul in my possession.` Then the fight to purify the soul is very big.

[1] I Thessalonians 5, 18.

[2] Matthew 5, 8.