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Center for Action and Contemplation

Eastern Christianity: Weekly Summary

Saturday, September 15, 2018

Eastern Christianity

Summary: Sunday, September 9-Friday, September 14, 2018

The Cappadocian Fathers developed an intellectual rationale for Christianity’s central goal: humanity’s healing and loving union with God. (Sunday)

Matter and Spirit must be found to be inseparable in Christ before we have the courage and insight to acknowledge and honor the same in ourselves and in the entire universe. Christ is the Archetype of Everything. (Monday)

Just as some Eastern fathers saw Christ’s human/divine nature as one dynamic unity, they also saw the Trinity as an Infinite Dynamic Flow. (Tuesday)

St. Gregory of Nazianzus emphasized that deification does not mean we become God, but that we do objectively participate in God’s nature. We are created to share in the life-flow of Trinity. (Wednesday)

[Gregory of Nyssa taught universal salvation from] a fundamental belief in the impermanence of evil in the face of God’s love and a conviction that God’s plan for humanity is intended to be fulfilled in every single human being. —Morwenna Ludlow (Thursday)

The Eastern Fathers have always stressed . . . that if we are in Christ we participate in His paschal victory over sin and death. —George Maloney (Friday)


Practice: Repose

But when you pray, go into your room, close the door and pray to your Father, who is unseen. Then your Father, who sees what is done in secret, will reward you. —Matthew 6:6

Hesychasm, a contemplative prayer of rest, has its roots in the desert fathers and mothers and the Eastern Orthodox tradition. Bishop Kallistos Ware (born 1934), drawing from John Climacus (c. 579-649) writes:

The hesychast, in the true sense of the word, is not someone who has journeyed outwardly into the desert, but someone who has embarked upon the journey inwards into his [or her] own heart; not someone who cuts himself off physically from others, shutting the door of his cell, but someone who “returns into himself,” shutting the door of his mind. [1]

Abba Isaac, a fourth-century desert mystic, offered the following commentary on Jesus’ instruction in Matthew 6:6:

We pray in our room whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and the noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately we offer our prayers to the Lord. We pray with the door shut when without opening our mouths and in perfect silence we offer our petitions to the One who pays no attention to words but looks hard at our hearts. [2]

Thomas Keating, Trappist priest and founder of the Centering Prayer movement, elaborates:

In fact, Jesus said, according to some translations, “bolt the door,” emphasizing how completely we are to let go of our ordinary level of psychological awareness in order to open ourselves to the spiritual level of our being and to the Divine Indwelling present in secret at the root of our being. [3]

Eastern Orthodox teachers of hesychasm suggest using the Jesus Prayer as a way to enter into contemplation: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” Or you might practice Centering Prayer, selecting a word or short phrase to return to whenever you are distracted. Repeat each word slowly, softly, as each flows from one to the next. Gradually, with practice, the repetitive rhythm of the words moves into long periods of continuous, uninterrupted prayer.

Bishop Ware describes the quality of presence within such prayer:

The hesychast ceases from his [or her] own activity, not in order to be idle, but in order to enter into the activity of God. [Their] silence is not vacant and negative—a blank pause between words, a short rest before resuming speech—but intensely positive: an attitude of alert attention, of vigilance, and above all of listening. [4]

Igumen (or abbot) Chariton of Valamo writes: “The principal thing is to stand with the mind in the heart before God, and to go on standing before [God] unceasingly day and night, until the end of life.” [5]

Martin Laird calls this contemplative stance “an engaged, silent receptivity,” or, as St. Maximus the Confessor (580–662) said, “an ever moving repose.” [6] Laird writes that it is:

like a riverbed, which is constantly receiving and letting go in the very same moment. Vigilant receptivity and nonclinging release are one and the same for this riverbed awareness as it constantly receives all coming from upstream while at the very same moment releasing all downstream. [7]

[1] Kallistos Ware, The Inner Kingdom (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press: 2004), 93.

[2] Abba Isaac, quoted by John Cassian, Conferences, 9.35. See John Cassian: Conferences, trans. Colm Luibheid (Paulist Press: 1985), 123-124.

[3] Thomas Keating, Fruits and Gifts of the Spirit (Lantern Books: 2007), 28.

[4] Ware, The Inner Kingdom, 97.

[5] The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, ed. Timothy Ware (Faber: 1997), 63.

[6] Maximus the Confessor, Quaestionis ad Thalassium, 64, in Patrologia Graeca 90.760A, trans. Martin Laird. See also Augustine, Confessions 1.4, trans. Henry Chadwick (Oxford University Press: 2008), 5.

[7] Martin Laird, A Sunlit Absence: Silence, Awareness, and Contemplation (Oxford University Press: 2011), 79.

For Further Study:
Cynthia Bourgeault and Richard Rohr, The Shape of God: Deepening the Mystery of the Trinity (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2004), CDDVDMP3 download

Olivier Clément, The Roots of Christian Mysticism, 2nd ed. (New City Press: 2013)

George Maloney, The Returning Sun: Hope for a Broken World (Contemplative Ministries: 1982)

Partakers of the Divine Nature: The History and Development of Deification in the Christian Tradition, eds. Michael J. Christensen and Jeffery A. Wittung (Baker Academic: 2007)

Richard Rohr, The Divine Dance: The Trinity and Your Transformation (Whitaker House: 2016)  

Richard Rohr, Hell, No! (Center for Action and Contemplation: 2014), CDMP3 download

Amos Smith, Healing the Divide: Recovering Christianity’s Mystic Roots (Resource Publications: 2013)

For a simple chronology outlining the key figures and events of the Early Christian Church and Patristic Period, click here.

Image Credit: Deesis Mosaic (detail), 13th-century, Hagia Sophia, Istanbul, Turkey.
Inspiration for this week’s banner image: An end or consummation is clearly an indication that things are perfected and consummated. We believe that the goodness of God through Christ will restore God’s entire creation to one end. —Origen
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