Saturday, January 9, 2016

The Inner Closet of the Heart

St. Dimitri Rostov

Enter into thy closet and shut the door
Saint Dimitri Rostov (+1709)
   There are many among you who have no knowledge of the inner work required of the man who would hold God in remembrance. Nor do such people even understand what remembrance of God means, or know anything about spiritual prayer, for they imagine that the only right way of praying is to use such prayers as are to be found in Church books. As for secret communion with God in the heart, they know nothing of this, nor of the profit that comes from it, nor do they ever taste its spiritual sweetness. Those who only hear about spiritual meditation and prayer and have no direct knowledge of it are like men blind from birth, who hear about the sunshine without ever knowing what it really is. Through this ignorance they lose n1any spiritual blessings, and are slow in arriving at the virtues which make for the fulfillment of God's good pleasure. Therefore some idea of inner training and spiritual prayer is given here for the instruction of beginners, so that those who wish, with God's help, can start to learn the rudiments.
   Inner spiritual training begins with these words of Christ, "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret" (Matt. 6: 6),

The duality of man and the two kinds of prayer:
   Man is dual: exterior and interior, flesh and spirit. The outer man is visible, of the flesh; but the inner man is invisible, spiritual-or what the Apostle Peter terms "… the hidden man of the heart, which is not corruptible, … a meek and quiet spirit" (1 Pet. 3: 4). And St. Paul refers to this duality when he says: "But though our outward man perish, yet the inward is renewed" (2 Cor 5: 16). Here the Apostle speaks clearly about the outer and inner man. The outer man is composed of many members, but the inner man comes to perfection through his mind - by attention to himself, by fear of the Lord, and by the grace of God. The works of the outer man are visible, but those of the inner man are invisible, according to the Psalmist: "the inner man and the heart are very deep". And St. Paul the Apostle also says: "For what man knoweth the things of a man, save the spirit of man which is in him?" (1 Cor. 2: 11). Only He who tests the innermost hearts and the inward parts knows all the secrets of the inner man.
   Training, then, must also be twofold, outer and inner: outer in reading books, inner in thoughts of God; outer in love of wisdom, inner in love of God; outer in words, inner in prayer; outer in keenness of intellect, inner in warmth of spirit; outer in technique, inner in vision. The exterior mind is 'puffed up' (1 Cor 8: 1), the inner humbles itself; the exterior is full of curiosity, desiring to know all, the inner pays attention to itself and desires nothing other than to know God, speaking to Him as David spoke when he said, 'My heart hath talked with thee: "Seek ye my face"; "Thy face Lord will I seek'" (Ps. 26: 8. Sept.). And also "Like as the hart desireth the water brooks, so longeth my soul after thee, O God" (Ps. 61: 2 Sept.).
   Prayer is likewise twofold, exterior and inner. There is prayer made openly, and there is secret prayer; prayers with others and solitary prayer; prayer undertaken as a duty and prayer voluntarily offered. Prayer as duty, performed openly according to the Church rules, in company with others, has its own times: the Midnight Office, Matins, the Hours, the Liturgy, Vespers and Compline. These prayers, to which people are called by bells, are a suitable tribute to the King of Heaven which must be paid every day. Voluntary prayer which is in secret, on the other hand, has no fixed time, being made whenever you wish, without bidding, simply when the spirit moves you. The first, in other words, the prayer of the Church, has an established number of Psalms, troparia, canons, and other hymns, together with rites performed by the priest: but the other kind of prayer­ secret and voluntary - since it has no definite time, is also not limited to a definite number of prayers: everyone prays as he wishes, sometimes briefly, sometimes at length. The first kind is performed aloud by the lips and voice, the second only in spirit. The first is performed standing, the second, not only standing or walking, but also lying down, in a word, always ­whenever you happen to raise your mind to God. The first, made in company with others, is performed in church, or on some special occasion in a house where several people are gathered together; but the second is performed when you are alone in the shut closet, according to the word of the Lord: "When thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray to thy Father which is in secret" (Matt. 5: 6).
   The closet also is twofold, outer and inner, material and spiritual: the material place is of wood or stone, the spiritual closet is the heart or mind: St. Theophylact interprets this phrase as meaning secret thought or inner vision. Therefore the material closet remains always fixed in the same place, but the spiritual one you carry about within you wherever you go. Wherever man is, his heart is always with him, and so, having collected his thoughts inside his heart, he can shut himself in and pray to God in secret, whether he be talking or listening, whether among few people or many. Inner prayer, if it comes to a man's spirit when he is with other people, demands no use of lips or of books, no movement of the tongue or sound of the voice: and the same is true even when you are alone. All that is necessary is to raise your mind to God, and descend deep into yourself, and this can be done everywhere.
   The material closet of a man who is silent embraces only the man himself, but the inner spiritual closet also holds God and all the Kingdom of Heaven, according to the Gospel words of Christ Himself: "The kingdom of God is within you” (Luke 17: 21). Explaining this text, St. Makarios of Egypt writes: "The heart is a small vessel, but all things are contained in it; God is there, the angels are there, and there also is life and the King­dom, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace."
   Man needs to enclose himself in the inner closet of his heart more often than he need go to church: and collecting all his thoughts there, he must place his mind before God, praying to Him in secret with all warmth of spirit and with living faith. At the same time he must also learn to turn his thoughts to God in such a manner as to be able to grow into a perfect man.

E. Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer (1976), The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, Faber & Faber Ltd, London, U.K.