Saturday, March 11, 2017

Elder Job and unceasing prayer.

From the life of Saint Gregory Palamas.

   There lived close to St. Gregory a well-known ascetic, the Elder Job, virtuous in his manner of life and simple in his manners, and venerated by all. In time, they developed a close spiritual friendship, for often virtue bonds with other lovers of the same virtues. It happened one time that the Elder Job was sitting with the great teacher Gregory, and with delight Job turned his ear to listen to his discourse. Saint Gregory quoted the Apostle Paul's First Epistle to the Thessalonians [5:17], asserting that unceasing prayer was necessary for all Christians, that is, men, women and children, wise and simple-not only for monks. He also brought forward the example of the Prophet David, who wrote: "I beheld the Lord ever before me" [ps. 15:8], and then he added that we should pray as often as we take breath.

   At this point, something came over the Elder Job, and he began to contradict what was obvious and indisputable. He strenuously maintained that unceasing prayer is suitable only to anchorites and monastics, and not for the public living in the world. Saint Gregory then added other exam­ples to what he had already uttered. However, he was unsuccessful in persuading the elder to change his opinion. Gregory, wishing to avoid a long wrangle with words, decided that it was best to withdraw, especially since he was considerably younger than the Elder Job.
   Job returned to his cell and stood in prayer. A radiant angel of God then appeared to him in great glory, and said, “Old man, do not have a different opinion than that of Gregory. He speaks the truth, so hold thy peace and advise others to do the same." The angel then vanished. The Elder Job then hastened to Gregory to inform him of everything he saw and heard according to the divine will. Job then asked Gregory to forgive his stubbornness and gainsaying. After this incident, Job had an inseparable bond with the great teacher, and there was much peace and love between them. Not long after, Job was translated to his much desired Lord. However, before departing, he gave thanks unto the Lord for allowing him the privilege of being the friend of the holy man Gregory. He also blessed God for enabling him to enjoy Gregory's conversations and teachings, through which he benefitted immensely. (1)

   Saint Gregory Palamas on Prayer:
   * In every case, those who practice true mental prayer must liber­ate themselves from the passions, and reject any contact with objects which obstruct it, for in this way they are able to acquire undisrupted and pure prayer, As for those not yet arrived at this degree, but who seek to attain it, they must gain the mastery over every sensual pleasure, completely rejecting the passions, for the body's capacity to sin must be mortified; that is, one must be released from domination by the passionate emotions. Similarly the judgment must vanquish the evil passions which move in the world of mind, that is, it must rise above the sensual delights.
   For it is the case that if we cannot taste mental prayer not even as it were with the slightest touch of our lips, and if we are dominated by passionate emotions, then we certainly stand in need of the physi­cal suffering that comes from fasting, vigils and similar things, if we are to apply ourselves to prayer. This suffering alone mortifies the body's inclination to sin, and moderates and weakens the thoughts that provoke violent passions. Moreover, it is this which brings about within us the start of holy compunction, through which both the stain of past faults is done away and the divine favour especially attracted, and which disposes one towards prayer. For "God will not despise a bruised heart", as David says; and according to Gregory the Theologian, "God heals in no more certain way than through suf­fering." This is why the Lord taught us in the Gospels that prayer can do great things when combined with fasting. (Second Triad Book 2). (2)

   * In Prayer the mind gradually abandons all relation with created things: first with all things evil and bad, then with neu­tral things capable of conformity to either good or ill, according to the intentions of the person using them. It is to this last category that all studies belong and the knowledge that comes through them. Hence the Fathers warn us against accepting the knowledge that comes from the Enemy at the time of prayer, so as not to be deprived of that which is superior.
   Thus the mind slowly abandons all relation with these things, and even with those superior to them, in order to be totally separated from all beings through pure Prayer. This ecstasy is incomparably higher than negative theology, for it belongs only to those who have attained impassibility. But it is not yet union, unless the Paraclete illumines from on high the man who attains in prayer the stage which is superior to the highest natural possibilities, and who is awaiting the promise of the Father; and by His revelation ravishes him to the contemplation of the light. (Second Triad, Book Three). (2)

   * Impassibility does not consist in mortifying the passionate part of the soul, but in removing it from evil to good, and directing its energies towards divine things. It is the misuse of the powers of the soul which engenders the terrible passions, just as misuse of the knowledge of created things engenders wisdom which has become folly .... Thus, the prize goes to him who has put that part of the soul under subjection, so that by its obedience to the mind, which is by nature appointed to rule, it may ever tend towards God ... by uninterrupted remembrance of Him. Thanks to this remembrance, he will come to possess a divine disposition, and cause the soul to progress towards the highest state of all, the love of God. Through this love, he will accomplish the commandments of Him Whom he loves, in accordance with Scripture, and will put into practice and acquire a pure and perfect love for his neighbor, something that cannot exist without impassibility. (First Triad Book Two). (2)

1- Holy Apostles Convent (1990), The Lives of the Pillars of Orthodoxy, Holy Apostles Convent and Dormition Skete, Colorado, Unites States of America.
2- Gendle N. (1983), Gregory Palamas: the Triads, Paulist Press, New Jersey, United States of America.