In his introduction to Earthen Vessels: The Practice of Personal Prayer According to the Patristic Tradition, Father Gabriel (Bunge) highlights the juxtaposition of the evaporation of faith which is often lamented in the West, with the vast output of spiritual literature in this same context, “so that the modern reader has available to him a wealth of spiritual writings that no one in antiquity would even have dreamed of.” (9) This juxtaposition, the fact that this abundance of literature does not seem to reach its goal, suggests that “the key to these treasures of tradition has been lost. Scholars speak of a break in tradition, which has opened up a chasm between the present and the past.

Whereas some seek to find the answer to this malaise by turning to other religious traditions, Father Gabriel proposes in this book to give a genuinely Christian answer to spiritual seekers. This must necessarily be a practical answer, one “that enables a Christian to ‘practise’ his faith in a manner that is in keeping with the contents of the faith.” (10)

For there is a very simple answer to the perplexing question, why the faith of an increasing number of Christians is “evaporating” despite all efforts to enliven it – an answer that perhaps does not contain the entire truth about the causes of the crisis, but which nonetheless indicates a way out. The faith “evaporates” when it is no longer practised – in a way that accords with its essence. “Praxis” here does not mean the various forms of “social action” that perennially have been the obvious expression of Christian agape. However indispensable this “outreach” is, it becomes merely external, or (as a flight into activism) even a suble form of acedia, of boredom, whenever there is no longer any corresponding “reach within”.

Prayer is the “interior striving” par excellence – prayer in the fullest sense acquired by this term in Scripture and tradition. “Tell me how you pray, and I will tell you what you believe”, one could say, as a variation on a familiar adage. In prayer, right down to the practical methods of prayer, it becomes evident what constitutes the essence of being a Christian: how the believer stands in relation to God and his neighbour. (10-11)

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