The Compassion of the Father


Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion on the relationship between theology and spirituality in the seventh chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby proposing four basic requirements for a living theology renewed in the Spirit.

The first requirement is that of repentance and profound renewal of the self.

The entire being must turn away from a dark existence, renounce the “old Adam” and Satan, and sin – all forms, direct or insidious, of illusion and diabolical seduction. The entire being must tend toward a purification of the heart, since the heart is the center of the human mystery – but also purification of the senses by an asceticism of the body and purification of the intellect by an asceticism of the thoughts. When the intellect is severed from grace, it hardens and proudly asserts itself. With all one’s effort, the mind must pass through the mystery of baptism, not the precise moment of child’s or adult’s baptism, but everything that baptism presupposes: preliminary and lasting renunciation of an old life and a desire for a new life, the sacrament of the death and the life of Jesus Christ. …

Thus, the proud mind that counts itself as the criterion of things and of the world must be baptized. This mind must discover silence by entering into the depths of the heart and gradually must be taught by the Holy Spirit… When the intellect purifies itself by this descent and attentiveness to God, life springs up from the transfigured heart, and the mind find new words. (127-128)

The second requirement is that of being in communion with the Body of Christ, the Church. The Holy Spirit incorporates us into the totality of the Body of Christ which is inseparable from its Head and this has consequences for our theology.

This “Body” contains not only the eucharistic assembly “here and now,” but the Church of all times, of all places – the communion of saints. This point is crucial to our understanding of theology. My theology is not my theology, not even that of the group to which I belong. Rather, my theology has been formulated through living experience: the life and suffering of the saints since Pentecost – and even before Pentecost by the patriarchs and prophets – in communion. This communion of the saints implies a communion of faith. This explains why the Orthodox Church does not accept intercommunion, which would make light of this profound unity, what Fr Florovsky calls “ecumenism in time.” Communion of faith entails not only attempts to create unity with the dispersed members of churches in our world today, but also constancy in maintaining unity with our church fathers. (129)

This concept of fatherhood runs very deep in Orthodoxy and “constitutes the very framework of Tradition” which is always transmitted from heart to heart in a living and personal way, whether through books or through actual encounters.

The third requirement is that it feed on the Scriptures, and especially the Psalms “which are the basic prayers and which nourished the prayer of Christ Himself.” (130)

In growing accustomed to reading them regularly and daily, they become an extraordinary source of knowledge, wisdom, and spiritual sensitivity. Little by little, something awakens in us; we become more attentive and more sensitive. (130)

An understanding of the Old Testament is important and leads us to the Gospels which are a “genuine sacrament” and puts us “in the real presence of Christ, just as an icon does.” (130)

The fourth requirement is that of love which is related to knowledge. Father Boris writes:

When I was young, I read St Augustine, the great church father that has marked the West until now. He said that, in order to love, we should first know. That has always shocked me because I would like to say that in order to know, we first should love. Certainly the two go together. St Paul says: “If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am only a resounding gong or a clanging cymbal. If I have the gift of prophecy and can fathom all the mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have faith … but I have not love, I am nothing… And now these three remain: faith, hope, and love. But the greatest of these is love” (1 Cor 13:1-2,13). He completes this picture by saying: “God has poured out His love into our hearts by the Holy Spirit, whom He has given us” (Rom 5:5). The Holy Spirit pours the love of God into us like an ointment of great price, like a perfumed oil, and this love makes our hearts expand to the extent that God desires. (131)

Father Boris concludes this chapter by speaking of our obligation to witness and of the need to connect what we say to what we have seen, for

The human being cannot be satisfied with parcelled truth. We search for a vision of the world carried by God, a unified spiritual vision, with all our being, and at the same time, the words we utter – our proclamation to others – always fall short. Fortunately, we have the church fathers and great theologians, and we may repeat things that were expressed and lived better…

This love of Christ in us compels us, pushes us, and forces us not only to do theology, but also to simply be in Christ. Then our silence, as well as our words, will testify to a true theology, prayed and lived. (131-132)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion on theology and spirituality in the seventh chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby considering the implications of Evagrius of Pontus’ famous saying: “The one who prays is a theologian; the one who is a theologian, prays.” This means that the one who prays is a theologian in the deepest and most fundamental sense of the word. Prayer, even the desire for prayer, is always a movement, drawing us to God; it is the mysterious action of the Holy Spirit in the human heart.

If “the one who prays is a theologian,” it is because – we can say this very humbly – each one of us knows prayer in the Spirit. In moments of true prayer, the grace of the Holy Spirit in the heart of our being causes a longing, a desire, a cry for help, emotion before the beauty of the cosmos, or compassion for the suffering that surrounds us. The Holy Spirit introduces us to communion with the Son, Jesus Christ, in the mystery of the Incarnation – the debasement, humiliation, suffering, and death. He educates us to compassion, by making us suffer with the Lord. Through the way of the Cross and death, He leads us to new life and Resurrection. He opens in us a new space, in which Christ appears with His face, the face of a Man of Sorrows and the face of the Risen One. The two go together because in the body of the Risen One the stigmata of the crucifixion remain as shafts of light. The Lord, to the degree we penetrate into His mystery, raises us toward the Father in an infinite, never-ending ascent.

The saying “The one who prays is a theologian” introduces a genuine theology beyond words and concepts, theological theories, and even dogmatic formulations. These latter act as necessary barriers against danger, on the right and the left, but they themselves are based on this living experiences of the trinitarian mystery. (125-126)

However, the other half of this saying “…the one who is a theologian prays” represents a challenge, a “judgmental query” to those who consider themselves theologians.

It challenges those who feel they are vested with the charisms of theological expression, of teaching and of knowledge – for they are charisms, that is, gifts of the Holy Spirit. Every reflection on the mysteries of God and of his works represents a judgment, the outcome of which is staked on whether congruity exists between the word and deed, the speech and action, of the “theologian.” Speaking of God in the third person carries the inherent danger of cutting speech off from life, of forgetting about God in the second person and the necessary relationship between dialogue and prayer. Theology then becomes a profession, a dangerous intellectual and conceptual exercise that desiccates the inner life. (126)

Father Boris proceeds to recount the words of Patriarch Athenagoras that he used to used to utter around 1960 as he pursued his ecumenical goals: “We will gather all the theologians and put them on an island, with everything they need. And while they discuss, we will love one another.” He comments that:

This anecdotal jest borders on the tragic and reveals the real danger within certain Orthodox circles of divorcing theology and life. The theologian who does not enter the royal priesthood of the Church and priests who neglect theological formation run the same risk. This painful divorce has led to a hardening and friction between the theological world and ecclesial circles. “The one who is a theologian, prays” therefore asserts a question, a vocation, an appeal, and a judgment of the Spirit and of Christ in our lives. (127)

To be continued…

The third section of The Compassion of the Fatherby Father Boris Bobrinskoy is entitled “Toward the knowledge of God” and begins with an essay on “Theology and Spirituality.” I first came across it in French and found it important enough to want to translate, but was pleased to discover that somebody better qualified than myself had already done so!

After noting the danger involved in separating and opposing theology and spirituality, Father Boris proceeds to consider the relationship between silence and the word. Theos and logos refer to the first to persons of the Trinitarian mystery, of the mystery of God who speaks, for, in the words of Saint Ignatius of Antioch, “The Word of God wells up from the silence of the Father.”

Two basic and inseparable concepts, silence and the word, must be compared in speaking of theology. The word, as solely word, becomes chatter; it remains an externalization without depth. Silence, when not expressed, remains inaccessible, as St Paul says, “[He] lives in unapproachable light, whom no one has seen” (1 Tim 6:16). This inaccessible light is the same as silence. The Word of God is the foundation not only of trinitarian theology but also of the universe. God creates through His Word: “God said, ‘Let there be light!’” (Gen 1:3). (122)

Father Boris proposes a threefold approach in which we can speak of God in the first person, the second person and the third person.

To speak of God in the first person is to speak of God’s own speech.

To say that God speaks is extremely important, even if we cannot hear the words. God creates by speech and the Word of God is the essential, ontological act through which the human being and the world came into existence. God carries the world through His Word … In the presence of God who speaks, first there is listening, second obedience – the “yes,” the amen, of the human being to God. (122)

To speak of God in the second person is to address God as “You” as grow in a filial relationship, a relationship of friendship, unity and communion, that leads to deification.

A dialogue of prayer, of worship – not only ecclesial but also inner – structures and defines the true existence of the human person. (123)

Only as a consequence of this dialogue can we speak of God in the third person.

If one isolates God in the third person, one makes an object of Him, one reifies (chosifie) Him: this is the great danger of theology. Theology is then severed from its roots, from its foundation, its framework, from this living dialogue where God speaks and humanity responds. Only within a living relationship may one speak of God. (123)

Speech about God is furthermore rooted in confession, whether that be the preaching of the apostles, or the confession of faith of those about to be baptised.

Preaching was the first manifestation of the descent of the Holy Spirit on the apostles, whom He had led “to remember” and who made the words of Christ come out of their hearts where they had been engraved. (123)

To be continued…

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion on the Inner Eucharist in the sixth chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherby looking at the common principles that unite the Eucharist and the prayer of the heart.

Both the Eucharist and the prayer of the heart have an “exclusive” aspect which involves a “setting apart” of both the liturgical community and the one who prays. Just as we are called to lay aside earthly cares in the Liturgy, so also inner prayer involves a withdrawal to the cell of the heart and a laying aside of thoughts.

But both ecclesial prayer and personal prayer also have an inclusive aspect, involving intercession for the world, and a carrying of the world that is both filial and maternal.

During the invocation of the blessed Name of Jesus, a content dark and ambiguous rises from the depths. The heart is purified and freed from the passions and their roots; the forces of evil are exorcised to the extent of the encounter with the Name of Jesus that consumes, purifies, and sanctifies. This deep healing is not limited to the praying individual, but spreads around him or her like a sweet-smelling perfume. Sufferings, pains, preoccupations, and passions good or bad fill the human heart, and they cannot be left at the outer door of the church. If unheeded, these invade us to such a degree that prayer ultimately becomes impossible.

Therefore, it is important to present to the Lord a heart which is “falling apart at the seams” with the misery and suffering of the world and to purify it and exorcise it. The more the heart is purified and freed from the forces of evil, the more it echoes the suffering found in the heart of the Master who had compassion on the crowds and the sick. Through purification, it images the Master’s own heart. (115)

Moreover, both the Eucharist and the prayer of the heart have an apostolic aspect which involves a being sent into the world. In the “liturgy after the liturgy” we see the relationship between the Sunday, which is both the first day of the week and the eighth day which represents fullness, and the rest of the week. During the week we both prepare for the Eucharist and live out its fullness.

The rhythms of the eucharistic liturgy have been compared to the flux and reflux of the blood in the anatomical heart. There is an alternation between the systole – the contraction of the heart for the expansion of the blood that penetrates the organs, the cells, and reoxygenates them – and the diastole where, on the contrary, the heart becomes larger. When we leave the eucharistic banquet – where the Name of Jesus has become our food and where we are absorbed in Him – the Blood of Christ flows in our veins and irrigates our cells. When our heart beats in unison with the heart of the Master, we are – in the image of the apostles at Pentecost – sent back into the world to announce the wonderful things of God. …

As in the Eucharist, the encounter with God in the prayer of the heart must pass into another mode, a mode in which we present God to others. In benediction and with compassion, we lay the Name of Jesus on every creature, our own inner world, and our remembrance of the past and the future. (115-116)

In addition, both the eucharistic Liturgy and the prayer of the heart ascribe a key role to the Holy Spirit. It is a misunderstanding to see the prayer of the heart as exclusively Christ-centred. Prayers to Christ

constitute, in reality, the Pentecostal turning point, the basic gift of the Spirit: “No one can say, ‘Jesus is Lord, except by the Holy Spirit” (Cor 12:3). Consequently, the motion of the Holy Spirit causes the heartfelt urge to call Jesus “Lord,” and to desire His Lordship to live in the heart. (117)

It is the Spirit who engraves the Name of Jesus in our hearts so that Christ is formed in us.

Here we touch upon the deep meaning of spiritual fatherhood for those who seek to be awakened to the mystery of Christ through the grace of the Holy Spirit. The mystery of Christ is like a fiery name, a name of blood inscribed in the heart. The Spirit hides from view in the names of Jesus, which He makes present through the invocation of the same name in the heart. (117)

In the sixth chapter of The Compassion of the Fatherentitled “The Inner Eucharist”, Father Boris Bobrinskoy turns his attention to the relationship between the prayer of the heart and the Eucharist of the Church. He begins:

Our era is more sympathetic to an individualistic conception of salvation or to particular techniques of the prayer of the heart than to ecclesial, cosmic, and social implications. Nonetheless, personal sanctification restores the human being to the liturgical function and vocation to encompass the entire world, the totality of humankind, in a pacified and loving heart. Sanctification restores the liturgical and royal mediation of the human person in a world shot through with waves of hatred and death, obscured by the powers of darkness, a world that groans and waits for the liberation of the children of God (Rom 8:21). Inner transformation of the human heart necessarily restores the sacramental function of the Church, which is which is to unite all human life to the mystery of the dead and risen Christ and to become transparent to the sanctifying presence of the divine Spirit. The rediscovery of the human being as a liturgical being causes a celebration of praise to God and the inscription of these praises in all modalities of life and work. (109)

There is thus an inseparable, intimate link between common liturgical prayer centred on the Eucharist, and our personal intimate prayer which comprises a secret liturgy on the altar of our own hearts. Father Boris draws on the work of Father Dumitru Staniloaë which has helped to underline the dogmatic, ecclesial and eucharistic character of the texts of the Philokalia. He also cites the following patristic texts that are worth quoting here:

Saint Macarius: Just as wine mingles in all the members of the one who drinks it and is transformed in him and he in wine, so does the one who drinks the Blood of Christ quench his thirst with the divine spirit who comingles with his soul and the soul with Him. For, through the Eucharist, those who commune with dignity reach the ability to partake of the Holy Spirit, and in this manner souls can live eternally. (110)

Origen: You are, all of you, a priestly people. Consequently, you have access to the sanctuary; each one of you has in himself his holocaust and he himself kindles the altar of sacrifice, so that it burns continually. If I renounce all my possessions, if I carry my cross and follow Christ, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I deliver my body in order to burn with charity, if I acquire the glory of martyrdom, I offer myself as a holocaust on the altar of God. If I love my brothers to the point of giving up my soul for them, if I fight to the death for justice and truth, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God. If I mortify my members of all carnal concupiscence, if the world is crucified to me and I to the world, I offer my holocaust on the altar of God and I become the priest of my own sacrifice. (111)

Saint Ephrem: [The solitaries] are ordained priests for themselves, and they offer their asceticism. Fasting is their offering and wakefulness their prayer; repentance and faith are the sanctuary, their meditations are the holocaust. Their contemplation is the priest who presides; their lips offer the sacrifice unceasingly, prayer that longs for inner peace. (111)

Saint Gregory the Sinaite: The heart freed from all thought is moved by the Holy Spirit Himself and has become a true temple even before the end of time. The liturgy is celebrated entirely according to the Spirit. The one who has not yet reached this state will, thanks to other virtues, perhaps be a good stone in the construction of this temple, but he himself is not yet the temple of the Spirit nor His high priest. (111)

To be continued…

In the fifth chapter of The Compassion of the Father entitled “The Art of the Invocation of the Name,” Father Boris Bobrinskoy begins by describing the composition and spreading of the Philokalia in the last centuries which has gone hand in hand with a movement of spiritual renewal, both in the Orthodox Church and beyond its boundaries. Central to the texts of the Philokalia, which were spread over twelve centuries, is the theme of interior pray which “reaches the universal depths of the human being.” (100)

This “prayer of the heart” is deeply rooted in Scripture, and it is also linked to the Church’s liturgy.

The liturgy is not only the public form of the prayer of the people, of the Church. The liturgy also echoes in the depths of the heart, where the human person is the celebrant at an altar of inner sacrifice. God calls us to this inner sacrifice: “Mercy is what pleases me, not sacrifice” (M 9:13; 12:7). Numerous Old Testament passages recount God’s abhorrence of blood sacrifices because truth and justice do not accompany them. Likewise, St Paul admonishes: “Offer your bodies as a living sacrifice; your body is the temple of the Holy Spirit; and you are this temple” (1 Cor 3:16 and Rom 12:1). The Fathers developed the relationship between the public worship of the Church and this inner worship as a philokalic theme. (101)

In Jesus and the Mother of God we see summarized the entire contents of the Old Testament in the transition to the New Testament. Taught by the Spirit Jesus reveals to us the Name of the Father.

In Jesus, prayer was unceasing, perpetual; it embraced the entire space of His heart and being. Jesus is prayer, a prayer concentrated primarily in the Name of the Father. To say “Abba” constitutes Jesus’ being one with the Father: “The Father and I are one.” (Lk 10:30) (103)

In the life of the Mother of God we see the secrets of the prayer of the heart disclosed. Citing St Gregory Palamas’ homily on the Presentation in the Temple, Father Boris suggests that the feast signifies

the passage from the temple made by human hand to the temple “not made by human hand” – precisely, the Mother of God herself, who carries within the divine Word. Mary is called to become the sanctuary and temple of God. … In her, the Name of Jesus and the Name of God blended. The entire mystery of Mary lies in the unceasing and loving invocation of these two names. (103)

In His kenōsis Jesus shares with His disciples what rightly belongs to Him, giving us the right to call upon God as Father.

Only by entering into the heart of Jesus can the name of “Father” truly be heard. Discerned in the very heart of Jesus are the groaning of the Spirit. …

The invocation of the name of God is inseparable from the mystery of the heart, for there the Name is engraved, the presence of the beloved is lived. We can speak of the heart of God, of the heart of the Father, of His bowels of mercy. In the heart of the Father, the Name of the Son resides, just as in the heart of the Son the Name of the Father resides. Until the agony at Gethsemene and Golgotha, the Name of the Father and that of God are placed upon the lips of Jesus. However, the last cry from the Cross was not “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” (Mt 27:46), but “Father, into your hands I commit my spirit (Lk 23:46). (104)
In this kenōsis Jesus’ glory is revealed and He is acknowledged as the Lord. The early Christians were distinguished from Judaism through the invocation of the Name of the Lord. “Thus, since Pentecost, we pass from the prayer of Jesus to the prayer to Jesus.” (105) This invocation is continued in the liturgy in the Kyrie eleison.

Contrary to what is thought, Christian prayer is not a simply refrain to petitions by the deacon in a litany. The Kyrie eleison, properly speaking, is the prayer; the deacon gives only the intentions. Unquestionably, the great universal litany that follows the Gospel is an example of this: “Let us say, with our whole soul and our whole spirit; Kyrie eleison.” (106)

Father Boris concludes this essay by noting that the Philokalia is intended for all the Christian faithful. It is moreover, at text that links spirituality and dogma and seeks to show the inner effects of external observations, such as fasting. He concludes:

Reading a few texts of the Philokalia may give the impression – a wrong one – that prayer of the heart is self-sufficient. People request, “Teach us about hesychasm, and the prayer of the heart.” Prayer of the heart is part of a whole, the fulfilment of the commandments, the struggle against the passions, and spiritual asceticism … All this takes place in and through the life in the Church.” (107)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of the fourth chapter of The Compassion of the Fatheron “The Prayer of the Heart and Suffering” by distinguishing three more aspects of prayer.

The first of these is the exclusive way in which we set ourselves apart for prayer, whether personal or liturgical, in exclusive way, enabling us to enter a “face-to-face” encounter with God. This solitary dimension is a requirement of all prayer.

The second aspect is inclusive because inner prayer tends to become intercession.

Totally turned toward the Father, Christ carries and intercedes for the entire world: “Father, I want those you have given me to be with me where I am” (Jn 17:24). We are called to be where Jesus is – at the right hand of the Father – to be seated with Him in the heavens. St Paul often speaks of this in his “captivity” Epistles, Ephesians and Colossians, and in the Epistle to the Hebrews. Likewise, the veneration of the Mother of God recalls and symbolizes this motherly intercession of Christ and the saints: “My dear children,” St Paul says, for whom I am in the pain of childbirth until Christ is formed in you” (Gal 4:19). On the spiritual plane, the man, like the woman – and in the same fashion – suffers the pains of childbirth for those whom they bring into the world, also for those whom they see moving away from the grace of the house of God. Consequently, the most personal and most profound prayer requires embracing the world, concretely and in an everyday manner, bringing it before God. Carrying the world before God involves carrying suffering, horror, and evil, so that they be burned and exorcised – a process possible only to the extent that the roots of evil, which lie in my own heart, are exorcised and burned in the face-to-face encounter with the Name of Jesus. (95)

This relationship with the Name of Jesus is very important and the Bible takes the mystery of the Name very seriously. The name symbolises the presence so that ultimately prayer is the only manner of naming God.

The mark of the Christian is that this Name of Jesus has entered his or her life. Neither the Byzantine Fathers, nor the hesychasts of Mt Athos, of Sinai, of Palestine, or even of Egypt – including St Macarius, St Antony, and St Pachomius – invented the prayer of the heart and the invocation of the Name of Jesus. The Acts of the Apostles and the Epistles of St Paul attest that even before the name “Christian” was popularized and made common in Antioch, the believers were “those who at all times invoked the name of the Lord.” Furthermore, the first preaching of St Peter ends, in Acts: “And everyone who calls upon the name of the Lord will be saved” (Acts 2:21). This “Name of the Lord” is Kyrios, the Greek equivalent of the Hebrew “Yahweh,” the ineffable and holy Name of God that Jesus Himself inherits, by right. St Peter said that Jesus was “made Lord.” The Father no longer solely bears this name “Lord.” Jesus partakes fully of this divine lordship and possesses this name as His own title.

The invocation of the name “Lord,” referring to Jesus, is a very early prayer. Even before the wide use of the Name of Jesus, the term “Lord” in the Aramaic language, Maranatha, or “Come, Lord,” is used. Certain modern liturgies reproduce this Maranatha or its Greek form – Kyrie eleison – without being translated, in the Latin and Western liturgies. Kyrie eleison is reminiscent of a time when the prayer of the heart was not the prerogative of specialists, of prayer professionals, but when the entire people of God personally practiced it under very varied forms.(96)

The third aspect of prayer is that it has an apostolic fruitfulness which sends us out into the world to give live-giving testimony to the Name of the Lord.

Consequently, the dismissal of the faithful at the end of the Liturgy has a deep symbolic meaning: it announces the end merely of the first part of the Liturgy. At that moment, the believers enter and bring to the world the presence of the living word of Christ. (97)

Father Boris ends this chapter with a section entitled “Are Newspapers a Help in Prayer?” in which he recounts Archimandrite Sophrony’s account of a discussion between Saint Silouan and some other monks. Saint Silouan argues that newspapers confuse the mind whereas prayer clears the mind and enables one to feel compassion. Father Boris ends by quoting Saint Silouan:

If you would hold on to prayer, you must love those who offend against you, and pray for them until your soul is reconciled to them, and then the Lord will give you prayer without cease, for He gives prayer to those who pray for their enemies. In prayer, our teacher is the Lord Himself. He who prays aright has the peace of God in his soul. The man of prayer should feel tenderly towards every living thing. The man of prayer loves all men and has compassion for all, for the grace of the Holy Spirit has taught him love.” (98)

Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of the fourth chapter of The Compassion of the Father on “The Prayer of the Heart and Suffering” by pointing out that Jesus Christ is the living and permanent reference for our prayer. Entering into his prayer necessarily means entering into the prayer of the heart, for

As long as the heart does not pray, the human being does not pray. There is no other way to have recourse to Jesus – not only to find strength in Him, but so that He may come into us; so that He may pray in us; so that it is no longer we who live but He who lives in us. As He is in the Holy Spirit and the Holy Spirit is in Him, so in us, may the Holy Spirit sigh and call, “Abba, Father.” (91)

Following Jesus means learning to offer our own hearts, for closed hearts are not acceptable to God.

All our actions, all our words – even the most noble – reach neither others nor God if they are not preceded, accompanied, followed, and interiorized by this oblation of the heart. It is when the heart opens itself, when it ceases being hardened, when it fortifies itself with the spirit of compassion, that it is able to fill itself with the misery of the world. In the prayer of the heart, and in the public prayer of the eucharistic Liturgy, the Last Supper, the Church intercedes for the needs of the world. This intercession must be made in the most general but also the most concrete manner possible, by evoking surrounding needs and difficulties. There is also continuity, a continuation of the public Eucharist in the prayer of the heart, which the Fathers view as an inner Eucharist. The two are indeed of the same nature. (91-92)

Father Boris then proceeds to discuss the example that Saint Sergius and Andrei Rublev give in this regard, citing Brother Daniel-Ange’s book on Rublev’s icon of the Holy Trinity:

What a contrast between this icon and this epoch marked by war, famine, epidemics, and heaps of smoking ruins! Brother Daniel-Ange wonders, “How many were these eyes, who have seen so many children massacred, innocents tortured, so many churches devastated, nameless dramas, able to project a light so serene? These hands must have wiped tears and bandaged innumerable wounds: How were they able to paint these faces from which flows such peace? In his icons, how does the anxiety of such an epoch not show through?”

If so many horror scenes had not traumatized St Andrei, it is because, undoubtedly very early, he discovered this face on so many tortured faces (there eyes were gouged as was the custom). Having been washed by the tears of his Lord, his eyes ended up embracing all distress, with a look that was able to understand, to commiserate. This look saves because it flows from an unnameable commodity: the tenderness of God. One of these looks may appease, console, and heal, not because it would be closed to the ugliness and sadness of the world, but because, by contrast, it goes to the end of the horror. These wide eyes of Jesus cried as no one has ever cried, but also granted a luminous forgiveness previously unknown on earth. (92-93)

To be continued…

In the fourth chapter of The Compassion of the Father, on “The Prayer of the Heart and Suffering,” Father Boris Bobrinskoy begins by noting that suffering threatens to either destroy us or else to harden us and the only way to avoid this is by turning to Christ. He then continues to address the role of the prayer of the heart in this process.

Human beings are beings of communion, but sin, fear and their consequences have made us strangers to others, to ourselves and to God. Opening ourselves to God involves opening ourselves to those around us and we cannot do that without striving for inner unity. “Prayer of the heart presupposes and signifies this entire mystery of the human heart.” (86)

When we encounter suffering, and especially intense suffering, we run the risk of either self-destruction or of developing a hard shell for protection, or of developing reactions such as sadism and cruelty.

No one is immunized against this. Not one of these dangers is entirely and totally alien to us. All of us, saints as well as sinners, walk along abysses of hatred and evil. (86)

It is in the context of seeking to find the strength to resist such psychic and spiritual destruction, that Father Boris places the importance of the prayer of the heart.

Prayer of the heart, not as a panacea, but as a “master key,” is a tool that has stood the test. What is important is not the “technique” of this prayer, but the deep life of the believer. At the ground level of being and life, Christians faced with suffering find the proper attitude. Living the life of Christ, letting oneself be penetrated by His Spirit, by His breath of mercy, constitutes Christianity. According to the Bible, that means acquiring the bowels of compassion and tenderness of the Father. According to the second chapter of Philippians, it presupposes having the same feelings as Jesus Christ, not in the sense of mimicry or external imitation, but a true “transfer” on a plane more important and fundamental than the psychological level. A transfer of presence, of life center, of grace and love must operate in us so that we might live in Christ, and Christ might live in us. Certainly, this transfer operates in a global, constant, and progressive manner, through the sacramental life, love, prayer, and faith. For us Christians, the Church is the place of apprenticeship of this transfer: its entire pedagogy, its sacramental and liturgical transmission, its spiritual methodology, and its ascetic experience of the inner life, what the Fathers call the unseen warfare against the passions. (87)

According to Scripture and “the most authentic spirituality of the West as well as of the East,” the heart is not simply concerned with affectivity, but is “the preeminent seat of the spiritual life.” (88) It is the place of the presence of God but also of the forces of evil and needs to be purified in order to return to its first vocation. Thus we can see the heart as

the center of convergence and radiation, as the place of unification of all the faculties, feelings, and living forces of the human being: body, soul and spirit.(88)

Prayer of the heart is not only about interiority, but also seeks

to render back to us this unity in which the mind is not alien to this intimacy with God. The entire human being moves in the wake of Christ: the body itself prayerfully reflects in its face the presence and grace of God. The tragedy of sin weighs down our civilizations and causes a dissociation in us on various levels of life: autonomy of the senses becomes sensuality; intelligence becomes rationalism; the heart turns toward sentimentality. This break between the mind and the heart, which reflects the individual as well as society, rebounds on Christian culture and society, on behaviours, on the very life of faith. (89)

Jesus Christ came to restore human unity. The Gospels show Him experiencing intense prayer and also moments of strong emotion in which He was distressed by the suffering He encountered.

Suffering includes not only physical or moral suffering but also this compassion of Jesus and of the saints when faced by those who refuse the light, the truth, goodness, and love – explicitly or implicitly, under avowed or disavowed forms. Our prayer must enlarge to the measure and to the image of Jesus. (90)

This prayer of Jesus was not isolated to particular moments but was a perpetual prayer, a communion, and the key to this communion is the Holy Spirit.

To be continued…

In the third chapter of The Compassion of the Father, Father Boris Bobrinskoy continues his discussion of the mystery of forgiveness. He begins by pointing out that in the Liturgy, the Lord’s Prayer follows the epiclesis and that it is only in this context of the invocation of the Holy Spirit who transforms us into the Body and Blood of Christ, that we can live the Our Father – with its petition to “forgive us our trespasses as we forgive those who trespass against us” – to the full. Indeed, “if we expect God to forgive us to the extent of our own forgiveness, it is a vain hope because we ourselves are not able to forgive.” (74)

In the Bible we encounter the primacy of the forgiveness of God which would seem to contradict the words of the Our Father “forgive us … as we forgive.” Here Father Boris distinguishes two degrees of forgiveness. The first is universal and absolute, that in Christ God has forgiven us. This is unconditional, for God loved us when we were still sinners. But there is also second degree of forgiveness:

through the action of the Holy Spirit we are called to be collaborators with the work of God by assuming this mystery and this achievement, the fruit of the forgiveness of God. Universal forgiveness is offered by not imposed. The human being remains free – this is the great mystery of the Christian faith – in the presence of the love of God, the forgiveness of God, the light of God, which we may accept or reject. Thus our refusal of God is part of the mystery of His love. (75)

Moreover, in the prayer of Christ on the cross – “Father, forgive them…” – we encounter the supreme reconciliation with the Father. This prayer encompasses all times and space.

Being in solidarity with his executioners, we are all concerned with this prayer of forgiveness that Christ addresses to the Father. The slightest refusal of God, indeed the smallest rejection of His love, unites us with those who tempted Christ during His life, and with those who crucified Him. Thus the prayer of Christ is truly an epiclesis to the Father. (76)

But sin is more than simply individual deeds. Behind it there is a personal power that seeks to subdue and destroy humanity. It divides them, whereas Jesus died in order to gather together the scattered children of God. (Jn 11:52) Sin breaks our “communing” character, isolating us from God, from other people and from ourselves. God comes to be seen as far away and harsh. Human relations become characterised by hate, incomprehension and vengeance. And the human being disintegrates, losing integrity and unity of being.

The deep heart, the immaterial place in the image of God, though indestructible, becomes alienated, seriously overshadowed, darkened, and locked up in its own depth. The human being becomes a stranger to his or her identity and ultimate vocation, roaming like a suffering soul between heaven and earth. In this state of multiple dissociation, the human being is at the same time a victim of possessive Satanic powers and enslaved to his or her own desires. (77)

However, this does not take away our own responsibility – “Responsibility and guilt remain because the image of God continues to glow in the depths.” (78) Forgiveness means that when God wipes the sin away, He heals the underlying wound and creates a new heart.

Man cannot truly heal himself: he does not have the strength for it because the wound in him is too big; it continues to bleed and cause suffering. Only God can forgive. (78)

Thus forgiveness means us allowing God to heal the wound of our own heart.

When we hear the words of the priest at the eucharistic liturgy, “Let us lift up our hearts” and the response of the choir, “We lift them up unto the Lord,” what happens at that moment? What does it mean “to lift up one’s heart to God?” This can be understood in the sense of forgetting all that is earthly, human, secular, and of turning to God in a relationship of absolute verticality, of prayer, adoration, and total supplication. That, however, is only a way of perception because whether we like it or not, our heart is a universe. Our heart is wider than the world because it contains it; it knows that the world does not know this mystery it carries within. When our hearts are filled with everything that make up our existence, our joys, our sorrows, all our loves, all our hatred and sufferings, what can we do? We are not able to tear all this from our hearts. Thus, we can only lift up our hearts to God. Just as we expose the sick part of our body to radiation that can heal it, so do we lift up our sick hearts and ask the Lord to penetrate them; we ask Him to enter into our sick and beseeching hearts with all His power, His grace, His love, with all the presence, the light and the fire of the Spirit to consume what must be, to transform and recreate what must remain for the kingdom. (79-80)

In this process we also learn not to place ourselves at the centre of things – for “who am I not to forgive?” – and repentance becomes the key to forgiveness.

When I ask for forgiveness while viewing myself as “the least of men and the chief sinner,” the forgiveness of the other assumes another resonance. Therefore I cannot forgive unless I ask forgiveness from all and each. This is the preliminary and inner dimension of forgiveness. When I forgive, it is still the me that is at the center. Conversely, when I ask for forgiveness, I break this proud me; the forgiveness of the neighbour, or of the one whose neighbour I am, becomes necessary.

The mystery of repentance is the first work of the Holy Spirit, which is to bring us to recognise ourselves as sinners, aliens, and orphans. “Give your blood and receive the Spirit,” a patristic adage states. The Spirit descends on the world in tongues of fire, in dew of living water to quench the thirsty, in healing the wounds of sin, in leading the lost sheep to the house of the Father, when I discover myself – and me alone – as a sinner and guilty (1 Tim 1:15). I ask forgiveness from all and each, but above all from God who alone can forgive: “Who can forgive sins but God alone?” (Mk 2:7) (81)

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