Divine Liturgy in the monastery of the Dormition of the Most Holy Theotokos in Berovo ( 24.04.2009 )
Did not our heart burn within us?
Now it came to pass, as He sat at the table with them, that He took bread, blessed and broke it, and gave it to them. Then their eyes were opened and they knew Him; and He vanished from their sight. And they said to one another, “Did not our heart burn within us while He talked with us on the road, and while He opened the Scriptures to us?” (Luke 24:30-32).
Children, you know that the heart is the center of all our spiritual and physical forces. Most important, the essence of our mind is in our heart. Saint Macarius the Great says, “The heart is the master and king of the whole physical organism, thus when grace has occupied the area of the heart, it rules over all its parts and all its thoughts. For in the heart live the mind, and all the thoughts of the soul, and its expectation of future good things.”
The Holy Fathers heeded the Godman Jesus Christ, Who says that out of the heart proceed evil thoughts, murders, adulteries, fornications, thefts, false witness, blasphemies, that these are the things which defile a man (see Matthew 15:19-20), and also that we should first cleanse the inside of the cup and dish, that the outside of them may be clean also (see Matthew 23:26), and started struggling first of all in ‘guarding of the heart’. Therefore even to this day, from personal experience, they can bear witness to us that through ‘guarding of the heart’ one can easily attain any other virtue, while without it no one can fortify oneself in any virtue.
Now, what is our personal basis for this struggle? What else if not the grace of Holy Baptism. Saint Diadochus of Photice says, “Grace hides its presence in the one baptized, waiting for the soul to desire it. When the whole man fully turns to God, then in an ineffable experience grace reveals it is present in the heart… If the man starts making progress while abiding by the commandments and tirelessly calling out the Name of the Lord Jesus Christ, then the fire of the divine grace flares up to the utmost boundaries of the heart, burning clearly and visibly the entire chaff on the soil of man’s being… What is required of us is to repeat unceasingly (‘Lord Jesus Christ…’) inside our mind (which is confined within itself). The mind must not wander in any fantasy at that.”
Yet this ‘flaring up of the fire’ mentioned by Saint Diadochus (as well as the other Fathers) has its beginning, middle, and ending, depending on it at which level of spiritual development a man is.
Let us first look at what Saint Theophanes says about flaring up at the first level, while there is still purification of the energy of the mind going on during prayer: “At the beginning the attention is kept in the heart, and by straining of the will and with its own power it engenders warmth in the heart. This warmth then holds the attention with no particular straining. Then they prompt each other and have to remain inseparable, since distraction of the attention leads to decrease of warmth, and the decrease of warmth—to weaker attention. Hence the law of spiritual life stems: ‘keep your heart in feeling towards God, and you will always remain in remembrance of God’.
Be aware, my children, of two things. First, at this level we still do not deal with spiritual but common bodily warmth, which helps us attain the spiritual warmth. Second, at whatever level we may be, during prayer we should never direct our attention to the warmth, or to anything else but to Him, to Whom we offer ourselves. If someone should do that, let him know that it is a certain way for him not to receive or to lose the already received prayer of the heart.
What do the Holy Fathers say about the ‘flaring up of the fire’ i.e. about the spiritual warmth in them who are at the second level, who have already received the gift of the mind-and-heart prayer?
Let us hear first Saint Diadochus: “They who constantly mentally keep this holy and most glorious Name in their heart’s depths, will be able to see the light of their mind (i.e. the clearness of thoughts or the certain knowledge of all the inner movements). Besides, if this wonderful Name is kept in the thoughts with greater attention, it burns visibly all the filth that appears in the soul. Since, according to the Apostle, ‘our God is a fire that consumes all evil’ (see Hebrews 12:29). Therefore does the Lord bring the soul to great love of His glory. Staying in the warm heart through the remembrance of the mind, the most glorious and much desired Name creates the habit in us to love His goodness immensely. Namely, then there is nothing that might be an obstacle. It is the precious pearl gained when a man sells all he has. And [the man] feels ineffable joy for having found it (see Matthew 13:46).”
Then also Saint Theophanes: “When the heart is warmed by divine warmth, your inner transformation will begin. That fire will burn and melt everything in you. In other words, it will start making everything spiritual until it makes you completely spiritual. All until this fire appears, there will be no spiritual transformation, strain as we might towards the spiritual. Thus, the whole thing now is how to receive this fire. So, I beg you, concentrate all your effort on that.”
About the third level—deification i.e. about the transition of the warmth into light, which for its part transforms and enlightens the whole body, there is no need to talk now. I would only like to draw your attention to a testimony by Saint Gregory Palamas: “Even the body itself participates in the grace that has an effect on the mind, so it also turns towards it [the mind], receiving itself some of the inconceivable mysteries of the soul’. Then the body becomes ‘in an unusual way transparent and warm’, i.e. it feels the strange warmth that follows after the contemplation of the Light. It is similar with the candle: when lit, its body i.e. the wax is warm and enlightened at the same time.”
You see, children, the heart of the Apostles had burnt within them already while Christ had talked to them on the road (You are already clean because of the word which I have spoken to you – John 15:3), yet their eyes opened not earlier than when he broke the bread. The Lord clearly indicates to us the Holy Mystery of Eucharist i.e. the Church as the unique place, and also time, of the gift of beholding of God and knowledge of God.
Metropolitan Nahum of Strumica