Fulfilled Prayer ( 16.03.2008 )
Before I say anything about today’s Gospel reading, I would like to draw your attention to Philip’s, “Come and see!”, as an answer to Nathanael’s question, “Can anything good come out of Nazareth?”—on the one hand; also to Nathanael’s acceptance of this simple method of checking things—on the other hand. We will not go into that how much power bore in them these words of Philip because of his meeting with Christ, since the responsibility for the decisions and actions is first of all our personal problem rather than of him who calls us to do something or not. Therefore, for me, two things are important here: first, the words ‘Come and see!’ in the context of Orthodox mode of life and struggle mean nothing but ‘praxis’ and ‘theoria’, ‘purification of the heart from the passions’ and ‘illumination of the mind’. You cannot simply have the one without the other. And second, this method has obviously already been applied by Nathanael, he is familiar with it and finds it very acceptable, only this time he uses it at the most personal possible level, in a personal meeting with the Godman Christ. That will be it about this.
Today’s Gospel reading is yet another historical witness and a concrete example of perfect prayerful union and relationship between God and man created by the image of God, between the Proto-image and His icon; it is a witness to a fulfilled prayer. When Christ says to Nathanael, “When you were under the fig tree, I saw you”, He in fact reveals to him Who listened to him and also Who answered his prayer while he was praying under the fig tree. Naturally, Christ already reveals to Nathanael also Who now fulfills that prayer wholly and in reality. Nathanael, for his part, with his answer reveals us and bears witness to us that in the Godman Christ he recognizes Him to Whom he prayed and Whom he solely sought in the prayer: the Son of God and King of Israel, the awaited Messiah. Who else could know what is going on in Nathanael’s heart and mind, if not God Himself? So now, I do not know what to admire first: Nathanael’s prayer, in which he seeks only Him, or this prayer’s perfect fulfillment—both as mystical experience and as a personal meeting in the flesh—by the Godman Christ. Or, perhaps these two things are inseparable, either as an event or as inspiration…
Otherwise, our prayer to God can resemble a crowd of people standing at a distance as they are addressing the king. The latter sees before him a multitude of people, hears them all saying and asking for something, but neither can he recognize anyone nor does he know exactly who is saying what and who is asking for what. Such is the power of the prayer of them whose spiritual development is in line with the level of purification of the heart from the passions. It is not that God does not hear this prayer, too, yet it is not backed up by full commitment to God manifested by dying (living in an exile) in relation to the world, absolute obedience, and continuous practice of prayer. It is a prayer the answer to which is hardly noticeable, particularly for the inexperienced and particularly when it takes place outside the period of ‘first grace’. Since most often, whether we like it or not, it is a hired servant’s and a slave’s prayer, neither can it last long nor is it pure nor does it regularly bring forth tears and repentance.
Our prayer can also look like as if we were among ten people closest to the king. Then he knows exactly who and how is addressing him and who is asking for what. Such is the prayer of the bearers of the gift of mind-and-heart prayer at the stage of illumination. This is already a prayer at the level of a personal relationship with God, which at the same moment brings with it its answer, it brings us God. Generally, all our problems linked with our struggle against thoughts, our struggle against passions, and even the problems with bodily illnesses and pains can be immediately or soon overcome by a simple prayerful descent of the mind in the heart. When we call upon God’s help for our fellowmen with this prayer, then its fulfillment is certain; it suffices the one we are praying for to have within him a good intention and hope for salvation.
However, prayer can also resemble talking with the king face to face. Such is the prayer of the perfect. It is a miracle-working prayer. During this prayer, within the frames of the personal relationship, the Lord cannot but answer and appear to him who is praying in the form of uncreated Light, interrupting at this the prayer itself. When it comes to other people, the fulfillment of the prayer depends again on whether there is a suitable ground in the heart of them who need the prayer. Such, face to face, was the prayer of Nathanael, too. Confirmation of this is his apostolic dignity, granted by the Lord Himself. His apostolic dignity obviously corresponds with his inner spiritual state, as was the custom at the consecration and appointment of the Apostles and Episcopes during the first three centuries. Confirmation of his perfect prayer is his perfect i.e. martyr’s death as well.
What can we conclude from the meeting between Christ and Nathanael and generally from Patristic tradition about the struggle for knowledge of God, and this in the context of today’s feast—Sunday of Orthodoxy?
In accordance with the experience of all Saints, the sole foundation of genuine spiritual life is true faith. True faith unites man with God. Participation in true faith in the Church simultaneously means participation in true grace. True faith is the criterion for true spiritual life. Yet also true Orthodox and ascetical spiritual life in the Church is the sole method by which one may attain knowledge of true faith, knowledge of God. Knowledge of truth, at the personal level, in a strictly Orthodox sense, is not an intellectual human achievement but it is, first of all, God’s gift of ‘illumination of the mind’ and ‘deification of the person’. It is God’s gift that is granted following the great struggle for ‘purification of the heart from the passions’, to the utmost. Therefore, it is much necessary, along with the struggle for preservation of true faith at any cost, to preserve also the true ascetical-hesychastic tradition in the Church, the tradition of the mind-and-heart prayer.