Monday, July 9, 2018

Fr Touma (Bitar): Some Words about Man... as Prayer!

Arabic original here.

Some Words about Man... as Prayer!

Life is a project of prayer. It exists for prayer. Man has no value unless he prays. Prayer is the value. In prayer, man becomes man. There is no time for it in principle, because all time is for it. Prayer is to cover all of life. Thus the saying: pray at all times, pray and do not grow weary! This is for everyone, not only for ascetics. Just as breath is for all people, so too is prayer for all people. Without breath, the body dies and without prayer the heart dies. Man is not a body, but a being in a body. The body needs air and the heart needs spirit. In the beginning, God breathed into man the breath of life and Adam became a living soul. After the resurrection, the Lord Jesus breathed upon His disciples: receive the Holy Spirit! At Pentecost, all were filled with the Holy Spirit (Acts 2). Thus man grows with prayer and life is firmly rooted within him or it decreases and every day he takes a step towards the grave and so after a life without meaning comes a death without meaning. Is it not the case that being of dust cancels every other value in him? Very truly, then, man was created to pray! God, in the superabundance of His love, extended Himself in creation to man in order to allow man, to extend himself, by his "amen", in newness of  life, to God. Fathomless being calls out to fathomless being. This is the language of divine longing.

Life is a project of prayer because life in its entirety is a love story. Or we treat it as vanity, and it is not vanity, because vanity does not sprout life and life is not confirmed by vanity. Vanity, with regard to life, is from death. Love is the content of life or else there is no life. So man is prayer because he is love! And true prayer is the Holy Spirit within us because love subsists in the Holy Spirit. Love alone persists forever because God is love. Only this is the meaning. The purpose of life on earth is for man to acquire the Spirit of God!

In practice, prayer begins as an imposition, but it is completed as a state of prayer. A person prays first of all with his senses, his mind, his feeling... He acts it out, as though standing before the Lord, emulating those who have gone before. His direction of prayer is the icon. He collects himself. He departs from every fantasy. Each time he is displaced, he regains himself. This isn't easy. He practices self-control. Prayer is impossible at first without seizing oneself. This is an experience that does not depend on human conviction, but on expert experience and then on hope. Hope isn't hoping-for. We do not, by seizing the self, hope that arrive at a result that we may or may not arrive at. Hope is, in a sense, certain arrival before departure. The important thing is to proceed in certainty, self-control and persistence. We realize the importance of a new experience when we have reached the goal. Its basis is faith and trust in the Word and the Speaker. But it is difficult to practice faith and trust where there is no good model or blessed upbringing. Sometimes we practice prayer with understanding and other times we practice it without understanding. Sometimes, with something of the senses and other times, without sensation. Sometimes with joy, with a certain consolation, and other times without one or the other. Sometimes, with relaxation and other times, with toil. Sometimes, there is within us something that desires prayer and other times, there is something within us that resists prayer. Sometimes, it is with bodily movements accompanied by a sensation of prayer, and other times it is absolutely without sensation. This is how it is at the start of the path.What then? The important thing is that we pray. The important thing is that we persist in saying the prayer, in the motion of prayer. We have, in the body, an entryway to the heart and, in its time, God descends into the heart. The body is a mystery. If we seize it as something for God, even if only in form, the heart moves. The man of sin is an imitative animal. If we make him imitate what belongs to God, he opens to the Lord without know it. God is alive. No one can imitate divine things as dead ideas and motions. This is because your Lord is in His name, in every motion, image, groan of the heart and thought approaches أim, intentionally or unintentionally, with good motive or evil, in earnestness or jest. You come to Him as though He does not exist but He comes to you because He does exist. You come to Him as a joke and He comes to you with pardon, but severe and causing great pain. A saint named Porphyrius was an actor. He came to Him sarcastically, but his Lord came to him by force, startling him and seizing his guts, so he succumbed, believed and fell into great distress. The love of God in him transformed into pain and burning of the heart, so he was pleased to be martyred and so, mad with love, he overcame disbelief. The mind, in the cyclone of love, proves to be foolish. In this way, play-acting is transformed into what it represents. And in this way, the imposition of prayer grows into the heart's dwelling in the Spirit of God, miraculously... by God's grace.

In prayer, there is something like the gradual motion of the tides, perfectly governed by God's wisdom and tied to the existential state of the person praying, what is beneficial and what is not beneficial to him. It comes to a person from the frequency and regularity that he imposes on himself, as though it is from a machine,  with with a feeling that starts to grow, as though from the motion and from the outside inward. Or rather, as though from the One who moves within us, according to His disposition, holding us while we do not hold Him. We gradually become accustomed to handing over the reins of the soul to Him, soberly observing what is happening inside us and the flexibility of His approach, like someone whose desire it is to cry out with the one singing: my beloved plays his pipe and I follow him! Everything that the one praying had previously heard is one thing and what he observes along the path is something else. It is as though what he had heard or read is tossed aside apart from an itinerary with landmarks to the One who is secretly accompanying you. He looks upon you to be absent from you and He is present with you so that you do not go astray, even if you sometimes wander. There is something personal in your journey, so long as your relationship to the One coming to you remains personal. He approaches you and you are consoled by something that you do not see from where it is coming to you. Then it slips away and you thirst for it, your heart is parched and you are haunted by doubt. But you go forward with resolve. Like someone who is and is not looking for the object of his desire and who gradually learns that she is also seeking him and that he only has to wait for her in silence and steadfastness, practicing patience, far from any imagining or strange sensation that fantasy produces when the soul is hurried in seeking that which is only given at the proper time. Abiding in dryness, monotony, persistence and waiting is hard. To follow the promise, surrendering your control, relinquishing your personal initiatives, this is something new for you! For you to learn to empty yourself as though you are a newborn who knows and does not know that there is someone taking his hand, reassuring him, while the one who whispers fear stands there, encouraging you to turn back, and your senses are helpless. There is no god, says the tempter, but you, in your determination, become aware that the Comforter encourages you to proceed. Do not fear! Behold, I am with you! This strengthens and relaxes you at times. Whenever you are on the precipice of falling, He brings you back together. Whenever you are troubled and cry out, 'Save me,' He guides you. He has taken you by the hand like Peter when he was drowning. Your path, my brother, is to remain steadfast when you are in weakness and even when you are debilitated, otherwise you will not realize any progress. Prayer is for those who are always aware of their nothingness so that the power of the Most High might dwell within them. The important thing is to keep moving forward. The more you uproot from yourself, the more He takes you and makes you by grace into something you never imagined. After that, the path teaches you the path as you walk and do not walk toward the One who has known you and comes to you so that you may know Him. Do not fear and if you fear, when you start to empty yourself, as though you are no longer capable of praying, His Spirit starts to pray within you! From there you transcend fear of skin so that you may be covered by fear of the Beloved. Do not ask, "What then?" This is sufficient for you to come to Him. From there, His hook is in you.

Prayer is the antidote that heals every poison, the alchemy that transforms every metal into gold. Without it, everything turns into poison and every metal is meager. Everything that happens to you happens so that you might pray. Creation is treated as something seasoned with prayer, otherwise it spoils. In prayer there is health and without it illness. Prayer may grant you to live your entire life without getting sick and prayer may grant that your body is ill throughout your life, but your heart is hale. It is as though you are in a body that is not of the same material as the bodies of those who do not believe or as though you are in a body that, if it falls ill, divine grace settles in it, and there is nothing more glorious. Creation is a language of those who love each other or you whither and die. And creation is a temple for God to dwell in by grace. It is true that it is possible for someone to turn his back to God, but he cannot persist for long, or else he encounters injustice, murder, wantonness, and all the abominations of the earth. The heart that insists on estrangement from God seeks death, longs for death, and works for death! Prayer is the greatest of gifts because it is the greatest thing that is given to man as a creature. In prayer, your Lord wanted to give Himself, because He is the foundation of everything, otherwise there is no sense to the words of the Chosen Apostle, "Life for me is Christ and to die is gain." In prayer, we have been granted to become intimates of God. We speak to Him as a friend speaking to a friend, according to the example of Moses. Your Lord's destiny is for you to see Him face to face as He is and for you to meet Him in the throes of love, until you arrive at Him. So start it, so that you do not die of ennui.

Archimandrite Touma (Bitar)
Abbot of the Monastery of Saint Silouan the Athonite-- Douma, Lebanon
July 1, 2018

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