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Intrusive Thoughts of Those Living in an Intrusive World

October 9, 2012

As a monk, I have heard people offer me the excuse that it’s much more difficult for them to deal with the thoughts, because they live in a hectic and stressful world and not in the calm setting of the monastic life. Strangely enough, I have known monks who have suffered with the thoughts much more grievously than many in the world and I have known a few select souls in the world who have had as much peace of mind as some monks. While it’s certainly true that a monastery provides an ideal setting for spiritual growth and for working with and on the thoughts, it would be a grave mistake for those living in the world to allow this “fact” to become a self-serving excuse for maintaining a stagnant status quo and to become a self-made obstacle to their spiritual growth.

It is quite true that attempting to live an authentic Christian life in the midst of our noisy, media-infested contemporary world is a mammoth challenge that those in quieter, more pastoral settings did not have to face.  A lack of stillness by day and by night only makes the daily challenges of family, work, and social responsibilities increasingly daunting. Still, Christ’s words—“be ye perfect as my heavenly Father is perfect”—were uttered for all those with ears to hear. Many in the crowd failed to seize those words and make them a compass for their lives, but those who did, especially the Apostles became light-bearers to the ends of the inhabited earth. The martyrs likewise heard those words and found their perfection in martyrdom. And monastics continued the path of martyrdom in the daily struggle in the angelic life. And what of those in the world? Saint John of the Ladder says that “angels are a light for monks, and the monastic life is a light for all men.”  So just as those who have lived in good monasteries can sense something angelic about striving monastics, so those in the world struggling to lead a devoted Christian life have something monastic about them. There are differences in degree, but all are called by the one Lord Jesus Christ to the same aim of perfection.  Human life has no other goal other than union with God, regardless of whether we are monks or lay people.  If you need reassurance, re-read the last blog post wherein I quoted Saint Paisius Velichovsky.  When we are dead, our status in the world won’t matter. The kind of car we own or the neighborhood we live in won’t matter.  It won’t matter if our boss was pleased with our efforts. It won’t matter if we retire early or late. What will matter, however, is the time and effort we spent growing closer to Christ tilling the ground of our soul with the spiritual tools His friends have left us on earth.

Remembrance of God, our own mortality, and eternal life should be among the chief thoughts that fill our mind each moment of every day, for such thoughts not only can guide us in how we react to others, but they can lead us directly to Christ Himself.  These blog posts have offered various methods for achieving such grace-filled good thoughts.  The prayer of the Hours is another wonderful way to keep these three realities uppermost in our mind.  The Orthodox Church provides us with specific periods or hours each day to be set aside for prayer.  Besides Matins (morning prayer) and Vespers (evening prayer), the Orthodox day is punctuated with “hours” designated for prayer.  These are the “first” hour which is normally read directly after Matins.  The next hour is the third hour (9:00 am) followed by the sixth and ninth hours (noon and 3:00 pm respectively).  Compline is prayed prior to going to bed at night and includes the akathist to the Most Holy, Most Pure, Virgin Theotokos (which I highly recommend).  The Midnight hour is a favorite of many for its sheer simplicity and awakening in the stillness of the night for prayer.  The lesser hours, 1st, 3rd, 6th, and 9th take very little time to pray (perhaps fifteen minutes) but provide a momentary pause during the day to re-orient and make sure the proper perspective is being lived,  i.e., that we are living this day as a wonderful opportunity to draw closer to Christ, so that we might spend eternity with Him.

While I cannot promise a life free from the chaos and frenetic pace of the world.  Fidelity to daily prayer and consistency therein will eventually lead to the mind filled with the good thoughts that lead to eternal life.

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