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“Let Everyone who Names the Name of the Lord Depart from Iniquity”

December 28, 2012

stbpignatius__32680_zoomThe title of this post is taken from the second letter of the Apostle Paul to Timothy.  It is also the subject of reflection for St. Ignatius Brianchaninov in one of his essays on asceticism.  For St. Ignatius as well as the ancient fathers, those who strive to lead a spiritual life and to grow in the practice of the Jesus Prayer need to be vigilant in the fight against the passions.  Very little spiritual benefit is derived from the recitation of the Jesus Prayer if one makes no effort to root out the passions, for as Saint Athanasius the Great notes, such a state entails confessing God with the mouth and denying Him with ones works (On Virginity, PG 28.269). In fact, even in the mind, there is such cognitive dissonance—between the voice of the passions and the words of the prayer—that eventually the soul will make a fateful choice concerning whom she will follow. The passions stubbornly shout, “I want,” while the Jesus prayer repeatedly affirms with a gentle voice, “Thy will be done.” And so, the soul makes a choice that will either strengthen the prayer, so that it becomes self-acting or that will strengthen the passions, so that they take the soul captive.

According to St. Ignatius, Saint Paul’s words—let everyone who names the Name of the Lord depart from iniquity (2 Tim 2:19)—“refers to all Christians, but it especially refers to those who intend to practice unceasing prayer by the name of the Lord Jesus.  The most pure name of Jesus cannot tolerate to dwell in the midst of impurity. It requires that all impurity should be expelled and banished from the vessel of the soul. It enters the vessel according to the degree of its purity, and it at once begins to act in it and effect the further purification for which the man’s own efforts were insufficient and which is needed if the vessel is to become a worthy receptacle for the spiritual treasure, a shrine for the most holy name.”

The ancient fathers taught that both theoria and praxis are necessary for spiritual growth and healing. When they are in harmony, the prayer supports acts of compassion and love, and acts of compassion and love set the stage for further prayer. In an earlier blog post, I commented on this notion, “Through Holy Baptism, we are also called to be holy temples of God wherein the Triune God dwells and is present.  However, if we are to become true temples of God, we must imitate our Lady Theotokos and dwell within the temple in stillness and prayer.  In the Temple, the Most Pure Virgin grew increasingly humble and open to the will of God, becoming so like unto the Lord in goodness and virtue that she was able to bear the Holy of Holies, Christ the Lord.  If Christ is to be born in us, we must imitate her actions.  We must commit our hearts and seal that commitment with our actions; we must dedicate ourselves to Him just as the holy child Mary was dedicated to God by her parents.  In Ancient Christian Wisdom, I describe this as praxis, which means not only our decision to commit to a life dedicated to God, but also our taking physical steps, bowing down before Christ, making prostrations, going to Church, venerating icons and all with the humble mindset of that lowly, yet spiritually exalted, maiden in Palestine of old. And we must not forget that praxis loses its meaning without theoria, which means being attentive, being watchful, being aware of what we are doing, how we are doing it, and why we are doing it, all at the same moment of time that God has graciously given us.”

In practical terms, it is counterproductive to spend time in prayer and then to go out and indulge in our favorite passions.  In similar fashion, spending all our time performing good deeds and neglecting the inner life of stillness and prayer can leave us feeling depleted like Martha who did not choose the better part.  Theoria and praxis should go hand-in-hand. When this is not the case, it is to the detriment of both. Even in secular therapy, neither insight without action, nor action without insight can provide lasting change. In the Christian life, the same can be said of theoria and praxis, or put even more simply, prayer and virtue. Without the presence of both, repentance is not complete. The Lord God Himself instructed His people “Be still and know that I am God” as well as “Be ye therefore merciful, as your Father also is merciful.” Let us apply both instructions for the healing of our souls.

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