29 April 2020
Dear religious brothers and sisters!
You left the world for the sake of Christ and His Gospel and for the salvation of your souls and the souls of others. You chose to follow Christ in a life consecrated to God. You resolved to fulfil His words contained in the Gospel, particularly His call: “Deny yourself, take up your cross, and follow Me.” Your first love for Jesus led you to make a resolute step. You renounced physical fatherhood and motherhood in order to receive spiritual one. Jesus says: Everyone who not only hears My words but also puts them into practice is My brother and My sister and mother. You chose evangelical radicalness. You can confess with the Apostle: “We are fools for Christ’s sake.” “For to me, to live is Christ, and to die is gain.” “It is no longer I who live, but Christ lives in me.”
Being a monk myself, I critically, with a painful smile, ask myself the essential questions: Where is Jesus in my everyday life? What is my cross today? What is God’s will in the situations of this day? Do I really give Jesus the first place in my thoughts and in my heart? Or do I keep revolving around my ego like in a vicious circle? Our corrupt nature avoids the essence and the spirit of the Gospel. I see it critically, looking with pain at persons consecrated to God. Religious should be the salt, the leaven and the light. Can we say that they really are? The words of Christ apply to many of them: “Because you are neither cold nor hot, I will vomit you out of My mouth.”
Thank God that there are still some who thirst, seek and strive to die to their ego, i.e. the old self. They can say with the Apostle: “…always carrying about in the body the dying of the Lord Jesus…” (2Cor 4:10)
Where should the spiritual awakening of the Catholic and the Orthodox Church start in these apocalyptic times? Heresies and amorality destroy the very path of salvation. Who should begin to repent if not the persons consecrated to God? Where to start? In prayer. If only monasteries could become true houses of prayer!
As regards bishops and cardinals, we can hardly expect them to carry out a radical reform. Which of them can now say with the Apostle: “Imitate me, just as I also imitate Christ.”?
If priests should start the restoration, they would need favourable conditions. What conditions? They would need to spend at least one and a half day every week in fellowship, devoting themselves to prayer and God’s Word (Acts 2:42).
However, restoration of the spirit through prayer should in the first place be started by religious.
It is a tragedy and the height of blindness that some monasteries want to “revive” the true spirituality of the Gospel by yoga or Zen methods essentially linked to pagan Buddhism or Hinduism. It is false spirituality and a false path. Their meditations do not dispose one to truth – whether natural or saving truth – and yet they devote to them several hours every day. Their path and their union is ultimately union with the angel of light, i.e. the devil. Our union in prayer is ultimately union with Christ, our God and Saviour.
An ancient philosopher says: “Know yourself.” There is a root of sin in us, the source of evil. The ignoring of this reality leads to a false knowledge of oneself. True knowledge leads to repentance. Without true repentance there is no spiritual life, no inner union with Jesus! “If anyone does not have the Spirit of Christ, he is not His.” (Rom 8:9)
I have much to say to you, but let me just say what I think is topical now. I would like to share with you briefly my experience of interior prayer. I have practised it daily for half a century, so what I am going to tell you is the words of a religious practitioner rather than theoretician. I am not the only one who has experience of this prayer. Many religious brothers and sisters have this experience too.
Jesus said: “Could you not watch with Me one hour? Watch and pray.” Jesus tells us not only to pray but to watch too. We must abide in God’s presence and in God’s Word.
Some of you have not only experienced a personal conversion but also received the fullness of the Holy Spirit or the baptism with the Holy Spirit connected with prayer in tongues. It is good to use this gift of prayer. The Scripture says that the Holy Spirit makes intercession for us with groanings which cannot be uttered. The Apostle then says that we should pray not only in a tongue but also with the understanding (1Cor 14:14-15). In interior prayer, we experience purification, enlightenment and union with Jesus. This then penetrates our life. It is a process, spiritual growth.
The most fundamental truths are the reality of our sin, Christ’s death on the cross and the forgiveness of sins. Another reality to be borne in mind is death, God’s judgment and eternity. If these truths penetrate us, we will be able to understand God’s Word and to discern false spiritual streams from true ones.
This prayer requires a prayer position. We either kneel or stand, with our hands lifted up, outstretched or folded. It is a battle against our physical laziness and distraction, and so the hardest moment is the beginning, breaking through into God’s presence. Only then we can quieten our hearts.
First 15 minutes:
At the very beginning, I become aware of:
1) the reality of death One day I will pass from time to eternity without return. Jesus says: “Be ready, for death will come as a thief on a day or at an hour you do not expect.”
2) Another reality is God’s judgment. Jesus says: “You must give an account for every idle word you speak,” yes, even for every evil thought and every sinful feeling which we consciously united with or abided in.
3) And yet another reality is the forgiveness of sins: “If we judge ourselves, we will not be judged.” (1Cor 11:31) And then: “If we walk in the light, the blood of Christ cleanses us from every sin.” (1Jn 1:7)
After realizing these truths, I try to experience them personally and to abide in them. What helps me do so is prayer in the Spirit – in tongues. The Holy Spirit intercedes for us with groans that words cannot express (Rom 8:26). The aim is to experience these 15 minutes as if they were the last minutes of my life. To realize my sin and sinfulness concretely, I repeat: “I am self-willed, I am a hedonist, I am a critic” and I think for a while about what these words mean. Self-willed man – forgets God and makes decisions without Him. Hedonist – is greedy, fussy about food and drink, lazy, affected by various addictions – money, the internet… Critic – judges in thoughts or words what he is not responsible for and thinks himself better than others. However minor the problem, he automatically casts the blame on his neighbour or on God. This is the system of the old self – the infection of original sin in us. I am not speaking about grave sins.
In this prayer, I bring myself to God’s light. Then I realize that Jesus, the Son of God, died for all my sins. I try to experience especially the moment when I give my sin to Jesus. Now I believe that at this moment the blood of Christ cleanses me from every sin. The Scripture says: “from every”. I ask myself: Do you believe it? I do believe now with all my heart! I abide in the saving faith at least for one minute. This is perfect contrition – to open myself fully to God in His light and to accept God’s mercy unreservedly by a concrete act of humility and faith. An example is the criminal on the cross. He admitted his sin, saying: “we have sinned”. Then he turned to Jesus with faith and heard His promise: “Today you will be with Me in Paradise.” That means without purgatory. This criminal suffered purgatory in several minutes when he was dying in pain on the cross.
The first 15 minutes are followed by a 5-minute break. I can write down my experience or light from God which I received during the prayer, or I can read the Scripture.
Second 15 minutes:
During the first 15 minutes, I had my sins covered by the blood of Christ. During the second 15 minutes, I give the root of sin – original sin or the old self in us – to Jesus crucified. I experience union with Jesus through God’s Word, Rom 6:6: “We know that our old self was crucified with Christ.”
I divide this truth into three parts:
1) the past: was “We know that our old self was crucified with Christ.” Jesus was not crucified alone on Calvary. He took all sins of the world as well as the root of sin, our ego – the old self – onto Himself on the cross. This happened in the past – the old self was crucified!
2) the present: is/has been I realize that the old self was not only crucified in the past but is also crucified now, at present. Where? In me, as the Apostle testifies: “I am (have been) crucified with Christ; it is no longer I who live…” (Gal 2:20). I abide in this truth by faith literally second by second and I permit no other thoughts. In this union with Christ, God’s Word penetrates the depths of my heart. I stand in faith. Now I love God with all my heart, with all my soul and with all my strength.
3) “in me and in you” If I stand in faith, the old self which was crucified with Christ is now paralysed in me but in other people too. People are like connected vessels with the same infection of evil, sin. I fully unite with the truth of Christ’s cross by faith: “the old self was and now is crucified with Christ in me as well as in you – the inhabitants of (e.g.) Ukraine or America”. I stand in faith for a few moments and now God’s grace works in these souls because if the old self is crucified at the present moment through faith, Christ lives in us. This is the wonderful power of the prayer of union with Christ. This is the mission of prayer. Be a missionary by prayer, and then also by word and example.
Again a 5-minute break is followed by the third 15 minutes: Christ’s testament from the cross. Jesus gives His Mother to a disciple who physically stands by the cross but spiritually is crucified with Christ. It is spiritual adoption: “Woman, behold, your son!” and spiritual transplantation of the heart through the word: “Behold, your mother!” Mary is the new Eve, the new heart (Ezek 36:26), the new spiritual centre. The transplantation is completed with the words: “And the disciple took her into his own” (Greek eis ta idia, Latin in sua). St Ambrose says: “The disciple received her soul to magnify the Lord and her spirit to rejoice in God.” Sin came through Eve, grace through Mary.
We can repeat in thoughts: “Jesus saw the disciple, now He sees me. Jesus spoke to the disciple, now He speaks to me.” I look into the eyes of Jesus, I realize that He is looking at me, I can hear His words, and I receive the Mother of Jesus as my Mother by faith. She will teach me to follow Jesus, to unite with Him in prayer as well as in different situations during the day.
If two or three or more people pray together, it is very useful to share a short testimony after an hour.
Interior prayer allows God to work. God wants to carry out a true reform of the Church through the persons consecrated to Him who repent. If only monasteries could become houses of prayer! They should set one day apart for zealous laymen, tertiaries and fellowships to gather for prayer. Religious should provide spiritual guidance. The time for prayer is 9:00-10:00, 11:00-12:00, 14:00-15:00 and 16:00-17:00. Apart from the above-mentioned model there are others too, e.g. the prophetic prayer – Ezekiel 37 (see https://youtu.be/ptojIgZ-26o, http://vkpatriarhat.org/en/?p=18244). The minimum for a living Christian is to devote at least one weekend a month to prayers and testimonies in a monastery. Monasteries will then become the centres of a spiritual awakening for the whole Church, both Catholic and Orthodox.