Daily Devotional for April 2 – 8
Meditations from Archimandrite Sergius of St. Tikhon’s Monastery
And remember, the Jesus Prayer is not some kind of end in and of itself. It’s a tool, a weapon, by which we learn to still the heart and the mind, and stand before the face of God. It’s not the end point; it’s a tool; it’s a beginning. But ultimately, as St. Theophan says, the most important thing is the inner turning of the heart to the Lord. This is what qualifies as being true watchfulness and true prayer.
So this is our task, as we consistently try to approach God in our own prayer corner, and even in the middle of our days, and at the end of our nights, as we approach God and give Him some space, through this work of watchfulness.
Psalm 119:147 I prevented the dawning of the morning, and cried: I hoped in thy word. Mine eyes prevent the night watches, that I might meditate in thy word.
Prayer: O Gentle Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ: Having come to the setting of the sun, having beheld the evening light, we praise the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit: God. Meet it is for Thee at all times to be hymned with reverent voices, O Son of God, Giver of life. Wherefore, the world doth glorify Thee.
*Eastern Vesper Hymn
[An] elder says there’s nothing more important than this vigilance, whereby when we do our prayer rule, we open the Scriptures, and we read them prayerfully, slowly, as much as we can do according to our prayer rule. We read them slowly, while we say the Jesus Prayer; and as we read, we drink in the words. This in and of itself will produce stillness, which will enable us to taste the presence of God, which will be able to rout the enemy, which will give us the strength to say “No” to the passions, which will empower us to understand how to approach people who have gone astray.
This is all a simple thing, but it’s tough! It’s difficult; it’s easier said than done. Fr. Zacharias says that when we close the door to our room to pray, there’s the desert. But it’s in this desert place that we can stand before the face of God, trying to be attentive to Him.
1 Peter 5:7 Casting all your care upon him; for he careth for you. Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil, as a roaring lion, walketh about, seeking whom he may devour
Prayer: Saint Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle, be our protection against the wickedness and snares of the devil. May God rebuke him, we humbly pray; and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly host, by the power of God thrust into hell Satan and all the evil spirits who prowl about the world seeking the ruin of souls. Amen.
And not only speak to God, but listen as well, understanding that prayer is a dialogue, and that there is reciprocation. It’s not just me, saying my prayers, checking the box, and then going away. It’s about being able to give God some space. Fr. Zacharias and Fr. Sophrony of Essex say that humility is about giving all the space to God. And if this begins in our relationship with our neighbor, it should apply to God as well. So we give Him some room to offer us something that’s not of this world – something that’s beyond word, beyond thought, beyond even the sense of this present age in which we live, for it’s something above us.
So, giving space to God is part of prayer, part of the neptic tradition, part of the watchfulness that the Church’s prayers, whether in the prayerbook, or the Jesus Prayer, or in the liturgical services, all have as their central core: this ethos of “Be still, and know that I am God” (Ps. 45/46:10), as the Lord said to David—and through him, to all of us. It all starts in that place of stillness, wherein God’s own life is imparted to us, which helps us overcome the world.
1 Kings 19:11 And he said, Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the LORD. And, behold, the LORD passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and brake in pieces the rocks before the LORD; but the LORD was not in the wind: and after the wind an earthquake; but the LORD was not in the earthquake: And after the earthquake a fire; but the LORD was not in the fire: and after the fire a still small voice.
Prayer: Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world: have mercy upon us. Lamb of God, who takest away the sins of the world, grant us peace.
It’s so imperative to understand, as we reach towards these high principles, these high things which God calls us to, that it’s only by His mercy and grace that these things happen. Yet it’s also through our faith, by which we continue to look to God and say, “Yes, Lord! I believe You’re able to do this in my life. I’ll follow You. Wherever I’m at right now, I will continue to follow You.”
This consistent, complete “Yes” to God, which we offer every single day, trying to put Him first in our life – this is like the rudder of our soul, which continues to guide our boat that often goes astray amid the waves of life. But if we go astray, that rudder will help keep us centered, no matter how far off course we get. The life of faith that we have in the Church – not only our dogmatic Faith, but also our interior faith, our personal connection to God – is all by the grace of the Church, through the Eucharist, through Confession, through all the ways God conveys His life to us, which enable us to have the faith that knows that “God is, and that He is a rewarder of those who seek Him” (Heb. 11:6). And as St. Paul says, “Faithful is He Who calls us, Who also will do it” (1 Thess. 5:24; cf. Phil. 1:6).
Luke 22:32 But I have prayed for thee, that thy faith fail not: and when thou art converted, strengthen thy brethren.
Prayer: O Lord, save Thy people and bless Thine inheritance. Grant victory over their enemies to Orthodox Christians, and protect Thy people with Thy Cross.
In one who is trying to dam up the source of evil thoughts and actions, continuity of watchful attention in the intellect is induced by fear of hell and fear of God, by God’s withdrawals from the soul, and by the advent of trials which chasten and instruct. For these withdrawals and unexpected trials help us to correct our life, especially when, having once experienced the tranquility of watchfulness, we neglect it.
Continuity of attention produces inner stability; and inner stability produces a natural intensification of watchfulness; and this intensification gradually and in due measure gives us insight into spiritual warfare. This, in its turn, is succeeded by persistence in the Jesus Prayer, and by the state that Jesus confers, in which the intellect, free from all images, experiences complete quietude (Philokalia, vol. 1, p. 163). And this watchfulness is the key to knowledge of God and freedom from passions.
Psalm 10:1 Why standest thou afar off, O LORD? why hidest thou thyself in times of trouble?
Prayer: O my God relying on Thy infinite goodness and promises, I hope to obtain pardon of my sins, the help of Thy grace, and life everlasting, through the merits of Jesus Christ, my Lord and Redeemer.
*Act of Hope
So, we always have to take heed to ourselves. And we need to realize that it’s through the difficulties of our life, especially through the indignities, that we are cleansed. This is one of the things the Fathers, especially St. Mark the Ascetic, talk about – how it’s ultimately the dishonors that cleanse the soul from lust. So whenever we’re dishonored, whenever we’re humiliated, whenever we’re in a low place, we need to remember that humility is being offered to us, which St. Mark says we should accept as a gracious gift – a cup from which we should drink deeply, because it will cleanse us of the passions…And through the mercy of God, hopefully we all will continue to try to enter deeply into this place where we try to meet the Lord, not only to speak to Him, but also to listen attentively, receiving grace, and the life which frees us not only from the passions, but also from death, and grants us eternal life. Amen.
2 Corinthians 1:3 Blessed be God, even the Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies, and the God of all comfort; Who comforteth us in all our tribulation, that we may be able to comfort them which are in any trouble, by the comfort wherewith we ourselves are comforted of God.
Prayer: O my God I am heartily sorry for having offended Thee, and I detest all my sins, because I dread the loss of heaven and the pains of hell, but most of all because they offend Thee, my God, who art all-good and worthy of all my love. I firmly resolve, with the help of Thy grace, to confess my sins, to do penance, and to amend my life.
*Act of Contrition
Fr Samuel Gantt meditation…
May we give thanks to God for all things, even those things that cause us suffering. At first, it might seem counterintuitive to give thanks for our suffering. Nevertheless, we must acknowledge that God is totally in charge of everything and that everything – and everyone – belongs to Him. God knows exactly what each of us is going through in life, including our suffering. God allows us to experience suffering for His divine purpose, because through suffering we learn how to persevere, to endure steadfastly to the very end, which is not the end, but the true, everlasting beginning. Through this steadfast endurance we develop character, and character produces hope. It is this hope that grows our faith and trust, that assures us that we are always in God’s infinitely loving hands, and that the end of our lives will be found in eternal peace, in the everlasting, glorious Kingdom of Heaven, where we will rest forever in God’s loving embrace.
God constantly, continuously assures us of His infinite love, even when He allows us to go through some very hard times of life. Let us never give up our faith and trust in His provision and love, keeping our eyes totally fixed on Him and not on the cares and troubles of this world. This earth is not our final home; our time here is training ground to prepare us, to train us, for our eternal home.
Prayer: O my God I love Thee above all things, with my whole heart and soul, because Thou art all-good and worthy of all love. I love my neighbor as myself for the love of Thee. I forgive all who have injured me, and ask pardon of all whom I have injured. (Act of Charity)