Tuesday, February 05, 2008

The Orthodox mind

The subject sounds very grand and complicated, and I don't count myself as qualified to say much about it. These are just two quotes from Bishop Kallistos Ware's Introduction to The Art of Prayer. I do think that they are very indicative of the kind of mind that true Orthodox ascetics seek to achieve.

"Neither [St. Theophan the Recluse or St. Ignatius Brianchaninov] sought to be 'original,' but they saw themselves rather as guardians and spokesmen of a great ascetic and spiritual heritage received from the past. At the same time they did far more than mechanically repeat earlier writers: for this tradition inherited from the past was also something which they had themselves experienced creatively in their own inner life."

In our times when so many people long to be "fresh" and "original," it seems strange to think that guarding and fully experiencing the truths of the past is a better path. But I think that it is a better path. I also think that thinking you're terribly original often leads you straight into group-speak. Think of all the young people out there with long hair who play guitars and who are convinced that they're terribly counter-culture. Or, on the other hand, think of all the people who bake all of their own whole-wheat bread and cook all of their own meals and, again, are convinced that they're terribly counter-culture. I like guitar, and I like whole-wheat bread and baking it, and cooking. But let's not fool ourselves into thinking we're something that we're not.

"It is necessary, then, for the ascetic to descend from the head into the heart. He is not required to abandon his intellectual powers--the reason, too, is a gift of God--but he is called to descend with the mind into his heart."

This part is terribly important, in my opinion, because it shows the Orthodox middle road. On one extreme we have those for whom Reason is God. On the other we have those completely governed by their emotions. The Orthodox teaching steers neatly between the two. At first glance it might seem that it tends more towards the second extreme, but as Bp. Kallistos explains earlier in the Introduction:

"[The heart] is the primary organ of man's being, whether physical or spiritual; it is the centre of life, the determining principle of all our activities and aspirations. As such, the heart obviously includes the affections and emotions, but it also includes much else besides: it embraces in effect everything that goes to compromise what we call a 'person.'"

A little food for thought, on a grey Tuesday.

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