Parable about Secret of “Sensible Prayer” and Acquisition of Inner Silence
“There is the highest prayer of the perfects ones — …when
by unsaid aspirations of the soul, they approach God,
Who sees their open hearts."
From the “Ascetic Teachings”
of Nilus of Sinai
“There is the state that consists in the contemplation of one God and in ardent love for Him; in this state, the mind, embraced and imbued with this love, converses with God in the most direct way."
From the “Observation of Spiritual Battle”
by John Cassian
There was a small monastery where an elder by the name Zosima lived. Amazing miracles accompanied his service to God! Many people looked for his advice, help and healing from diseases of bodies and souls.
But only a few wanted to find the knowledge that would help them to comprehend the Love of Christ. And even among these few, no one tried to learn what the elder could do for people and for God. This happened because they considered the feat of his monastic life impossible for them.
Yet one man by the name Nicholas stayed with the elder to learn from him the communication with God and the cognition of Him.
* * *
Once Nicholas was walking to the elder Zosima and met a deacon who repeated a prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!”
Having approached Nicholas, the man looked at the new novice with disapproval and condemnation:
“Again you go to the elder, forgive me, the Lord! Do you want to change from atheist to saint immediately?”
“Yes, I’m going to Zosima, he called,” — Nicholas replied calmly.
He already got used to the fact that some inhabitants of the monastery didn’t like him because of the attention paid to him by Zosima. And although the prior of the monastery authorized the elder Zosima to prepare Nicholas for monkhood, the new novice caused the disapproval of many, the cause of which was envy.
* * *
Nicholas entered the cell of the elder. Zosima, as usual, knew in advance about his arrival. Nicholas always marveled at how inexplicably the elder knew who was going to visit him, what a person thought about him, and what problems concerned him or her.
The elder was sitting in deep calm and gently looked at the newcomer. In the cell, there was a special state that Nicholas called the presence of God. It seemed that even the air was filled with transparent and tender silence!
They both were silent for a while, sitting close to each other.
Then Nicholas asked:
“Why is it so hard for monks to work with the ‘Jesus Prayer’? I have heard and read once about this prayer, also called ‘sensible prayer’. Tell me about it. Why does it not help at the present time? Or is it true that its secret was lost over the centuries?”
“Why are you saying that it doesn’t help? It does help!”
“Just now I’ve met a man who repeated that prayer…”
“… but the Love of Christ was not emanating from him, right?”
“So, you think that this prayer doesn’t help someone who doesn’t know its secret, right?”
“But there isn’t any secret!
“It was never hidden from people that the most important thing to begin the spiritual self-transformation with is to master heart love! Jesus clearly taught about this, saying that God is LOVE!
“There were great workers on this Path who strived to put into practice the commandments of Jesus.
“They were looking for a method that would allow them to dive into the silence of the spiritual heart. This silence is called hesychia in Greek. This is the silence in which the Voice of God is clearly heard.
“Another thing that they were looking for was the purity of the spiritual heart, which allowed seeing with the eyes of the soul the Light of the Holy Spirit.
“They chose the monastic way of life in which everything is only for God and nothing — for oneself!
“They were looking for the spiritual methods that would help them to avoid sinful thoughts, guard the crystal purity of the soul, and live in continuous contact with the Lord.
“And many of them recited the following prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner!’ They repeated these words continuously in every moment of their lives so the minds did not deviate from the Lord and the souls could constantly bow before the Greatness and Wisdom of God. And it happened that due to this work of the soul, the mind dived into the spiritual heart.
“They also called Jesus to come into their hearts. They not only believed in the Resurrection of Jesus Christ, but always tried to feel Him! They tried to learn to talk with Jesus — just as Paul the Apostle did. Thus they wanted to receive the possibility to ask the advice right from Jesus!
“Yet to do this, one should develop the heart love and direct it to the Lord.
“Many wanted to achieve this, but not all succeeded…
“They did not succeed, because to achieve this, it is not enough to have only understanding and desire…
“‘Create pure heart in me, oh God…’ — many people pray. But who is going to cleanse our hearts but us! Who will make us behave in accordance with the precepts of God? We by ourselves must work on the purification and transformation of ourselves as souls!
“And this could be the most important thing in life!
“Have you heard that God created man in His image and likeness? It means God made wonderful man! But why is it not true in the real life? Maybe, people themselves are to blame for making the souls dirty?
“Where does, under numerous clothes-covers, the Divine Origin dwell in every one of us?
“How can the image of God be manifested in a human body?
“Where is this image hidden?
“In what are we similar to God?
“What was cognized by hesychasts, who comprehended Glory, Power and Love of Christ and even spoke about the divinization of the flesh of their bodies?
“Such a possibility really arises when a human soul becomes connected with the Soul of God and receives the power over the flesh. Then the infirmities of the body and the soul start obeying the will of that person — will that is always in harmony with God’s Will!
“How does one learn all this?
“First, one needs to cleanse the soul of the wickedness.
“A soul can be purified by repentance, humility, and forgiveness.
“It is impossible to eliminate all the vices of the soul at once. Repentance is great work dedicated to the correction of one’s own imperfections. During this work, all wrong thoughts, emotions, and actions should be rectified.
“Monks gradually learn to experience themselves before God. They strive not to sin every day of their lives.
“And then the purified soul stands still in front of God — as if being between the past and the future — and says: ‘All that is good in me is for You, O Lord! And all that is wrong in me — let it be crushed! For the sake of You, O Lord, I will not allow myself to sin anymore!’
“God needs from us such work! If we do it, our past is ‘washed away’!
“And when only the purity of life is left behind — the future, too, becomes clean!
“In this amazing moment of being before God — the great silence reveals itself. It is tender, pure, and endless!
“But one can feel it only inside the expanded spiritual heart!
“Now you can start mastering all this.
“Here is a simple initial exercise for you:
“Can you hear the bells tolling? It is as if they were calling people to remember about God…
“This sound fills the space for miles! It is expanding and expanding… And far away — there the sound of bells is not present — the silence continues expanding beyond the sound…
“Now, imagine that you are also a bell, hollow inside and huge. This bell begins to swing… There is no sound but only the silent call to Omnipresent God! And silence then seems to be ringing!…
“Listen to this silence! In it — you can feel God!”
… Tangible silence filled not only the space around their bodies but also the whole cell… It also expanded in the vastness above the small town situated on the bank of a wide river… It was expanding and embracing all those who aspired with love for Christ! It also embraced all those who did not know this love…
Gently, like the air, which all beings breathe, the silence was filling everything around, and soon it was inside all things…
“This is an amazing miracle!… All my thoughts have stopped, and only silence has remained!” — Nicholas said being astonished.
“Yes, you’ve just felt the silence of the heart. This is the first step.
“After this, the silence can be filled with love for God.
“Look at the candle. Its flame is warm, gentle, and bright. The tongue of the flame is rising up. And if there is no movement of the air around — this flame seems to be motionless.
“Let the similar flame of love for God appear in your chest — and let it grow, filling all the space around!
“And then illuminate with it all the corners of your body, trying to expel all that is dark, heavy, and gloomy. Let all darkness ‘burn out’!
“Submerge your mind in this light as well.
“Let your arms, too, be filled with this light! Let this light flow through your arms — as it happened to the Apostles when they were placing their hands to heal the diseases of people!
“Let your entire body, including head and legs, be filled with this light. Just as a transparent vessel can be filled with clear water — so let your body be filled with this light!
“It needs to be repeated many times! You should work thus on the transformation of both the soul and body! And then — after some time — the body can become a vessel for the Holy Spirit. It will become the source of God’s Light! Just as the flame of a candle emits light — so you can emit and carry such fire of love — regular and soft — in and around your body!
“And then… In fact, a human body can become the carrier of the Image of God — of the internal Christ!
“In this way, you should learn to gain peace of the soul and kindle the love for God in yourself!
“Now, when you feel warmth and light inside your expanded and refined spiritual heart, call the Lord Jesus into it! And thus you will be able to cognize that God is Living God!”
* * *
At this point, the deacon whom Nicholas met on his way to Zosima came to the cell.
He bowed to the elder.
“Hello, Rodion!” — Zosima greeted him.
“I have sinned, condemning my neighbor. Help me! Tell me how to atone this sin!” — Rodion said, looking away from Nicholas.
“Here is your neighbor! Ask for forgiveness — and don’t think badly in the future. That’s all!”
Yet it turned out to be not that easy. A few minutes passed in deep silence until Rodion, addressing Nicholas, said:
And heaviness left the souls of both of them, though Nicholas did not hold a grudge against that man…
“Can you feel now the Joy of God?” — the elder asked, smiling.
Nicholas nodded silently.
And the tears flowed from eyes of Rodion…
“How should I pray from now on? How should I live? What should I do?” — he whispered.
Zosima paused for a moment and then began to tell the story:
“One day, on the Nativity Fast, a woman with a son came to me. I don’t remember what she was asking. But what her son told me — I will remember for the rest of my life. He said:
‘This Nativity Fast means that the birthday of Jesus is soon! I want to make Him a present. I see that people make presents to each other on Christmas, but nobody gives any presents to Jesus… Tell me what would be better to give Him! Ask Him about this… What if He has a wish, but I will not get to know which one?’
‘Have you yourself thought what present Jesus would like to have from you?’
‘I’ve thought… I have been thinking for a long time what would be pleasant for Him, but since He lives in the Heavens, He has everything. Everything that He wishes — He receives immediately! That is why, I have this difficulty and asked my question…’
“Then I told to him:
‘Jesus teaches people to love God — the Father and Creator of everything that exists! And Jesus also teaches us to love our neighbors. He said, when He was preaching, that when one person does good to another person, it is as if this good is done to Jesus Himself. It is that gift which the Lord cannot give to Himself! Only people, doing good one to another, present such gifts to God!
‘And people can do this not only once a year but every day! And it will be great joy for God!’
“You, Rodion, can also try to live like this!
“And when you really love your neighbor, every kind word that you say can become miraculous!”
Rodion walked out of the cell, being happy. Perhaps, for the first time in his life, he felt what the word love means…
… Nicholas asked:
“Why don’t you teach him what you are teaching me now?”
“Many times I’ve tried to teach this to everyone…” — the elder Zosima said. — “But while the soul is like an untidy house, full of unnecessary stuff, impure thoughts and unjust actions, while a person does not see this, does not understand, and does not want to transform oneself for God — it is impossible to help him or her! The understanding comes very slowly to such people…
“It requires a lot of patience to straighten out their lives even slightly, to help them even a little bit…
“Now Rodion has taken his small step towards the light and love… But, perhaps, tomorrow he will forget completely about this…
“Thus it turns out that it is not so easy to learn to love God…
“Yet I see that you will succeed…”
* * *
Nicholas recalled again the amazing miracle of inner silence and warmth in the heart, experienced by him.
He tried to call Jesus and felt that there was not enough room in his chest for the growing state of love!…
Nicholas tried hard not to lose that wonderful state of the presence of God…
And then he saw Jesus!
It was like everything else stopped existing at this moment…
The cell was filled with soft, transparent and slightly golden Light. In this radiance — Living Jesus stood! He was Living! It was not an image from some icon!
Jesus looked gently into the very depth of the soul! His slightly curly hair, falling over His shoulders, was gently swaying by the subtle waves of light, as if during the breeze.
Jesus approached Nicholas and touched him with His Hand. The body of Jesus was not material. It consisted of Light and could pass through everything material. But His Touch was quite tangible!
“You wanted to see Me! You wanted to know that I am real! Now I am before you: I am Who has cognized God-the-Father, I am Who has resurrected in the Light and Truth! Now I can be here and talk with you!
“You can learn to do My Work on the Earth! You can help people to understand the Laws of the Divine Power, Which controls the lives of all beings!
“You can help people to live according to My commandments of love instead of just following some established rules and rituals! To learn this, you will have to work hard! I give you my blessing for this!”
… When Jesus finished speaking, His Face began to grow more and more, covering the whole space with transparent Light… Just as silence had filled before the whole world — so now the presence of Jesus filled everything around! His huge soft Arms were holding the Earth’s surface, home for so many people… Among these people, there were those who loved God and those who had forgotten about His existence… And then Jesus became even bigger and bigger… The space was filled with His words:
“They all are My children! Love them, as I love!”
“… I’ve seen and heard Jesus…” — Nicholas whispered.
“Now live according to His words!” — Zosima said confirming that everything was real.