Philokalia, Part IIIa

On the third method of attention and prayer

Truly the third method is marvelous and difficult to explain; and not only hard to understand, but even incredible for those who have not tried it in practice.  They even refuse to believe that such a thing can actually be.  And, indeed, in our times, this method of attention and prayer is very rarely met with; and it seems to me that this blessing has deserted us in company with obedience. —If someone observes perfect obedience towards his spiritual father, he becomes free of all cares, because once and for all he has laid all his cares on the shoulders of his spiritual father.  Therefore, being far from all worldly attachments,, he becomes capable of zealous and diligent practice of the third method of prayer, provided he has found a true spiritual father, who is not subject to prelest.  For if a man has given himself up entirely to God and has shed all his cares onto God and his spiritual father, so that, in his obedience, he no longer lives his own life or follows his own will, but is dead to all worldly attachments and to his own body—what accidental thing could ever vanquish and enslave such a man?  Or what worry or care can he have?  Therefore all the wiles and stratagems used by the demons to entice a man towards many and varied thoughts are destroyed and dispersed by this third method of attention and prayer, conjoined with obedience.  For then the mind of such a man, being free from all things, has the necessary leisure to examine, unhindered, thoughts introduced by the demons, and can readily repel them and pray to God with a pure heart.  Such is the beginning of a true (spiritual) life!  And those who do not begin in this way, labor in vain without realizing it.

The beginning of this third method is not gazing upwards to heaven, raising one’s hands or keeping one’s mind on heavenly things; these, as we have said, are the attributes of the first method and are not far removed from prelest. Neither does it consist in guarding the senses with the mind and directing one’s attention upon this, not watching for the onslaughts of the demons on the soul from within.  (They look and struggle, but all this is in the head, so they are unguarded.) This is the attribute of the second method and those who practice it become enslaved by the demons, and cannot take revenge, for the enemies both constantly attack them, openly and secretly, and render them proud and vain. But you, beloved, if you want to be saved, begin to work thus: having established perfect obedience in your heart, which as we have said, you must have towards your spiritual father, act in everything else with a pure conscience, as though in the presence of God; for it is impossible to have a clear conscience without obedience.  You must keep your conscience clear in three respects: in relation to God, in relation to your spiritual father and in relation to other men, as well as to things and objects of the world (of life).

In relation to God it is your duty to keep your conscience clear, permitting yourself no action which, to your knowledge, is distasteful and unpleasing to God.

In relation to your spiritual father do only what he tells you, allowing yourself to do nothing either more or less, and proceed guided solely by his will and intention.

In relation to other people, you will keep your conscience clear if you refrain from doing to them anything you yourself hate or dislike being done to you.

In relation to things, your duty is to keep your conscience clear by always using them rightly—I mean food, drink and clothes.

In brief, do everything as though in the presence of God and so, in whatever you do, you need never allow your conscience to wound and denounce you, for not having done your work well.

Proceeding in this way you will smooth for yourself a true and straight path to the third method of attention and prayer which is the following: the mind should be in the heart—a distinctive feature of the third method of prayer.  It should guard the heart while it prays, revolve, remaining always within, and thence, from the depths of the heart, offer up prayers to God.  (Everything is in this; work in this way until you are given to taste the Lord.)  When the mind, there, within the heart, at last tastes and sees that the Lord is good, and delights therein (the labor is ours, but this tasting is the action of grace is a humble heart), then it will no longer wish to leave this place in the heart (then it will say the words of the Apostle Peter: ‘It is good for us to be here’ [Matt.xvii.4]), and will always look inwardly into the depths of the heart and will remain revolving there, repulsing all thoughts sown by the devil.  (This is the third method of attention and prayer, practiced as it should be.)  To those who have no knowledge of this work and no experience of it, it mostly appears difficult and oppressive.  But those who have tasted its sweetness and have enjoyed it in the depths of their heart, cry with the divine Paul: ‘Who shall separate us from the love of Christ?’ (Rom. viii. 35).

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