Mind and Heart

I write frequently about what I term the Religion of the Heart. Archimandrite Meletios Webber has a short piece on what can be called the Religion of the Mind. The distinction between mind and heart is not a distinction between thought and feeling. Rather it is a distinction between the mind (seat of thoughts and feelings) and the heart (the seat of a deeper awareness – sometimes called the nous in Orthodox writing). Orthodox spiritual practice would ultimately look for the integration of the whole person and the union of mind and heart. Without the heart, the mind behaves in a fashion that is a constant distraction – torn largely between fear and desire. Fr. Meletios’ observations are worth a careful reading. Those interested in reading more should pick up his Bread & Water, Wine & Oil.

In order to be right about anything, the mind has the need to find someone or something that is wrong. In a sense, the mind is always looking for an enemy (the person who is “wrong”), since without an enemy, the mind is not quite sure of its own identity. When it has an enemy, it is able to be more confident about itself. Since the mind also continually seeks for certainty, which is a by-product of the desire to be right, the process of finding and defining enemies is an ongoing struggle for survival. Declaring enemies is, for the mind, not an unfortunate character flaw, but an essential and necessary task.

Unfortunately, being right is not what people really need, even though a great deal of their lives may be taken up in its pursuit. Defense of the ego is almost always a matter of trying to be right. Interestingly enough, Jesus never once suggested to His disciples that they be right. What He did demand is that they be righteous. In listening to His words we find that we spend almost all our energy in the wrong direction, since we generally pursue being right with every ounce of our being, but leave being good to the weak and the naive.

People fight wars, commit genocide, and deprive others of basic human civil liberties, all in the name of being right. There is little doubt that if a further nuclear war ever takes place, it will be because the person pushing the button believes himself to be right. About something.

Religion, at the level of the mind, can be a terrible thing, causing wanton destruction to individuals, families, and even entire nations, all in the cause of being right. Almost every religious system can, and in most cases, has operated solely at this level at some point in its history. This is the level of religious awareness that can cause the servants of the King of Peace to wage war on those who think thoughts different from their own; it bestows on those who have been commanded to forgive their enemies the right to annihilate their foes.

Fr. Meletios’ writings are not an argument for a relativist “why can’t we all just agree?” Rather it is a careful analysis of how the heart perceives and responds. It is the place in which we encounter the Kingdom of God:

The heart is quiet rather than noisy, intuitive rather than deductive, lives entirely in the present, and is, at every moment, accepting of the reality God gives in that moment. Moreover, the heart does not seek to distance or dominate anything or anyone by labeling. Rather, it begins with an awareness of its relationship with the rest of creation (and everything and everyone in it), accepting rather than rejecting, finding similarity rather than alienation and likeness rather than difference. It knows no fear, experiences no desire, and never finds the need to defend or justify itself. Unlike the mind, the heart never seeks to impose itself. It is patient and undemanding. Little wonder, then, that the mind, always impatient and very demanding, manages to dominate it so thoroughly.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a retired Archpriest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present: Christianity in a One-Storey Universe, and Face to Face: Knowing God Beyond Our Shame, as well as the Glory to God podcast series on Ancient Faith Radio.





46 responses to “Mind and Heart”

  1. Dymphna Avatar

    I’m reading this book right now and it is a great blessing. Thank you for this post, Father!

  2. […] This post was mentioned on Twitter by Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο. Ζωντανό Ιστολόγιο said: Mind and Heart: I write frequently about what I term the Religion of the Heart. Archimandrite Meletios Webber has … http://bit.ly/9yjUE1 […]

  3. Chris Avatar

    I read this and I say, wow, that describes the daily struggle I have within myself. But what I do not see is the answer to the bigger question….how does one get into a position where their heart dominates versus the mind dominating?

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    The answer to the bigger question is the Orthodox spiritual life as taught in the fathers and today in the Church. It is the work of our lifetime. I really do recommend reading Archm. Meletios Webber’s book.

    Another good read is the small book The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander.

  5. Chris Avatar

    And yes, I am ordering the book to see if it will help answer my question. 🙂

  6. Chris Avatar

    Thank you. I did not see your post before my second note.

    I will also check out the other book you recommend.

    Many thanks!

  7. Seraphim Avatar

    An excellent and most timely post Father Stephen. The human mind seems so much more predisposed to illusion, than a heart pursuant of the Kingdom (which is a heart truly enlarged). There are echoes of early Church in this. A heartfelt thank you for all you are doing in your writing (in general).

  8. […] Mind as well as Heart « Glory to God for All Things […]

  9. suzy Avatar

    A beautiful post. I have linked to it.

  10. Margaret Avatar

    Fr. Meletios’ book has been so instructive and helpful to me. I have to read very slowly and carefully, but it is so wonderful to read that I have gone back to it many times and referred others to it. I believe I will go look at it again today. Thank you, Fr. Stephen! Glory to God For All Things!

  11. Alex Avatar

    This book cleared things up for me in a big way. After nearly two years of hearing misty language about ‘the mind descending into the heart’ and being thoroughly confused, I finally understand this essential teaching. Thank you Fr. Meletios!

  12. […] Mind and Heart « Glory to God for All Things […]

  13. María Gutiérrez Avatar
    María Gutiérrez

    This post was also very healing to me. Thank you also for the book references.

  14. Valentina Lootens Avatar
    Valentina Lootens

    Thank you for this post, Father.
    God bless you.
    I was recommended this book by my Goddaughter actually :).

  15. AlyssaSophia Avatar

    ordering this presently!

  16. Meredith Avatar

    Are the italicized words direct quotations from Fr. Meletios’ book “Bread & Water, Wine & Oil”? And can they be reposted?

    Thanks for posting this.

  17. Fr. Stephen Avatar

    They are indeed direct quotations. I would think that any reposting should include proper attribution and a link to Fr. Meletios’ book.

  18. SC Avatar

    Bless Father

    Thank you for another excellent post.

    Would you mind if I asked a few more abstract questions regarding this topic? What implication does the orthodox doctrine on the heart and mind have on understanding the location of the nous? Namely, what is the exact relationship between the nous and the physical heart? I am often confused by the Catholic hylomorphic view of the soul and was wondering whether this is at odds with a patristic/Orthodox view of the nous/soul.

    The reason I ask these questions is because I think they are very important for certain bioethical dilemmas. Namely, many (including the Catholic church and the Greek Orthodox church) seem to hold that brain death is indicative of death of the person, and therefore, of departure of the soul. But what concerns me is that, if the heart (and certain other organs) are still functioning after brain death, and the physical heart is the location of the nous, could we be misled in defining brain death as death? There are so many different opinions going round that it is hard to separate the wheat from the chaff.

    Thank you Father.

  19. Seraphim Avatar

    The human brain is largely responsible for assimilating neurological impulses – fast moving electrons – within a matrix of interdependencies that include the observable and measurable (but borderless) world and the illusive, world of a self that is hidden.

    I say illusive because the hidden person within can only be revealed in the Christ of God. The human brain is not the source of anything.

    Put another way. If holy relics can be loved, then how much more the actual presence of the Creator in the Body of Christ?

    Father, SC, please forgive me if I have spoken out of turn here.

  20. mushroom Avatar

    This answers something I have been struggling with the last couple of days. Thank you.

  21. fatherstephen Avatar

    SC, I do not feel competent to handle the questions.

  22. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    SC, I am certainly not competent to answer the question you pose. I don’t think it is answerable.

    In general, bio-ethical dilemmas need to be addressed from an understanding of what it means to be human. The world has a definition that is becoming increasingly utilitarian even animalistic.

    Tristram Englehardt is a world renown Orthodox bio-ethicist who you might want to read if you have not.

    I do not believe it is possible to develop a hypothetical punch list approach to these matters. We are not in charge after all of life and death, no matter how fervently the modern medical model seeks to establish that control. The dilemmas will always be dilemmas and should be.

    More important is that the decisions that need to be made (forced upon us due to an anti-human technological approach to begin with) are made in prayer, in community, in love and in deep humility.

    Many doctors will resist such attempts out of their own fear and commitment to the bio-chemical machine anthropology. Fear of death is powerful.

    Making such decisions before hand is usually helpful.

  23. Jon Neely Avatar
    Jon Neely


  24. SC Avatar

    Many thanks Michael Bauman, Father Stephen.

  25. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Is there a necessary dichotomy between being right and being righteous as the post seems to suggest?

    What does this say about the effort to address heresy within the Church which I’ve been thinking about in light of two things lately: 1. The parable of the wheat and the tares; and, 2. the historical reality that the disunity of Christians has allowed Islam and secularism an easier time of it than otherwise would have happened.

    Add to that the admonition of some of the fathers that schism was a worse sin than heresy…..

    God bless the bishops!

  26. Anya Avatar

    We’re having a PanOrthodox Women’s Retreat on August 7 in Atlanta and the focus is applying the first chapters of Bread & Water, Wine & Oil. Thank you so much for this insight as we prepare for the retreat.

  27. Dharmashaiva Avatar


    The physical heart is not the precise location of the nous, but the nous may ‘settle’ in the heart region. Monachos.net had a (fairly esoteric) discussion of this, in the thread ‘Psychosomatic techniques’.

  28. Brian Avatar

    The distinction between being ‘right’ and being righteous doesn’t NECESSARILY involve a dichotomy, but rare is the purity of heart in which it does not. Merely being ‘right’ isolates and insulates us from those who are ‘wrong.’ It is the antithesis of the total identification of loving our neighbor as ourselves and the seed of the hardness of heart that arises from the illusion that truth can be known apart from love. The Gospel story of the woman taken in adultery illustrates this perfectly.

    Being ‘right’ says: “Now Moses, in the law, commanded us that such should be stoned…”

    But righteousness speaks thus: “So when they continued asking Him, He raised Himself up and said to them, ‘He who is without sin among you, let him throw a stone at her first.’ And again He stooped down and wrote on the ground. Then those who heard it, being convicted by their conscience, went out one by one, beginning with the oldest even to the last. And Jesus was left alone, and the woman standing in the midst. When Jesus had raised Himself up and saw no one but the woman, He said to her, ‘Woman, where are those accusers of yours? Has no one condemned you?’ She said, ‘No one, Lord.’ And Jesus said to her, ‘Neither do I condemn you; go and sin no more.’

    “Then Jesus spoke to them again, saying, ‘I am the light of the world. He who follows Me shall not walk in darkness, but have the light of life.’”

    The fruit of being right – however correct it may seem scripturally, doctrinally, practically, etc. – is darkness, disintegration, and death. But righteousness is communion in the Light of the living Truth that brings about the salvation of the world.

  29. fatherstephen Avatar

    Not a necessary dichotomy, but “being right” does not necessarily imply anything but an opinion – not a regenerated human being. Righteousness requires union with Christ. Right doctrine is an expression of that righteousness – but is not the primary means of acquiring righteousness.

  30. Jeremiah Avatar

    Given the topic posted, do you see this as a key to reunion with the non-chalcedonean churches, or even Rome, should they shed the major heresies that created the schism?
    Or does this topic play into those areas? How do we balance earnestly defending the faith once delivered, with not always trying to “be right”?

  31. fatherstephen Avatar

    I do not see it has having a role in those situations. To hold fast to the faith once delivered to the saints is not necessarily the same thing as “seeking to be right.” But the Church cannot and will not compromise on heresy. Heresy is not a matter of being right – it’s a matter of being faithful to Christ as we have received Him.

  32. Jeremiah Avatar

    Thank you for the clarification Father. I recognize the difference between holding fast, and “being right”. I was wondering when the first (which is good) starts to become the latter (which isn’t always good), and how do we recognize it when we have crossed over.
    In this same vein of thought, how do we show that being out of communion with Rome, Non-Chacedoneans, etc, is not “unloving”? I’m pretty sure that playing on the subject of love shows that people who would argue that way, don’t fully understand the issue. I just don’t know how to address the subject in a satisfactory way. Not that I want to make a good argument, I just want to understand the issue better myself.
    I have a couple of Catholic friends (one Roman, one Eastern), both of whom are admittedly smarter than myself. Even though I think I have a pretty good grasp of why I stand with Orthodoxy, and intend to be received in the Church as my priest deems the right time to be, my friends argue from a viewpoint that makes the Orthodox Church seem unreasonable in not reuniting (specifically with Rome). I usually tell them that such topics are for men who are far holier and more learned than myself, and that my focus is simply on becoming a fully Illumined Christian. Maybe someday I can join the discussion, but right now, that’s all over my head.
    Still it leaves me wondering for a bit…
    What do we say to those who would accuse us of choosing a doctrinal stance over “love”? Even as I type this question, I think I’m starting to guess at what the answer might be, but I would love your insight on this.
    Thank You

  33. fatherstephen Avatar

    Orthodoxy holds that the Eucharist must be a communion in the Truth. We cannot simply “agree to disagree.” There remain serious questions of the faith viz the Orthodox and Rome. The non-Chalcedonians are another matter – the conversations with them have been very clarifying and helpful (at least that is what I’ve been told).

    Doctrine and love are not two separate things, unless doctrine is being held in a wrong manner. I do not think there is ever a legitimate choice between doctrine and love.

  34. Bill Avatar

    Can anyone offer some scripture passages that treat this subject of the heart as Meletios Webber describes it?

  35. Darlene Avatar


    It is well for you to refrain from doctrinal discussions with your Catholic friends as regards ecuminism. If one is not equipped, engaging in such matters can be detrimental for both parties.

    On my journey toward Orthdoxy away from Protestant Evangelicalism, I seriously considered becoming Roman Catholic. When I was told by the priest that in joining myself to the RCC I would have to accept “all that the Church teaches,” I proceeded to read and familiarize myself with the dogmas of said Church. It was in this process that I concluded I would not be able to submit to Papal Primacy, Papal Jurisdiction, & Papal Infallibility. The doctrine that really nailed it for me, the one I knew I would never be able to defend from Christian history, Tradition, or the Scriptures was the doctrine on Indulgences and the Treasury of Merit. These were only a few of the teachings I knew I could never submit to, and rather than live a lie, I chose not to become a Roman Catholic.

    As far as my experience, I attended various Roman Catholic churches looking for the one that would most resemble the Holy writings of their saints and Tradition. However, the Novus Ordo Mass reminded me of just another mainline Protestant worship service. As I read the old Catholic Missal I had which predated Vatican II, I came to the sad realization of how much had been stripped from the Mass and how watered down the liturgy had become.

    The first time I attended an Orthodox Divine Liturgy, I knew I was home. There was no comparison between the Novus Ordo and St. John Chrysostom’s Liturgy. The reverence and sacredness I encountered in Orthodox worship drew me in and I found what my heart had been longing for all along.

    Please understand that what I say about the RC Mass and liturgy is not to be insulting. Even though I think the dogmas on the Papacy cannot be defended from Scripture, history or Tradition, I think there are genuine Christians within that church, just as I believe there to be genuine Christians in the Protestant traditions.

    May the Lord Jesus have mercy on us all and may we continue to grow in the knowledge of the truth, and increase in our love of the Truth Himself!

  36. fatherstephen Avatar

    Obviously, there is not a single passage that sums up what Fr. Meletios says. His description is really something of a summary of the experience and teaching on the inner life as understood and lived in the spiritual tradition of Orthodoxy. But Scriptures that come to mind are Christ’s teachings in the Sermon in the Mount (Matt. 6 in particular). That we should take no thought for tomorrow (that quality of the heart that does not think “if only” or “what if”; Christ’s teaching on not judging, forgiveness of enemies, praying for enemies – these echo what Fr. Meletios has summarized about the characteristic of the heart not judging, etc.

    The experience of Christian life in the Orthodox tradition is of actually learning how to live these commandments – and in the lives of many saints and great elders – actually being conformed to such an image. It is a conversation on the Scriptures and the Christian life that has gone on for pretty much 2000 years in the unbroken life of the Church. It is constantly making reference to Scripture and reflecting on the lived experience of those Scriptures. Writings such as the Philokalia, the Lives of the Desert Fathers, and many other such traditional writings, record this conversation and the lives that produced it.

    It is a world that is worth exploring. I could not begin to do justice to its wealth of Scriptural content other than to point in that direction.

  37. Barbara Avatar


    I think the Psalms also support this understanding of the heart – “be still and know that I am God”. In my experience, chanting the Psalms brings the heart into the present moment through a deep awareness of God’s mercy and love. The orthodox tradition has also helped me to read the Psalms more spiritually. The enemies so often mentioned in the Psalms are not outside of us, they are the enemies within, the logismoi that try to distract our hearts from communion with God.

  38. Prudence True Avatar

    Funny, as I try to clarify in my mind our conversation, I end up here at your post on “Mind and Heart.”

  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    I dare say that if you search for the word “heart” on the blog, it will come up many times. I do not think rationality is the answer – rather the heart – as presented in the fathers, is the seat of our knowledge of God and all true understanding. We probably agree.

  40. Prudence True Avatar

    We agree, I know it!

  41. Seraphim Avatar


    Having walked down that impossibly long road you (and Darlene) speak of, few indeed are the tools we have been given to accomplish the heavenly task — but they are immeasurable and all sufficient.

    I say “few” because these may not be greater (numerically and qualitatively) than the wounds of Christ – and it is through these that the Father accomplishes all His glorious works (cf. John 20:27-28).

    As Father Stephen says, both doctrine and love are inseparable (doctrine is next to nothing without love – but by keeping ourselves contrite (L. contritus, lit. “worn out, ground to pieces,”)) we remain close to Him in spirit.

    Lord have mercy!

  42. Sean Avatar

    The problem with Pre-Chalcedonian Churches was the fact we used different phrasing while understanding the same concept in pretty much similar ways (the divine and human nature of Christ). That the Tome of Leo, who was Pope of Rome, was adopted in Chalcedon over the clearly Cyrillic theology of Dioscorus, then Pope of Alexandria, was perhaps the outcome of both the seniority of the See of Rome and its tradition of orthodoxy and the intention of the Roman Emperor to check the expanding influence of the Alexandrian See which overshadowed that of the Constantinopolitan See which the Emperor sought to establish as equal to Rome (Alexandria deeply resented loosing secong place in precedence to an until then unimportant bishopric which was until relatively recently a suffragan see to the Diocese of Heraclea). The reson why Pre-chalcedonian Churches and the Orthodox Church cannot yet establish full communion is the fact that Dioscorus, who has been condemned by the 4th oEcumenical Council, is still revered by the Pre-Chalcedonians as a Saint. Thus they should either accept the decrees of the Council concerning the person of Dioscorus, or a new Council should be convened with a status equivalent to that of an Oecumenical Council, that will lift that condemnation, or at least direct it towards false judgements and not upon persons as it is now.

    The problem with Roman Catholics is quite the opposite : while we use similar – sometimes identical – arguments to support our contesting views, we understand the nature of the concept under discussion very differently. The greatest and most controversial issue between Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy is the Filioque clause and the theology behind it. Discussions between the two parts on the issue are always inconclusive, and it is more often than not the case that Catholics present the more persuasive arguments, drawing both from western Fathers, like Augustine, and eastern Fathers like Gregory of Nazianzus. They are perhaps helped even more by the very nature of their scholastic, cataphatic theology, while their orthodox counterparts are confined byt their own apophatic theology. However, the issue here is not so much the wording on the procession of the Holy Spirit (which can be justified by Catholics with the argument of the difference between the greek verb “εκπορεύομαι” and the latin “procedere”). The issue is twofold: thelogical as well as ecclesiological. Thelogical because the heart of the divergency lies in the very concept of the nature and manifestation of the Holy Trinity, where the Latin concept is much less subtle and finely balanced than its Greek equivalent. Ecclesiological because the addition, whether justified or not was unilateral and thus a transgression on the prerogative of the Oecumenical Councils: it was considered an attack on the conciliar character of the Church.

    Thus, what Roman Catholics tend to consider a purely theological issue that lies on the difference of language, the Orthodox view as a fundamental divergence in Trinitarian theology, intensified by a continually evolving doctrine of papal supremacy.

  43. Sean Avatar

    That opening thought about the mind seeking to be right is highly illuminating. I’ve been diligently practicing prayer of the heart for two years now (after returning to Orthodoxy from another a dozen years of skeptical atheism).

    I suppose one’s experiences are almost impossible to highlight in a blog comment. But that bit of text was like getting struck with a sledgehammer.

    I’m grateful to have read it. I’m curious to internalize the thought. But if a mind has spent an entire life seeking to be right, it won’t be a simple matter of flipping a switch to turn that tendency off.

  44. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    All the best lessons are learned slowly. The advantage of being an old man (as I am now) is that a few of the coins have had time to drop. It is also the case that we are not saved by information – that’s just a modern habit of thought. We do not love people for being right – it’s the heart that draws us to them – and love itself is never information. It’s letting that have its proper place of prominence that is hard. God give you grace!

  45. Michael Bauman Avatar
    Michael Bauman

    Father, forgive me but you are not old yet….

  46. Fr. Stephen Freeman Avatar

    I am old. I’m not dead, but I’m old. I worked very hard to get to this point, and I want to enjoy being old while I still can. So, I’m not yielding on this point.

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  1. Fr, I really appreciate your comment about the Western Rite approach. I’ve personally felt that WR is much more head…

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