Inner Stillness

A very fine essay by Metropolitan Jonah of the OCA on essential practices of the spiritual life can be found among the abbatial essays on the website of the Monastery of St. John of Shanghai and San Francisco. It is worth the read – even worth printing out and saving… I find it especially helpful in preparing for Great Lent and utterly essential when things seek to trouble our minds and hearts…

An excerpt…from “Do not resent, do not react, keep inner stillness.”

…One of the things which is so difficult to come to terms with is the reality that when we bear anger and resentment and bitterness in our hearts, we erect barriers to God’s grace within ourselves. It’s not that God stops giving us His grace. It’s that we say, “No. I don’t want it.” What is His grace? It is His love, His mercy, His compassion, His activity in our lives. The holy Fathers tell us that each and every human person who has ever beenborn on this earth bears the image of God undistorted within themselves. In our Tradition there is no such thing as fallen nature. There are fallen persons, but not fallen nature. The implication of this truth is that we have no excuses for our sins. We are responsible for our sins, for the choices we make. We are responsible for our actions, and our reactions. “The devil made me do it” is no excuse, because the devil has no more power over us than we give him. This is hard to accept, because it is really convenient to blame the devil. It is also really convenient to blame the other person, or our past. But, it is also a lie. Our choices are our own.

On an even deeper level, this spiritual principle – do not react – teaches us that we need to learn to not react to thoughts. One of the fundamental aspects of this is inner watchfulness. This might seem like a daunting task, considering how many thoughts we have. However, our watchfulness does not need to be focused on our thoughts. Our watchfulness needs to be focused on God. We need to maintain the conscious awareness of God’s presence. If we can maintain the conscious awareness of His presence, our thoughts will have no power over us. We can, to paraphrase St. Benedict, dash our thoughts against the presence of God. This is a very ancient patristic teaching. We focus our attention on the remembrance of God. If we can do that, we will begin to control our troubling thoughts. Our reactions are about our thoughts. After all, if someone says something nasty to us, how are we reacting? We react first through our thinking, our thoughts. Perhaps we’re habitually accustomed to just lashing out after taking offense with some kind of nasty response of our own. But keeping watch over our minds so that we maintain that living communion with God leaves no room for distracting thoughts. It leaves plenty of room if we decide we need to think something through intentionally in the presence of God. But as soon as we engage in something hateful, we close God out. And the converse is true – as long as we maintain our connection to God, we won’t be capable of engaging in something hateful. We won’t react…

The whole of the essay can be read here.

About Fr. Stephen Freeman

Fr. Stephen is a priest of the Orthodox Church in America, Pastor Emeritus of St. Anne Orthodox Church in Oak Ridge, Tennessee. He is also author of Everywhere Present and the Glory to God podcast series.



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8 responses to “Inner Stillness”

  1. Rebecca Juliana Avatar

    Father, may I link to this on my blog, please.

  2. fatherstephen Avatar

    Please feel free to, Rebecca. May God bless!

  3. Darrell Avatar
    Darrell

    Father:

    I think this essay was originally written by Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. The following is an introduction to his essay:

    The following is the teaching of Bishop Kallistos of Xelon. He ended his life as the bishop of Denver of the Greek Archdiocese. Bishop Kallistos was a great teacher of the Jesus Prayer. The whole spiritual vision of Bishop Kallistos had three very simple points.

    Do not resent. Do not react. Keep inner stillness.

    One can obtain the essay by goggling Bishop Kallistos of Xelon; surprise: when you enter Bishop Kallistos’s name in Google you get 75 results.

  4. fatherstephen Avatar

    Darrell,
    If you click and read the entire article by Met. Jonah, you’ll see that he indeed attributes the teaching to Bishop Kallistos of Xelon, and notes that he had the privilege when he was in seminary of being a spiritual disciple of Bp. Kallistos.

  5. Mark the Zealot Avatar
    Mark the Zealot

    Thanks so much for the reminder! I’ve read this before, but now it is time to read it again!

  6. horvathliviu Avatar

    It is wonderfull this article(about responsability and thoughts), and your blog father. I read you from Romania, the country of Dumitru Staniloae. 🙂
    I will read consequently. Our orthodox blogs are full of discriminations, and rasisms. Here I found something that I like. Eastern theology,culture and religion. God bless father!

  7. Andrew Battenti Avatar
    Andrew Battenti

    A most apt title and a timely reflection Fr. Stephen, thank you.

  8. davidperi Avatar

    I have all 4 Vols of the Philokalia and in many ways there is this topic. Very hard to learn and practice to keep inner silence and to keep the mind from wandering all over the place.

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