The Language of Silence

The language of the heart is silence—not a bleak, empty silence, but a profound and meaningful silence that ceaselessly sings the glory of God.

Archimandrite Meletios Webber


The language…is silence. I will violate this wonderful oxymoron by speaking about the silence. It is the inherent problem with all theology. We use words to speak about what is ineffable. When we speak best about such things we speak in contradictions and oxymorons – in riddles, enigmas, mysteries and paradox. For the truth of these things is not in the words but in the space between the words, the silence brought about by the contradiction.

It is said by the fathers that “silence is the language of heaven.” Fr. Meletios’ transference of the statement from heaven to the heart simply recognizes that the heart (in the sense in which he writes about it) is the place of heaven. Those who do not now know heaven have yet to find the place of the heart.

Finding the place of the heart is among the most difficult and essential parts of the Christian spiritual life. Those outside the Christian tradition may very well find such a place – we should not begrudge them – finding the place of the heart does no harm and may do much good – I leave this in God’s hands.

Webber (and Orthodox Tradition) notes that the mind, the place of discursive reasoning, emotion and the like, plays an important role in human existence, but should never have had an independent and governing role. Anyone who has ever noticed how completely undisciplined the mind is will understand what he means. The mind endlessly produces noise about almost anything, generating a stream of images and feelings that are more than useless. The noise of the mind, for some, can be a deeply distressing state of being.

The silence of the heart is not the silence of emptiness or a state of nothingness. The silence of the heart is the sound of fullness. It is silent because no word, no image is sufficient. Only silence can contain the uncontainable.

Vladimir Lossky, the 20th century theologian of the Russian exile, equated silence with Tradition. His thoughts are worth quoting at length. He begins by citing St. Ignatius of Antioch’s dictum: “He who possesses in truth the word of Jesus can hear even its silence.”

The faculty of hearing the silence of Jesus, attributed by St. ignatius to those who in truth possess His word, echoes the reiterated appeal of Christ to His hearers: “He that hath ears to hear, let him hear.” The words of Revelation have then a margin of silence which cannot be picked up by the ears of those who are outside. St. Basil moves in the same direction when he says, in his passage on the traditions: “There is also a form of silence, namely the obscurity used by the Scripture, in order to make it difficult to gain understanding of the teachings, for the profit of readers.” This silence of the Scriptures could not be detached from them: it is transmitted by the Church with the words of the Revelation, as the very condition of their reception. If it could be opposed to the words (always on the horizontal plane where they express the revealed Truth), this silence which accompanies the words implies no kind of insufficiency or lack of fullness of the Revelation, nor the necessity to add to it anything whatever. It signifies that the revealed mystery, to be truly received as fullness, demands a conversion towards the vertical plane, in order that one may be able to “comprehend with all saints” not only what is the “breadth and length” of the Revelation, but also its “depth” and its “height” (Eph. 3:18)

At the point which we have reached, we can no longer oppose Scripture and Tradition, nor juxtapose them as two distinct realities. We must, however, distinguish them, the better to seize their indivisible unity, which lends to the Revelation given to the Church its character of fullness. If the Scriptures and all that the Church can produce in words written or pronounced, in images or in symbols liturgical or otherwise, represent the differing modes of expression of the Truth, Tradition is the unique mode of receiving it. We say specifically unique mode, and not uniform mode, for to Tradition in its pure notion there belongs nothing formal. It does not impose on human consciousness by formal guarantees of the truths of faith, but gives access to the discovery of their inner evidence. It is not the content of Revelation, but the light that reveals it; it is not the word, but the living breath which makes the word heard at the same time as the silence from which it came; it is not the Truth, but a communication of the Spirit of Truth, ouside which the Truth cannot be received…. The pure notion of Tradition can then be defined by saying that it is the life of the Holy Spirit in the Church, communicating to each member of the Body of Christ the faculty of hearing, of receiving, of knowing the Truth in the Light which belongs to it, and not according to the light of human reason.

Silence is thus the necessary condition to hear the fullness of the word – and this silence is the Tradition.

Such treatments of mystical theology (as Lossky’s most famous work was entitled) demonstrate how central Tradition is to Orthodoxy and why it is so much more than merely “doing what’s always been done.” “What has always been done,” is correct if, and only if, we understand that what has always been done is the silence in which the word is spoken – and not just any silence – but that silence which is the word of Jesus.

As Lossky would note, the silence which is the language of the heart, is no mere natural silence (and thus not truly accessible to the non-believer), but an inherent part of the word of Jesus. The silence of the word of Jesus speaks to the silence of the heart, even becomes the silence of the heart: “Deep calls unto deep” (Psalm 42:7). The silence of the heart becomes that necessary condition for hearing the word of Jesus, which is nothing other than salvation.

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.





49 responses to “The Language of Silence”

  1. […] Pick it up!☦Nothing But Orthodoxy☦ var pulltime = 'Sun, 29 Apr 2012 21:08:31 +0000';1) The Language of Silence fatherstephen on Sunday, […]

  2. Margaret Avatar

    Thank you, Fr. Stephen!

  3. Lynne Avatar


  4. rmdoson Avatar

    “Be still, and know that I am God;” (Psalm 45:11 [LXX]; 46:10)

    Thanks once again, Fr. Stephen, for another great blog! I have several of Lossky’s texts & love them all. Perfect excerpt for your subject.

  5. proverbsmary Avatar

    just stop at the space between the words. This is where God dwells in such depth of the soul, that words cannit describe. For there are none.

  6. Andrew Avatar


  7. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    I agree with much of this, but I am taken aback by this statement: “Silence is the language of heaven.” Although it comes from the pen, I believe, of my dear Gregory of Nyssa, I must admit that it is a bizarre claim given the Biblical data.

    “Silence” seems a better description of communion with the Middle Platonic “One,” which defies rational thought and even transcends the subject/predicate relationship.

    On the other hand, the Christian God is the God Who Speaks. He created all things through His Word, and His Word today abides among us in part through inspired texts.

    The heavenly realm of the Scriptural God is alive with song. The glorious angelic hosts declare endlessly, “Holy! Holy! Holy!” The triumphant saints cheer, “Hallelujah! Amen!”

    We must guard against Plotinus, the Mystic of “Divine Silence,” who leads away from the Tri-Personal God and toward the supra-personal Absolute of the east.

    Silence is proper to the solitary individual, not the joyous community. And surely our God is the latter!

  8. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    I wouldn’t be too worried about Middle Platonism. Apparently, our beloved St. Gregory of Nyssa’s word on silence did not manage to derail Orthodox Christianity for lo these many centuries.

    Of course God is the God Who Speaks. I’ve even written on the God Who Sings (one of my favorite pieces). However, St. Gregory’s thought is not the silence of Middle Platonism, but a meditation on the language of heaven. That silence is filled with the voice of God and the song of heaven. Like so much in the fathers, it seeks to carry us to the paradox that makes it possible for us to truly encounter God. Word/Silence, Joyful Sorrow, Emptiness/Fullness, etc. These notions exist even within the Scripture.

    There is a silence that belongs to the community – I treasure some of the silent moments in my marriage most of all – it can speak volumes. Without such silence words are useless.

    With the fathers, it is best to ponder their sayings than to argue with them. Otherwise we’ll learn nothing.

  9. Karen Avatar

    Father, bless! Wonderful meditation once again. Thank you.

  10. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    Derail, no, but I do think certain Platonic ideas have, from time to time, exerted negative influences both in the east and in the west. It is important to guard against such tendencies. The faith is twenty centuries old, but for all we know Christ will not return for two hundred centuries! If that is the case, our religion is still in its infancy, and poisonous seeds may yet yield lethal fruit.

    I appreciate paradox, but it can be taken to extremes. Christianity is not Zen Buddhism. We are not skeptics. We have received the Truth. There is a fine but real distinction between paradox and mystery: a paradox confounds, a mystery reveals. But perhaps this is just semantics.

    Your point on silence as a form of speech is well taken, but I still think that the statement in question is misleading and unbiblical. The fathers can be wrong.Or shall we ponder Origen’s belief in the transmigration of souls?

  11. fatherstephen Avatar

    Fr. Gregory of Nyssa’s word on silence is now a firm part of Orthodox Tradition (certainly in harmony with the word of St. Ignatius) and confirmed repeatedly in the spiritual life and teachings of the Church. It is a word to be pondered – but not a word to be corrected.

  12. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    This is where I am baffled by Orthodoxy.

    This is an apocryphal saying. It is not found in the works of Gregory or Ignatius. Each wrote something vaguely similar, but neither wrote this exactly.

    At the same time, this apocryphal “word” conflicts with the canonical Word, which reveals a God Who Speaks and whose heavenly abode is full of joyous song. Far from being silent, the God of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob is the Great Communicator. We know His Son as Logos, Word. Jesus says on more than one occasion that He relates only what He has heard from His Father. The entire edifice of Christianity is built upon the Scripture — that is, upon God-breathed language.

    You suggest that this discrepancy is a paradox or mystery, but a paradox is different than a flat-out contradiction, and mystery is different than absurdity or irrationality.

    The law of non-contradiction tells us that heaven cannot be both silent and not silent. God is rational. He cannot create a square circle.

    So, given the need for a choice, why not discard this little nugget of apocrypha? Why cling to it? I honestly don’t understand. Sure, it is thought provoking, but it has neither the depth nor pedigree of Scripture.

    (Don’t everyone jump on me at once. Please.)

  13. todd Avatar

    Hopefully not too personal for a blog post: As for me, I find that it is silence, more than anything else, that continues to draw and secure me to the Church. For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt clumsy finding words with which to address God in personal prayer. Many years ago, I stopped trying, and took up a practice of just sitting silently, and not thinking or saying words. When I pray, most of the time, I sit wordlessly before Him, whether or not He allows me to be aware of His Presence.
    While crying out inwardly one night, the silence in my bedroom convinced me that I needed to explore Orthodoxy, though I had little idea of what I might find there. Then when I heard the music and saw the icons for the first time, although they were at first foreign to me, their beauty seemed to have a certain familiarity, as having grown from a deeper place of silence than I have yet found. I am grateful for the words of the liturgical prayers of the Church, as they supply words appropriate for addressing the Most High that I had not been able to find.

  14. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    It is important to point out that there is a difference between the silence of quiet, inward prayer and the non-rational silence of, say, Plotinus. This little saying reminds me of the latter more than the former, though perhaps I am badly misjudging it.


    You write, “For as long as I can remember, I’ve felt clumsy finding words with which to address God in personal prayer.”

    Why not use the very words given us by the Lord?

    “Our Father which art in heaven, Hallowed be thy name.

    Thy kingdom come. Thy will be done in earth, as it is in heaven.

    Give us this day our daily bread.

    And forgive us our debts, as we forgive our debtors.

    And lead us not into temptation, but deliver us from evil:

    For thine is the kingdom, and the power, and the glory, for ever.


    This, combined with the groaning of the Spirit, constitutes the perfect prayer.

  15. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    I think you are writing out of opinion and not knowledge. I think you have no idea what “silence” is, whether it is that referred to in Orthodox thought, nor that referred to in Plotinus. God is not “rational” as we use the word. There is no principle of non-contradiction that God must obey. This is just scholastic nonsense. I understand your assertions but they fall outside the bounds of Orthodoxy and within the bounds of Western Scholasticism, producing countless heresies and contradictions. I think there is little more to be said in this matter.

  16. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude


    What have I done to invite such a harsh rebuke?

    I know that your readers tend to agree with you, but do you therefore expect everyone to simply swallow Orthodox dogma whole, especially if they’ve been conditioned to think alternatively for their entire lives? Are you not an Internet apologist trying to persuade and enlighten interested parties like myself?

    I apologize for asking so many questions. I apologize for attempting to think rigorously. I apologize for bringing forth challenges. This is how God made me and I’m not ashamed of it.

    I mean no offense, but I am how I am. I am attracted to Orthodoxy, but much of it bewilders me. I am attracted to Orthodoxy — but my soul is at stake here! This isn’t a game! Isn’t it only natural for me to examine the thing from every angle? To challenge its every apparent weakness? To prod and poke? God endowed me with reason (though He apparently does not possess it Himself). I will use it.

    I am not embarrassed to admit that you have influenced my spiritual life greatly over the years. On more than one occasion you have convinced me to change my beliefs on certain matters, thus moving me closer to Orthodoxy. But that only ever happens through frank yet civil dialogue. That only happens when I exhaust my store of arguments.

    By God, I would have talked Saint Paul himself into the ground.

  17. markbasil Avatar

    Christ is risen!

    Hello Philip Jude. I will of course let Fr Stephen speak for himself.
    However I will also say that epistemology is exactly what is at stake here- and it seems to me- if wrongly then forgive me- that your questions do not go deep enough. As you said, “God endowed me with reason (though apparently does not possess it Himself). I will use it.”

    Of course you were being tongue in cheeck, speaking brashly, etc. But under this, there is a critical point: Orthodoxy does indeed teach us that God DOES NOT reason as we do. He IS NOT rational as you use the word. This is axiomatic- it comes from revelation and it therefore must inform our epistemology from the very ground.
    I believe you reject it. So, this is where Fr Stephen’s words are not “harsh” in an unhelpful way, but it seems to me he is telling you exactly the truth. You want God, or Christianity, or Orthodoxy, on your own terms. Certain terms you are not willing to give up (there is fear at work here).
    To know God, you must let go of what you know of Him. It’s your choice, but there is a still small voice that speaks to us all, in silence. Accept it or do not, but you cannot accept Orthodoxy without it. And words will fail to persuade you if you will not just obey, and become silent, and let the tears flow.

    “Let a good man strike or rebuke me in kindness, but let the oil of the wicked never anoint my head.”

    -Mark Basil

  18. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    And as for God being rational or not: I believe that He is, and I believe that all creation bears this awesome truth. Nature is intelligible because its Author and Craftsman is intelligent and reasonable. Indeed, He is Intelligence and Reason themselves. You cannot give that which you do not possess, and every creation reflects the nature of its creator. In this case, the rationality of the universe reflects the rationality of God.

    “God said, “Let us make man in our image, in our likeness, and let them rule over the fish of the sea and the birds of the air, over the livestock, over all the earth, and over all the creatures that move along the ground.”

    Man is sovereign over animals because he is fundamentally different than they are. How are we different? Biologically, we are nearly identical even with mice. Yet even our closest cousins fail to exhibit the most rudimentary reason. By reason I do not mean cool calculation, but rather a luminous awareness that proceeds from critical reflection upon the self and the world in which the self finds itself. Our reason is why we write poetry. Our reason is why we hate death and desire to live and love and create and innovate.

    That is all I will say.

  19. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    “Orthodoxy does indeed teach us that God DOES NOT reason as we do. He IS NOT rational as you use the word.”

    But, of course, I don’t think that God reasons as we do. That would be the height of folly, not to mention pride. Scripture makes clear that His ways are not our ways. Yes, God is incomprehensible. But that does not mean that He is not reasonable. Do you see? Chickens do not think as men think, but still they think. Even children do not think as adults think, but still they think, though surely I am incomprehensible to my good friend’s two-year-old child. What I sense in Orthodoxy — and what I do not understand — is a sort of willful exclusion of reason from the realm of spirituality.

  20. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    Sorry to have been so short – I’ve been sort of that way today. It’ll sound petty, but I got a puppy on Bright Monday, lovely dog. And I’m new to the whole business. Making my share of mistakes – including problems this morning. The Monks of New Skete have my growing admiration. Raising children did not seem this tricky.

    I got a little frustrated with the conversation.

  21. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I suppose also I am scandalized to hear Scholasticism, the fruit of many saints, so easily dismissed, when it is responsible for great good (though, like all things, evil too). Are we not trying to heal the schism that divides Catholic and Orthodox? Does this not require a real effort to understand the other, to appreciate our various spiritual skills and specialties? For instance, Scholasticism produced a Christian theory of natural law that is sane, humane, practical, and godly. I cannot think of an eastern equivalent. Can’t we all agree our society would benefit if it took seriously the precepts of such a theory?

  22. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    “It’ll sound petty, but I got a puppy on Bright Monday, lovely dog. ”

    Awww! Now that made me happy. 🙂 And not petty at all: My red bone coon hound was a very naughty puppy (a night howler). All is well.

  23. Bruce Avatar

    How can we know God loves us? Is it possible that in our silence, we sense this gift of life and we begin to more deeply understand the Giftgiver…not in words but in our hearts…

    Would this God of love deny his love to those who may not have as strong an IQ as another…is IQ or reason really a requirement to know His Love

    I have heard it said of Orthodoxy..

    I love; therefore I am

    Certainly not

    I reason, therefore I am

    Or Descartes I think therefore I am

    If God is love…don’t we need to be quiet to hear Him and to learn what Love really is

    And don’t all words begin with silence…and without silence aren’t all our words just endless noise

    Can’t reason often get in the way of Love…and doesn’t Love transcend reason…and doesn’t God transcend all

    And is it reason that trampled death by death…or Christ

    And isn’t this about finding Him not in words or reason but in person

  24. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    What breed of pup?

  25. fatherstephen Avatar

    Orthodoxy excludes reason only in the sense that it is fallen – it has been ruptured from proper union with the heart and thus does not reason rightly. God is logikos – of which our own “reason” is but a pale shadow – ever learning but never coming to a knowledge of the truth. Reason was never meant to be a separate faculty, isolated from the rest of who we are. This is one of the primary failures in Western thought.

    We not only “reason” with the mind (which includes the emotions), but we are to do so within the union of the heart, and for that matter, in union with the body as well. It will seem strange to speak of “reasoning” with my body, but it is also a part of the wholeness of our humanity. It is these truncated, fractured and diminished faculties that are endowed with such noble words as “reason” thus coming to false conclusions. If my reason were properly disciplined and united, then I would, doubtless, perceive the logoi of all things. This is a far different exercise than is known in the “reasoning” of science. But until we understand this, then we do not understand what it means to say “God is reasonable.”

    If we are to perceive the truth, or to “reason” about the truth, then we have to be transformed in the Truth. Part of that includes an obedience to the Truth (by which I do not mean an agreement with me).

    One of the more interesting historical exercises in this can be found in the writings of St. Maximus the Confessor, who took St. Gregory of Nyssa’s work The Life of Moses, and then wrote his Ambigua. The Ambigua looked at various “hard” sayings of St. Gregory – contradictions, paradox, etc. and pondered them. Through them St. Maximus taught the fullness of the faith in one of its deepest forms ever stated.

  26. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    “Orthodoxy excludes reason only in the sense that it is fallen – it has been ruptured from proper union with the heart and thus does not reason rightly”

    Interesting. This is what my Calvinist interlocutors always say. It would seem the Orthodox East shares with the Reformed West a skepticism of natural theology. What a curious point of intersection. Would make for quite the MDiv thesis.

  27. Bruce Avatar

    Especially now in this period of Penecost, it seems very clear to me the limitations of our reason. Did reason bring the myrh bearing woman to the tomb or love…a love which was strong enough to overcome their fear of death…Did reason resurrect Christ…Did reason forgive those now and always who crucified Him…

    PJ…I think that if you began to use the word Love instead of reason you may find it leads you to a place of humility where the God of Love can speak in new experiential ways in your heart…and you may find this God much greater than the God (even in your intelligence and eloquence) you can comprehend in your mind.

    This 18 inch journey from the head to the heart is (or can be) an awesome place where we stop limiting God and start receiving Him

  28. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick


    Notions of ‘natural law’ are at least as old as the Stoics who anchored their concept to Reason or World-Soul. In a discussion about this and St. Pauls comments in Romans 2, Fr. Theophanes (Constantine) says:

    “While there is obviously very little similarity between St Paul’s Gospel and Stoicism, we wonder whether St Paul’s reference to the natural law in this passage of Romans does not have some connection to the Stoic concept of natural law that was in the air in the epoch when he preached. The Pauline concept of natural law entered of course into Orthodoxy, and can easily be found in St John Chrysostom’s commentaries on Romans. Moreover, … the Roman Catholic Church relies very heavily on the concept of natural law in its doctrine of man, especially in the teachings of St Thomas Aquinas, perhaps developing the concept of natural law in a far more intensive manner than the Orthodox Church, and moreover reducing the concept to a conformance with reason.”

    P.S. Allow me to remind you that you were going to “point to chapter and verse” in a prior comment you made about Fr. John Behr’s book, “The Mystery of Christ”. This is under in Fr. Stephen’s recent “Intuition of Narnia” post. MarkBasil and I still hope that you will respond as you said you would.

  29. Lina, Avatar

    Whenever someone speaks or writes about silence it takes me back to my high school days in a Quaker school. Every Tuesday morning we had Meeting for Worship, where we sat in silence in order to wait upon the Lord. What an education we received in that department. Among other things I learned not to be afraid of silence before God.

    Years later on the mission field I put what I learned into practice and once a week went up in the hills outside of town, where I met with a group of ladies who were incredible survivors of all kinds of difficulties. and we sat from 7am to 7:30am and sometimes longer.and waited upon the Lord. They loved the silence and the waiting before beginning their arduous days. It was always their best day.

    The Lord is in his holy temple, let all the earth keep silence before Him. Hab 2:20.

  30. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    “Allow me to remind you that you were going to “point to chapter and verse” in a prior comment you made about Fr. John Behr’s book, “The Mystery of Christ”. This is under in Fr. Stephen’s recent “Intuition of Narnia” post. MarkBasil and I still hope that you will respond as you said you would.”

    Thanks for reminding me. I will try to get around to this today or tomorrow, though I suspect it will be ground we have already traversed, particularly re: the role and dignity of Scripture.

  31. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I can’t seem to post…Testing…

  32. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I think I see now that the problem here may be largely semantic.

    You are conceiving of “reason” very narrowly, as that part of the mind that functions analytically.

    I am using “reason” expansively, to include the whole dynamic of human personality springing from self-awareness and self-reflection.

    Reason = Person. In the beginning was Reason, and Reason was with God, and Reason was God. Thus Athanasius writes:

    “Grudging existence to none therefore, He made all things out of nothing through His own Word, our Lord Jesus Christ and of all these His earthly creatures He reserved special mercy for the race of men. Upon them … He bestowed a grace which other creatures lack — namely the impress of His own Image, a share in the reasonable being of the very Word Himself so that, reflecting Him and themselves becoming reasonable and expressing the Mind of God even as He does…”

    Reason is self-reflection, self-awareness, self-knowledge; it is the ability to lift our minds to God and to give ourselves despite the cost and to overcome base passions.

  33. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    PJ, do you mind citing your Athanasius quote?

  34. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    PJ, I found it!
    Athanasius, De Inc. 3

  35. Drewster2000 Avatar

    “The mind endlessly produces noise about almost anything, generating a stream of images and feelings that are more than useless. The noise of the mind, for some, can be a deeply distressing state of being.

    The silence of the heart is not the silence of emptiness or a state of nothingness. The silence of the heart is the sound of fullness. It is silent because no word, no image is sufficient. Only silence can contain the uncontainable.”

    It strikes me that the mind (or head) and the heart knows things is distinctly different ways. I’m thinking of it like this:

    The mind is like the internet or the TV; is forever wandering, droning, chattering, streaming. It is restless and almost “like a lion, seeking that which it may devour”. Not that it’s evil, just that it – like the body – needs to be ruled by something higher. More knowledge for the mind is really only a means to even MORE knowledge. The process tends to be endless and forever accelerating – if allowed.

    The heart is like good personal relationships; spending time with wife, family members, close friends, fellow congregants during a service: sometimes talking, sometimes working together, sometimes simply being. More knowledge for the mind means less talking, less transfer of (visible or audible) information. In other words it means more silence. The process tends to be about going further up and deeper in – if allowed.

    Another key difference in the knowledge of the mind and the heart: The mind seeks to make everything knowable. Since human beings are so finite and there is a seemingly infinite world to explore, it accomplishes this by extreme simplification and standardization. The mind is happy doing inventory, testing and calculations that will allow it to build a box for each new thing it meets.

    The first example that comes to mind is chain retail stores. Their goal is that you can go anywhere in the world and a McDonald’s will always be knowable as a McDonalds, and the details of this store are bland and easy to understand: simple and standardized.

    The heart’s goals are not as easy to define (but I’ll try anyway!). It seeks to know through depth – and by the standard of quality instead of quantity. It wants to soak itself in the whole experience – and doesn’t care or expect that this experience isn’t readily available and repeatable everywhere.

    The related example would be of a good dinner at home – or some other well-loved spot – with food that has had a lot of love poured into it, or great atmosphere, or wonderful dinner companions – or maybe all the above! The experience is rich and rewarding.

    Much more could be said, but since this post is about silence I will just take it full circle by suggesting that I’m not making the case of “heart = good; mind = bad” but rather that it is the mind that the world heavily utilizes (and often for ill) and it is the heart that is largely neglected since the devil has no idea what do with it. Therefore we greatly need to spend more time in silence and become more familiar with the heart – and the God who dwells there.

  36. davidp Avatar

    Very difficult to teach ourselves. Metro Jonah in an article about Do Not Resent, Do not React, Keep Inner Silence, Pt 1, he writes about the clutter in our lives, in our minds and hearts…we find self-justifications….which leads to deep resentments.
    Oh, Lord, help us to walk humibly before you and cast these dark clouds from us.

  37. Andrew C Avatar
    Andrew C

    A fine paean to the heart, but I suspect the heart can be the seat of just as much error as the mind, if not more so. I find I am prey to the unspoken and wordless “devices and desires of my own heart” (lust, greed, sloth, etc.) far more than those of my mind (chess, maths, etc.).

    “The heart is deceitful above all things, and desperately corrupt; who can understand it?” (Jeremiah 17)

    If the practice of silence somehow reins in this horror than I am all for it.

  38. Andrew Avatar


  39. fatherstephen Avatar

    Andrew C,
    In the manner that Fr. Meletios (and a number of others) use the heart, it would not be correct to speak of it as the source for our lusts, and other dark thoughts. That, indeed, is the mind (which includes the emotions, etc.). The fact that “heart” is used it these various ways (including how it is used in the Scriptures) can be confusing. I’m adding this note of clarification so that we keep the confusion minimal. Wish there were better words for what we are discussing.

  40. Drewster2000 Avatar

    Andrew C,

    I understand where you’re coming from. As Fr. Stephen noted, there are many ways the term ‘heart’ is used and that can make such a discussion very confusing, so let’s approach this from a different angle: that of silence.

    If you allow yourself times of silence, you will find in the heart all the things you wrestle with in the world (as one saint said, dragons & angels, virtues & vices), but you will also find God there.

    And the practice of silence with Him as your guide will allow you to process these things, see them for what they really are and begin to deal with them. Over time you come to know the heart’s contents and what to do with them, and you learn to know God’s presence.

    No, the heart isn’t an innocent place because the whole person is fallen, but it is through this practice of silence and sitting with God that we begin to win back ourselves (for lack of a better phrase) – and this happens in the heart, not the mind or the body. In the end the entire ‘you’ is won back, but it begins in the heart.

  41. markbasil Avatar

    PJ wrote:
    “Allow me to remind you that you were going to “point to chapter and verse” in a prior comment you made about Fr. John Behr’s book, “The Mystery of Christ”. This is under in Fr. Stephen’s recent “Intuition of Narnia” post. MarkBasil and I still hope that you will respond as you said you would.”

    Thanks for reminding me. I will try to get around to this today or tomorrow, though I suspect it will be ground we have already traversed, particularly re: the role and dignity of Scripture.


    PJ, I do not believe this is the source of the disagreement.
    I look forward to your citations, so we can explore the real disagreement.
    -Mark Basil

  42. Juliana Avatar

    I converted to Orthodoxy in 2009 from a large Protestant denomination. Emotion and thoughts were critical to the Sunday service. Guilt, gratitude, sadness, happiness. All ranges of emotions were employed in the music and the sermon, and we were encouraged to study the Bible as much as possible. That’s a very different perspective from Orthodoxy which emphasizes our senses: hymns, icons, incense, communion, etc. I treasure my Protestant heritage and am grateful to my parents for giving it to me. But, I’m also grateful to be free of its emotional and mental constraints, grateful to be free to “become as a little child” and to learn to know Him through the faculties that all of us are already given.

    One of my favorite saints is St Therese of Lisieux (yes, a Roman Catholic saint!). She prayed that she would always have the heart of a child and as such would always be devoted to the Child Jesus. I hope and pray that I will learn to be less crass, less self-interested, more like the innocent child I once was and still long to be. I hope and pray that I will live the Beatitudes happily and as St Seraphim of Sarov said will be able to acquire peace so that thousands around me will be saved.

  43. Michael Patrick Avatar
    Michael Patrick

    Juliana, thanks for sharing your beautiful and moving personal reflection.

  44. Loriane Avatar

    I am the Protestant parent of some Orthodox children and I have thoroughly enjoyed this blog. Thank you all.
    I was attracted to this conversation because of the topic of silence. In the Breaking of Bread service of the PB there are many times of silence. Those times have been the most precious of times to me in all of my Christian experience. Scripture has been read, prayers offered, songs sung and in between all, silence. At those times, the words are allowed to break down in the heart and feed the soul.

  45. Philip Jude Avatar
    Philip Jude

    I suppose this gets to the ancient question: In what sense are we made in the “image and likeness” of God? Raised in Jesuitical Catholicism, I was taught that we bear three points of resemblance: the freedom of the will; the propensity to love; and the rational faculties. There is, of course, an additional “something” that we can only grasp by intuition, but freedom, love, and rationality were clearly identified as the tangible ways in which we are like God.

    What is the Orthodox take on such an analysis?

  46. fatherstephen Avatar

    Philip Jude,
    There is no single answer to the question what does it mean that we are God’s image and likeness. The fathers speculate all over the place.
    One weakness of the “they’re not in God’s image” argument is that it creates a “secular dog.” All creation sings. All creation rejoices. All creation prays. There are no secular dogs.

  47. AR Avatar

    The only thing I can do with this, about silence, is to continue to reject the facile interpretations, images, and ideas of it that appear in my mind.

    Fr. Stephen – have you read any of the Albert Payson Terhune books – beginning with ‘Lad, A Dog’? Some of my favorites. Meanwhile – he’s just being literary, I think, but he got me thinking about the parallels between God->Man and man->dog. Later I found that some suggest that human relationships with animals can elevate them to something more than utterly perishable, to refer to your more recent post on dogs and heaven.

    My mother often prayed your prayer on that subject.

  48. Andrew Avatar

    Thank you PJ. If I may, icons are better at communicating the one story reality, than even scripture. Colour, somehow is more suited to the apophatic than words. I have seen an iconostasis (or a picture of one) that is hard to distinguish from the real thing.

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