Tag Archives: Saint Paul

Repentance and Paradox: Using Opposites to Attract

The early Christians observed with a great degree of devotion the days of Christ’s passion and resurrection, and it became the custom of the Church to prepare for them by a season of penitence and fasting. I often like to imagine what it would be like to have been an early Christian, particularly amongst the throngs of people who saw Jesus preaching and performing miracles and then, suddenly, to have him disappear. I imagine in many ways this would create a great degree of dissonance; first, to have the person who did all these great things suddenly, and shamefully, be taken away by guards and unceremoniously crucified; secondly, to find myself filled with a sudden fear that the religious elite might soon come after me; and thirdly, waiting in hope and with fear for my life that the world will suddenly turn upside down and everything be washed in a burning fire of God’s judgement – at any angle, I’d likely be thinking, “Will I be next?”

I make no pretense, the early Christian movement was an apocalyptic one. Somewhat removed from modern expressions such as what we’ve seen in Waco, Texas or any number of the movements that came about during the Second Great awakening; the apocalyptism of Christianity is that same kind that brought about the book of Revelation. Lent, in some ways, can be seen in such a manner – a period of great fear and trembling as we await the revelation of the resurrection; yet, why that fear? Why all this talk of sin and repentance? Have we personally done something so wrong that we might as well be struck by lightning and be incinerated so something so little as taking a pen home from the office either accidentally or on purpose? Not so much.

In the first reading today we are assured:

“[You] are a people holy to the LORD your God; the LORD your God has chosen you out of all the peoples on earth to be his people, his treasured possession. It was not because you were more numerous than any other people that the LORD set his heart on you and chose you– for you were the fewest of all peoples. It was because the LORD loved you and kept the oath that he swore to your ancestors, that the LORD has brought you out with a mighty hand, and redeemed you from the house of slavery, from the hand of Pharaoh king of Egypt. Know therefore that the LORD your God is God, the faithful God who maintains covenant loyalty with those who love him and keep his commandments, to a thousand generations, and who repays in their own person those who reject him. He does not delay but repays in their own person those who reject him. Therefore, observe diligently the commandment– the statutes, and the ordinances– that I am commanding you today.”

– Deuteronomy 7:6-11

Earlier on in that particular chapter, after being delivered from Egypt and into the Holy Land, the Jewish peoples are given some advice from Moses on the very real threats that might assail them if they start interacting too much with their neighbors. Far from being any kind of encouragement for xenophobia, what God is doing here is setting Eir people apart and making them recognize their own uniqueness in a vast sea of different tribes and peoples and cultures. French sociologist Émile Durkheim in writing about the dichotomy between the sacred and profane, that humans don’t simply exist; they belong. From the beginning of life, they are bound to communities: to a family or clan, a town, a church, or a political party. These social templates and ties are important to the individual as well as to the collective. He furthermore observes that the center of pre-modern religions is the worship of the totem and centers around a single sacred figure which governs all aspects of clan life. In the above reading, apart from Moses leading them, the only thing that the Jews had to go on as their totem was God’s Word – and that was all they could trust.

In the second reading, we have Paul speaking to an individual known to us as Titus who would become an early Christian leader and one of Paul’s companions. He is believed to be a gentile whom Paul converted to Christianity and, according to pious tradition, was consecrated as Bishop on the Island of Crete. Titus himself was a Greek, supposedly from Antioch, who function as Paul’s secretary and would later be sent to organize the collection of alms for the Christians in Jerusalem. He would be remembered as a peacemaker, administrator, missionary, and one of the first of the gentile converts.

Giving advice to Titus, Paul writes about God’s providence and what is required of Christian leadership:

“Paul, a servant of God and an apostle of Jesus Christ, for the sake of the faith of God’s elect and the knowledge of the truth that is in accordance with godliness, in the hope of eternal life that God, who never lies, promised before the ages began– in due time he revealed his word through the proclamation with which I have been entrusted by the command of God our Savior, To Titus, my loyal child in the faith we share: Grace and peace from God the Father and Christ Jesus our Savior. I left you behind in Crete for this reason, so that you should put in order what remained to be done, and should appoint elders in every town, as I directed you: someone who is blameless, married only once, whose children are believers, not accused of debauchery and not rebellious. For a bishop, as God’s steward, must be blameless; he must not be arrogant or quick-tempered or addicted to wine or violent or greedy for gain; but he must be hospitable, a lover of goodness, prudent, upright, devout, and self-controlled. He must have a firm grasp of the word that is trustworthy in accordance with the teaching, so that he may be able both to preach with sound doctrine and to refute those who contradict it. There are also many rebellious people, idle talkers and deceivers, especially those of the circumcision; they must be silenced, since they are upsetting whole families by teaching for sordid gain what it is not right to teach. It was one of them, their very own prophet, who said, “Cretans are always liars, vicious brutes, lazy gluttons.” That testimony is true. For this reason rebuke them sharply, so that they may become sound in the faith, not paying attention to Jewish myths or to commandments of those who reject the truth. To the pure all things are pure, but to the corrupt and unbelieving nothing is pure. Their very minds and consciences are corrupted. They profess to know God, but they deny him by their actions. They are detestable, disobedient, unfit for any good work.”

– Titus 1:1-16

From a superficial glance, these words of advice echo throughout all scripture as models of good behavior and largely fulfil what we would call today virtue ethic. Yet, couched into this message, Paul brings up the famous Empimenides Paradox – to a Cretan, no less! Now, why is this significant? On one level, Paul was definitely a well-educated man with more than a passing knowledge of Hellenic thought and from the first glance it can seem to be a mere rhetorical device used to encourage Titus in keeping track on how well-behaved the communities in his charge should be. Yet, for us, I think it could refer more to that process of metanoia spoken of before where we must be constantly on our guard to be sure that we don’t, vulgarly speaking, bullshit ourselves into thinking that we’re more pure or holy than those around us.

It’s very easy, particularly in times of reflection and withdrawal, to start thinking that we’ve made it and rest on our laurels. According to Epimenides paradox, we have the assumption that liars only make false statements and so the statement attributed to Epimenides is by virtue false and cannot be accepted. This, I think, is a useful as a mode of self-analysis when thinking of our own faults. The moment we think, “I’ve got this handled” we should look deeper and see if that is really the case. Similarly, if we assume that the statement in the paradox is true, we still must conclude that the statement then is false and cannot be accepted.

In my personal life, I’m rather much a fan of the Socratic method of questioning as a way of starting to analyze whether or not something important I’m about to engage in is useful to me or could help me in my own development. First, I must clarify my thinking. I often do this by placing myself before an icon of the Christ and engaging in a dialogue, with him asking, “Why do you say that’ or ‘Let’s explore this a little more’. As I continue, I see him challenging me, like he did his apostles saying, ‘Is that the case always?’, or, ‘Is there a particular reason why you think this is true?’ and so forth. If I find myself in error or doubt, further meditation either personally or with the aid of scripture is often my default, as well as talking to fellow pilgrims on the path. This is definitely an engaging process, but ultimately a very fruitful and contemplative way of engaging my religiosity.

The Metropolitan Hierotheos of Nafpaktos writes a lot about the process of engaged spirituality and the effects is has on consciousness teaching that the ‘psyche’ – far from the Freudian or modern psychoanalytic perspective – denotes the spiritual element of one’s existence. In our daily lives we are assailed by a bombardment of thoughts, images, words, noises, and preconceptions which in the Hesychast tradition of Orthodox monasticism are referred to as logismoi, or ‘thoughts’, though probably best defined as ‘intrusive thoughts’. Most people are unaware that these thoughts are nothing but images of material and worldly things – these are the images that, while we’re in the desert we must remove. The above example of Socratic questioning and meditation is a great example of how to start analyzing these thoughts and memories which, especially if we apply them to past experience, will suddenly reveal to us the need for repentance. But, it begs the question,’Repentance from what?’

Repentance, from the Greek μετάνοια, metanoia, “changing one’s mind”, found its way into modern psychology with the American thinker William James. He used it to refer to a fundamental and stable change in an individual’s life-orientation. Famous psychoanalyst Carl G. Jung developed the usage to indicate a spontaneous attempt of the psyche to heal itself from conflict, ultimately resulting in a melt-down and subsequent vision of what actually needs to be done. In many cases, this mirrors the actual spiritual process as handed down to us through scripture and the writings of holy women and men throughout the history of Christianity as well as in gnosticism.

In Gnostic teaching, Christ took a human form (Jesus), to teach humanity how to achieve Gnosis. The ultimate end of all Gnosis is μετάνοια metanoia, or repentance—undoing the sin of material existence and returning to Pleroma.In the Johannite Eucharist we find a reference to this in the Penitential Rite of the Johannite Eucharist, “We stand here immortal, the image of your own Eternity; yet often we find ourselves clothed in the garment of separation, forgetful of the Glory of our Heritage, the Light dim from the closing of our hearts.” Repentance, then, is not so much a move away from something, rather it is a reorientation, as is later revealed in the Johannite Eucharistic prayer, “When we engage the Divine Beloved in the person of our fellow human beings, we see the Kingdom of Heaven manifest where it has always been – spread over the whole of the Earth. When we engage the Divine Beloved in the person of ourselves, we see the Kingdom of Heaven manifest where it has always been, within us.” Instead of a turning away, repentance is actually a turning toward God’s love – far from an act of deprecation, it becomes a powerful act whereby we can realize ourselves for who we are in Christ – and that revelation can be scary for some, put is the first stage of the purification which we are undergoing.

As at the start of Epiphany, we once again see Jesus coming toward the Jordan River, within sight the radical and tempestuous John the Baptist stands amidst a crowd of his disciples with the Beloved Disciple looking on and declares:

“Here is the Lamb of God who takes away the sin of the world! This is he of whom I said, ‘After me comes a man who ranks ahead of me because he was before me.’ I myself did not know him; but I came baptizing with water for this reason, that he might be revealed to Israel.” And John testified, “I saw the Spirit descending from heaven like a dove, and it remained on him. I myself did not know him, but the one who sent me to baptize with water said to me, ‘He on whom you see the Spirit descend and remain is the one who baptizes with the Holy Spirit.’ And I myself have seen and have testified that this is the Son of God.”

– John 1:29-34

Amongst the early Christians then as now, Lent is often a period in which those who are about to receive the sacrament of baptism prepare for the mystery which they are about to receive. This period of silence, away from the fanfare of the rest of the liturgical year, might be a little confusing particularly if those who are about to be initiated came to the community during other times of the year such as Christmastide when everything is joyous, well-lit and decorated to the nines. One of the earliest documents of the early Christian community, the Didache, advises:

“Concerning baptism, you should baptize this way: After first explaining all things, baptize in the name of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit, in flowing water… Before the baptism, both the baptizer and the candidate for baptism, plus any others who can, should fast. The candidate should fast for one or two days beforehand.”

– Didache 7.1, 7.4

‘After first explaining all things’ would refer to the time during this season that the one to be baptized would be taught personally, either by a priest or Bishop, about Christian morality and what would be expected of them as they would become part of the community of the faithful. In many ways, John could be seen as the prototype of the one who would prepare the way for initiation. Prior to Christ’s baptism, John had already amassed a large following with his call to repentance which seemingly contrasted the experience of Temple worship.

Important to the Gospel reading is the idea of sacrifice. In the Temple period in which Jesus lived, at any time a number of sacrifices would be made in the courts of the Temple ranging from doves, to sheep, to even throngs of cattle. Yet, here comes the Lamb of God who would ultimately become sacrificed by the very institutions of the land both secular and religious. For us, during this time, it may be worthy to think of sacrifice. What parts of our lives are we willing to sacrifice in order to more fully experience the Sacred Flame? While many give up chocolates or television or social media as a sacrifice during this period; what are the internal things that we are willing to give up?

There are a variety of ‘thoughts’ or ‘logoismoi’ that we encounter on a daily basis that may obfuscate our relationship with Godhead and one another. Perhaps we hold grudges and dwell on the Schadenfreude of those we personally dislike – they had it coming after all, right? How about the homeless person on the street, shouldn’t they just get a job? How about dwelling on that debt you’re still owed from middle school? All of these are examples of logoismoi or thoughts that can distract us from living a truly Christlike life. As the Didache suggests, here are some commandments that can easily be put into creative practice that can help you sacrifice the thoughts which come from your false sense of self:

Give to every one who asks you, and don’t ask for it back.
– 1.5

Do not speak evil of others; do not bear grudges.

[Speech] should not be false nor empty, but fulfilled by action.
– 2.5

Do not have designs against your neighbor.
– 2.6

Hate no one; correct some, pray for others, and some you should love more than your own life.

Some of these might be easier than others, but still try them out. If you give something, don’t ask for it back, instead view it as a form of alms-giving even if it’s to a friend. When the urge arises to gossip, perhaps step back and try to imagine what it would be like to be in the other person’s shoes when they find out what things were being spoken about them. If you say you’re going to do something, do it, or otherwise in daily speech try to talk about meaningful things – forget the small talk. Hating no one can be hard or easy – that person who cut you off in traffic a while back isn’t as bad as you think they are, and chances are you’ve done the same in the past. Also, don’t forget the fundamental – love. Love your neighbor as yourself, love God, and most importantly remember to love one another as Christ has loved us, by such a way we slowly but surely may be known as disciples.

The Way of the Heart and the Way of the Cup

Handed down from master to disciple in an unbroken chain of succession, the prayer of the heart as a spiritual discipline was fixed in writing by the eleventh century Byzantine, hesychast monk Symeon the New Theologian who taught that humanity could and should directly experience theoria, or direct contemplation of the experience of Godhead. In the Orthodox tradition, the preparation for vision of God takes place in two stages: purification, and illumination of the mental faculties. Without this it is impossible for man’s selfish love to be transformed into selfless love and unceasing prayer, as praised by the Apostle Paul who exhorts us in Thessalonians to, “Pray without ceasing.”

Though never achieving much currency in the West, the way of the heart as an esoteric discipline would become a central principal in the writings of the French philosopher, Louis Claude de Saint-Martin who, in his Theosophic Correspondences shares with us, “The inward or centre is the principle of everything; so long as this centre is not open, the greatest external wonders may seduce without advancing us; and, if I may venture to say so, it is our inward which ought to be the true thermometer, the true touchstone, of what passes without. If our heart is in God, if it is really become divine, by love, faith, and ardent prayer, no illusion can surprise us.” In Saint-Martin’s teachings, through similar meditation on God, one may undergo a spiritual process of reintegration with the Divine.

The way of the heart, in both hesychast and esoteric doctrines, is ultimately a form of theurgy. For Neoplatonists such as Iamblichus, the goal is henosis, or unity with God; in the Orthodox East, it is theosis, or the absorption into a divine way of life. I would posit, similarly, that in the esoteric doctrine of the West and the principals of the teachings of Saint-Martin, the achievement of reintegration is a form of spiritual and evangelical salvation of the soul at home with the universal Mind which, after its descent into the innermost core of being, must spread outward in all directions in a like manner as Christ, having experienced at a pivotal point in time descended into Hades and, upon ascent, drew them likewise out of the depths and later, again, spread outward in the form of the Holy Spirit at Pentecost imbuing the Apostles with the same knowledge of doing the same.

Although penitential in tonality, the way of the heart does not contradict Iamblichean principals of theurgy, but indeed does “[enlarge] very greatly our soul’s receptivity to the gods… and accustoms [our] eyes to the brightness of divine light, and gradually brings to perfection the capacity of our faculties for contact with the gods.” (De Mysteriis 5.26.18-40) Similarly, Saint Martin writes: “I think they would do better to call it the sentiment of the presence of intermediate agents doing the will of God. I believe we always perceive this reaction of the Virtues whenever we seek the Verb, not outside of us, but within, looking with intelligence at the temple in which He dwells.” My personal preference for keeping Saint-Martin’s usage of the ‘Verb’ adequately presents the activity of the divine as opposed to the rather abstract and now poorly understood Word, or Logos.

It occurred to me recently that this process is a form of eternal liturgy resulting in the fractio of our limited selves into the chalice representing the fullness of both our hearts and minds. Joining together these two species into one sacrament and consuming it, we experience joy of heaven on earth and partake of the ecstatic ‘Verb’ or action of Godhead. Far from the melancholy, the way of the heart teaches us to live in accordance with our intellect in the very real here and now instead of trying to escape to some indeterminate eschatological future. This bliss and this ecstasy, open to all, brings us not only contemplatively closer to Godhead, but is a challenge and affirmation of our own divinity and active co-participation in the Creation of a redeemed Humanity.

Sacred Heart doves Chalice

A Vigil Rite of Healing through the Angel Raphael

For those times when a member of the congregation is experiencing prolonged illness or in cases when someone is in immediate need of spiritual comfort, this vigil may be performed to the end of expediting their recovery.

This ceremony may be performed by any member of laity or clergy and may be appended to the Rite of Ministration to the Sick or the Daily Office.


The bell is rung ///.

Candles are lit and incense burned in censor.

Introductory rite from the Apostolic Johannite Church’s liturgy Grail of Undefiled Wisdom used or similar ceremony used, alternately the Prayer of the Apostle Paul:

I invoke you, the one who is and who pre-existed in the name which is exalted above every name, through Jesus Christ, the Lord of Lords, the King of the ages; give me your gifts, of which you do not repent, through the Son of Man, the Spirit, the Paraclete of truth. Give me authority when I ask you; give healing for my body when I ask you through the Evangelist, and redeem my eternal light soul and my spirit. And the First-born of the Fullness of grace — reveal him to my mind!

Grant what no angel eye has seen and no archon ear has heard, and what has not entered into the human heart which came to be angelic and modeled after the image of God when it was formed in the beginning, since I have faith and hope. And place upon me your beloved, elect, and blessed greatness, the First-born, the First-begotten, and the wonderful mystery of your house; for yours is the power and the glory and the praise and the greatness for ever and ever. Amen.


One or more the following or other passages may be used.

1 John 5:13-15

(These things I have written to you who believe in the name of the Son of God, so that you may know that you have eternal life. This is the confidence which we have before Him, that, if we ask anything according to His will, He hears us. And if we know that He hears us in whatever we ask, we know that we have the requests which we have asked from Him.)

James 5:14-16

(Is anyone among you sick? Then he must call for the elders of the church and they are to pray over him, anointing him with oil in the name of the Lord; and the prayer offered in faith will restore the one who is sick, and the Lord will raise him up, and if he has committed sins, they will be forgiven him. Therefore, confess your sins to one another, and pray for one another so that you may be healed. The effective prayer of a righteous man can accomplish much.)

Apocryphon of John

(Thus, the seed remained for a while assisting them, in order that, when the Spirit comes forth from the Holy Aeons, he may raise up and heal him from the deficiency, that the entirety of the Fullness may again become holy and faultless.)  

Invocation of the Holy Angel Raphael

O Holy Angel Raphael, guardian of the light arising, guide of travelers and supreme minister to the sick, through your intercession we ask for the healing of (name of person to be healed) who has been afflicted by suffering of body and soul. Holy Raphael, whose name means ‘God heals’, and of whom the Scriptures praise: ‘Raphael, the holy angel of the Lord, was sent to cure,Saint Raphael, our advocate’ come to the aid of (name of person to be healed) as you came to the aid of the prophet Tobias and put to flight the plagues sent by the Advesary and provided to for the healing of Israel. Amen.

Lighting of the Candle

Celebrant:               Holy Lord, who did charge your children to bring you clear oil wherein the lamp of your love may continually burn in the hearts of humanity, and kindled with the fire of eternal charity, we do present you this lamp most pure that it may burn for the healing of (name of person to be healed) under the ever-watching vigilance of your Holy Angel Raphael. Pour your blessings upon it that they may partake in your blessings and, when healed, magnify your Holy Name.

Celebrant lights lamp representing the person for whom this vigil is performed.

Celebrant:               The Lord says, “I am a lamp to those who would see me.”

All:                          Amen.

Celebrant:               “I am a mirror to those who would perceive me.”

All.                          Amen.

Celebrant:               “I am a door to you who would approach me.”

All:                          Amen.

Celebrant:               “Glory to you, Father, Glory to you, Word, Glory to you Holy Spirit of Wisdom. We gathered here in your presence and in the presence of your Holy Angel Raphael to hold vigil for your servant (name of person to be healed) that they may be restored to full health of body, mind and spirit.

If others are participating, the Celebrant now lights a separate candle from the vigil light.

Celebrant:               The Lord says, ‘I am the light that is over all things, I am all: from me all came forth, and to me all attained.’ Let those who would partake of the light and pray for the healing of (N.) come forth and light their candles that they may burn at peace in their homes for the healing of the whole world.

Congregants come up, one by one, and light their own candles from the central vigil candle.

Celebrant:               Bearing in mind the words of Our Lord, let us now pray with one heart, one mind, and one accord:

Our Father

Closing of the Temple

Celebrant rings bell ///

Celebrant performs the closing of the temple, as in the Liturgy of the Grail of Undefiled Wisdom or prays:

Celebrant:               We give thanks to You! Every soul and heart is lifted up to You, undisturbed name, honored with the name ‘God’ and praised with the name ‘Father’, for to everyone and everything (comes) the parental kindness and affection and love, and any teaching there may be that is sweet and plain, giving us mind, speech, and knowledge: mind, so that we may understand You, speech, so that we may expound You, knowledge, so that we may know You. We rejoice, having been illuminated by Your knowledge. We rejoice because You have shown us Yourself. We rejoice because while we were in (the) body, You have made us divine through Your knowledge.

All:                          The thanksgiving of one who attains to You is one thing: that we know You. We have known You, intellectual light. Life of life, we have known You. Womb of every creature, we have known You. Womb pregnant with the nature of the Father, we have known You. Eternal permanence of the begetting Father, thus have we worshiped Your goodness. There is one petition that we ask: we would be preserved in knowledge. And there is one protection that we desire: that we not stumble in this kind of life.

Celebrant:               Let us bless the Lord.

All:                          Thanks be to God.

A Calm Abiding Meditation

Paul writes concerning deliverance and our salvation, “I delivered to you as of first importance what I also received, that Christ died for our sins according to the Scriptures, and that He was buried, and that He was raised on the third day according to the Scriptures” (1 Corinthians 15:3-4), for this reason we must place our thoughts, words and deeds constantly on the rising of the manifested Word within our hearts which is that selfsame “secret room” wherein Christ admonishes us to go and pray that we may know Him.

As you turn your consciousness inward, see Christ in his radiant glory standing at the door as he did upon Pentecost to the apostles. His body is of a luminescent light and bears the markings of his sufferings. He speaks to you, “Be still and know that I am God” (Psalm 46:10).

Standing before the Lord you may respond, “Lord, I am not worthy to receive you, but only say the word and I shall be healed” (Matthew 8:8) and confess your sins and troubles. As you confess to him your trials and troubles, see them enter into the wound on his side where they take up residence in His most Sacred Heart. Know that He is the Lord, Jesus Christ, the Son of God, who has mercy upon all who sincerely call upon His Name.

Every confession you make to Him fills His Heart where it is transformed into limitless compassion for you. You may tremble and quake, but he encourages you, “Be not afraid, for with thee I am, Look not around, for I am thy God” (Isaiah 41:10). As he speaks, rays of light stream from His Heart into your heart, filling you with a great comfort and peace. His eyes gaze softly upon you, and He places His hands upon your shoulder and kisses your cheek, and says, “”Listen to me, whom I have called: I am he; I am the first and I am the last. (Isaiah 48:12) If you obey my commands, you will remain in my love, just as I have obeyed my Father’s commands and remain in his love” (John 15:10).

He releases you from his embrace and you feel restored, refreshed and fulfilled. The Risen Lord departs through the door of your Secret Room and you abide in his radiant light.

On the Feast of Saint Valentinus

While many Christians take the fourteenth of February to celebrate the Feast of Saint Valentine – or one of the saint Valentines – many contemporary Gnostics have taken this day to memorialize the great Gnostic teacher and bishop Valentinus who the best known as the most successful early Christian gnostic theologian.

Recognized as a brilliant theologian even by his contemporaries who would later repudiate his teachings as unorthodox, Valentinus attracted a large following in Rome which would later become divided into an Eastern and a Western or Italian branch.

In honor of this great teacher, here are a selection of writings from the school of this great teacher, theologian and bearer of the Sacred Flame.

“Many of the things written in publicly available books are found in the writings of God’s church. For this shared matter is the utterances that come from the heart, the law that is written in the heart. This is the people of the beloved , which is beloved and which loves him. “ – Fragment 6.

“For each one loves truth because truth is the mouth of the Father. His tongue is the Holy Spirit, who joins him to truth attaching him to the mouth of the Father by his tongue at the time he shall receive the Holy Spirit.” – The Gospel of Truth

“For this reason, God came and destroyed the division and he brought the hot Pleroma of love, so that the cold may not return, but the unity of the Perfect Thought prevail” – The Gospel of Truth

“Moreover, the first baptism is the forgiveness of sins. We are brought from those of the right, that is, into the imperishability which is the Jordan. But that place is of the world. So we have been sent out of the world into the Aeon. For the interpretation of John is the Aeon, while the interpretation of that which is the upward progression, that is, our Exodus from the world into the Aeon.” – On the Baptism A.

“It is from water and fire that the soul and the spirit came into being. It is from water and fire and light that the son of the bridal chamber came into being. The fire is the chrism, the light is the fire. I am not referring to that fire which has no form, but to the other fire whose form is white, which is bright and beautiful, and which gives beauty.” – The Gospel of Philip

Wherefore on this day, may we be reminded of the great and holy Valentinus and as successors and heirs give him due honor and praise.

O glorious teacher and protector, Holy Valentinus,
we who are but babes rushing forth from the womb
ask thee to hear our requests,
attend to our prayers,
make clear the path of righteousness,
reveal by your intercession the Truth we seek,
and obtain for us the blessing of the Unknown Father,
that we may be found worthy to join you in the Limitless Light,
: through the merits of the Christos and of our Holy Mother Sophia. Amen.

-unattributed prayer

The Way of Prayer, Part II: Engaging the Body

In an essay I recently wrote outlining the five types of prayer, I also shared an example of my personal practice using the Pater Noster as a form of contemplative prayer in the vein blending elements of lectio divina and hesychasm of the Eastern traditions. The practice of prayer is much more than the simple recitation of words and should aim to raise one’s conscious connection with one’s concept of the divine – whether that means God as conceived as in most forms of theistic belief systems or connection to one’s inner conception of God or transpersonal consciousness.

This conscious connection doesn’t simply mean a connection of consciousness which will inevitably happen, but also relies upon the support of one’s five natural senses: hearing, sight, touch, smell, and taste. Engaging these five senses fits in well with the sacramental pentad described previously in that, consciously engaged, the singular or multiple engagements of the senses helps to ground the spiritual experience of the into a very physical eucharist or “sacramental presence” which, to varying degrees, can be said to represent the aims of hesychastic practice in the Orthodox tradition, but can also be found in nearly all mystical systems under different names.

There is an oft-cited truism that I’ve seen on more than a few bumper-stickers that states something to the effect, “we are spiritual beings having a physical experience” which has a very strong appeal to me as a Gnostic who believes that each and every individual contains within him or herself a spark of that divine fire that created the kosmos and to which we are striving to return. Part of our experience, however, is to engage the body that is our temporary residence in this incarnation and to make it into a tool that can be used to direct our consciousness back to that henadic point. In India and much of the South Asian subcontinent, this developed into the very complex science of yoga in its different forms, but elements can also be found in the West, an example of which being the Nine Ways of Prayer of  Saint Dominic de Guzeman.

The Nine Ways of Prayer outlines a series of postures associated with prayer in the context of Christian devotion and was written by an anonymous Bolognese author, sometime between A.D. 1260 and A.D. 1288, whose source of information was, among other followers of St. Dominic, Sister Cecilia of Bologna’s Monastery of St. Agnes. Sister Cecilia had been given the habit by St. Dominic himself. In the Christian liturgical tradition, there are no shortage of various gestures used to supplement one’s prayer practice such as making the signum crucis (Sign of the Cross), folding of one’s hands, genuflection, among others. The Nine Ways of Prayer describes nine different postures along with scriptural references to help focus one’s mind on God. Below is a great summary as gleaned from the traditionalist Catholic website, Fish Eaters:

First Way of Prayer

Saint Dominic’s first way of prayer was to humble himself before the altar as if Christ, signified by the altar, were truly and personally present and not in symbol alone. He would say with Judith: “O Lord, God, the prayer of the humble and the meek hath always pleased Thee [Judith 9:16]. “It was through humility that the Canaanite woman and the prodigal son obtained what they desired; as for me, “I am not worthy that Thou shouldst come under my roof” [Matthew 8:8] for “I have been humbled before you exceedingly, O Lord [Psalm 118:107].”

In this way our holy father, standing erect, bowed his head and humbly considering Christ, his Head, compared his lowliness with the excellence of Christ. He then gave himself completely in showing his veneration. The brethren were taught to do this whenever they passed before the humiliation of the Crucified One in order that Christ, so greatly humbled for us, might see us humbled before his majesty. And he commanded the friars to humble themselves in this way before the entire Trinity whenever they chanted solemnly: “Glory be to the Father, and to the Son, and to the Holy Spirit.” In this manner of profoundly inclining his head, as shown in the drawing, Saint Dominic began his prayer.

Second Way of Prayer

Saint Dominic used to pray by throwing himself outstretched upon the ground, lying on his face. He would feel great remorse in his heart and call to mind those words of the Gospel, saying sometimes in a voice loud enough to be heard: “O God, be merciful to me, a sinner.” [Luke 18:13] With devotion and reverence he repeated that verse of David: “I am he that has sinned, I have done wickedly.” [II Kings 24:17]. Then he would weep and groan vehemently and say: “I am not worthy to see the heights of heaven because of the greatness of my iniquity, for I have aroused thy anger and done what is evil in thy sight.” From the psalm: “Deus auribus nostris audivimus” he said fervently and devoutly: “For our soul is cast down to the dust, our belly is flat on the earth!” [Psalm 43:25]. To this he would add: “My soul is prostrate in the dust; quicken Thou me according to Thy word” [Psalm 118:25].

Wishing to teach the brethren to pray reverently, he would sometimes say to them: When those devout Magi entered the dwelling they found the child with Mary, his mother, and falling down they worshipped him. There is no doubt that we too have found the God-Man with Mary, his handmaid. “Come, let us adore and fall down in prostration before God, and let us weep before God, and let us weep before the Lord that made us” [Psalm 94:61]. He would also exhort the young men, and say to them: If you cannot weep for your own sins because you have none, remember that there are many sinners who can be disposed for mercy and charity. It was for these that the prophets lamented; and when Jesus saw them, he wept bitterly. The holy David also wept as he said: “I beheld the transgressors and began to grieve” [Psalm 118:158].

Third Way of Prayer

At the end of the prayer which has just been described, Saint Dominic would rise from the ground and give himself the discipline with an iron chain, saying, “Thy discipline has corrected me unto the end” [Psalm 17:36]. This is why the Order decreed, in memory of his example, that all the brethren should receive the discipline with wooden switches upon their shoulders as they were bowing down in worship and reciting the psalm “Miserere”  [Psalm 50] or “De Profundis” [Psalm 129] after Compline on ferial days. This is performed for their own faults or for those of others whose alms they receive and rely upon. No matter how sinless he may be, no one is to desist from this holy example which is shown in the drawing.

Fourth Way of Prayer

After this, Saint Dominic would remain before the altar or in the chapter room with his gaze fixed on the Crucified One, looking upon Him with perfect attention. He genuflected frequently, again and again. He would continue sometimes from after Compline until midnight, now rising, now kneeling again, like the apostle Saint James, or the leper of the gospel who said on bended knee: “Lord, if Thou wilt, thou canst make me clean” [Matthew. 8:2]. He was like Saint Stephen who knelt and called out with a loud cry: “Lord, do not lay this sin against them” [Acts 7:60]. Thus there was formed in our holy father, Saint Dominic, a great confidence in God’s mercy towards himself, all sinners, and for the perseverance of the younger brethren whom he sent forth to preach to souls. Sometimes he could not even restrain his voice, and the friars would hear him murmuring: “Unto Thee will I cry, O Lord: O my God, be not Thou silent to me: lest if thou be silent to me, I become like them that go down into the pit” [Psalm 27:1] and comparable phrases from the Sacred Scripture.

At other times, however, he spoke within himself and his voice could not be heard. He would remain in genuflection for a long while, rapt in spirit; on occasion, while in this position, it appeared from his face that his mind had penetrated heaven and soon he reflected an intense joy as he wiped away the flowing tears. He was in a stage of longing and anticipation like a thirsty man who has reached a spring, and like a traveler who is at last approaching his homeland. Then he would become more absorbed and ardent as he moved in an agile manner but with great grace, now arising, now genuflecting. He was so accustomed to bend his knees to God in this way that when he traveled, in the inns after a weary journey, or along the wayside while his companions rested or slept, he would return to these genuflections, his own intimate and personal form of worship. This way of prayer he taught his brethren more by example than by words.

Fifth Way of Prayer

When he was in the convent, our holy father Dominic would sometimes remain before the altar, standing erect without supporting himself or leaning upon anything. Often his hands would be extended before his breast in the manner of an open book; he would stand with great reverence and devotion as if reading in the very presence of God. Deep in prayer, he appeared to be meditating upon the words of God, and he seemed to repeat them to himself in a sweet voice. He regularly prayed in this way for it was Our Lord’s manner as Saint Luke tells us: “. . . according to his custom he entered the synagogue on the Sabbath and began to read” [Luke 4:16]. The psalmist also tells us that “Phinees stood up and prayed, and the slaughter ceased” [Psalm 105:30].

He would sometimes join his hands, clasping them firmly together before eyes filled with tears and restrain himself. At other times he would raise his hands to his shoulders as the priest does at Mass. He appeared then to be listening carefully as if to hear something spoken from the altar. If one had seen his great devotion as he stood erect and prayed, he would certainly have thought that he was observing a prophet, first speaking with an angel or with God himself, then listening, then silently thinking of those things which had been revealed to him.

On a journey he would secretly steal away at the time for prayer and, standing, would immediately raise his mind to heaven. One would then have heard him speaking sweetly and with supreme delight some loving words from his heart and from the riches of Holy Scripture which he seemed to draw from the fountains of the Savior. The friars were very much moved by the sight of their father and master praying in this manner. Thus, having become more fervent, they were instructed in the way of reverent and constant prayer: “Behold as the eyes of servants are on the hands of their masters, as the eyes of the handmaid are on the hands of her mistress . . .” [Psalm 122:2].

Sixth Way of Prayer

Our holy father, Saint Dominic, was also seen to pray standing erect with his hands and arms outstretched forcefully in the form of a cross. He prayed in this way when God, through his supplications, raised to life the boy Napoleon in the sacristy of the Church of Saint Sixtus in Rome, and when he was raised from the ground at the celebration of Mass, as the good and holy Sister Cecilia, who was present with many other people and saw him, narrates. He was like Elias who stretched himself out and lay upon the widow’s son when he raised him to life…

This example of our father’s prayer would help devout souls to appreciate more easily his great zeal and wisdom in praying thus. This is true whether, in doing so, he wished to move God in some wonderful manner through his prayer or whether he felt through some interior inspiration that God was to move him to seek some singular grace for himself or his neighbor. He then shone with the spiritual insight of David, the ardor of Elias, the charity of Christ, and with a profound devotion, as the drawing serves to indicate.

Seventh Way of Prayer

While praying, he was often seen to reach towards heaven like an arrow which has been shot from a taut bow straight upwards into the sky. He would stand with hands outstretched above his head and joined together, or at times slightly separated as if about to receive something from heaven. One would believe that he was receiving an increase of grace and in this rapture of spirit was asking God for the gifts of the Holy Spirit for the Order he had founded…

Through his words and holy example he constantly taught the friars to pray in this way, often repeating those phrases from the psalms: “Behold, now bless ye the Lord, all ye servants of the Lord … in the nights lift up your hands to the holy places, and bless ye the Lord” [Psalm 133:1-3], “I have cried to Thee, O Lord, hear me; hearken to my voice when I cry to Thee. Let my prayer be directed as incense in Thy sight; the lifting up of my hands as the evening sacrifice” [Psalm 140:1-2]. The drawing shows us this mode of prayer so that we may better understand it.

Eighth Way of Prayer

Our Father, Saint Dominic, had yet another manner of praying at once beautiful, devout, and pleasing, which he practiced after the canonical hours and the thanksgiving following meals. He was then zealous and filled with the spirit of devotion which he drew from the divine words which had been sung in the choir or refectory. Our father quickly withdrew to some solitary place, to his cell or elsewhere, and recollected himself in the presence of God. He would sit quietly, and after the sign of the cross, begin to read from a book opened before him. His spirit would then be sweetly aroused as if he heard Our Lord speaking, as we are told in the psalms: “I will hear what the Lord God will speak to me. [Psalm 84:9]. As if disputing with a companion he would first appear somewhat impatient in his thought and words. At the next moment he would become a quiet listener, then again seem to discuss and contend. He seemed almost to laugh and weep at the same time, and then, attentively and submissively, would murmur to himself and strike his breast…

When he read alone in this solitary fashion, Dominic used to venerate the book, bow to it, and kiss it. This was especially true if he was reading the Gospels and when he had been reading the very words which had come from the mouth of Christ. At other times he would hide his face and cover it with his cappa, or bury his face in his hands and veil it slightly with the capuce. Then he would weep, all fervent and filled with holy desires. Following this, as if to render thanks to some person of great excellence for benefits received, he would reverently rise and incline his head for a short time. Wholly refreshed and, in great interior peace, he then returned to his book.

Ninth Way of Prayer

Our Father, Saint Dominic, observed this mode of prayer while traveling from one country to another, especially when he passed through some deserted region. He then delighted in giving himself completely to meditation, disposing for contemplation, and he would say to his companion on the journey: It is written in Osee “I will lead her (my spouse) into the wilderness and I will speak to her ear” [Osee 2:14]. Parting from his companion, he would go on ahead or, more frequently, follow at some distance. Thus withdrawn, he would walk and pray; in his meditation he was inflamed and the fire of charity was enkindled. While he prayed it appeared as if he were brushing dust or bothersome flies from his face when he repeatedly fortified himself with the Sign of the Cross.

The brethren thought that it was while praying in this way that the saint obtained his extensive penetration of Sacred Scripture and profound understanding of the divine words, the power to preach so fervently and courageously, and that intimate acquaintance with the Holy Spirit by which he came to know the hidden things of God.

Many of the elements of prayer mentioned in The Nine Ways of Prayer should be familiar to one degree or another by anyone who has attended liturgy at any Roman Catholic Church. Genuflection, prostration, penitential “thumping of the breast”, standing dieu garde, holding the hands open, standing cruciform, kneeling in adoration, sitting in a position of reflection, and circumambulation are all well-attested postures used in Catholic liturgy and other Christian liturgical traditions and can be powerful physical aids to establishing a conscious connection during prayer. If one of course has some physical disability, it might not be possible to engage in all of them, but the frame of mind can be adopted and the gestures can be adjusted to the comfort and physical needs of those who should need to do so.

In my personal practice, which is deeply influenced by the Hesychastic practices of Eastern Christian contemplative traditions, the two most common postures I adopt during prayer are those of standing, kneeling and sitting with my knees pulled up to my breast with my head lightly resting between my knees. I have personally found these postures and gestures to be sufficient to putting myself in a contemplative mind-set whereby I can focus on my connection with the primordial nous, or God. Hesychastic practice has a varied history and set of rules, but the overall aim is to align the body, mind and heart in single-pointed concentration on God (very similar, in some respects, to the goals of establishing dhyana in yoga). These basic, inward focusing, postures has led some to refer to hesychasts as “navel-gazers” which, despite being more than slighty pejorative in intent, is actually pretty accurate.

In traditional Hesychastic practice, the singular prayer most often used is the famous Prayer of the Heart, commonly known as the Jesus Prayer: “Κύριε Ἰησοῦ Χριστέ, Υἱὲ τοῦ Θεοῦ, ἐλέησόν με τὸν ἁμαρτωλόν.” (Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.); or, simply, “Jesus. Mercy.” Other variations of this exist and can also include the Trisagion: “Ἅγιος ὁ Θεός, Ἅγιος ἰσχυρός, Ἅγιος ἀθάνατος, ἐλέησον ἡμᾶς” (Holy God, Holy Strong, Holy Immortal, have mercy on us.), or, as an option for Gnostics and esoteric Christians, the Adoration of the Lord of the Universe: “Holy art Thou, Lord of the Universe. Holy art Thou, whom nature hath not formed. Holy art Thou, vast and mighty. Lord of the light and the darkness.” While some may assert that these prayers are to be recited in a manner consistent with japa or mantrayoga, I cannot over-emphasize that while there are superficial similarities, this is not the case. Instead, one should focus on using stilling the body and experiencing God “heart to heart”.

Amongst some Sufi sects as well as in other ecstatic paths (Voudon and Santeria being great examples) another way of physically engaging in prayer can be through ecstatic dance. Although I am not personally one for dancing at the clubs that I go to, when I am attending sevis at a fête, I can barely resist letting the music of the drums move my feet as I dance with others in honor of the various saints, lwa and spirits present. While some may express some shock at the context, sacred dance even has its role in the expression of the earliest Christian communities which appear at surface level to appear no different in ecstatic expression than many contemporary Pentecostal services. Paul himself, in response to one community “getting a little out of hand”, was forced to write about it in Corinthians. Interestingly enough, there is scriptural evidence in the Gnostic Gospels which indicate that liturgical dance was practiced by more than one community in the 1st and 2nd centuries:

“Glory to Thee, Father! (And we going round in a ring answered to Him:) ‘Amen!’ Glory to Thee, Word! ‘Amen!’ Glory to Thee, Grace! ‘Amen!’ Glory to Thee, Spirit! Glory to Thee, Holy One! Glory to Thy Glory! ‘Amen!’ We praise Thee, O Father; We give Thanks to Thee, O light; In Whom Darkness dwells not! ‘Amen!’(For what we give thanks to the Logos). I would be saved; and I would save. ‘Amen!’ I would be loosed; and I would loose. ‘Amen!’ I would be wounded; and I would wound. ‘Amen!’ I would be begotten; and I would beget. ‘Amen!’ I would eat; and I would be eaten. ‘Amen!’ I would hear; and I would be heard. ‘Amen!’ I would be washed; and I would wash. ‘Amen!’(Grace leadeth the dance.) ..dance ye all.” – The Hymn of Jesus

While we may never know what form the dance actually took, if it was performed at all, contextually we can probably assume that it took a similar form as what it practiced in contemporary Jewish festivals as a roundel, or perhaps something very similar to what neo-Pagans would recognize as their so-called “spiral dance”. Regardless of the form that it took, it is a great example of engaging the physical being in prayer. For many dance as an act of prayer may seem like a revolutionary concept in spiritual engagement, but in the words of “saint” Emma Goldman, “If I can’t dance I don’t want to be in your revolution.”

Naturally, there are many directions one could go in exploring different ways to engage the body in prayer. It is my hope that by providing some examples one may be moved to find a way that works for themselves as a spring-board toward enriching their prayer life. Not every method will be as appealing for some as for others, but the important thing is to find something that works to help oneself meaningfully engage and become physically connected to their experience of the divine as they know it.

Icon of Jesus as "Lord of the Dance"


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