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Philokalia > Evagrius: On Prayer

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message 1: by Clark (last edited Oct 05, 2017 07:05AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Since we were reading Origen's On Prayer I thought it would be a hoot to read Evagrius Ponticus's On Prayer, from the Philokalia . Quite a different kettle of fish, I assure you.

Evagrius was actually a bit of a follower of Origen and it got him into some trouble (posthumously). The Church solved the problem by ignoring his (somewhat Origenist) theoretical writings and ascribing his practical writings to someone else. :-) On Prayer is one of his practical writings. He was a monk who lived in the Egyptian desert.

I said recently in another discussion that some people see in the church two parallel threads or hierarchies, the main, visible hierarchy of ordained clergy and official theologians, and a less visible hierarchy of spiritual elders. Evagrius is in the second hierarchy; Origen is in the first.

Message #2 in this topic points at the Philokalia. There are very inexpensive versions available for Kindle. If anyone has problems finding a suitable copy, holler.

[Origen's Philocalia is not connected at all with the collection of works called the Philokalia. Yes, they are the same Greek work ("love of beauty" or some such) but by tradition spelled differently.]


message 2: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Thanks for the suggestion. I would indeed be interested.
I have read bits of the Philokalia in the past, some pieces are more accessible than others, I think.
But how you describe this seems certainly interesting. I like the topic "on prayer".


message 3: by Clark (last edited Oct 08, 2017 04:22AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Here is the first of the 153 "chapters" on prayer, in its entirety:

1. Should one wish to make incense, one will mingle, according to the Law, fragrant gum, cassia, aromatic shell and myrrh in equal amounts. These are the four virtues. With their full and balanced development, the intellect will be safe from betrayal.

[Since chapter and verse numbers weren't created until centuries later, the Scripture reference (Ex 30:34) was obviously added by the translators. So it wouldn't have been in the text. So I moved it to this note. No, I won't do that every time.]


message 4: by Ruth (new)

Ruth So, what you are saying is that this 'book' on prayer consists of 153 of such short proverb-like sentences?

I will have a look at the text, but this question arises immediately when I read this: those four virtues, is that prudence, justice, courage, temperance, or does he mean something else?

I had learned that these four ingredients in incense were pointers to the four types of prayer that Saint Paul mentions somewhere. (intercession, thanksgiving, prayers and supplications, if I remember correctly)

I do not immediately see a link between the four virtues and prayer, although it is interesting to ponder that, because I can certainly imagine that a balanced character is a good foundation for prayer.


message 5: by Clark (last edited Oct 08, 2017 04:23AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Ruth said, "So, what you are saying is that this 'book' on prayer consists of 153 of such short proverb-like sentences?"

There is a preface (in which he explains the number 153) and then the 153 "chapters."

As to what the four virtues are, he may list and explain them in coming "chapters". I dunno.

FWIW, "chapter 1" has no explicit reference at all to prayer.

The Greek word translated here as "intellect" is, I think, translated differently in other works we've been reading, perhaps as "soul."

From the glossary of the translation we're using:

INTELLECT (νοϋς - nous): the highest faculty in man, through which - provided it is purified - he knows God or the inner essences or principles of created things by means of direct apprehension or spiritual perception. Unlike the dianoia or reason, from which it must be carefully distinguished, the intellect does not function by formulating abstract concepts and then arguing on this basis to a conclusion reached through deductive reasoning, but it understands divine truth by means of immediate experience, intuition or 'simple cognition' (the term used by St Isaac the Syrian). The intellect dwells in the 'depths of the soul'; it constitutes the innermost aspect of the heart.


message 6: by Clark (last edited Oct 08, 2017 04:44AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Chapter 2:

2. When the soul has been purified through the keeping of all the commandments, it makes the intellect steadfast and able to receive the state needed for prayer.

[Here "soul" translates the Greek ψυχή ("psyche," as in "psychology"), meaning what other translations used in this group have translated as "spirit."]


message 7: by Susan (new)

Susan Clark wrote: "Chapter 2:

2. When the soul has been purified through the keeping of all the commandments, it makes the intellect steadfast and able to receive the state needed for prayer.

[Here "soul" translate..."


Message 5 and 6 interesting, thank you.


message 8: by Ruth (new)

Ruth O funny, I would have said that 'nous' corresponds more with what I originally thought was 'spirit', because it seems to be the innermost core, or the highest aspect of our soul. So if we follow this image of the tabernacle, then 'nous' might correspond to the holy of holies.

Anyway, however that may be, I think what I learn from both these texts, is that true prayer is made possible if our soul is purified.
In the first chapter he speaks about balancing the virtues, and in the second about keeping the commandments, both of which will enable this highest faculty of our soul to see clearly, or as he says:
enable it to receive the state needed for prayer.


message 9: by Clark (last edited Oct 10, 2017 07:47AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Ruth said, "I would have said that 'nous' corresponds more with what I originally thought was 'spirit', because it seems to be the innermost core, or the highest aspect of our soul."

Very good attention to terms.

So far we have "nous" (translated as "intellect") and "psyche" (translated as "soul").

"Psyche" as "soul" matches the other topic, What makes a human? It has "pneuma" as "spirit," which is what you were talking about.

It is absolutely essential in the Philokalia to pay attention to the terms. The works included were written centuries apart, by people writing about spiritual and mystical stuff.

So we have the term "nous", which seems somehow to correspond more closely with "pneuma" than with "psyche" but isn't "pneuma." For now we just remember that, I think. And we can watch for "pneuma" (spirit) and "kardia" (heart).


message 10: by Clark (last edited Oct 10, 2017 07:48AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Ruth said, "So if we follow this image of the tabernacle, then 'nous' might correspond to the holy of holies."

A very fine insight. Hang onto it.


message 11: by Clark (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Nemo said, "If you're interested in Prayer in particular, we could do a topical study, and discuss the relevant writings of Fathers from both "hierarchies", such as Tertullian, Cyprian, Evagrius and others."

This Evagrius topic will work only if it is restricted to the one work. It could be put into a "Philokalia" folder or a "Prayer" folder but I wouldn't want to have one topic for prayer, with multiple works in it. Some other discussion threads here have been general and have been successful, so a "Prayer" topic might well work; but my own gig is close reading of individual works.


message 12: by Clark (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments 3. Prayer is communion of the intellect with God. What state, then, does the intellect need so that it can reach out to its Lord without deflection and commune with Him without intermediary?


message 13: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Yes, for me the close reading of one particular text also works better. Especially since it seems that it is so easy to misunderstand what they are saying since the context is so different.
As for example when I was so surprised by what Origen said in first principles.

It is not that I am only particularly interested in prayer, I liked the other topics too. But I do think that this book from the Philokalia is very nice. It is also easy to do, just read one sentence every now and then :-)


message 14: by Ruth (new)

Ruth Clark wrote: "3. Prayer is communion of the intellect with God. What state, then, does the intellect need so that it can reach out to its Lord without deflection and commune with Him without intermediary?"

Wow this is certainly a thought provoking question. I think it is continuing the train of thought from the previous statements, that our intellect must be made steadfast and stable by purifying the soul.
Though, on second thought, perhaps he is now taking it a step further. The first two steps about the soul, and now wondering about our intellect.

My first intuitive reaction would be that the intellect must be pure, clear of distractions, in a receptive state, open to God.


message 15: by Clark (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Ruth said, "My first intuitive reaction would be that the intellect must be pure, clear of distractions, in a receptive state, open to God."

This seems to me well warranted from the text so far.

It does seem to me that the "soul" is somehow an outer layer or guard or something for the intellect. Text #1, says that when the virtues are balanced and developed the intellect is "safe from betrayal." I don't think this says necessarily that the virtues are virtues of the intellect itself. If, for instance, they are the virtues Ruth listed, then they would I think be virtues of the soul.


message 16: by Clark (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments 4. When Moses tried to draw near to the burning bush he was forbidden to approach until he had loosed his sandals from his feet If, then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense-perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassioned thought.


message 17: by Clark (last edited Oct 13, 2017 06:54AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments "Impassioned" and its relatives are technical terms for the monks and other writers. Here from the glossary is the entry on "Passion":

PASSION (πάθος - pathos): in Greek, the word signifies literally that which happens to a person or thing, an experience undergone passively; hence an appetite or impulse such as anger, desire or jealousy, that violently dominates the soul. Many Greek Fathers regard the passions as something intrinsically evil, a 'disease' of the soul: thus St John Klimakos affirms that God is not the creator of the passions and that they are 'unnatural', alien to man's true [V1] 364, [V2] 386, [V3] 362, [V4] 434 self (The Ladder of Divine Ascent, Step 26, translated by Archimandrite Lazarus [op. Cit.], p. 211). Other Greek Fathers, however, look on the passions as impulses originally placed in man by God, and so fundamentally good, although at present distorted by sin (cf St Isaiah the Solitary, § 1: in our translation, vol. i, p. 22). On this second view, then, the passions are to be educated, not eradicated; to be transfigured, not suppressed; to be used positively, not negatively (see Dispassion).


message 18: by Ruth (new)

Ruth It seems to me that there is a place for 'passions' in the daily life. We need them to be human, to connect with empathy and love to other humans. And perhaps also, come to think of it, to love God with all that is in us, which includes passions.

But:
If, then, you wish to behold and commune with Him who is beyond sense-perception and beyond concept, you must free yourself from every impassioned thought.
I think this means communication with God on a different level. I have myself some experience with this, I have noticed sometimes that I just wanted to be in God's presence, and try to give my mind as much as possible to God, be really passive, not actively thinking, but just 'being'. (I'm sorry, this is really hard to describe, but I think it is an attempt at being free from 'impassioned thought'). Anyway, I have noticed that, although it seems as if nothing really happens then, it has happened that afterwards I noticed that something had changed in me.

So I think passions are okay, but being dispassionate has also a place. We probably need to alternate, just like breathing: sometimes in, sometimes out.


message 19: by Clark (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments So I think passions are okay, but being dispassionate has also a place.

This is a good excuse for me to post the glossary entry on dispassion. :-)

DISPASSION (απάθεια - apatheia): among the writers of the texts here translated, some regard passion (q.v.) as evil and the consequence of sin (q.v.), and for them dispassion signifies passionlessness, the uprooting of the passions; others, such as St Isaiah the Solitary, regard the passions as fundamentally good, and for them dispassion signifies a state in which the passions are exercised in accordance with their original purity and so without committing sin in act or thought. Dispassion is a state of reintegration and spiritual freedom; when translating the term into Latin, Cassian rendered it 'purity of heart'. Such a state may imply impartiality and detachment, but not indifference, for if a dispassionate man does not suffer on his own account, he suffers for his fellow creatures. It consists, not in ceasing to feel the attacks of the demons, but in no longer yielding to them. It is positive, not negative: Evagrios links it closely with the quality of love (agape) and Diadochos speaks of the 'fire of dispassion' (§ 17: in our translation, vol. i, p. 258). Dispassion is among the gifts of God.


message 20: by Clark (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments 5. First pray for the gift of tears, so that through sorrowing you may tame what is savage in your soul. And having confessed your transgressions to the Lord, you will obtain forgiveness from Him.


message 21: by Clark (last edited Oct 28, 2017 06:49AM) (new)

Clark Wilson | 586 comments Ruth said, "I just wanted to be in God's presence, and try to give my mind as much as possible to God, be really passive, not actively thinking, but just 'being'."

You described it as well, I think, as one can, and your description rings true. Though I most definitely am not an expert on this.


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