Light from the East • Sermon • Submitted
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What is Prayer?
What is Prayer?
Rule of St Benedict:
Not to desire to be called holy before one is; but to be holy first, that one may be truly so called. (RB 4:62)
Much of the Rule is concerning the particular way in which monks were to live the Christian life in the context of the monastery, and thus it is referred to as the “work of God”. It’s a manual of prayer for beginners, entering the spiritual life for the first time. However, this is not to say that the Rule is no longer applicable to the experienced monks or lay Christians. The key thread knitting together all the practicalities of Benedictine spirituality is the maxim to prefer nothing to the work of God; to prefer nothing to the love of Christ. The second is like the first: to love one’s neighbor. In other words, the most fundamental principle of the Rule is indeed the law of Christ: Love the Lord with all you heart, all your soul, and all your strength-- and love your neighbor as yourself.
For those who may be unaware, I’m an iconographer and fine artist. In my journey toward doing this work professionally, there is something I learned: you never move on from the fundamentals—they are always present and demanding your allegiance. It is the same for the spiritual life, with the grand exception that there is indeed a point at which one becomes so unified with the Triune God that the law of Christ becomes the very nature of that person. It is not that in death we “move on” from the law of Christ. Rather, it is that our nature is no longer capable of failing to keep that law. Therefore, the Rule is always taking us back to the law of Christ, and this law is the foundation for how we conceptualize and practice prayer.
Despite the fact that St Benedict is a pre-schism saint, being honored as canonical by both the Roman See and Eastern Orthodox Church, the reality is that Orthodox spirituality is quite different from what many are familiar with. To make things a bit easier, I want to begin by providing a very brief introduction to Orthodox spirituality.
In the first place is the goal of Orthodox spirituality, which is “theosis” or “deification”. This is the perfect union of the faithful in Christ, by participation in his divine-human life. Despite the fact that Christians will, sooner or later, obtain this perfect union in Christ (and no longer being capable of failing to keep his law of love)