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Becoming Mystics

Orthodox Christians begin most all of their praying with invocation, “O Heavenly King….” This prayer captures simply and beautifully the goal of all our praying and, indeed, of all true spiritual life: for God to “come and abide in us”.

It is, nevertheless, a mistake to believe that this abiding will come about through prayer alone. Far too many people have the notion that Orthodox Christianity is some sort of “mystical” Christianity that is primarily concerned with learning the right technique for prayer, as if having God abide within you was like improving your golf swing - simply a matter of mechanics.

On the other hand, the saints and mystics do say that there is a sure-fire, 100% guaranteed way to have God within. It’s not secret or hidden and you don’t have to read Greek, Hebrew, Syriac, or Slavonic to find it on almost every page of their writings and woven into every fiber of their lives and stories. In fact, it is so simple and obvious that you might almost say that it is hidden in plain sight, the thing so common and familiar that most everyone looks past it looking for something more “mystical”.

I am talking, of course, about Christ’s commandments. It really is obvious. Just look at almost any icon of Christ. What is He holding? The Gospel book, hidden in plain sight, there for all to see. And there, in the Gospel, for all to read, is His promise:

If that sounds too simple we can turn to the “mystical” writings of the Fathers. We can turn to St Maximos the Confessor, whose “extreme importance for the Orthodox spiritual tradition” is indicated, as the editors of the Philokalia write, “by the fact that no other writer is assigned so much space in the Philokalia.” St Maximos writes:

The only and true mysticism is that in which God the Holy Trinity comes to abide within us. Anything else called by that name is playing pretend or, worse still, fatal delusion. Let us, who are called by the name of Christ, truly love Him by keeping His commandments and, so doing, come to know this mystical indwelling.

With love in Christ, Fr John

“Give me a word!”

No matter how much we may study, it is not possible to come to know God unless we live according to His commandments, for God is not known by science, but by the Holy Spirit. Many philosophers and learned men came to the belief that God exists, but they did not know God. It is one thing to belief that God exists and another to know Him. If someone has come to know God by the Holy Spirit, his soul will burn with love for God day and night, and his soul cannot be bound to any earthly thing.

+St Silouan the Athonite

God hears and fulfills the prayer of a man who fulfills His commandments. "Hear God in His commandments," says St. John Chrysostom, "So that He might hear you in your prayers." A man who keeps the commandments of God is always wise, patient, and sincere in his prayers. The mystery of prayer consists in the keeping of God's commandments.

+St Justin Popovich

As it is not possible to walk without feet or fly without wings, so it is impossible to attain the Kingdom of Heaven without the fulfillment of the commandments.

+St Theophan the Recluse

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