Elder Cleopa on Prayer

Every time I watch it, I’m struck by Elder Cleopa’s description of prayer, especially prayer of the heart. It’s a lot different than how many people today describe prayer, but the Elder describes something living and powerful. I don’t pray well or, as the reporter in the video notes, nearly as much as I should. But I do desire more. In the interim, I pray the Jesus Prayer in my own poor fashion and keep stumbling forward.

I also note the brief segment in the video where the Elder describes himself as a “rotten old man.” I’ve mentioned in past posts the video I once saw of an old monk saying that all would be saved and he alone would be damned. I’ve never been able to find that video again, probably because I don’t remember any of the context. But the image of that monk’s face as he uttered those words remains fixed in my brain. It haunts me.

It often seems in the Protestant/Evangelical world that there’s often an air of confidence and self-assurance among its leaders that increases as they age and mature. In Orthodoxy, I see the opposite. The holier (at least in my perception) people become, the more conscious they seem to be of their own sin and need for repentance. They begin to see themselves as they truly are and not through the favorably distorting lenses we all wear when we examine ourselves. In Christ, they are able to see themselves in an undimmed glass without being destroyed.

Of course, all Orthodox proclaim themselves the greatest of sinners before receiving communion, following the path of the publican rather than the pharisee. But it seems like the more clearly we can see ourselves, the more we understand that the parable is true; it describes reality.

While I didn’t know it at the time, it appears the monk’s words from the video are deeply rooted in Orthodox monasticism. They appear to come from a story about St. Antony the Great. God told St. Antony there was a man in Alexandria, a cobbler, who exceeded him in holiness. Antony sought out the man, but he seemed perfectly ordinary in every way. But then the cobbler explained that as he went about his day, he thought of everyone he passed by or with whom he interacted that they would be saved and he alone would be lost. That story isn’t in St. Athanasius’ book, “The Life of Antony”, but I did find it referenced in a story of St. Siloaun.  It’s long, but an engrossing read.

Keep Your Mind in Hell and Despair Not

I particularly like the part where he realizes that the existence of mankind is inextricably linked to our own individual existence. “Our brother is our life.”

Indeed.

 

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