March 2006

Fr. Antony PortraitDear Sisters and Brothers in Christ,

In order to become spiritually active, it is absolutely essential that we learn to be and to love silence. "Be still and know that I am God" is not a suggestion; it is something we need to incorporate in our daily lives.

Great Lent is called "the school of repentance;" but it is much more than a cursory request for the erasure of our list of sins. Repentance is coming to grips with reality, clearing the fog, letting go of the illusions that inform how we live; but this is impossible unless we learn to still the cacophony of voices in our heads. We identify these voices with who we are; but in reality, they are little more than ghosts, insubstantial and ephemeral. Many Orthodox prayer manuals begin with instructions that "calm the heart" or "still the mind" before prayer. One of the Desert Fathers taught that preliminary to prayer, one must learn to control the thoughts.

So, let Great Lent become a spiritual laboratory for you. Along with fasting and prayer and charity, sit down each day and begin to experiment with silence. Let the mind come to a rest, let thoughts that arise come and go, let the Name of Jesus become your focus in these moments of meditation. When the mind drifts away do not worry, simply re-focus gently, treating yourself with tenderness and understanding. St. John Climacus teaches this very thing in his Divine Ladder. Let peace rise in your hearts, let everrything be as it is and take some time to rest. "Lay aside all earthly cares" is how we say it in the Divine Liturgy.

Repentance is more than a listing of sins; it is a restructuring of life from inside out. The inside of the cup must be attended to and yet, this is precisely what we most often ignore; but as our Lord taught, "Where the heart is there is the treasure." If our mind is a jumble of conflicting, noisy and unruly thoughts, our poor hearts cannot be far behind.

May God bless our Lenten journey,

Fr. Antony Hughes