The Ascetic Heart

The ascetic heart is ultimately a heart of prayer. It is this heart that yearns for communion with God Most High, and will sacrifice all the world for such union. It is the heart willing to cast aside every hindrance and sinful chain that weighs down the soul from its proper dwelling place in the bosom of Christ God, that the race to obtain the prize may be fought more fully, more readily.

In prayer, the ascetic finds his home; for prayer is the union of man with God, and this the state for which humanity was created at the dawn of time. Such union, wrought by the grace of God in concert with the faithful work of man, is the only true life of the human race. Apart from it, life is but a shadow; within it, the smallest man or woman radiates more brightly than the very sun.

True prayer is not speech, nor is it discussion. These are steps along the path to true, inner prayer, but they are not the goal. Speech is forged of words, and words of finite minds, and finite minds are ultimately incapable of grasping the fullness of divine Truth. Thus words begin the ascent, provide the path which leads to the mountaintop, but cannot reach its peak.

At the height of prayer all speech must cease. The God who transcends speech energizes the human soul and body to the attainment of intimate, personal union with Himself, whence knowledge and communion are of experience and not of words. The heart of prayer communes with God not through any mediating speech or conversation, but through direct connection and communion. God lifts the ascetic to Himself in prayer, and there she comes to know God.

What a mystery is this union of prayer! How can it be that God and man, Creator and created, come together as one? Yet God is not blasphemed in such a notion; all the saints and the whole witness of the holy Church testify to this most personal of unities that is the heart of prayer. Shall we sinful men know greater truths than they? The wish of the Saviour was, and remains, that He and man might be one; in prayer, when prayer be inner and true, His wish is born a reality.

The ascetic prays, and strives to pray. Her prayer is weak, yet it leads to perfection. And this the most profound of mysteries, that prayer, the fruit and goal of all ascetic labor, stands also as that labor’s greatest tool. The perfect is attained by the imperfect, and outer, base prayer shall eventually lead to glory. Though prayer be the target, it is also the bow by which the arrow is launched to hit the mark; and so the ascetic heart prays, that it might learn to pray. His cry remains, ‘Teach us to pray. Pray within us.’

The ascetic life is summed up in prayer, and prayer is attained by the ascetic life. There can be no true prayer in a soul untrained and unprepared, thus for the call of prayer the whole world is charged to take up the ascetic walk. This walk and this heart are not reserved for a select few, for only the monastics or the clergy, or the greatest of saints; they are the charge of every human person, the call of every human life. In the midst of any station, there can the ascetic heart be fostered—there can it flourish.

It is the gift of the ascetic heart to know, truly know the world, and it is the gift of the unworthy world to possess the call to this heavenward life. It is the very source of life, for life is in God and God is in prayer; it is the upward call of Christ Jesus in a world of fallen passions; it is the charge of heaven, the life of the angels, offered to frail humanity by a loving and benevolent God. Let there then be no delay: arise, take up this yoke so deft and yet so light to bear, and find in its ultimate struggle the only true peace and rest for the human soul.



2 Responses to “The Ascetic Heart”

  1. 1 Adrienne September 2, 2010 at 8:24 am

    Thank you, Mary, for this post. Words go on and on;but it is what comes from and what enters the heart that is truly communion. This is what strive to practice, but fail miserably.

  2. 2 Alv0808 September 3, 2010 at 10:14 am

    Prayer is communion with God, through the heart whose need most of love. Living in prayer and stay connected to Him…thank you for the sharing..God bless!!

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St. Mary of Egypt


St. Poemen the Great

"A man may seem to be silent, but if his heart is condemning others, he is babbling ceaselessly. But there may be another who talks from morning till night and yet he is truly silent, that is, he says nothing that is not profitable."

St. Gregory the Great

"Every day you provide your bodies with good to keep them from failing. In the same way your good works should be the daily nourishment of your hearts. Your bodies are fed with food and your spirits with good works. You aren't to deny your soul, which is going to live forever, what you grant to your body, which is going to die."

St. Paisius Velichkovsky

"Remember, O my soul, the terrible and frightful wonder: that your Creator for your sake became Man, and deigned to suffer for the sake of your salvation. His angels tremble, the Cherubim are terrified, the Seraphim are in fear, and all the heavenly powers ceaselessly give praise; and you, unfortunate soul, remain in laziness. At least from this time forth arise and do not put off, my beloved soul, holy repentance, contrition of heart and penance for your sins."

St. Tikhon of Zadonsk

“Prayer does not consist merely in standing and bowing your body or in reading written prayers….it is possible to pray at all times, in all places, with mind and spirit. You can lift up your mind and heart to God while walking, sitting, working, in a crowd and in solitude. His door is always open, unlike man’s. We can always say to Him in our hearts Lord , Lord have mercy.”

St. John of Kronstadt

The candles lit before the icons of the Theotokos are a symbol of the fact that She is the Mother of the Unapproachable Light, and also of Her most pure and burning love for God and Her love for mankind.

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