Sunday, November 18, 2007

Memory of Death???

Why choose "Memory of Death" as a blog title? Appropriating a unique title on blogger is quite a challenge when so many titles have been spoken for. Moreover, in Orthodox asceticism, the memory of death holds a special significance. The free, online book: The Psychological Basis of Mental Prayer in the Heart provides an excellent treatment of this topic within the greater context of the Jesus Prayer and Hesychasm. Here are some excerpts from the book:

St John of Sinai speaks of the memory of death in Step 6 of the Ladder of Divine Ascent. There it is clear that the memory of death is a charism of the Holy Spirit. This charism, when it is properly exercised, automatically engenders nepsis or sobriety in exactly the same way that the double fear (the fear of hell and reverence for God our Father) automatically engenders nepsis.


When one has attained to the guard of the mind, one prays in sober clarity; one’s love is true. There are no tears: although St Hesychios recognizes that tears are a fruit of his method, he does not emphasize them, and does not speak at all of their cultivation. That is the other road, the one of tears and compunction. Here, in the guard of the mind, the memory of death takes the form of a silent love which recognizes the end of this world. This is a love compassionate for all living beings and silent; it is the presence of the Holy Spirit in the soul, breathing a gentle breeze through the mirror of the intellect, the sea of the soul being fanned.


If we take the Kingdom of the Heavens to be natural contemplation and the adoption as son to be Theology—without our necessarily wishing to impose the Evagrian schema of the spiritual life on St Mark—then what is being said is that natural contemplation and Theology are not the wage of our ascetical works—our bodily ascesis; our spiritual charity, meekness or humility; our practice of the immaterial war by means of humility, attention, rebuttal, the continual invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ and the memory of death—but are the ‘grace of the Master readied for faithful slaves’.


However, the essence of such a practice of the memory of death does not lie in our fantasizing about our departure for the next life, despite the apparent indications here to the contrary. The memory of death is a charism, and that means that it is a matter of attending spiritually to the conception (ennoia) or mental representation (noema) of the memory of death: the memory of death is a spiritual apprehension maintained in the intellect that we are here only in a passing way.

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