Split up into pairs or small groups. Each group should be assigned one of the following excerpts from The Way of the Pilgrim to read aloud. Each group should try to answer these questions about their excerpt:
What does this tell me about God?
How does this make sense in relation to my own experience?
How does this apply to daily college life?
“Only the guarding of the mind and purity of heart will free one’s soul from sinful thoughts; that inner freedom can be attained only through interior prayer and, I repeated, not through fear of the sufferings of hell or even the desire for the bliss of heaven.”
“My later elder used to say that obstacles to prayer come from two sides, the left and the right; that if the enemy does not succeed in turning us away from prayer by vain and sinful thoughts, then he brings to mind instructive and beautiful thoughts only to turn us away from prayer, which he cannot tolerate. And through this right-handed stealing, the soul abandons its communion with God, turns to its own thoughts, and talks to itself or to creatures.”
“So that man would see clearly his dependence on God’s will and would learn real humility, God left to man’s freedom and ability only the constant flow of prayer. God commands us to pray ceaselessly, at all times, and in all places. This is where the secret of true prayer, of faith, of keeping the commandments, and of salvation is found. Man has the ability to pray regularly and frequently. The Fathers of the Church clearly confirm this. St. Macarius the Great says, ‘To pray often is in our will, but to pray truly is a gift of grace.’ Venerable Hesychius says that constancy in prayer becomes a habit which then turns into a natural state”
“[Prayer is] constant awareness of God’s presence […] Imagine that a very severe and exacting king commanded you to write an essay on some difficult subject in his very presence, at the feet of his throne […] The presence of the king, who has authority over you and has your life in his hands, would not allow you to forget even for a moment that you are not working alone […] This very real awareness of the presence of the king clearly illustrates the possibility of praying even while one is engaged in mental work”
Part II: Group Discussion
Come back together as a group and first share one or two highlights from your small group discussion with the larger group. Then, consider these questions:
What does it mean to live a life of prayer? What does it really mean to constantly pray throughout your life?
The Way of the Pilgrim claims that constant prayer keeps people occupied and therefore prevents them from being led into temptations and also that being too busy is no excuse to neglect prayer. What makes prayer different from the things that keep us “too busy”? Additionally, how can we pray in the midst of very busy moments in our life?
Reflecting on your own journey as a “pilgrim” in this world, can you think of any significant (positive or negative) moments you have had on your spiritual journey so far? How have they impacted who you are and how you relate to God and others?
Part III: Praying the Jesus Prayer
To be an Orthodox Christian living in this world but not of this world is not easy. Prayer is a vital and core part of our spiritual journeys. While we are busy with school, work, and just life in general, it is necessary to take some time to recenter ourselves and just pray.
Even though we are blessed with many prayers in the Church, we are going to focus on the Jesus Prayer. This is perhaps the simplest, yet one of the most important and humbling prayers we have, and the prayer which is at the heart of The Way of the Pilgrim.
The Jesus Prayer is also referred to as the prayer of the heart. We can say the Jesus prayer whenever we want. Consistency with saying this prayer invites the Holy Spirit to activate a life of unceasing prayer in us, a life which leads to inner freedom and purification of the mind and heart.
Here are 10 brief directives for prayer of the heart from The Way of The Pilgrim:
Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place
With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention
Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me”, quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently
As much as possibleguard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in
Be patient and peaceful
Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep
Learn to love silence
Read the scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer
As much as possible avoid distracting occupations
Let everyone find their own quiet space. Spend the last ten minutes of your gathering silently praying the Jesus Prayer doing your best to abide by the directives given to us in The Way of the Pilgrim.
After reading, take 2-3 minutes to write down your initial thoughts about the article.
Then, discuss the following questions as a group, or in smaller groups:
Fr. Jeremy says that acedia strikes in different ways for everyone — some through activity and others through inactivity. In what situations and when does acedia hit you the hardest?
How does acedia affect us? It is important to remember God’s saving power in our lives and that none is without hope of remedy. How are we distracting ourselves from this fact? When do you find yourself wasting the most time? How can this time be used restfully?
If acedia tempts us to restlessness, it can be helpful to recall the words of St. Augustine in his Confessions, “You have made us for yourself, O Lord, and our heart is restless until it rests in you.” When you have you found rest in God in the past?
Fr. Jeremy lists many remedies to acedia. Which of these is the most important for you to pursue right now?
Fr. Jeremy also recounts Jean-Claude Larchet’s words that all remedies “should always be accompanied by prayer, which establishes them in God and makes of them not just simply human means.” How can we infuse prayer into our daily work?
Life is rhythmic, and we can notice our patterns if we pay attention. This is why the fathers included Psalm 90 in the Sixth Hour, as acedia often strikes hardest at noon. To defeat the demon of noonday, we should equip ourselves with the tools the Church provides to do so.
In the coming week, write in your notes when you’re falling to acedia — whether through hopelessness or through wasting time — and what led up to that moment. At the end of the day, ask Christ to fill your heart with zeal against this passion and remember the great hope we have in Christ, the Source of all remedies and our great Caretaker.
Here are some other tools:
Find a short prayer to read every time you’re tempted with distraction. It can be as simple as the Jesus Prayer or “Most Holy Theotokos, save us” or something of your own.
Every morning, write down what you think your day’s challenges will be, and ask Christ to give you hope during them. At the end of the day, write the silver linings that Christ gave you amidst your struggles, and give Him thanks for that.
Set a timer on social media or other distractions in your life and give the remaining moments that you would’ve spent on distraction to caring for those in your life. Text and check up on your friends, call your parents, or simply repeat the Jesus Prayer.
Before departing, read the following passage from St. Augustine’s Confessions and afterwards chant or read Psalm 90.
Who will grant it to me to find peace in you? Who will grant me this grace, that you should come into my heart and inebriate it, enabling me to forget the evils that beset me and embrace you, my only good? What are you to me? Have mercy on me, so that I may tell. What indeed am I to you, that you should command me to love you, and grow angry with me if I do not, and threaten me with enormous woes? Is not the failure to love you woe enough in itself? Alas for me! Through your own merciful dealings with me, O Lord my God, tell me what you are to me. Say to my soul, I am your salvation. Say it so that I can hear it. My heart is listening, Lord; open the ears of my heart and say to my soul, I am your salvation. Let me run towards this voice and seize hold of you. Do not hide your face from me: let me die so that I may see it, for not to see it would be death to me indeed.
St. Augustine’s Confessions
He that dwelleth in the help of the Most High shall abide in the shelter of the God of heaven. He shall say unto the Lord: Thou art my helper and my refuge. He is my God, and I will hope in Him. For He shall deliver thee from the snare of the hunters and from every troubling word. With His shoulders will He overshadow thee, and under His wings shalt thou have hope. With a shield will His truth encompass thee; thou shalt not be afraid for the terror by night, nor for the arrow that flieth by day, Nor for the thing that walketh in darkness, nor for the mishap and demon of noonday. A thousand shall fall at thy side, and ten thousand at thy right hand, but unto thee shall it not come nigh. Only with thine eyes shalt thou behold, and thou shalt see the reward of sinners. For Thou, O Lord, art my hope. Thou madest the Most High thy refuge; No evils shall come nigh thee, and no scourge shall draw nigh unto thy dwelling. For He shall give His angels charge over thee, to keep thee in all thy ways. On their hands shall they bear thee up, lest at any time thou dash thy foot against a stone. Upon the asp and basilisk shalt thou tread, and thou shalt trample upon the lion and dragon. For he hath set his hope on Me, and I will deliver him; I will shelter him because he hath known My name. He shall cry unto Me, and I will hearken unto him. I am with him in affliction, and I will rescue him and glorify him. With length of days will I satisfy him, and I will show him My salvation.
After watching, take 2-3 minutes to write down your initial thoughts about the clip from the podcast.
Then, discuss the following questions as a group, or in smaller groups:
In the podcast clip, Father Thomas reads from the first chapter of St. Paul’s Epistle to the Romans, highlighting the dark and evil lives that ungrateful people have fallen into over the course of human history (Romans 1:21-32). What is gratitude? How does a lack of gratitude lead to a life of darkness and sin?
If this is a difficult question, think of sin as missing the mark: How does a lack of gratitude cause us to miss the mark and how does that lead to dwelling in darkness?
Why does Father Alexander Shmmeman say that “everyone capable of gratitude is capable of salvation?” What is the connection between salvation and gratitude?
Father Thomas mentions our life “being gratitude & thanksgiving” and the importance of living eucharistically. Describe someone you know that encapsulates what it means to be thankful. How does that person differ from someone who simply gives thanks?
The passage from St. Paul’s Epistle to the Ephesians that Father Thomas reads in the podcast (Ephesians 5:3-20) mentions a variety of things that we should refrain from doing in order to cultivate a life of gratitude towards God. Take another look at the things mentioned in this passage. How do they compare to the things that pull us away from a life of gratitude in today’s social climate and life on a college campus? Which of these things do you find to be your own greatest roadblock to cultivating a life of gratitude?
The Orthodox Church responds to the aspects of life that pull us away from a life of thanksgiving by offering us a rhythm of Divine Services that help us practice gratitude. However, to really achieve a life of gratitude we can’t solely rely on the broader rhythms of the Church. To become grateful ourselves, we must strive to practice gratitude on a personal level by engaging in each day of our lives with a positive, rather than negative, outlook.
In a planner, journal, or your phone, come up with a rythmic practice that will allow you to cultivate thanksgiving in your own life and to transition from a person who gives thanks to a person who is thankful.
Here are some suggestions:
Every morning, venerate an icon of Christ and give thanks for 3 unique and specific things in your life
Every evening, write down three things that you are thankful for from the day (after a month, it may be inspiring to look back on all the things you wrote each day of that month)
Set 3 alarms on your phone for particular times of the day; when those alarms go off, stop whatever you are doing for 10 seconds, and give thanks to God for something specific in your life
Before departing, chant or read Psalm 135 (known as the second Polyeleos [the hymn of Great Mercy/Oil] from Festal Orthros).
For a reference to the traditional melody for chanting the psalm, listen to this recording.
***Notes on chanting Psalm 135:
The phrase “Alleluia” (which means, “God praised,”) is inserted twice into each verse as a refrain, though it is not part of the text of the original psalm offered below. If you are chanting the hymn, make sure you know where to add the “Alleluia”s before doing so.
While most people know how to chant Psalm 135 in one mode, the recording above follows the tradition of changing modes every several verses; feel free to stick to chanting the melody in the mode you know best.
O give thanks unto the Lord, for He is good; for His mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of gods; for His mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the Lord of lords; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him Who alone hath wrought great wonders; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that made the heavens with understanding; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that established the earth upon the waters; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him Who alone hath made great lights; for His mercy endureth for ever. The sun for dominion of the day; for His mercy endureth for ever. The moon and the stars for dominion of the night; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that smote Egypt with their firstborn; for His mercy endureth for ever. And led forth Israel out of the midst of them; for His mercy endureth for ever. With a strong hand and a lofty arm; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that divided the Red Sea into parts; for His mercy endureth for ever. And led Israel through the midst thereof; for His mercy endureth for ever. And overthrew Pharaoh and his host in the Red Sea; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that led His people through the wilderness; for His mercy endureth for ever. To Him that smote great kings; for His mercy endureth for ever. And slew mighty kings; for His mercy endureth for ever. Seon, king of the Amorites; for His mercy endureth for ever. And Og, king of the land of Basan; for His mercy endureth for ever. And gave their land for an inheritance; for His mercy endureth for ever. An inheritance for Israel His servant; for His mercy endureth for ever. For in our humiliation the Lord remembered us; for His mercy endureth for ever. And redeemed us from our enemies; for His mercy endureth for ever. He that giveth food to all flesh; for His mercy endureth for ever. O give thanks unto the God of heaven; for His mercy endureth for ever.
Begin your meeting with a minute of silence, a prayer, and by listening to or having already listened to “The Red Flower” on Dcn. Nicholas Kotar’s Podcast In a Certain Kingdom.
In this story, Beauty and Ugliness are brought to the forefront of our minds. Dcn. Nicholas ushers us through an examination of these concepts and how our understanding of them impacts our life. He shares that Beauty is appreciated for itself; as something worthy of simple contemplation, of simply being in its presence.
Take a few minutes to reflect upon and perhaps journal about how Beauty has impacted your life. Try to think of a few specific instances, then discuss together what thoughts, feelings, or memories arose during your contemplation.
Dcn. Nicholas also spoke about a kindergarten teacher in France. The man in this story articulated that his appearance is what he considered to be the best expression of himself and his personhood, and so was beautiful to him. However, this expression gave children nightmares and may make us a bit uneasy. It’s okay to challenge assumptions you may or may not know you hold by discussing together:
Is Beauty objective or subjective? What makes something beautiful or ugly? Is Beauty something individual that you can have by yourself, or is it something that necessitates being shared with others?
In The Red Flower, the Beast, cursed in a hideous form, is aware of his ugliness and comes to realize that his appearance is not reflective of his true self (who he is presently or is striving to become). Instead of succumbing to it, he transforms himself and his surroundings; he grows (literally) and manifests his internal beauty. But that is not the end! As Dcn. Nicholas puts it,
“The beast yearns to share this beauty, because he understands at this point, after having manifested it, that beauty and the experience of it is a communal thing. In it, individualism fades away. True beauty can only be experienced with others.”
When the beautiful young woman comes to love him, it is for – as he himself says – his kindness, care, and good heart. She herself learns to grow in virtue and her understanding of beauty. Kotar points out that it was a mistake to want to pick the red flower. . .
Why was it wrong to want to pick the most beautiful red flower in the world? How is the flower an image of Beauty itself? How should we instead appreciate beauty?
Now, why is Beauty important for us to discuss as Christians? It is in fact integral for us and intrinsic to our Faith.
Where do we see beauty reflected in the church? Where do we find it in the world around us? From where or from Whom does it come?
To wrap up, read together the quotes given below and discuss these questions:
How can we grow in our ability to notice and appreciate Beauty?
What are some ways we participate in and share Beauty through joy and love with other people?
What is at least one way YOU can start putting Beauty in the world?
“We do not want merely to see beauty. . . We want something else which can hardly be put into words – to be united with the beauty we see, to pass into it, to receive it into ourselves, to bathe in it, to become part of it.”
“Realize how much your Creator has honored you above all other creatures. He did not make the heavens in His image, nor the moon, the sun, the beauty of the stars or anything else which surpasses understanding. You alone are a reflection of eternal beauty, a receptacle of happiness, an image of the true light. And, if you look to Him, you will become what He is, imitating Him who shines within you, whose glory is reflected in your purity. Nothing in the entire creation can equal your grandeur. All the heavens can fit into the palm of the hand of God. Although He is so great that He can hold all creation in His palm, you can wholly embrace Him. He dwells in you.”
St. Gregory of Nyssa
“Make the most of beautiful moments. Beautiful moments predispose the soul to prayer; they make it refined, noble, and poetic. Wake up in the morning to see the sun rising from out of the sea as a king robed in regal purple. When a lovely landscape, a picturesque chapel, or something beautiful inspires you, don’t leave things at that, but go beyond this to give glory for all beautiful things so that you experience Him who alone is ‘comely in beauty.’ All things are holy – the sea, swimming, and eating. Take delight in them all. All things enrich us, all lead us to the great Love, all lead us to Christ.”
Start your meeting by watching together the Be the Bee episode “Habits” by Steve Christoforou.
Take some time to journal on your own:
What habits (good or bad) are you currently growing in your life?
What is one habit you’d like to uproot in your life?
What is one habit you’d like to cultivate in your life?
Then, as a group or in smaller groups, discuss the following questions:
What have you found to be effective in uprooting negative habits and cultivating positive habits?
What do you do when you find yourself struggling to maintain good habits?
How can your OCF community support one another in cultivating good habits?
On your own, journal and reflect on:
What is one thing you’ll try this week to uproot a negative habit or cultivate a positive habit?
If you implemented that change, how would your life look different in one month?
Finally, write an email to yourself with what you have outlined above. Schedule the email to send to your own account on the first day of Advent. Revisit this topic and the personal reflection questions when you get your email. How are you doing with your habits? What do you need to adjust? Is it time to check in with a spiritual guide to evaluate what is working and what is not? After you’ve done this, schedule yourself another email for the beginning of Lent. Any time is a good time to start building Christ-centered habits, and the Church gives us the fasting seasons to focus our energy on reorienting ourselves.
Conclude today’s meeting by praying Psalm 118(119):1-16
Start your meeting by listening together to the episode “Why Time” of the podcast Time Eternal by Dr. Nicole Roccas
Then, as a group or in smaller groups, discuss the following questions:
How do you experience time? Does time seem like a blessing? An opportunity? An access point to God? Or does it feel stressful? Nagging? Like a burden?
Does time feel sacred? How have you experienced time as something sacred?
How can our awareness of time make a real difference in our spiritual lives?
“So teach us to number our days, That we may gain a heart of wisdom.” Psalm 90:12
As we begin this school year, what are some practical steps we can take to take advantage of time? What are some ways we can more regularly perceive time as sacred?
Conclude today’s meeting by praying the Prayer of the Hours
Thou who at every season and every hour, in Heaven and on earth art worshipped and glorified, O Christ God; long-suffering, merciful and compassionate; Who lovest the just and showest mercy upon the sinner; Who callest all to salvation through the promise of blessings to come. O Lord, in this hour receive our supplications, and direct our lives according to Thy commandments.
Sanctify our souls. Purify our bodies. Correct our minds; cleanse our thoughts; and deliver us from all tribulations, evil, and distress. Surround us with Thy holy angels; that, guided and guarded by them, we may attain to the unity of the faith, and unto the knowledge of Thine unapproachable glory. For Thou art blessed unto ages of ages. Amen.