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Patristic Theology…[Papists] [and] Protestant[s]…as a rule are accustomed to saying extemporaneous prayers. This practice mainly stems from a very careful reading of the Old and New Testament that took place when the Protestants revolted against the papacy. Protestants of that time read the passages in the New Testament that describe the Holy Spirit coming and praying within the believer,158 and concluded that the believer is gently prompted how to pray by the Holy Spirit Who has come to dwell in him. Protestants believe that the act of prayer proves that the Holy Spirit has touched someone, since the Holy Spirit Who dwells within that person gently prompts him and inspires him to pray. This interpretation was common among Protestants during the age of their Reformation and they have preserved it until the present day. In other words, they believe that when someone wants to pray, the Holy Spirit will come to gently prompt that person and to inspire him, so that he will pray correctly.

But in Orthodox tradition something else happens. Every time Scripture mentions the Holy Spirit praying within someone, every time it says that the Holy Spirit prays within a prophet or within an apostle, it is not talking about prayer using the rational faculty [logiki proseuchi], but about prayer using the nous [noeraproseuchi]. This worship is not reasonable worship, but noetic worship.159

So on the one hand, there is reasonable worship160 that is offered to God when we use our rational faculty [logiki] to read or chant the Church services. The Divine Liturgy is an example of reasonable worship, as are all the Church services with printed texts. On the other hand, there is noetic worship, which is a qualitatively higher form of worship. Man does not offer God noetic worship on his own initiative. He offers noetic worship to God, because at a certain stage in his spiritual development the Holy Spirit came to him, and to his heart in particular, and transferred the worship of God from his brain to the place of the heart. From now on, this person’s worship of God becomes noetic worship in the region of the heart. The mind [dianoia] keeps an eye on the prayer of the heart, but it does not participate in it using the forms of rational thought. It simply eavesdrops on the Holy Spirit’s prayer in the heart. This is what is meant by the Holy Spirit praying in the human heart.

As we said earlier, man becomes a temple of the Holy Spirit, and his heart in particular becomes the place for this temple’s sacrificial altar, when the Holy Spirit begins to pray noetically within him. And man can sense this happening. He is then able to listen to the Holy Spirit saying the prayer161 and his heart is then able to serve like a priest and respond like a chanter. And so he experiences an inner mystical priesthood. This is when he becomes a member of the royal priesthood. This is when he becomes an active member of the Body of Christ and an active member of the Church. After all, the Holy Spirit is the One Who has introduced him to the Mystical Body of Christ, which is in fact the Church. When a Christian received chrismation in the Early Church, chrismation was the very confirmation that sealed the fact that this Christian had become a member of the Body of Christ.

Now when someone who has the prayer of the Holy Spirit active in his heart desires to pray using his ability to reason,162 he can do so and pray using words that are different from what he alone hears in the chamber of his heart. But he can also allow himself to repeat or articulate what he hears being said in his heart.

But it is not within Orthodox tradition to make up extemporaneous prayers, [Especially, during the Divine Services! We are never allowed to “make up” prayers during the Divine Services!] unless you are in this spiritual state. If you do not have noetic prayer, you should pray with your mind using prayers from the Church services [alone!], because extemporaneous prayer is quite dangerous spiritually for those who have not reached the spiritual stage that corresponds to praying extemporaneously.163 The Comforter, that is, the Holy Spirit, is the One Who knows how to pray correctly and Who teaches man how to pray correctly. Someone who has been taught by the Holy Spirit how to pray correctly is also able to teach others to do the same.

Christ spoke about this state when He said, “the Holy Spirit will come and dwell in you. And I will also come with the Holy Spirit and with My Father, and We will dwell in you.”164 Christ clearly says this and tells us how this will take place. He tells us: “ask and it shall be given you.”165 He speaks about prayer. He speaks about love. And if you put this all together, what conclusion do you come to? Christ is talking about a state in which He and the Holy Spirit come and dwell in the believer. Will the believer recognize it when this is taking place within him? Or perhaps he will not recognize it or be aware of it while it is happening? In other words, when the Holy Spirit enters a human being, does He come without being observed, or “with observation”?166 Or perhaps the Holy Spirit will come because some bishop or priest said so?

I remember when I was a newly ordained priest, I also used to repeat what St. Paul says, “we are the temple of the Holy Spirit,”167 and “if you destroy this temple,”168 and so forth. We used to discuss this and talk about it over and over again, moralizing on St. Paul’s words. But when the Apostle Paul said, “we are the temple of the Holy Spirit,” “we are the Body of Christ,”169 and “you have the Holy Spirit within you,”170 and the rest, he intended his words for the parish of Corinth. If you carefully read this entire passage, you will see to what kind of believer he is referring. Since he says, “I want all of you to speak in tongues,”171 he is referring to those believers who speak in tongues. In other words, St. Paul is referring to those who possess various forms of noetic prayer.

In their sermons, priests often say, “dearly beloved Christians, you know you really should not get upset. Look at what St. Paul says. The Holy Spirit is within us and guides us and the Spirit knows our needs and how to pray, and so on and so forth.” In other words, they give a sermon and talk about some kind of prayer of the Holy Spirit within the believer, but the believer cannot sense this prayer. He is unaware of its activity within him. He cannot detect it inwardly. He does not hear it being said from within.

But when St. Paul talks about this prayer of the Holy Spirit, is he talking about prayer that can be perceived, or about prayer that cannot be perceived? Does the Apostle Paul really speak in such a vague way about some ill-defined prayer of the Holy Spirit? Is he really so vague about our participation in the Body of Christ? Or does he give us the basic concrete facts taken from experience that explain how this all comes about? In other words, when St. Paul talks about prayer and participation in the Body of Christ, is he talking about something that is sensed noetically and perceived inwardly in a palpable way? Or is he talking about something that is neither noetically sensed nor inwardly perceived?

(Insert — St. Symeon the New Theologian says [http://wp.me/p2vXPg-1i2] : Here I am again, writing against those who say they have the Spirit of God unconsciously, who think that they have Him in themselves as a result of divine Baptism and who, while they believe they have this treasure, yet recognize themselves as wholly deaf to Him. I am writing against those who, even while confessing they felt nothing whatever in their baptism, still imagine that the gift of God has indwelt and existed within their soul, unconsciously and insensibly, from that moment up to the present time. Nor are they the only ones, but I am also against those who say they have never had any perception of that gift in contemplation or in revelation, but that they still receive it by faith and thought alone, not by experience, and hold it within themselves as a result of [merely] hearing the scriptures.)

When we read the Church Fathers, we learn that it is impossible for someone to be a temple of the Holy Spirit and unaware of it. It is out of the question that such a person would be unable to sense that he is a temple of the Holy Spirit, because “the Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God.”172 But what does it mean for the Spirit to bear witness to our spirit? Isn’t this noetic prayer? Because if it is not noetic prayer, what is it? Is it just the imagination of someone with a high opinion of himself?

There is one and only one interpretation for St. Paul’s statement – “The Spirit bears witness to our spirit that we are children of God.” It refers to noetic prayer. This noetic sensation, this state and this experience that the Holy Spirit awakens in the Christian, is what makes up the Patristic tradition handed down from generation to generation. On the basis of this tradition, a spiritual father can tell when his spiritual child has passed from a state of purification to a state of illumination. Isn’t this something that a spiritual father is able to know? And how does he know it? How does a spiritual father know that his spiritual child has reached the stage of illumination? He knows it from what we have just described. So when we talk about theology based on experience, we are talking about piety based on experience, but not pietism. Theology is experiential piety. It is not just talk. It is really something quite concrete.

On Prayer by Protopresbyter John S. Romanides: The University Lectures


158: Cf. Luke 12:12, Acts 4:31, Romans 8:26, Jude 1:20.-TRANS.
159: In other words, the primary faculty involved in this worship is not the reason or intellect, but the heart or nous that is moved by divine grace.
160: Romans 12:1.-TRANS.
161: 1 Peter 2:9.
162: Examples include reading or chanting a text in church, saying an extemporaneous prayer, or repeating a short prayer.
163: An example of this danger is provided by the Pharisee in the Gospel (Luke 18:9-14) who prayed extemporaneously and fell into pride.
164: cf. John 14-17 passim. – TRANS.
165: St. Matthew 7:7; Luke 11:9. – TRANS.
166: “And when he was demanded of the Pharisees, when the reign of God should come, he answered them and said, The reign of God cometh not with observation: Neither shall they say, Lo here! or, lo there! for, behold, the reign of God is within you.” Luke 17:20-21. That is, the coming of the Holy Spirit to the soul is not outwardly observed, but does that mean that His coming is also not inwardly observed? – TRANS.
167: “What? know ye not that your body is the temple of the Holy Ghost which is in you, which ye have of God, and ye are not your own?” 1 Corinthians 6:19. – TRANS.
168: “If any man defile the temple of God, him shall God destroy; for the temple of God is holy, which temple ye are.” 1 Corinthians 3:17.
169—”Now ye are the Body of Christ and members in particular.”
1 Corinthians 12:27 – TRANS.
170—”Know ye not that ye are the temple of God, and that the Spirit of God dwelleth in you?” 1 Corinthians 3:16.
171: 1 Corinthians 14:5.
172: Romans 8:16