The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert

The Desert Fathers: Monks and Monasteries of the Egyptian Desert
The Monastery of St. Paul of Thebes, Red Sea Desert, Egypt (1990)

Sunday, September 1, 2013

ST. SIMEON THE NEW THEOLOGIAN - The Three Kinds of Prayer: Part II

In this issue, we will continue our short series on prayer from the teachings of St. Simeon the New Theologian, a saint of the 11th century. St. Simeon served first in the imperial service in Constantinople, but then left it all for the monastic life, living in strict asceticism under the guidance of an elder, also named Simeon. He eventually became abbot of the Monastery of St. Mamas and finally a hermit. He is considered the greatest theologian since St. Gregory the Theologian in the Eastern Orthodox Church. St. Simeon entered the Kingdom of Heaven in 1022.

St. Simeon described three methods of prayer. Last week we looked at the first method of prayer; today we will look at the second.


The second form of prayer is this. A person withdraws his intellect from sensory things and concentrates it in himself, guards his senses, and collects all his thoughts; and he advances oblivious of the vanities of this world. Sometimes he examines his thoughts, sometimes pays attention to the words of the prayer he is addressing to God, and sometimes drags back his thoughts when they have been taken captive; and when he is overcome by passion he forcefully strives to recover himself.

One who struggles in this way, however, can never be at peace or win the crown of victory. He is like a person fighting at night: he hears the voices of his enemies and is wounded by them, but he cannot see clearly who they are, where they come from, and how and for what purpose they assail him. Such is the damage done to him because of the darkness in his intellect. Fighting in this manner, he cannot ever escape his noetic enemies, but is worn out by them. For all his efforts he gains nothing. Falsely imagining that he is concentrated and attentive, he falls victim unawares to self-esteem. Dominated and mocked by it, he despises and criticizes others for their lack of attentiveness. Imagining that he is capable of becoming the shepherd of sheep, he is like the blind man who undertakes to lead the blind (Matthew 15:14).

Such are the characteristics of the second method of prayer, and everyone one striving after salvation can see what harm it does. Yet this second method is better than the first, just as a moonlit night is better than a night that is pitch-dark and starless. END

from The Philokalia: Volume IV, edited and translated by G. E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard, and Bishop Kallistos Ware, (London: Faber and Faber, 1995), pp. 68 - 69.