In the daily struggles of life, most of us assume that the passions such as anger, envy, jealousy, or lust are engendered by the circumstances in which we live. One who perceives a negative situation, either from a demanding boss, a critical spouse, or a difficult child and yields to the passions may think “Well, if my boss hadn’t made that comment I wouldn’t be angry” or “If my husband would just do what I ask him. . .I wouldn’t have given in to anger or judgment.” Once we begin to think this way, we start to give in to sinful behavior ourselves. We justify such behavior by concluding that our reaction or behavior was inevitable due to the circumstances.
Yet, we are also confronted with “Be ye therefore perfect, even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect.” (Matthew 5:48) Our Lord didn’t preface this commandment by stating “when it’s convenient and the circumstances are just right. . .” No, the Son of God called us to be perfect in all circumstances, particularly in the most difficult ones. So, how is this accomplished, given the reality of our daily lives?
The Fathers had experience with these same trials and difficulties and yet managed, through consistent repentance and the grace of the Holy Spirit to accept cheerfully these daily trials and sufferings as the special plan of salvation for their life shaped by the blessed Providence of God. They viewed them in this context and therefore were able to perceive God’s Providence in each of them. They didn’t petition God that He would remove such difficulties from their daily life. Rather, they kept the “remembrance of God” uppermost in the hearts, where it could oversee, check, and appropriately weigh the rapid, constant stream of thoughts located in the mind. In this way, thoughts and reactions that distract us from the goal of the Christian life would be replaced by the remembrance of God.
In chapter 3 of my book, entitled, “A Patristic Voyage”, I note, “. . .the remembrance of God may have therapeutic value in modifying dysfunctional schemata by changing a person’s focus and by attracting the power of divine grace. There is some scientific warrant to this proposition. McMinn and Campbell note, ‘In an unpublished doctoral dissertation, Stavros (1998) found that meditating on the Jesus prayer for thirty days reduced anxiety, along with depression, hostility, and interpersonal sensitivity.’ The psychologist could also offer the Christian additional motivation for change by noting how a dysfunctional schema that coincides with a particular passion should be modified, so that the patients’ way of responding will conform with the image of God.”
Consequently, modern strugglers can overcome both difficult situations and the passionate reactions to those situations by remembrance of God, even as the Fathers, vitally aware of God’s living providence, did of old by making use of the Jesus prayer, the centuries-honored Christian practice of the remembrance of God. The practitioner concentrates solely on the words of the prayer-“Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me a sinner” and keeps his heart free of distracting thoughts by focusing on the words. A consistent and devoted practitioner will find that this is one of the best ways to keep focus on the remembrance of God, regardless of life’s difficulties and circumstances. During their Tonsure, monastics are given a prayer rope, with the words:
“Accept, O brother (sister) (name), the sword of the Spirit which is the word of God (Ephesians 6:17) in the everlasting Jesus prayer by which you should have the name of the Lord in your soul, your thoughts, and your heart, saying always: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.”
The prayer rope is the sword of the Spirit, because prayer which is heartfelt and inspired by the grace of the Holy Spirit is a weapon that defeats the Devil along with the corresponding passions that arise from the thoughts.