Saint Ignatij Brianchaninoff
The gates of the senses have been closed. The tongue is silent, the eyes shut and the ears hear nothing of what’s happening all around. The mind casts off the yoke of worldly thoughts, clothes itself in prayer and descends to the inner chamber of heart. But the door of the chamber is closed. Darkness everywhere; impenetrable darkness. In confusion, the mind begins to knock at the gate of the heart in prayer. It stands patiently before it and knocks; it waits; it knocks again; it waits again; it prays again… No answer, no voice to be heard. Deathly calm, the silence of the grave and gloomy darkness. The mind departs from the gate of the heart in sadness, grieving keenly and seeking comfort. It wasn’t given leave to stand before the King of kings within the sanctum of the inner chamber of the heart.
– Why? Why were you rejected?
– Because I have upon me the mark of sin. The habit of thinking about earthly things claims my attention. I have no strength within me, because the all-holy and all-good Spirit doesn’t come to my aid. It’s the Spirit who restores the unity of the mind, the heart and the body which was shattered at our horrendous fall. Any efforts on my part are in vain by themselves, without the all-powerful, creative aid of the Sprit. He, of course, loves us unconditionally and is forgiving towards us, but my own spiritual defilement prevents him from approaching me. So I shall bathe myself in tears; I shall cleanse myself of my sins through confession; I shan’t give nourishment and sleep to my body, since a surfeit of these engenders a carnal outlook within my soul. Clad entirely in the mourning garments of repentance, I will approach the gate of my heart. There I shall stand and wait, like the blind man in the Gospel, and, bearing the burden and sorrow created by the darkness, I shall cry aloud to him who can help me: ‘Have mercy on me’ (Luke 18, 38-39).
The mind, then, descends to the inner chamber of the heart, stands before it and begins to cry aloud with tears. It resembles a blind person who can’t see the true, unwaning light, or someone who is deaf and dumb and has no spiritual speech or hearing (cf. Mark, 7, 22). It feels that it’s really blind, deaf and dumb; that it’s standing at the gates of Jericho- the heart, which is occupied by sins- and awaits its healing from its Savior, whom it doesn’t see, doesn’t feel, but to whom it still cries out in this tragic situation. It doesn’t know his name: ‘Son of David’ is what it calls him (Luke 18, 19). Flesh and blood can’t honor God as God (cf. 1 Cor, 15, 20).
– Show me the way by which the Savior will pass.
– As God, the Spirit of God, says to every person, through the mouth of the prophet, the path is that of prayer: ‘The sacrifice of praise will glorify me: and I will show the salvation of God to those who tread this path’ (Ps. 49, 23).
-Tell me when the Savior will pass. Morning, afternoon or evening?
– ‘Keep watch, because you don’t know the day on which your Lord will come’ (Matth. 24, 42).
The way is familiar, but the time’s unknown. I’ll remain outside Jericho, standing or sitting at the gate of the city, with the words of Saint Paul in my mind: ‘And so Jesus also suffered outside the city gate to make the people holy through his own blood. Let us, then, go to him outside the camp, bearing the disgrace he bore’ (Heb. 13, 12-13).
The world passes away (1 John 2, 17). Nothing in it is permanent and we shouldn’t liken it to a city, but rather to a village. So, I’ll leave behind my belongings, to which I’ve become so attached and which everyone abandons when they die- or, often, even before they die. I’ll leave behind the honors and the praise, which are, in any case, transient. I’ll abandon the pleasures of the senses which deprive me of every opportunity for spiritual exercise and activity. ‘For here we have no enduring city, but, rather we seek that of the future’ (Heb. 13, 14). This city must be revealed in my heart through the grace and mercy of God, my Savior.