Holy Fire

Current Study: Orthodox Psychotherapy: The science of the Fathers by Metropolitan Hierotheos. I am undertaking a personal study of his book and discussing it here as I read it.

This section of Hierotheos’ book has focused on the importance of repentance. Along with mourning, contrition, and tears, repentance is connected with fire within the heart.

Luke 12:49 – I came to bring fire to the earth, and how I wish it were already kindled!

Luke 24:32 – They said to each other, ‘Were not our hearts burning within us while he was talking to us on the road, while he was opening the scriptures to us?’

The fire Hierotheos speaks of comes from the Holy Spirit, and it is described in two parts. First the fire is purifying, it comes to the heart and burns the sins and passions within. Second, the fire is illuminating. Once sins and passions have burned away, the light illuminates our inner being.

St John of the Ladder tells us that when this fire comes to some, it burns because they still require purification, and others are enlightened according to the degree of their perfection.

The fire is not just felt in the heart, but the body as well. This is why some feel like they are burning in the fires of hell during repentance. St. John tells us that this is repentance that heals the soul.

Hebrews 12:28-29 – Therefore, since we are receiving a kingdom that cannot be shaken, let us give thanks, by which we offer to God an acceptable worship with reverence and awe; for indeed our God is a consuming fire.

The Fathers teach us that we are cleansed from our passions either through voluntary sufferings or involuntary misfortunes. Voluntary suffering is described as godly sorrow, repentance, especially the sense of the fire of repentance. Involuntary misfortunes are the various trials in our life.

St. John of the Ladder:

A faithful and prudent monk is one “who has kept unquenched the warmth of his vocation, who adds fire each day to fire, fervor to fervor, zeal to zeal.”

“When fire comes to dwell in the heart, it resurrects prayer.”

“Do not stop praying as long as, by God’s grace, the fire (of fervor) and the water (of tears) have not been exhausted.”

This holy fire brings about our spiritual rebirth. The presence of this fire creates warmth in the heart and body. Warmth from the Holy Spirit is peaceful and enduring. Through the heart it makes “the whole man rejoice with a boundless love,” says St. Diadochos.

The warmth experienced by the soul is also experienced by the body. Mourning is not done only spiritually, but with the whole body. St. Gregory Palamas tells us that, “from the soul it passes to the body and to the bodily senses.”

St. Theophan the Recluse warns us that this fire is not something that can be avoided. It is not just for certain people, but for all. “It appears when a man has attained a certain measure of purity in the general moral order of his life.”

As I read this section last night, I wondered at my own soul’s acceptance of this fire. It seems that daily there are more passions and sins that need to be burned away, and I often seem to fall into the category of people who experience “involuntary misfortunes” because I cannot seem to grasp the purpose of voluntary suffering.

I am a person who enjoys instant gratification. Fasting during Lent does not go well for me because it isn’t comfortable. I try again and again to keep to the fast, but after a couple of days seem to falter yet again. The same goes for habitual sins.

I know I have experienced this cleansing fire before, at conversion, at times in my life when I had no where but to turn to the fire.

And I recognize that I need it still today, to cleanse me of my passions and sins, that I may be a pleasing offering to God.

O Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner.