The Heart

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.

Hierotheos next discusses the heart and its characteristics.

When referring to the heart, both the Scriptures and Fathers mean both the physical and the metaphysical heart. The metaphysical heart is harder to define, and characteristics of it can be formulated, but no definitive image can be given. They (Church Fathers) do know that the heart is the place where our entire spiritual life develops.

Abba Pambo – “If you have a heart, you can be saved.”

St. Mark the Ascetic – “It is necessary in the first place to have the grace of the Holy Spirit energizing the heart and so, in proportion to this energizing, to enter into the Kingdom of Heaven.”

Archimandrite Sophrony – “The battleground of spiritual struggle is, first and foremost, man’s own heart.”

Hierotheos notes that one of our basic pleas to God is for salvation.

Bible Quotes taken from the NRSV:

  • 1 Peter 3:4 –  “rather, let your adornment be the inner self with the lasting beauty of a gentle and quiet spirit, which is very precious in God’s sight.”
  • 1 Peter 3:15 – “ but in your hearts sanctify Christ as Lord. Always be ready to make your defense to anyone who demands from you an accounting for the hope that is in you;”
  • 2 Peter 1:19 – “So we have the prophetic message more fully confirmed. You will do well to be attentive to this as to a lamp shining in a dark place, until the day dawns and the morning star rises in your hearts.”
  • 1 John 3:19-20 – “And by this we will know that we are from the truth and will reassure our hearts before him whenever our hearts condemn us; for God is greater than our hearts, and he knows everything.”

As was discussed previously, we know that the nous and the heart are closely linked. The nous is said to be the eye of the soul, and the soul resides within our hearts.

One admonition made of all Christians is to “guard your hearts”. When Orthodox speak of nepsis, or keeping the nous, what they are saying is to guard your heart, because that is where the soul resides, both physically and metaphysically.

Hierotheos also discusses that grace and Satan cannot co-exist in the same place. If your heart is full of evil, there is no room for grace. If your heart is full of grace, there is no room for evil.

St. Diadochos says that through Baptism grace comes to dwell in the depths of the soul (heart). After baptism, Satan is expelled from the heart and grace takes up residence. Satan is outside trying to get back in, and clouds our heart with passions so that the light of Christ cannot shine through. Ascetic practice is required to remove the clouds of passions and reveal the grace of Christ beneath.

The heart also reveals the person. We cannot know ourselves without knowing our heart. When a man, through personal struggle and mainly by the grace of God attains likeness with God, then he is an actual person. There is a mystical union and communion with Christ within the heart. When we become more like Christ through grace and struggle, we discover who we are.

St Nicodemus tells us that the bodily heart is a natural, unnatural, and supra-natural center of our being.

What does he mean?

  • It is the natural center because it is fashioned first.
  • It is the unnatural center because from there come passions and blasphemous thoughts.
  • It is the supra-natural center because the grace of Christ is active there.
    • Galatians 4:6 – And because you are children, God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, “Abba! Father!”
    • Romans 5:5 – and hope does not disappoint us, because God’s love has been poured into our hearts through the Holy Spirit that has been given to us.
    • We also know from scripture and church fathers that the greatest battle we face takes place in our hearts.

What else do the Scriptures and Fathers say about our hearts?

  • Heart is the place where God dwells – Ephesians 3:17
  • Heart is where God teaches and writes His doctrines and His law – Romans 2:15
  • The power of our nous is illumined by the energy of Christ acting in our hearts.
  • Heart is the hell into which Christ descends and frees man’s soul
  • Heart is the earth where the grain of mustard seed is sown
  • Heart is the church and the altar, the sacred place where the Lord is glorified and sanctified – 1 Peter 3:15, Ephesians 5:19, Luke 24:32
  • Heart is the vessel which holds the oil of divine grace
  • Heart is the field where the treasure is hidden
  • Heart is the image of the New Testament
  • Heart is heaven, it is the place of God within us, the heaven of the heart.
  • Heart is where the guarantee of the Spirit is – 2 Corinthians 1:22
  • Heart is the tablet on which God writes – 2 Corinthians 3:2-3
  • Heart is the place where shines the light of God – 2 Corinthians 4:6
  • In the heart is the assured son-ship – Galatians 4:6
  • In the pure heart are the eyes which see the mysteries of God – Ephesians 1:17-18
  • Heart is the place where the Peace of God prevails – Colossians 3:15
  • Heart is the lyre, strings are feelings, plectrum is the mind
  • Heart is the spring from which, through prayer and warmth of feeling, water comes from the life-giving Spirit
  • Heart is our inner man

Hierotheos provides so much depth into what our heart is that it is almost overwhelming. I had heard many of these items before, but never in the whole context and never as a discussion of the heart being connected to the spirit or the nous.

The connection between the heart and our soul is so intertwined in Scripture, I’m amazed I had never connected the two previously. I often heard Christ resides in the heart, or keeping the commandments in our hearts, but they did not make sense to me and I tried to rationalize it as meaning our physical mind, not the nous.

Lord Jesus, son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.

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