Purity of 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.

Growing up, my biggest passion as a boy was to mimic King David. Nothing struck me so profoundly as the description of David in 1 Kingdoms (1 Samuel) 13:14: “The Lord has sought out a man after his own heart…” Though the verse comes before we even meet David, we later learn more about this man who shared God’s heart.

Almost every day this verse comes into my mind. Am I living up to my namesake? Do I have a heart that seeks after God’s every day? I have failed at this so many times throughout my life. I know I do not live up to this standard. Daily I am assaulted by evil passions that distract me.

In reading Hierotheos’ section on purity of the heart, I was struck by this quote from Abba Poemen.

As water drips little by little on stone, so the word of God is soft while the heart is hard. When man hears the word of God over and over, his heart is opened to fear God.

I’ve often been told, “Repent now before God breaks your hard heart!” But this is not what I think Abba Poemen is saying. Forgive me if I misinterpret his words, but this is how I understood him. God’s words are often soft to us, even as we hold on to our sin. He gently calls us to come back to Him before our actions bring trouble upon ourselves. The more we listen to God’s soft calling, the more we come to revere Him and seek after His heart with our own.

But what is a pure heart?

St. Symeon describes it as not being troubled by passion, avoiding evil and profane things, and keeps the recollection of God in irrepressible love. God writes His laws on the pure heart as if writing on a tablet. The pure heart does not pass judgment, despise, or abhor anyone.

St. Symeon says that the pure heart is achieved not by following only a single commandment, but all of them.

A man can do all things using the tools of the virtues, but they will not clean away dirt and corruption from the soul. Without the presence of the fire of the Spirit, they will be feeble and useless. ~ St. Symeon

The holy Fathers stress the power of prayer, and especially the Jesus Prayer (which is becoming a favorite of mine). Invoking the name of Jesus brings peace, joy, and tranquility to the heart. The power of prayer also is invaluable in removing passions from the heart and bringing about purification.

Why do I struggle so much at achieving a heart like King David’s? The answer is sadly a lack of prayer. I seem to only remember to pray when I am faced with the ugliness of my sins, which I fail to see until it is too late. Pray for me brothers and sisters.

“He who is struggling to keep his heart pure has Christ Himself, the heart’s Lawgiver, as his teacher, Who secretly communicates His will to him.” ~ Hesychios the Priest

When I first read that quote, I was confused. Because of how we use English, I misunderstood Hesychios as saying that if you have difficulty keeping your heart pure (through lack of trying), Christ will help you. But I also knew that the Church does not advocate laziness, but rather attentiveness. It was only after I read it for the third time that I understood “struggle” to mean “trying”. We must actively work to keep our heart pure. And this work doesn’t mean that we will succeed every time. We will fail. But we have the Lawgiver whispering to us His will and encouragement to keep going.

We must be vigilant over our hearts before, during, and even after purification. If evil passions enter our hearts and spread like weeds, our whole bodies will whither.

What does it mean to acquire a pure heart? It is essential to finding our salvation. This is what we are called to do. Guard our hearts, purify them, and in doing so come into the presence of God. But the only way we can purify our hearts is through prayer, prayer, more prayer, and by the Holy Spirit who brings the cleansing fires.

I hope and pray (and hope to pray more and more as a habit) that I can find a heart like King David’s.

Lord Jesus, Son of God, have mercy on me the sinner.

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