The Modern Monastic Order Of Saint Simon of Cyrene (Orthodox African Americans)
“Without purity of heart, we cannot reach our goal. We should therefore always have this purpose in mind; and should it ever happen for a short time our heart turns aside from the direct path, we must bring it back again at once, guiding our lives with reference to our purpose as if it were a carpenter’s rule.” Saint Moses the Black
Saint Moses was a very dark skinned man who stood out from the lighter complexioned Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans around Alexandria. Thus, he was called the Ethiopian more because of his “burnt face” apperance rather than actually being from the specific African kingdom. After being enslaved (as people of any “race” in the Roman Empire was), Moses became a heralded monk known for great forgiveness and humility. He turned away a wealthy man who wanted to give him great wishes. But, he welcomed and conversed an aspiring Christian from Gaul (modern day France) named John Cassian.
It is easy to consider that having a pure heart is the pursuit of monks and nuns as we read this account in the Philokalia Vol. 1 (On the Holy Fathers of Sketis an on Discrimination). However, Jesus Christ gave us this promise in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8). We all have the responsibility to rid our inner selves of anger, lust, pride and other sins that keep us from experiencing God’s presence in our lives. Visiting a monk in the desert is a tall order. Becoming a monastic is not something that most of us are called to.
Developing and maintaining a prayer rule is a practical means anyone can use to cleanse the heart. We can ask the Lord to examine our hearts in our times of silence. We can repent even (and especially) of our “minor” sins and learn watchfulness to avoid temptations. Reading scripture and writings of early Christians can encourage us to develop such virtues as endurance, hospitality, love, and patience. Purifying the heart is not only a process of taking away spiritually toxic thought and behavior. We must also inject ourselves with things healthy for the soul.
Needless to say, prayer has to be more than presenting the Lord with petitions out of love. Prayer is also be a time for us to challenge ourselves to grow in God’s grace and leaving sin behind.
“If you are a theologian, you will pray truly. And if you pray truly, you are a theologian.” Evagrios the Solitary
“We pray not to instruct or inform God, but to be intimate with Him.”
St. John Chrysostom
“In the Orthodox Tradition, one can be a theologian and mentally retarded.”
Fr. Andrew Damick,from Orthodoxy and Heterodoxy (1st Edition)
Not everyone can become an academic or scholarly theologian. I do not say this to insult anyone’s intellect. Much is said for desire and effort in achieving goals. However, the demands of a seminary curriculum, reading volumes from ancient and modern scholars, writing almost endless papers defending conclusions based on history, scripture, and other topics; it is a special calling to be that sort of theologian.
Theology literally means, “The study of God.” If we are made in His image and likeness, does knowing Him require admission in a divinity school costing tens of thousands of dollars so that we can become members of the ordained clergy? For those who feel called to some form of vocational ministry, yes.
However, God has always made Himself known to rather simple people with limited resources and little time for academic regimens. Moses was a murderer with a speech impediment. Gideon was a frightened farm boy. The shepherds near Bethlehem were not the great scholars of Judea. The Apostle Paul, who was a scholar, did not preach with fine words. He only preached Christ and Him crucified (I Corinthians 2:1, 2). Therefore, the way for every person to know God is not some complex and expensive degree program. It is something as simple as a maintained prayer rule.
I heard a story of an illiterate Greek man who went into a church every morning greeting Jesus and asking Him for strength for the day’s work. Every evening he went back to the church on his way home to greet the Lord again and thank Him for the day. He did this in good times and bad times until he couldn’t work anymore and was placed in a nursing home. A nurse was concerned for his seemingly lack of visitors. However, he explained to a priest that Christ came to him every morning and evening encouraging him to be patient. In time, the man told the priest, “Christ came to me and said He would take me to heaven in three days.” On the third day as the priest was visiting, the man sat up and said, “Christ is here!” That was his last breath.
I think every Christian culture has stories of ordinary people who, because of their regular prayers, had extraordinary peace in mind. It is easy to dismiss slaves on a plantation or blacks in the Jim Crow South as being terrorized into submission. However, many of those “old praying” mothers and fathers did not have a shred of fear in them. God had given them a calm in the midst of their storms that even confounded their oppressors. Such spirituality was the foundation for the Civil Rights Movement that sought reconciliation rather than revenge.
Knowing God only takes a heart and mind willing to seek Him regularly. This sort of theologian may never write a book or earn a degree. That is not important. The greater blessing is when his or her name is written in the Book of Life. This is the calling and goal of all Christians.