The Holy Gospels record one of the first events at the beginning of Jesus’ public life. St. Mark (Gospel, 1: 10-12) writes that after the Theophany in which: “… the Spirit descending upon him like a dove; and a voice came from heaven, “Thou art my beloved Son; with thee I am well pleased.” The Spirit immediately drove him out into the wilderness [desert].”
It is in the desert that Our Lord, God and Savior encountered the evil one and triumphed. Throughout Jesus ministry, the evangelists record events of Our Lord going off by Himself to pray. For example, this account by St. Luke (5: 15-16): “But so much the more the report went abroad concerning him; and great multitudes gathered to hear and to be healed of their infirmities. But He withdrew to the wilderness and prayed.” Before the greatest of sacrifices for our salvation which St. Basil in his Divine Liturgy describes as “…His voluntary, and ever-memorable, and life-creating death…His saving Passion and life-giving Cross, His three day burial and Resurrection from the dead…”
Jesus is in the Garden of Gethsemane praying: “And he came out, and went, as was his custom, to the Mount of Olives; and the disciples followed him. And when he came to the place he said to them, “Pray that you may not enter into temptation.” And he withdrew from them about a stone’s throw, and knelt down and prayed…” (Lk 22: 39-41) We have to imitate these withdrawal actions of Christ in ourselves. In this way we can make effective in our own lives and ministry, the priest’s supplication after The Lord’s Prayer in the Liturgy of St. John Chrysostom to be united to the Christ who: “…[heals] the sick,
Thou who art the physician of our souls and bodies.” The importance of the desert and prayer for priests and all contemporary committed Christians, is delineated by Carlo Carretto (1985) in describing his own ‘desert’ experience: “In the desert we had discovered the Divine Absolute, and problems were no more, including the gap between city and desert. For there was no gap: the desert was no longer absence of men, but presence of God…The desert trail leads through the city now, summoning man to contemplate the mystery of the Absolute God” This mystery is love.
St. Isaac of Syria tells us “Purity of prayer is silence ..[whereby we can contemplate the meaning of Our Lord’s death] that the world might become aware of the love which God has for creation.” (Brock, 1997). This is because: “God is love.” 1Jn 4:8). When we imitate the withdrawal of Christ into the desert and pray we can take the first step in interiorizing God’s love for us, our love for God and our love for all mankind.
Retreating in the Midst of the City
St. Theophan the Recluse tells us: “Begin retreating into solitude at your own home, and dedicate these hours of solitude to praying above all for one thing: ‘Make known to me, O Lord, the way wherein I should walk [Ps 142: 8]. Pray thus not merely in words and thought, but also from your heart. For this time of solitude, set aside certain hours every day ….” (The Art of Prayer). In the spirit of St. Paul who tells us: “…pray constantly…” (1Thes 5:17) “Pray at all times in the Spirit, with all prayer and supplication.” (Eph 6:18)“ St. Theophan also reminds us; “Some Godly thoughts come nearer the heart than others. Should this be so, after you have finished your prayers, continue to dwell on such a thought and remain feeding on it. This is the way to unceasing prayer.” Prayer is also an instrument of compassion fatigue prevention and healing.
St. Isaac of Syria notes: Once someone has doubted God’s care for him, he immediately falls into a myriad of anxieties…Knowledge of truth [through experiencing God in prayer] fills the heart with peace, establishing a person in joy and confidence.” (Brock, 1997). St. Theophan explains how this can be accomplished in the city, in the world: “I remember that St. Basil the great solved the question how the Apostles could pray without ceasing, in this way: in everything they did, he replied, they thought of God and lived in constant devotion to Him. This spiritual state was their unceasing prayer…What is required is a constant aliveness to God —- an aliveness present when you talk, read, watch, or examine something.” The Church is a hospital Consider the Parable of the Good Samaritan (Lk 10: 30-37):
A man was going down from Jerusalem to Jericho, and he fell among robbers, who stripped him and beat him, and departed, leaving him half dead. Now by chance a priest was going down that road; and when he saw him he passed by on the other side. So likewise a Levite, when he came to the place and saw him, passed by on the other side. But a Samaritan, as he journeyed, came to where he was; and when he saw him, he had compassion, and went to him and bound up his wounds, pouring on oil and wine; then he set him on his own beast and brought him to an inn, and took care of him. And the next day he took out two denarii and gave them to the innkeeper, saying, ‘Take care of him; and whatever more you spend, I will repay you when I come back.’ Which of these three, do you think, proved neighbor to the man who fell among the robbers?” He said, “The one who showed mercy on him.” And Jesus said to him, “Go and do likewise.” Bishop Hierotheos Vlachos (1994) emphatically states: “In St. John Chrysostom’s interpretation of this parable it is clearly evident that the Church is a Hospital which heals those sick with sin, while the bishops and priests, like the Apostle Paul, are the healers of the people of God.”
Worship and sacrament must be placed within the therapeutic method and treatment.” The fullness of this healing can only be enlivened with the reception of the Holy Mysteries of the Church. Holy Baptism; Chrismation; Eucharist, (reception of the very Body, Blood, Soul and Divinity of Christ); Holy Confession, (metanoia, repentance in mind, heart and action, true sorrow for sin and longing for and working on being in communion with God); Holy Unction, the quintessential Holy Mystery of healing in which the priest prays: “… this oil, that it may be effectual for those who are anointed therewith, unto healing and unto relief from every passion, of every defilement of flesh and spirit, and every ill; that thereby may be glorified Thine all holy Name, of the Father, and of the Son, and of the Holy Spirit: now and ever, and unto ages of ages. Amen.” Healing can also come from the grace of the Holy Mysteries blessing an individual’s personal calling in life: Holy Orders, (ordination to the diaconate, priesthood, episcopacy) and Blessed Marriage, (male and female uniting to become one flesh, blessed by the Church).
Fr George Morelli