Monastic Tips for Self-isolation
A Prayer during Isolation
“Come, my people, enter your chambers, and shut your doors behind you; hide yourselves for a little while until the fury has passed by.” (Isaiah 26:20 ESV)
The entire world is experiencing the impact of COVID-19, the Novel Corona Virus pandemic. It is commonly said that one of the Chinese words for crisis can be interpreted as opportunity. With the limiting of so many being able to go out, we invite you to discover the opportunity to go in. To go in to the place of the heart. Over the coming days, we will be posting wisdom from the Desert Fathers and Mothers of the Church regarding the values to be found from times of silence, solitude, and reflection.
Today, after hearing about significant expectations of death from this pandemic, both in the United States, and throughout the world, let us pray the prayer from St. Nikolai Velimirovich. Bishop Nikolai, a prolific writer and theologian of the Serbian Orthodox Church in the 20th Century, suffered at Dachau Concentration Camp during World War II, inspired millions under Communism, and eventually cared for the American flock as a Serbian Orthodox Bishop in America, until his repose in 1956. Here is one of his 'prayers by the lake:'
I am descending deep into my heart, to see who is dwelling in it besides me and You, O Eternal God.
And I am filled with fear as I find legions of strangers fighting over portions of my heart. I found as many of them in my heart as time contains human and inhuman souls from the Fall of Adam.
And then I understood why my heart has become weary, and cannot receive either You or me into its chambers, but instead shoves us to the outer perimeter – pushing the proprietors out to the edge of their property.
Even before I came out of the womb of my mother, the world with its desires was dwelling within me.
I used to pay dearly and too dearly for every flattery of the world. I would always break off a piece of my heart and give it as payment, until eventually I gave my whole heart to the world and the flatteries began to become boresome to me.
Old men complain to me about their years, saying: “Our heart has grown old under the weight of many years.” In truth, old men, your heart has not grown old beneath the weight of many years but beneath the weight of many desires.
And so, when alone I advise my heart: break away from yesterday’s day, because it has already broken away from you. All those objects, to which desire bound you yesterday, do not exist today. Some of them have changed, others disease has disfigured, still others have died. Nor do the objects of your desires of tomorrow exist. With its whip, time flogs its flock, and its flock sweats and bleeds beneath the blows. But the objects of today’s day are throwing into you, my heart – already brimming with shadows of the dead – new desire, which tomorrow will be even more of the same shadows of the dead.
Do not revive memories of the past, my heart, for those memories will bind you to the pillar of time as many times as you revive them. And you will be a slave to time; you will grow old and will die before death.
As quickly as possible, break the knots of the passions, which have become entangled by desires and emotions combining and frequently recurring. It is easier to break the individual threads of desires and the individual threads of emotions than the knots of passions. Nevertheless you must break them even if it causes you to bleed, if you want a new childhood, a new youth, more beautiful and eternal than your former youth.
Cast the world out of yourself, my heart, and then observe how feeble it is. And then observe yourself, and you will feel unheard-of power. The world seems powerful to us only when we serve it as its slave.
You will be as vast as eternity, and eternity itself will come to dwell within you.
O triune God, You have a heart that is devoid of darkness and free of the world. Clear out from my heart the uninvited strangers, who have sullied my heart with darkness. Let my heart be radiant; let darkness hover around my heart, but let it never occupy it.
Let my heart be the heart of a son and a lord and not the heart of hireling and a thief.
Grant me the heart of Jesus, around which darkness waited in vain to enter, but never could.
O Queen of heavenly beauty, embrace my heart with motherly caring.
O Holy and Almighty Spirit, make my heart fruitful with heavenly love – so that everything that is born and grows within it may not be of flesh and blood but of Thee, my Holy Spirit and Lord.
St. Nikolai Velimirovich, Prayers by the Lake, 44