We have begun the spiritual journey to Bethlehem, to the cave where our Lord Jesus Christ was born. The Virgin patiently waits for the God-child to reach maturity in her womb, so that His birth beyond description can take place. Yet our humble Lord was born without a home or even a room at an inn: Mankind gave no home to its Creator!
As Orthodox Christians, those who have been baptized into Christ, we too have Christ within us, just like Panagia. Jesus has been implanted into our members through baptism, and through the Holy Eucharist our body becomes His Body. Thus He is “growing” within us, in as much as we are earnestly pursuing the spiritual life and union with Him.
The Church teaches us that one of the most concrete and specific ways that Jesus can grow in us is through the perpetual remembrance of His Name, through the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Our whole self—mind, soul, heart, and strength—returns to its original harmony and unity when we focus on the Prayer. Or to put it another way, the image of God in us grows into the likeness of God.
However perpetual prayer is difficult! Because of the Fall, our minds have become uncoupled from our hearts, and we wander from thought to thought, fantasy to desire, anxiety to despair. Our thoughts are so captivating that many times they distort reality and create false realities: “He hates me,” “They’re making fun of me,” “I am the most gifted _____,” “I am worthless,” etc.
When we are not in prayer, we are “dead trespasses in sins.” (Ephesians 2:1) Thus the striving toward perpetual prayer is a movement from death to life, from inner turmoil to inner peace. As we grow in the practice of the Prayer, Christ grows in us and we become less and less prone to wandering thoughts. St. Paisios the Athonite, a contemporary saint, describes movement of our minds in this way:
“The mind is like a young foal that in the beginning runs for a little while behind its mother, but soon becomes forgetful and runs far off. It plays, eats tender grass, tries out everything it finds, until it suddenly comes to, and realizes that it has lost its mother. It then runs around to find her, only to again become forgetful and wander from her.
“When it grows a little, it is caught and tied behind its mother and is thus kept close to her. I mean to say that in the beginning it is natural for the mind to wander during prayer. With persistence, however, it will be tied down by God and it will not separate itself from Him; it will want to pray constantly.” (On Prayer, Page 200)
As we journey through the Advent Fast, may we focus upon that pillar of the spiritual life: prayer. And through our continued prayer, may Christ be born in us, so that we can more fully experience the joy of His Nativity.