St Theophan the Recluse on Spiritual Practice
In a luminous pamphlet called “The Three Powers of the Soul and their Curative Exercises,” St Theophan the Recluse (19th C Russian) speaks – as do many prayer masters of the church before him – of the three powers of the soul: mind, will, and heart. Each of these three requires education to attain the Christian life of virtue.
We educate the mind (the intellectual power) through study of the faith – scripture, ancient church writers, and helpful books in the contemporary vein.
We educate the will (the desiring power) by assessing our life, especially what we are capable of doing, and calculating how we will move deliberately toward learning humility, patience, chastity, longsuffering, helpfulness, and the like.
Lastly, we educate the heart (called the incensive power) through entering into the spiritual and prayer life of the church. Personal prayer is good and St Theophan commends it on a daily basis, but corporate prayer is of a different order because it is outside our control and, thus, our limited vision and spirituality. We are to attend church as often as possible, to participate in the signs and symbols of the faith, to confess and received the eucharist frequently, in general to live into the services of the church as though they are our real life until they become our real life. I quote him at some length:
“The soul becomes deadened by the spirit of the world, and possessed by sin that lives in the world. The entire structure of our church services, with their tone, meaning, power of faith, and especially the grace concealed within them, have an invincible power to drive away the spirit of the world. In freeing the soul from the world’s onerous influence, they allow the soul to breathe freely and to taste the sweetness of spiritual freedom. Walking into the church we walk into a completely different world, are influenced by it, and change according to it.”