Book Notes: The Ways to the Heart. Chapters 6 and 13

Les Chemins du cœurLes Chemins du cœur :
l’enseignement spirituel des Pères de l’Église
= The Ways to the Heart:
The Spiritual Teaching of the Church Fathers
by Archimandrite Placide Deseille
Monastère Saint-Antoine-Le-Grand, 2012
188 pages

Here are a few notes from Chapter 6 and 13.
Click on the book cover and scroll down to read notes from previous chapters

Chapter 6: Repentance: The Key to Life in Christ

The author quotes from memory a passage by Symeon The New Theologian:

Never stop repenting and accusing yourself, without ever accusing others.
Be also merciful towards all of God’s creatures, for we were all born in weakness.
page 91

Chapter 7: Humiliate Your Soul Through Fasting

This was the most interesting essay for me, so I have taken more developed notes, and will share them on Clean Monday, when we start our Lenten journey – so check this one out on March 7

Just to document, here are the titles of the following chapters:
Chapter 8: The invisible struggle
Chapter 9: Acedia in the monastic tradition
Chapter 10: Union with God and prayer
Chapter 11: The Word of God and spiritual life
Chapter 12: Spiritual sensitivity and vision of God according to Saint Gregory Palamas

Chapter 13: Personal prayer in Orthodox monasteries

In the life of an Orthodox monk, prayer occupies the first place, as receive divine grace through it…
With it, we can truly say with the Apostle Paul: “Christ lives in me” (Galatians 2:20)
page 163

The author quotes some longer prayers. In case some reading this post are not Orthodox and are not familiar with the Morning Prayers, I’d like to share the one I think the most powerful:

Prayer 5, of St. Basil the Great (quoted in the book on  page 166)

O Lord Almighty, God of hosts and of all flesh, Who dwellest on high and lookest down on things that are lowly, Who searchest our hearts and innermost being, and clearly foreknowest the secrets of men; O unoriginate and everlasting Light, in Whom is no variableness, neither shadow of turning;
Do Thou, O Immortal King, receive our supplications which we, daring because of the multitude of Thy compassions, offer Thee at the present time from defiled lips; and forgive us our sins, in deed, word, and thought, whether committed by us knowingly or in ignorance, and cleanse us from every defilement of flesh and spirit. And grant us to pass through the night of the whole present life with watchful heart and sober thought, ever expecting the coming of the bright and appointed day of Thine Only-begotten Son, our Lord and God and Saviour, Jesus Christ, whereon the Judge of all shall come with glory to reward each according to his deeds.
May we not be found fallen and idle, but watching, and upright in activity, ready to accompany Him into the joy and divine palace of His glory, where there is the ceaseless sound of those that keep festival, and the unspeakable delight of those that behold the ineffable beauty of Thy countenance. For Thou art the true Light that enlightenest and sanctifiest all, and all creation doth hymn Thee unto ages of ages. Amen.

He has a few things on Jesus Prayer. Especially this:

In the Jesus Prayer, the name of Jesus is like a “verbal icon”…
It is a kind of sacrament, a kind of reality full of the acting presence of Christ.
page 171

The French has “une sorte de réalité sensible toute pénétrée de la présence agissante du Christ”.
I skipped “sensible”. I think it means here a reality that can be perceived through our senses? So I thought it would only make the sentence more awkward, and as it is presented as “a kind of sacrament”, it went without saying. In a sacrament, you access through your senses to the acting presence of Christ.

There are two more chapters:
Chapter 14: The Jesus Prayer and the prayer of the heart

Chapter 15: The Song of Songs
That was unusual, I rarely read Orthodox commentaries on it.

Maybe it connects with my final thoughts on this book:

This is a good collection of essays on various topics related to Orthodox spirituality.
One thing surprised me though: before converting to Orthodoxy (a few decades ago), Fr Placide Deseille was a Trappist monk. In his essays, I found many references to Western authors (I’m not referring here to Church Fathers), authors who were quite popular in French monasteries in the 1950s ad 1960s, and whom he would have read in his years as a Trappist monk.
I found this a bit disappointing. Maybe some of these essays he started as a younger monk, and that he tweaked them to be inserted in an Orthodox collection?


Any reflection on these topics?


  1. Perhaps Fr Deseille wished to preserve honestly the various influences that actually led to the place he is now in his thinking, or at least, at the time of his book. “Test the spirits, hold fast to what is good,” as St. Paul says.

    I appreciate your providing some of the original French in your review for comparison! That looks like a lovely book with much for good reflection. Merci!


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