The Illumined Heart

By Frederica Mathewes-Green.

Published by Paraclete Press, 2007


In The Illumined Heart, Frederica Mathewes-Green writes about the experiences of Anna and her family, to explain how the teachings of the Orthodox Church were preserved from the time of the Apostles until today. When Jesus taught his Disciples, they in turn taught others and passed down Christ’s teachings to the churches they started. The disciples spread Christ’s teachings through both written and verbal communication, as St Paul says: “Brothers, stand firm and hold to the traditions that you were taught by us, either by our spoken word or by our letter.” (2 Thess 2:15).

Sins are all the little actions and inactions that serve our selfish impulses and can be so hard to resist and detect. The author writes that God wants us to turn from our sins. God’s love is a healing love: “Toughness can be shown as much by fast as by fist”. Fasting from food isn’t the only kind of discipline. The author stresses that we need to discipline our bodies, and our passions can have a positive purpose. With the exercise of mental watchfulness, a person grows in the ability to recognise and reject thoughts that would be disruptive and gains peace.

Have you ever tried to pray constantly? Is it possible to have two kinds of thoughts going on at the same time- the Jesus prayer and the working thought? Or pray one short prayer over and over? Repenting the Jesus prayer is very beneficial to us. The author says that the Jesus prayer becomes like background music of other thoughts and actions in our lives. We forget that we need mercy. We become self-sufficient and lose our humility. By asking for mercy it reminds us that we are needy.

The goal is to encounter Jesus, to live in Christ. The author attempts through Anna and her family to rediscover a unifying Faith that transcends all modern cultural messages. To truly live in Christ, current believers must travel the path of the ancient Church. To achieve an illumined heart, one must pray, fast, and repent as vigorously as did the initial generations of Christians. This book is a moving, educating look at the vibrant spiritual life of the ancient Christians: a heritage lost to many modern Christians, but still alive and well in the Orthodox Church.


Source: Lychnos August/September 2018