Today, February 2, is the Feast of the Presentation of our Lord in the Temple. The gospel for this feast tells us about Anna, an 84 year old widow, a prophet, who “never left the temple but worshiped there with fasting and prayer night and day” (Luke 2:37). She saw Mary, the Blessed Theotokos, the Mother of God, place her forty day old son into the arms of the aged Simeon. She heard Simeon bless God and declare that he had seen salvation. All this happened in the temple.
At one level this is an historical description of Anna and her life. But at another level, a deeper level, it describes Anna’s inner life. At that level this text becomes our invitation to enter the temple of our heart.
The most authentic temple is the human heart. Our hearts are the dwelling place of God, the temple where we meet with the Lord. Too often we live, speak, think, and even pray to God outside our hearts. The spiritual journey is the journey into the heart. Abba Pambo said: “If you have a heart, you can be saved.” Our work then is to discover, purify, and live in the heart – to never leave the temple but worship there with fasting and prayer night and day.
The spiritual heart is in the chest and coincides generally with the physical heart but when we are graced with theosis our whole being becomes a heart. Our modern culture tends to associate the heart with emotions, feelings, and sentimentality. This is not, however, the teaching of holy scripture or the church fathers. Christian anthropology places the emotions and feelings in the gut, not in the heart. The heart is the place of spiritual intellect and knowing, what the fathers referred to as the nous.
The heart is deep (Psalm 64:6). It is the meeting place of divinity and humanity, the spiritual and the physical, the eternal and the temporal, God’s grace and human free will. Listen to what Macarius says about the heart:
- “Within the heart there are unfathomable depths; there are reception rooms and bedchambers within it, doors and porches and many offices and passages. In it is the the workshop of righteousness; in it is the workshop of wickedness. In it is death, and in it is life.”
- “The heart itself is only a small vessel, yet dragons are there, and lions; there are poisonous beasts and all the treasures of evil; there are rough and uneven roads; there are precipices; but there too are God and the angels; life is there, and the kingdom; there too is light, and there the apostles, and heavenly cities, and treasures of grace. All things lie within that little space.”
The heart then is the inner-most self. It is the spiritual center of the whole person – the place where we encounter the power of evil and sin within us and the place where we encounter God. The heart is the battlefield for our salvation.
To purify and live in the temple of the heart is to live in constant awareness of God’s presence and to live in awareness of our deepest identity as grounded in the image and likeness of God.
So the “heart” is really in the gut after all? I’ve been trying to clarify this for quite a while now. The physical locus of the “heart” is the place that goes all warm when you feel love or other strong emotions?
Joe, thank you for your comment. You have helped me clarify my words. I apologize because I think my post was unclear.
The feelings and emotions, as I understand Christian anthropology and symbolism, are located in the gut not in the heart. The gut and heart are separate.
The heart is the seat of intellect, the nous. We tend to think of the intellect as an activity of the mind but the fathers spoke of true intellect, spiritual knowing, as a function of the heart.
The emotions and affections are of the gut not the heart. This gets a bit confused when we begin talking about the passions but the passions are not so much feelings as habits – ways of seeing, thinking, acting that distort reality. Our work, then is to purify the heart of the passions.
Thanks for the clarification, Mark.
Very good Post, Father.
Thank you for your comment and for reading my blog. Peace, Mike