“Without purity of heart, we cannot reach our goal. We should therefore always have this purpose in mind; and should it ever happen for a short time our heart turns aside from the direct path, we must bring it back again at once, guiding our lives with reference to our purpose as if it were a carpenter’s rule.” Saint Moses the Black
Saint Moses was a very dark skinned man who stood out from the lighter complexioned Egyptians, Greeks, and Romans around Alexandria. Thus, he was called the Ethiopian more because of his “burnt face” apperance rather than actually being from the specific African kingdom. After being enslaved (as people of any “race” in the Roman Empire was), Moses became a heralded monk known for great forgiveness and humility. He turned away a wealthy man who wanted to give him great wishes. But, he welcomed and conversed an aspiring Christian from Gaul (modern day France) named John Cassian.
It is easy to consider that having a pure heart is the pursuit of monks and nuns as we read this account in the Philokalia Vol. 1 (On the Holy Fathers of Sketis an on Discrimination). However, Jesus Christ gave us this promise in the Sermon on the Mount: “Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God.” (Matthew 5:8). We all have the responsibility to rid our inner selves of anger, lust, pride and other sins that keep us from experiencing God’s presence in our lives. Visiting a monk in the desert is a tall order. Becoming a monastic is not something that most of us are called to.
Developing and maintaining a prayer rule is a practical means anyone can use to cleanse the heart. We can ask the Lord to examine our hearts in our times of silence. We can repent even (and especially) of our “minor” sins and learn watchfulness to avoid temptations. Reading scripture and writings of early Christians can encourage us to develop such virtues as endurance, hospitality, love, and patience. Purifying the heart is not only a process of taking away spiritually toxic thought and behavior. We must also inject ourselves with things healthy for the soul.
Needless to say, prayer has to be more than presenting the Lord with petitions out of love. Prayer is also be a time for us to challenge ourselves to grow in God’s grace and leaving sin behind.