EVOLUTION OF THE HUMAN HEART

"God that made the world and all things therein, seeing that he is Lord of heaven and earth, does not dwell in temples made with hands; neither is he worshipped with (the work of) men's hands as though he needed anything, seeing that he giveth to all life (zoein), and breath (pnoin), and all things: That they should seek God, if haply they might feel after him and find, as He is not far from each of us.  For in God we live, and move, and have our being; as certain also of your own poets have said, For we are also his offspring."
[Acts 17:24-28]
"Those who acquire sanctity bring salvation to other people around them."
[Elder Paisious]

       What does the Greek word 'kardia' mean?  It is normally translated into English as 'heart', but what does it mean when we use 'heart' in this Christian and psychological context, and what is the truth of this heart?  How does it link with our Christian possibilities?
       To begin with, in the ancient form of Christianity that this book is about, the heart is a very special part of the psyche.  Certainly, it is the peak of our feelings.  It is the part that loves.  It is the seat of emotions.  But it is also a part that knows.
       This was the knowledge possessed by the hermit who spoke to me about people's need to understand the heart.  He was a Christian anchorite on Mount Athos: one of a rare type of Christian: in the Eastern Church, where such men and women are known as elders ... and while we in the West are wondering whether the Christian life leads to any real result, an earlier Church still contains thousands of people who know that, even today, elders like this possess an ability to put the gospel teaching into practice and to lead others to do the same.  This is a tradition of 'personal evolution'.  What does this mean?  It means that humans are different from 'other animals' in certain remarkable ways.  To begin with, we have a different and probably more complex psyche than does any other creature on this planet.
      Primarily, in the Christian religion, it is the human heart that continues to evolve.  We can accumulate information and develop skills in the use of that information, yet these are not the most important thing.
       What matters is what the information means.   Man must have understanding, not just information.   It is because of our unique human abilities that we can go on 'growing up' right into adulthood, or even, if we will work on it, into old age.  But what is it that develops in this way?   We can develop skills of action and perception not only as young people but, if we will, go on developing our cognitive abilities throughout our lives.  But this talent is also our main weakness:  we probably have a much greater ability to change ourselves than any other creature.  We also have the ability to transmit those changes to others, and at times such as we live in now, that capacity for change is not only a strength, but also the greatest danger we can face, for without understanding, our ability to change can turn against us.
       From such people as this hermit I described earlier, I have learned that when we speak of humans being naturally good, this goodness depends at least sometimes on the fact that the heart can be healed, developed, and changed.  Unless and until our heart develops, we will be concerned with ourselves all the time, so development of mind is not enough.  To put it simply, changing your mind is quick, but it can change back quite as quickly.  At the same time, changing the heart is different, it changes slowly, but it does not so easily change back.
       Part of the difference between head and heart is like the difference between the organic growth of a tree and putting things together piece by piece, as children do with plastic bricks.  This can be said in a way that involves serious philosophical concepts, but is not easy to put simply and understandably.
       In speaking of methods of changing the heart - the esoteric methods of the early Church - we have not invented but rediscovered a consistent science, a precise one, one which like any other discipline is understood by numbers of different people, many of them specializing in different parts of it, so that one person understood one thing and another understood a different thing, something like modern scientific disciplines such as physics, although what it studies is very different. And this path is the path in which that seed-in-the-heart germinates.
        And with our meeting with the true tradition, something begins to grow, and at first all this gives us wonderful experiences, but our character seems to be little changed. And that is the growth of the thinking mind.  Our experiences come and go, but our character seems to be little changed, except that we begin to be more and more aware that it needs to change.
       And it is then that the experiences stop - sometimes for years.  But it is when the experiences seem to stop that our character begins to change. Something very important and very wonderful has begun to happen: if the seed has germinated in response to these experiences.
       The best way I can understand this is to suggest that the energy which until then was going to new experiences has begun to be used to make changes in parts of our psyche, of our heart, which is little understood in our time.