Thursday, 17 November 2011
On the Jesus Prayer
Saint Isaac the Syrian says:
God's grace comes of itself without any ambitious striving on our part. It will only come to the heart that is pure.... Should the apple of thine eye be unclean, dare not to raise it; attempt not to gaze at the ball of the sun; lest they temerity deprive thee even of the limited sight, acquired through simple faith, humility, penance, and other lowly acts and works; lest thy temerity be punished and thou fall headlong into the outer darkness.
Elder Macarius writes in one of his letters the following:
"It was a mistake for you to practice mental prayer and prayer of the heart. All this is beyond your strength, outside the scope of your capacities, incompatible with your circumstances. Such practices exact the strictest purity of intention towards God, men, and even things. Instead, read or recite––under the direction of your confessor––psalms, penitential canons, litanies and so on. Go to church as frequently as possible; live humbly, according to the admonitions of your conscience; and carefully, according to the commandments of our Lord. In other words, lead the life of an ordinary, God-fearing member of the Christian laity.
Callistus and Ignatius write:
Many paths may lead either to salvation or perdition. But one there is which securely leads us heavenward: a life lived according to our Lord's commandments.
Our task is to "constantly practice humility, love and charity" elder Macarius reminds us.
I guess the advice that is outlined above amounts to this:
1. The Jesus Prayer is gift and grace.
2. We cannot pray it under our own strength but always rely on the help of the Holy Spirit.
3. It should not be practiced outside of or without the other disciplines of the Christian life like attending the Liturgy/going to church, reading the Scriptures etc.
4. Keep the comandments.
5. Be humble, love God and one another, remember the poor.
In other words the Jesus Prayer must have a context. In isolation it can be dangerous and introspective. Within and with the Church it finds balance and equilibrium. Outside there are no checks and balances, there is no accountability and we are in danger of becoming every bit as individualistic as the society we are called witness to. Unless we are called - and therefore equipped - like Anthony etc, to be a hermit.