Friday, 16 September 2011
Bacovcin, Helen (translator). The Way of the Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way, (New York: Image Books, 1992). The story of a pilgrim who after suffering great loss spends his life wandering in the forests visiting monasteries and searching for someone who could teach him to pray without ceasing.
Bloom, Metropolitan ANTHONY. Living Prayer, (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1966). Chapter 6 is devoted to the Jesus Prayer and Metropolitan ANTHONY makes the argument that the Jesus Prayer is a prayer of silence, see especially page 103.
Brianchaninov, Ignatius. On the Jesus Prayer, (Longmead, Shaftesbury, Dorset: Element Books Limited, 1952). A thorough treatment of the Jesus Prayer with many scriptural and Philokalia references.
Chariton, Igumen of Valamo. The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, (London: Faber and Faber, 1977). 271 pages of teaching about prayer. Consider especially chapter three.
Colliander, Tito. Way of the Ascetics, (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1988). Chapter 25 in this excellent book is a short meditation on the Jesus Prayer as the way of the cross.
Gillet, Lev. On the Invocation of the Name of Jesus, (Springfield, IL: Templegate Publishers, 1985). Detailed, practical and contains good historical information.
Kadloubovsky, E. and G.E.H. Palmer. Writings from the Philokalia On The Prayer of the Heart, (London, Boston: Faber and Faber, 1979). The Philokalia is a collection of writing from the Fathers who reached the highest levels of prayer. The Philokalia along with Scripture is what the Pilgrim in the Way of the Pilgrim carried with him.
Theophan the Recluse, Editor. Unseen Warfare, (Crestwood, New York: St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1990). This is the classic text on prayer in the Orthodox tradition.
Ware, Bishop Kallistos. The Power of the Name, (Convent of the Incarnation, Fairacres, Oxford: SLG Press, 1986). It is short, excellent and possibly the best book to read for group discussion and training.
Zaleski, Irma. Living the Jesus Prayer, (Toronto, Canada: Novalis, 1997). This book’s intention is to teach the Jesus Prayer as a healing expression of a relationship with God.
Another excellent and more recently published book is called "The Jesus Prayer" by Frederica mathewes-Green and published by Paraclete Press 2009. Frederica is masterly in the simplicity of her writing and the book addresses common questions people ask with regards to the Prayer. Lots of great quotations too.
Thursday, 15 September 2011
Is there anything as difficult as prayer? What does Saint Paul mean by, and is it even possible to, “Pray without ceasing?” (1 Thessalonians 5:17). According to St Ignatius Brianchaninov, trying to pray without ceasing is a “hidden martyrdom.” Archimandrite SOPHRONY said, “Lions may not eat us for the sake of the Gospel. Rather, our call to martyrdom takes the form of being attentive to the present moment, relying upon God’s power always, and doing His will. Our call to martyrdom may not be any easier than death by violence.” The quest to pray without ceasing, has led to some interesting monastic experiments including, as only one example, monks praying in shifts. But from very early on we have a prayer tool that the Eastern Orthodox Church refers to as The Jesus Prayer or Prayer of the Heart.
The words are not uniform but are most often prayed, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.” This short prayer is prayed repeatedly. Scripturally it references the parable Jesus told of the Publican and the Pharisee. The Pharisee stands and prays to himself, “Thank you Lord that I am not like other men.” The Publican stands on the back praying in humility, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner” (Luke 18:10-14).
The Jesus Prayer enjoys a long history in the Eastern Orthodox Church beginning in the deserts of Egypt in the 4th century. The Philokalia, the five volume collection of varied saints teachings on prayer spans from the 4th to the 14th century, is mostly concerned with the Jesus Prayer. The Ladder of Divine Ascent written in the 6th century by Saint John Climacus recommends the use of the Jesus Prayer. To this day the Jesus Prayer continues to hold a special place in Orthodoxy. It should also be noted that Mount Athos and her monks are especially important to the use of The Prayer. Today, there is scarcely an Orthodox who has not prayed and reflected on the use of The Jesus Prayer.
The focus of Scholé is the virtuous use of time for prayer, worship and study, etc. The Jesus Prayer is the prime example of redeeming time from distraction and sloth by giving the mind and the heart a simple tool to call on the Name of the Lord. It can be prayed during a “formal” prayer time or “freely” while employed in other activities. The Jesus Prayer, as an example, is easy to pray while running, hiking or driving.
In this and the entries that follow I claim no special expertise or even original thought. I am attempting to avoid plagiarism but have been collecting and lecturing this material for a while and fear that not everything is properly footnoted. I will publish both an annotated bibliography and links to online articles and reference as an entry in this series. But let’s start out by saying that I rely heavily on Bishop KALLISTOS Ware’s lectures and books on the subject and Dr. Al Rossi’s excellent paper “Saying the Jesus Prayer.” One word of caution before we begin: while the Jesus Prayer is simple it is powerful and the Church has advised users against special techniques or visualization of any kind. One should not attempt extended use of the Jesus Prayer without a father confessor. Taking the warning into account, give The Jesus Prayer some effort today and let me know your experience; past and present.
The Jesus Prayer: St. Theophan the Recluse on the Prayer of the Heart
St. THEOPHAN the Recluse, 1815–1894 a well-known monk and saint in the Orthodox Church, said, “The principal thing is to stand before God with the mind in the heart and to go on standing before him unceasingly day and night until the end of life.” To pray is to stand before God. It is not necessary to always be asking for things or to always be using words. Deep prayer is contemplative. Deep prayer is to wait on God. Deep prayer is to listen to God. Prayer may be a request at times but at its deepest it is a relationship. “To pray is to stand before God with the mind in the heart.”
In Orthodoxy, the mind and heart are to be used as one. St Theophan tells us to keep our “mind in the heart” at all times. The heart is the physical muscle pumping blood, and our emotions/feelings, and the innermost core of the person, the spirit. Heart is associated with the physical muscle, but not identical with it. Heart means our innermost chamber, our secret dwelling place where God abides in us.
St. Macarius says, “The heart is but a small vessel; and yet dragons and lions are there, and there poisonous creatures and all the treasures of wickedness; rough, uneven paths are there, and gaping chasms. There likewise is God, there are the angels, the heavenly cities and the treasures of grace; all things are there.” There is within us a space, a field of the heart, in which we find a Divine Reality, and from which we are called to live. The mind then is to descend into that inner sanctuary, by means of the Jesus Prayer, and to stay there throughout our active day and evening. We descend with our mind into our heart, and we live there. The heart is Christ’s palace. There, Christ the King comes to take His rest.
Then Bishop Theophan said a third thing, “to go on standing before him unceasingly day and night until the end of life.” Here St. Theophan is thinking of the words of St. Paul in 1 Thess 5:17, “Pray without ceasing.” He does not just say pray morning and evening or 7 times a day but pray without ceasing. This text from Paul has played a very important part in the spirituality of the Christian East. From the fourth century onwards, the idea has been firmly established in the monastic tradition of the East that prayer is not merely an activity restricted to certain moments of the day, but something that should continue uninterrupted for the life of the monk or nun. The point is briefly expressed in one of the Sayings of the Desert Fathers: “A monk who prays only when he stands up for prayer is not really praying at all.” (Anonymous) With the same idea in mind a Palestinian monk of the seventh century, Antiochus of the Monastery of St. Sabbas, alludes to the words of Ecclesiastes 3:1-7: “To every thing there is a season, and a time for every purpose under Heaven: a time to be born, and a time to die… a time to weep, and a time to laugh.. a time to keep silence and a time to speak.” And Antiochus comments, “There is a proper time for everything except prayer: as for prayer, its proper time is always.”
There were a group of monks called the Messalians, (in Greek, Euchite – meaning “praying ones”) a movement widespread in the Syria during the 4th and 5th centuries, who interpreted St. Paul’s injunction with uncompromising literalness. They did nothing but pray. They thought that to pray was to say prayers so they did not cook, garden, wash up, clean their room or answer letters.
It is pretty impossible to do nothing but say prayers all the time. There was a monastery in Constantinople called the “Sleepless Ones” who prayed in shifts. But these examples are departures from the normal flow of Orthodoxy and did not last long. Clearly there was a need for balance and diversity in the program of a monk’s daily life. Abba Anthony fell into discouragement and a great darkening of thoughts, he said to God, “Lord, I want to be saved but these thoughts do not leave me alone what shall I do in my affliction? How can I be saved?” A short while afterwards, when he got up to go out, Anthony saw a man like himself sitting at his work, getting up from his work to pray, then sitting down and plaiting a rope, then getting up again to pray. It was an angel of the Lord sent to correct and reassure him. He heard the angel saying to him, “Do this and you will be saved.” At these words, Anthony was filled with joy and courage. He did this, and he was saved.”
The pilgrim in the Way of the Pilgrim begins his search to discover what this means to pray without ceasing and finds no acceptable answer until he is taught the Jesus Prayer. St. Gregory the Theologian (Nazianzus) said, “remember God more often then you breathe.” Prayer is to be as natural to us as breathing, or thinking, or speaking. Sometimes people talk about having a prayer life but Bishop KALLISTOS Ware says that nobody talks of having a breathing life distinct from the rest of what we do. Prayer is to be not merely one activity among others but THE activity of our life – present in everything we do. And not merely something we do but something we are. St. Issac the Syrian of the 7th century says that the saints even when asleep have not stopped praying. Because even when asleep the Spirit is praying within them.
This is our aim. It is not enough to be a person who says prayers from time to time but to be a person who is prayer all the time. St. Theophan sets before us a high aim – but how is this possible? How can we enter into the mystery of prayer as Bishop THEOPHAN describes it?
The Jesus Prayer and Silence
Mother Teresa was once asked by a reporter, “When you pray to God what do you say?” to which she responded, “I don’t say anything, I listen.” The reporter lost no time turning the question around and asked; “When you pray to God what does He say?” Mother Teresa matter-of-factly answered, “He doesn’t say anything, He listens.” Mother Teresa’s experience of listening to God and Him listening back has a sure foundation in scripture. Two of the most prominent scriptural passages vividly portraying listening to God are the stories of Samuel who, as a young boy, heard the voice of God and Elijah in the cave on Mount Horeb. First, the story about Samuel;
Now the boy Samuel was ministering to the Lord under Eli. And the word of the Lord was rare in those days; there was no frequent vision. At that time Eli, who’s eyesight had begun to grow dim, so that he could not see, was laying down in his own place; the lamp of God had not yet gone out, and Samuel was laying down within the temple of the Lord, where the ark of God was. Then the Lord called, “Samuel! Samuel!” and he said, “Here I am!” and ran to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call; lie down again.” So he went and lay down. And the Lord called again, “Samuel!” And Samuel arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” But he said, “I did not call, my son; lie down again.” Now Samuel did not yet know the Lord, and the word of the Lord had not yet been revealed to him. And the Lord called Samuel again the third time. And he arose and went to Eli, and said, “Here I am, for you called me.” Then Eli perceived that the Lord was calling the boy. Therefore Eli said to Samuel, “Go, lie down; and if he calls you, you shall say, “Speak, Lord, for thy servant hears.” So Samuel went and lay down in his place. And the Lord came and stood forth, calling as at other times, “Samuel! Samuel!” And Samuel said, “Speak, for they servant hears.” Then the Lord said to Samuel, “Behold, I am about to do a thing in Israel, at which the two ears of every one that hears it will tingle.
There are many important considerations from the story of Samuel’s listening. Samuel was removed from outward distractions, ready to receive whatever message God might send. Although the text says that Samuel did not yet know the Lord, nevertheless, the Scriptures also conclude that Samuel was listening to the voice of God. The story of Elijah, found in 1 Kings, teaches that listening to the voice of the Lord is how one is ushered into the presence of the Lord.
And he said, “Go forth, and stand upon the mount before the Lord.” And behold, the Lord passed by, and a great and strong wind rent the mountains, and broke in pieces the rocks before the Lord, but the Lord was not in the wind; and after the wind an earthquake, but the Lord was not in the earthquake; and after the earthquake a fire, but the Lord was not in the fire; and after the fire a still small voice. And when Elijah heard it, he wrapped his face in his mantle and went out and stood at the entrance of the cave. And behold, there came a voice to him, and said, “What are you doing here, Elijah?
The New Revised Standard Translation renders, “a still small voice” as “the sound of sheer silence.” The Hebrew could also be translated as, “a sound of gentle stillness.” It was not in the noise and power that the divine Presence was made real but rather in the silence of a “still small voice.” That quiet voice required the great prophet to listen and be quiet himself and only then did the divine question come, “What are you doing here, Elijah?”
Silence is a choice. We choose the things we want to do. These things, then, order and measure our lives. Someone said that Christians “order and measure” their lives from communion to communion. We might also say the Christians “order and measure” their lives from silence to silence.
Silence, at its best, is God-awareness. We quiet down our outer and inner lives, and listen to God speak. Someone said that when God speaks, His words are like the sound of a flutter of a bird’s wings. We need to be attentive if we are to hear anything. Outer silence is a choice. Outer silence calms the senses. By contrast, sensory overload and excitement can be addictive.
Inner silence can usually be achieved only by substituting one thought for another. Hence, the Jesus Prayer overrides our usual compulsive stream of consciousness about our own anxieties. Beginning with this form of prayer, then we might be led to deeper inner stillness, prayer without words. The caution here is that prayer without words is not heaviness, semi-sleep dullness. Rather, wordless prayer is alive, vigorous God-awareness.
Abba Pastor tells us that any trial that comes to us can by conquered by silence.
At the beginning of the Byzantine Liturgy, when the preliminary preparations are completed and all is now ready for the start of the Eucharist itself, the deacon turns to the priest and says, “it is time for the Lord to act.” Such exactly is the attitude of the worshipper in the Orthodox liturgy but also in the time of prayer.
Jesus Prayer: The Who and The When
Clearly, the Jesus Prayer is not only for monks. We are told that the prayer is for cab drivers, social workers, engineers, teachers, social media experts, psychiatrists, etc. We use the Jesus Prayer to do God’s will, not our own bidding. Anyone, everyone can say the Jesus Prayer. The only prerequisites are to keep the Commandments, be a living member of the Church, and to have a guide.
Bishop Kallistos Ware has sound advice for those who simply can’t find a suitable guide. “But those who have no personal contact with a starets may still practice The Prayer without any fear, so long as they do so only for limited periods – initially, for no more than ten or fifteen minutes at a time – and so long as they make no attempt to interfere with the body’s natural rhythms.”
When to Pray
The Jesus Prayer is recommended in the morning, following our prayer rule, for some period of time, perhaps 10 or 15 minutes. This might be called “formal” use of the prayer. To sit in silence. Psalm 46:10 “Be still and know that I am God.” Silence as God awareness – listening to God. Saint Seraphim of Sarov, “acquire inner peace and thousands around you will find salvation.” Spend a few minutes everyday praying Thre Jesus Prayer we will be more involved in the lives of those around us.
The second form of the Jesus Prayer is the “free” use of the prayer. This means at any and all other times of the day, or night. This is especially true for the semi-automatic tasks such as driving, doing dishes, walking, being unable to sleep, etc. The Jesus Prayer is notably useful in time of extreme concern or upset. It is short, does not require special preparation we can pray it when we are distracted. This can be called the “free” use of the Jesus Prayer. We are seeking to make all parts of our lives sanctified. The desert fathers in Egypt spoke of arrow prayers, such as the Jesus Prayer or, “Oh God make speed to save, O Lord make haste to help us.”
When alone, we might find it helpful to pray the Jesus Prayer, out loud. This can help lower the distraction level.
The Jesus Prayer Rope
Orthodox prayer ropes are usually soft and made of wool. Although we might be tempted to think of them as an Eastern version of the rosary they are not. The purpose is to help us concentrate, not to imagine an event and not necessarily to count. The prayer rope is used to aid us in concentrating on the prayer. The person praying says the Jesus Prayer for each knot on the rope. Usually the rope is 33 knots long but they come in all different colors and lengths. In the famous book, The Way of the Pilgrim, the pilgrim said the prayer 2,000, then 6,000, then 12,000 times. Is 12,000 Jesus Prayers better than 2,000? Quantity has nothing to do with love, and a living relationship with Jesus. The pilgrim did 12,000, no more and no less, as an act of obedience to his spiritual father, not because he was “making progress.” He also prayed much because that was his “heart’s desire.” Every prayer is an act of love, made to the Author of Love, Who is waiting expectantly for our desire, and our acceptance of His Love.
My mission church, Saint Ignatius of Antioch, in Mesa, AZ has a small book corner. We have prayers ropes for sale at $20. If you would like to buy one let me know, operators are standing by.
The Jesus Prayer: Hesychaism for the rest of us
Hesychia is the Greek word often translated into English to mean the spiritual stillness necessary for prayer. Archimandrite Vlachos, in his book Orthodox Psychotherapy, defines a hesychast as, “A person who is struggling in an atmosphere of stillness.” The Philokalia defines hesychia as, “a state of inner tranquility or mental quietude and concentration which arises in conjunction with, and is deepened by, the practice of pure prayer and the guarding of the heart and intellect. Not simply silence, but an attitude of listening to God and of openness towards Him.” This kind of listening prayer is hesychastic because it requires a silencing of the mind. Bishop KALLISTOS says again, “True inner prayer is to stop talking and to listen to the wordless voice of God within our heart; it is to cease doing things on our own and to enter into the action of God.” He further develops the importance of listening in silence as prayer when he says,
To achieve silence: This is of all things the hardest and the most decisive in the art of prayer. Silence is not merely negative – a pause between words, a temporary cessation of speech – but, properly understood, it is highly positive: an attitude of attentive alertness of vigilance, and above all listening. The hesychast, the person who has attained hesychia, inner stillness or silence, is par excellence, the one who listens. He listens to the voice of prayer in his own heart, and he understands that this voice is not his own but that of Another speaking within him.
Some teachers suggest that if we are able, we spend a half hour of wordless sitting, begun by asking God to teach us to pray, or a Bible quote. Usually this is best done in the morning, upon rising or before noon. If the person is able, a block of the some quiet time is also recommended for the evening. Hopefully, all this is worked out with the direction of a spiritual guide.
It is well attested in the Philokalia, and other more modern works on the Jesus Prayer, that there is an automatic component to the prayer where the repeating continues on a sub-conscious level. The Jesus Prayer is the prayer of silent listening where there can be an awareness of God’s presence. This silent attention required to pray the Jesus Prayer can be at times gentle and at other times more akin to a wrestling match.
The Jesus Prayer does not harbor any secrets in itself, nor does its practice reveal any esoteric truths. Instead, as a hesychastic practice, it demands setting the mind apart from rational activities and ignoring the physical senses for the experiential knowledge of God. It stands along with the regular expected actions of the believer (prayer, almsgiving, repentance, fasting etc.) as the response of the Orthodox Tradition to St. Paul’s challenge to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thess 5:17). It is also linked to the Song of Solomon’s passage from the Old Testament: “I sleep, but my heart is awake” (Song of Solomon 5:2). The analogy being that as a lover is always conscious to his or her beloved, people can also achieve a state of “constant prayer” where they are always conscious of God’s presence in their lives.
The Jesus Prayer: Breathing and Posture
Bishop Kallistos Ware says that by spending only a few moments praying The Jesus Prayer each day, we actually transform all the other remaining moments of the day. In the beginning, there may be no new insights and no pleasant feelings. Was it a waste of time? Not necessarily. By faith, the Christian believes that spending time wanting to pray, and actually praying, does touch a Merciful God. God hears. But we can expect invisible, subtle snares, sent from Satan, precisely because we have been praying with more effort. In a sense, we rouse the enemy to action. St. John Chrysostom says that when we begin to pray we stir the snake to action, and that prayer can lay the snake low.
There is no ascetic effort more difficult, more painful, than the effort to draw close to God, Sophrony tells us. When we begin to pray, we expend desire and effort. The results are up to God. Real prayer is a gift from God, not the payment for our perspiration. Prayer works in the Unseen Warfare as a power/gift from Jesus, given as a function of our ability to receive it. We increase our ability to receive by asking for the increase, and God grants it as He sees fit, in His tender, all sweet and merciful manner.
Breathing and Posture
The Orthodox understanding of the role of the body in prayer rests upon a sound anthropology. The body, soul and spirit act as a single unit, not divided or split up. Therefore, the body has a role in prayer.
Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. We are to breath naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” On the exhale, we can say, “have mercy on me, a sinner.” We are to breath and pray slowly and reverently and attentively.
The usual position, as recommended is a comfortable sitting position in a chair. Sometimes standing is recommended. Usually the eyes are kept closed. Posture can take many forms, as long as the postures are reverent. Bishop Ware, St. Igantius Brianchaninov and Sophrony all agree, “the fullness of the Jesus Prayer can by practiced without any physical methods at all.”
In summary, it can be said that physical methods are optional and not at all necessary. Physical techniques are more suitable for beginners, says St Gregory Palamas. St. Theophan suggests, “Make a habit of having the intellect stand in the heart, but not in a physical way.”
+ Firstly. The reciting of the Jesus Prayer VOCALLY. We repeat the Jesus Prayer with our lips while trying at the same time to focus our attention on the words of the prayer.
+ Secondly. Then the nous takes the Jesus Prayer and says it noetically [WITHIN, MENTALLY OR SPIRITUALLY]. Our whole attention is found again in the words but it is concentrated on the nous [the soul's attention, the Eye of the soul]. When the nous gets tired then we start again to vocalize the prayer with the lips. After the nous has been rested we start again to concentrate our attention there.
St. Neilos advises: Always remember God and your nous will become heaven.
+ Thirdly. The Jesus Prayer then comes down into THE HEART. Nous and heart are now united and combined with each other. Attention is centered in the heart and it is immersed again into the words of the Jesus Prayer which has an invisible depth.
+ Fourthly. The Prayer becomes now self-activating [PRAYER WITHOUT CEASING]. It is done while the ascetic is working or eating or discussing or while he is in church or even while he is sleeping. "I sleep but by heart waketh" is said in the Holy Scriptures (Song of Songs 5:2).
+ Fifthly. Then one feels a divine soft flame within his soul burning it and making it joyful [LOVE, DEVOTION, WARMTH AND VISIONS OF DIVINE LIGHT]. The grace of Christ lives in the heart. The Holy Trinity is established. "We become the habitation of God, when He lives within us, established in the memory. Thus we become the temple of God when Remembrance of His is not disturbed by earthly cares, and mind is not distracted by unexpected thoughts. Fleeing all that, the Friend of God withdraws into Him, chasing away the passions which invite intemperate thoughts, and occupying himself in a way which leads to virtue." (Saint Basil the Great) Thus he feels the Divine Presence within himself and this grace passes through the body which becomes dead to the world and is crucified [THE NOUS RISES ABOVE BODY-CONSCIOUSNESS DURING CONTEMPLATIVE PRACTICE]. And this is the extremist stage which is sometimes connected with the Vision of the Uncreated Light of the Holy Trinity.
Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos "A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain"
Birth of Theotokos Monastery, Levadia, ISBN: 960-7070-04-6
The challenge of St. Paul
But this approach to the life of prayer has nothing to do with the Christianity of St. Paul, who urges the Christians of first century Thessalonica to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thess. 5:17). And in his letter to Rome, the Apostle instructs the Christian community there to "be constant in prayer" (Rom. 12:12). He not only demands unceasing prayer of the Christians in his care, but practices it himself. "We constantly thank God for you" (1 Thess. 2:13) he writes in his letter to the Thessalonian community; and he comforts Timothy, his "true child in the faith" (1 Tim. 1:2) with the words: "Always I remember you in my prayers" (2 Tim. 1:3). In fact, whenever St. Paul speaks of prayer in his letters, two Greek words repeatedly appear: PANTOTE (pantote), which means always; and ADIALEPTOS (adialeptos), meaning without interruption or unceasingly. Prayer is then not merely a part of life which we can conveniently lay aside if something we deem more important comes up; prayer is all of life. Prayer is as essential to our life as breathing. This raises some important questions. How can we be expected to pray all the time? We are, after all, very busy people. Our work, our spouse, our children, our school - all place heavy demands upon our time. How can we fit more time for prayer into our already overcrowded lives? These questions and the many others like them which could be asked set up a false dichotomy in our lives as Christians. To pray does not mean to think about God in contrast to thinking about other things or to spend time with God in contrast to spending time with our family and friends. Rather, to pray means to think and live our entire life in the Presence of God. As Paul Evdokimov has remarked: "Our whole life, every act and gesture, even a smile must become a hymn or adoration, an offering, a prayer. We must become prayer-prayer incarnate." This is what St. Paul means when he writes to the Corinthians that "whatever you do, do it for the glory of God" (1 Cor. 10:31).
The Jesus Prayer
In order to enter more deeply into the life of prayer and to come to grips with St. Paul's challenge to pray unceasingly, the Orthodox Tradition offers the Jesus Prayer, which is sometimes called the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer is offered as a means of concentration, as a focal point for our inner life. Though there are both longer and shorter versions, the most frequently used form of the Jesus Prayer is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner." This prayer, in its simplicity and clarity, is rooted in the Scriptures and the new life granted by the Holy Spirit. It is first and foremost a prayer of the Spirit because of the fact that the prayer addresses Jesus as Lord, Christ and Son of God; and as St. Paul tells us, "no one can say 'Jesus is Lord' except by the Holy Spirit" (1 Cor. 12:3).
The Scriptural roots of the Jesus Prayer
The Scriptures give the Jesus Prayer both its concrete form and its theological content. It is rooted in the Scriptures in four ways:
In its brevity and simplicity, it is the fulfillment of Jesus' command that "in praying" we are "not to heap up empty phrases as the heathen do; for they think that they will be heard for their many words. Do not be like them . . . (Matt. 6:7-8).
The Jesus Prayer is rooted in the Name of the Lord. In the Scriptures, the power and glory of God are present in his Name. In the Old Testament to deliberately and attentively invoke God's Name was to place oneself in his Presence. Jesus, whose name in Hebrew means God saves, is the living Word addressed to humanity. Jesus is the final Name of God. Jesus is "the Name which is above all other names" and it is written that "all beings should bend the knee at the Name of Jesus" (Phil. 2:9-10). In this Name devils are cast out (Luke 10:17), prayers are answered (John 14:13 14) and the lame are healed (Acts 3:6-7). The Name of Jesus is unbridled spiritual power.
The words of the Jesus Prayer are themselves based on Scriptural texts: the cry of the blind man sitting at the side of the road near Jericho, "Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me" (Luke 18:38); the ten lepers who "called to him, Jesus, Master, take pity on us' " (Luke 17:13); and the cry for mercy of the publican, "God, be merciful to me, a sinner" (Luke 18:14).
It is a prayer in which the first step of the spiritual journey is taken: the recognition of our own sinfulness, our essential estrangement from God and the people around us. The Jesus Prayer is a prayer in which we admit our desperate need of a Saviour. For "if we say we have no sin in us, we are deceiving ourselves and refusing to admit the truth" (1 John 1:8).
The three levels of prayer
Because prayer is a living reality, a deeply personal encounter with the living God, it is not to be confined to any given classification or rigid analysis. However, in order to offer some broad, general guidelines for those interested in using the Jesus Prayer to develop their inner life, Theophan the Recluse, a 19th century Russian spiritual writer, distinguishes three levels in the saying of the Prayer:
It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation which Theophan defines as prayers' "verbal expression and shape." Although very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and thus only the first step, for "the essence or soul of prayer is within a man's mind and heart."
As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. Theophan remarks that at this point, "the mind is focused upon the words" of the Prayer, "speaking them as if they were our own."
The third and final level is prayer of the heart. At this stage prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer, which is a gift of the Spirit, is to return to the Father as did the prodigal son (Luke 15:32). The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when "God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, the Spirit that cries 'Abba, Father!'" (Gal. 4:6).
The fruits of the Jesus Prayer
This return to the Father through Christ in the Holy Spirit is the goal of all Christian spirituality. It is to be open to the presence of the Kingdom in our midst. The anonymous author of The Way of the Pilgrim reports that the Jesus Prayer has two very concrete effects upon his vision of the world. First, it transfigures his relation ship with the material creation around him; the world becomes transparent, a sign, a means of communicating God's presence. He writes:
"When I prayed in my heart, everything around me seemed delightful and marvelous. The trees, the grass, the birds, the air, the light seemed to be telling me that they existed for man's sake, that they witnessed to the love of God for man, that all things prayed to God and sang his praise."
Second, the Prayer transfigures his relationship to his fellow human beings. His relationships are given form within their proper context: the forgiveness and compassion of the crucified and risen Lord.
"Again I started off on my wanderings. But now I did not walk along as before, filled with care. The invocation of the Name of Jesus gladdened my way. Everybody was kind to me. If anyone harms me I have only to think, 'How sweet is the Prayer of Jesus!' and the injury and the anger alike pass away and I forget it all."
"Growth in prayer has no end," Theophan informs us. "If this growth ceases, it means that life ceases." The way of the heart is endless because the God whom we seek is infinite in the depths of his glory. The Jesus Prayer is a signpost along the spiritual journey, a journey that all of us must take.
Generally speaking, prayer is the sole obligatory and indispensable occupation and virtue for all rational beings, both sentient and thinking, human and angelic. For this reason we are enjoined to the unceasing practice of the prayer.
Prayer is not divided dogmatically into types and methods but, according to our Fathers, every type and method of prayer is beneficial, as long as it is not of diabolic delusion and influence. The goal of this all-virtuous work is to turn and keep the mind of man on God. For this purpose our Fathers devised easier methods and simplified the prayer, so that the mind might more easily and more firmly turn to and remain in God. With the rest of the virtues other parts of man's body come into play and senses intervene, whereas in blessed prayer the mind alone is fully active; thus much effort is needed to incite the mind and to bridle it, in order that the prayer may become fruitful and acceptable. Our most holy Fathers, who loved God in the fullest, had as their chief study uniting with God and remaining continuously in Him; thus they turned all of their efforts to prayer as the most efficient means to this end.
There are other forms of prayer which are known and common to almost all Christians which we will not speak about now; rather we will limit ourselves to that which is called "noetic prayer", which we are always being asked about. It is a subject that engages the multitude of the faithful since next to nothing is known regarding it, and it is often misconstrued and described rather fantastically. The precise way of putting it into practice as well as the results of this deifying virtue, which leads from purification to sanctification, we will leave for the Fathers to tell. We paupers will only mention those things which are sufficient to clarify the matter and to convince our brethren living in the world that they need to occupy themselves with the prayer.
The Fathers call it noetic because it is done with the mind, the "nous", but they also call it "sober watchfulness" which means nearly the same thing. Our Fathers describe the mind as a free and inquiring being which does not tolerate confinement and is not persuaded by that which it can't conceive on its own. Primarily for this reason they selected just a few words in a single, simple prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me", so that the mind would not require a great effort in order to hold on to a long, protracted prayer. Secondly, they turned the mind within, to the center of our reason, where it resides motionless with the meaning of the divine invocation of the most sweet Name of our Lord Jesus, in order to experience as soon as possible the divine consolation. It is impossible, according to the Fathers, for our all-good Master, being thus called upon continuously, not to hear us, He Who desires so much the salvation of men.
Just as a natural virtue that is aspired to can only be achieved by the conducive means, so also this holy work requires some nearly indispensable rudiments:
...a degree of quiet;
...freedom from cares;
...avoidance of learning about and spreading the "news" of things going on, the ..."giving and taking" as the Fathers put it;
...self discipline in all things;
...an overall silence which stems from these things.
Moreover, I don't think this persistence and habit will be unattainable for devout people who take an interest in this holy activity. The good habit of a regular prayer time, morning and evening, always about the same time, would be a good beginning.
With surety we have emphasized perseverance as the most indispensable element in prayer. Rightly it is stressed by St. Paul, "Continue steadfastly in prayer."(Col. 4:2) In contrast to the rest of the virtues, prayer requires effort throughout our entire lifetime, and for this reason I repeat to those who are making the attempt not to feel encumbered, nor to consider the need for endurance as a failure in this sober-minded work.
In the beginning it is necessary to say the prayer in a whisper, or even louder when confronted by duress and inner resistance. When this good habit is achieved to the point that the prayer may be sustained and said with ease, then we can turn inwardly with complete outer silence. In the first part of the little book (Way of the Pilgrim) a good example is given of the initiation into the prayer. Sound persistence and effort, always with the same words of the prayer not being frequently altered, will give birth to a good habit. This will bring control of the mind, at which time the presence of Grace will be manifested.
Just as every virtue has a corresponding result, so also prayer has as a result the purification of the mind and enlightenment. It arrives at the highest and perfect good, union with God; that is to say, actual divinization (theosis). However, the Fathers also have this to say: that it lies with man to seek and strive to enter the way which leads to the city; and if by chance he doesn't arrive at the endpoint, not having kept pace for whatever reason, God will number him with those who finished. To make myself more clear, especially on the subject of prayer, I will explain how all of us Christians must strive in prayer, particularly in that which is called monological or noetic prayer. If one arrives at such prayer he will find much profit.
By the presence of the Jesus Prayer man is not given over to temptation which he is expecting, because its presence is sober watchfulness and its essence is prayer; therefore "the one who watches and prays does not enter into temptation." (cf. Matt. 26:41) Further, he is not given over to darkness of mind so as to become irrational and err in his judgments and decisions. He does not fall into indolence and negligence, which are the basis of many evils. Moreover, he is not overcome by passions and indulgences where he is weak, and particularly when the causes of sin are near at hand. On the contrary his zeal and devotion increase. He becomes eager for good works. He becomes meek and forgiving. He grows from day to day in his faith and love for Christ and this inflames him towards all the virtues. We have many examples in our own day of people, and particularly of young people, who with the good habit of doing the prayer have been saved from frightful dangers, from falls into great evils, or from symptoms leading toward spiritual death.
Consequently, the prayer is a duty for each one of the faithful, of every age, nationality, and status; without regard to place, time or manner. With the prayer divine Grace becomes active and provides solutions to problems and trials which trouble the faithful, so that, according to the Scriptures, "Everyone that calls on the Lord shall be saved." (Acts 2:21)
There is no danger of delusion, as is bandied about by a few unknowledgeable people, as long as the prayer is said in a simple and humble manner. It is of the utmost importance that when the prayer is being said no image at all be portrayed in the mind; neither of our Lord Christ in any form whatever, nor of the Lady Theotokos, nor of any other person or depiction. By means of the image the mind is scattered. Likewise, by means of images the entrance for thoughts and delusions is created. The mind should remain in the meaning of the words, and with much humility the person should await divine mercy. The chance imaginations, lights, or movements, as well as noises and disturbances are unacceptable as diabolic machinations towards obstruction and deception. The manner in which Grace is manifested to initiates is by spiritual joy, by quiet and joy-producing tears, or by a peaceful and awe-inspiring fear due to the remembrance of sins, thus leading to an increase of mourning and lamentation.
Gradually Grace becomes the sense of the love of Christ, at which time the roving about of the mind ceases completely and the heart becomes so warmed in the love of Christ that it thinks it can bear no more. Still at other times one thinks and desires to remain forever exactly as one finds oneself, not seeking to see or hear anything else. All of these things, as well as various other forms of aid and comfort, are found in the initial stages by as many as try to say and maintain the prayer, in as much as it depends on them and is possible. Up to this stage, which is so simple, I think that every soul that is baptized and lives in an Orthodox manner should be able to put this into practice and to stand in this spiritual delight and joy, having at the same time the divine protection and help in all its actions and activities.
I repeat once again my exhortation to all who love God and their salvation not to put off trying this good labor and practice for the sake of the Grace and mercy which it holds out to as many as will strive a bit at this work. I say this to them for courage, that they don't hesitate or become fainthearted due to the bit of resistance or weariness which they will encounter. Contemporary elders that we have known had many disciples living in the world, men and women, married and single, who not only arrived at the beginning state but rose to higher levels through the Grace and compassion of our Christ. "It is a trifle in the eyes of the Lord to make a poor man rich." (Sir. 11:23) I think that in today's chaos of such turmoil, denial and unbelief there exists no simpler and easier spiritual practice that is feasible for almost all people, with such a multitude of benefit and opportunity for success, than this small prayer.
Whenever one is seated, moving about, or working, and if need be even in bed, and generally wherever and however one finds oneself, one can say this little prayer which contains within itself faith, confession, invocation and hope. With such little labor and insignificant effort the universal command to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thes. 5:17) is fulfilled to perfection. To whatever word of our Fathers one might turn, or even in their wonderful lives, he will encounter hardly any other virtue given so much praise or applied with such zeal and persistence, so that it alone constitutes the most powerful means of our success in Christ. It is not our intention to sing the praises of this queen of virtues, or to describe it, because whatever we might say would instead rather diminish it. Our aim is to exhort and encourage every believer in the working of the prayer. Afterwards, each person will learn from his own experience what we have said so poorly.
Press forward you who are doubtful, you who are despondent, you who are distressed, you who are in ignorance, you of little faith, and you who are suffering trials of various kinds; forward to consolation and to the solution to your problems. Our sweet Jesus Christ, our Life, has proclaimed to us that "without Me you can do nothing." (Jn. 15:5) Thus behold that, calling upon Him continuously, we are never alone; and consequently "we can and will do all things through Him." (cf Phil. 4:13) Behold the correct meaning and application of the significant saying of the Scripture, "Call upon Me in your day of trouble and I will deliver you, and you shall glorify Me." (Ps. 49(50):15) Let us call upon His all-holy Name not only "in the day of trouble" but continuously; so that our minds may be enlightened, that we might not enter into temptation. If anyone desires to step even higher where all-holy Grace will draw him, he will pass through this beginning point, and will be "spoken to" regarding Him, when he arrives there.
As an epilogue to that which has been written we repeat our exhortation, or rather our encouragement, to all the faithful that it is possible and it is vital that they occupy themselves with the prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me", the so-called "noetic prayer", with a sure faith that they will benefit greatly regardless of what level they may reach. The remembrance of death and a humble attitude, together with the other helpful things that we have mentioned, guarantee success through the grace of Christ, the invocation of Whom will be the aim of this virtuous occupation. Amen.
Prayer of the Heart - Jesus Prayer - for the Faithful Living in the World
by Elder Joseph of Vatopaidi (Spiritual Child of Elder Joseph the Hesychast)
The path to achievement of a systematic interior order is very hard, but it is possible to preserve this (or a similar) state of mind during the various and inevitable duties you have to perform; and what makes it possible is the Jesus Prayer when it is grafted in the heart. How can it be so grafted ? Who knows ? But it does happen. He who strives is increasingly conscious of this engrafting, without knowing how it has been achieved. To strive for this inner order, we must walk always in the presence of God, repeating the Jesus Prayer as frequently as possible. As soon as there is a free moment, begin again at once, and the engrafting will be achieved...
The Jesus Prayer, and the warmth which accompanies it
To pray is to stand spiritually before God in our heart in glorification, thanksgiving, supplication, and contrite penitence. Everything must be spiritual. The root of all prayer is devout fear of God; from this comes belief about God and faith in Him, submission of oneself to God, hope in God, and cleaving to Him with the feeling of love, in oblivion of all created things. When prayer is powerful, all these spiritual feelings and movements are present in the heart with corresponding vigor.
How does the Jesus Prayer help us in this ?
Through the feeling of warmth which develops in and around the heart as the effect of this Prayer...
When we pray we must stand in our mind before God, and think of Him alone. Yet various thoughts keep jostling in the mind, and draw it away from God. In order to teach the mind to rest on one thing, the Holy Fathers used short prayers and acquired the habit of reciting them unceasingly. This unceasing repetition of a short prayer kept the mind on the thought of God and dispersed all irrelevant thoughts. They adopted various short prayers, but it is the Jesus Prayer which has become particularly established amongst us and is most generally employed: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner!'
So this is what the Jesus Prayer is. It is one among various short prayers, oral like all others. Its purpose is to keep the mind on the single thought of God. Whoever has formed the habit of this Prayer and uses it properly, really does remember God incessantly.
Since the remembrance of God in a sincerely believing heart is naturally accompanied by a sense of piety, hope, thanksgiving, devotion to God's will, and by other spiritual feelings, the Jesus Prayer, which produces and preserves this remembrance of God, is called spiritual prayer. It is rightly so called only when it is accompanied by these spiritual feelings. But when not accompanied by them it remains oral like any other prayer of the same type.
What is the meaning of this warmth which accompanies the practice of the Prayer ?
In order to keep the mind on one thing by the use of a short prayer, it is necessary to preserve attention and so lead it into the heart: for so long as the mind remains in the head, where thoughts jostle one another, it has no time to concentrate on one thing. But when attention descends into the heart, it attracts all the powers of the soul and body into one point there. This concentration of all human life in one place is immediately reflected in the heart by a special sensation that is the beginning of future warmth. This sensation, faint at the beginning, becomes gradually stronger, firmer, deeper. At first only tepid, it grows into warm feeling and concentrates the attention upon itself And so it comes about that, whereas in the initial stages the attention is kept in the heart by an effort of will, in due course this attention, by its own vigor, gives birth to warmth in the heart. This warmth then holds the attention without special effort. From this, the two go on supporting one another, and must remain inseparable; because dispersion of attention cools the warmth, and diminishing warmth weakens attention.
From this there follows a rule of the spiritual life: if you keep the heart alive towards God, you will always be in remembrance of God. This rule is laid down by St. John of the Ladder.
The question now arises whether this warmth is spiritual. No, it is not spiritual. It is ordinary physical warmth. But since it keeps the attention of the mind in the heart, and thus helps the development there of the spiritual movements described earlier, it is called spiritual- provided, however, that it is not accompanied by sensual pleasure, however slight, but keeps the soul and body in sober mood.
From this it follows that when the warmth accompanying the Jesus Prayer does not include spiritual feelings, it should not be called spiritual, but simply warm-blooded. There is nothing in itself bad about this warm-blooded feeling, unless it is connected with sensual pleasure, however slight. If it is so connected, it is bad and must be suppressed.
Things begin to go wrong when the warmth moves about in parts of the body lower than the heart. And matters become still worse when, in enjoyment of this warmth, we imagine it to be all that matters, without bothering about spiritual feelings or even about remembrance of God; and so we set our heart only on having this warmth. This wrong course is occasionally possible, though not for all people, nor at all times. It must be noticed and corrected, for otherwise only physical warmth will remain, and we must not consider this warmth as spiritual or due to grace. This warmth is spiritual only when it is accompanied by the spiritual impetus of prayer. Anyone who calls it spiritual without this movement is mistaken. And anyone who imagines it to be due to grace is still more in error.
Warmth which is filled with grace is of a special nature and it is only this which is truly spiritual. It is distinct from the warmth of the flesh, and does not produce any noticeable changes in the body, but manifests itself by a subtle feeling of sweetness.
Everyone can easily identify and distinguish spiritual warmth by this particular feeling. Each must do it for himself: this is no business for an outsider.
The easiest way to acquire unceasing prayer
To acquire the habit of the Jesus Prayer, so that it takes root in ourselves, is the easiest way of ascending into the region of unceasing prayer. Men of the greatest experience have found, through God's enlightenment, that this form of prayer is a simple yet most effective means of establishing and strengthening the whole of the spiritual and ascetic life; and in their rules for prayer they have left detailed instructions about it.
In all our efforts and ascetic struggles, what we seek is purification of the heart and restoration of the spirit. There are two ways to this:
the active way, the practice of the ascetic labors; and
the contemplative way, the turning of the mind to God.
By the first way the soul becomes purified and so receives God; by the second way the God of whom the soul becomes aware Himself bums away every impurity and thus comes to dwell in the purified soul. The whole of this second way is summed up in the one Jesus Prayer, as St. Gregory of Sinai says':
'God is gained either by activity and work, or by the art of invoking the Name of Jesus.'
He adds that the first way is longer than the second, the second being quicker and more effective. For this reason some of the Holy Fathers have given prime importance, among all the different kinds of spiritual exercise, to the Jesus Prayer. It enlightens, strengthens, and animates; it defeats all enemies visible and invisible, and leads directly to God. See how powerful and effective it is I The Name of the Lord Jesus is the treasury of all good things, the treasury of strength and of life in the spirit.
It follows from this that we should from the very first give full instructions on the practice of the Jesus Prayer to everyone who repents or begins to seek the Lord. Only following on from this should we introduce the beginner into other practices, because it is in this way that he can most quickly become steadfast and spiritually aware, and achieve inner peace. Many people, not knowing this, may be said to waste their time and labor in going no further than the formal and external activities of the soul and body.
The practice of prayer is called an 'art', and it is a very simple one. Standing with consciousness and attention in the heart, cry out unceasingly:
'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me,'
without having in your mind any visual concept or image, believing that the Lord sees you and listens to you.
It is important to keep your consciousness in the heart, and as you do so to control your breathing a little so as to keep time with the words of the prayer. But the most important thing is to believe that God is near and hears. Say the prayer for God's ear alone.
At the beginning this prayer remains for a long time only an activity like any other, but in time it passes into the mind and finally takes root in the heart.
There are deviations from this right way of praying; therefore we must learn it from someone who knows all about it. Mistakes occur chiefly from the attention being in the head and not in the heart. He who keeps his attention in the heart is safe. Safer still is he who at all times clings to God in contrition, and prays to be delivered from illusion.
'Techniques' and 'methods' do not matter: one thing alone is essential
The prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me' is an oral prayer like any other. There is nothing special about it in itself, but it receives all its power from the state of mind in which it is made.
The various methods described by the Fathers (sitting down, making prostrations, and the other techniques used when performing this prayer) are not suitable for everyone: indeed without a personal director they are actually dangerous. It is better not to try them. There is just one method which is obligatory for all: to stand with the attention in the heart. All other things are beside the point, and do not lead to the crux of the matter.
It is said of the fruit of this prayer, that there is nothing higher in the world. This is wrong. As if it were some talisman! Nothing in the words of the prayer and their uttering can alone bring forth its fruit. All fruit can be received without this prayer, and even without any oral prayer, but merely by directing the mind and heart towards God.
The essence of the whole thing is to be established in the remembrance of God, and to walk in His presence. You can say to anyone: 'Follow whatever methods you like-recite the Jesus Prayer, perform bows and prostrations, I go to Church: do what you wish, only strive to be always in constant remembrance of God.' I remember meeting a man in Kiev who said: 'I did not use any methods at all, I did not know the Jesus Prayer, yet by God's mercy I walk always in His presence. But how this has come to pass, I myself do not know, God gave!'
It is most important to realize that prayer is always God-given: otherwise we may confuse the gift of grace with some Achievement of our own.
People say: attain the Jesus Prayer, for that is inner prayer. This is not correct. The Jesus Prayer is a good means to arrive at inner prayer, but in itself it is not inner but outer prayer. Those who attain the habit of the Jesus Prayer do very well. But if they stop only at this and go no further, they stop half way.
Even though we are reciting the Jesus Prayer, it is still necessary for us to keep the thought of God: otherwise the Prayer is dry food. It is good that the Name of Jesus should cleave to your tongue. But with this it is still possible not to remember God at all and even to harbor thoughts which are opposed to Him. Consequently everything depends on conscious and free turning to God, and on a balanced effort to hold oneself in this.
Why the Jesus Prayer is stronger than other prayers
The Jesus Prayer is like any other prayer. It is stronger than all other prayers only in virtue of the all-powerful Name of Jesus, Our Lord and Savior. But it is necessary to invoke His Name with a full and unwavering faith-with a deep certainty that He is near, sees and hears, pays whole-hearted attention to our petition, and is ready to fulfill it and to grant what we seek. There is nothing to be ashamed of in such a hope. If fulfillment is sometimes delayed, this may be because the petitioner is still not yet ready to receive what he asks.
Not a talisman
The Jesus Prayer is not some talisman (a ring or stone with magic powers). Its power comes from faith in the Lord, and from a deep union of the mind and heart with Him. With such a disposition, the invocation of the Lord's Name becomes very effective in many ways. But a mere repetition of the words does not signify anything.
Mechanical repetition leads to nothing
Do not forget that you must not limit yourself to a mechanical repetition of the words of the Jesus Prayer. This will lead to nothing except a habit of repeating the prayer automatically with the tongue, without even thinking about it. There is of course nothing wrong in this, but it constitutes only the extreme outer limit of the work.
The essential thing is to stand consciously in the presence of the Lord, with fear, faith and love.
Oral and inner prayer
One can recite the Jesus Prayer with the mind in the heart without movement of the tongue. This is better than oral prayer. Use oral prayer as a support to inner prayer. Sometimes It is required in order to strengthen inner prayer.
Avoid visual concepts
Hold no intermediate image between the mind and the Lord when practicing the Jesus Prayer. The words pronounced are merely a help, and are not essential. The principal thing is to stand before the Lord with the mind in the heart. This, and not the words, is inner spiritual prayer. The words here are as much or as little the essential part of the prayer as the words of any other prayer. The essential part is to dwell in God, and this walking before God means that you live with the conviction ever before your consciousness that God is in you, as He is in everything: you live in the firm assurance that He sees all that is within you, knowing you better than you know yourself. This awareness of the eye of God looking at your inner being must not be accompanied by any visual concept, but must be confined to a simple conviction or feeling. A man in a warm room feels how the warmth envelops and penetrates him. The same must be the effect on our spiritual nature of the all-encompassing presence of God, who is the fire in the room of our being.
The words 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me' are only the instrument and not the essence of the work; but they are an instrument which is very strong and effective, for the Name of the Lord Jesus is fearful to the enemies of our salvation and a blessing to all who seek Him. Do not forget that this practice is simple, and must not have anything fanciful about it. Pray about everything to the Lord, to our most pure Lady, to your Guardian Angel; and they will teach you everything, either directly or through others.
Images and illusion
In order not to fall into illusion, while practicing inner prayer, do not permit yourself any concepts, images, or visions. For vivid imaginings, darting to and fro, and flights of fancy do not cease even when the mind stands in the heart and recites prayer: and no one is able to rule over them, except those who have attained perfection by the grace of the Holy Spirit, and who have acquired stability of mind through Jesus Christ.
Dispel all images from your mind
You ask about prayer. I find in the writings of the Holy Fathers, that when you pray you must dispel all images from your mind. That is what I also try to do, forcing myself to realize that God is everywhere-and so (among other places) here, where my thoughts and feelings are. I cannot succeed in freeing myself entirely from images, but gradually they evaporate more and more. There comes a point when they disappear completely.
Excerpted for the Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology, comp by Igumen Charion of Valamo, trans E, Kadloubovsky &E. M. Palmer, Faber and Faber, 1966, pp 92-101
Begin with Humility
Some (unfortunately) do not set the goal of putting off the old man (repentance, humility, and asceticism as a way of helping the sanctification of the soul) with a deep sense of their sinfulness. Then, they would naturally feel the need for Gods mercy, saying "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," often. This with pain in their heart and then the feeling of the sweetness of divine comfort of the most Sweet Christ within their heart.
But unfortunately some people (as I mentioned) start off with a dry ascetic practice and seek after divine pleasure and lights and continually multiply their prayer-ropes and are sanctified by their calculation, reaching that conclusion (about their sanctity) from the mathematical reckoning of the greater amount of prayer-ropes they say.
They also (naturally) make footstools to the exact inch and all the other things, the bending of the head towards the heart. They regulate their breath and whatever else the watchful Saint Kallistuses and Gregorys of the Philokalia say. Then they create the false sensation that they are somewhere near the measure of those Saints.
From the moment they believe that thought, the tangalaki (the demon) immediately appears and sets up a television for them (with their fantasies) and devilish prophecies etc. of delusion follow.
For this reason, only certainty is repentance and let every spiritual edifice be built upon it and let us continually seek repentance from God and nothing else except that.
We should not ask for lights or miracles, or prophecies, or gifts of the Spirit, only for repentance. Repentance brings humility; humility will bring grace from God, because grace always goes to the humble, of necessity. Therefore, repentance is necessary for our salvation and when we have it, the grace of God will come and it will teach us what we need to do for salvation even of our fellows too, if it is necessary.
Say it Sincerely from the Heart many times.
In this way, which I mentioned (feeling the great need for Gods mercy), we will say the Jesus Prayer many times with our whole heart and we will feel, as I mentioned, the sweetness of divine comfort of the most sweet Jesus within our heart. The heart will (then) have our nous in tight embrace, as well as our whole being.
Then, and only then, will prayer not be tiring, but rather it will give rest, because we have grasped the true meaning of it. Only then do we pray without putting pressure on ourselves, but we are pressurized by our sense of honor and dignity (philotimo), which gives rise to all our spiritual upstanding generosity (leventia). This produces the fluttering of the heart. Then the heart (however stony it may be) breaks and tears burst forth from their ducts (without an effort being made to weep during the time of prayer).
You feel the need for this prayer like a hungry baby who opens its little mouth and runs into the arms of its mother to be suckled and at the same time feels very secure in its mothers loving care.
Precede with Patristic Study
Nobody doubts that the enemy will try to war against us and to disperse our thoughts. However, when preceded by a little bit of Patristic study (e.g. The Sayings of the Fathers) a lid is put on all our cares, great and small, and on the days temptations. So, it is transformed into another atmosphere, a spiritual one and you pray with concentration.
If the enemy wages war with blasphemous thoughts (from his usual wickedness and envy) do not get upset. Instead, use the demon as your worker in the following way, by not getting upset, but by saying to the enemy: "Its a good thing that you brought me those thoughts so that I can say the Jesus Prayer, because otherwise I forget to pray without ceasing." The enemy will then depart immediately, because he is only used to doing evil. I mentioned that because the enemy brings blasphemous thoughts to sensitive people (usually) to make them even more sensitive, to upset them and to cut them down.
The same applies to some that struggle in vigil over and above their strength, and with pride. When they slacken, and they do not have the strength to banish the thoughts of the enemy. They think that those blasphemous thoughts are their own, and so they suffer without reason, while the thoughts are not their own, but those of the enemy.
That is why young people should struggle in the matter of prayer with humility and discernment. They should prepare for the night. This, by not being distracted, by study and through moderate and simple food, which helps. As far as possible it should not be savory, to avoid drinking plenty of water, because that, too, is an obstacle, with the bloating that it causes. In this way, the person is helped with prayer.
It helps a great deal if the light evening meal, however light it may be, takes place at around 4 o'clock (European time), after study, fathers and so on, or else 3 hours after the main meal. Small and great prostrations beforehand, and in between each prayer-rope, help a great deal, unfreezing the machines oil. Later, after getting quite tired, he should sit down and say the Jesus Prayer, since he brings to mind his wretchedness and the great favors of God that our good God has done for him.
Then the nous is collected (as I mentioned, in the heart, on its own) and seeks Gods mercy with all his heart, with all his soul and with all his mind, without making a great effort.
The three hours after sunset help a lot (having read patristic books before sunset), as well as after midnight until sunrise. For young people it is good for them to sleep one hour after sunset, with less prayer, and to get up after midnight, in order to avoid scandalous sleep of the morning.
Naturally, discernment is required and guidance from their spiritual father, who is a requirement.
From With Elder Porphyrios: A Spiritual Child Remembers, by Constantine Yiannitsiotis, pp. 70-74. Published by the Holy Convent of the Transfiguration of the Savior (Athens, 2001).
The prayer is profoundly rooted in the spirit of the gospel, and it is not in vain that the great teachers of Orthodoxy have always insisted on the fact that the Jesus Prayer sums up the whole of the gospel. This is why the Jesus Prayer can only be used in its fullest sense if the person who uses it belongs to the gospel, is a member of the Church of Christ.
All the messages of the gospel, and more than the messages, the reality of the gospel, is contained in the name, in the Person of Jesus. If you take the first half of the prayer you will see how it expresses our faith in the Lord: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.' At the heart we find the name of Jesus; it is the name before whom every knee shall bow (Is 45:3), and when we pronounce it we affirm the historical event of the incarnation. We affirm that God, the Word of God, co-eternal with the father, became man, and that the fullness of the Godhead dwelt in our midst (Col 2:9) bodily in his Person.
To see in the man of Galilee, in the prophet of Israel, the incarnate Word of God, God become man, we must be guided by the spirit, because it is the spirit of God who reveals to us both the incarnation and the lordship of Christ. We call him Christ, and we affirm thereby that in him were fulfilled the prophecies of the Old Testament. To affirm that Jesus is the Christ implies that the whole history of the Old Testament is ours, that we accept it as the truth of God. We call him Son of God, because we know that the Messiah expected by the Jews, the man who was called 'Son of David' by Bartimaeus, is the incarnate Son of God. These words sum up all we know, all we believe about Jesus Christ, from the Old Testament to the New, and from the experience of the Church through the ages. In these few words we make a complete and perfect profession of faith.
But it is not enough to make this profession of faith; it is not enough to believe. The devils also believe and tremble (James 2:I9). Faith is not sufficient to work salvation, it must lead to the right relationship with God; and so, having professed, in its integrity, sharply and clearly, our faith in the Lordship and in the Person, in the historicity and in the divinity of Christ, we put ourselves face to face with Him, in the right state of mind: 'Have mercy on me, a sinner'.
These words 'have mercy' are used in all the Christian Churches and, in Orthodoxy, they are the response of the people to all the petitions suggested by the priest. Our modern translation 'have mercy' is a limited and insufficient one. The Greek word which we find in the gospel and in the early liturgies is eleison. Eleison is of the same root as elaion, which means olive tree and the oil from it. If we look up the Old and New Testament in search of the passages connected with this basic idea, we will find it described in a variety of parables and events which allow us to form a complete idea of the meaning of the word. We find the image of the olive tree in Genesis. After the flood Noah sends birds, one after the other, to find out whether there is any dry land or not, and one of them, a dove - and it is significant that it is a dove - brings back a small twig of olive. This twig conveys to Noah and to all with him in the ark the news that the wrath of God has ceased, that God is now offering man a fresh opportunity. All those who are in the ark will be able to settle again on firm ground and make an attempt to live, and never more perhaps, if they can help it, undergo the wrath of God.
In the New Testament, in the parable of the good Samaritan, olive oil is poured to soothe and to heal. In the anointing of kings and priests in the Old Testament, it is again oil that is poured on the head as an image of the grace of God that comes down and flows on them (Ps I33:2) giving them new power to fulfil what is beyond human capabilities. The king is to stand on the threshold, between the will of men and the will of God, and he is called to lead his people to the fulfilment of God's will; the priest also stands on that threshold, to proclaim the will of God and to do even more: to act for God, to pronounce God's decrees and to apply God's decision.
The oil speaks first of all of the end of the wrath of God, of the peace which God offers to the people who have offended against him; further it speaks of God healing us in order that we should be able to live and become what we are called to be; and as he knows that we are not capable with our own strength of fulfilling either his will or the laws of our own created nature, he pours his grace abundantly on us (Rom 5:20). He gives us power to do what we could not otherwise do.
The words milost and pomiluy in Slavonic have the same root as those which express tenderness, endearing, and when we use the words eleison, 'have mercy on us', pomiluy, we are not just asking God to save us from His wrath - we are asking for love.
If we turn back to the words of the Jesus Prayer, 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner', we see that the first words express with exactness and integrity the gospel faith in Christ, the historical incarnation of the Word of God; and the end of the prayer expresses all the complex rich relationships of love that exist between God and his creatures.
The Jesus Prayer is known to innumerable Orthodox, either as a rule of prayer or in addition to it, as a form of devotion, a short focal point that can be used at any moment, whatever the situation.
Numerous writers have mentioned the physical aspects of the prayer, the breathing exercises, the attention which is paid to the beating of the heart and a number of other minor features. The Philokalia is full of detailed instructions about the prayer of the heart, even with references to the Sufi technique. Ancient and modern Fathers have dealt with the subject, always coming to the same conclusion: never to attempt the physical exercises without strict guidance by a spiritual father.
What is of general use, and God given, is the actual praying, the repetition of the words, without any physical endeavour - not even movements of the tongue - and which can be used systematically to achieve an inner transformation. More than any other prayer, the Jesus Prayer aims at bringing us to stand in God's presence with no other thought but the miracle of our standing there and God with us, because in the use of the Jesus Prayer there is nothing and no one except God and us.
The use of the prayer is dual, it is an act of worship as is every prayer, and on the ascetical level, it is a focus that allows us to keep our attention still in the presence of God.
It is a very companionable prayer, a friendly one, always at hand and very individual in spite of its monotonous repetitions. Whether in joy or in sorrow, it is, when it has become habitual, a quickening of the soul, a response to any call of God. The words of St Symeon, the New Theologian, apply to all its possible effects on us: 'Do not worry about what will come next, you will discover it when it comes'.
from Living Prayer Templegate Publishers Springfield, IL, 1966, p. 84 - 88
Concentration is one thing, distraction another. Prayer will make your thought vital and clear: then it is right. The praying person sees everything around him, notices and observes everything, but the right doing of this comes through prayer, which sheds on all things its piercingly clear light.
The spirit works in the realm of purity within us. As long as we keep extending this realm of independence of heart, our spiritual humanity will continue to grow. ! Prayer will call forth an inner calm, a peaceful relaxation in grief, love, gratitude, humility. If you are, on the contrary, tense and stirred up, in high spirits or in deep despair, if you feel contrition or bitterness or an exaggerated will to action, if you are thrown into ecstatic experiences or a drunkenness of the senses, such as you enjoy when listening to music, if you feel a supreme enjoyment or satisfaction so that you are "content with yourself and the whole world," you are on the wrong road. You have built altogether too much on yourself Sound your retreat and go back to that self-reproach that must always be the starting-point for every true prayer.
The angel of light always brings peace, the peace that the demons of the dark wish at all costs to disturb. By this, say the holy Fathers, one can recognize the evil powers and separate them from the good.
"Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me," to which the words "a sinner" are sometimes added, is a form of devotion of great antiquity in Eastern Christendom. The use of it is widespread among members of the Orthodox Church. More may be read about it in "La m6thode de l'oraison h6sychaste" by J. Hausherr in Orientalia Christiana 9 (2), 1927. What the Jesus Prayer meant to a simple Russian pilgrim in the nineteenth century may be seen in much more popular form in The Way of a Pilgrim, translated by R. M. French (London: S.P.C.K., new edition illustrated, 1954).
Source: The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander, St Vladimirʼs Seminary Press, pp 92-97
Spiritual activity embodies Christ in our soul. This involves continual remembrance of the Lord: you hide Him within, in your soul, your heart, your consciousness. I sleep, but my heart waketh (Song of Solomon 5:2): I myself sleep, withdraw, but the heart stays steadfast in prayer, that is, in eternal life, in the kingdom of Heaven, in Christ. The tree-roots of my being stand fast in their source.
The means of attaining this is the prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat it aloud, or only in thought, slowly, lingeringly, but with attention, and from a heart freed as much as possible from all that is inappropriate to it. Not only worldly interests are inappropriate, but also such things as every kind of expectation or thought of answer, or inner visions, testings, all kinds of romantic dreams, curious questions and imaginings. Simplicity is as inescapable a condition as humility, abstemiousness of body and soul, and in general everything that pertains to the invisible warfare.
Especially should the beginner beware of everything that has the slightest tendency to mysticism. The Jesus Prayer is an activity, a practical work and a means by which you enable yourself to receive and use the power called God's grace-constantly present, however hidden, within the baptized person-in order that it may bear fruit. Prayer fructifies this power in our soul; it has no other purpose. It is a hammer that crushes a shell: a hammer is hard and its stroke hurts. Abandon every thought of pleasantness, rapture, heavenly voices: there is only one way to the kingdom of God, and that is the way of the Cross. And to hang crucified on a tree is horrible torment. Expect nothing else.
You have crucified your body by nailing it fast with a simple and uniform manner of life under strict self-discipline. Your thought-life and imagination ought to be as strictly controlled. Nail them fast with the words of prayer and Holy Scripture, with the reading of Psalms and the works of the holy Fathers, where these things are commanded. Do not permit your imagination to fly about at will. What men call "the flight of thought" is usually an aimless fluttering in the world of illusions. As soon as your thoughts are not occupied in your work's behalf, let them turn again to Prayer. See to it that both imagination and thought are as obedient to you as a well-trained dog.You do not allow it to run around and yap and rummage in garbage palls and bathe in the gutter. Likewise you ought always to be able to call back your thoughts and imagination, and you must do so untold times every passing minute. If you do not do so, you are like a horse driven now by one rider and now by another, says St. Anthony, until, worn out and lathered, it collapses.
Source: The Way of the Ascetics by Tito Colliander, St Vladimirʼs Seminary Press, pp 92-97
Letter to Monks (PG 60, p. 753).
“Let us pause for a moment just to look at a little prayer rope, like this one made of black wool on Mount Athos. It is a blessing from a holy place. Like so much that we have in the Church, it is a blessing prepared and given to us by a brother or father in Christ, a living witness to living tradition. It is black, the color of mourning and sorrow, and this reminds us to be sober and serious in our lives. We are taught that repentant prayer, especially the Jesus Prayer, can bring us what the Holy Fathers call joy-creating sorrow—in Greek “Harmolipi”.”
The Prayer Rope:Meditations of a monk of the Holy Mountain.
So to start with even the colour of the rope has a meaning as it remnids us to take both sin, and the means to defeat it, prayer, very seriously.
" This prayer rope is knotted from wool, that is, it has been sheared from a sheep, a reminder that we are rational sheep of the Good Shepherd, Christ the Lord, and also a reminder of the Lamb of God Who takes away the sins of the world. And the cross likewise speaks to us of this sacrifice and victory of life over death, of humility over pride, of self-sacrifice over selfishness, of light overdarkness."
Everything the Orthodox do is so that they can constantly keep Christ before their hearts and minds. As you use the Jesus Prayer it does precisely that.
that you do not recite it unceasingly…
but constant repetition is not required.
what is required is a constant aliveness to God-
an aliveness that is present when you talk, read, watch
or examine anything.”
St. Theophan the Recluse
THE CORRECT PRACTICE of the Jesus Prayer proceeds naturally from correct notions about God, about the most holy name of the Lord Jesus, and about man's relationship to God.
God is an infinitely great and all-perfect being. God is the Creator and Renewer of men, Sovereign Master over men, angels, demons and all created things, both visible and invisible. Such a notion of God teaches us that we ought to stand prayerfully before Him in deepest reverence and in great fear and dread, directing toward Him all our attention, concentrating in our attention all the powers of the reason, heart, and soul, and rejecting distractions and vain imaginings, whereby we diminish alertness and reverence, and violate the correct manner of standing before God, as required by His majesty (John 4:23-24; Matt. 22:37; Mark 12:29-30; Luke 10:27). St. Isaac the Syrian put it marvelously: "When you turn to God in prayer, be in your thoughts as an ant, as a serpent of the earth, like a worm, like a stuttering child. Do not speak to Him something philosophical or high-sounding, but approach Him with a child's attitude" (Homily 49). Those who have acquired genuine prayer experience an ineffable poverty of the spirit when they stand before the Lord, glorify and praise Him, confess to Him, or present to Him their entreaties. They feel as if they had turned to nothing, as if they did not exist. That is natural. For when he who is in prayer experiences the fullness of the divine presence, of Life Itself, of Life abundant and unfathomable, then his own life strikes him as a tiny drop in comparison to the boundless ocean. That is what the righteous and long-suffering Job felt as he attained the height of spiritual perfection. He felt himself to be dust and ashes; he felt that he was melting and vanishing as does snow when struck by the sun's burning rays (Job 42:6).
The name of our Lord Jesus Christ is a divine name. The power and effect of that name are divine, omnipotent and salvific, and transcend our ability to comprehend it. With faith therefore, with confidence and sincerity, and with great piety and fear ought we to proceed to the doing of the great work which God has entrusted to us: to train ourselves in prayer by using the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. "The incessant invocation of God's name," says Barsanuphius the Great, "is a medicine which mortifies not just the passions, but even their influence. Just as the physician puts medications or dressings on a wound that it might be healed, without the patient even knowing the manner of their operation, so also the name of God, when we invoke it, mortifies all passions, though we do not know how that happens" (421st Answer).
Our ordinary condition, the condition of all mankind, is one of fallenness, of spiritual deception, of perdition. Apprehending—and to the degree that we apprehend, experiencing—that condition, let us cry out from it in prayer, let us cry in spiritual humility, let us cry with wails and sighs, let us cry for clemency! Let us turn away from all spiritual gratifications, let us renounce all lofty states of prayer of which we are unworthy and incapable! It is impossible "to sing the Lord's song in a strange land" (Ps. 136:5), in a heart held captive by passions. Should we hear an invitation to sing, we can know surely that it emanates "from them that have taken us captive" (Ps. 136:3). "By the waters of Babylon" tears alone are possible and necessary (Ps. 136:1).
This is the general rule for practicing the Jesus Prayer, derived from the Sacred Scriptures and the works of the Holy Fathers, and from certain conversations with genuine men of prayer. Of the particular rules, especially for novices, I deem the following worthy of mention.
St. John of the Ladder counsels that the mind should be locked into the words of the prayer and should be forced back each time it departs from it (Step XXVIII, ch. 17). Such a mechanism of prayer is remarkably helpful and suitable. When the mind, in its own manner, acquires attentiveness, then the heart will join it with its own offering—compunction. The heart will empathize with the mind by means of compunction, and the prayer will be said by the mind and heart together. The words of the prayer ought to be said without the feast hurry. even lingering, so that the mind can lock itself into each word. St. John of the Ladder consoles and instructs the coenobitic brethren who busy themselves about monastic obediences and encourages them thus to persevere in prayerful asceticism: "From those monks who are engaged in performing obediences," he writes, "God does not expect a pure and undistracted prayer. Despair not should inattention come over you! Be of cheerful spirit and constantly compel your mind to return to itself! For the angels alone are not subject to any distraction" (Step IV, ch. 93). "Being enslaved by passions, let us persevere in praying to the Lord: for all those who have reached the state of passionlessness did so with the help of such indomitable prayer. If, therefore, you tirelessly train your mind never to stray from the words of the prayer, it will be there even at mealtime. A great champion of perfect prayer has said: 'I had rather speak five words with my understanding ... than ten thousand words in an unknown tongue' (I Cor. 14:19). Such prayer," that is, the grace-given prayer of the mind in the heart, which shuns imaginings, "is not characteristic of children; wherefore we who are like children, being concerned with the perfection of our prayer," that is, the attentiveness which is acquired by locking the mind into the words of the prayer, "must pray a great deal. Quantity is the cause of quality. The Lord gives pure prayer to him who, eschewing laziness, prays much and regularly in his own manner, even if it is marred by inattention" (The Ladder, Step XXVI11, ch. 21).
Novices need more time in order to train themselves in prayer. It is impossible to reach this supreme virtue shortly after entering the monastery or following the first few steps in asceticism. Asceticism needs both time and gradual progress, so that the ascetic can mature for prayer in every respect. In order that a flower might bloom or the fruit grow on a tree, the tree must first be planted and left to develop; thus also does prayer grow out of the soil of other virtues and nowhere else. The monk will not quickly gain mastery of his mind, nor will he in a short time accustom it to abide in the words of the prayer as if enclosed in a prison. Pulled hither and thither by its acquired predilections, impressions, memories and worries, the novice's mind constantly breaks its salvific chains and strays from the narrow to the wide path. It prefers to wander freely, to stroll in the regions of falsehood in association with the fallen spirits, to stray aimlessly and mindlessly over great expanses, though this be damaging to him and cause him great loss. The passions, those moral infirmities of human nature, are the principal cause of inattentiveness and absentmindedness in prayer. The more they are weakened in a man, the less is he distracted in spirit when praying. The passions are brought under control and mortified little by little by means of tn~e obedience, as well as by self-reproach and humility—these are the virtues upon which successful prayer is built. Concentration, which is accessible to man, is granted by God in good time to every struggler in piety and asceticism who by persistence and ardor proves the sincerity of his desire to acquire prayer.
The Russian hieromonk Dorotheus, a great instructor in spiritual asceticism, who was in this respect very much like St. Isaac the Syrian, counsels those who are learning the Jesus Prayer to recite it aloud at first. The vocal prayer, he says, will of itself turn into the mental.
"Mental prayer," he continues, "is the result of much vocal prayer, and mental prayer leads to the prayer of the heart. The Jesus Prayer should not be said in a loud voice but quietly, just audibly enough that you can hear yourself.,' It is particularly beneficial to practice the Jesus Prayer aloud when assailed by distraction, grief, spiritual despondency and laziness. The vocal Jesus Prayer gradually awakens the soul from the deep moral slumber into which grief and spiritual despair are wont to thrust it. It is also particularly beneficial to practice the Jesus Prayer aloud when attacked by images, appetites of the flesh, and anger; when their influence causes the blood to boil. It should be practiced when peace and tranquillity vanish from the heart, and the mind hesitates, becomes weak, and—so to speak—goes into upheaval because of the multitude of unnecessary thoughts and images. The malicious princes of the air, whose presence is hidden to physical sight but who are felt by the soul through their influences upon it, hearing as they mount their attack the name of the Lord Jesus—which they dread—will become undecided and confused, and will take fright and withdraw immediately from the soul. The method of prayer which the hieromonk suggests is very simple and easy. It should be combined with the method of St. John of the Ladder: the Jesus Prayer should be recited loud enough that you can hear yourself, without any hurry, and by locking the mind into the words of the prayer. This last, the hieromonk enjoins upon all who pray by Jesus' name.
The method of prayer propounded by St. John of the Ladder should be adhered to even when one is practicing the method which was explained by the divine St. Nilus of Sora, in the second homily of his monastic constitution. The divine Nilus borrowed his method from the Greek Fathers, Symeon the New Theologian and Gregory of Sinai, and simplified it somewhat. Here is what St. Nilus says: "Experience will soon confirm as correct and very beneficial for mental concentration the recommendation of these holy fathers regarding restraint in breathing, i.e. that one should not breathe with great frequency." Some, without understanding this method, exaggerate its importance and restrain their breath beyond reasonable measure, thereby injuring their lungs and at the same time inflicting harm upon their souls by assenting to such a mistake. All impulsive and extreme actions are but obstacles to success in prayer, which develops only when nurtured by the tranquil, quiet and pious disposition of both soul and body. "Whatever is immoderate comes from the demons," says St. Pimen the Great.
The novice who is studying the Jesus Prayer will advance greatly by observing a daily rule comprising a certain number of full prostrations and bows from the waist, depending upon the strength of each individual. These are all to be performed without any hurry, with a repentant feeling in the soul and with the Jesus Prayer on the lips during each prostration. An example of such prayer may be seen in the "Homily on Faith" by St. Symeon the New Theologian. Describing the daily evening prayers of the blessed youth George, St. Symeon says: "He imagined that he was standing before the Lord Himself and prostrating himself before His holy feet, and he tearfully implored the Lord to have mercy upon him. While praying, he stood motionless like a pillar and bade his feet and the other parts of his body to stay still, especially the eyes, which were restrained from moving curiously in all directions. He stood with great fear and trepidation and denied himself sleep, despondency and laziness." Twelve prostrations suffice in the beginning. Depending upon one's strength, ability and circumstances, that number can be constantly increased. But when the number of prostrations increases, one should be careful to preserve the quality of one's prayer, so that one not be carried away by a preoccupation with the physical into fruitless, and even harmful, quantity. The bows warm up the body and somewhat exhaust it, and this condition facilitates attention and compunction. But let us be watchful, very watchful, lest the state pass into a bodily preoccupation which is foreign to spiritual sentiments and recalls our fallen nature! Quantity, useful as it is when accompanied by the proper frame of mind and the proper objective, can be just as harmful when it leads to a preoccupation with the physical. The latter is recognized by its fruits which also distinguish it from spiritual ardor. The fruits of physical preoccupation are conceit, self-assurance, intellectual arrogance: in a word, pride in its various forms, all of which are easy prey to spiritual deception. The fruits of spiritual ardor are repentance, humility, weeping and tears. The rule of prostrations is best observed before going to sleep: then, after the cares of the day have passed, it can be practiced longer and with greater concentration. But in the morning and during the day it is also useful, especially for the young' to practice prostrations moderately—from twelve to twenty bows. Prostrations stimulate a prayerful state of the mind and mortify the body as well as support and strengthen fervor in prayer.
These suggestions are, I believe, sufficient for the beginner who is eager to acquire the Jesus Prayer. "Prayer," said the divine St. Meletius the Confessor, "needs no teacher. It requires diligence, effort and personal ardor, and then God will be its teacher." The Holy Fathers, who have written many works on prayer in order to impart correct notions and faithful guidance to those desiring to practice it, propose and decree that one must engage in it actively in order to gain experiential knowledge, without which verbal instruction, though derived from experience, is dead, opaque, incomprehensible and totally inadequate. Conversely, he who is carefully practicing prayer and who is already advanced in it, should refer often to the writings of the Holy Fathers about prayer in order to check and properly direct himself, remembering that even the great Paul, though possessing the highest of all testimonies for his Gospel—that of the Holy Spirit—nevertheless went to Jerusalem where he communicated to the apostles who had gathered there the Gospel that he preached to the gentiles, "lest by any means," as he said, "I should run, or had run, in vain " (Gal. 2:2).
by St. Ignaty Brianchaninov translated by Stephen Karganovic from The Alphabet of Orthodox Life, Belgrade, 1974. This appeared in Orthodox Life, vol. 28, no. 5, Sept.-Oct. 1978, pp. 9-14.