Tuesday, 31 July 2012

The Jesus Prayer 1 - Fr. Lev Gillet

The following posts incorporate the classic treatise on the Jesus Prayer written by Fr. Lev Gillet, also known through many of his writings as "A Monk of the Eastern Church". It covers 12 posts.

1. THE SHAPE OF THE INVOCATION OF THE NAME

". . . And Jacob asked him and said: Tell me, I pray thee, thy name. And he said: Wherefore is it that thou dost ask after my name? And he blessed him there." Genesis 32:29 

The invocation of the Name of Jesus can be put into many frames. It is for each person to find the form which is the most appropriate to his or her own prayer. But, whatever formula may be used, the heart and centre of the invocation must be the Holy Name itself, the word Jesus. There resides the whole strength of the invocation.

The Name of Jesus may either be used alone or be inserted in a more or less developed phrase. In the East the commonest form is: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner." One might simply say: "Jesus Christ", or "Lord Jesus". The invocation may even be reduced to one single word "Jesus".

This last form--the Name of Jesus only--is that most ancient mould of the invocation of the Name. It is the shortest, the simplest and, as we think, the easiest. Therefore, without depreciating the other formulas, we suggest that the word "Jesus" alone should be used.

Thus, when we speak of the invocation of the Name, we mean the devout and frequent repetition of the Name itself, of the word "Jesus" without additions. The Holy Name is the prayer.

The Name of Jesus may be either pronounced or silently thought. In both cases there is a real invocation of the Name, verbal in the first case, and purely mental in the second. This prayer affords an easy transition from verbal to mental prayer. Even the verbal repetition of the Name, if it is slow and thoughtful, makes us pass to mental prayer and disposes the soul to contemplation.

Authentic Prayer


"Authentic prayer - the warmth that accompanies the Jesus Prayer, for it is Jesus who enkindles fire on the earth of our hearts (Luke 12:49) - consumes the passions like thorns and fills the soul with delight and joyful ness. Such prayer comes neither from right nor left, nor from above, but wells up in the heart like a spring of water from the life-quickening Spirit. It is this prayer alone that you should aspire to realise and possess in your heart, always keeping your intellect free from images, concepts and thoughts. And do not be afraid, for he who says, "Take heart; it is I, be not afraid" (Matthew 14:27), is with us - he whom we seek and who protects us always. When we invoke God we must be neither timid nor hesitant."
St. Gregory of Sinai: On Prayer

Gregory reminds us that the Jesus Prayer should be imageless. Also, he says, don't be timid in your praying for we have received the Spirit of God making us children of God  (see Romans 8:14-16)

Monday, 30 July 2012

More on the Jesus Prayer


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."

Endless growth
"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.
Fr. Steven Peter Tsichlis



Humility, constancy and the Name


"A certain God-given equilibrium is produced in our intellect through the constant remembrance and invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ, provided that we do not neglect this constant spiritual entreaty or our close watchfulness and diligence.

Indeed, our true task is always the same and is always accomplished in the same way: to call upon our Lord Jesus Christ with a burning heart so that His holy name intercedes for us.

In virtue as in vice, constancy is the mother of habit; once acquired, it rules us like nature.

When the intellect is in such a state of equilibrium, it searches out its enemies like a hound searching for a hare in a thicket. But the hound searches in order to get food, the intellect in order to destroy.

Whenever we are filled with evil thoughts, we should throw the invocation of our Lord Jesus Christ into their midst. Then, as experience has taught us, we shall see them instantly dispersed like smoke in the air.

Once the intellect is left to itself again, we can renew our constant attentiveness and our invocation. Whenever we are distracted, we should act in this way.

Just as it is impossible to fight battles without weapons, or to swim a great sea with clothes on, or to live without breathing, so without humility and the constant prayer to Christ it is impossible to master the art of inward spiritual warfare or to set about it and pursue it skillfully.

That great spiritual master David said to the Lord: “I shall preserve my strength through Thee” (cf. Ps.59:9 LXX). So the strength of the heart’s stillness, mother of all the virtues, is preserved in us through our being helped by the Lord.

For He has given us the commandments, and when we call upon Him constantly He expels from us that foul forgetfulness which destroys the heart’s stillness as water destroys fire.

Therefore… do not “sleep unto death” (Ps. 13:3. LXX) because of your negligence; but lash the enemy with the name of Jesus and, as a certain wise man has said, let the name of Jesus adhere to your breath, and then you will know the blessings of stillness.

Hesychios the Priest (?6th-9th century): On Watchfulness and Holiness

Watchfulness


"Watchfulness is a spiritual method which, if sedulously practiced over a long period, completely frees us, with God’s help, from impassioned thoughts, impassioned words and evil actions.

It leads, in so far as this is possible, to a sure knowledge of the inapprehensible God, and helps us to penetrate the divine and hidden mysteries.

It enables us to fulfill every divine commandment in the Old and New Testaments and bestows upon us every blessing of the age to come.

It is, in the true sense, purity of heart, a state blessed by Christ when He says: ’Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God’(Matt. 5:8);

....The great lawgiver Moses – or, rather, the Holy Spirit – indicates the pure, comprehensive and ennobling character of this virtue, and teaches us how to acquire and perfect it, when he says:  ‘Be attentive to yourself, lest there arise in your heart a secret thing which is an iniquity’ (Deut.15:9 [LXX]).

Here the phrase ‘a secret thing’ refers to the first appearance of an evil thought.

This the Fathers call a provocation introduced into the heart by the devil.

As soon as this thought appears in our intellect, our own thoughts chase after it and enter  into impassioned intercourse with it.

Watchfulness is a way embracing every virtue, every commandment.

It is the heart’s stillness and, when free from mental images, it is the guarding of the intellect.

Just as a man blind from birth does not see the sun’s light, so one who fails to pursue watchfulness does not see the rich radiance of divine grace.

....Attentiveness is the heart’s stillness, unbroken by any thought. In this stillness the heart breathes and invokes, endlessly and without ceasing, only Jesus Christ who is the Son of God and Himself God.

It confesses Him who alone has power to forgive our sins, and with His aid it courageously faces its enemies.

Through this invocation enfolded continually in Christ, who secretly divines all hearts, the soul does everything it can to keep its sweetness and its inner struggle hidden from men, so that the devil, coming upon it surreptitiously, does not lead it into evil and destroy its precious work.

Watchfulness is a continual fixing and. halting of thought at the entrance to the heart.

In this way predatory and murderous thoughts are marked down as they approach and what they say and do is noted; and we can see in what specious and delusive form the demons are trying to deceive the intellect.

If we are conscientious in this, we can gain much experience and knowledge of spiritual warfare."

Hesychios the Priest (?6th-9th century): On Watchfulness and Holiness 

Saying the Prayer

"Some of the fathers advise us to say the whole prayer, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy," while others specify that we say it in two parts - "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy," and then "Son of God, help me" - because this is easier, given the immaturity and feebleness of our intellect. For no one on his own account and without the help of the Spirit can mystically invoke the Lord Jesus, for this can be done with purity and in its fullness only with the help of the Holy Spirit (1 Corinthians 12:3). Like children who can still speak only falteringly, we are unable by ourselves to articulate the properly. Yet we must not out of laziness frequently change the words of the invocation, but only do this rarely, so as to ensure continuity.

Again some fathers teach that the prayer should be said aloud, others that it should be said silently with the intellect. On the basis of my personal experience, I recommend both ways. For at times the intellect grows listless and cannot repeat the prayer, while at other times the same thing happens to the voice. Thus we should pray both vocally and in the intellect. But when we pray vocally we should speak quietly and calmly and not loudly, so that the voice does not disturb and hinder the intellect's consciousness and concentration. This is always a danger until the intellect grows accustomed to its work, makes progress, and receives power from the Spirit to pray firmly and with complete attention. Then there will be no need to pray aloud - indeed, it will be impossible, for we shall be content to carry out the whole work with the intellect alone."
St. Gregory of Sinai: On Prayer

The presence of Christ

"In the presence of Christ you will feel the Holy Spirit spring up within your soul. It is the Spirit who initiates man's intellect, so that it can see with "unveiled face" (2 Corinthians 3:18). For "No on can say 'Lord Jesus' except in the Holy Spirit" (1 Corinthians 12:3). In other words, it is the Spirit who mystically confirms Christ's presence in us."
St. Hesychios the Priest: On watchfulness and holiness