Thursday, 10 July 2014

The Jesus Prayer - Inward technique (St. Gregory of Sinai)

The following is an extract from an article by Metropolitan Kallistos of Diokleia who examines the teachings of St Gregory of Sinai (1255-1346) on the Jesus Prayer. In this excerpt he looks at the inward technique: uninterrupted and imageless Prayer

"So far as the inward (rather than the physical) technique of the Jesus Prayer is concerned, St Gregory of Sinai insists on two things: first, that the invocation shall be so far as possible continuous; secondly, that it shall be free from images. The first point is so much taken for granted by Gregory that it is nowhere discussed at length. When referring to the invocation of the Lord Jesus, as a matter of course he adds the adjective ‘continual’. This ceaseless invocation, so he teaches, some­times takes the form of an oral prayer, framed outwardly by the lips; at other times it is recited by the mind alone.

Great emphasis is placed upon the second point. ‘Always keep your mind free from colours, images and forms’, he urges. Our aim in prayer should be simply and solely to obtain ‘activity of the heart . . . altogether free from images and forms’; we must not imagine any ‘shape or impres­sion, even of supposedly holy things’. He issues a severe warning against the human imagination or phantasia: he who prays must beware lest he become a phantastes instead of a hesychastes! Taking up a phrase of St John Climacus, Gregory observes, ‘Hesychia is the laying aside of thoughts’.

All this was standard teaching in the Christian East long before St Gregory of Sinai. According to St Diadochus of Photice (5th century), the invocation of the Name of Jesus or ‘memory of God’ – for Diadochus as for Gregory of Sinai, the two phrases mean the same thing – has as its object to close the ‘outlets’ of the mind and to cut off the phantasiai, thus recalling the mind to the true vision of itself. Hesychius of Vatos (?9th-10th century) is particularly emphatic about the need for the Jesus Prayer to be free from thoughts and imaginations: above all else, it is a way of keeping guard over the mind.

The Jesus Prayer, in other words, is not a form of meditation on specific incidents in the life of our Lord. Rather, it is a method for con­trolling thoughts, for concentrating the attention and guarding the mind; more precisely, it is a way of containing the mind within the heart. Under normal conditions, a man’s attention is scattered and dispersed over a multiplicity of external objects. In order that he may acquire true prayer of the heart, his mind must be unified. It must be brought from frag­mentation to singleness, from plurality to simplicity and nakedness; and so it will be enabled to enter and dwell within the heart. Such is the aim of the Jesus Prayer: ‘By the memory of Jesus Christ’, as Philotheus of Sinai (?9th-10th century) puts it, ‘gather together your mind that is scattered abroad.’ That is why the Jesus Prayer must be at once uninterrupted and imageless; only so can it fulfil effectively this task of unification.

Gregory of Sinai develops this line of thought with particular reference to the Fall. The memory of man was originally single and unitary, but as a result of Adam’s sin it has suffered division and disintegration. Through the ‘memory of God’ and the invocation of the Name, our memory is enabled to return once more to its primal wholeness.

Gregory’s understanding of the Jesus Prayer as an invocation free from images is well expressed by a Russian spiritual writer of the 19th century, Bishop Theophan the Recluse:

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. . . . 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.
See the article here: http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2588738.html 

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