Wednesday, 30 July 2014

When you pray

"When you pray, the Lord will give you according to your heart. If you pray with faith, sincerely, with all your heart, not hypocritically, the Lord will reward you accordingly. And on the other hand, the colder your heart, the more doubting and hypocritical, the more useless will be your prayer  - and more: so much the more will it insult the Lord, who seeks to be worshipped 'in spirit and truth'" (John 4:23)
John of Kronstadt.

Tuesday, 29 July 2014

Have mercy?

As an Evangelical Christian exploring Orthodoxy (and the Jesus Prayer) I have struggled from time to time with that part of the Jesus Prayer which asks God for mercy. This is because it seems to cast doubt on the mercy offered to us through Christ and his death on the cross in respect of our sins. Why ask for mercy - and therefore forgiveness - when I have already received that through Christ by virtue of his death (and resurrection)? Isn't asking for mercy negating of denying that in some way?

Frederica Mathewes-Green answers this question beautifully in her book on the Jesus Prayer. She points to the story of the Good Samaritan and his compassion for the man who was robbed, beaten and left for dead. We are that helpless man calling for healing of the wounds and damage that the infection of sin has caused us. In her words:

"We are not trying to get off the hook for a crime, but recognising how the infection of sin has damaged us. Revealing all the extent of our illness to the heavenly physician, we seek his compassionate healing." (The Jesus Prayer page 80)

Here, perhaps, is where evangelicals and Orthodox differ. An evangelical believes that "once saved always saved" as if to say that covers everything! That is, once I have believed Christ for my salvation, received his grace through faith, then I am saved and it will only be matter of time before I die and enter heaven. Meanwhile although I am to battle against sin through daily disciplines of prayer, bible study etc. I am already saved and healed. But it seems to me - and I am ready to be corrected - that although the Orthodox would accept the first part - what Christ has done for us - they would add that salvation still needs to be "worked out", (or worked through) using St. Paul's phrase. Sin is still a present reality both inside and outside our lives. So there is still some saving to do and for that we need the help and mercy of God on a daily basis. Which is perhaps what St. Paul is in about at the end of Romans 7. "Who will deliver (heal) me? Thanks be to God through Jesus Christ." Through Jesus and according to his mercy.

Thursday, 24 July 2014

Pray with the heart

The danger with the Jesus Prayer, as with all prayer, is praying without heart. Here is what John of Kronstadt says about it:

"When you pray, the Lord will give you according to your heart. If you pray with faith, sincerely, with all your heart, not hypocritically, the Lord will reward you accordingly. And on the other hand, the colder your heart, the more doubting and hypocritical, the more useless will be your prayer  - and more: so much the more will it insult the Lord, who seeks to be worshipped 'in spirit and truth'" (John 4:23)

Monday, 21 July 2014

Prayer before starting the Jesus Prayer

In his fine book "On the Prayer of Jesus" Ignatius Brianchaninov offers the following prayer for those who want to start praying the Jesus Prayer:

"O Giver of a priceless, incorruptible gift! How can we sinful mortals receive the gift? Neither our hands, nor our mind, nor our heart are capable of receiving it. Do Thou teach us to know, as far as we are able, the greatness of the gift, and its significance, and the ways of receiving it, and the ways of using it, that we may not approach the gift in a sinful manner, that we may not be punished for indiscretion and audacity, but that for the right understanding and use of the gift, we may receive from Thee other gifts, promised by Thee, known only to Thee."
"On the Prayer of Jesus" page 19

Saturday, 19 July 2014

More on constant repetition

"As you form the habit of saying (the Jesus Prayer) in the back of your mind all the time, it soaks into you, like dye into cotton, and colours the way you encounter every person and circumstance you meet.

There's the answer to the question I had a while back: how can you think about the words of the Prayer all the time, when there are so many other things you have to think about? In the same way you can have a meal, go on a trip, or visit a museum with a friend. You could do all those things alone, but of you take a friend with you, it won't hinder your enjoyment. You may even more out of it, because your friend's presence enhances your awareness, and you see things through his eyes as well. When you see everything alongside that best of friends, Jesus Christ, your encounters with the world and everyone and everything in it are transformed."
Frederica Mathewes-Green: The Jesus Prayer page 15

Pseudo-Chrysostom on constant prayer

"I implore you, brethren, never to abandon the rule of prayer or neglect it…Eating and drinking, at home or on a journey, or whatever else he does, a monk should constantly call: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.’ This remembering of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ should incite him to do battle with the enemy. By this remembrance a soul, forcing itself to this practice, can discover everything which is within, both good and bad…The name of our Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of the heart, will subdue the serpent holding sway over the pastures of the heart and will bring the soul to life. Thus abide constantly with the name of our Lord so that the heart ‘swallows’ the Lord and the Lord the heart and the two become one. But this work is not done in one or two days; it needs many years and a long time. For great and prolonged labour is needed to cast out the foe so that Christ dwells in us.”
Pseudo-Chrysostom quoted in "Prayer of the heart": George Maloney

The accessibility of the Jesus Prayer

One of the things that tended to discolour my earlier views of the Jesus Prayer was the misunderstanding that it was only for the Saint or the monastic. Even if taken up by a lay person it was only a certain type of very committed or spiritually gifted individual. How wrong I was (and am). Fortunately a brief correspondence with Frederica Mathewes-Green sorted me out, followed by - as often happens with God - confirmation from another source, namely The Way of the Pilgrim. Here is the extract and a short introduction by George Maloney, S.J. in his excellent book "Prayer of the heart":

"Here is a spirituality open to the most ordinary person who would discipline himself to enter into his "heart" and there experience the inner light of the indwelling Jesus. The Pilgrim tells his readers:

"And that can be done by anyone. It costs nothing but the effort to sink down in silence into the depths of one's heart and call more and more upon the radiant Name of Jesus. Everyone who does that feels at once the inward light, everything becomes understandable to him, he even catches sight in this light of some of the mysteries of the Kingdom of God. And what depth and light there is in the mystery of a man coming to know he has this power to plumb the depths of his own being, to see himself from within, to find delight in self-knowledge, to take pity on himself and shed tears of gladness over his fall and his spoiled will."
"Prayer of the heart" page 32. 

Thursday, 10 July 2014

Effects of the Jesus Prayer

Tears, or feeling tearful, seem to be the norm at the moment whenever I say the Jesus Prayer. As I have written before they don't seem to be connected with any feeling of sorrow for sin but just the cry for mercy which comes as part of the prayer. Here is Kallistos Ware from the same previous article on St. Gregory of Sinai talking about the "Effects of the Jesus Prayer: Joyful Sorrow, Warmth and Light."

While excluding thoughts and images from the practice of the Jesus Prayer, St Gregory of Sinai has much to say about the feelings which should accompany the invocation of the Name. There is a strongly ‘affective’ tone about all that he writes. In his eyes, the Jesus Prayer is not a magical incantation, a verbal equivalent of the Tibetan prayer wheel, but a supplication to be offered with full intensity of feeling, with vivid love and personal affection for the Saviour. The feelings of which Gregory speaks are at once joyful and penitential, confident yet hesitant: a con­junction that he sums up in the composite term χαρμολύπη, ‘joyful grief’ borrowed from Climacus.The saying of the Jesus Prayer leads, he writes, to ‘an exultation filled with trembling’, to ‘mingled joy and fear’: 'the soul rejoices because of the visitation and the mercy of God, but it fears and trembles at his coming, for it is guilty of many sins.’ Such is the double effect of the invocation.

As this last quotation from Gregory makes plain, from one point of view the Jesus Prayer is a cry for forgiveness, an expression of mourning (penthos) and compunction (katanyxis): ‘Lord Jesus Christ . . . have mercy on me’. This penitential aspect of the invocation of the Name is heavily underlined in the Life of Gregory by Patriarch Kallistos:

Gathering all his perceptions inwardly within himself, exerting to the utmost his mind together with his spirit, fixing and binding it fast and in a word nailing it to the Cross of Christ, with frequent repetition he said in prayer, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner’, with his soul full of anguish, with groanings and a broken heart; and he made the ground wet with the warm tears that flowed in abundance from his eyes.

The particular form in which the Prayer is here given, ‘. . . a sinner’, naturally gives special emphasis to this penitential aspect. The Prayer is linked directly with Christ crucified - ‘. . . nailing his mind to the Cross of Christ . . .’– and it is closely associated with the gift of tears.
See the article here: http://www.bogoslov.ru/en/text/2588738.html 

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 

The aim of the Jesus Prayer

“The aim of the Jesus Prayer, as of all Christian prayer, is that our praying should become increasingly identified with the prayer offered by Jesus the High Priest within us, that our life should become one with his life, our breathing with the Divine Breath that sustains the universe. The final objective may aptly be described by the Patristic term theosis, ‘deification’ or ‘divinization’.... ‘The Logos became man,’ says St Athanasius, ‘that we might become god’.... The more the Prayer becomes a part of ourselves, the more we enter into the movement of love which passes unceasingly between the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit.”
Kallistos Ware: The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality, (Oxford: SLG Press, 1987), p.25.