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Islamic influence upon monastic praxis?

monasticism islam meyendorff palamas

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#1 Paul C

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Posted 28 March 2015 - 11:12 PM

Greetings in Christ!

 

I have been reading some works by and about St. Gregory Palamas during this Great Lent, and in "St. Gregory Palamas and Orthodox Spirituality" by Fr. John Meyendorff (St. Vladimir's Seminary Press, 1974) the author in multiple instances implies that some part or parts of Eastern Orthodox monastic practice developed out of interaction with Muslims. 

 

Frustratingly, he does not explain these influences, only alludes to them.  For instance, in discussing pilgrimages by Athonite monks to the Holy Land, Fr. John writes: "The monks were even affected by certain spiritual trends in Islam; the chief evidence of this spiritual osmosis, which was largely the work of popular monasticism, is...the psycho-physical method of prayer." (p. 83). 

 

What could this influence be referring to?  And what historical evidence do we have that the influences went from Islam to Christianity, and not from Christianity to Islam?  The other times Fr. John mentions the connection is in relationship to the similarity between the Prayer of the Heart and the Islamic practice of Dhikr, or repetitive prayer for the remembrance of God.  I thought I had learned previously in my studies that Sufism developed out of Islamic contact with Christian monastic spirituality,  but Fr. John seems to be saying the reverse...



#2 Kosta

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Posted 29 March 2015 - 07:51 AM

Within Islam there is contraversy as to the origins of Sufism. Muslim sufi Practitioners believe its purely islamic while the rest believe its influence of various mystical practise from the various sects in the 8-9th centuries including the zoroastrians.

What does the author really mean by, 'which was largely the work of popular monasticism'. Islam did come into contact with lots of christian monasticism, from the Assyrian, OO traditions, and EO (Mar Saba and St Katherine in the Sinai, etc) Mt Athos really took off in the 10th century, the same century sufism was considered at its golden age. It would be more accurate to understand what may have been taking place in Palestine during those years. Sebastian Brock's book on the Sabaite heritage, he mentions correspondence between the church of the East with Mar Saba and cordial relations, the assyrians even had a couple of convents. In other words there was alot of asceticm going on in Jerusalem by everyone, seems the author is oversimplifying things.

Edited by Kosta, 29 March 2015 - 07:53 AM.


#3 Paul C

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Posted 30 March 2015 - 03:40 AM

I cannot quite tell what Fr. John means by "popular monasticism."  He briefly mentions, all together, (neo)Platonist, Buddhist, and Zoroastrian presence in the regions that both Christianity and Islam spread to, but only in passing.  He more fully describes the state of Christian monastic communities before they came under the authority of bishops, and the lasting influence of Evagrius Ponticus, whose popular spirituality sometimes seemed to be devoid of Christ altogether.  In contrast, by St. Gregory Palamas' time, Christian monastic spirituality had largely dropped the Platonism of Evagrius, and the most common monastic "praxis" was the Prayer of the Heart, of the Jesus Prayer. 

 

Fr. John's implications seems to be that the "structure" of the Prayer of the Heart was derived from similar practices within Islam (dhikr).  It is simply surprising to me that a theological figure as influential as Fr. John would make that claim. 

 

Personally, I have sometimes wondered about the practice of prostrations and the chanting style of Eastern Christianity, both of which seem very similar to those within Islam.  Was the influence more from Christianity to Islam, or from Islam to Christianity, and what evidence do we have for the direction?

 

The obvious evidence for influence from Christianity to Islam would be the fact that Christianity existed long before Islam, though it could be the case that certain practices emerged only after contact with Islam.  There is also, of course, the issue of Ottoman influence upon clerical vestments.  Byzantine Christianity did, after all, exist for a long period of time under Islamic rule (and that continues to this day for many areas). 



#4 Kosta

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Posted 30 March 2015 - 06:03 AM

Most of the people who constitute muslims today from Egypt, Turkey, Syria, Palestine were all christians who converted to avoid paying taxes and such. For example only in Saudi Arabia (Mecca and Medina) are the ancient mosques without domes. This is because all the mosques were either influenced by christianity, built by actual christians or were converted churches. In the first century of Islam in Jerusalem for example there were no forced conversions unless the person identified as an arab. Hence greek still remained the official language of palestine till sometime after 700 ad,  St John of Damascus still was allowed to be christian and even work for the muslim authorities and even crticise Islam in his wiritings (not withstanding the modern false assumption that he was an arab) . The majority is and was christian influence on islam. 


Edited by Kosta, 30 March 2015 - 06:05 AM.


#5 Kosta

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Posted 30 March 2015 - 06:45 AM

In an article written by Alexander Roman on the history of christian prayer beads he writes the following:

 

In the East, monks of the Desert developed intense, personal prayer lives where they repeated short prayers to God throughout the day in response to the Gospel injunction to "pray always." St John Cassian notes in his "Conferences" that the monks of the Thebaid repeated the first part of the 69th Psalm: "O God come to my assistance; O Lord make haste to help me!" throughout the day and always

 

Finding some of St Cassians 'Confessions' on the net I found the following:

 

And as this was delivered to us by a few of those who were left of the oldest fathers, so it is only divulged by us to a very few and to those who are really keen. And so for keeping up continual recollection of God this pious formula is to be ever set before you. "O God, make speed to save me: O Lord, make haste to help me, for this verse has not unreasonably been picked out from the whole of Scripture for this purpose. For it embraces all the feelings which can be implanted in human nature, and can be fitly and satisfactorily adapted to every condition, and all assaults.....

 We must then ceaselessly and continuously pour forth the prayer of this verse, in adversity that we may be delivered, in prosperity that we may be preserved and not puffed up. Let the thought of this verse, I tell you, be conned over in your breast without ceasing. Whatever work you are doing, or office you are holding, or journey you are going, do not cease to chant this. When you are going to bed, or eating, and in the last necessities of nature, think on this. This thought in your heart may be to you a saving formula, and not only keep you unharmed by all attacks of devils, but also purify you from all faults and earthly stains, and lead you to that invisible and celestial contemplation, and carry you on to that ineffable glow of prayer, of which so few have any experience. Let sleep come upon you still considering this verse, till having been moulded by the constant use of it, you grow accustomed to repeat it even in your sleep. When you wake let it be the first thing to come into your mind, let it anticipate all your waking thoughts, let it when you rise from your bed send you down on your knees, and thence send you forth to all your work and business, and let it follow you about all day long. (Conference 10, Ch 10) 

 

 

THIS prayer then (Lord's prayer) though it seems to contain all the fulness of perfection, as being what was originated and appointed by the Lord's own authority, yet lifts those to whom it belongs to that still higher condition of which we spoke above, and carries them on by a loftier stage to that ardent prayer which is known and tried by but very few, and which to speak more truly is ineffable; which transcends all human thoughts, and is distinguished, I will not say by any sound of the voice, but by no movement of the tongue, or utterance of words, but which the mind enlightened by the infusion of that heavenly light describes in no human and confined language, but pours forth richly as from copious fountain in an accumulation of thoughts, and ineffably utters to God, expressing in the shortest possible space of time such great things that the mind when it returns to its usual condition cannot easily utter or relate. And this condition our Lord also similarly prefigured by the form of those supplications which, when he retired alone in the mountain He is said to have poured forth in silence, and when being in an agony of prayer He shed forth even drops of blood, as an example of a purpose which it is hard to imitate. (Conference 9 ch25)

 

 

 BEFORE all things however we ought most carefully to observe the Evangelic precept, which tells us to enter into our chamber and shut the door and pray to our Father, which may be fulfilled by us as follows: We pray within our chamber, when removing our hearts inwardly from the din of all thoughts and anxieties, we disclose our prayers in secret and in closest intercourse to the Lord. We pray with closed doors when with closed lips and complete silence we pray to the searcher not of words but of hearts. We pray in secret when from the heart and fervent mind we disclose our petitions to God alone, so that no hostile powers are even able to discover the character of our petition. Wherefore we should pray in complete silence, not only to avoid distracting the brethren standing near by our whispers or louder utterances, and disturbing the thoughts of those who are praying, but also that the purport of our petition may be concealed from our enemies who are especially on the watch against us while we are praying. For so we shall fulfil this injunction: "Keep the doors of thy mouth from her who sleepeth in thy bosom. (Con 9 ch 35)


Edited by Kosta, 30 March 2015 - 06:46 AM.


#6 Paul C

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Posted 31 March 2015 - 10:31 PM

Thanks Kosta!  That passage from St. John is invaluable!







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