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Using a prayer rope


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#21 Father David Moser

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 11:34 PM

Phoebe,

Since prayer rules should be tailored to the person, it would be best if you asked your catechist how he expects you to use it, since he gave it to you.

Fr David

#22 Herman G.

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Posted 07 August 2012 - 11:47 PM

May I add that the practice of the Jesus Prayer should not be done without a blessing. According to Elder Sophrony it is not for everyone.


Do you have the source for this? I'd be interested in reading why it isn't for everyone. Perhaps you could summarize Elder Sophrony?

#23 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 06:04 PM

The source is a conversation I had with Archimandrite Zacharias. Some years ago, I was talking with Fr Zacharias about the Jesus Prayer. He told me that once, many years before, he was instructing a young nun in the practice of the Jesus Prayer, and Elder Sophrony heard him doing so. He took Fr Zacharias aside and said, ’what do you think you are doing teaching that girl these things? This is not for her!’ Fr Zacharias replied, ‘but how then will be she be saved?’ Elder Sophrony replied, ‘she will be saved by humbly doing her work, her obedience.’

My wife has never been given a blessing by her spiritual father in Russia to practice the Jesus Prayer and so, of course, she does not. Her obedience is to follow a daily routine which he devised for her of prayer and scripture reading.

#24 Herman G.

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 06:24 PM

So why would it be for some and not others? Do they fear that some might be too legalistic with it?

#25 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 06:48 PM

The Jesus Prayer is powerful and if its power is not understood, there may be dire consequences. In some writings of Elder Sophrony which are still only available in Russian, he tells how a priest he knew wanted to practice the Jesus Prayer and Fr Sophrony withheld his blessing. In short, after rising high in the Church, this man lost his faith and suffered greatly for many years. Shortly before his end, he came to the monastery here to repent before Fr Sophrony and, thankfully, reposed in peace.

My wife's spiritual father withheld his blessing to practice this prayer because he said that unless a person is deeply immersed in the spiritual and mystical tradition of the Church and is able to recognise the more subtle but strong temptations and delusion (прелесть) which can assault a person practising the prayer, he should not use it, and even with a blessing, only practise it under an elder's supervision. What my wife's spiritual father did recommend for her and for anyone, is the frequent saying of the prayer to the All-Holy Mother of God: Mother of God and Virgin rejoice the Lord is with thee . . .

There is a false assumption, amongst the faithful and their guides, not only in the west but even these days in Russia, that because books are available, they can be taken up and their contents followed. This is not in the spiritual tradition of the Church. As Elder Sophrony says, 'do not learn from books how to pray'.

Edited by Andreas Moran, 08 August 2012 - 07:13 PM.


#26 Father David Moser

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 08:09 PM

So why would it be for some and not others? Do they fear that some might be too legalistic with it?


There is a false assumption, amongst the faithful and their guides, not only in the west but even these days in Russia, that because books are available, they can be taken up and their contents followed. This is not in the spiritual tradition of the Church. As Elder Sophrony says, 'do not learn from books how to pray'.


There is also a false assumption among many Christians that just because we are Christians, just because we are pious, just because we pray, just because we believe, that we are somehow immune from demonic assault and even if such an assault would come, that we are impervious to falling. Nothing could be further from the truth - in fact the truth is somewhat the opposite. When we endeavor to take up a spiritual discipline, such as the practice of the Jesus prayer, we first have to prepare ourselves for we will be attacked ruthlessly from every angle by the demons attempting to turn our pride against us. They will find the the smallest weakness, the tiniest imperfection and pick at it and twist it and pry at it until it becomes a weapon in their hands.

We just had a visit from the Myrrh-streaming Hawaii Iviron Mother of God. One would think that the presence of such a font of the grace of God would bestow some kind of invulnerability to demonic assault, and yet the guardian of the icon tells how time and time again he and his family are attacked by demons (physically, emotionally, spiritually) for no other reason than that they have this icon in their home and strive to live in a manner worthy of such grace. Great spiritual power from God is accompanied by an increased attack by demons. Read the life of St Anthony the Great - when he undertook to live in seclusion devoting his life to prayer he was attacked and physically beaten by demons in the night and they left him battered and bruised and nearly dead each morning. Such is their hatred of holy things and of those who undertake to become holy. There is no guarantee that any of us will not face such a fierce attack when we begin to live a holy life.

It is not good to undertake some spiritual disciplines until such a time as we are ready - and even then we should do so with great trepidation. Our greatest flaw which is the one thing that the demons will always grasp at is our pride, for from our pride flows a multitude of other passions and temptations. Thus if is necessary, before undertaking a spiritual discipline such as the Jesus Prayer that one must first undertake to acquire humility - for that is the only antidote of pride. The fastest, most effective means of acquiring humility is to live your life in obedience - to the tradition of the Church, to the direction of your spiritual father, to the word of a more experienced elder brother or sister. By submitting yourself to act in obedience to the Church, you deny yourself, your own ideas, your own desires, your own inclinations, your own reasoning, your own evaluation because anything of our own that we retain becomes a chink in the armour, a place for pride to establish itself.

It is for our protection that we seek a blessing to begin this discipline of prayer or that and it is for our protection that a blessing is or is not given. If I am not prepared for the spiritual storm to come - or worse yet if I am deluded enough to think that I am prepared - then by acting according to my own will and desire will only provide the demons a chance to draw me away from the throne of God into a state of self delusion and of thinking that I am holy when I am only bound by my pride.


Fr David Moser

#27 Ryan

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 10:56 PM

All the teaching I have heard from priests (and also read in books) about the Jesus prayer, says that it should be done by everyone without exception. In fact several of our saints were criticized in their time when some complained about them making the teaching public- the saints rejected this criticism soundly. Some of the breathing techniques, physical postures, and other aids to concentration indeed require close guidance; if we have any notable experiences during prayer, we should of course consult someone as with all spiritual activity; but the prayer itself is for all Christians and in fact should be prayed by all Christians. This is the teaching of Sts. John Chrysostom, Gregory Palamas, Nikodemus the Hagiorite, Seraphim of Sarov, Theophan the Recluse, and others. I don't want to criticize anyone's spiritual father or militate against their counsel, but to say that the Jesus Prayer itself requires a blessing or that it is in itself dangerous for inexperienced Christians is to directly contradict the saints who clearly preached that it is in fact the duty of all Christians to say this prayer, mentally or on the lips.

Edited by Ryan, 08 August 2012 - 11:13 PM.


#28 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 08 August 2012 - 11:26 PM

I think you will find that the saints assumed that those to whom they recommended the practice of the Jesus Prayer were within the spiritual and mystical tradition of the Church as it existed at the time they lived, especially in Russia. To take St Theophan the Recluse, for example, he wrote his advice to his spiritual children. St Ignatii Brianchaninov wrote specifically for monastics who were under the guidance of their elders. That tradition has substantially weakened in our own times. The situation today is different. Priests in the west in our day are largely outside the tradition as it was understood in previous times, and it cannot be assumed that western priests are competent to guide people as those saints did. If spiritual fathers in our own time in Russia understand this, their counsel should not be ignored. There is an assumption today, as Fr David indicated, that because these things are known about, anyone can and even should get into them. This is wrong and the result of pride and delusion. Even today in monasteries in Russia, as my wife knows from her contacts with the Holy Trinity St Sergius Lavra, the Jesus Prayer is not allowed for monks until they have attained the requisite level of spiritual maturity. The very fact that a person insists that he should be able to practice the Jesus Prayer is ample evidence of pride and spiritual ambition.

#29 Ryan

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 05:31 AM

To call on the Name of Jesus Christ and entreat his mercy- this is the most basic act of Christian faith, and not some esoteric yoga reserved for initiates. In the Christian religion, there is no initiation higher than baptism and chrismation, and there is no mystery more awesome than partaking of the body and blood of Christ. It follows that all Orthodox Christians are "within the spiritual and mystical tradition of the Church." To suggest some level higher than this is folly.

It is also dangerous to take the specific discipline of a monastery, such as the Holy Trinity St. Sergius Lavra (a place I've visited and love) and attempt to make a universal rule from it. There are also stories about monks being forbidden, for whatever reason, to say the "Our Father" for a time. Yet the "Our Father" is a universal prayer enjoined on all Christians, like the Jesus Prayer. Just because something is in a book, doesn't mean we should do it- you're right about that. Similarly, just because it's done in a monastery doesn't mean it's for everyone.

I have visited monasteries where not only do all the monks pray the Jesus prayer, but encourage laymen to do the same. A battle of anecdotes isn't helpful.

From St. Symeon of Thessaloniki:

Let every pious individual say at all times this name as a prayer, both with his intellect and with his tongue... Let him always compel himself to do this, and he will find great peace and joy, as those who concern themselves about it know from experience... Those who are in the world should practices (this prayer) according to their power, as their seal and sign of their faith, as a protection, sanctification, and means of banishment fo every temptation. Wherefore all- clergymen, laymen and monks- must, upon rising from sleep, first think of Christ and remember Him first, and must offer this to Christ as the beginning of every thought and a sacrifice


From St. Gregory Palamas:

Let no one think, my brethren, that only the clergy and monks have the duty to pray unceasingly and always, and not the laymen. No, no. All Christians in general have the duty always to be engaged in prayer... Do you see, my brethren, that all Christians in general, both young and old, have the duty to pray always mentally, saying "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me"; and that their intellect and heart should become accustomed to saying this at all times?


(the above quotes are from Dr. Constantine Cavarnos' second volume of Philokalia translations)

The Jordanville prayerbook includes a section on the Jesus prayer, enjoining all Orthodox to pray it, and including several quotes from saints to this effect. I trust that no one will argue that the prayerbook is sowing delusion and pride amongst the faithful.

St. Theophan the Recluse produced several works advocating the Jesus Prayer for everyone. For example, his edition of Unseen Warfare, clearly intended for a general audience, includes a lengthy section advocating this prayer for all Christians and summarizing teachings from the Philokalia on this prayer.

St. Ignatii Brianchaninov's On the Prayer of Jesus, in its second chapter ("Open to All") explains why the prayer is for "all Christians without exception." He also points out that the prayer was prayed by all Christians in the Church, especially the illiterate as a substitute for formal prayers. It was recommended as an easy prayer for everyone. This would not be the case if the prayer carried with it some special danger of delusion. How can the name of Jesus be dangerous for us? What is dangerous are imaginings, visions, conceited thoughts, and the Jesus Prayer casts all these out.

The Way of a Pilgrim, a book recommended by many Elders, including St. Joseph the Hesychast, similarly urges all Christians to pray the prayer and there is no concept here of being especially advanced in Orthodoxy, or waiting for someone's blessing. The pilgrim is taught the prayer, reads from the Philokalia, and then goes on to teach the prayer to everyone he meets. He even teaches the prayer, and reads the Philokalia, to a Polish Catholic family. There is also an episode of a misbehaving boy being forced to recite the prayer, and he also benefits from it.

Something should be said about the argument that we don't live in holy Russia, or Byzantium, and are therefore less spiritually capable than ordinary people in those places. Throughout the history of the Church there has always been a narrative of decline from one generation to the next- even the Desert Fathers complained, "We are not like the Christians before us." In fact that is true- how much more then do we need to call for mercy from our Lord and Savior and rely upon his all-powerful name, weak as we are?

Lastly, if it "cannot be assumed that Western priests" can guide us well, then we're really in trouble. Where do we turn then? Books? Internet forums?

Edited by Ryan, 09 August 2012 - 05:53 AM.


#30 Richard A. Downing

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 07:45 AM

One of my earliest conversations with my Spiritual Father - he was then just an aquaintance from another, as I thought, denomination - concerned the implications of Christian Meditation. I was talking to him about my then interest in the work of the Benedictine Fr John Main - not the Jesus Prayer at all. He said that it was necessary to know that to stand in the conflict with Christ means that we open ourselves to Him, but also that this attracts the demons, and so it was not to be taken lightly. He then went on to talk about the Jesus prayer, which I knew next to nothing about, and to suggest that I was not ready to take on this.

He was right. I wasn't under obedience to him then, so I just ploughed on in my usual manner. The result was terrible dreams - visions of horror, truely, that I will never describe, and thankfully have now only a vague recollection of. Because he had warned me, I went to ask Father for his advice. He gave me a simpler rule of prayer, and that helped me so much that, eventually, I was able to start to say the Jesus Prayer., and, of course, to find the fullness of the Holy Church.

The reason we say the Jesus Prayer, if we are given that blessing, is to hold the Mind/Ego/Self focused on God, while the Holy Spirit enters our heart and changes us to be like Christ. For Him to enter, he needs to clear out the filth that we have stored there. This is not a pretty or pleasant experience, but it is necessary if we are to become like Christ. Without a firm conciousness of our place in the cosmos, surrounded by the Saints, protected by the Angels, saved by the prayers of the Panagia, loved by Our Father, embedded in the fullness of the life of the Church, this process is not bearable.

Well, this is my present poor understanding at least.

INXC
Richard.

#31 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 01:57 PM

Saints such as Theophan the Recluse and Ignatii Brianchaninov were writing to monastics and spiritual children in Orthodox Russia of the 19th century. St Ignatii said that one must have the attitude of a child in approaching the Jesus Prayer. St Theophan said that one must have a spiritual guide in order to avoid the many faults (Unseen Warfare, p 217). They cannot have meant that any and every Christian should take up the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Have the circumstances of life changed in the way I suggested? I offer not my thoughts but those of Fr Averky. If he, a humble hieromonk, was so cautious for himself, and if a contemporary Father such as Elder Sophrony said what he said, on what basis can one say, I prefer my own ideas even if they are apparently supported by some selective quotes from some Fathers (though I would like to see an exact quotation from a saint that unequivocally exhorts all Christians to practise the Jesus Prayer as opposed to just saying it sometimes.)

Fr Averky, may his soul rest with the righteous, posted this in 2003:


This thread is a perfect example of what I have been saying all along; if you are Orthodox, and would like to say the prayer, simply mention it to your parish priest, so that he will know and will bless. It is that simple. Alas, it is true, it is very hard to find a sound spiritual father, but we then must turn to the writings of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, not to just anyone. Asking for and receiving advice which concerns one’s personal salvation on an internet message board, puts everyone involved in a certain amount of danger in that if unsound advice is given, and then taken and acted upon, leading to further spiritual problems, both parties will have to be answerable to God. Neither can we rely upon our own feelings or thoughts, for they can be easily manipulated by the Evil One.


There are many dangers in saying the Jesus Prayer, and many of them are quite subtle. Here are some excerpts from On the Jesus Prayer by Saint Ignatius Briachaninov:

“The most sublime mental activity is extraordinarily simple. It needs for its acceptance child-like simplicity and faith. But we have become so complicated that it is just this simplicity which is inaccessible, incomprehensible, to us. We want to be clever, we want to revive our own ego, we cannot bear self-renunciation, or self-denial, we have no desire to live and act by faith. It is for this reason that we need a guide to lead us out of our complexity, out of our impertinence, out of our cunning, out of our vanity, and self-confidence, into the breadth and simplicity of faith. That is why it frequently happens that in the field of mental activity, the child attains phenomenal success, while the learned man loses his way and falls into the dark pit of delusion.

“Extremely good is the method of practising the Jesus Prayer taught by Dorotheus, the Russian ascetic and spiritual writer:
‘He who prays with the lips, he says, but neglects his soul and does not guard his heart, prays to the air, and not to God; and he labours in vain, because God attends to the mind and fervour, not an excess of words. One should pray with all one’s fervour, with one’s soul, and mind and heart, with the fear of God, and with all one’s strength. Mental prayer does not allow either distractions or foul thoughts to enter the inner sanctum.’ “

And finally, St. Ignatius firmly states:

“If it is forbidden for monks to strive prematurely for prayer offered by the mind in the temple of the heart, still more, it is forbidden to laypeople. St. Andrew the Fool for Christ and a few others - and extremely few laypeople - had the most profound prayer of the heart. This is an exception, and the greatest rarity, which cannot possible serve as a rule for all. To class oneself among these exceptional personalities is nothing but self-deception due to conceit-hidden delusion prior to obvious delusion.

“So how can laypeople, without obedience, by self-direction which is accompanied by delusion, force themselves to such an awful and terrifying work, that is, to such prayer, without any kind of guidance? How will they be able to escape the diverse and varied illusions of the enemy most cunningly directed against this prayer and those who practise it?”

As you can see, my words of caution are very mild in comparison to the words of Saint Ignatius. I feel that soon I will stop posting on Monachos, because I see Orthodoxy being played with and kicked around like a soccer ball in some sort of mind game. I can give answers and opinions which I have been taught by monks of many years, the Holy Scriptures, the Teachings of the Church, and the Holy Fathers.
. . .
I just received a private letter from someone who let me know in no uncertain terms that they read the Philokalia every Friday night - as if to say to me, “Say what you want, but I will do what I want.” Several people have contacted me privately, seeking help and advice, and I have told them I am not by any means a spiritual father but have only tried to be helpful, again from what I have been taught, I have lovingly given made some suggestions and, as one person put it, he disregards my words, almost cunningly.

As I have said before on other threads, we are living in a sad and tragic age, where people have become so full of themselves and their views and ideas that they now think that if they have a personal opinion, then that opinion is for them, the Truth. There is no way that one can reason with such people. Men have become their own god, and the God I know is someone to be discussed, read about, but not to be the center of people’s lives.

The translator of ‘On the Prayer of Jesus’ writes:
“...The Jesus Prayer acts as a constant reminder to make man look inwards AT ALL TIMES, to become aware, of his fleeting thoughts, sudden emotions and even movements so that it may make him try to control them.

“One is advised to repeat the Prayer of Jesus in silence and solitude.”

Silence here is meant to include inner silence; the silence of one’s own mind, the arresting of the imagination from the ever-turbulent and ever-present stream of thoughts, words, impressions pictures and day dreams, which keep one asleep.

“Solitude may mean many things. It certainly means a phase, at least, of physical solitude. But it also implies the solitude of one’s soul, the elimination of all ordinary human frailties, of human weaknesses. The awful solitude of the Self. It is generally agreed that our modern world, although it has achieved much in the way of progress, has also lost a great deal of spiritual strength: the morals and principles of people are at a very low ebb. The mere fact that ammoral movements such as facism and communism have occurred in this century shows this loss of spirituality amongst civilized people. Our highly organized material civilization without a correspondingly high level of spiritual development is indeed a house built on sifting sands, and as a result, we are all unbalanced and unstable.” - Fr. Lazarus Moore

Find a good priest to talk to pray and ask God to guide you in the direction you should go. In regards to the advice of Bishop Kallistos, with all due respect, may I suggest that you read the lives of Orthodox saints, read books like My Life in Christ by St. John of Kronstadt, and the Prologue, by St. Nikolaij Velimirovich They are not theological books, but will give you a taste of the savor of Orthodoxy thought and piety. The Prologue is exceptionally good, because it gives not only the lives of saints for every day, but a reflection and a short sermon. St. Nikolai was not only a great bishop, but a prolific author, and his works show how loving and pastoral he was, and for a person seeking the Faith, such reading is much more helpful than starting at the top with theological or patristic books.

In closing this too long answer, I will again quote St. Ignatius:

“What is written by every holy writer is written from his spiritual level, attainment, and from his practice, and experience, in conformity with his level and practice. We must pay special attention to this point. Let us not be carried away and enraptured by a book written as if with fire that tells of high states and activities for which we are unfit. The reading of such a book, by firing the imagination, can harm us by communicating a knowledge and desire for labours that are untimely and impossible for us. Let us apply ourselves to a book of a Father nearer to our state in the matter of attainment.”



To all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, as I have stated before, I personally have no problem with laypeople saying the Prayer of the heart, but please, at least mention it to your priest. I myself have lately become desirous of concentrating on the Prayer, but will soon go to my spiritual father and seek his advice as to whether or not this a proper time, or if I should wait. Read again the translator’s words starting with “One is advised to repeat the prayer of Jesus in silence and solitude” and the next paragraph, and ask yourself, Have I reached what is described in these words? Can I say I have achieved such silence and solitude? Can I pray and not be distracted? I do not think many of us can say that -I know I can’t. It can be done, but with humility, patience, and love of God and neigbour.

Sincerely, and asking for forgiveness from all,

Fr. A.


Edited by Olga, 09 August 2012 - 11:49 PM.
added quote box for clarity


#32 Aidan Kimel

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 02:45 PM

Ryan, you mailbox is full. You need to delete messages so you can receive mail again.

#33 Father David Moser

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 03:14 PM

Keeping in mind what I wrote in my previous post, let me agree strongly with my dear departed friend Fr Averky.

This thread is a perfect example of what I have been saying all along; if you are Orthodox, and would like to say the prayer, simply mention it to your parish priest, so that he will know and will bless. It is that simple. Alas, it is true, it is very hard to find a sound spiritual father, but we then must turn to the writings of the Fathers of the Orthodox Church, not to just anyone. Asking for and receiving advice which concerns one’s personal salvation on an internet message board, puts everyone involved in a certain amount of danger in that if unsound advice is given, and then taken and acted upon, leading to further spiritual problems, both parties will have to be answerable to God. Neither can we rely upon our own feelings or thoughts, for they can be easily manipulated by the Evil One.
...
To all of my Orthodox brothers and sisters, as I have stated before, I personally have no problem with laypeople saying the Prayer of the heart, but please, at least mention it to your priest.


I mentioned the importance of humility and of obedience as a means of obtaining humility. Here is the first step and it is extremely simple - if you desire to say the Jesus prayer as a part of your regular prayer routine, at least mention it to your priest and get his blessing. This moves the prayer out of the realm of your own will or initiative and into the realm of obedience (obedience does not imply doing something you don't want to do - in fact obedience is easiest when your will is in conformity with the will of the One you obey.)

Another little story: A friend of mine - a parish priest - had a new convert family come to him in his parish (they had just moved into town). They explained to him in confession their "prayer rule" which consisted of all the morning and evening prayers plus multiple canons and akathists and thousands of Jesus prayers a day - easily they had a prayer rule that encompassed an hour twice a day, if not more. When the priest asked them who had given them such an intense prayer rule they said no one - they were just doing what seemed right to them and that even though it was extensive, their prayers came quite easily. The priest, loathe to discourage any kind of piety said to them that they could say whatever prayers they wanted as long as they always said the morning and evening prayer rule from the prayer book (probably 15 min morning and evening). The family responded that this was not problem since they were already doing that and more. The next week they came back again and told my friend that their prayer life was in shambles. What had before been so easy, now was impossible. When their prayer became a matter of obedience (rather than their own will), even though the obedience was much less and much easier than what they had taken upon themselves, they were unable to do it. The only thing that had changed was the matter of obedience versus self will - and the moment they were no longer acting according to "self will" they could no longer put up the facade of "prayer".

I don't think that saying the Jesus prayer - or any prayer - is a "bad" thing, quite the contrary it is the highest good. Just remember the words of the Apostle, that everything should be done decently in and in good order - that means that we do nothing according to our own will, but that everything should be submitted to the authority and rule of the Church. So if you want to pray - just ask your priest.

Fr David

#34 Ryan

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 08:48 PM

Saints such as Theophan the Recluse and Ignatii Brianchaninov were writing to monastics and spiritual children in Orthodox Russia of the 19th century. St Ignatii said that one must have the attitude of a child in approaching the Jesus Prayer. St Theophan said that one must have a spiritual guide in order to avoid the many faults (Unseen Warfare, p 217).


I never denied the need for a spiritual guide; my objection is to the notion that the Jesus Prayer is some esoteric technique over and above the sacraments and the regular prayers of the Church, requiring a special empowerment to perform.



(though I would like to see an exact quotation from a saint that unequivocally exhorts all Christians to practise the Jesus Prayer as opposed to just saying it sometimes.)


The quotes from St. Symeon and St. Gregory which I gave above, and which I assure you are not paraphrases, say exactly that. In fact the selections they are quoted from bear the following titles: "That All Christians Ought to Pray in the Name of Jesus Christ" (St. Symeon's) and "That All Christians in General Ought to Pray Unceasingly".

Should one receive guidance in the Jesus prayer? I never denied it. Of course that's important in every spiritual practice. But in that regard the Jesus prayer is not different from any other prayer.

#35 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 09 August 2012 - 09:35 PM

my objection is to the notion that the Jesus Prayer is some esoteric technique over and above the sacraments and the regular prayers of the Church


I cannot see where anyone has put forward this notion. Of course, the prayer is not esoteric, and certainly not over and above any sacrament.

"That All Christians Ought to Pray in the Name of Jesus Christ". "That All Christians in General Ought to Pray Unceasingly". I think we do pray in the Name of Jesus Christ in our prayers and services, but is this an explicit reference to the practise of the Jesus Prayer? But that might be getting too hair-splitting. To pray unceasingly is certainly the ideal, and it is well known that the Jesus Prayer is a way to that ideal.

But I have to repeat that, as Fr Averky said, we live in strange and different times from the earlier Christian epochs, and the caution of recent and contemporary saints and elders should not be ignored. Why would they - including Elder Sophrony of all people, a great hesychast - say anything that modifed what St Symeon and St Gregory Palamas said about this? Surely because we live in very different circumstances.

Edited by Andreas Moran, 09 August 2012 - 09:56 PM.


#36 Ryan

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 01:13 AM

"That All Christians Ought to Pray in the Name of Jesus Christ". "That All Christians in General Ought to Pray Unceasingly". I think we do pray in the Name of Jesus Christ in our prayers and services, but is this an explicit reference to the practise of the Jesus Prayer?


Yes, as in evident in the quotes provided. If you doubt me, you can certainly get a copy of the book and read the texts in full.



But I have to repeat that, as Fr Averky said, we live in strange and different times from the earlier Christian epochs, and the caution of recent and contemporary saints and elders should not be ignored. Why would they - including Elder Sophrony of all people, a great hesychast - say anything that modifed what St Symeon and St Gregory Palamas said about this? Surely because we live in very different circumstances.


Elder Sophrony is not the only great hesychast of our times, and other such elders have recommended the use of the Jesus prayer by all Orthodox Christians. There has never been a golden age for Christianity nor will there be until the Lord's return.

#37 Rdr Andreas

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 08:43 AM

Would you be kind enough, Ryan, to supply quotations from contemporary elders who do recommend all Orthodox Christians to use the Jesus Prayer? You are quite right that a 'battle of anecdotes' is not helpful, but I think we should try to be clear what saints and elders, as representing the Tradition of the Church, are saying to us.

#38 Fr Raphael Vereshack

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 03:30 PM

I think that this question relates to modern conditions which we as Orthodox Christians are called to live in. Never has there been an age so filled with temptations, deceptions & brokeness, and this too is how most of us come to the Church. The question of the Prayer then often relates to this, as a method of restoring ourselves but also of navigating amidst what in the Church can be stormy times. In other words this is not an abstract question for most, since how we develop within the Church, is strongly related to what we have found that supports us in our growth in Christ.

Shouldn't this last point then always be kept in mind? It seems that it should, since each of us has our own personal path which has taken us through the Church. And usually it is from this experience in fact that we speak.

The Prayer actually relates to a more fundamental spiritual method that the Church offers all. This spiritual method is vigilance for without this it is inconceivable how there could be real prayer of any kind. Vigilance then is the first step we take by which we learn to discern the spirits and to oversee what occurs within and outside of us.

From this though we can see that once this manner of spiritual life is entered on, that we actually begin to enter what the Fathers refer to as the sphere of the 'intellect'. This is unavoidable for the intellect as spiritually defined is what allows us to focus on the spiritual life within the Church in a personal manner. And this manner of operating is not just for hesychasts but also is potentialy cultivated as soon as we attend the services, pray from the Prayer Book, or examine ourselves for confession. All of this cultivates the inner man and brings him alive and conscious by the only maner possible to us who are created- ie through the intellect.

Once this occurs though guidance is crucial along with the help of Christ's grace. For once we enter the sphere of the intellect we automatically enter a more spiritually resonating world. Here are wonderful things never encountered before. But here are also terrible things. Which serve to bring us full circle every time to the need for vigilance.

All of this I am sure includes the subject of the Jesus Prayer. By the Jesus Prayer not just one thing is meant but actually many overlapping things. There is the Prayer which Joseph the Hesychast refers to; there is the Prayer which Fr George Calciu refers to; but there also is the most powerful (and ancient prayer) of 'Lord have mercy'' or 'Most holy Theotokos save us'. These are in the same family, but they are not identical. And so different levels of guidance are needed for each, since of course the context is different also according to person and circumstance. This applies to each of us.

The Prayer then is a sign of hope from and to the Church about prayer itself, that it can take us beyond the chains of death & sin in a real way. It is the sign that this promise is not just imaginary. But it also is a sign of warning to us for as soon as we enter this world there also is much that we must be very careful about and seek guidance for.

On the other hand the Prayer on its different levels, that opens up to us, turns out to be what is appropriate for us. And this is what has always allowed that there is no hard & fast line between the Prayer as if it is only one thing and prayer of a more simple kind.

The reality then is that this always takes place on the very personal level. Effort and the context of person & circumstance should never be seperated. So that what we discover and the spiritual place that we are currenly at are in reality always intimately related, and in a real sense even defines what we mean by prayer or the Jesus Prayer in the first place.

General discussions of prayer from the point of view of encouragement or caution are in general, both firmly in order, at least according to the long standing tradition of the Church, as referred to at least from the time of the Desert Fathers, when these things first began to be clearly referred to. However beyond this what also needs to be kept in mind (and what these discussions are actually grounded in) is the personal reality that each of us is currently involved in, and that we speak from, within the Church.

In Christ
-Fr Raphael

Edited by Fr Raphael Vereshack, 10 August 2012 - 03:47 PM.


#39 Ryan

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 04:02 PM

Would you be kind enough, Ryan, to supply quotations from contemporary elders who do recommend all Orthodox Christians to use the Jesus Prayer? You are quite right that a 'battle of anecdotes' is not helpful, but I think we should try to be clear what saints and elders, as representing the Tradition of the Church, are saying to us.


Andreas- I must admit, from my resources, I can't bring up any quotes that directly say this. One possible exception would be the pamphlet of Princess Ileana of Romania, who in her later life became the abbess of a monastery in Pennsylvania. Whether you would consider her a contemporary elder or not, I don't know. She says, in her pamphlet, "The Jesus Prayer is the core of mystical prayer, and it can be used by anyone, at any time."

However, I think it is evident from the context of many teachings that the prayer is still assumed to be for everyone. Hence, many elders continue to give public advice about the Jesus prayer; priests still recommend it in their sermons; popular literature on the prayer, such as Way of a Pilgrim, continues to be distributed without anyone objecting; and, perhaps most importantly, the prayer is included in prayerbooks intended for the general faithful, such as the Jordanville prayerbook. And I think this point bears reiterating- if the prayer, in itself, is particularly dangerous, why do our bishops continue to bless its publication in a format that recommends it to the general faithful?

Here is the section from the Jordanville prayerbook, which I quote in full:

In the First Epistle to the Thessalonians the Apostle Paul says: Pray without ceasing. How, then, is one to pray unceasingly? By often repeating the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me." If one becomes accustomed to this appeal, great consolation and the need to continually make this petition will be felt within, and it will be carried on, as if of itself, within one.

Although in the beginning the enemy of the human race will offer hindrances to this, by causing great weariness, indolence, boredom, and over-powering sleep, having withstood all these with the help of God, one will receive peace of soul, spiritual joy, a benevolent disposition towards people, tranquility of thought, and gratitude toward God. In the very name of Jesus Christ a great and graceful power is inherent. Many holy and righteous people advise how one can often, almost without interruption, perform the Jesus Prayer.

Saint John Chrysostom says: "It is necessary for everyone, whether eating, drinking, sitting, serving, traveling, or doing anything, to unceasingly cry: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me,' that the name of the Lord Jesus Christ, descending into the depths of the heart, may subdue the pernicious serpent, and save and quicken the soul.

Saint Seraphim of Sarov: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner": let all thine attention and training be in this. Walking, sitting, doing, and standing in church before the divine service, coming in and going out, keep this unceasingly on thy lips and in thy heart. In calling in this manner on the name of God thou wilt find peace, thou wilt attain to purity of spirit and body, and the Holy Spirit, the Origin of all good things, will dwell in thee, and He will guide thee unto holiness, unto all piety and purity."

Bishop Theophanes the Recluse: "In order to more conveniently become accustomed to the remembrance of God, for this the fervent Christian has a special means, namely, to repeat unceasingly a brief prayer of two or three words. Most often this is: 'Lord, have mercy!' or 'Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner.' If you have not yet heard of this, then hear it now, and if you have not done it, then begin to do it from this time.

"Those who have truly decided to serve the Lord God must train themselves in the remembrance of God and in unceasing prayer to Jesus Christ, saying mentally: 'Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner.'

"Through such practice, by guarding oneself from distraction and by the preservation of the peace of one's conscience, it is possible to draw near to God and to be united with Him. For, according to the words of Saint Isaac the Syrian, 'Without unceasing prayer we cannot draw near to God' (St. Seraphim of Sarov)."

Saint John of Kronstadt likewise frequently counseled the doing of the Jesus Prayer.


A further note: one of the first books I read in Orthodoxy was Elder Sophrony's His Life is Mine, which contains a lengthy section discussing the Jesus prayer. This book was given to me by my priest, with the accompanying advice that I pray the prayer myself. The book is a public teaching of Elder Sophrony's- I don't think it can be said that Elder Sophrony simply intended this for his disciples. It describes the theology and methods behind the prayer. Crucially, he addresses himself to a time where many people outside the Church are practicing the prayer wrongly, as some kind of Christian mantra. Spiritual guidance is strongly urged, but nowhere does he say they should stop using the prayer. Instead, he guides readers into the right way of praying the Jesus prayer, which of course includes being in the context of Orthodox spiritual tradition. If he were so concerned about the dangers of this prayer, he would not tempt the reader with such a public presentation of it.

I will close with another quote from St. Theophan (from Let Us Learn to Pray):

.

Everyone will benefit from saying the Jesus prayer. Those in the monastic orders must repeat it all the time. So there is no danger in the prayer itself, if one says it reverently. Yet, what is dangerous is the "artistry" (i.e. some artificial tricks) invented to accompany that prayer.... It was those tricks that plunged some people into a dreamy state of enchantment, while others strange as it sounds — into a constant lustful state. That is why those tricks should be disapproved and condemned resolutely. And we must urge everybody and teach everyone to hail the sweetest name of the Lord in a simple heartfelt way.



#40 Ryan

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Posted 10 August 2012 - 07:10 PM

Forgive me if I belabor the point, but another example of a public exhortation to pray the Jesus Prayer can be found in the catechism The Law of God compiled by Archpriest Serafim Slobodskoy, for use "in home and school." On the section on prayer, he includes several short prayers, among them this:

The Jesus Prayer.

Lord Jesus Christ, Son Of God, Have Mercy On Me, A Sinner!

This prayer contains the whole message of Christianity within it. It is directed to our Saviour Jesus Christ, acknowledging Him as the Son of God and humbly asking His mercy upon us. We should try to repeat this prayer at all times, for it brings great benefit to the soul.


This catechism was published in 1966, so we can be sure that Fr. Serafim was addressing the faithful living in our "strange times." It was and continues to be used not only in the Russian Church abroad but throughout Russia itself, and has the blessing of the bishops.

So from ROCOR we have two very public books- the catechism and the prayerbook- which advocate the Jesus Prayer for all the faithful. If it is true that the Jesus Prayer is particularly dangerous, and we should refrain from it unless specifically blessed to pray it, then we must conclude that the bishops of ROCOR have erred in allowing these books to proliferate when they endanger the faithful by exhorting them to practice a prayer which is not appropriate for many of them. The Law of God and the Jordanville Prayerbook should be taken down from the shelves, at least until the dangerous sections are excised.




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