Posted 20 November 2003 - 10:21 AM
Dear in the Lord Trudy.
Since January of this year, this question has come up several times, and you could find them in Monachos' archives. One thread is called Jesus Prayer-Prayer of the heart.
As Janice just mentioned to you, if you are not Orthodox it would not be of spiritual benefit for you to start saying the Jesus Prayer, for while seemingly simple and "harmless," it can be of some danger to those who are in no way prepared for the temptations that come along with it. Every good deed, every act which brings a person closer to God, brings with it temptations some very subtle, because the Evil One is greatly opposed to a soul's getting closer to God, and thus salvation. He can easily fool people into thinking that they have reached great spiritual heights, when in fact, he has led them to the age of a cliff, and then tries to push tem off., abandoning them to their terrible fate, the loss of Heaven as he laughs cruelly.
Although some of my fellow members, whom I truly love and respect have taken me to task on what I am going to say, I still feel that I must.
In our free society, we have the right to purchase or take from a library, virtually any book and read it. So too with books of a spiritual nature. If one goes to a good sized book store like Batnes & Noble, he can find a large array of books on "spirituality." However, that he or she reads one or several of them does in no way indicate that it would be spiritually beneficial to so, and if fact, in some cases, could be quite dangerous.
As I have pointed out several times, a book like "The Way of the Pilgrim," while certainly edifying, is not a "guide" on how to say the Jesus Prayer, nor does it suggest that reading the Philokalia is open to anyone who wants to read it, although there are those who do. This book was written for Orthodox people who had a rather clear idea of the spiritual life, not for those who would just start putting it into practise because it sounded good.
If you are inquiring, do not concern yourself in any way with Orthodox practises or spiritual labours. First, find out about the beliefs, Tradition, teachings and Life of the Church, to see if it touches your heart or soul in any way. The very best way to know the life of the Church is by reading the Lives of the Saints. I noticed that the entire four volume "The Prologue from Ochrid," a wonderful compendium of Lives of Saints, sermons, and spiritual considerations, written by a great modern saint-St. Nikolaij Velimirovich of the Serbian Church is now available online. I will try to find the address for you.
Leave the Jesus Prayer and reading of the Philokalia to those who have the blessing and the grace to do so. We cannot and should not get involved in spiritual practises simply because we want to. To this day, I still talk with my spiritual father before I add something to my daily prayers, like a canon or an Akathist-it is always better to have blessing, no matter how good the action might seem.
Start simply and humbly, and do not run "to the front of the line," but meekly, like the Mother of God, keep what you learn from Holy Orthodoxy in your heart, for it is in the heart that a person meets God, not by the philosphies of this world or intellectual pursuits, or reading or thinking about Him, but seeking Him. As He said, "Seek and you shall find, knock, and it shall be opened to you."
Attend Orthodox Divine Services, for they are filled with grace, and they touch the soul in a way that no book or discussion or anything else could. Even if services might not be entirely in English, still, the soul receives and understands the sacred words and actions. Stand or sit quietly, and look at one of the icons-of our Lord or His Most Pure Mother, and open your heart. When you leave the church and go back out into the world, you will sense your soul's longing to return if it is to be your home.
We Westerners, Americans especially, love to come barging into almost any situation with our "Can Do" attitude, stepping all over everything, and then wonder why we offend so many, perhaps even God. Just a few months ago, a young woman posted on Monachos asking about monasticism. Wanting to be of help, I gave her a few words, since she soon was to enter a convent. Suddenly, to my surprise, this girl of perhaps twenty one, took it upon herself to instruct me! I was in no way offended, but thought to myself,"Is that girl going to have a time!" As others know, I am starting on my 29th year in monastic life, and I still have a lot to learn.
In approaching Orthodoxy, you have to "forget" all you think you know about Christianity, and start as a neophyte, relying on the Wisdom and knowlege of the Church. In the whole of the New Testament, our Lord points out how the meek and the humble will be invited to the house of His Father.
Trudy, be patient, pray, move slowly, and ask God to help you-and if you come to desire Holy Orthodoxy, He will show you the way. May God bless and help you.
With love in Christ,