Saturday, January 23, 2016

Excerpts on the Jesus Prayer.

By Archimandrite Sophrony Sakharov.

   Among the many forms of prayer current in our day the Prayer of the Name of Jesus has attracted widespread interest, and much of what has been written on the subject is deserving of serious attention. There have, however, been not a few absurd pronounce­ments, and it would therefore seem called for now to devote a separate section to the study of this spiritual exercise. The theory of the Jesus Prayer can be set out in a few pages but its practical application entails such difficulty that from earliest time the fathers and teachers of the Church have constantly warned seekers after this way of union with God to be cautious, to approach with awe and to look for a guide already experienced in this ascetic feat...
   There is nothing automatic or 'magic' about the Jesus Prayer.
   Unless we labour to keep His commandments, we call upon His Name in vain. He Himself declared: 'Many will say unto me in that day, Lord, Lord, have we not prophesied in thy name?. And in thy name have cast out devils?. And in thy name done many wonderful works?. And then I will profess unto them, I never knew you: depart from me, ye that work iniquity' (Matt. 7.22,23).

   Our fathers were naturally conscious of the ontological connection between the Name and the Named - between the Name and the Person of Christ. It is not enough to pronounce the sound of the human word, which alters with the language used. It is essential to love Him "Whom we invoke.
   For greater perfection it is likewise necessary to understand the content of the life of the Beloved God. When we love someone we like uttering the name of the beloved and never tire of repeat­ing it. It is infinitely more so with the Name of God. When we love in human fashion our love grows because we perceive more and more grace in the face of our loved one. His likeness becomes ever more precious, and happiness makes us notice new traits all the time. Thus is it with the Name of Christ Jesus. Gradually, our interest captured, we uncover fresh aspects of Him through His Name; and are ourselves impregnated with the reality, the knowledge contained in His Name. And this knowledge is essential to eternal life, as He said: 'This is life eternal, that they might know thee the only true God, and Jesus Christ, whom thou hast sent' (John 17,3).
   … Year after year monks repeat the prayer with their lips, without trying by any artificial means to join mind and heart. Their attention is concentrated on harmonising their life with the com­mandments of Christ. According to ancient tradition mind unites with heart through Divine action when the monk continues in the ascetic feat of obedience and abstinence; when the mind, the heart and the very body of the 'old man' to a sufficient degree are freed from the dominion over them of sin; when the body becomes worthy to be 'the temple of the Holy Ghost' (if. Rom. 6.11-14). However, both early and present-day teachers occasionally permit recourse to a technical method of bringing the mind down into the heart. To do this, the monk, having suitably settled his body, pronounces the prayer with his head inclined all his chest, breath­ing in at the words 'Lord Jesus Christ, (Son of God)' and breathing out to the words 'have mercy upon me (a sinner)'. During inhala­tion the attention at first follows the movement of the air breathed in as far as the upper part of the heart. In this manner concentration can soon be preserved without wandering, and the mind stands side by side with the heart, or even enters within it. This method eventually enables the mind to see, not the physical heart but that which is happening within it-the feelings that creep in and the mental images that approach from without. With this experience, the monk acquires the ability to feel his heart, and to continue with his attention centered in the heart without further recourse to any psychosomatic technique.
   This procedure can assist the beginner to understand where his inner attention should be stayed during prayer and, as a rule, at all other times, too. Nevertheless, true prayer is not to be achieved thus. True prayer comes exclusively through faith and repentance accepted as the only foundation. The danger of psychotechnics is that not a few attribute too great significance to method qua method. In order to avoid such deformation the beginner should follow another practice which, though considerably slower, is incomparably better and more wholesome-to fix the attention on the Name of Christ and on the words of the Prayer. When con­trition for sin reaches a certain level the mind naturally heeds the heart.
   The complete formula of the Jesus Prayer runs like this: "Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me, a sinner", and it is this set form that is recommended. In the first half of the prayer we profess Christ-God made flesh for our salvation. In the second we affirm our fallen state, our sinfulness, our redemption. The conjunction of dogmatic confession with repentance makes the content of the prayer more comprehensive.
   It is possible to establish a certain sequence in the development of this prayer. First, it is a verbal matter: we say the prayer with our lips while trying to concentrate our attention on the Name and the words. Next, we no longer move our lips but pronounce the Name of Jesus Christ, and what follows after, in our minds, mentally. In the third stage mind and heart combine to act to­gether: the attention of the mind is centered in the heart and the prayer said there. Fourthly, the prayer becomes self-propelling. This happens when the prayer is confirmed in the heart and, with no especial effort on our part, continues there, where the mind is concentrated. Finally, the prayer, so full of blessing, starts to act like a gentle flame within us, as inspiration from on High, rejoicing the heart with a sensation of divine love and delighting the mind in spiritual contemplation. This last state is sometimes accom­panied by a vision of Light…
   To acquire prayer is to acquire eternity. When the body lies dying, the cry 'Jesus Christ' becomes the garment of the soul; when the brain no longer functions and other prayers are difficult to remember, in the light of the divine knowledge that proceeds from the Name our spirit will rise into life incorruptible.

Edmonds R. (1977), His Life is Mine, Archimandrite Sophrony, Mowbrays, London & Oxford, United Kingdom.