Η προσευχή της καρδιάς, η προσευχή του Ιησού ως λύση στα προβλήματα του σύγχρονου ανθρώπου ! ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY AND THE PRAYER OF THE HEART OR THE JESUS PRAYER


Από την ιστοσελίδα της Ορθόδοξης Μητρόπολης Κορέας μεταφέρουμε ένα σημαντικό άρθρο του Μητροπολίτη Κορέας π. Αμβροσίου για τη ορθόδοξη πνευματικότητα και την προσευχή της καρδιάς, την προσευχή του Ιησού, όπως ονομάζεται. Το κείμενο είναι στα αγγλικά και η ομιλία εκφωνήθηκε τον Οκτώβριο του 2008 σε συνεδρίαση του Sogang University .

ORTHODOX CHRISTIAN SPIRITUALITY  AND THE PRAYER OF THE HEART OR THE JESUS PRAYER[1]

By Ambrose-Aristotle Zographos, Orthodox Christian Metropolitan of Korea

A) THE MEANING OF ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY

It is a very hopeful sign that in recent years there is a growing interest in Orthodox Christian Spirituality. This interest is gaining strength in the East as well as in the West, attracting the attention of all those who seek a contemplative, spiritual life. There is also a growing number of people here in Korea who wish to learn more about Orthodox Spirituality and our aim, in what follows, is both to provide an overview introduction and a more focused discussion of one central practice, the «Jesus Prayer» or «Prayer of the Heart.»

While the topic of «spiritual life» is popular nowadays, and while much it is said and taught about it, one may wonder: how many Christians truly understand the meaning of the term «spiritual life» and what it actually represents in the Orthodox Christian Tradition?

If we were asked to say in just a few words what the fundamental goal of Orthodox Spirituality is, our response would be: first, the acquisition of the Holy Spirit through a life in Christ and, second, to experience a living unity with God (Theosis). The sole reason why God created human beings was to make us partakers of the divine nature (2 Pet. 1:34). Man was not created as a solitary creature, living all by himself and for himself; on the contrary, he was created to live in communion with others–indeed, in God–and to be a partaker of immortality and eternal bliss. For Orthodox Christians, the heavenly gifts man lost due to his fall from paradise can be gained back through Christ, by the grace of the Holy Spirit. It is this divine grace that effects deification (Theosis), which implies nothing other than direct union with God. The path to deification is the central teaching of the Philokalia, a collection of patristic writings on unceasing inner prayer, «prayer of the heart,» which we will be discussing today.

Let us now outline briefly the main characteristics and elements of Orthodox Spirituality:

  1) The Biblical element
Undoubtedly, the Orthodox Church can be called The Church of the Bible. Biblical passages as well as meaningful hymns inspired by the Biblical texts are regularly read and sung during the Services in every Orthodox church on a daily basis. Moreover, some Biblical books, such as the Psalms, the four Gospels and St. Paul’s letters have played a pivotal role and have exerted a tremendous influence on Orthodox Spirituality. One may document this by studying the works of the Church Fathers, which are filled with Biblical references, and a good number of them are nothing other than Biblical commentaries.

2) Love and respect for the Tradition of the Early Church

The life and teachings of the Holy Apostles, the Apostolic Fathers, the Apologists, the Martyrs, the Confessors, and all the Saints have always been and still are the food that nourishes Orthodox Spirituality. These holy men and women are living examples of deification, of the life in Christ, and their holiness of life gives their teachings added authority.

3) The monastic ideal

It was during the last decades of the 3rd century and the beginning of 4th, and immediately after the persecutions of Christians had ceased, that numerous men and women left the cities and dwelled in the desert, driven by a longing to lead a life of contemplation and closeness with God. Famous ascetic Fathers, such as Anthony the Great, Pachomios, and a little later Theodosios the Ceonobite and Basil the Great, contributed significantly to the formation of Christian Monasticism. As time went by, monasticism slowly but steadily grew, became well-organized and flourished. The ideal of those monastic communities was to imitate the way of life of the early Christian communities of the Acts of the Apostles. The monks and nuns of that time placed great emphasis on what was called, «unceasing prayer,» and attempted to put into practice what St. Paul advised the Thessalonians: pray without ceasing (1 Thes. 5:17). Unceasing prayer and purity of the heart aim at being able to see God, according to our Lord’s eighth Beatitude: Blessed are the pure in heart, for they shall see God (Mt. 5:8). Early Monasticism in Egypt, Syria, and Palestine exercised tremendous influence in the formation of Orthodox Spirituality and it continued to do so in later monastic centers that were developed in Greece, (Mount Athos, Patmos, and Meteora), in Russia (Vallaam, Optino) and in the Slavic nations as a whole.

4) The Liturgical life of the Church

Throughout the yearly liturgical cycle, the Church commemorates and celebrates past events of our Lord’s Incarnation and Resurrection as if they were taking place today. And this, of course, constitutes an inexhaustible source of Orthodox spirituality. Through the sacraments of Baptism and Holy Chrismation, the Church takes the fallen man and initiates him or her into the spiritual life in Christ. Then, through the rest of the Sacraments, especially that of the Holy Eucharist as well as the daily Services, the Church nourishes her members spiritually until their passing away to eternity.

B) THE CENTRAL TEACHINGS OF ORTHODOX SPIRITUALITY

1) The Philokalia: A Key Source

The entire corpus of patristic texts-the writings of the holy fathers and mothers of the Church-comprise the teachings of Orthodox Spirituality. For those who wish to find these teachings in a condensed form, they may turn to the Philokalia. The Philokalia is an anthology, a collection of writings, containing the works of the desert fathers and hesychasts. In the Philokalia one finds the holy fathers’ full teachings on inner prayer or prayer of the heart. Needless to say, this anthology does not include every relevant piece of ascetic literature in its entirety; rather, it is a collection of writings of 36 different authors, dating back to the 4th century and spanning up to the 15th century AD. All the authors of the Philokalia are of Greek descent, except for St. John Cassian, a Latin writer who is also known as Cassianos the Roman (circa + 430 A.D.)

This Philokalia collection was first compiled by St. Makarios Notaras, Bishop of Corinth (1731-1805) and later on, in one of his visits to Mount Athos (1777), he handed the script to St. Nikodemos the Hagiorite (1749-1809) for further elaboration, leading to its first publication in Venice in 1782.

The main reason for the compilation and publication of the Philokalia was to edify spiritually the faithful-monks and laymen alike-and to help them discover the kingdom within. (Lk 17:21)

Eleven years later, in 1793, the Philokalia was translated into the Slavonic language by Paisios Velitskofski and was published in St. Petersburgh, Russia. Today, approximately two centuries after its first publication, the Philokalia has been translated into all the western European languages and into some Asian ones as well. In other words, the core teachings of Orthodox, ascetic spirituality are still alive and are available within our contemporary society.

2) Two Key Themes: «Watchfulness» and «Hesychia»

If we were to summarize the teachings of the ascetic Fathers in just a few words, the two key words would be: watchfulness (νήψη) and hesychia (tranquility).

Watchfulness (νήψη) refers to clarity of thought, spiritual vigilance, alertness, sobriety, and the guarding of the mind. St. Paul, in his epistle to Timothy, admonishes him: But you be watchful in all things (2 Tim. 4:5). He also writes to the Corinthians: be awake to righteousness, and do not sin (1 Cor. 15:34), and to the Thessalonians he advises: those who sleep, sleep at night, and those who get drunk are drunk at night. But let us who are of the day be sober (1 Cor. 5:7-8). According to the Apostle Peter, the believer ought to be vigilant in order to avoid the traps of Satan. He writes: Be sober, be vigilant; because your adversary the devil walks about like a roaring lion, seeking whom he may devour. (1 Pet. 5:8)

In the text of the Philokalia the term νήψη (watchfulness, vigilance) does not necessarily refer to one and only one virtue; instead, it refers to the Christian’s overall effort toward perfection in God. This effort, the fathers teach, should last for the whole of our life. As summarized in Jesus’ own words, «Watch therefore, for you know neither the day nor the hour wherein the Son of man comes.» (Matt 25:13)

The other key spiritual theme developed in the Philokalia, Hesychia (tranquility), complements and fulfills «watchfulness.» Hesychia is not an exterior mental condition; it is rather an inner state of the heart. This term is also used in order to refer to the phenomenon of pure prayer, that is, the prayer during which the νους (mind) is stripped of all imagery and becomes liberated from all impertinent thoughts. Listen to the following descriptions of hesychia from the holy fathers: Hesychia is the stripping of thoughts. (St. Gregory the Sinaite) And similarly, Force your mind to be deaf and speechless and then you will be able to pray… Prayer is the fruit of tranquility (hesychia) and meekness. (Evagrios Ponticos)

According to the teachings of the Philokalia, the means through which one may reach one’s divinely ordained purpose, which is nothing other than deification (Theosis, the presence of God within), can be summarized in the following five steps :

1) The technical means, (though not necessary in reaching the goal of inner prayer) such as the bending of the head and controlled breathing.

2) Reciting the holy name of Jesus

3) The blocking of any image or thought during prayer

4) Heartfelt prayer

5) Ceaseless prayer

C) THE JESUS PRAYER

The prayer in which Orthodox Spirituality finds its deepest expression is the Jesus Prayer, consisting of the words: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. In this concise formula, one can see that the remembrance of the holy Name of Jesus occupies the central position. Through the focused and repeated recitation of this personal prayer, the Christian addresses directly the Incarnate Logos (Word of God), Who resides in the center of our being, namely our heart.

The spiritual significance and fruitfulness of the Jesus Prayer lies in the following four points:

1) First, its simplicity and elasticity. Orthodox spirituality is difficult, but not complicated. St. Macarios of Egypt, states, «It is not necessary to lose sight of one’s self in a plethora of words. It is suffice to just stretch your arms and say: «Lord, according to your will, have mercy on me». When find yourself in a (spiritual) battle, just say: «Lord, help me!» He knows what you need and He will show mercy on you.» Private prayer, then, ought not to be chatty, but rather should be short and with substance. The Jesus Prayer is the perfect example of this recommended blend of «simplicity» and «substance.»

2) Second, its fullness. The Jesus Prayer encompasses the truth about God and about ourselves. When one invokes the all-powerful Name of Jesus, one confesses Jesus as Lord; in other words, one affirms that Jesus is the anointed Messiah and the only begotten Son of God, Who was born from the Father before all ages. And, recognizing one’s own sinfulness in the last part of the prayer, one seeks God’s mercy and salvation through repentance.

It is a prayer of praise and repentance. One can detect the cyclic movement in this Prayer, a movement of rising up and coming back. During the first part of the prayer we rise up to God: «Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God», and then during the second part, we return to our inner self with a contrite spirit: «have mercy on me a sinner.» (Kallistos Ware).

Those who have tasted the gift of the Holy Spirit, are conscious of two feelings: on the one hand, they experience the feeling of joy and consolation, and on the other, they experience the feeling of turbulence, fear and lamentation. (St. Macarios of Egypt).

3) Third, the power of the Name of Jesus. Jesus’ Name, being the name of the Incarnate God, encompasses a tremendous power. Contrary to the Jews, who do not invoke the Name of God even today, we Christians invoke directly God’s holy Name and ask for His help. Whoever calls on the name of the Lord shall be saved. (Acts 2:21 and Rom.10:13). From an Orthodox perspective, the Lord’s Name carries an ontological depth; its prayerful invocation makes God present, sanctifying the one who speaks it and effecting a spiritual communion with the Lord.

4) Finally, the spiritual exercise of the prayer’s repetition. St. Nicodimos the Hagiorite says that St. Paul’s admonition pray ceaselessly (1 Thes. 5:17) does not concern only those who lead a monastic life of ascesis, obscurity, and reside on mountain caves, but it also concerns Christians living in the world who have family responsibilities, such as farmers, merchants, lawyers, and even kings. St. Paul’s admonition is a global one; the high calling to deification belongs to and is possible for everyone.

Given the power and significance of the Jesus Prayer, the fathers of the Philokalia, together with more recent voices from the Orthodox Christian tradition, also express caution about some common misunderstandings of this prayer. For example:

– The Jesus Prayer is not «magic»:

It is not out of place here to point out that there is nothing automatic or magical about the Jesus Prayer. If we do not strive to obey His commandments, calling upon His Name will be in vain (cf. Matt 7:21-23). (Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov))

– The Jesus Prayer is not «yoga»:

Though some similarities do exist between the method of the Jesus Prayer with that of Yoga, there are however some absolute differences concerning the substance. The aim of Hinduistic Yoga is to unite man with the universe through apathy and impassivity; or it aims at perfection for one’s future reincarnations, whereas in Byzantine Mysticism, the final goal of the Jesus Prayer is union with the personal God, union with Jesus Christ. For Byzantine hesychasts, omphaloskopia, that is the bending of the head towards the navel, is not a means to an end, nor is it an automatic means of acquiring God’s grace, as it is sometimes falsely believed; it is rather a journey within, a descending of the mind in the heart, which is the center of our being. Controlling one’s breathing and repeating the Jesus Prayer, one may reach the point where the name of Jesus is recited mentally, following the beat of the heart, regardless of what he is doing at the moment, like working, being idle or sleeping. (Antonios-Aemilios Tachiaos).

In the last decade I have often come across perverted ideas about the practice of this Prayer. The most unacceptable are those identifying it with yoga, Buddhism, and even ‘transcendental meditation.’ The radical distinction between all these deviations from Christianity consists in the fact that at the root of our life is the Revelation of a PERSONAL God: I AM. All other paths deflect our mind from the personal interrelationship between God and the one who prays into the realm of abstract trans-personal Absolute, into impersonal asceticism.» (Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov))

– The Jesus Prayer is not to be practiced intensely without a guide

The Fathers of the Church have warned us about the spiritual, psychological and physical dangers one may encounter, if one practices this prayer without the guidance of an experienced spiritual father.

D) CONCLUSION

The increasing interest in «spirituality» that we see in our society today is a sign of hope that more and more people are looking for meaning and for a way of existing that goes beyond the pursuit of wealth, fame, and bodily pleasure. From the perspective of Orthodox Christianity, with its 2,000 year history of spirituality and saints, this spiritual yearning stems from the very depth of our being-from the deep heart that each of us has received as a creature «in the divine image» (cf. Gen 1:26).

Furthermore, Orthodoxy teaches that this yearning can be satisfied through the «life in Christ», which is the fullness of Orthodox spirituality-scripture, tradition, liturgy, philanthropy, and prayer.

As one precious treasure, Orthodoxy offers all the world the «Jesus Prayer» and the wisdom of the holy fathers throughout the ages on how this prayer can be practiced,

In summary, we recall that The Jesus Prayer or «prayer of the heart»…

can be recited:

By anyone.

In the company of others and when we are alone.

As a private as well as a common prayer.

is a prayer:

For all seasons.

For every place and time.

For the desert and for the city.

For those beginning in spiritual matters and for those advanced.

That is never out of touch.

That is grounded in scripture and in ancient Christianity.

That confesses Jesus Christ and expresses repentance

That sustains those who practice it properly, and leads to deification.

In this way, the Jesus prayer serves as a lens for viewing and understanding the overall approach to spirituality within Orthodox Christianity.

E) SELECTED BIBLIOGRAPHY

A Monk of the Eastern Church (Lev Gillet), The Jesus Prayer (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995).

Anonymous. The Way of a Pilgrim, trans. R.M.French (HarperOne, 1991)

Brianchaninov, Ignatius. On the Prayer of Jesus (Element Books, 1987)

Mantzarides, Giorgios. Orthodox Spiritual Life (Holy Cross Orthodox Press, 1994)

The Philokalia: Volumes 1-4, trans. G.E.H Palmer, P. Sherrard, K. Ware (Faber & Faber)

Fr. Sophrony (Sakharov). On Prayer (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1998)

Ware, Kallistos. The Power of the Name: The Jesus Prayer in Orthodox Spirituality (SLG Press, 1986)

Ware, Kallistos. The Orthodox Way (St. Vladimir’s Seminary Press, 1995)

——————————————————————————–

[1] Proceedings of International Conference in Commemoration of the 50th Anniversary of Sogang University, (October 20-24, 2008): Mystical Tradition and Autobiography as the Source of the Multi-Cultural Spirituality in a Global World,

 

(     http://orthodox.or.kr/ortboard/read.cgi?board=pub_joy&y_number=0&nnew=1     )

Για όσους Έλληνες επιθυμούν να μάθουν περισσότερα για τη καρδιακή προσευχή και την Ορθόδοξη πνευματικότητα, πέρα από την Φιλοκαλία, υπάρχει και ένα καταπληκτικό βιβλίο για την καρδιακή προσευχή για όλους εμάς που ζούμε μέσα στο κόσμο. Το προτείνουμε ανεπιφύλακτα στους αναγνώστες του μπλογκ.

Η «ευχή» μέσα στο κόσμο, π. Στεφάνου Αναγνωστόπουλου , Πειραιάς, 2007

ΠΕΡΙΕΧΟΜΕΝΑ
ΠΡΟΛΟΓΙΚΟ ΣΗΜΕΙΩΜΑ σελ. 7-8 ΕΙΣΑΓΩΓΙΚΟ ΣΗΜΕΙΩΜΑ σελ. 9-13
ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 1 σελ. 17-104
Ή προσευχή με το Όνομα του Ιησού Χριστού.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 2 σελ. 107-122
Τό «Κύριε Ιησού Χριστέ, έλέησόν με» για κληρικούς καί λαϊκούς.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 3 σελ. 125-159
Τρόποι καί στάδια της Ευχής.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 4 σελ. 163-170
Ευχή καί πόλεμος του διαβόλου.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 5 σελ. 173-211
Ευχή καί κάθαρσις από τα πάθη.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 6 σελ. 215-244
Ευχή, νήψις καί ησυχία.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 7 σελ. 247-259
Ευχή καί φωτισμός του νου.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 8 σελ. 263-286
Ευχή καί μυστική ένωσις με τόν Θεό μέσα στην καρδιά.

ΚΕΦΑΛΑΙΟ 9 σελ. 289-306
Ευχή καί πλάνη.

ΕΠΙΛΟΓΟΣ σελ. 307-309
ΠΑΡΑΡΤΗΜΑ σελ. 310
ΘΕΟΦΙΛΗΣ ΚΡΙΤΙΚΗ σελ. 311
ΣΥΝΤΟΜΟΓΡΑΦΙΕΣ σελ. 312
ΒΙΒΛΙΟΓΡΑΦΙΑ σελ. 313-316
ΕΙΣΑΓΩΓΙΚΟ ΣΗΜΕΙΩΜΑ

Παραγγείλλετε από το διαδίκτυο το βιβλίο :

(     http://www.jesusportal.org/bookstore/orderform.htm    )

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