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PrayerisNotOptional

AlbertS.Rossi
Alayman,attheStVladimir'sSeminarySummerInstitute,wrotethissentenceasthemostimportant
thinghelearnedallweek.
WhichWords
TheclassicalformoftheJesusPrayeris,
"LordJesusChrist,SonofGod,havemercyonme,asinner."
Theactualwordsofourshortprayerscanvary.WemightsaytheclassicversionoftheJesusPrayer,or
wemightsay,"LordJesusChrist,havemercyonme."Wemaysay,"LordJesus,havemercy."Or,we
mightsayaPsalmverse,oraBiblequote,orsomeotherprayer.
Monksofoldsaid,"Lord,makehastetohelpme.Lord,makespeedtosaveme,"alldaylong.
ThehistoryoftheJesusPrayergoesback,asfarasweknow,totheearlysixthcentury,with
Diadochos,whotaughtthatrepetitionoftheprayerleadstoinnerstillness.EvenearlierJohnCassian
recommendedthistypeofprayer.InthefourthcenturyEgypt,inNitria,short"arrow"prayerswere
practiced.
AbbaMacariusofEgyptsaidthereisnoneedtowastetimewithwords.Itisenoughtoholdoutyour
handsandsay,"Lord,accordingtoyourdesireandyourwisdom,havemercy."Ifpressedinthe
struggle,say,"Lord,saveme!"orsay,"Lord."Heknowswhatisbestforus,andwillhavemercyupon
us.

Pray Ceaselessly
Weareallcalledtopraywithoutceasing,saysSt.Paulin1Thess5:17.Therealquestionsis,how.
TheJesusPrayerprovidesonegoodwaytoprayconstantly.Infact,theJesusPrayeristhemost
widespreadandmostspecificallyOrthodoxspiritualprayer,accordingtoMetropolitanCorneanu.
OurtaskistodrawnearertoGod.St.IsaacofSyriasaysthatitisimpossibletodrawneartoGodby
anymeansotherthanincreasingprayer.

The Power of the Name


Biblically,knowingaperson'snamegavepoweroverthatperson.Namewaslinkedwithbeing.Inthe
OldTestament,GodwouldnotdiscloseHisname.IntheNewTestament,Jesusexplicitlygivesus
God'sname,Father,andtellsustousethenameinprayer.JesusgivesusaccesstotheGodhead
throughthename.
JesustoldHisApostlesthattheyhadn'treallyusedHisNameinprayerenough."Hithertoyouhave
askednothinginMyName;askandyouwillreceive,thatyourjoymaybefull"(Jn16:23).

Hidden Martyrdom
Tryingtoprayrepetitivelyisaninnerasceticism.AccordingtoStIgnatiusBrianchaninov,tryingto
praywithoutceasingisa"hiddenmartyrdom."
Acasual,butprofound,exampleofthiscametoasmallgroupofhighschoolstudents.Theywere
visitingahomeforunwedmothers.Thewomanwhodirectsthehomespoketothemforahalfhour.

Becausethewomansensedthatthestudentswerewonderingaboutherownfaithcommitment,she
said,"Well,youhavebeenhere30minutesandIhaveprayed15times."Shehadn'tbeenoutoftheir
sight,noroutoftheirconversation.Yet,duringtheactiveinterchange,thiswomanfoundthedesire,
attention,andtime,toshoot15"arrow"prayerstoGod.That'skeenvigilance.That'sahidden
martyrdom,especiallywhenattemptedalldaylong.
Prayerrequiressuperhumancourage,giventheatmosphereoftheworldtoday.Thewholeensembleof
naturalenergiesisinopposition.SosaysSophrony.
LionsmaynoteatusforthesakeoftheGospel.Rather,ourcalltomartyrdomtakestheformofbeing
attentivetothepresentmoment,relyinguponGod'spoweralways,anddoingHiswill.Ourcallto
martyrdommaynotbeanyeasierthandeathbyviolence.

Who can Say the Prayer


Clearly,theJesusPrayerisnotonlyformonks.Wearetoldthattheprayerisforcabdrivers,social
workers,businesspersons,teachers,professionalbaseballplayers(notnecessarilyusedtowinagame),
psychiatrists.WeusetheJesusPrayertodoGod'swill,notourownbidding.Anyone,everyonecansay
theJesusPrayer.TheonlyprerequisitesareakeepingoftheCommandments,belivingmemberofthe
Church,andtohaveaguide.
BishopKallistosWarehassoundadviceforthosewhosimplycan'tfindasuitableguide."Butthose
whohavenopersonalcontactwithstaretsmystillpracticethePrayerwithoutanyfear,solongasthey
dosoonlyforlimitedperiodsinitially,fornomorethantenorfifteenminutesatatimeandsolong
astheymakenoattempttointerferewiththebody'snaturalrhythms."

When to Pray
TheJesusPrayerisrecommendedinthemorning,followingourprayerrule,forsomeperiodoftime,
perhaps10or15minutes.Ifthatisimpossible,thensometimebeforenoon,orintheevening.This
mightbecalled"formal"useoftheprayer.ThesecondformoftheJesusPrayeristhe"free"useofthe
prayer.Thismeansatanyandallothertimesoftheday,ornight.Thisisespeciallytrueforthesemi
automatictaskssuchasdriving,doingdishes,walking,beingunabletosleep,etc.TheJesusPrayeris
notablyusefulintimeofextremeconcernorupset.
Whenalone,wemightfindithelpfultopraytheJesusPrayer,outloud.Thiscanhelplowerthe
distractionlevel.

Prayer of the Heart


TheJesusPrayerisalsocalledthePrayeroftheHeart.InOrthodoxy,themindandheartaretobeused
asone.StTheophantellsustokeepour"mindintheheart"atalltimes.Heartmeansthephysical
musclepumpingblood,andemotions/feelings,andtheinnermostcoreoftheperson,thespirit.Heartis
associatedwiththephysicalorgan,butnotidenticalwithit.Heartmeansourinnermostchamber,our
secretdwellingplacewhereGodlives.
"Theheartisbutasmallvessel;andyetdragonsandlionsarethere,andtherepoisonouscreaturesand
allthetreasuresofwickedness;rough,unevenpathsarethere,andgapingchasms.Therelikewiseis
God,therearetheangles,theheavenlycitiesandthetreasuresofgrace;allthingsarethere."Sosays
St.Macarius.
Someonesaidtheheartisadimensionofinteriorconsciousness,awareness,wherewecomeintouch
withaninnerspace,aspaceofnodimensions.Thisconsciousnessistimeless,theplacewheretears
resideanddeepcontactwiththepresentmomentabide,andfromwhichrestfulmovementcomes.
Actingoutofourheartmeanstoactlightly,withvigorandenthusiasm.Whennotinthatinner
awareness,wearerestless,agitatedandselfconcerned.

Thereiswithinusaspace,afieldoftheheart,inwhichwefindaDivineReality,andfromwhichwe
arecalledtolive.Themind,then,istodescendintothatinnersanctuary,bymeansoftheJesusPrayer
orwordlesscontemplation,andtostaytherethroughoutouractiveday,andevening.Wedescendwith
ourmindintoourheart,andwelivethere.
TheheartisChrist'spalace.There,ChristtheKingcomestotakeHisrest.
Thephotoatthetopofthepageisaseventeenyearoldgirl[Bethany]whosaidthat,whenthiswas
taken,shefeltlikeshewaswalking"intothesilenceofthehills."Toreachthefieldoftheheartwe
needouter,andinner,silence,ratherlikeonemightexperiencewhilegazinguponthisscene.

Silence
Silenceisachoice.Wechoosethethingswewanttodo.Thesethings,then,orderandmeasureour
lives.SomeonesaidthatChristians"orderandmeasure"theirlivesfromcommuniontocommunion.
WemightalsosaytheChristians"orderandmeasure"theirlivesfromsilencetosilence.
Silence,atitsbest,isGodawareness.Wequietdownourouterandinnerlives,andlistentoGod
speak.SomeonesaidthatwhenGodspeaks,Hiswordsarelikethesoundofaflutterofabird'swings.
Weneedtobeattentiveifwearetohearanything.
Outersilenceisachoice.Whenmyson,inhisteenyears,rodewithmeinthefamilycar,wecutadeal.
Hehadthecarradiohalfthetime,andIhadthecarradiohalfthetime.Healwayschosehishalfatthe
beginningofthetrip.Likemostteens,hewantedhisjolliesupfront.Formyhalfoftheride,I
sometimeschosesilence,becauseIlikesilence.Ireallydidn'tdoittocausehimpain.He,however,did
sometimeshavearestlessanddifficulttimeofit.Laterhedidtellmethatheenjoyedourquietevening
ridestogether.
Outersilencecalmsthesenses.Bycontrast,sensoryoverloadandexcitementcanbeaddictive.
Innersilencecanusuallybeachievedonlybysubstitutingonethoughtforanother.Hence,theJesus
Prayeroverridesourusualcompulsivestreamofconsciousnessaboutourownanxieties.Beginning
withthisformofprayer,thenwemightbeledtodeeperinnerstillness,prayerwithoutwords.The
cautionhereisthatprayerwithoutwordsisnotheaviness,semisleepdullness.Rather,wordlessprayer
isalive,vigorousGodawareness.
Aseventeenyearoldsaidshelearnedrecentlythat,"Silenceismyfriend."
AbbaPastortellsusthatanytrialwhichcomestouscanbyconqueredbysilence.

Contemplation
Contemplationhasbeendescribedasclearawarenesswithoutwords.Contemplationisa"seeing
clearly."Welayasidethoughts,nottoleadtoavacuumordrowsiness,buttoinnerplenitude.Wedeny
toaffirm.Wordlesscontemplationisnotanabsence,butapresence,aGodawareness.Theaimisto
bringusintoadirectmeetingwithapersonalGod,onGod'sterms.
Innersilence,innerstillness,calledhesychia,isexperiencedbywordlesssitting,imageless
contemplation.Whenconsciousnessstrays,aphraselike"LordJesus"canbeusedtobringthemind
back,andthenthepersonsitsquietlyinthepresenceoftheLord.Thedesireofwordlesssitting
awarenessistoopenoneselftoGod,tolistentoGod.
Someteacherssuggestthatifweareable,wespendahalfhourofwordlesssitting,begunbyasking
Godtoteachustopray,oraBiblequote.Usuallythisisbestdoneinthemorning,uponrisingor
beforenoon.Ifthepersonisable,ablockofthesomequiettimeisalsorecommendedfortheevening.
Hopefully,allthisisworkedoutwiththedirectionofaspiritualguide.

BoththeJesusPrayerandcontemplationmakeussinglecentered,concentratinguponthehereand
now,focused,onepointed.ThepointisGod.

Changing the Universe


Everyprayerchangestheentireuniverse.Oureveryprayer,eachprayer,actuallychangeshistory,the
wayGodcreatedtheworld,andallelse.Godisoutsidetime.Godisnot"waitingupthere"forour
prayer,andthenHeacts.AllhasalreadyoccurredinGod.

Intercessory Prayer
StTherese,aRomanCatholicsaint,haddifficultyknowingthatGodheardherprayersforothers.Asa
youth,shedecidedtoputGod"tothetest"onceandforall.Perhapsonlyasaintcan"test"God.She
prayedferventlyforthesalvationofacallusedserialkillerofwomen,HenriPranzini.Pranziniwas
caught,foundguiltyandsentencedtotheguillotine.Duringthistime,Thereseprayedthathebesaved,
andthatshebegivenasignthataconversiontookplace.Pranzinibecamemorearrogant.Therese
persisted.Ontheexecutionday,Pranziniwalkedupthesteps,puthisheadontotheblock,stilljeering.
Then,unexpectedly,heliftedup,grabbedthecrucifixhangingfromthesideofthenearbypriest,and
PranzinikissedthefeetofChristthreetimes.Pranzinipubliclyrepented.Hethenputhisheadback
downontotheblock,andtheguillotinefell.Thereseclaimedthatherprayerswereanswered.She
claimedthatherintercessoryprayerssavedahardenedcriminal.
Isthisreallythewayintercessoryprayerworks?Inaword,yes.How?Theanswertothatrests
somewhereinGod'smysteriousways.Whatwedoknow,forcertain,isthateveryprayerforsomeone
elseisheard,andinGod'sgoodness,answered,fortheotherperson'sgood.Everysingleprayerfor
anotherhelpsthatotherperson,andhelpsus.
Thelivesofthesaintsarerepletewithexamples.StMonica,motherofStAugustine,prayeddayand
nightforhersonwhenhewaslivingawildlife.Augustinehad,amongotheractivities,fatheredachild
outofwedlock.MonicawastoldbyherBishopthat"nochildofsomanytears(prayers)couldbelost."
Monica'sprayerswereinstrumentalinsavingAugustine.
Weareeachcalledtopray,ardently,forourchildren,family,priest,theChurch,country,world.We
haveanobleandroyalvocation,toprayandmakeanuntolddifferenceintheentirecosmos.

How Does It Work?


Likeswimming,weareto"jumpin"andjustbegin.Thereisaworldofdifferencebetweenthinking,or
talking,aboutquietprayer,andactuallypraying.Likebeginningswimmers,weonlylearnbygetting
wet.
TheFatherstellusthat,often,thefirstthingthathappensisanexperienceofdarknessandresistance.
Then,whenwepersist,peacebeginstoreplacethedarkness.Thetemptationsmaybecomemore
severe,eventemptationstostopthepraying,butwesinless.TheFatherstellusthat,aswecontinueto
prayandlivethecommandments,gotoChurchandlistentoourspiritualFather,wecanexpectto
becomefreedfromindecision,upsetandhesitation.Ourwillbecomesstronger.Wecanexpecttobe
availabletoothersinwaysweotherwisewouldnothavebeen,andwewillbecomemoreeffectiveand
creative.
BishopKallistosWaresaysthatbyspendingonlyafewmomentsinvokingtheDivineNameeachday,
weactuallytransformalltheotherremainingmomentsoftheday.
Inthebeginning,theremaybenonewinsightsandnopleasantfeelings.Wasitawasteoftime?Not
necessarily.Byfaith,theChristianbelievesthatspendingtimewantingtopray,andactuallypraying,
doestouchaMercifulGod.Godhears.And,inturn,DivineTruthisknownthroughdirectexperience,
sometimescalledintuition.Somethingishappening,andchangingatadeeperlevelofconsciousness,
unnoticed.

Wecanexpectinvisible,subtlesnares,sentfromSatan,preciselybecausewehaveupscaledourefforts,
andareturningtoGod.Inasense,werousetheenemytoaction.St.JohnChrysostomsaysthatwhen
webegintopraywestirthesnake(livingwithinus)toaction,andthatprayercanlaythesnakelow.
Thereisnoasceticeffortmoredifficult,morepainful,thantheefforttodrawclosetoGod,Sophrony
tellsus.
Whenwebegintopray,weexpenddesireandeffort.TheresultsareuptoGod.Realprayerisagift
fromGod,notthepaymentforourperspiration.
PrayerworksintheUnseenWarfareasapower/giftfromJesus,givenasafunctionofourabilityto
receiveit.Weincreaseourabilitytoreceivebyaskingfortheincrease,andGodgrantsitasHeseesfit,
inHistender,allsweetandmercifulmanner.

Not Yoga
Sitting,sayingtheJesusPrayer,orinwordlesscontemplation,isnotYogaoranyfarEasternpractice.
ThedifferenceistheChristianencounterwiththelivingGod,Jesus.
Thepostures,techniquesandouterformmaybesimilar,butthecontentisuniqueinChristianprayer.
ThecontentofChristianprayerisJesus.
Sometimesthedifferenceislikenedtoapricelesspainting.Wemightadmiretheexquisiteframeofthe
painting,andrightlyso.Buttheframeisnotthemasterpiece.ThesimilaritiesofEasternYogaandSufi
practiceinprayeraretheframe,butChrististhemasterpiece,theinsides,oftheprayeroftheChristian.
And,thatisallthedifferenceintheworld.

Techniques & Psychosomatic Issues


TheOrthodoxunderstandingoftheroleofthebodyinprayerrestsuponasoundanthropology.The
body,soulandspiritactasasingleunit,notdividedorsplitup.Therefore,thebodyhasarolein
prayer.
Howweinvolvethebodycanbeunderstoodinthreeways.Sometimesthisiscalledpsychotechniques.
1.Breathing,2.InnerExploration,and3.Posture.Acrossthecenturies,theseissueshavebeen
explosive.
1.

Breathing.BishopKallistosWaresaysthatifwepraytheJesusPrayerforshortperiods,tenor
fifteenminutesatthebeginning,thenthereisnoproblemmatchingthewordsoftheprayerto
ourbreath.Wearetobreathnaturally,withoutplayingwiththerhythmofthebreath.Onthe
inhale,wecansay,"LordJesusChrist,SonofGod."Ontheexhale,wecansay,"havemercy
onme,asinner."Wearetobreathandprayslowlyandreverentlyandattentively.

2.

InnerExploration.Innerexplorationusuallymeansfollowingourbreathintothenostrils,
downintothelungs,aroundtheinsides,andout.Thisisunquestioningly,forbidden.The
dangersinvolvedinallthiscannotbeexaggerated.

3.

Posture.Theusualposition,asrecommendedbyBishopKallistosWare,isacomfortable
sittingpositioninachair.Sometimesstandingisrecommended.Usuallytheeyesarekept
closed.Posturecantakemanyforms,aslongastheposturesarereverent.

Modernseriousandenlightenedauthors,suchasBishopWare,StIgantiusBrianchaninovand
Sophronyallagreethat"thefullnessoftheJesusPrayercanbypracticedwithoutanyphysicalmethods
atall."
Insummary,itcanbesaidthatphysicalmethodsareoptionalandnotatallnecessary.Physical
techniquesaremoresuitableforbeginners,saysStGregoryPalamas.Physicaltechniquesare

potentiallydangerous,andnottobeusedwithoutaguide.StTheophansuggests,"Makeahabitof
havingtheintellectstandintheheart,butnotinaphysicalway."

Prayer Rope
Orthodoxprayerropesareusuallysoftandmadeofwool.Thepurposeistohelpusconcentrate,not
necessarilytocount.Inthefamousbook,TheWayofthePilgrim,thepilgrimsaidtheprayer2,000,
then6,000,then12,000times.Is12,000JesusPrayersbetterthan2,000?Absolutelynot.Quantityhas
nothingtodowithlove,andalivingrelationshipwithJesus.Thepilgrimdid12,000,nomoreandno
less,asanactofobediencetohisspiritualfather,notbecausehewas"makingprogress."Healso
prayedmuchbecausethatwashis"heart'sdesire."Everyprayerisanactoflove,madetotheAuthorof
Love,Whoiswaitingexpectantlyforourdesire,andouracceptanceofHisLove.

The Jesus Prayer as Psychotherapy


Asmedicine,theJesusPrayerisdestructiveofthepassionsandalteringofconduct.Justasadoctor
placesadressingonapatient'swound,andthedressingworkswithoutthepatient'sknowinghow,
callingontheNameofGod"removesthepassions"withoutourknowinghowandwhy,accordingto
BarsanupiusandJohn.
TheHolyName,whenrepeatedquietly,penetratesthesoulratherlikeadropofoil,spreadingoutand
impregnatingacloth.
Ourmoderntranslationof"mercy"islimitedandinsufficient."Mercy"comesfromtheGreekeleison.
Eleisonhasthesamerootaselaionwhichmeansoliveandoliveoil.IntheMiddleEast,oliveoil
providesphysicalhealingformanysicknesses,particularlyrespiratory."Havemercy"meanstohave
"healingoil"onmysoul.
TheFatherstellusthatprayingtheSacredNamechangesourpersonality,fromoverstraintojoy.
"HithertoyouhaveaskednothinginmyName;ask,andyouwillreceive,thatyourjoymaybefull"(Jn
16:24).
TheJesusPrayerfunctionsastherapy,muchlikehealingoil,transformingourpersonalityfrom
overstraintojoy,andbycontinuingtopray,thesechangesbecomepermanent.

Results of Prayer
Wedon'tsaytheJesusPrayer,orenterwordlesscontemplation,toget"somebenefit."Wedon'tprayto
reduceourstress,orstrengthenourimmunesystem,orloseweight,oraddyearstoourlife.Onthe
contrary,weenterprayertofollowChrist,tobecomeopentoHim.HiswayistheWayoftheCross.

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