Monday, June 28, 2010

Illumination: Developing Pure Prayer

Fr. Dimitru next shows us the different ways to lift our minds to pure prayer.  He outlines the teachings of the following Saints. 

Saint John Chrysostom:
He teaches the return of the mind to the heart and the repetition of a short prayer addressed to Jesus.

St. Simeon the New Theologian: The Method of Holy Prayer and Attention
He outlines four levels of prayer:
1. Prayer accompanied with imagination.
2. Prayer which concentrates on the words of the prayer not accepting images or other sensations.
3. Guarding the heart and praying from the depths of the heart, calling on Jesus Christ, without distraction from passions, and with obedience to a spiritual father.
4. The final level is when the mind remains motionless in contemplation of God.

Nicephorus the Monk:
He recommends that we seek the heart from the very beginning and to coordinate our saying of the prayer with the breath, persistently reciting the prayer addressed to Jesus.

Gregory of Sinai:
Saint Gregory provides detailed instructions for the body and mind. He advises that the Jesus Prayer should be recited with both mind and mouth.
"It is necessary only to speak quietly and without agitation, so that somehow the mind doesn't trouble the feeling and attention of the mind and hinder them.  this until the mind, getting used to this work will make progress and receive the power of the spirit to be able to pray fully and persistently.  Then it is no longer necessary to speak with the mouth, but neither is it possible; then it is  enough to carry on the work with the mind."
He also instructs us to divide the Jesus prayer in half, repeating each half by itself for a time. (Lord Jesus Christ Son of God -- Have mercy on me a sinner)

Callistus and Igantius:
They add the idea of thinking of death, the judgment, the reward of good works and the punishment of evil.

Nicodemus the Aghiorite:
He emphasizes the need to give the mind something to do with the meditation of the Jesus Prayer. He also gives details on the use of the breath in prayer.

Fr. Dimitru concludes his discussion suggesting we focus on the simpler method of John Chrysostom, which is the recitation of the Jesus Prayer without the complications of body movements, positions or control of breathing.

He then reviews the lessons from the Way of the Pilgrim, a story of a Russian pilgrim who sought to find how to pray unceasingly and learned to recite the Jesus Prayer more and more each day until it became a constant prayer. It is a gripping and powerful story.

Fr. Dimitru Stailoae says,
The Jesus prayer becomes gradually a mental prayer, also the content of the mental prayer is also Jesus...   
It becomes mental prayer when there is no longer the need for either words, or methods, and the  mind is occupied with it unceasingly, along with the heart.
The practice of the Jesus prayer is important for our spiritual growth towards theosis. Some say it is essential.

For those looking for information about how to practice the Jesus prayer, I suggest you go to the website Prayer.html  Here you will find useful information and links to many articles. Also there are many posts on this blog regarding the Jesus Prayer.  This link will lead you to some of them.

Reference: Orthodox Spirituality, pp 262 -282

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