Monday, June 17, 2019

The Habit of the Jesus Prayer - Saint Theophan

Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me a sinner.
Saint Theophan the Recluse

It has but few words, yet they embrace everything. From days of old, it has been known that the habit of this prayer can supplant all other prayers. And is there anyone zealous of salvation who is not familiar with this prayer? Great is the power of this prayer, according to the holy fathers. Yet, in fact, we see that not all who practice this prayer partake of its power; not all get to taste its fruits. Why is this? Because they want to appropriate what belongs to Gods gift and is the work of the grace of God. To begin to repeat this prayer in the morning, in the evening, while walking or lying down, at work or at leisure, is our doing: no special help from God is needed. Working at that, one can reach the point at which the tongue will repeat the prayer even without our being aware of it. A certain calming of thoughts may follow, as may a certain warming of the heart; but all this will be, as the monk Nikephoros remarks in the Philokalia, the doing and the fruit of our own efforts. To stop at this point would be the same as being satisfied with the ability of a parrot to pronounce certain words, even ones such as “Lord, have mercy.” The benefit of this will be that you will assume that you have something, while you have absolutely nothing. This happens to those who, while acquiring the habit of this prayer insofar as it is up to us, are not granted the awareness of its essence.
Not realizing that, they remain satisfied with the above-mentioned initial natural signs of its action, and stop seeking. But in one in whom this awareness awakens, the seeking does not stop. Rather, seeing that no matter how much he intensifies his following the advice of the elders, the fruits he expects do not appear, he discontinues any expectation of fruit from his own efforts, and puts all his hope in God. When this occurs, then grace is given the opportunity to act. Grace comes at its own moment and grafts the prayer to the heart. Then, as the elders say, everything will he the same on the outside, but not the same in Inner power.
What has been said about this prayer is applicable to any manifestation of spiritual life. Take an angry person, and suppose he is seized by a strong desire to eliminate his anger and acquire meekness. In books about asceticism there are directions on how to behave to achieve this. He learns all of it and begins to follow the instructions. How far can he get with his own efforts? No further than to silence his mouth when angry, with some taming of the anger itself, but to eliminate anger completely and install meekness in his heart — that far he will never get by himself. This happens only when grace appears and grafts meekness to the heart.

And thus it is with respect to everything. Whatever fruit of the spiritual life you seek, seek it with all your strength, but do not expect anything from your search and exertion. Pour out before God your affliction, without ascribing anything to yourself, and He shall bring it to pass (Ps 36:5). Pray: I desire, I am seeking, but quicken Thou me through Thy righteousness. The Lord has ordained that without Me you can do nothing (Jn 15:5). And in spiritual life, this law is carried out precisely, without the slightest deviation from that which has been ordained.

Reference: Psalm 118: A Commentary by Saint Theophan the Recluse, pp 114-115

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