Monday, 26 February 2018

Praying the Jesus Prayer. Some notes.

What is the Jesus Prayer?
A very simple repetitive prayer, which helps us to focus, to centre the mind on Jesus Christ in routine things of life. Nothing magic about the words. At its heart is nothing less than the invocation of Jesus’ name.

Several versions
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me/us
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, mercy on us and all the world
Lord Jesus have mercy

The Jesus prayer in the Bible
Matthew 9:27 (two blind men) “Have mercy on us, Son of David”
Matthew 15:22 Lord, Son of David, have mercy on me! My daughter is suffering terribly from demon-possession” – note how she asks for mercy on her and then prays for her daughter. Why? Because she loves her daughter
Matthew 20:30 Two blind men:  “Lord, Son of David, have mercy on us”
Mark 10:47 Bartimaeus: “Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!” (cf Luke 18:39)
Luke 18:13 Tax collector: “God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
It is a monologia or monologic prayer.
eg Abba Apollo: ‘As man, I have sinned; as God, do you forgive.’
St Diodochus of Photike (C5th) is the first to write about this Jesus-centred spirituality’.

How do we pray the prayer?
Throw ourselves on mercy of God – doesn’t depend on how we pray the prayer. If we say that God had mercy on me because I prayed the prayer correctly, then we are trusting in how we prayed the prayer and not in God who has given us mercy.

a)         Free use.
Praying the prayer as we walk, at night when we can't sleep, doing exercises etc!
Way of a Pilgrim.
Way to ‘pray without ceasing’ (1 Thess 5.17)

b)         More formal use
Prayer said more quickly in Gk tradition, and slower in Russian tradition. Let words flow ‘like a small murmuring stream’ (Starets Partheny of Kiev (1790-1855)
Sitting upright or standing. Tolleshunt Knights (Archimandtire Sophrony Sakharov, 1896-1993)
Caution: Do not practice the prayer for more than 15 minutes, especially if you connect it with your breathing, unless you have a spiritual director, father, mother etc.

Four ways of praying this prayer.

1. For a specific thing: The blind man seeking sight.

2. As a meditation:
Lord – salvation/assurance (this is the prayer of a believer - 1 Corinthians 12:3), surrender
Jesus – the name of Jesus. The name given by his parents. The importance of names: Hallowed be thy name. Jesus teaches them to pray in his name (Jn 16.23-24). Peter speaks of the name of Jesus (Ac 4.10,12). Paul: at the name of Jesus every knee shall bow (Philippians 2.10)
Find it very hard to focus on this word: Imagine that I am blind man calling out to Jesus. Dynamic presence of Jesus: to call upon a person by name is to render that person dynamically present.
Christ – ties in with Old Testament, the promised one, the ruler of God’s world. He came to save us and deliver us.
Son of God – inseparable from the Trinity; shows us divinity. Shows us to whom we are calling and what we are called to become.
Have mercy on me – Of course that can be for anything: for help in trouble, for someone in need, for a Godly sorrow, for true repentance, for a deeper love. It is a cry which affirms that God’s loving kindness and compassion are greater than my brokenness and guilt. Eleios – mercy. Elaion – olive oil. Bad etymology, good theology. Not dark and somber, but full of light.
A sinner – but this is the main reason we cry for mercy - because with the publican I am a broken, inadequate, weak, mortal sinner. I am unable to love. I am under the wrath of God

‘They asked the Abbot Macarius, saying, ‘How ought we to pray?’ and the old man said, “There is no need of much speaking in prayer, but often stretch out thy hands and say, ‘Lord, as Thou wilt and as Thou knowest, have mercy upon me.’ But if there is war in thy soul, add, ‘help me’. And because He knoweth what we have need of, He showeth us His mercy.” [Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers, p157]

3. As the bedrock of all prayer:
When we pray this prayer we can go no deeper – although we might use technique (prayer beads, breathing), it is about the abandonment of self and technique.
Spike Milligan, on falling over, ‘Thank God the ground broke my fall’
This is the prayer that rests on Jesus. We can drop no further. 
The prayer which underlies all my prayers.

4. As a way of going deeper into God
The prayer as a way of life, so that it – the calling on Jesus - becomes closer to me than my breathing. 
It begins with focusing on the words but ends in up encountering God beyond words.
Story told by Cure d’Ars of old man who spent hours in church. ‘I’m not asking God for anything .. I just sit and look at God, and God sits and looks at me.’

‘There came to the abbot Joseph the abbot Lot, and said to him, “Father, according to my strength I keep a modest rule of prayer and fasting and meditation and quiet, and according to my strength I purge my imagination: what more must I do?” The old man, rising, held up his hands against the sky, and his fingers became like ten torches of fire, and he said, “If thou wilt, thou shalt be made wholly a flame.” [Helen Waddell, The Desert Fathers, p158]

St Diodochus of Photike (C5th): ‘The intellect requires of us imperatively some task that will satisfy its need for activity. For the complete fulfilment of its purpose we should give it nothing but the prayer Lord Jesus. Let the intellect continually concentrate on these words within its inner shrine with such intensity that it is not turned aside to any mental images’

 ‘When using the prayer, we seek to still our imagination. Instead of calling to mind incidents from the life of Christ, we dwell upon his total and immediate presence. When visual images occur, we set them aside. We do not engage in chains of reasoning or a string of resolutions. We think solely of Jesus himself’ Kallistos Ware

St Romuald of Camaldoli (d 1027), ‘If your mind wanders, do not give up; hurry back and apply your mind to the words once more.’

John Climacus, ‘Contain your mind within the words of prayer’

Hesychasm: Stillness, rest, quiet, silence. ‘Silence in the religious sense signifies God-awareness. What matters in silence is not our external situation but our inner disposition. It is a matter, not of keeping our mouth shut, but of opening our heart to God.’ Kallistos Ware. [Rowan Williams speaks of the silence of expectation – like birds before the rising dawn]. It is not isolation but relationship.

Helps to prayer:
1.         Soul friend, spiritual director/father/mother
2.         Prayer rope. [YouTube: The Jesus prayer with Bishop Simon Barrington-Ward]  Holy Spirit and silence. St Isaac the Syrian (C7th): ‘I do not want to count milestones, but to enter the bridal chamber’. Gives us something physical to do.
3.         Praying with each breath.

Is it self-centered?
There is a real danger that all of this is incredibly individualistic – but actually the person who has become like Christ is set free to love – they weep when others weep and they rejoice when others rejoice. Your burden becomes their burden.  
1. Woman who prays, ‘Have mercy on me, my daughter is sick’
2. When we pray the Jesus prayer, we forget self and concentrate on him.
3.  St Seraphim of Sarov: ‘Acquire inner peace, and thousands around you will find salvation’

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