Development of Hesychasm and the Psycho-Physical Aspects / Jesus Prayer and Other Types of Prayer/Meditation

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Session 3 & 4 of "Hesychia: Inner Silence and the Jesus Prayer"

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Development of Hesychasm and Psychophysiological Aspects This morning, we have seen the prehistory of the Jesus Prayer in the Gospel and in the early monasticism of Egypt. We said that the monasticism of the 4th century Egyptian desert provided three of the four basic elements of the Jesus Prayer, namely, the sentiments of Pentos, the frequent repetition of a short prayer, and the aim of achieving non-discursive, pure prayer. But for the most important element of the Jesus Prayer, the invocation of the Holy Name, to take root, we have to wait till the 5th century, when Jesus-centered spirituality began to emerge.


This evening, I am going to present the historical development of Hesychasm, from its origin to full flowering in the 14th century on Mount Athos. The term Hesychasm, derived from Hesychia, has a variety of meanings. In general, it stands for the Hesychast spiritual tradition. In its narrow sense, a Hesychast is one who practices the Jesus Prayer, normally by adopting some kind of physical technique. But in a broader sense, Hesychasm denotes a whole spiritual tradition extending from the 5th to the 18th century. The idea of Hesychia as taught by this spiritual tradition insists on silence, withdrawal,


and regular separation from the world. The Hesychasts are less preoccupied with ascetic deeds than the earlier Desert Fathers. Their main emphasis is upon prayer, and inner prayer often associated with some specific method. The historical development of Hesychasm can be divided into three periods corresponding to different geographical points of reference. First, early origin prior to Sinai. Second, Sinai Hesychasm. And third, Athenite Hesychasm, or Hesychasm on Mount Athos. As the Hesychast tradition over the years attached a certain importance to the physical method in connection with the Jesus Prayer, I shall discuss these techniques in the second


part of the talk and shall deal with the psychosomatic effects related to the practice of the Jesus Prayer. First, origins of the Jesus Prayer prior to Sinai Hesychasm. While some modern specialists regard the Jesus Prayer as distinctively an expression of what they term Sinai spirituality, Callisto's work points out that this view is misleading. The earliest evidence of the prayer's use comes from elsewhere. According to Callisto, Sinai plays the role of transmitting rather than originating. The real beginning of the distinctive spirituality of the Jesus Prayer can be located in the fifth century in the writings of Diadochus, Bishop of Pothikos in northern Greece.


His work, Hundred Chapters on Spiritual Knowledge, occupies an important place in the history of the Jesus Prayer. As we have seen this morning, he combined the various basic elements of the Jesus Prayer by proposing the frequent invocation of the name of Jesus as the way to achieve non-discursive and imageless prayer. Thus, he made a step beyond evaluation by teaching a concrete method of attaining pure prayer. Moreover, he also teaches that the invocation of Jesus leads to a vision of the light of the intellect and to a feeling of warmth in the heart. In this way, he was the first among the Greek writers to combine the two complementary trends of spirituality, the light mysticism of Evagrius with the affective emphasis of the homilies


of Materius. From Diadochus, we pass to Bartholomew and John, the two elders of Gaza in Palestine, who lived in the 6th century. In their teachings, they strongly recommend unceasing prayer through constant repetition of some short prayer. They suggest a variety of formulae in their writings in which a paramount value is attached to the invocation of the holy name of Jesus. From Bartholomew, we inherit the shorter form of the Jesus prayer itself – Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me. But the first occurrence of the standard formula – Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me – is found in the life of Abba Philemon, an Egyptian monk living probably in the 6th


century. Now we move on to the second period, namely Sinai Hesychasm. The famous monastery of Saint Catherine on Mount Sinai was founded by the Emperor Justinian I in 527. While upholding the aim of non-discursive prayer, the Sinai spirituality has a special affective flavor, with a tenderness concentrated upon the person of Jesus Christ. The Jesus prayer is recommended by three writers associated with Sinai – John Climacus, in the 7th century, and his two followers, Hesychius and Philosophus. John Climacus obtained his name, which means ladder, from his famous work The Ladder of Divine Ascent, which was intended to be a directory of monastic spirituality by creatively


synthesizing the various trends in previous traditions. The ladder, divided into thirty steps, ascending from earth to heaven, is mostly concerned with the active life, namely with combating passion and acquiring virtue. But there are three allusions to the Jesus prayer in the ladder. John Climacus is the first Greek writer to use the term Jesus prayer. In step 15, the Jesus prayer is said to be a monologic prayer, meaning a prayer consisting of one logo or one phrase. Climacus gives the advice that one should practice it as one drops off to sleep. In step 21, invocation of the name of Jesus is presented as an effective weapon against


the demons, as the author urges us to flog the enemies with the name of Jesus. The most important reference is found in step 27 on Hesychia, where the Jesus prayer is connected with the state of stillness or hesychia. After defining hesychia as laying aside of thought, Climacus continues, Let the remembrance of Jesus be united with your breathing. Then you will appreciate the value of stillness. Here, as in other Hesychia writers, remembrance of Jesus means invocation of his holy name. While the idea of uniting the remembrance of Jesus to one's breathing may suggest some sort of breathing technique, but the more obvious meaning is that our remembrance of


Jesus should be as constant as our breathing. Whereas Climacus refers only occasionally to the Jesus prayer, Hesychius makes it the central and constantly recurring theme of his work on watchfulness and holiness, which is one of the most important texts in the literature of the Jesus prayer. The author mentions various ways of maintaining watchfulness, such as closely scrutinizing every mental image, freeing the heart from all thoughts, continually and humbly calling upon the Lord Jesus Christ for help, and keeping the thought of death constantly in one's mind. While these means should be applied together, the most cherished and most effective means


of keeping watch and conquering the enemy, according to Hesychius, is no doubt the Jesus prayer, an expression which he frequently employs. The power of the holy name over the enemy is expressed in every page and every paragraph of his text. The invocation of the name of Jesus not only protects us from the assault of the enemy, it also introduces us into the knowledge of the mysteries of God, arouses love in us, and brings joy to our hearts. Hesychius also quotes Climacus in relating the Jesus prayer to our breathing. Let the Jesus prayer cleave to your breathing. Philateus, the third Hesychius writer of Sinai, views the Jesus prayer as an efficacious means


of gathering together our fragmented selves. He likewise connects prayer with breathing. We must always breathe God. And he has very interesting things to say about the vision of life, on which I shall return later. Now, the third period, Athonite Hesychism, or Hesychism on Mount Athos. All the three Sinai authors link the invocation of Jesus with the breathing. Is such language merely metaphorical, or does it point to a specific breathing technique related to the recitation of the Jesus prayer? Callistos thinks it hard to know.


The first unambiguous and developed description of such a method in the Greek sources dates only from the late 13th century, in a work by Misephorus, the Hesychast, a monk of Mount Athos. There is a similar description in a text attributed to Simeon, the new theologian. But it is now commonly agreed that it cannot be the work of Simeon, and possibly it is also by Misephorus. The major representatives of the Hesychasm of Mount Athos, however, are Gregory of Sinai and Gregory Palamas, the two contemporaries. Gregory of Sinai came to Mount Athos in the early years of the 14th century. Gregory himself had learned about inner prayer when he was in Crete.


While he did not introduce the Jesus prayer to Athos, he certainly revived the flame there. From Gregory's time onwards, it was Athos, and no longer Sinai, that constituted the main center for the practice and diffusion of the Jesus prayer. Gregory assigned a central place to the Jesus prayer. He used the standard form of the prayer, while also suggesting the use of shorter forms. Gregory urges that the use of the Jesus prayer should be continuous so far as possible. He sees it as a way of attaining imageless, non-discursive prayer. However, while images and thoughts must be excluded during prayer, not all feelings should be rejected. The practice of the Jesus prayer should lead to a sense of joyful sorrow, and to a feeling


of warmth that is not physical but spiritual. From these feelings of compunction and warmth, the ascetic ascends to the contemplation of the divine light that was manifested to the three disciples at the Transfiguration of Jesus on Mount Tabor. During the decade 1337-47, the Hesychast spiritual tradition was challenged in what is known as the Hesychast Controversy. The attack on Hesychasm was launched by a learned Greek from south Italy, a certain Bala, the Calibrian. Gregory Palamas, a monk from Mount Athos, undertook the defense of Hesychast spirituality. The controversy between Bala and Palamas was not a dispute between the Latin West and the


Greek East, but essentially a conflict within the Greek tradition. The controversy centered on the physical techniques associated with the Jesus prayer, as well as the psychosomatic effects of this prayer, that is, the feeling of warmth and the vision of light. While pointing out that the physical method is no more than an aid, and hence something secondary for the practice of the Jesus prayer, Gregory Palamas firmly defends its validity as based on a sound theological principle. The use of psychophysiological techniques in prayer depends on the Jewish biblical view on the unity of the human being, soul and body forming a single whole. Hence the whole human person, body, soul and spirit, mind and heart, must be involved in


prayer. The psychosomatic effects of prayer is based on a holistic view of salvation, which implies the transformation of the whole human reality, material as well as spiritual, rendering it into a true image and likeness of God. The physical method, taught by Necephorus and Gregory of Sinai and defended later by Gregory Palamas, constitutes an important contribution of the Hesychast spirituality of Mount Athos. Even though they did not consider it something indispensable, the physical method, especially in its more sober form, can certainly be of great help for the practice of the Jesus prayer. I shall examine the main aspects of the method, along with the psychosomatic effects related


to it. Both Necephorus and Gregory of Sinai recommend the standard formula of the Jesus prayer, namely, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. Although there might be a difference in emphasis, one may distinguish three main features in the physical method described by both of them. First, a particular bodily posture is enjoined. The ascetic is to sit with his head bound according to the following instructions, resting your beard on your chest and directing your bodily eye together with your entire intellect towards the middle of your belly, that is, towards your navel. Other texts suggest that the gaze is to be fixed on the place of the heart.


Second, the rhythm of the breathing is to be slowed down. Restrain the inhalation of your breath through the nose so as not to breathe in and out at your ease. Necephorus probably intends this slowing down of the respiration to precede rather than accompany the recitation of the Jesus prayer. Control of the breathing is a preliminary exercise in order to secure calmness and concentration necessary for the recitation of the prayer. However, according to later teachings, the tempo of the breathing should be coordinated with the actual words of the prayer. And in modern orthodox practice, it is customary to say the first part of the prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, while breathing in, and the remainder while breathing out.


But there are several variations. For instance, the title Son of God may be left out, or may be set in suspension between breathing in and breathing out. Third, as he controls his breathing, the aesthetic should at the same time search inversely for the place of the heart. As Necephorus says, he should imagine his breath entering through the nostrils and passing down within the lungs until it reaches the heart. In this way, he is to make his mind descend with his breath into the heart. And the effect of the union of mind and heart will be a sense of joyful homecoming. Having found the place of the heart, one then commences the recitation of the Jesus


prayer. Thus, as with the control of the breathing, the inward exploration precedes the actual saying of the prayer. But, as Gregory of Sinai recommends, the constant immersion of the mind in the heart during the Jesus prayer, one gets the impression that the inner search for the heart is meant to be more than a preparatory exercise, and to accompany the recitation of the prayer itself. It is clear that both the breathing control and the search for the heart are intended as means for the concentration of the mind and keeping guard over the heart. I have presented the three features of the physical method, namely external posture,


breathing control, and searching for the heart. What are we going to say about these three aspects as taught by the Hesychast Masters of the 14th century? My first remark is that they are rather sober compared to the more complex and sophisticated techniques developed by later Hesychast teachers. By the way, if anyone would like to adopt any complex method in saying the Jesus prayer, it is necessary to have a competent spiritual director in order to avoid mistakes. Secondly, the three aspects are closely related, forming one unified method. Externally, one has to gaze with eye and mind at one point of the body, the center of the


belly. Internally, one should control one's breath, leading the air accompanied by the mind into the place of the heart. My question is, where the place of the heart is to be found? I believe that the place of our inward exploration, searching for the heart, should correspond to our outward attention or gazing. For this reason, I would venture to say that the place of the heart is flexible. It may be at the center of the chest or even the center of the belly, depending on where one's attention and gazing are directed to. I may be wrong in my interpretation. Somebody suggested me to call Christos. I may write to him eventually.


I may eventually write. A third remark is that there are striking parallels between Hesychast methods and the techniques of Oriental sitting meditation in general. I believe that the similarity with Oriental techniques will make the Hesychast methods better understood and appreciated by some of us. Regarding the bodily posture, it is common to all Oriental practices to stress the necessity of a proper external posture for meditation. However, the lowering of the head and the bending of the back, as suggested by the Hesychast methods, are quite contrary to the basic position in most Oriental practices, which insists on keeping the head and back straight during the sitting meditation.


But the gazing at one particular point of the body is relevant. Although most Oriental practices recommend closing of the eyes, the practitioners are usually told to fix their mind at one particular point of their body. Here I find the Hesychast's reference to the navel most interesting. During the Hesychast controversy, the Hesychasts were ridiculed by their opponent Bala as omphalopsikoi, those who locate the soul in the navel. If certain Western writers have made a big joke of the so-called navel gazing of the Byzantine Hesychasts, this practice may not appear so strange to the Orientals. The abdomen is the vital centre of the body in all forms of Oriental meditation.


The Sino-Japanese tradition in particular has always taught that life and energy well up from the tandem, or hara, the point which lies about an inch below the navel, and which is actually called the ocean of energy in Japanese. Tandem breathing, or breathing from the tandem, is basic not only to sitting meditation, but also to judo, fencing, archery, flower arrangement, tea ceremony, calligraphy, and so forth. In the Hesychast method, the ascetics control their breathing by slowing it down and conducting the air together with the mind into the place of the heart, so that the mind may be confined in the heart. In Oriental meditation, the basic rule is to be mindful of one's breathing.


As life is symbolized by breath, it is precisely in experiencing your breathing that you experience your own life. Mindful is a great Buddhist word. One is simply aware of the natural process of breathing. And as time goes on, the breathing of its own accord becomes deep and abdominal. As one is mindful of one's breathing, the mind or attention also enters into the abdomen together with the breathing, and is fixed at the place of the tandem. So the tandem is, for the Orientals, the center of gravity. It is amazing to find such close parallels between the two methods. Anyone who is familiar with the techniques of Oriental meditation could easily adopt,


perhaps with some adaptation, the Hesychast physical method in reciting the Jesus Prayer with Prophet. After studying the main features of the physical method, let us consider the two psychosomatic effects that often accompany the recitation of the Jesus Prayer, a feeling of warmth and a vision of light. The Hesychast writers insist that the warmth and light in question are not material but spiritual realities. These are, properly speaking, objects of our spiritual senses. If they say that these realities can be perceived by bodily senses, they mean our physical senses that have been transformed and elevated by grains to a superior plane.


The possibility of perceiving spiritual warmth and immaterial light with our transformed bodily senses presupposes a special understanding of human salvation. The Greek Orthodox tradition, as has been noted, teaches a holistic view of salvation, according to which the whole human being, body and soul, will be deified or transformed into the likeness of God. Eternal life is to contemplate God face to face, not only with our spiritual vision but also with our bodily eyes, transformed by grace and the light of future glory. What the Hesychast theologians insist upon is that such transformation has already been


initiated, here and now. With the resurrection of Jesus, the transformation of the human person and of the entire creation is already in process, which is to be completed at the second coming of the Lord. A glimpse of the eternal life as a preview of the future glory is already granted to us, here and now, while we are journeying as pilgrims on earth. The classic instance is the transfiguration of our Lord on Mount Tabor, where he manifested to the three disciples in anticipation not only the glory of his resurrection but also that of his second coming. The Hesychast writers describe a feeling of warmth frequently produced during the recitation


of the Jesus Prayer. They normally attribute such warmth to the working of the Holy Spirit, calling it the burning of the Spirit. As Christians, we have received the Holy Spirit at our baptism, but most Christians are unaware of this secret presence of the Spirit in their heart. In this sense, the Spirit lies dormant and inactive in them. Like other Hesychast writers, Gregory of Sinai sets the Jesus Prayer in a sacramental context. Prayer is defined as the revelation of baptism, or the manifestation of the baptismal grace hidden in us. The Jesus Prayer is an effective means of awakening the Spirit in us, or better, of awakening our heart to the hidden presence of the Spirit, so that he may be able to act


in us. The breathing technique as described by the physical method has a role to play here. According to this method, the ascetic should control his breathing and slowly bring the air into the heart. There, in the inner sanctuary, the baptismal Spirit is present, like a seed of fire buried under ashes. The air coming into the heart has the function of fanning the Spirit so that a fire may be kindled in the heart. Just as water is used as a sacramental sign for the bestowal of the Spirit through baptism, breath is also employed by Jesus as a quasi-sacramental sign for infusing, transmitting, and transmitting the Spirit. According to the Gospel of John, in the evening of the Resurrection Day, the risen Jesus appeared


to the disciples. He greeted them with peace and breathed on them, saying, Receive the Holy Spirit. Ever since then, the risen Christ has never ceased to breathe forth the Spirit from the center of the earth. The breath of the risen Lord fills the air and permeates the entire creation. We come into contact with the breath of the risen Jesus when we draw in the air accompanied by the invocation of his name. As the breath of Jesus enters into our hearts, it kindles the fire of the Spirit latent in us. As a consequence, a feeling of warmth and of love is produced in us that inflames and quickens our prayer, making it what John Carson terms, Firing Prayer.


Another effect of the Jesus Prayer is the vision of light. The contemplation of the divine light following upon the feeling of warmth is explicitly taught by Gregory of Sinai. The exact nature of this light was a crucial point of the Hesychast controversy. Gregory Palamas teaches the following aspect concerning its nature. It is not a physical light of the senses. Yet, it is not just a metaphorical light, but is an existing reality. Though non-material, it can be perceived through the senses, provided they are transformed by grace. Finally, the light has a transforming effect upon the one who beholds it. To sum up, Palamas affirms that what the Hesychasts see is the same light that shone


from Christ at the Transfiguration on Mount Tabor, and that will shine from him at his second coming. On the vision of the light, we have a beautiful description from Philotheus of Sinai. Remember, he is one of the three authors of Sinai. In his text on watchfulness, he says, invoked in prayer, Jesus draws near and fills the heart with light. He also describes the transforming power of this light. He says, at every hour and moment, let us guard the heart with all diligence of thoughts that obscure the soul's mirror. For in that mirror, Jesus Christ, the wisdom and power of God the Father, is delineated and luminously reflected.


It is interesting that he compares the heart to a mirror, a metaphor which is also used by Hesychasts of Sinai and is a favorite image in Buddhist writings, comparing the heart to a mirror. According to Philotheus, by keeping the mirror of our heart pure and by invoking the Holy Name, a light will shine forth from the face of Jesus and will impress his image on the mirror of our heart. It is interesting to note that the Greek word for luminously reflected literally means photographed. It means that the image of Jesus is being photographed, so to speak, on the photographic plate of our heart through the Jesus Prayer. The heart, as has been noted, is our inner sanctuary where we come to God face to face


in a direct encounter. There, the self created in the image of God is confronted with its archetype. If the heart is pure and lucid as a mirror, the light shining from the face of Christ, the original icon of God, will continually transform our creative image to the likeness of its archetype. This process of transformation is beautifully described by Paul in his second letter to the Corinthians. And all of us with unveiled faces, or in our case, with purity of heart, we may say, seeing the glory of the Lord as though reflected in a mirror, are being transformed into the same image from one degree of glory to another, for this comes from the Spirit of the Lord.


2 Corinthians 3.18 Since the human being forms a psychosomatic unity, the inner transformation through divine light sometimes also manifests itself outwardly. This idea is not a hesychastic invention of the 14th century. The Sinai hesychasts could probably claim that such transformation could be seen already in the face of their forefather Moses. After spending 40 days and 40 nights with God on Mount Sinai, the face of Moses was shining when he came down from the mountain. In the sayings of the Desert Father, we find the following episode. A brother came to the cell of Abba Arsenius at Scythes.


Remember the famous Abba Arsenius of yesterday? The famous Fugue, Dante, and Creation. After paying this price, now he also received a reward from God. So this brother went to visit Abba Arsenius. He was waiting outside the door. When he was waiting outside the door, he saw the old man entirely like a flame. It is explained that the brother was worthy of this sight. When he knocked, the old man came out and saw the brother marvel. He said to him, Have you been knocking long? Did you see anything here? The other was afraid and answered, No. So then he talked with him and sent him away. Another story tells about Abba Joseph, a solitary in Parnassus.


One day Abba Lot went to see Abba Joseph and said to him, Abba, as far as I can, I stay in my office. I fast a little, I pray and meditate, and so forth. What else can I do? Then the old man Joseph stood up and stretched his hands towards heaven. His fingers became like ten lamps of fire. And he said to him, If you will, you can become all flame. According to the Buddhist tradition, Bodhidharma, founder of Zen Buddhism, came to China in the year 527. He went to Huanan province and stayed in the famous Shaolin Monastery. There, for nine years, he did nothing but practice sitting meditation,


facing a wall. At the end of nine years, as the legend goes, the spot where he was sitting was slightly sunken and his figure was vaguely reflected on the wall in front of which he had meditated day and night for nine years. Surely, the inner transformation which was taking place in him during the prolonged meditation manifested itself outwardly through the energy coming forth from his body. Let me conclude now. One of the main effects of the Jesus Prayer as witnessed by the story of the Russian pilgrims is precisely transformation. The Jesus Prayer transforms the person who recites the prayer


and everything around him. If we recite the Jesus Prayer daily, the Holy Name will work as a sacrament for us. Transforming us and everything into Jesus. With each inhalation accompanied by the invocation Lord Jesus Christ, we breathe in the breath of Christ which kindles the fire of the Spirit hidden in our hearts. At the same time, the invocation of the Holy Name will bring about the presence of the Risen Jesus who sheds his light on the mirror of our hearts, progressively transforming our creative image into the likeness of its archetype. Then, with each exhalation accompanied by the words Have mercy on me, we breathe forth the Spirit of Jesus


and transmit the light of Christ not on the wall in front of us but beyond the wall into the whole world so that the whole humanity and the entire creation may be warmed by the breath of the Holy Spirit and transformed by the light of the Risen Christ. In the previous talks, I have presented the history, meaning and basic methods of the Jesus Prayer in the context of the Hesychast spiritual tradition. In this final talk, I am going to compare the Jesus Prayer to some other types of prayer or meditation, especially those which manifest a certain affinity to the Jesus Prayer and are popular in our time. I shall deal with the following points. First, the Jesus Prayer as a Christian mantra.


Second, the Jesus Prayer and Zen meditation. Third, the Jesus Prayer and the monastic benedictine spirituality of the Lectio Divina. First, about the Jesus Prayer as a Christian mantra, since the middle of our century, thanks to the translation of the Way of the Pilgrim, the Philokalia, and the Russian Orthodox anthology, the Art of Prayer. Thanks to all these translations, we have witnessed to a steadily growing popularity of the Jesus Prayer in the Latin Church of the West. In the West, the Jesus Prayer is sometimes called a Christian mantra, a word deriving from a long tradition of prayer and meditation in India. Beat Griffith, for instance,


designates the practice of Jesus Prayer as the Way of the Mantra, a way that he constantly pursued during the last 40 years of his life. By the way, he always used the standard form, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner, by sitting or walking, as we mentioned yesterday. The connection between the Jesus Prayer and the practices of Oriental meditation by means of a mantra is found in the repetition of a short phrase. As Beat says, the function of the mantra, namely the Jesus Prayer, is to recollect the soul, to bring it back to its center and unite the whole person, body, soul, and spirit, with the spirit of God. However, Fardy also warns against the danger


of looking at the mantra as a kind of magic. He points out that the Jesus Prayer is a distinctively Christian mantra, which is an expression of faith and love. Thus, Fardy states, The link of faith is important. Many mantras, as in Transcendental Meditation, are merely psychological, attuning your psyche in some way, but this does not go far enough. A Christian mantra, which opens you up in faith and love to the presence of Christ within, is very important. While Fardy calls the Jesus Prayer a Christian mantra, the Orthodox writers in general


are more cautious about applying the term mantra. Charistos Ware, for example, thinks it misleading to call the Jesus Prayer a mantra at all. The essential point of the Jesus Prayer is not the act of repetition in itself, but to whom we speak. The prayer is not simply a rhythmic incantation, but an invocation addressed to another person and implies a personal relationship with Jesus Christ. The Jesus Prayer exists within a certain context. Divorced from this context, the prayer loses its meaning. The context of the Jesus Prayer is first of all one of faith. The invocation, as mentioned also by Fardy,


presupposes our faith in Jesus Christ, the Son of God, our Lord and Saviour. Without this confession of faith, there is no Jesus Prayer. Secondly, the context of the Jesus Prayer is one of community. One does not recite the Jesus Prayer simply as an individual, but as a member of a community, the Church. In the early Church, the invocation of the name of Jesus was the distinctive mark of the followers of Christ. Christians were designated as those who called upon the name Jesus. The Hesychast writers took it for granted that those to whom they recommended the Jesus Prayer were baptized Christians, actively participating


in the life of worship and the sacraments. They never envisioned the Jesus Prayer as a substitute for the sacraments. On the contrary, they thought that the union with the Lord effected by the Jesus Prayer is to be completed through Holy Communion. Yet, in our time, the situation has changed. Many are drawn to the Jesus Prayer without belonging to any Church, possibly without a clear faith in the Lord Jesus. Should we then discourage these people from saying the Jesus Prayer? No. Here, Jesus himself gives the example. Once, the disciples were complaining to Jesus about someone who did not belong to their group and was casting out demons in Jesus' name.


To their request to forbid the person from doing so, Jesus replied, Leave him alone, for he who is not against me is with me. The sincere recitation of the Jesus Prayer may eventually be the way through which the Holy Spirit leads these people to Christ. Second, the Jesus Prayer and Zen Meditation. When dealing with the physical method of the Jesus Prayer, we saw the close parallels between this practice and the techniques of Oriental practices. Aspects such as the external posture, the breathing technique, and the inward concentration on a certain part of the body all resemble


the basic techniques of Oriental Meditation and of Zen Meditation in particular. But we must distinguish the picture frame from the picture itself. As Kallistos pointed out, the physical techniques are like the frame of the Jesus Prayer, while the mental invocation of Jesus is the picture within the frame. The frame of the Jesus Prayer may closely resemble various Oriental frames, but this should not obscure the uniqueness of the picture within the frame, namely, the distinctive Christian character of the prayer. The goal of Zen Meditation is to achieve a state of void so that enlightenment may eventually occur. Similarly,


the Jesus Prayer is also aiming at a kind of apophatic prayer, that is, prayer without image and thought. However, the aim of the Jesus Prayer is not simply the laying aside of all thoughts, but an encounter with someone. The Jesus Prayer should be viewed not so much as prayer emptied of thoughts, but as prayer filled with the Beloved. You might have heard the drastic injunction given by a Zen Master to one who practices Zen Meditation, if you meet the Buddha, slay him. What is implied in the injunction, I believe, is that during the practice of meditation, not only is one forbidden to have any image of the Buddha,


but one should also exclude the feeling of his presence. As once I was trying to clarify with the famous German Jesuit, Father LaSalle, about this point, and he told me, yes, even the feeling of the presence of Buddha is not to be included during the Zen practice, Zen Meditation. On the other hand, to one who practices the Jesus Prayer, the following advice would be given. Do not picture to yourself the image of Jesus, but try to feel his presence and nearness through the constant invocation of his name. Not only the goal, but also the chief means employed by the two practices differ. Although the Jesus


Prayer follows the idea of pure prayer as proposed by Evaglius, prayer is the shedding of thoughts. It requires the practitioner to stick to the constant repetition of one simple phrase, the prayer itself, so that the mind may be concentrated on one thought, or the thought of one only, as Theophan the recourse puts it. Zen Meditation is more apathetic and absolute in this sense. It allows no words, no thoughts, except the awareness of one's breathing, possibly accompanied by the counting from one to ten. In spite of the similarities between the techniques used by Zen Meditation and the Jesus Prayer, their aim and mental activity


during the practice differ. But it is interesting to point out that there is a greater parallel between the Jesus Prayer and the sitting meditation of Pure Land Buddhism, which is by far more popular than Zen Buddhism, both in China and Japan. In addition to the basic techniques of posture and breathing, which are common to various forms of Oriental Meditation, the main activity prescribed for this sitting meditation consists in continually invoking the name of Buddha, Namu Amida Butsu, meaning honor to Amida Buddha. Personal faith in and devotion to Buddha is certainly presupposed in the recitation of the prayer.


The Pure Land Buddhists also normally use prayer beads for counting their prayer. Is this not a Buddhist version of our Jesus Prayer? During the last century, a famous Chinese Buddhist monk, Master Xu Yun, or Empty Cloud, who lived up to 120 years, made an important attempt at bringing closer the two main Buddhist traditions, Zen Buddhism and Pure Land Buddhism. He integrated the constant invocation of Buddha into the silent Zen meditation. As you know, one way of practicing Zen meditation is to occupy one's mind with a coin or unresolvable


paradox. Master Empty Cloud proposed to combine the constant invocation of Buddha with the basic coin at the back of one's mind during the sitting meditation. The following is the coin he proposed. Who is invoking the Buddha? Or who is saying the prayer? This practice became very popular in China. I was very curious to learn Master Empty Cloud's solution to the coin. But he did not reveal to us his own answer. Usually there's no answer to a coin. I find the combination very interesting. Perhaps during our recitation of the Jesus Prayer,


we might also pose this question at the background of our prayer. Who is saying the Jesus Prayer? As time goes on, we shall realize through intuition or experience that it is not I, but the Spirit of Jesus dwelling in me who is praying in me. Or, it is not I, but Christ living in me who is actually saying the prayer. In this way, the Jesus Prayer gradually becomes the prayer of Jesus. The prayer said by Jesus himself in me. Now we come to the third point on the Jesus Prayer and the Lectio Divina.


We can say the central aspect of monastic and especially Benedictine spirituality, the Lectio Divina. If the Jesus Prayer should exist in a certain context, namely the ecclesial and sacramental context, its more immediate context is that of monastic spirituality which, along with the liturgy, consists especially in assiduous reading of Scripture, recitation of the Psalms at different hours of the day, and frequent repetition of some short prayers or Scriptural verses throughout the day. The practice of the Jesus Prayer, as we have seen, grew out of this monastic tradition. Another major form of spirituality,


the Lectio Divina, also derives from the same monastic tradition and is treasured especially by the monastic orders in the West. Just as the Jesus Prayer has become popular among lay Christians as well as monks in the Orthodox Church, so also Lectio Divina is well-diffused beyond monastic circles in the West. Those who are of late know that this is the main point of their spirituality. In the Orthodox tradition, the Jesus Prayer has always been joined to the practices of reading Scripture and reciting the Psalms, even where a more prominent place is assigned to the recitation of the Jesus Prayer. Contemporary spiritual writers in the West, B. Griffith, for instance,


observed that the Jesus Prayer should not be seen as something separate from the Lectio. In point of fact, the two paths, which both derive from the same source of monastic spirituality, should merge into one by adopting the Jesus Prayer as one of the classic movements of Lectio Divina, namely Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio. First of all, the Jesus Prayer cannot be disjoined from reading Scripture. As I have mentioned above, the Jesus Prayer is an expression of faith in Jesus Christ. In order to be able to make this confession of faith, one must be familiar with the source of this faith, which is found in Scripture, especially in the Gospel. Not only


are the words of the Jesus Prayer taken from the Gospel, it is claimed that the Jesus Prayer offers a summary, a synthesis of the whole Gospel. The brief invocation contains the basic message of the Gospel and the essential aspects of the Christian faith. By joining the divine title Son of God to the historical name of Jesus, we profess our faith in the mystery of the Incarnation, believing in Jesus Christ as the Son of God become man to redeem us. Then, the title Lord is laden with meaning. St. Paul says in the Letter to the Romans, If you confess with your lips that Jesus is Lord, and believe in your heart that God raised him from the dead, you will be saved. Here Paul presents the title


Lord as a synthesis of our faith in Jesus Christ and connects the title to the event of the Resurrection. The formula Jesus is Lord was probably used in the early Church as a profession of faith and baptism. So it is a synthesis of our Christian faith. Originally a title reserved for Yahweh in the Old Testament, the name Lord is now conferred upon the risen Jesus to indicate that he enjoys divine honour and is the saviour of the world through the mystery of his death and resurrection. So the title is rich in mystery. The word Lord also expresses the sense of our total dependence upon and devotion to Jesus Christ.


As the Biblical scholar Boutman said, By addressing Jesus as Lord, the Christian wishes to say that all that he is and everything he has comes from Jesus Christ. As the title Lord contains such richness and depth of meaning, it is no wonder that Paul should say that no one can say Jesus is Lord except by the Holy Spirit. For this reason, whenever we say the Jesus Prayer properly, invoking Lord Jesus Christ, we can be sure that it is the Holy Spirit who is saying this word within us. While the first part of the Jesus Prayer tells us who Jesus is, the second part of the prayer,


Have Mercy on Me, reveals the secrets of the heart of Jesus and contains the central message of the gospel. The idea of mercy or penthos not only reminds us of our brokenness, our sinful situation and need for help, it also tells us about the merciful love of Jesus. Mercy or compassion stands right at the heart of the person of our Savior. The most distinctive characteristics manifested by Jesus during his earthly life are his total trust and obedience towards the Father and his limitless compassion towards people, especially the poor, the sick and the oppressed. Several times, always at key moments, the gospel


reveals to us the driving force behind the healing and saving activities of Jesus during his public ministry. This secret force animating and guiding his ministry is his compassion. So we read that when Jesus saw the immense crowd of people tired and weary, like sheep without a shepherd, he was moved with compassion and began to teach them many things. Likewise, he had compassion on the people following him for several days and performed the miracle of multiplication of bread to feed the hungry crowd. We are told more than once that he was moved with pity at seeing the sick and worked the healing miracles. At the sight of the weeping


widow at Niamh, he was himself touched with compassion and raised her only son from death. The phrase have mercy on me a sinner should call to our mind the mercy and compassion of Jesus and his welcoming approach to the poor, the suffering and the sinners with a preferential love. I am convinced that it is not exaggerated at all to say that Jesus' prayer contains the summary of the whole gospel. All these rich contents of the Jesus' prayer must be kept alive, but we are told that Jesus' prayer is meant to be a non-discursive prayer. When reciting it, one should lay aside all images and thoughts. This means that


during the recitation of the prayer, we are not supposed to reflect on the contents of each word or meditate on the episodes of Jesus' life, but simply confine our attention within the bare words of the prayer. In order to remain familiar with the rich contents of the Jesus' prayer, therefore, it is necessary to dedicate some time daily to reading Scripture, especially the gospel, outside the time of the prayer itself. If we compare the Jesus' prayer to kindling a fire, then our daily reading is like supplying firewood for the fire. Deprived of fuel, the fire dies out. It is to be noted that the lecture of reading


in question is different from studying or reading simply to gain information. It is called Lectio Divina, or translated as spiritual reading. The adjective refers both to the subject matter of the reading and the inner disposition which should accompany our reading. It is a prayerful listening to the Master who speaks to our heart through the words of Scripture. The best image for our lecture is Mary sitting at the feet of Jesus, listening to His Word. Mary, sister of Martha. The next moment is Meditatio. Here, meditation has a different connotation from its modern meaning, both in the West and in the East.


Taken in its modern meaning in the West, meditation means discursive reflection on certain aspects of truth or on certain episodes in the life of the Lord. According to the Oriental traditions, on the other hand, meditation would have a similar meaning to what we mean by contemplation. However, in the Christian monastic tradition, as used in Lectio, meditation means savouring a certain text by simply repeating it again and again. The classic metaphor for meditation given by the monastic teachers is the rumination of cows. It means a leisurely chewing and tasting of the words of God through repeating


them mentally or on the lips. The purpose of meditation, as pointed out by John Henry Newman, is to change a notional ascent into a real ascent. In other words, the purpose of meditation is to change something we know in the head into something we cherish in the heart. The best biblical image for meditation is again Mary, this time the mother of Jesus, who, after the departure of the shepherds, treasured all these words and pointed them in her heart. The word heart is important here. Meditation enables the word of God to enter from the mind


to the heart. And the Jesus prayer as a prayer of mind in heart must be the fruit of our previous meditation. Now we come to the third movement of the lecture, namely oratio, or prayer. A variety of definitions of all descriptions may be given to prayer. Prayer is speaking to God, it is the raising of the mind and heart to God, or yearning for God. In a monastic tradition, however, prayer is best defined as our response to the word of God. During the lecture, we listen attentively to God. At the time of meditatio, we let the word sink into our hearts.


There, in our hearts, the word of God is turned into our response. And that is our prayer, our response, born from the word of God. Here, the best biblical example is not merely a certain figure, but the entire book of the Psalms. The Psalms are the fruit deriving from the meditation of the Jewish people on the word of God, either as spoken or as manifested in the events of the history of salvation, or in the concrete situations of individual persons. It is from the depth of their meditation that the authors of the Psalms sing the praise of God or pray to him for mercy and help. By inheriting the Jewish scripture, the Church has inherited


also their prayer book, the Psalms, and has treasured it as the eminent source of their prayer. The book of Psalms is above all the prayer book of the monks from the earliest time. For us, reading and meditating on scripture and reciting the Psalms are the basic elements that alternate with one another and fill up the structure of the monastic day. The moment of oratio is followed by contemplatio or contemplation. As time goes on, our response grows deeper and more focused. The multiplicity of words is gradually reduced to the use of a few words or even silence.


The richness of thought gives way to the poverty and simplicity of one's thought or the thought of one only. The whole person with his various faculties is gathered into one single point, the heart. There, in the inner sanctuary, face to face with God, the entire person becomes one loving response to God. This is the moment of contemplation which is a knowledge through love and is a free gift from God. We may ask, then where is the place of the Jesus Prayer within these four moments of the Lectio? Where shall we situate Jesus Prayer? It is, I believe,


situated between oratio and contemplatio and somehow covers the two. The Jesus Prayer begins as oratio. It is a prayer that we say, a response using the very words of God, namely words from the Gospel. But it is a prayer of utter simplicity consisting of one phrase and one thought. Owing to its simplicity, it leads spontaneously to contemplation. When, by the grace of God, the Jesus Prayer enters along with the mind into the heart, it passes from something we say to something self-acting. That is, it becomes a prayer made by the Holy Spirit dwelling in our hearts. At that moment, the Jesus Prayer


becomes contemplative prayer in the proper sense of the term. In this way, the Jesus Prayer coming forth from the same monastic tradition as the Lectio actually merges with it, becoming the culminating moments of the dynamics of Lectio Divina. Traditionally, Lectio Divina evolves within these four moments Lectio, Meditatio, Oratio, Contemplatio. But some contemporary writers would add a fifth moment to it, namely, Actio, or Action. Both the practices of Lectio and the Jesus Prayer have been sometimes accused of quietism or lack of concern for others. This is to forget that Lectio or the Jesus Prayer,


for that matter, is only one aspect, though for many the central aspect of their spiritual life. This particular contemplative aspect is to be complemented by an active aspect, both in the sense of fighting against the passions and cultivating virtues, as well as dedicating oneself to the active service of one's neighbor. In order to remind us of this active aspect of the Christian life, contemporary writers frequently add these fifth moments to the Lectio. Some put Action, as has been seen. Others have Evangelisatio, Evangelization. I would prefer another term for these fifth moments of Lectio, Compassio, or Compassion.


The term has actually been suggested by Thomas Keating to the various groups of the contemplative outreach under his direction. Are you familiar with the term Compassio? I heard it from our friend Paul Colletti. There is a close connection between contemplation and compassion. Compassio, two parts, a compound, means feeling or suffering together with namely, sharing the suffering of other people. This should be the special fruit of contemplation. Through contemplation, one enters into a state of unity, or oneness. One with God, with oneself, with humanity, and the entire creation.


In this oneness, we share everything in common with one another. Life and love, joy and suffering, worry and concern. Contemplation and compassion, therefore, are two sides of the same reality. Contemplation without compassion would be a contradiction in terms. When reciting the Jesus Prayer, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, we are mindful not only of our own sinful situation, but also the misery and suffering of all humanity. At the same time, we are in touch with the living source of mercy and compassion, Jesus Christ. With each invocation, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, accompanied by our respiration, we breathe


in the breath of Christ and are flooded by the torrents of his mercy. At the same time, we breathe out his healing breath, transmitting his mercy and compassion to the world. Thus, through the recitation of the Jesus Prayer, we become living channels, receiving and transmitting the merciful love of the Saviour to the whole world. Our compassion, however, should not be limited to prayer alone, to prayer only, although contemplative prayer is the most powerful means for effecting the transformation of the world. Our compassion must also manifest itself through action, in accordance with the vocation and status of each one of us. In the movement


called Contemplation and Action, under the guidance of Richard Rohr, we see the two working together in harmony for the betterment of the society and the world. One of the principal ways of exercising compassion is through evangelization. By spreading the good news of Jesus Christ, when the gospel message permeates society, it will act like yeast, till the whole society is leavened by it. I have presented the close connection between the Jesus Prayer and the Lectio. The Jesus Prayer, born of Lectio and Meditatio, can be identified with Oratio and Contemplatio. If we would like to


add a fist moment to Lectio, namely Compassio, the Jesus Prayer can also be wonderfully linked to this moment, inasmuch as it is an excellent means of receiving and transmitting the mercy and compassion of Christ. These two practices, the Jesus Prayer and Lectio, coming forth from the one monastic source, finally merge into one. Since the second half of our century, as has been noted, the Jesus Prayer has been widely defused in the Latin Church of the West. As Callistos well observed, probably the Jesus Prayer has never before enjoyed such popularity, both in the East and in the West. It is golden time for the Jesus Prayer. As our talk


is coming to a conclusion, I find William Johnston's reflection on the parable of the lost coin very pertinent. He compares the widespread search for prayer and contemplation to the woman who lost one silver coin from her store of tent and searched the house until she found it. William Johnston says that what he has learned from Buddhism can be compared to that silver coin. I agree with him that the wisdom of Buddhism or other Oriental traditions is like the lost coin which we should be searching for. But I also believe that the Eastern Orthodox spirituality which holds the Jesus Prayer at a privileged position is in a more proper


sense the lost coin for Christians of the West. Many of us are rejoicing for having found this lost coin. I only wish and pray that many more will find this coin and benefit from it. The Jesus Prayer symbolized by the prayer robe offers a powerful bond of union between Christians of the East and the West. At the same time, the prayer robe may also be the sign of the so-called Jesus Prayer League, namely the spiritual bonds among all those who practice the Jesus Prayer. I hope that this robe also binds us together in the name of Jesus. During this weekend, we have spent several periods meditating


and saying the Jesus Prayer together at the rotunda of the chapel, united by Jesus present at the center. The thought of the rotunda after you go back to your place, the thought of the rotunda should remind us that each time we say the Jesus Prayer, we are spiritually in communion with our friend and with all those who invoke his holy name. But above all, we must remember the one who unites us all together, Jesus the Lord. I would suggest that in saying the Jesus Prayer, we should keep in mind two particular moments in the event of Jesus. The occasion of the Transfiguration and the evening of the Resurrection when Jesus was breathing his Spirit on the disciples.


With each recitation of the Jesus Prayer, accompanied by our respiration, may we receive the breath of the Spirit from the risen Jesus and the light of the Transfigured Christ so that we and the entire creation may be gradually transformed into the one Cosmic Christ.