Greek Hesychasts and English Mystics / Our Christification

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Session 3 & 4 of "Continual Prayer in Eastern and Western Christianity"

Talk 3: The Jesus Prayer in the Middle Ages: Greek Hesychasts and English Mystics

Talk 4: The Jesus Prayer and the Christification of Humans and the Cosmos

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AI Summary: 






Welcome back to this second workshop on the Jesus Prayer. The theme of our first workshop was Hesychia, Inner Silence, and the Jesus Prayer. The term hesychia, which means stillness or inner silence, is an essential aspect of monastic spirituality, especially of Eastern monasticism. In a recent apostolic letter, Orientale Lumen, issued in May 1995, Pope John Paul II highly praises the richness of the spiritual tradition of the Eastern Orthodox Church. At the heart of this tradition stands Eastern monasticism, which also animates the spiritual life of lay people living in society. With its strong contemplative emphasis, Eastern spirituality is centered on the Word of God,


the sacred liturgy, and the cultivation of hesychia joined with constant prayer of the heart, or the Jesus Prayer. In his letter, the Pope encourages Catholics not only to appreciate but also to learn from Orthodox spirituality. It is certainly significant that a book such as The Way of a Pilgrim, which had relatively little impact when first published in 19th-century Russia, should have become a best-seller when translated in the 20th-century West. Thanks to its translation into various European languages, as well as the translation of the Philokalia, Orthodox spirituality, especially the Jesus Prayer, has been widely diffused in the Western Church since the middle of this century.


According to Bishop Callistos Ware, a prominent Orthodox spiritual writer, the Jesus Prayer probably has never enjoyed such popularity in the past as it does today both in the East and the West. The general theme of our present workshop is the Jesus Prayer and continual prayer in East and West. By East and West, I mean, respectively, the Greek Orthodox East and the Latin West. The Jesus Prayer in its classic formula, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, is one of the characteristic components of Eastern Orthodox spirituality. The main purpose of the Jesus Prayer, however, is the pursuit of continual prayer, which has been the common endeavour of both the East and West down through the centuries.


The conscious and sustained pursuit of continual prayer was the special goal of the early Desert Fathers, whose spirituality became the common heritage of the East and the West. While it is true that the East can claim to be the most direct heir of this tradition, the Latin West can also claim the same patrimony as its own. Through such illustrious people as Jerome, Rufinus, Palladius, and especially John Cassian, each of them, after spending long years living in Palestine or the Egyptian desert, infused Western spirituality with the desert tradition. In this workshop, I shall present the following four thoughts. First, the pursuit of continual prayer in early desert monasticism.


Second, the origin of the Jesus Prayer by studying and comparing two major figures in the tradition, that is, John Cassian writing in Latin and Diodocus of Phocis writing in Greek. Third, the Jesus Prayer in the Middle Ages by comparing the Greek Hesychast and the English mystics such as Richard Rhodes and the Cloud of Unknowing. And fourth, the Jesus Prayer and the transformation of humans and the cosmos into Christ. This morning, we are dealing with our first topic, the pursuit of continual prayer in early desert monasticism. Let me begin by referring to the well-known story of the Russian pilgrim of the last century, which presents a classic example of the centuries-old tradition of searching for continual prayer.


The pilgrim tells us how he started his long searching. On the 24th Sunday after Pentecost, I went to the church for the liturgy. The reading was from the first epistle of Paul to the Thessalonians, and it contained the command, Pray without ceasing. 1 Thessalonians 5, verse 17. The words stuck in my mind, and I began to ponder how it was possible to pray without ceasing, since we are obliged to do very many other things. I thought to myself, what shall I do? Where can I find someone who will teach me? I decided to visit all the churches that were renowned for their preaching, in the hope of hearing something that would make things clear for me. Consequently, the pilgrim frequented several churches and heard many excellent sermons


on prayer, telling what prayer is and how necessary it is. But no one told him how he could pray unceasingly. He did hear one sermon on continual prayer, but nothing was said about the means to reach that state. So he stopped going to public sermons and decided instead to search for some spiritual master who could teach him privately how to pray without ceasing. After searching for some time, he finally met a monk, Astaroth, who taught him the Jesus Prayer as the way to unceasing prayer, and gave him a copy of the Philokalia to read. With the grace of God, the pilgrim succeeded in learning to pray without ceasing by constantly repeating the Jesus Prayer on his journey.


Paul's command to pray without ceasing and Jesus' injunction to pray always, Luke 18, verse 1, were taken seriously by the early Christians. The commentators, however, disagreed about the meaning of the two words, pray and always. Among the early Christians, it was the heretical sect of the Messalians who took the words in their most literal sense. Messalians from Syriac, messalien, means the praying ones. For them, to pray meant to say prayers, either aloud or mentally, and always meant never to do anything but pray. They refused all secular occupation and all kinds of manual labor.


In the sayings of the Desert Fathers, we read the following story. One of the Messalian brothers came to the monastery of Abba Silvanus, and when he saw all the brethren at work, he said to Abba Silvanus, Do not labor for the bread that perishes. Mary has chosen the better part. At this, the elder called the disciple to bring the visitor to a cell. When dinner time came, the guest was waiting for someone to get him for dinner, but no one called him. After some time, he went to see Abba Silvanus, asking him why he was not invited for dinner. The elder replied, You are a spiritual person and have no need of bodily nourishment, but we earthly people are obliged to eat, and this is why we work.


The elder concluded his lesson saying, That is how Mary herself stands in need of water. Every person, I believe, should combine the two systems, Mary and water, in himself. In the sayings of the Desert Fathers, we find another story about Abba Lucius, who had a habit of reciting short prayers while he worked. When some Messalians came to visit Abba Lucius, when he asked them what type of work they did, they replied, We never lift a finger to do manual labor. Instead, we pray without ceasing in accordance with the apostles' command. The elder asked them whether they spent time eating and sleeping, and who did the prayer while they were occupied with these activities.


There was no answer, of course. So Abba Lucius told them how he himself managed to pray always, even when he busied himself at manual labor. He performed his manual work by constantly repeating some short prayers. Through his work, he was able to earn money for his own living, and give the rest to the poor. In this way, it was hoped that those who received his gift would pray for him while he was eating or sleeping. That was how he managed to pray without ceasing. The most prominent interpretation of St. Paul's dictum to pray without ceasing is that of Origen. According to this great exegete,


prayer is not interrupted by dedicating time to performing good works or obeying God's commandments. Thus he wrote, The one who prays continually is the one who combines prayer with necessary works and works with prayer. He points out that this seems to be the only possible way to fulfill the precepts of unceasing prayer. For him, the whole life of a pious Christian should be viewed as one long prayer. And actual prayer is merely a part of this whole. This teaching of Origen became also that of St. Augustine, the greatest among the Latin Fathers. Both men saw the lives of Christians as made up of two distinct temporal sequences,


moments of explicit prayer when time is devoted to nothing but prayer, and moments of implicit prayer when time is spent in doing good works, which are themselves a form of prayer. As to the proportion between these two types of prayer, Origen said it is necessary to pray explicitly three times a day. In the course of time, the practice of praying at fixed moments of the day evolved into the seven canonical hours of the divine office. Monastic writers, however, are generally not satisfied with this solution to unceasing prayer given by Origen to ordinary Christians. When St. Basil said to his monks, let your whole life be a time of prayer,


he was probably alluding to Origen's teaching, but he was far from thinking that it would be enough for the monks to pray explicitly three or even seven times a day and the rest of the time to give themselves to various tasks without any thought of prayer. On the contrary, he exalted the monks to offer throughout the day secret prayers which God will see in the secret and will reward on the great day of the Lord. That the canonical hours of the office should not be seen as a substitute for continual prayer can also be seen from the following episode. The abbot of a certain monastery in Palestine wrote to Epiphanios, bishop of Cyprus, complacently asserting that they had been faithful to their canonical hours,


never omitting any part of the divine office. But the bishop wrote back with a reproach. Evidently, you are neglecting the remaining hours of the day which you spent without prayer. The true monk should have prayer and psalmody in his heart at all times without interruption. This is also the meaning of the famous saying from an anonymous author. If a monk prays only at the times when he is standing at formal prayer, he does not pray at all. Among contemporary writers, Albert de Vaudouin, the well-known scholar on the rule of Saint Benedict, convincingly defends the thesis that the divine office originally grew out from the monk's search for unceasing prayer


and was intended as a help for achieving this goal. He presents us with a beautiful illustration. If we compare unceasing prayer to the construction of a bridge connecting heaven and earth, the canonical hours should be seen as the pillars that sustain the whole bridge at various points. Important as these pillars are, the bridge itself needs to be completed by personal meditations and short prayers made throughout the day. I think it's a beautiful image. Based on the interpretation of origin, the Desert Fathers admitted the validity of implicit prayer, which meant good works performed with a proper intention.


But they seem to have been distrustful of this idea. They prefer to speak. Of course, they admit that this idea is valid, especially it's useful for ordinary Christians. But they insist they propose something more for the monks, because the monks, by profession, is a person who seeks God with a single-minded attitude and through unceasing prayer. That's their profession. They should do something more to be a monk. So they seem to have been distrustful of this idea. They prefer to speak of the state of prayer. As Irenaeus Hausher, the great Jesuit scholar on Eastern spirituality, has pointed out, the word they used, katastases,


means more than the Latin word status or the English word state. Katastases means in Greek something established in its proper place. It carries the connotations of well-being, order, harmony, or rest. A true state, therefore, cannot be something transitory, but has the character of habit or disposition. The true state of prayer is something completely peaceful and restful, even for the body. It is not a series of acts made with strenuous effort. It can be called a state of implicit prayer, not merely in the sense given by origin of performing good works.


Rather, it is a state of implicit prayer which is brought so close to explicit prayer that it tends to become explicit all the time. In other words, the state of implicit prayer should be articulated or become explicit as often as possible. In this regard, Hausher observes that the ancient monks were striving to achieve a conscious, actual union with God or a continual prayer on the third level of attention, as explained later by St. Thomas Aquinas. In dealing with vocal prayer, Thomas Aquinas indicates three kinds of attention that can be applied to vocal prayer. One which attends to the words,


lest we say them wrong. Another which attends to the meaning of the words. And a third which attends to the end of prayer, that is God, and to the thing we are praying for. This third level attention means a general awareness of the person to whom we are speaking, together with an awareness of the overall content of what we are talking about. The state of prayer should bear this third level of attention, that is, a general awareness or mindfulness of the all-pervading presence of God, together with a sense of our dependence on and gratitude towards Him. Though there are different names to describe the state of prayer,


the Desert Fathers are in agreement about the necessary means of reaching it. They all teach asceticism or praxis as the indispensable method. This is based on one of the Beatitudes taught by Jesus. Blessed are the pure of heart, for they shall see God. It is utterly impossible to attain contemplation or the state of prayer without asceticism. Clement of Alexandria and Origen already made a distinction between two stages on the spiritual journey, the active life of asceticism and the contemplative life which is chiefly concerned with prayer and contemplation. And of course, these two stages apply to the journey of the same person.


Evagrius proposed a three-stage scheme of the spiritual life by further distinguishing the contemplative life into two stages, that is, contemplation of nature and contemplation or vision of God. According to the teaching of Evagrius, the active life begins with repentance or metanaya, which literally means a change of mind or the recentering of one's entire life upon God. The ascetic work consists in overcoming or holding under control one's passions or disordered impulses, such as anger, jealousy or lust. The goal of this first stage is apatheia or freedom from passion. Apatheia should not be confused with the English word apathy


or absence of feelings. Apatheia is not the suppression of passions but their redirection or reintegration. John Cashin renders apatheia as purity of heart and equates it with love. When one's heart is pure, that is, when one's passions are reintegrated, one is free to love God and neighbors with a genuine, unselfish love. The immediate aim of the active life is purity of heart, which naturally leads to contemplation or the state of prayer. This is, as we know, in accordance with Jesus' saying, blessed are the pure of heart for they shall see God. To describe the state of continual prayer,


the Desert Fathers are fond of using the expression remembrance of God. The early monks sought to maintain the remembrance of God, the awareness of the divine presence, at every moment and in every place, not only during the times of liturgical prayer in church but throughout the day. It is interesting to note that they relate remembrance of God closely to the idea of nepsis, which means being sober and watchful. The constant advice of the elders to their disciples is attend to yourself, attende divi. In order to be mindful of God, one must be mindful of oneself and of what one is doing. Conversely, forgetfulness of self necessarily leads to forgetfulness of God.


The struggle to achieve continual prayer is the struggle to replace forgetfulness with the remembrance of God. The key to maintaining remembrance of God is called secret meditation, which constitutes the heart of desert spirituality. In the monastic tradition, the verb to meditate has a special meaning. Other than to reflect or consider, it means to learn by heart or to commit to memory through repeated verbalization. The subject matter for the meditation of the monks is first of all the scripture. To meditate on the scripture implies two stages. It means learning certain passages by heart through repetition and the ruminating or chewing over


those passages already committed to memory. The monks were taught to meditate under all circumstances, especially during their manual labor. The rule of St. Percomius, for example, frequently instructs the monks to meditate on something from the scripture. In order to be capable of doing this, Percomius expected his novices to learn at least the New Testament and the Psalter by heart. Try to do that. And a number of monks easily have memorized the whole Bible. Yes, that's their custom and their training in that. In ancient times, the memory is much stronger than ours today because often they don't have books. So they are obliged to learn something by memory.


People of antiquity had the habit of talking to themselves out loud and reading aloud. In this regard, we notice St. Augustine's surprise at seeing St. Ambrose read without moving his lips. Ambrose was an exception to the rule. He had learned to read silently so as not to be overheard by visitors for his home was open to anyone. In the sayings of the Desert Bottles, there are several episodes of monks meditating aloud. Once, for example, two monks went to visit Abba Achilles and overheard him meditating on the phrase Fear not, Jacob, to go down to Egypt. And we are told that he spent a long time meditating on this single verse. Another, perhaps even more important form of meditation


practiced by the monks consists in the use of short and frequent prayers. It is the most cherished way of achieving remembrance of God or continual prayer. So one form of this secret meditation is to meditate on certain passages of the scripture. Another form, even more important one, is to repeat frequently some short prayers throughout the day. Repetition of short prayers. The practice of saying short prayers or ejaculations in early monasticism is testified by St. Augustine among others. In his letter to Prober, he writes, The brethren in Egypt are said to have offered frequent prayers, but those very brief and in the style of quick ejaculations,


lest their vigilant, alert concentration, very necessary for one who is praying, might be weakened and blunted if too long drawn out. Here, according to Augustine, the monk's purpose in offering short and frequent prayers is for the intensity of prayer and for its fervent concentration. John Cashion, on the other hand, presents a systematic teaching on the frequent use of a formula of piety as a means for attaining continual prayer. In his famous Tenth Conference, Cashion recalls the so-called deep secret revealed by Abba Isaac, that is, a formula of prayer which had been handed down by a few of their oldest fathers and which Abba Isaac revealed only to those who had a true thirst for prayer, not to everybody.


The formula consists in the opening verse of Psalm 70. O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make it to help me. In Chapter 10 of this Conference, Cashion has left us with an eloquent panegyric of this all-powerful formula, pointing out that it is suitable for all circumstances and is to be repeated at all times and in all places throughout the day. Cashion recommends it above all as the most educatious means of retaining the continual remembrance of God and cultivating unceasing prayer without strain or difficulty. We shall say more about John Cashion and this formula in our next talk. The daily work of the Desert Fathers


was usually a simple form of manual labor, such as making baskets or plating mats. As was stated earlier, the monks were encouraged to meditate on, that is, to recite the Psalms and other texts from Scripture which they had learned by heart, or to repeat some short prayers formulated by themselves. The monks' frequent invocations were characterized by their brevity so that they could be conveniently repeated throughout the day. These ejaculatory prayers came to be known by the time of John Climacus as monologic prayers, or prayers consisting of a single phrase. Through such monologic prayers, the monks were enabled to combine the outer work of manual labor with the inner work of prayer or secret meditation.


This is in accord with the norm found in the sayings of the Desert Fathers. A monk should always be inwardly at work. This rule was summed up by Bishop Theophan, a Russian mystic of the last century, in the following words, the hands at work, the mind and heart with God. Beautiful formula. And that should be available to everybody. Theophan was writing not only to monks, but to all the Christians. The monologic prayers of the Desert Fathers were mainly concerned with two themes, entreating God for mercy or for help. They well reflect the motives of the short prayers addressed to Jesus in the Gospels.


Thus, for example, we hear the ten lepers cry out from afar, Jesus, Master, have mercy on us. Or we find the blind man of Jericho crying, Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me. In one of the parables, Jesus shows the tax collector repeating the following invocation, O God, have mercy on me, a sinner. These are prayers asking for mercy. On another occasion, when a windstorm arose on the sea and the boat was being swamped by the waves, the disciples woke Jesus up saying, Lord, save us, we are perishing. Likewise, when Peter was walking on the water and was about to sink, he cried out, Lord, save me. These are prayers asking for help in time of danger. The Canaanite woman seems to have combined


these two themes in her prayers. She started by saying, have mercy on me, Lord, Son of David, and continued to say, Lord, help me. The early monks implied a variety of spontaneous formulas in their frequent repetition. These formulas, however, almost always fell under the two basic themes of mercy and help. One monk repeated the first verse of Psalm 51, have mercy on me, O God, according to your great mercy. Another assiduously said the words, as man I have sinned, as God forgive. A third one would simply repeat, Kyrie eleison, Lord, have mercy. And this expression, Lord, have mercy,


or Kyrie eleison, later has become so important in the Eastern liturgy. You hear the repetition of Kyrie eleison throughout their celebration. In these instances, the elements of penthos, or contrition, is strongly to the fore. Cassian, as we have seen, recommended the constant repetition of the opening verse of Psalm 70, O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me. We also read of an old monk who was relentlessly plagued by demons. He finally cried out, Jesus, help me. And the adversaries fled away. These are examples of short prayers asking for help. So we have these two kinds of brief short prayers,


like asking for mercy or asking for help, similar to the short prayers in the gospel. In a famous saying of Mercurius the Great, we find the two motifs of mercy and help joined together. He says, all you have to do is to stretch out your hands and say, Lord, have mercy on me as you wish and as you know how. Then, if a strong temptation comes, say, Lord, help. For a long period of time, a variety of short prayers were used by the early monks. It was only slowly and gradually that a uniform formula, the Jesus Prayer, came to be singled out. The passage from freedom to uniformity can be seen between St. John Chrysostom's writings


and a later writing which was attributed to him by an unknown author. John Chrysostom recommended the practice of short, frequent prayers, but he allowed freedom of choice, recommending a variety of formulas to the monks. Among the works ascribed to Chrysostom, there is one called A Letter to Monks, which was actually not written by him. This later work exalts the monks to pray unceasingly and to keep constantly the remembrance of God. It recommended the use of short prayers, but privileged the invocation of the name of Jesus to the exclusion of other formulas. As we read from the letter, every logismos, or thought,


and every temptation of the evil one must be controlled by the invocation of the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. A little further on, the author tells us that the invocation, which should be repeated without ceasing, is, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. We have the standard formula of the Jesus prayer here. The letter also exalts us to persevere. I urge you never to give up this rule of prayer, but instead, whether you are eating or drinking or traveling or whatever you are doing, cry out unceasingly, Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. The difference between Christ system and the later pseudo-Christ system illustrates the movement from freedom of choice


to uniformity. While a variety of monologic prayers was offered by Christ system with the letter to monks, the term monologic prayer came to mean one particular formula, the Jesus prayer, to the exclusion of all others. The date of the letter to monks remains uncertain, but from other sources, we know that the traditional text of the Jesus prayer was already in use towards the middle of the 5th century. The Jesus prayer was further developed on Mount Sinai. It was later transmitted to Mount Athos, and from there into Eastern Europe and Russia, where it has occupied a privileged, if not exclusive, position in Eastern Orthodox spirituality. The situation in the West is somewhat different.


The West was certainly familiar with the traditional doctrine of the usefulness of short and frequent prayers. St. Augustine knew about the Egyptian monks' custom of offering ejaculatory prayers throughout the day. In his ninth and tenth conferences, John Cashion further transmitted this practice of desert monasticism into the West. Down through the centuries, the West, just as the East, has treasured the use of short and frequent prayers as the best means of attaining constant union with God. Thus, among the Carthusians, Hugh of Burma, writing towards the end of the 13th century, has left us with a treatise, De Triplicia Via Ad Sapientiam, On the Triple Way to Wisdom, serving as the point of departure for a whole spirituality of aspirations,


or ejaculations, which inspired authors of different schools. Thus the Carmelite, John of Jesus Mary, wrote, It is the unanimous opinion of everyone I have read that the soul is elevated to the highest knowledge or experience of God by the use of aspirations, or ejaculations, short prayers. Dom Augustine Baker, a Benedictine of the early 17th century, wrote a book, Holy Wisdom, in which he highly recommended aspirations or ejaculatory prayers as true contemplative prayer. Unlike the East, however, the West has not settled upon any single privilege formula for use in their reputation. It has continued till this day to imply a variety


of short prayers. The emergence and the basic elements of the Jesus Prayer will be discussed in our second talk. As a conclusion, I would like to point out that at least two of the several basic constituents of the Jesus Prayer can already be found in the practice of early desert monasticism. They are the sentiment of pentos, or petition for mercy, and the frequent repetition of short prayers in order to attain continual prayer. These practices of early monasticism are the foundation not only of the Jesus Prayer in the East, but also of the use of short ejaculatory prayers in the West. Both the Jesus Prayer and the ejaculatory prayer are practiced


as means for attaining continual prayer. The goal is to achieve a constant remembrance of God or the state of prayer. The Jesus Prayer, or the frequent repetition of short prayers, is employed as the key to the state of prayer. In my first talk, I presented the pursuit of continual prayer in desert monasticism. It was in the context of searching for unceasing prayer through frequent repetition of short prayers, coupled with the sentiment of pentos, that Jesus Prayer was born. The object of our present talk is to trace the origin of the Jesus Prayer by studying and comparing two major ancient spiritual writers, John


Cassian and Dioclos of Photis, writing in Latin and Greek respectively. I would guess that the immediate reaction of people who are more or less familiar with these two writers would be Dioclos, yes, but Cassian, no. Before presenting Dioclos' teaching on the Jesus Prayer, I shall try to make a case for locating Cassian at the origin of the development of the Jesus Prayer. But who is Cassian? We have come across his name a couple of times during my first talk. John Cassian was born in about the year 365 in Eastern Europe, probably in one of the Latin-speaking communities of what


is now Romania. Before finally settling down in southern France, he had a long experience of the East. He spent time as a young monk in a monastery at Bethlehem, and later sat for several years at the feet of the famous leaders of the monastic movement in the Egyptian desert. After this lengthy sojourn in the East, Cassian returned to Europe and founded two monasteries in Marseille, one for monks and another for nuns. He also wrote the two famous treatises, the Institutes, and the Conferences, in order to transmit the monastic teachings of the Egyptian masters to the West. Far from being a mere repetition of what he had learned, Cassian succeeded in creating


out of the diversity of Egyptian ideas a coherent scheme of monastic spirituality. Cassian was truly a bridge person between East and West regarding 4th century monastic spirituality. In order to make an appraisal of Cassian's position in the evolution of the Jesus Prayer, we must recall the basic elements of the Jesus Prayer that I expounded during our first workshop a year ago. In the practice of the Jesus Prayer, four constituent elements may be distinguished. First, the appeal for God's mercy accompanied by a sense of penthos, or sorrow for sin. Second, the frequent or continual repetition


of a short phrase, later called monologic prayer. Third, the desire to attain non-discursive or imageless prayer. And fourth, the most important element, the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus. You have the four elements on the board. As was pointed out, the first and second of these elements, penthos and the repetition of a short prayer, are found already in the desert spirituality of 4th century Egypt. As the sayings of the Desert Fathers indicate, the early monks sought to maintain the remembrance of God at every moment and in every place throughout the day. For them, Paul's words


pray constantly meant that prayer is to accompany and imbue every other activity. As they put it, the monk who prays only when he stands up to say prayers, is not really praying at all. The daily tasks of the desert monks were mostly simple manual work, such as making baskets or cultivating vegetable gardens. They were trained to accompany their manual labour with the recitation of some texts from Scripture, which they learnt by heart. The privileged text was, of course, the Psalter, which formed the basic prayer book of the monks. As time went by, many would condense certain scriptural texts into short phrases for the purpose of easy repetition throughout the day.


This practice of reiterating a short phrase or formula of prayer was later known as monologic prayer, prayer consisting of one single logos or one phrase. For some period of time, a variety of formulas were being used for frequent repetition. Sometimes the phrase could be very brief, as in the prayer mentioned by Abba Macarius, Lord, help. Although some prayers in the sayings of the Desert Fathers included already the name of Jesus, no privileged place was yet assigned to it. So it is clear that the early Egyptian Desert Fathers provided the first two elements in the evolution of the Jesus prayer, Pentos and the monologic prayer.


For the short prayers which they used were mostly linked with penitential sentiment. As for the third element, non-discursive prayer, this was taught by Evagrius in 4th century Egypt. Evagrius came to the Egyptian desert from Constantinople when he proposed the idea of pure prayer. He was reacting against the tendencies of the Coptic monks, the native Coptic monks in Egypt. Most of the Coptic monks, simple men with no philosophical education were anthropomorphites. They took the text of Genesis that God created human beings in his own image literally, and assigned therefore a human form to God. In order to pray to him, they felt the need of forming a mental image of God, imagining


a human face of God. It was against this anthropomorphic tendency that Evagrius, with his own Greek cultural background, resolutely fought for the concept of pure prayer that requires the renunciation of images and concepts that he wrote in his chapters on prayer. Do not by any means strive to fashion some image or visualize some form at the time of prayer. The reason he gave was that since God is a spiritual being, one must approach God free from matter or image. Evagrius pressed this idea further. One must renounce not only bodily image, but also any use of concepts or thoughts during prayer.


For while they express something about God, concepts do not enable us to encounter God as he is in himself. For this reason, Evagrius proposed the most austere definition of prayer. Prayer is the putting aside of thoughts. Sounds like Zen Buddhism, but of course the background is different. Although Evagrius urged the renunciation of images and concepts, he nowhere proposed a specific method whereby this kind of pure prayer might be achieved. On one occasion he said, use a brief but intense prayer. But he made no direct connection between this advice and the practice of pure, imageless prayer. Thus,


4th century Egypt provided the first three constituent elements of the Jesus prayer. But the connection between the second and the third elements between monologic and pure prayer was not specified. And the fourth, the most important element, the invocation of the name of Jesus, did not occupy a prominent place. According to Christos Ware, in order to find an explicit connection between the second and the third elements, and to see the invocation of the name of Jesus occupying a central place, we must wait for the teaching of Diadochus of Photis in 5th century Greece. I would contend, however, that even before Diadochus of Photis, an explicit connection between the second and third elements of the Jesus prayer can be found


already in the writings of John Cassian, who brought the teaching of the Egyptian fathers, in particular that of Evagrius, to the West. It is most likely that Cassian had visited Evagrius during his sojourn in Egypt. Even though for political reasons, which I cannot discuss now, Cassian never cites Evagrius by name. His writings, nonetheless, manifest an undisputable parallel with and dependence on the teaching of Evagrius. This is evident especially regarding the Evagrian idea of apatheia, which Cassian renders purity of heart, or total detachment, and the idea of pure prayer, found in both authors. But Cassian goes


beyond Evagrius, for Cassian explicitly teaches the use of apologetic prayer as a means for attaining non-discursive, pure prayer. His teaching is found in his famous Conferences on Prayer. Conferences 9 and 10, the core of Cassian's book, present Abba Isaac's teaching on prayer. As you know, that each Conference contains the teaching of a particular Desert Father. In Conference 9, Abba Isaac expounded the excellence of prayer and the need to pray without ceasing. Cassian and his travel companion, Germanus, were set on fire by Abba Isaac's words. After several days, the two eager disciples returned to the Abba,


asking for a concrete method in order to be able to pray unceasingly. At their earnest request, Abba Isaac revealed to them a secret formula, which he says, has been handed on to us by some of the oldest of the fathers, and it is something which we hand on to only a very small number of the souls eager to know it. To keep the thought of God always in your mind, you must cling totally to this formula for piety. O God, come to my assistance. O Lord, make haste to help me. The beginning of Psalm 69 or 70, according to the Hebrew text. In order to pray unceasingly, one needs a model


or formula to keep it constantly before one's eyes. Besides, the secret of holding on to a single formula is to help us move from multiplicity to unity, as Abba Isaac says, by meditating endlessly on it and banishing all other thoughts for its sake. Thus, Abba Isaac joins the idea of unceasing prayer with that of pure prayer, free from thoughts, by constantly clinging to a single formula. First of all, this monologic prayer is used for attaining constant, unceasing prayer. Cassian writes that Abba Isaac insists this little verse will prove to be necessary and useful to each one of us


and in all circumstances. It can be adapted to every condition and can be usefully deployed against every temptation. It carries within it a cry for help to God in the face of every danger. It expresses the humility of a pious confession. It conveys a sense of our frailty. This is the voice filled with the order of love and of charity. The cry of someone besieged day and night and exclaiming that he cannot escape unless his protector comes to the rescue. Cassian went on to explain the various occasions throughout the day and how this little prayer can be most suitably


used to meet with the need of each circumstance. He came to the conclusion that this prayer formula should actually become an unceasing prayer in us. Here are his moving words which somehow anticipate what subsequent writers would say about the Jesus prayer. The thought of this verse should be turning unceasingly in your heart. Never cease to recite it in whatever task or service or journey you find yourself. Sleep should come upon you as you meditate on this verse until, as a result of your habit of resorting to its words, you get in the habit of repeating them even in your slumbers.


This verse should be the first thing to occur to you when you wake up. After this, it should accompany you in all your works and deeds. It should be at your sight at all times. You will write it upon the threshold and gateway of your mouth. You will place it in the inner sanctuary of your heart. It will be a continuous prayer. End quote. We have only to substitute Jesus' prayer for the little verse recommended by Cassian, and we certainly should find the whole passage an excellent exhortation to have the Jesus' prayer accompany us unceasingly throughout the day. Isn't that beautiful? Not only is the little verse proposed as a way


to unceasing prayer, it is also meant to be a method for attaining pure prayer. This is clear from the fact that at the beginning of the conference, Cassian inserted the episode of the controversy over the anthropomorphites who ascribed a human form to God based on the literal understanding of Genesis 1.26. After listening to the letter of Theophilus, bishop of Alexandria, which condemned the heresy of the anthropomorphites, an old monk named Serapion was seen crying bitterly during the assembly of prayer, saying, Ah, the misfortune! They have taken my God away from me. I have no one to hold on to, and I don't know whom to adore or to address.


The poor Coptic monk, when the letter of the bishop was read, he lost everything to hold on in order to pray to God. One purpose of Abba Isaac's second conference is to combat against this heresy, and to teach a method for achieving pure, imageless prayer. Cassian is aware of the fact that while God is spirit and has no human form, Jesus Christ, the world incarnate, is truly God and truly human. Cassian admits that there are two possible ways of relating to Jesus during prayer, depending on one's measure of purity. One may view Jesus in his historical earthly existence,


or else one may relate to him in his recent glorified state. Here Cassian quotes from St. Paul, Even if we did know Christ in the flesh, that is not how we know him now. 2 Corinthians 5.16 And Cassian adds, Only those of purest eye can look upon the glory of the risen Lord without forming any mental image of him. Abba Isaac obviously perceived his two young visitors to be standing at the threshold of purity of prayer, and he intended to introduce them from the porch into the inner sanctum by handing on to them the short formula of prayer with the admonition


that if one sticks to this single formula through constant repetition, it has the power to reject all the abundant riches of thought. Abba Isaac goes on to say that the one who has the courage to embrace the poverty of this little verse will soon attain the first beatitude. Blessed are the poor in spirit. It takes courage, it requires a spirit of detachment to hold on to one single formula, putting aside all the richness or attractions of a variety of other formulas or thoughts. By persevering in the use of this formula, one is gradually led to that purity of prayer


which is imageless and worthless. Of this prayer, Passion writes, This prayer centers on no contemplation of some image or other. It is masked by no attendant sounds or words. It is a fiery outbreak, an indescribable exhortation, an insatiable thrust of the soul. Free of what is sensed and seen, ineffable in its groans and sighs, the soul pours itself out to God. End quote. Thus in Passion we find the explicit connection between the second and third elements of the Jesus prayer, that is, the frequent repetition of a monologic prayer


precisely as a means for achieving non-discursive prayer. But what about the first element, that of a pentos? Even though the formula proposed by Passion does not contain a confession of sin or appeal for mercy, it does convey a deep sense of our frailty and our radical need for help. For this reason, it comes close to the idea of pentos. What is really missing in Passion's little verse is the invocation of the name of Jesus, the core element of the Jesus prayer. For this we have to wait until the fifth century, when the Jesus-centered spirituality began to emerge. The invocation of the name of Jesus occupied a central place


in the teaching of Diadochus of Photis. He linked closely together the three final elements of the Jesus prayer by presenting the repeated invocation of the Lord Jesus as a way of attaining non-discursive prayer. However, he gave no special prominence to the first element, pentos, or inner grief. Diadochus was born in Greece in the early years of the fifth century. He later became bishop of Photis in north Greece. His main work, the Hundred Gnostic Chapters, also known as On Spiritual Knowledge and Discernment, is published in Volume I of the Philokalia. By the way,


in addition to the three volumes of Philokalia, now the fourth volume of English translation has appeared also recently. We are only waiting for the fifth, the last volume of the Philokalia and then we will have the complete text in English. It will be a treasure for us Catholics, Christians in the West. In his writings, two contrasting streams of spirituality are combined together. On the one side, the intellectualist stream exemplified by Evagrius with its stress on the intellect and the idea of pure prayer. And on the other, the experiential stream found in the hominins of Mercurius with its emphasis on the heart and the affective aspect of prayer. In his synthesis, Diadochus


manifests greater affinity to Mercurius. So he is more a man of the heart than the intellect and the mind, but he combines both. The invocation of the Lord Jesus occupies an important place in Diadochus' Gnostic chapters. But the first problem to be resolved is whether Diadochus actually has in view a particular formula of invocation or whether he is merely advocating the remembrance of the person of Jesus in a general way. It is true that on a significant number of occasions he mentions the remembrance of the Lord Jesus, describing this as a form of meditation. However, as Callistos Ware has pointed out, there are passages where Diadochus surely


envisages more than simple remembrance or recollection but indicates invoking or calling upon the Lord Jesus. In this connection, Diadochus twice uses the peculiar phrase the O Lord Jesus vocative in Greek the O Lord Jesus which means he has in mind a particular formula of invocation commencing with the words Lord Jesus. Thus we find the beautiful passage in the Gnostic chapters. Quote At that time the soul possesses grace which itself meditates together with the soul and cries out with it the O Lord Jesus. Just as a mother teaches her child the name Father, repeating it with


him until she forms in him the habit of calling distinctly for his father even when asleep. Chapter 61 This passage certainly implies words pronounced and not merely a memory recalled. Diadochus tells us that grace cries out with the soul to the Lord. Thus the expression O Lord Jesus is an invocation. And the analogy of the mother teaching her child to call his father reinforces our interpretation. However, Diadochus did not specify whether the initial words O Lord Jesus were followed by any others and if so, what the other words were. In the early 6th century


we have the two monks from Gaza, Saint Vassanoufios and Saint John of Gaza, they taught the following form, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me. Ever since then, the invocation of the Lord Jesus is normally followed by an appeal for mercy. Diadochus' special contribution to the development of the Jesus prayer consists in establishing a connection between monologic prayer and imageless prayer and in assigning a central place to the name of Jesus, which was still lacking in passion. The manner in which the invocation of the Lord Jesus leads to image-free prayer is indicated in the following passage. When we have


blocked all its outlets by means of the remembrance of God, the intellect requires of us imperatively some tasks that will satisfy its need for activity. For the complete fulfillment of its purpose, we should give it nothing but the O Lord Jesus. Let the intellect continuously concentrate on this phrase within its inner shrine with such intensity that it is not turned aside to any mental image. Chapter 59 The intellect, as Diodocus sees it, cannot remain idle but has an inherent need for activity, which must in some way be satisfied. To meet with this need for activity, the intellect should be made to recite


the prayer, Lord Jesus. We should give it nothing but the O Lord Jesus. The words nothing but are significant. In place of the variety of formulas prevailing in 4th century Egypt, Diodocus here proposes a single, unvarying invocation. As Callistos well rightly observes, it is precisely this unvarying character of the invocation that leads the aspirant to imageless or non-discursive prayer. The monotony itself helps to clear away all thoughts so that the prayer can be more and more unified, more and more simplified and pure. The Jesus prayer is in this manner a way of keeping guard over the intellect


and a path leading to non-discursive prayer. Closely linked with achieving non-discursive prayer, the Jesus prayer has also another immediate purpose, the reintegration of our memory. By the term memory, Diodocus and other ancient writers mean more than is denoted by our modern understanding of memory. More precisely, it means consciousness or the inner perceptive faculty of the intellect. Diodocus adopts the biblical holistic view of the human person as an undivided unity involving body and mind or soul. He sees the body-soul conflict as the consequence of the fall of Adam.


In the state of original simplicity prior to the fall, the soul possessed a natural perceptive faculty which was unified and whole. As a result of Adam's disobedience and the sins of humanity, this perceptive faculty has been split into two conflicting modes of operation. The senses of the body impel us toward carnal pleasures, while the soul and intellect continue to be drawn toward invisible blessings and the good things of heaven. The duality effected by the fall exists on the level both of the will and of the memory. The aim of our spiritual life and of the Jesus Prayer in particular is precisely to overcome this duality and to restore us to our primal integration.


To overcome the duality, however, Diadochus does not advocate the mortification of the body, but its transfiguration rather than suppressing. He advocates a transformation. The insistence upon the spirit-bearing potentiality of the human body is one of the most attractive features in Diadochus' writings. The soul's earthly appetite, he insists, is not to be suppressed but redirected. It is to be harmoniously united with the spiritual disposition of the soul. Our return to the state of primal integration, made possible by Christ's incarnation, is initiated through the sacraments of


baptism. However, while holy baptism cleanses us fully from all the guilt of sin, it does not, according to Diadochus, heal the duality in our will and intellect. While the grace of baptism forms the foundation of our spiritual life, it is necessary for each one of us to cooperate with it in order to heal the duality existing in us. Diadochus teaches that the duality of the will is healed primarily through our ascetic effort, through the observance of the commandments. The division in our intellect or memory, on the other hand, is healed by the constant invocation of the name of the Lord Jesus. The remembrance of evil is in this way displaced by the


remembrance of good, or remembrance of God. In Diadochus' words, it is the mark of one who truly loves holiness that he continually burns up what is earthly in his heart through practicing the remembrance of God, so that little by little, evil is consumed in the fire of the remembrance of good. Chapter 97 And by remembrance of good, he means remembrance of God, and more practically, he means the remembrance of Jesus. The three are the same, remembrance of good, remembrance of God, and remembrance of Jesus. He teaches that the unceasing remembrance of the Lord Jesus eliminates all carnal thoughts and reduces


the two modes of thinking to one, thus restoring our memory to unity. This is the secret of replacing, because a container can contain basically one thing. If there is the remembrance of evil in the container, then good cannot come in, but if we try to keep the remembrance of good, then there is no more room for the remembrance of evil. And Jesus' prayer has this purpose. Hence the Jesus' prayer accomplishes a two-fold function in us. The first function is to release the intellect from its fragmentation among a multiplicity of thoughts and images, leading it to one-pointedness through non-discursive prayer.


And a second function of the Jesus' prayer is closely related to the first. It heals the duality that our memory suffers as a result of the fall. In order to fulfill this double task, the remembrance or invocation of Jesus should be as far as possible continuous. This is a point to which Diadochus attaches great importance. He states clearly that we must let the intellect continually concentrate on this phrase, and we are to meditate unceasingly upon this holy and glorious name. According to Diadochus, those approaching perfection have the remembrance of the Lord Jesus unceasingly in their hearts. As a result of the continuous practice, the remembrance or invocation


of Jesus grows ever more inward and ever more spontaneous in us. It becomes not just an activity, but a permanent state, something we are, as well as something we do. To express this point, Diadochus explores the concept of the heart. By the term heart, it does not merely mean the emotions or affections. For him, as in the homilies of Mercurius, the heart stands for the deep center of the human person as a whole. Diadochus speaks especially of the depth of the heart. It is here that grace dwells and the fullness of love is realized in the depth of the heart. It is likewise in the depth of the heart


that we should establish our remembrance of God and of Jesus. By the depth of the heart, Diadochus seems to indicate the grounds of being, where what we say becomes one with what we are. By keeping the remembrance of Jesus in the depth of our heart, our intellect is enabled to descend into and remain in the heart. According to the later hesychasts, this is a special effect of the Jesus Prayer and expresses the real meaning of prayer, namely, standing before God with our mind in our heart. As the Jesus Prayer becomes more inward, it also grows more instinctive, spontaneous. The soul continuously invokes


the name of Jesus just as a child cries out spontaneously to his father or mother even when asleep. Diadochus considers that one should continue to keep the remembrance of the Holy Name of Jesus even when one falls into a light sleep, just as the bride says in the Song of Songs, I sleep, but my heart wakes. In conclusion, we have studied the four basic elements in the early development of the Jesus Prayer. Pentos, monologic prayer, non-discursive prayer, and the invocation of the name of Jesus. The first three elements were provided by the Desert Fathers of the 4th century


Egypt. They were contained in the writings of Cassian and were synthesized in a single formula of prayer, O God, come to my assistance, O Lord, make haste to help me. Cassian brought this formula to the West, hoping that it would become the commonly used formula for personal practice, but his wish did not prevail, and the formula was made into the opening verse of each hour of the Divine Office, as we are doing now. It's being used throughout the day, but in an official way, at the beginning of each hour of the liturgy, instead of being used by individual monks throughout the day. Thus, the West was deprived of a privileged formula of a short prayer, available for common usage. The situation is different in the East. Owing to the


Jesus-centered spirituality of the 5th century, the Jesus prayer, combining the already existing elements of Pantheism, short prayer and non-discursive prayer, became the prevalent form of monologic prayer. To have a single privileged formula of prayer is a great blessing to the Eastern tradition, especially when this formula is none other than the invocation of the Holy Name of Jesus, who is the heart and center of the whole universe. During our present century, this blessing has been brought from the East to the West by divine providence, and it has found a favorable reception here. Let us rejoice and embrace this single formula wholeheartedly, using it as a path to unceasing and pure


prayer. The Jesus prayer will bring us from multiplicity to one-pointedness by replacing our ten thousand thoughts with one single thought. It will also lead us into the inner sanctuary or the heart of Jesus in an imageless, silent encounter with the Lord.