Posts Tagged prayer of the heart
Fr. Seraphim (Aldea) (1965 – ) – was tonsured as an Orthodox monk in 2005 at Rasca monastery in Bucovine, North Moldavia. He has a PhD in Modern Theology from the University of Durham (UK) for a thesis on Archimandrite Sophrony (Sakharov)’s Ecclesiology. He is currently obeying God’s calling to found the Monastery of all Celtic Saints on the Scottish Isle of Mull. This will be the first Orthodox monastery in Celtic Britain in over a millennium (See http://www.mullmonastery.com).
“Prayer in the most early stages is something you have to do. You do it because your spiritual father says so, because the Holy Fathers say so, and because Christ Himself says so. Although this is not really prayer, by following someone else – the way the Apostles did – you lay the foundation for real prayer; this foundation is obedience. You do something not out of your own will, but because someone else tells you to. You may not be aware of it, but in doing this, you have declared war on your own nature, because it is deeply un-natural in our fallen world to oppose your own will, to reject your own logic and to let go of self-control. It is against reason, against instinct, against all the things we have become in order to survive.
When you start praying, you have in fact started your wandering through the desert. It may last less than forty years; it may last until the day you die. You may see the Promised Land while still in this life; you may die in the desert, and only enter the Kingdom after you have departed this life.
The one thing that matters is that you start; as long as you keep going, you will be all right. The advice you will find in all the Fathers is to keep praying, keep yourself on the path; although you may feel it has no effect and that it leads to nowhere, in reality the fruits of this cross are already present in you. The roots of the prayer are already growing in your flesh and soul, and that is a painful process; that is why you are in pain.
During these long years, you will not be levitating, you will not be swallowed in light, but you will become more humble, more aware of how weak and limited you are, and less inclined to judge other people. These fruits are the foundation upon which real prayer will be built at the right time. If you do not go through this process of transformation, if your faith does not survive this desert, if you do not conquer this hell by patience and humility, you will not reach the Resurrection of true prayer.”
~ Excerpt from the booklet, “On Prayer”, published by The Orthodox Monastery of All Celtic Saints
The Jesus Prayer (Greek: Η Προσευχή του Ιησού, i prosefchí tou iisoú); or “The Prayer” (Greek: Η Ευχή, i efchí̱ – literally “The Wish”) is a short formulaic prayer esteemed and advocated especially within the Eastern Orthodox Church. The prayer has been widely taught and discussed beginning in the 4th and 5th centuries. It is often repeated continually as a part of personal ascetic practice, its use being an integral part of the eremitic tradition of prayer known as Hesychasm (Greek: ἡσυχάζω, isycházo, “to keep stillness”). The prayer is particularly esteemed by the spiritual fathers of this tradition (see Philokalia) as a method of opening up the heart (kardia) and bringing about the Prayer of the Heart (Καρδιακή Προσευχή). The Prayer of The Heart is considered to be the Unceasing Prayer that the apostle Paul advocates in the New Testament (1 Thess. 5:17).
Methods and Steps
Practical Steps for the Jesus Prayer
1. Sit or stand in a dimly lit and quiet place.
2. Recollect yourself.
3. With the help of your imagination find the place of the heart and stay there with attention.
4. Lead the mind from the head into the heart and say, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me
5. Quietly with the lips or mentally, whichever is more convenient; say the prayer slowly and reverently.
6. As much as possible guard the attention of your mind and do not allow any thoughts to enter in.
7. Be patient and peaceful.
8. Be moderate in food, drink, and sleep.
9. Learn to love silence.
10. Read the Scriptures and the writings of the Fathers about prayer.
11. As much as possible avoid distracting occupations.
(From the “Life of Abba Philemon” (6th Century book about Paul’s disciple))
Spiritual Levels of Prayer
It begins as oral prayer or prayer of the lips, a simple recitation defined as a verbal expression. Although very important, this level of prayer is still external to us and thus only the first step, for the essence or soul of prayer is within a man’s heart and mind.
As we enter more deeply into prayer, we reach a level at which we begin to pray without distraction. At this point, the mind is focused upon the words of the prayer, speaking them as if they were ones own.
The third level, is prayer of the heart. At this stage prayer is no longer something we do but who we are. Such prayer, which is a gift of the Spirit, is to return to the Father as did the prodigal son. The prayer of the heart is the prayer of adoption, when “God has sent the Spirit of his Son into our hearts, crying, ‘Abba, Father!’ (Galatians 4:6)
(From the “Reflections of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))
Stages of Growth in the Prayer of the Heart
1. Try to…enclose your thought in the words of the [Jesus] prayer. If on account of its [the mind’s] infancy it wearies and wanders lead it in again. The mind is naturally unstable. But He Who orders all things can control it.
2. The beginning of prayer consists in banishing the thoughts that come to us at their very appearance…
3. Quantity is the cause of quality. The Lord gives pure prayer [prayer of the mind in the heart] to him who, eschewing laziness, prays much and regularly in his own manner, even if it is marred by inattention.
4. …the middle [of prayer] is when the mind stays solely in the words pronounced vocally or mentally…If, therefore, you tirelessly train your mind never to stray from the words of the prayer, it will be there even at mealtime.
5. The spiritual land of a man pure in soul is within him…Try to enter the cell within you and you will see the heavenly cell. They are one and the same…The ladder to the Heavenly Kingdom is within you. [Luke 17:21]
(St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (d. 1867) relating the teachings of St. John Climacus (d. 606) in “On the Prayer of Jesus”)
Using a Prayer Rope (Komboskini or Chotki) with the Jesus Prayer
…those who excelled in prayer, in order to avoid being subject to this self-deception, invented the prayer rope, which they proposed for the use of those who seek to pray not with written prayers, but on their own. They used it as follows:
1. They said, “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me a sinner,” and moved one knot with their fingers;
2. Then, they said this again and moved another, and so on;
3. Between each short prayer they made a bow from the waist** or a prostration,* as desired, or…
4. Between small knots they made a bow from the waist and at the larger knots or beads a complete prostration.*
(From the “Letters of St. Theophan the Recluse” (d. 1894))
* A prostration consists of dropping to both knees and leaning forward on the hands until the head touches the ground.
** Saint Hieromartyr Cosmas Aetolos (d. 1779) suggested the Sign of the Cross: …hold it [prayer rope] in your left hand and cross yourselves with your right hand and say: ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’
Copyright 2016 Ancient Christian Foundation
The following excerpt is from an anonymous 1851 manuscript called The Watchful Mind. It was penned by an unknown monk on Mount Athos, the “Holy Mountain”, the continuous home of the “hesychastic” contemplative Christian prayer tradition for more than a thousand years.
“Beloved, when you wish to pray noetically from your depths, let the prayer of your heart imitate the sound of the cicada. When the cicada chirps, it does so in two ways. At first, it softly chirps five to ten times, but then its ending chirps are more pronounced, drawn out, and melodic. And so, beloved when you pray noetically within your heart, pray in the following manner: First say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me” about ten times, forcefully from your heart and clearly with your intellect from your depths, one time with each breath. Restrain your breath a little each time you say the prayer as your heart meditates from its depth on the words. Once you have said the prayer in this fashion ten times or more until that place within you has become warm where you meditate upon the prayer, then say the prayer more forcefully, with greater tension and forcefulness of heart, just as the cicada ends its song with a more pronounced and melodic voice.
This prayer, which is referred to principally as noetic prayer, is also called prayer of the heart and watchful prayer. When you say the prayer with your intellect and repeat it mystically within you in stillness, using your inner voice, it is referred to as noetic prayer. When you say the prayer from the depths of your heart with great tension and inner force, then it is referred to as prayer of the heart. It is referred to as watchful prayer when, because of your prayer or because of the infinite goodness of God, the grace of the Holy Spirit visits your soul and touches your heart, or you are granted a divine vision, upon which your mind’s eye becomes watchful and fixed.
When you practice noetic prayer and reverently repeat it as you should, and the grace of the Holy Spirit visits your soul, then the name of Christ that you are meditating upon with your intellect becomes greatly consoling and sweet to your mind and soul, so much that you could never repeat it enough.
When you practice prayer of the heart and the grace of God touches your heart (that is, when your heart happens upon it), causing it to conceive compunction, as the Lady Theotokos [“God Bearer”, the Virgin Mary] conceived the Word of God by the Holy Spirit, then the name of divine Jesus, and all of Holy Scripture, becomes ineffable sweetness to the heart, and every spiritual notion of the heart (if I may put it this way) becomes a sweet flowing river of divine compunction that sweetens the heart and wondrously makes it fervent in eros and love for it Creator and God.
Sometimes, when you practice prayer of the heart with pain of an enfeebled heart and with sorrow of a humbled soul, then your soul clearly feels the consolation and visitation of the Lord. This is what the prophet says: “The Lord is near those who are brokenhearted.” The Lord invisibly draws near you when you crush your heart with the prayer, as we said, in order to show you some mystical revelation. He shows you some vision in order to make you more fervent in the spiritual work of your heart.
And so, beloved, when, by the grace of Christ, your soul beholds some vision and is filled with compunction because of your prayer, then you understand that watchful prayer is nothing other than divine grace; it is the noetic and divine vision your mind beholds, your intellect firmly fixed upon, and your soul watches. And that the divine grace of the Holy Spirit visited your soul, gently touched your heart, and ineffably sweetened your mind, only you can understand and comprehend within yourself, because compunction ceaselessly from your heart as from an ever-flowing spring, while your mind experiences an inexpressible sweetness and your soul consolation. At that moment your soul possesses some spiritual boldness and mystically supplicates God, its Fashioner and Creator saying, “Remember me, Oh Lord, in your Kingdom,” or some other verse of Holy Scripture.
This holy and pure supplication that takes place within the soul has such power that it penetrates the heavens and reaches the throne of the Holy Trinity, before whom it stands like sweet-smelling and fragrant incense. The prophet said about this prayer, “Let my prayer arise as incense before you.” The God in Trinity receives this holy supplication in an inexpressible and wondrous manner, and the supplication in turn receives the fruit of the Holy Spirit. This fruit, received reverently and modestly, is offered and sent to the soul as a priceless and heavenly gift from the God of all as a pledge of the future kingdom and adoption. The soul that receives the heavenly and divine fruit of the Holy Spirit because of its supplication, that is, from pure prayer, acquires divine love, spiritual joy, peace of heart, and great patience during the hardships and temptations of this age, excellence and goodness in everything, unwavering faith, Christ’s meekness, and passion-killing self-control. All of these are called “fruit of the Holy Spirit.” To our God be glory and power unto ages of ages. Amen.” ~ The Watchful Mind, pp 123-125.