From the immemorially ancient times ardent
Christians repeated short invocations to God so that could be incessantly
praying and driving away idle wandering thoughts. Those were various prayers.
Saint Kassian said that in Egypt all Christians say, "O God, help me, O
Lord, grant me your help." St. Ioannikii repeated constantly, "My
hope is the Father, my refuge is the Son, my shelter is the Holy Spirit; O Holy
Trinity, glory to Thee." Somebody else said, "I sinned as a man, but
as a bountiful God, have mercy on me."
There were surely some other similar short
prayers. With time the Jesus prayer got established and became widely used by
everyone, "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner."
The aim of this prayer is the same as of the others: to keep one’s mind turned
to God. At the same time one has to remember that saying the Jesus prayer is
just a tool or work showing a strong desire to find the Lord.
Everyone will benefit from saying the Jesus
prayer. Those in the monastic orders must repeat it all the time. So there is
no danger in the prayer itself, if one says it reverently. Yet, what is
dangerous is the "artistry" (i.e. some artificial tricks) invented to
accompany that prayer. For example, while saying the Jesus prayer some people
put their hand on the table and concentrate their attention under the fingers —
it is an inconsistent oddity. Or here is another whim: to strike the finger of
your right hand against the palm of left one and thus try to concentrate the
mind on the prayer.
The first person to write about the
"artistic" performance of the Jesus prayer was Gregory of Sinai in
the 13th century... It was those tricks that plunged some people
into a dreamy state of enchantment, while others strange as it sounds — into a
constant lustful state. That is why those tricks should be disapproved and
condemned resolutely. And we must urge everybody and teach everyone to hail the
sweetest name of the Lord in a simple heartfelt way.
The essence of a prayer is easy to explain. Make
your heart and mind stand up in front of the Lord and appeal to Him, "Lord
Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner." That will be your
prayer work. The Lord will see who prays devotedly and will grant the praying
person a spiritual prayer according to his zeal. That spiritual prayer is in
fact the fruit of the grace of the Holy Spirit. This is all we must say about
the Jesus prayer. All the rest that was invented, has nothing to do with it: it
is the Enemy that is trying to distract us from the prayer.
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