Pray without Ceasing
Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax collector. The Pharisee, standing by himself, was praying thus, `God, I thank you that I am not like other people: thieves, rogues, adulterers, or even like this tax collector. I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.' But the tax collector, standing far off, would not even look up to heaven, but was beating his breast and saying, `God, be merciful to me, a sinner!' I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled, but all who humble themselves will be exalted.A few years ago, I preached on this passage, showing how a whole strand of Christian tradition—The Jesus Prayer—came from this story. I wrote:
This prayer of the humbled tax collector forms the basis for The Jesus Prayer—a prayer central to the Orthodox understanding of Christianity. The Orthodox churches, such as Russian Orthodox and Greek Orthodox were separated by political divisions from Christianity in the west for more than 1,000 years. There is within the Orthodox understanding of Christianity vast depths of wisdom which many of us who live West of Constantinople have never experienced. I want to offer this decidedly Orthodox form of prayer—The Jesus Prayer—as a possible new avenue for you in your life of personal prayer....The full text of the sermon is online here: The Jesus Prayer.
For the Orthodox monks who developed and passed down this practice if interior prayer, the goal was nothing more or less than leading one’s own heart into God’s presence. This was not a way to pray for something, but a way to be with God. This form of prayer was never taught to be a quick fix or an easy path. Nicephorous emphasized patience in using the Jesus Prayer. He wrote, “patiently continue with this activity for some time, and a way to the heart will be opened for you without any doubt. We have learned this by experience. If you do this with great desire and attention, the entrance into the heart will bring about a host of virtues: love, joy, peace, long-suffering, humility and others.”
If this all sounds a bit like transcendental meditation or some other iffy new age practice, remember that The Jesus Prayer has been practiced within the Christian Church for more than 1,000 years that we know of by millions of Christians. Those who taught the Jesus Prayer were always careful to note that the content of the prayer is Christ and the experience is not of ourselves, but of a pathway to God.
The Rev. Frank Logue, Pastor