I’ve had on my bookshelf a collection of Orthodox writings for many years. Occasionally I pass through an Orthodox phase, wherein the Philokalia, the monks of Mt. Athos, Sophiology and a tradition that is mystical to its very roots becomes all-consuming.

I’m in one of those phases now. This time, it is the Jesus Prayer that strikes me as timely and prescient.

Since the Orthodox Church is considered “Eastern,” it is no surprise that a type of “mantra yoga” would develop from its rich monastic tradition. As with certain Hindu, Sufi and Tibetan Buddhist practices, the Orthodox commitment to the Jesus Prayer seeks to connect the practitioner directly with the Absolute through the chanting of the Divine Name:

The name of our Lord Jesus Christ is a divine name. The power and effect of that name are divine, omnipotent and salvific, and transcend our ability to comprehend it. With faith therefore, with confidence and sincerity, and with great piety and fear ought we to proceed to the doing of the great work which God has entrusted to us: to train ourselves in prayer by using the name of our Lord Jesus Christ. “The incessant invocation of God’s name,” says Barsanuphius the Great, “is a medicine which mortifies not just the passions, but even their influence. Just as the physician puts medications or dressings on a wound that it might be healed, without the patient even knowing the manner of their operation, so also the name of God, when we invoke it, mortifies all passions, though we do not know how that happens” (421st Answer).

The idea is to inwardly repeat the Jesus Prayer (“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner”) while in ascetic seclusion, while performing household duties, while working, while traveling — in short, to remain in the prayer “unceasingly,” until the practice becomes so automatic that words are no longer necessary.

In repeating the prayer, we remain mindful of the person of Christ as Friend, Guide and Advocate, allowing the depth of our devotion to increase over time. Eventually, devotion is met by increased spiritual capacity, until we are completely enveloped by the Spirit and are ready for absolute surrender… as happens, for instance, through the ecstatic practice taught by the Buddha in his discourses on attainment.

One thing that I teach (see here, for instance) is that we must carry our meditative absorption off the cushion and into the world, in the form of “ecstatic saturation.” One way of doing this is to affix our attention on the “signs of absorption,” known as “jhana nimittas,” even while tending to outward responsibilities of life. As an experiment, I’ve lately been reciting the Jesus Prayer while out and about, since I’ve had what I would consider to be a mystical connection with Jesus since childhood. There is something about this devotional relationship that truly does elevate spiritual power and intensity within the practitioner.

The formulation of the prayer, asking for mercy since we are sinners, offers a way of repentance (i.e., “turning to God), which acknowledges those aspects of our being that have “missed the mark” in order to clear the deck, so to speak. Having received “purification,” we then abide in Christ’s Presence, opening to transformation beyond our ability to conceive.

Thus, the need for faith in the unseen….

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