Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, Have mercy on me, a sinner.
My Elder’s Teaching
by Father Seraphim
“Many people pray the Prayer of Jesus but not many as a vocation. For the majority it is an aspiration rather than something one must do. Both are valid, just as valid in their effectiveness. I’m here, simply to make a statement that there is a difference. But my suspicions are with the Jesus Prayer, or if you want, hesychasm, that some people set out to confront the darkness with the Name of Jesus. Now to me, those would be people who are called to the Jesus Prayer as such, that it is the only tool they know or have or want. They just confront the darkness and this is what they set out to do.
I don’t know what the source of the Jesus Prayer was/is for people, but for me the source of the Jesus Prayer was that there simply wasn’t anything else for me. I couldn’t read, I couldn’t pray, I couldn’t attend the Mystery, I couldn’t do anything, so I may have used the Jesus Prayer as the barest essential of faith because I didn’t want to lose my faith, that there was nothing else I could do.
The Hesychasts found that the most disciplined and regular way of making themselves say the name of Jesus in the darkness was to practice it and there’s certainly something to be said for practice. So they learned in the practicing, how to make it deeper and deeper. The only reason the techniques are needed is because we’re human. The technique itself is good in that if I want to deepen my confrontation in the darkness, then I would discipline myself to always be saying the Name of Jesus; well, one thing you’re always going to have to do is breathe and, of course, the breath is the sign of the Spirit. One must develop a sort of earthiness because I’m convinced that real mystical life is just a blink of the eye beyond what is obvious. I’m not interested in verbalizing that its mystical, I’m only interested in witnessing that its not what it looks like. I witness to the fact that when I’m living here in “______”, mopping floors, doing dishes and cleaning toilets, you are in Nazareth and that’s Mystical. When you are in “______”, you know that you are there, before you only knew about “______”. One must ascend all the steps, but then when there are no more steps, one must make the leap. Knowledge of freedom is the knowledge, the experience of the leap, i.e., accepting and being exactly, wholly present, where you are and dealing with all the pain and darkness by repeating the Name of Jesus. The Jesus Prayer for me is being wherever you are, saying the Name of Jesus.
So, with the eyes of the heart we are able to peer beyond that which is just a blink away. This leads to one of the values of sacrament, that they are earthly things taken and made into instruments of penetration, penetrating into the other realm. For example, when I light the candle and put it before the Mystery, I really say to the Angel of Light, “worship for me before the Lord when I don’t, won’t or can’t or when I’m not here.” and I’m sure I’m closer to the truth in that statement than I can imagine, but I forget.
To sum up let me say that the peace and tranquility (hesychia) comes, when you realize you can live in the darkness in faith and to realize that there is no path to the Jesus Prayer—the Jesus Prayer is the path.”
Before my Elder left for his northern hermitage I asked him to speak with me of the Prayer, a sort of summing up of my ten years with him. It was a sunny day, we sat out behind his hermitage on a log and I recorded the above words. Later that week, the last I would be with him, he gave me four things: a story, a set of Jesus Beads he had made for me, a mandate (Mt. 9:13) and his blessing. With these he sent me on my way in the ongoing belief, “that light does indeed shine in the darkness and the darkness comprehends it not.” -St. John 1:5.
I testify that the above words are true as I took them down. -Seraphim+
In response to requests for reading material about The Jesus Prayer, Fr. Seraphim has prepared the following list of his favorites: Fr. Seraphim gives his opinion in brief description of each book in italics.
- “The Power of the Name” by Bishop Kallistos of Diokleia (Timothy Ware). A very concise and important work, well layed out.
- “The Jesus Prayer” by Mother Maria (Lydia Gysi) My copy of this book is well worn as I’ve read it many times. Mother Maria is very creative and insightful.
- “The Jesus Prayer” by Per-Olof Sjogren. This little book is one of those gems where no space is wasted. Truly a wonderful and challenging book.
- “Living the Jesus Prayer” by Irma Zaleski. Zaleski tells the story of how she came to the Prayer, its history, its method and how it works. A refreshing common sense book.
- “The Way of the Pilgrim” Translated by R.M. French. The classic work of inspiration relative to the Jesus Prayer. My copy is filled with notes becoming a textbook of the Prayer.
- “On The Prayer of Jesus” by Ignatius Brianchaninov. This is the “companion” of “The Way of the Pilgrim”. A concrete guide to the practice of the Prayer.
- “Praying the Jesus Prayer Together” by Brother Ramon and The Rt. Rev. Simon Barrington-Ward. Here is one of the sweetest, most gentle works on the Prayer that I have. Bishop Simon is a dear friend, how well I remember the times he and I have prayed the Jesus Prayer together.
- “The Jesus Prayer” by A Monk of the Eastern Church (Archimandrite Lev Gillet). Simple yet profound, this book reveals to us the secret of the continuing attraction exercised by the Jesus Prayer. This book after having been published forty plus years ago still remains one of the best introductions to the Payer.
- “A Night In the Desert of the Holy Mountain” by Archimandrite Hierotheos Vlachos. There are monks who practice the Jesus Prayer and struggle to live the ascetic life, life according to the Gospel. It is with such a monk-ascetic that the author discusses the Prayer.
- The following three books are by Archimandrite Sophrony, each addressing the Jesus Prayer:
- “His Life Is Mine” is his spiritual testimony – a distillation of the knowledge of God granted him through 22 years on Mount Athos.
- “On Prayer” When I picked up this book I didn’t just read it, I wept through it. Such depth, such splendor, it will do much to ground you in the Prayer.
- C. “Saint Silouan the Athonite” St. Silouan embodied the Prayer to which we are called to do the same. This is a book not merely to be read, but to be lived with.
- “The Name of Jesus” by Irenee Hausherr. A basic work, yet still a scholarly study showing the history of its spirituality and method.
- “The Philokalia” translated from the original Greek by G.E. H. Palmer, Philip Sherrard & kallistos Ware. The Philokalia: The Complete Text with four volumes so far issued out of a total of five. Challenging in its depth and completeness.
- “The Art of Prayer”: an Orthodox Anthology Edited with an introduction by Igumen Chariton/Timothy War. A delightful-insightful collection of texts, each pregnant with the Prayer’s spirituality and reality.
- “Writings from the Philokalia on Prayer of the Heart” Kadloubovsky, & G.E. H. Palmer, The Russian version, free in its translation.
NOTE: Many of these books are out of print and are best found in used bookstores or through online book searches such as Bookfinder.com.
These books have been helpful but there are two points I would like to emphasize as being most important: First and foremost, practice the Prayer continually. Second, ask God to lead you to someone seasoned in its practice. Over the years, I’ve met here and there those who have found the Name to be enough – for them there was no need for anything else. Much of the multiplicity of religion is the result of not finding God to be enough, of not trusting God to be enough and of not wanting God to be enough.
“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God have mercy on me a sinner”
or simply “Jesus, Jesus, Jesus”
– Seraphim +
“The Poorer Means”
“Go, sell, give and so become poor. Take up your cross and follow Him into the moment…as leaven into the dough of humanity that it may rise to become bread of Eucharist for the hungry…As leaven, invisible that He might be visible…being flung out to the furthest places by His centrifugal love and at the same time being pulled paradoxically into the centre by His centripetal love…as salt, light, leaven and branch to the edges and to the centre of a savorless, dark, flat and barren world… Establish Houses of Nazareth, reveal Jesus, follow Jesus revealed…poor, as Jesus was poor…Pray always.” Fr. Seraphim OJN
© 2003 Poorer Means, Nazareth House Apostolate