Thursday, June 3, 2010

New Documentary on the Jesus Prayer

Prayer is the bedrock of all Eastern Christian spirituality. To borrow a Latin phrase, lex orandi lex credendi--the law of prayer is the law of faith--our theology, our dogma, our praxis, our entire life in Christ is centered around prayer. When we think of prayer, I believe that many people overlook the very fact that Christ Himself prayed. He prayed to His Father while tempted in the desert for 40 days, before His betrayal in Gethsemane, He prayed while on the cross. Such prayer manifested the communion between the three persons of the Trinity, which is a communion borne out of love and prayer.

Today, we read books on prayer, but never seem to do much of it. We take some moments to pray spontaneously, but they seem hollow, no doubt sincere, but hollow. How do you speak with humility to the Most High?

In Eastern Christian praxis, there is a prayer, taken from the prayer of the Publican in the Gospel according to St. Luke. The parable is that of the Publican and Pharisee where the Pharisee goes into the temple and with haughtiness thanks God for not being like other men, doing all of this with his eyes lifted up with pride. The Publican, a tax collector, a despised member of society, also prays, but does so with humility, looking down saying "Lord have mercy upon me." The Jesus Prayer was taken from this prayer of the Publican. In its entirety, it reads: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me [the sinner]. Nothing more than nine simple words which can really change one's life forever.

Monks routinely pray this prayer for hours at a time. Prostrations usually accompany each recitation. Some monks have a rule of prayer that calls for saying this prayer thousands of time in a day to the point that they no longer need to speak it; the prayer becomes a very part of their being. It is said when they sleep, it is prayed when they are at other tasks. Such prayer is meant to be transformative, looking inward at our very sinful nature, perceiving it, wrestling with it to the point that perhaps we can see the Uncreated Light which shone forth from Christ on Mt. Tabor.

Many people believe, wrongly, that since monks have this practice it is not for the ordinary layman. Such is not the case. Granted, those of us in the world do not have the hours of time we can dedicate to this task, but it can and should be practiced. At the same time, there are many misconceptions about the Jesus Prayer. Next year, a documentary will come out about the Jesus Prayer and how it is incorporated into the lives of monks from throughout the Orthodox World. It should be worth it.

Check out the teaser:

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