UPDATED 22 June: Feedback from faithful viewers/prayers was that there was not enough silence and space this morning (while still wanting to keep to 30 minutes). So, I have removed some elements of the devotions and simplified the chant on the Canticle. See version 2 posted above. This should have cut around 5 minutes of singing out which I will use for silence tomorrow. I suspect of to still needs trimming I will need to reduce the repetitions in each section. Thank you so much for praying with me.
As part of the transition to post-lockdown and open churches, I am moving the daily intercessions I have been offering out of the Eucharist and praying them with the Jesus Prayer. To frame that I am adding a few devotions and some structure. The music and texts for the most part come from the Monastery of the Holy Trinity (Community of the Servants of the Will of God) at Crawley Down. They were inspired by the renewal of monastic life in France after Vatican II and particular in the Francisan hermit tradition so the use of these texts in a way like this has good pedigree.
It is also from Crawley Down and via them from the Orthodox monastery at Tolleshunt Knights, that the public use of the Jesus Prayer comes. I am going to limit myself to 30 minutes and think that with the devotions, no hurry, some silence and the intercessions I can pray three lots of 25 repetitions of the prayer. I normally use this form:
Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, take pity on me a sinner.
Occasionally I may use a, shorter, Greek form:
Kyrie Jesou Christe, eleison me.
Kaliistos Ware in his marvellous little booklet on the Jesus Prayer for the CTS suggests we might also use a plural form in communal and intercessory use, so I may try that at times:
Lord Jesus, Christ, Son of God: have mercy on us.
I have tried playing around with my morning schedule to have these a little later but it doesn’t really work for me, so this will be live-streamed each weekday at 5:30am and available afterwards on Face Book. I know that some people value hearing their intercessions prayed aloud (first names only) so that continues. There isn’t much to see and I am experimenting with the camera angle. Again some people like to see who is talking rather than just an icon or candle. I also hope to demonstrate the use of prostrations which I find enormously helpful.
Until churches re-open for public worship or until I move to Oxford, but almost certainly until mid-July, I shall continue to live-stream the Eucharist at 6:30am, but without the intercessions.
I shall be adding to the text above a short reading each day from Scripture which highlights the power of the divine name. This will give me the chance to build up an anthology of those texts.
It has been a wonderful and joyful ministry to bring names for prayer to the Lord each day at the altar and I shall continue to do so in this way. Please keep messaging me with them. It is a privilege, thank you. And please pray for me, a sinner.
It has been a fascinating experience live-streaming the Eucharist and other liturgies from the little Oratory at home. I am enormously grateful to the faithful who have remained constant companions in prayer, to those who have dipped in and said something warm, to those who have dipped in and have not pointed out the sad state of my singing voice. Most of all I am grateful to those of you who have entrusted to me your loved ones, relatives, friends and others known to you for prayer. To pray for people is at the heart of priestly ministry. Thank you for helping me feel so fulfilled as a priest during this lockdown.
In August we will be moving to Oxford which is going to disrupt things. From September I shall have the enormous privilege of worshipping daily in Christ Church Cathedral. Before either of those events it is possible that the Government will allow public worship in churches.
The bishops’ permission to celebrate the Eucharist with no other person present was a gracious and well received gift for this lockdown only. I will cease live-streaming the Eucharist on Saturday 11th July (the Feast of St Benedict).
Many people have asked me to continue to Livestream something, especially elements of Common Worship Daily Prayer sung to simple modal chant. I would also like to continue the ministry of intercession.
So, from 11th July I am going to Livestream about 25 minutes of Jesus Prayer, with Adoration of the Blessed Sacrament and prostrations, as I have done once or twice already. In between every 25 petitions of the Jesus Prayer I will pray the names of those for whom prayer has been requested. I will begin and end with simple chants (see below). Monday to Friday this will normally be at 6:30am which seems to work for many people. I know that some of those who have asked for prayer like to hear the name prayed out loud and this will allow that.
I will also Live-stream simple services of Morning and Evening Prayer, Compline and on Saturdays a Resurrection Vigil. These may be more intermittent and (apparently random) although I hope to be able to commit to Morning Prayer at 7:00am each day at the end of the Jesus Prayer. Evening Prayer is likely to be at 5:30pm and Compline at 8:30pm, perhaps just Monday to Thursday. Each of these will take about 15 minutes. At Morning and Evening Prayer there will be one psalm or selection from a psalm and one reading from the lectionary. Occasionally I may also Livestream Mid-Day Prayer, also from CWDP.
To follow the liturgy at home Compline is straightforwardly from the booklet below, as also the Resurrection Vigil. Morning and Evening Prayer will need the booklet for the Ordinary of the Office, the booklet for Ordinary Time (Hymn and Benedictus and Magnificat Refrains). But you will be able to follow using CWDP in the book or app. On saints days it may get more complicated but hopefully not too much so.
I will continue to post a request for prayer each afternoon or evening for the next day and, as at present, keep the list going for a fortnight before starting again. Please feel free to add the same names every time.
At some point I will be packing the Oratory up and finding a corner (no doubt surrounded by boxes) to pray in. It will be good to demonstrate that a simple corner is enough for our sacred space and if that happens before 11th July to celebrate Mass more simply.
UPDATE: Many thanks to a correspondent for highlighting this link to an interview with Kallistos Ware, starts at c 7 minutes, here.
– Some resources for Spiritual Directors
Diocese of Liverpool Spiritual Directors Course, 14th May 2020
Orthodox prayer (not ‘spirituality’ which is modern western term) may be characterised as:
For a basic introduction to the Orthodox Churc, the book of that name by Timothy Ware (now Bishop Kallistos Ware) hasn’t been matched.
General Theology and Spirituality
If I had to recommend one book on Orthodox spirituality it would be this, an anthology with commentary it is profoundly ecclesial and theological, it is not outwardly abut ‘spirituality’ which is, in any case a modern, western, individualistic, way of thinking. For any directee moving them towards a fuller and deeper immersion on Christian orthodoxy (as distinct from Orthodoxy) is vital. This is a really helpful book for that. Part Three on Contemplation is an essential guide to an orthodox and Orthodox understanding of prayer and what we now call the ‘spiritual life’.:
The Roots of Christian Mysticism: Texts from the Patristic Era with Commentary
This is the best, encyclopaedic scholarly guide available. Paints the whole picture, ecclesial and theological. Not for the faint-hearted but brilliant:
St Tikhon’s Seminary Press 2003
Lossky is really excellent, this is very accessible and readable:
The Vision of God
ST Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1983
Orthodox theology is not a thing of the past, it is a vibrant living tradition, anything by Andrew Louth is worth reading, this is especially helpful. There isa very helpful chapter on the ‘English assimilation of Orthodoxy’ with material on St Silouan and Fr Sophrony. Louth’s starting point is the Philokalic tradition and so locates that at the start of the ‘modern’ period.
Modern Orthodox Thinkers – From the Philokalia to the present
This is a really excellent anthology, one for the prayer-desk, or side of the bath! Bite-sized and readable chunks of great spiritual writers within the tradition:
The Art of Prayer: An Orthodox Anthology
Tr E Kadloubovsky and EM Palmer
Matthew the Poor is. a monk and spiritual father of the Monastery of Macarius the Great in Egypt He has been the centre of a remarkable renewal of monastic life in the Coptic Church, this is a very accessible book:
Orthodox Prayer Life: The Interior Way
Matthew the Poor
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2003
It is impossible to understand Orthodox spirituality without recognising the importance of fasting and our neglect of it in the western church, just search for ‘prayer’ in the Bible and you will see its intimate relationship to prayer for Scripture. There are some of my thoughts on fasting my blog:
Just as it is impossible to imagine Orthodox spirituality without fasting, so it is impossible to imagine Orthodoxy without icons. the literature on icons is vast. Much of it really superb, so just two books in my hight recommended category as a starter:
***** If you only read on ebook on this ison or on icpns on general this ought to be it. It will touch your soul deeply:
The Rublev Trinity
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 2007
A beautiful book to look at, full of deep theology and spirituality:
***** The Meaning of Icons
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1982
The Silouan / Athonite Tradition
The monasteries and hermitages on Mount Athos, the Holy Mountain, are hugely influential on Orthodox spirituality, we are fortunate in the UK in having a monastery in that tradition here at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex – well worth a visit. Founded by Archimandrite Sophrony it is is now led by Achimandrite Zacharias and the following books will be helpful in accessing that:
Arch Sophrony had been taught by Staretz Silouan (1866-1938) . This is a must read. Very recommendable to directees. The source books on now Saint Silouan are:
Wisdom from Mount Athos: The Writings of Staretz Silouan
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (1974)
Monk of Mount Athos
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press (1974)
For a general view of Mount Athos this account of renewal of the monastic tradition on the Holy Mountain is very good indeed:
Mount Athos: Renewal in Paradise
Yale University Press 2002
For Sophrony himself (all very readable and accessible):
His Life is Mine
Mowbray 1977. (now St Vladimir’s Seminary Press
St Vladimir’s Seminary Press 1998
We Shall See Him As He Is
Saint Herman Press1988
Archimandrite Zacharias is, I think, a little denser and less readable but worth persevering with:
The Hidden Man of the Heart: The Cultivation of the Heart in Orthodox Spiritual Anthroplogy
Mount Thabor Publishing 2008
The Enlargement of the Heart: ‘Be ye also enlarged’ 2 Cor 6:13 in the Theology of St Silouan the Athonite and Elder Sophrony of Essex
Mount Thabor Publishing 2006
Remember Thy First Love: the three stages of the spiritual life in the theology of Elder Sophrony
Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist Essex 2011
Books abut Archimandrite Sophrony’s teaching:
I Love Therefore I Am: The Theological Legacy of Archimandrite Sophrony
Nicholas V Sakarov
St Vladimir’s Seminar Press 2002
Christ, Our Way And Our Life: A Presentation of the Theology of Archimandrite Sophrony
Stavropegic Monastery of St John the Baptist Essex 2012
Other useful Texts
Surprisingly readable, this is very accessible, definitely one to recommend to Directees:
From Glory to Glory: Texts from Gregory of Nyssa’s Mystical Writings
Ed Jean Daniélou
St Valdimir’s Seminary Press 2001
One of the classic texts of the monastic tradition eastern and western, very readable, highly recommended:
The Ladder of Divine Ascent
Classics in Western Spirituality Paulist Press1982
This is useful to give a picture of the reception of Orthodoxy in the West (particularly in Paris) in the period following the Russian revolution and the Second Word War, it helps to understand the competing jurisdictions and the complications of ecclesiastical politics as well as the culture, all within a biography of one, person. Not an easy read but good:
Lev Gillett: A Monk of the Eastern Church
Fellowship of St Alban and St Sergius 1999
Rowan Williams can sometimes be a hard read, Dostoevsky can be equally difficult, so this may not encourage to look at this book, but it actually locates Dostoevsky within the Orthodox tradition and is just brilliant:
Dostoevsky: Language Faith and Fiction
Baylor University Press 2008
Likewise Sergei Bulgakov is probably (in my view) the greatest Orthodox theologian of the 20th century. he is really excellent on the place of the holy Spirit in the Christian life. A little more dense than the Dostoevsky book this is worth persevering with especially a sit shows an Orthodox engagement with political realities.
Sergei Bulgakov: Towards a Russian Political Theology
Ed with commentary by Rowan Williams
T and T Clark 1999
Orthodox worship has to be experienced. It is a rich tapestry of icons, movement, vesture, music, texts. Looking at any written text of Orthodox worship is totally inadequate. They are deeply doxological and the communion of saints is tangible. It may be worth looking at some to get that sense, or tor reflect on, but the best thing is to find an Orthodox church and go.
There is no single Orthodox ‘service book’, each language tradition ha sits own books which for any one service will be many. Some western or uniate groups have produced service type books (eg Byzantine Daily Worship or Isabel Hapgood’s Orthodox Service Book) but they are totally inadequate to appreciate Orthodox liturgy. Two publications that provide some indication of the richness may be worth flicking through but I don’t particularly urge you to get them:
The Festal Menaion
Faber and Faber 1969 now from St Tikhon’s Seminary Press
The Lenten Triodion
Faber and Faber 1978 now from St Tikhon’s Seminary Press
The Jesus Prayer has become popular and known in the West mainly via two texts, ‘The Way of A Pilgrim’ and ‘The Pilgrim Continues His Way’. The texts are Russian and probably 19th century. They are a short and easy read and really the foundation text for us, well worth recommending. The easiest and most accessible translations are by R.M. French. It’s the first version I read as teenager and I was deeply moved by then. They also give some indications to Directors in working with individuals, the balance of the Jesus Prayer with the reading of the Gospels is hugely significant. It is available on Kindle and now in one volume, slightly dated and sometimes criticised for romanticising the translation:
The best scholarly edition with really important essays on the origins of the text and its various versions is in the Classics in Western Spirituality series:
The Pilgrim’s Tale
Ed. Aleksie Pentkovsky
There are other editions which are new translations:
The Way of A Pilgrim and the Pilgrim Continues His Way
Tr Helen Bacovin
This is useful for a close reading of the text with some helpful notes, I would recommend French or Bacovin for a first unadulterated read which I think is the best way to read it to start with, the story, the narrative is compelling without any notes, this might be useful for a later read:
The Way of A Pilgrim: Annotated and Explained
Tr and annotated: Gleb Pokrovsky
The Philokalia: The Complete Text (four volumes, a fifth is promised)
***** Written by a recently deceased Anglican bishop this is one of the most accessible books on the JP, and is HIGHLY recommended, very good as a first suggestion to directees:
The Jesus Prayer: A Way to Contemplation
***** Also by SBW this one with Brother Ramon is another highly recommended. Ramon is a slightly neglected author at the moment well worth reading:
Praying the Jesus Prayer Together
Simon Barrington-Ward and Brother Ramon SSF
Adapted from previous year’s notes for this session:
The Jesus Prayer
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of the Living God, have mercy on me, a sinner. (full version)
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me. (shorter version).
Greek: Kyrie Iesou Christe: eleison me
The Parable of the Pharisee and the Tax-collector: Luke 18:9-14
9 He also told this parable to some who trusted in themselves that they were righteous and regarded others with contempt: 10 ‘Two men went up to the temple to pray, one a Pharisee and the other a tax-collector. 11 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. 12 I fast twice a week; I give a tenth of all my income.”13 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!” 14 I tell you, this man went down to his home justified rather than the other; for all who exalt themselves will be humbled.
Hesychasm (ἡσυχασμός): “stillness, rest, quiet, silence”): mystical tradition of prayer the Eastern Orthodox Church and Eastern Catholic Churches of the Byzantine Rite. Based on Christ’s injunction in the Gospel of Matthew: “when thou prayest, enter into thy closet, and when thou hast shut thy door, pray”. Hesychasm in the tradition has been the process of retiring inward by ceasing to register the senses, in order to achieve an experiential knowledge of God (theoria).
Some quotes from the Philokalia (an ancient collection of teachings of the eastern monastic fathers which has passed from Greek to Russian to an English translation in two volumes by Kadloubovsky and Palmer, Faber and Faber 1951).
St Isaac of Syria (7th century):
Try to enter your inner treasure-house and you will see the treasure-house of heaven. For both the one and the other are the same, and the one and the same entrance reveals them both. The ladder leading to the kingdom is concealed within you, that is, in your soul. Wash yourselves from sin and you will see the rungs of the ladder by which you can ascend thither.
St Gregory of Sinai (14th century)
In the morning force you mind to descend from the head to the heart and hold it there, calling ceaselessly in mind and soul: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me!’ until you are tired. Transfer you mind to the second half, and say, ‘Jesus, Son of God, have mercy upon me!’ Having many times repeated this appeal, pass once more to the first half. But you should not alternate these appeals too often through laziness; for just as plants do not take root if transplanted too frequently, neither do the movements of prayer in the heart if the words are changed frequently.
When you notice thoughts arising and accosting you, do not look at them, even if they are not bad; but keeping the mind firmly in the heart, call to Lord Jesus and you will soon sweep away the thoughts and drive out the instigators – the demons – invisibly scorching and flogging them with this Divine Name. Thus teaches John of the Ladder. saying: with the name of Jesus flog the foes, for there is no surer weapon against them, either on earth or in heaven.
The Monks Callistus and Ignatius (14th century)
Prayer practised within the heart, with attention and sobriety, with no other thought and imagining, by repeating the words ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God,’ silently and immaterially leads the mind to our Lord Jesus Christ Himself. By the words ‘have mercy on me,’ it turns it back and moves it towards him who prays, since he cannot as yet not pray about himself. But when he gains the experience of perfect love, he stretches out wholly to our Lord Jesus Christ alone, having received actual proof of the second part (that is, of mercy). Therefore, as someone has said, a man calls only: ‘Lord Jesus Christ!’ his heart overflowing with love.
“Do not neglect prostration. It provides an image of humanity’s fall into sin and expresses the confession of our sinfulness. Getting up, on the other hand, signifies repentance and the promise to lead a life of virtue. Let each prostration be accompanied by a noetic invocation of Christ, so that by falling before the Lord in soul and body you may gain the grace of the God of souls and bodies.”
Theoliptos, Metropolitan of Philadelphia
in The Philokalia, Volume, 4 p. 185 (Palmer, Sherrard and Ware, Faber 1995)
“So: the regular ritual to begin the day when I’m in the house is a matter of an early rise and a brief walking meditation or sometimes a few slow prostrations, before squatting for 30 or 40 minutes (a low stool to support the thighs and reduce the weight on the lower legs) with the “Jesus Prayer”: repeating (usually silently) the words as I breathe out, leaving a moment between repetitions to notice the beating of the heart, which will slow down steadily over the period.”
I have been practising the Jesus Prayer (the Prayer) since I first learnt it as a teenager. I have taught it, in sermons, on retreats and quiet days and in prayer accompaniment to many others. Although I have been practising prostrations and walking meditation with the Prayer for many years I haven’t so far taught these, or talked about them much to others. The former Archbishop’s piece has encouraged me to write this little blog about how I use these physical postures and movements in the hope that it will encourage others to explore this side of the use of the Prayer.
“Glorify God in your body.” Is St Paul’s clear exhortation to the Corinthians (1 Cor. 6:19) but, probably like many other pious Christians I am very much a ‘head’ person. As a child when my siblings were playing in the garden I would much rather have my head buried in a book. I have had to work at and enable others to liberate me from this.
It was experience of Catholic charismatic renewal, ‘baptism in the Holy Spirit’ and praying in tongues when I was fourteen that freed me to be more physical in my prayer (and in life generally). Although I had read The Way of A Pilgrim in my mid-teens it was as a late teenager that I discovered the prayer more thoroughly from the Anglican monks at Crawley Down (Community of the Servants of the Will of God). My, then, Spiritual Director and Superior of the community, Fr Gregory, had a strong friendship with Archimandrite Sophrony at the orthodox community at Tolleshunt Knights in Essex. At Crawley Down the only prostrations associated with the prayer was a deep bow, touching of the floor and sign of the cross at intervals during the communal recitation of the prayer which replaces Compline.
Communal recitation was itself an innovation at Tolleshunt Knights but one that works well and I have used with many retreat and prayer groups. Single voices, reciting the prayer in turn, 50 or 100 times each, praying the short doxology after each set of recitations.
Prostrations, often over a prayer stool, had also been a form of prayer that I had learnt at Taizé which I’d first visited as a seventeen year old. At the Friday prayer around the cross there individuals also place their foreheads on the icon of the cross lying on the ground, a powerful form of prayer.
Retreats with the Buddhist monks at Chithurst Forest Monastery in the south downs and at Amaravati north of London (both in the Thai Forest tradition) also taught me the art of bowing the forehead to the ground.
Sometime in my late twenties I began to practice prostrations with the Jesus Prayer. Both types of prostration from the standing position (I have never felt comfortable praying sat in a chair and usually use a Taizé style prayer stool or a Buddhist meditation cushion.) For the basic prostration, with each repetition of the Jesus Prayer, I bow deeply at the waist, making the sign of the cross and touching the floor with my fingers, I do this for each of 50 or 100 recitations of the prayer (using a prayer rope to count) and then pray either the lesser doxology or the Lord’s Prayer dropping to my knees and placing my forehead on the ground.
I find this level of physicality in prayer very helpful especially immediately after getting up in the morning and before praying the morning Office, or in the middle of the day. Sometimes if I am tired it is a helpful way of preparing for Vespers. I rarely use this form of prostration before Compline as I find it overstimulating at a time when I want to relax. If I am sleepless because of an over busy mind it can be a good way to switch off thoughts before a cup of camomile tea and a return to bed.
On occasions, for a change, I use the short Greek form of the Jesus Prayer:
Kyrie Jesu Christe, eleison me.
Other times I seek to remind myself of the faith dimension of the words by speaking aloud an extended meditation/ prayer on the meaning of Lord/Jesus/Christ etc. I think this is important so that the Prayer is always an exercise of faith, trust in Jesus and never perceived as some sort of mantra or invocation.
There is a good piece by Saint Ignaty Brianchaninov here. He describes how:
“The bows warm up the body and somewhat exhaust it, and this condition facilitates attention and compunction.”
Of course, this sort of prayer is only for private use. On retreat or holiday I have occasionally practised prostrations for extended periods of several hours at a time; I find the sense of exercise very helpful. It is also a good practise for outside facing the rising sun in a chilly autumn dawn.
I haven’t said much here about uniting the Prayer with the breathing; I would very much encourage this and find it an essential way of using the prayer and extending the prayer into my daily activities.
There is a very good essay about uniting the Prayer with the breath here.
Walking meditation is another way of using the Prayer physically. Again this was something I learnt from the Forest monks. The best way I find is to alternate prostrations with walking meditation. Find a flat area where you can walk up and down a line for about 20 feet and just walk very slowly along the line and back again. Outside in a private area and focusing the eyes simply on the steps ahead. I find it is best not to be too artificial about the pace of walking; just as slow as is possible without being theatrical. I have never been able to combine the rhythm of walking with the breathing although I am told that some people do this; I breathe in the first part of the prayer and breathe out the second part and let the walking look after itself. I find it easier to combine the breathing with the prayer when praying silently in my head but sometimes, and usually with the prostrations, pray the prayer aloud, again only in private.
The Vietnamese Buddhist teacher Thich Nhat Hanh who met Thomas Merton, practises a much freer form of Walking Meditation that is much more just mindful walking. I sometimes use this with a mindful verse that he suggests:
With every step / a flower blooms.
There are plenty of YouTube films of Thich Naht Hanh teaching this kind of prayer:
I have used this form of group walking meditation, silent walking, with retreat groups, it has a strong bonding quality for a group and can be a good break from sitting and listening in a retreat centre!
Bowing to the ground with the forehead is normally referred to as the Great Prostration and touching the ground with the fingers while bowing at the waist a Small Prostration.
There is a very helpful page about the use of the Jesus Prayer on the St Vladimir’s seminary website here.
I thoroughly recommend using physical posture with the Jesus Prayer and exploring posture in all our prayer (bowing at the doxology at the end of the psalms in the Office, for example) but there is no ‘right’ way to pray. As St Teresa of Avila wrote,
“mental prayer is none other … than an association of friendship, frequently practised on an intimate basis, with the one we know loves us.”
The important thing with prayer, as Dom John Chapman wrote, is that we pray as we can, not as we can’t (Spiritual Letters 109).
There is a lovely sentence in Teresa of Avila’s Interior Castle (1.28):
“It is very important for any soul that prays, whether little or much, that it doesn’t tighten up or squeeze itself into a corner” (tr Peter Tyler).
Posture helps me to pray because it loosens me up; it frees me from my head space and allows me to descend to the heart. It works for me because I am a naturally fidgety person. Other things will work for other people.
Prayer is friendship with God, just as we each find our own ways of friendship we all need to experiment and try things out to find our way of being friends with God. Posture is a form of touch, a making physical our prayer, our friendship. Just as touch is important in friendship, so it can be important in prayer.