On Prayer XXII: Books on the Jesus Prayer

I would like to emphasize that the Jesus Prayer needs to be learned – moreover, preferably with the help of a spiritual director. In the Orthodox Church there are teachers of prayer among monastics, pastors, and even the laity: these are people who have themselves learned the power of prayer by experience. But if you do not find such an instructor – and many complain that it is now hard to find instructors in prayer – one can turn to books such as In the Mountains of the Caucasus or The Way of a Pilgrim.
We continue a series on prayer, transcribed from television episodes presented on Russian television in the spring of 1999 by Fr. (now Metropolitan) Hilarion (Alfeyev) with the blessing of His Holiness, the late Patriarch Alexy II of Moscow and All Russia. We hope to present three sections a week, each of which is relatively brief but substantial, for a total of thirty-two episodes.
On Prayer XXII: Books on the Jesus Prayer

Continued from part XXI.

“Whatever you do, whatever you happen to be doing at any given time, day and night, pronounce with your mouth these Divine words: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, the sinner.’ This is not difficult: both while travelling, on the road, and during work – whether you are cutting firewood or carrying water, digging the earth or cooking food. After all, in all these things only the body is at work, and the mind is without occupation – so give it something to do that is inherent and pleasant to its immaterial nature: pronouncing the name of God.” This is an excerpt from the book In the Mountains of the Caucasus, which was first published in the beginning of the twentieth century and is dedicated to the Jesus Prayer.

I would like to emphasize that this prayer needs to be learned – moreover, preferably with the help of a spiritual director. In the Orthodox Church there are teachers of prayer among monastics, pastors, and even the laity: these are people who have themselves learned the power of prayer by experience. But if you do not find such an instructor – and many complain that it is now hard to find instructors in prayer – one can turn to books such as In the Mountains of the Caucasus or The Way of a Pilgrim.

The latter, which was published in the nineteenth century and reprinted many times, is about a person who decided to learn unceasing prayer. He was a wanderer who walked from city to city with a bag on his shoulders and a staff, who learned to pray. He repeated the Jesus Prayer several thousand times a day.

There is also the classic five-volume collection of the works of the Holy Fathers from the fourth to the fourteenth century: The Philokalia. This is a very rich treasury of spiritual experience, containing many instructions about the Jesus Prayer and sobriety or mental vigilance. Those who truly desire to learn how to pray should become acquainted with these books.

I also quoted a passage from the book In the Mountains of the Caucasus because many years ago, when I was an adolescent, I had the opportunity to travel to Georgia, to the Caucasus Mountains near Sukhumi. There I met hermits. They lived there even in Soviet times, away from worldly vanity, in caves, gorges, and precipices, and no one knew of their existence. They lived by prayer and passed on a treasury of prayerful experience from generation to generation. These were people who were like from a different world, who had attained great spiritual heights and profound inner peace. And it was all thanks to the Jesus Prayer.

May God grant that, through experienced instructors and through the books of the Holy Fathers, that we learn this treasure: the unceasing practice of the Jesus Prayer!

To be continued.

Translated from the Russian.

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