Orthodox Catechism

Recommended Summer Reading: The Art of Prayer, An Orthodox Anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo, translated by E. Kadloubovsky and E. M. Palmer, edited with an introduction by Timothy Ware

Editor’s note: We highly recommend this book for your summer reading. To help you glimpse into this treasure of Orthodox spirituality and prayer life we offer you a brief text from pages 22-23. May they be spiritually profitable for you!

Jesus Prayer

“Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me” Three things in the Jesus Prayer call for special comment, and help to account for its extraordinarily wife appeal.

First , the Jesus Prayer brings together, in one short sentence, two essential ‘moments’ of Christian devotion: adoration and compunction. Adoration is expressed in the opening clause, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God’; compunction, in the prayer for mercy that follows. The glory of God and the sin of man – both are vividly present in the Prayer; it is an act of thanksgiving for the salvation that Jesus brings, and an expression of sorrows for the weakness of our response. The Prayer is both penitential and full of joy and loving confidence.

In the second place , it is an intensely Christological prayer – a prayer addressed to Jesus, concentrated upon the Person of the Incarnate Lord, emphasizing at once both His life on earth – ‘Jesus Christ’ – and His divinity – ‘Son of God’. Those who use this prayer are constantly reminded of the historical Person who stands at the heart of the Christian revelation, and so are saved from the false mysticism which allows no proper place to the fact of the Incarnation. But although Christological, the Jesus Prayer is not a form of meditation on particular episodes in the life of Christ: here too, as in other forms of prayer, the use of mental images and intellectual concepts is strongly discouraged. ‘Standing with consciousness and attention in the heart,’ Theophan teaches, ‘cry out unceasingly: “Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me,” without having in your mind any visual concept or image, believing that the Lord sees you and listens to you.’

In the third place , the Invocation of the Name is a prayer of the utmost simplicity. It is a way of praying that anyone can adopt: no special knowledge is required, and no elaborate preparation. As a recent writer puts it, all we must do is ‘simply begin’: ‘Before beginning to pronounce the Name of Jesus, establish peace and recollection within yourself and ask for the inspiration and guidance of the Holy Spirit… Then simply begin. In order to walk one must take a first step; in order to swim one must throw oneself into the water. It is the same with the invocation of the Name. Begin to pronounce it with adoration and love. Cling to it. Repeat it. Do not think that you are invoking the Name; think only of Jesus Himself. Say His Name slowly, softly and quietly.’

From the Holy Fathers:

Parables About the Kingdom (Luke 13:18-21; Matthew 13:31-32; Mark 4:30-32) “He said therefore, “What is the kingdom of God like? And to what shall I compare it? It is like a grain of mustard seed which a man took and sowed in his garden; and it grew and became a tree, and the birds of the air made nests in its branches.” “And again he said, “To what shall I compare the kingdom of God? It is like leaven which a woman took and hid in three measures of flour, till it was all leavened.”

The Kingdom of God is compared with a mustard seed because the agricultural imagery of a seed that is sown and grows is a perfect description of how faith grows. In Matthew, the mustard seed is compared with faith that can move mountains, and if the kingdom of heaven is like a mustard seed, then faith is as a grain of mustard seed. Like the humble seed planted in the ground, Christ’s humility is expressed in his birth of a woman and his burial into the bosom of the earth. Like the mighty tree that ascends into the heavens, Christ’s exaltation comes from his resurrection and ascension.

The disciples were warned not to succumb to the evil leaven of the Pharisees, which is hypocrisy, but instead the crowds are to perceive the divine leaven of Jesus that works in us through the Word of God. His teaching and miracles are signs that the kingdom of God is already a present reality, although they may seem small, insignificant and hidden. The doctrine of Christ is leaven because the bread is Christ. This yeast of Christ the church spreads throughout the world, announcing that the great victory of liberation over Satan is already present in Jesus and that the scope of that victory one day will be fully revealed.

At the text says, the kingdom of God is like a grain of mustard seed, because the kingdom is brought by a word from heaven. It is received through hearing and sown by faith. It takes root through belief and grows by hope. It is diffused by profession, and it expands through virtue. It is spread out into branches. To these branches, it invites the birds of heaven, the powers of spiritual insight. In those branches, it receives them in a peaceful abode.

Since Scripture says, “ And it grew and became a tree, and the birds of heaven roosted in its branches,” I think that this is more properly compared to the Lord Christ himself. Born a man, he was humbled like a seed and in ascending to heaven was exalted like a tree. It is clear that Christ as a seed when he suffers and a tree when he rises. He is a seed when he endures hunger and a tree when he satisfies five thousand men with five loaves. In the one case, he endures barrenness in his human condition, in the other he bestows fullness by his divinity. I would say that the Lord is a seed when he is beaten, scorned and cursed, but a tree when he enlightens the blind, raises the dead and forgives sins. In the Gospel, he says that he is a seed: “ Unless the grain of wheat, falling upon the earth, dies”. (John 12:24)