Tuesday, March 07, 2006

Thoughts from the beginning of Lent

We are less than two days into Great Lent, but these two days have been a blessed time. When we say Lent, the first thing that comes to mind is fasting and indeed, the first week of Lent is a particularly austere time. Most of us are not able to eat just two meals from Monday through Friday, as Bp. Kallistos Ware notes in the Lenten Triodion. However, all of us, if we are honest about our fasting efforts, will experience a certain degree of hunger during this period. Personally, I have been fasting for a number of years and I have felt this hunger, but it wasn't until this year that I finally thought about it.

There are two particular messages which I had known before, but which are now, by the grace of God, a more integral part of my life. The first thought with regard to hunger is that we come to realize how uncomfortable it is and this, if we live in the spirit of the Fast, cannot help but lead us to missions. If we know how difficult it is to go without food, can we have parishes without a program for feeding the hungry? We feel the hunger voluntarily; we have to think - in practical terms - of those who feel it because of the fallen nature of this world.

The second thought came to me when I finally noticed how often I needed to ward off thoughts of food. We have a phyical need for food, but we also have a spiritual need for God. It is true that physical needs are more easily noticed, but that only means that we need to become more attuned to our spiritual needs. If we think of food so often when we are hungry, we need to think of God just as often when we are in need of Him. And yet, it is exactly at those times that we are most likely to move away from Him.

A final thought, on a (slightly) different matter. The seminary is holding three days of continuous prayer to start the lenten season. I signed up for the 3-3:30am slot. It was an impulse of the moment - like a number of other things in life, whose meaning I did not understand until later. What I have found - something that the Fathers knew and spoke about - is that there is a different dimension to prayer in the middle of the night. Standing in front of the icons, alone in a little chapel with the prayer book at three in the morning, there is a particular intensity that is hard to describe. There is little light to distract your attention, there is no one else to share the space. It is just you and the icons and the words of the prayers come to life under the watchful eyes of Christ, His Mother, and the saints.

Have a blessed Lent.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

I have not found it, perhaps you know if it exists: A podcast for download of someone saying the Jesus Prayer on an endless loop. I should think this would be nice to have available.

Also, on the following site: http://www.keo.org/uk/pages/default.html which, so they say, will place messages to be put on a rocket to be put into an orbit that will last 52, 000 years, I wrote the Jesus Prayer so that the Words of The Jesus Prayer will be circling the Earth for 52,000 years.

10:04 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wouldn't be a bad idea if others did the same so far as the Jesus Prayer goes and the KEO Project:

10:09 AM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

Hello and welcome.

I do not know of a podcast of the Jesus prayer. I have been thinking about it and I am not certain that having one would be a good idea. The Jesus prayer is, as the name says, a prayer which needs to be internalized. I am not sure that hearing the phrase repeatedly (with little personal effort) would help or even be appropriate. Also, from what I know, the direction of a spiritual father is needed in order not to have the prayer become another mantra or catch-phrase.

These are my thoughts. As always, I could be wrong, so take what I say with a grain of salt.

In regard to the keo message, I think it was good to have the Jesus prayer among the messages. As for me, I think that, if we are still around that long from now, the Church will also be around to proclaim her message.

in Christ,

10:22 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I don't think the Jesus Prayer can be used as a mantra if, by mantra, you mean a phrase that can be used as "vain repetition" as is the common misunderstanding of the word among some Orthodox Christians. The Jesus Prayer becomes internalized when the person through practice of the Prayer lives like Christ Jesus and rememembers himself as a Christian should. The fruit of the Jesus Prayer is the Christic life--innocent internally and filled with good works externally--of the person who practices the Prayer.

The purpose here of having the Jesus Prayer on an "endless" iPod loop would be to a) take away distractions that have little to do with the necessary activities of a Christian life, and b) for those who may be in a coma and need somthing to which they can listen (if they can hear at all), or failing that, to provide some Holy stimulus for both themselves and those who might be in the room caring for them.


Now, an example, it is the case that at a particular monastery, while engaged in a simple task, Eastern Orthodox monks recited the Jesus Prayer ALOUD. Why? At the very least to push away vain talk and vain imaginings.

It is okay to have the Jesus Prayer on an iPod loop. What is not okay is to forget that whenever the Jesus Prayer is pronounced with sincerity or even--now get this--with INattention--the Name is sufficient to bless the act of listening. No good work-- even if done inattentively is wasted work. I dare say that many an Orthodox Christian do not understand the nature of "internalization" yet the Prayer exists for the benefit and blessing of all.

Reconsider you position on the Prayer and, given your background, make a scientific examination of what benefits might arise from hearing the Jesus Prayer under certain conditions on an endless loop. In other words, put the Prayer on a loop and, instead of watching a basketball game or, if you are helping your wife in the kitchen, instead of chatting, simply listen to the Prayer while preparing your meal. Note the results. Tell us about it here.

9:49 AM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

I was using mantra in the dictionary definition of "a commonly repeated word or phrase," rather than in the specific Hindu meaning, with which I am only vaguely familiar.

In regard to the Jesus prayer, the example you give of the monks is quite pertinent, but I believe it also supports my point. What the monks do is an active involvment in the prayer itself rather than the passivity that can easily occur with a recording. I will talk to a couple of priests who are spiritual fathers and get their thoughts on the matter as well. I will try to relay their thoughts here, as well. Until then, I maintain my reservations.

in Christ,

10:12 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am looking at the following:
http://www.balamandmonastery.org.lb/jesus_prayer.htm and wish to note this: "The Lord gives pure prayer to him who, eschewing laziness, prays much and regularly in his own manner, even if it is marred by inattention" (The Ladder, Step XXVI11, ch. 21)."

It is a question of levels or steps and degrees instead of an absolute either or situation so far as the Jesus Prayer is concerned. Better to have one's entire attention upon the Prayer as opposed to passive listening or reciting but, as with the case of the monks--I was there so I know about this--not every monk may be at the same level. Some may be completely absorbed in the Prayer, others not so. One must not ascribe "ability" to monks unless one knows them.

You are right to speak with a spiritual father about the matter. I think, however, St. John of the Ladder's comments above are more than sufficient. One should also keep in mind that iPods were not known to the Fathers. If I had to guess, however, they might say it would be better to listen to the Prayer on an iPod than watch many a television program but to keep in mind that it is better to practice the Prayer with attention and humility.

I suspect we both can agree that it is best to do what is best for the soul. If it is best to not listen to the Prayer on an iPod, then do not do it but if it is better for the soul to listen to the Prayer on an iPod than do something else, one should do it. Allow for a certain ekonomia here.

Your posts are worthwhile and I hope others at the seminary will take up the practice. One must use the technology to serve what is best and provide an example of how technology can be turned to right use. I look forward to your additional comments after you speak with the spiritual fathers you mention although, I have to add, one should consult with earlier "soul doctors", in other words, the Fathers as well. One might find sufficient suggestions for the soul's treatment there and, from my point of view, a preference for their advice over many a contemporary spiritual father. The reason for this is due to the lack of spiritual fathers today and the problem with those posing--even in the clergy, even bishops--as spiritual guides.

8:51 AM  
Blogger Virgil Petrisor said...

Thank you for the comments. The idea of oikonomia is indeed important.

I'll post what I find out some time this coming week - I plan on doing some reading as well as talking to those spiritual fathers. Is there any chance you might ask the monks you mention for their thoughts?

One other things I should mention is that, since we already have our hymns on CD, etc., (hymns being prayers anyway), there isn't an obvious reason against having recorded prayers. The reason why I want to look more into things before forming a definite opinion on the Jesus prayer is that this is a special case where we call specifically and repeatedly on the name of the Lord.

I appreciate your patience as I try to understand the implications of technology in this case.

in Christ,

4:36 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I think you patient approach is the right way to go about the matter. Here too is what is on my mind about technology and its use so far as the interior life is concerned...

Here is what I am thinking about:

It seems to me that some of the methods and principles you may have learned are applicable and necessary to the spiritual life given the vast problems the world is facing with a collision of religous forms. The misunderstanding of these forms requires a different approach to solving the problems arising from apparently contradictory forms.

Question: How then might one express the external and interior dimensions among religious forms (by forms I simply mean the external and the interior dimension of the great religious traditions). A partial solution can be found in the work of Perennialist thinkers like Frithjof Schuon, Ananda Coomaraswamy and Rene Guenon. However, something further is required in order to explain to adherents of one form to adherents of another form the universal principles and abstractions in such a manner to reduce the tension caused by too much attention to external practices and the differences thereof. How, however, to go about it?

While watching an MIT OpenCourseWare by Anant Agarwal (his EECS 6.002 Electrical Circuits and Electronics, a video entitled "Introduction and Lumped Circuit Analysis") it came to me that what is missing in the dialogue between the great relgious traditons is a common language of abstract notation about common spiritual laws that would override the seeming contradictions at the surface level of the great religious traditions and simplify the common laws about the interior life among the great religious traditions. An abstract notation of the spiritual life or, if you will, Spiritual Schematics similar to that found in circuit analyis. If you see the video above, you will also see that Anant Agarwal points out levels of complexity that move toward levels of simplicity. In the spiritual life, it is the other way round. What is very simple become layered with complexity and requires simplification by universal schematics understood by all whatever the religious form.

In the same way music has its notation, logic and math have notation, so to does the dialogue of religious traditions need to have its notation so to diminish the complexity arising from attention being placed on externals alone. Laws, so far as laws exist, need to be better defined and a notation provided. (I think Alfred North Whitehead had something to say about the importance of abstract notation so far as mathematics is concerned and the leap that such notation can provide toward understanding.) Such schematic notation similar to those in circuit analysis is necessary now so far as religion, religious studies, and theological studies are concerned.



9:19 AM  

Post a Comment

<< Home