A year ago I posted the above video, with one or two comments on the Matins office that my wife and I offer most mornings. We have made a couple of changes to our routine, so I thought I would provide an update. We are still using the form provided in A Prayer Book for Orthodox Christians published by Transfiguration Monastery. There are several other good Orthodox prayers books out there, but for Matins PBOC is our favorite.
We have also incorporated into our morning prayer the recitation of multiple psalms using A Psalter for Prayer (Holy Trinity Publications). The psalms have been adapted from the old Coverdale psalter, which appeals to our still-Anglican souls. We read the psalms in course, which means that we probably go through the entire psalter over a period of two months or so.
We have also using prayers from the Prayer Book of the Early Christians, translated and edited by Fr John McGuckin. We substitute a prayer from this collection for the second prayer in the Matins office, thus providing healthy measure of variety.
Over the past five years my Christine and I have developed our own style and rhythm of praying the morning office. The monotone chant we have adopted works for us, but if you are Orthodox, you may wish to adopt the style of chant used in your parish. Or you may wish simply to say the office rather than chant it.
For several years this morning office has served as the anchor of our spiritual lives. We started praying it after the death of our son Aaron. At that point the Jesus Prayer became the only kind of informal prayer of which I was capable. Conversation with God (colloquy) became impossible. While walking my dogs or driving the car or raking the leaves, I would pray the Jesus Prayer, tears flowing down my cheeks. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon Aaron.” The tears have finally stopped but the Jesus Prayer has continued. “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy upon me.” Over the past year the Lord has put into my heart that I needed to incorporate into my rule (such as it was) a more contemplative use of the Jesus Prayer. I knew what I needed to do but I resisted it for months. The first important push came from Martin Laird’s Into the Silent Land. This is a wonderful little book, yet still it wasn’t enough to get me through the wall of my resistance. Months later I read The Cloud of Unknowing. I had read this classic well over three decades ago, with little profit; but now it spoke to my heart. I knew the Lord was calling me to interior silence. Yet still I resisted. Wouldn’t I have to give up my mug of coffee first thing in the morning? I wasn’t ready to do that. Yes, my implacable resistance was that silly. I finally mentioned my problem to Christine. She commonsensically replied:
“Why don’t you drink your coffee along with the Jesus Prayer?”
“I can do that?”
“I’m sure Jesus wouldn’t mind, Al.”
Checkmate. I couldn’t think of any other excuse. So first thing every morning now, I read a few pages from a book on spirituality (for the past month I’ve been reading St Dorotheos; I will soon be starting St. Nikephoros’s “Discourse on Sobriety and the Guarding of the Heart” in the Philokalia), followed by about 45-50 minutes saying the Jesus Prayer (30 decades, or 300 beads, on my prayer rope; my coffee is usually finished after about five decades).
I have not experienced any epiphanies. I cannot report a silence growing in my heart. I find that most of my time is spent daydreaming, with periodic conscious returns to the Prayer. Here’s an example from yesterday morning. At some point I became aware that I had drifted into thinking about the upcoming season finale of Game of Thrones. “I wonder what trap Cersei has planned for team Targaryen.” “I sure hope another dragon doesn’t get killed.” “Will Jon Snow kiss Daenerys tonight?” Egads, I thought to myself. Here I am trying to be spiritual, and my mind is meditating on treachery, violence, sex, possible plot lines, and dragons. And so I gently pull myself back to the Prayer, knowing that within a few moments some other daydream will steal away my thoughts—logismoi, logismoi, logismoi. I wonder if any of the monks on Mount Athos find their minds wandering off to Westeros.