by Dr. Albert S. Rossi
Father Aidan asked me to write an article on “The Jesus Prayer and contemplative prayer” that might help us get closer to Christ. Where to start? What would help you or me?
For me, the pursuit of Christ pivots on an inner relationship with Him, always within an Orthodox community. As I look at the Bible I see God’s word emphasizing “stillness.” In Exodus 14:14, Yahweh tells His people who are being stalked by the Egyptians, “The Egyptians you see today you will never see again. I will fight for you. You have only to be still.” And in Psalm 46, God says, “Be still and know that I am God.” The inverse is implied. If we are not still we may not know God. If we don’t know God we might not know ourselves because we are made in His Image and Likeness. If we don’t know ourselves, there can be tragic psychological/spiritual consequences. The theme of stillness runs through the Old and New Testament.
So, I’ll spend some time trying to expand that truth. How do we be still? How often? In the classical literature contemplation can be replaced by the word “meditation.”
Father Tom Hopko in his 55 Maxims, available on the Internet, suggests that every Christian spend 20 to 30 minutes a day doing meditation, that is being silent and trying to be still.
In short, I suggest that each of us commit to five or ten or twenty or thirty minutes of sitting in meditation, and doing this daily. We can set a timer, sit comfortably, and gently repeat a short prayer, in harmony with awareness with our breath.
Metropolitan Kallistos Ware says that such meditation is transformative, changing us at a deep level. The theology that I was taught is that when we speak prayer interiorly, in that act we are listening to God. How that works is, of course, a mystery.
I am a man in 80s whose wife is dead. I live alone and love it. As part of my life I meditate 20 minutes in the morning and 20 minutes in the evening. Does my meditation make me a better man? That question has no answer since we are not to assess the effectiveness of our meditation. All we need to humbly know is that we are doing our best to have intimate time with Christ. And, yes, meditation is intimate time with Christ. During or after meditation we cannot assess our efforts. We can’t conclude that today was “better” than yesterday. We can’t conclude that distractions are necessarily a waste of time. Our meditation time is our attempt to put time aside to be present to Christ, to allow Him to speak to us.
The Jesus Prayer
Can the Jesus Prayer be the inner prayer of daily meditation? Yes. Can some other prayer, “Lord, have mercy,” or the single word, “Jesus,” serve as our mediation prayer? Yes.
Specifically, the Jesus Prayer is the classical prayer for Orthodoxy through fifteen centuries. Father Hopko spoke of the Jesus Prayer as a synthesis of the Nicene Creed. Here is a link from St. Vladimir’s Seminary for an article I wrote on the Jesus Prayer. For that article please click here.
In conclusion, we need to do what we can to allow Christ and His love into our lives. And, we need each other as we walk the walk of faith.
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Dr. Rossi teaches courses in pastoral theology at Saint Vladimir’s Seminary. He has written numerous articles on psychology and religion and published a book through Paulist Press entitled, Can I Make a Difference: Christian Family Life Today. After teaching at Pace University for 24 years, he retired as Associate Professor of Psychology. He is a licensed clinical psychologist in the state of New York. Dr. Rossi has a brief, bi–weekly podcast on Ancient Faith Radio titled Becoming a Healing Presence.