My beloved spiritual children in Christ Our Only True God and Our Only True Savior,
CHRIST IS IN OUR MIDST! HE WAS, IS, AND EVER SHALL BE.
THE JESUS PRAYER AND ITS APPLICATION (Part II)
Extract from the guidebook by the Elder (Geronda) Katerelos
2. The Elder Paisios and His Teaching Regarding The Jesus Prayer.
Reverend Father and Priest, we shall attempt, in the care of your paternal exhortation and with your blessings, to provide certain indications, regarding the multi-faceted topic that you asked of our unworthiness. The topic is "The Elder (Geronda) and his teaching regarding the Prayer."
As such, we shall mention - entirely epigrammatically - certain teachings and events that pertain to the blessed Elder (Geronda) and the topic in question, drawing mainly from personal notes that we had taken at the time, either from Elder (Geronda) Paisios' replies and teachings, or from Father Isaac the Lebanese Hagiorite...although, most of those notes are indelibly etched inside us.
The Elder (Geronda) frequently used to say that prayer is the soul's oxygen; it is the life of the soul; it is the mirroring of man's spiritual progress and condition. Progress in spiritual matters is unthinkable without a personal improvement in prayer, which is where our spiritual condition can be seen. He would stress selflessness in spiritual living; a thing that naturally reflects in prayer also. Being a true emulator of Christ, his prayer would extend even as far as enemies. He would say that a Christian has to also embrace those who hate him; to also pray for his crucifiers.
In fact, the Elder (Geronda) himself had at one time prayed with deep pain for God to be merciful even to demons. He pitied them because he had discerned the demons' "progress" in bestiality, in the host of evil things that they had been striving to out rightly and insidiously inflict on the Geronda. In other words, he was pained by the increment into a macabre, bloodthirsty dog's head sarcastically poking its very long tongue out and cynically mocking him...
The Elder (Geronda) used to say that we must constantly be in contact and preparedness for the Celestial Headquarters, like good Army and Heavenly Communications Officers of the Lord. We need to maintain a clear and strong contact with the Heavenly Station. Permit us to call it "Heavenly Internet" or "Divine-net". To achieve this, it is imperative - according to the Geronda always - that the powers of our soul execute their "chores", their "handiwork" diligently (these were the Elder's words); in other words, their potential - the ones given to us by God.
When the Elder was once asked: "Should we approach God using logic or the heart?", he replied with a simple, representative and wise word: "To locate and listen to a radio station we need to suitably adjust two buttons: the radio's frequency and the volume. The volume is logic and the frequency is the heart." In other words, both are necessary - at least at the beginning.
In another context, when the Geronda had embarked on a deeper discussion, he told us among other things that: "The noblest thing that the good Lord gave man is the mind - the 'nous' - the 'holy trinity of the soul'. Because God only reveals Himself to the nous, where God's Uncreated Energy unites with the essence of the nous and obviously with the Prayer; after the solidified 'spiritual lubricant' has softened, then all of the above are activated, with everything that this entails. The practical consequence of the aforementioned is the fine-tuning of our 'receiver' towards humility."
With these words, the Geronda (Elder) implied that this was the only way to attain an ontological, existential and live replenishment between us and God. The Elder never isolated the Prayer from the rest of his spiritual life. In certain cases, he would even stress that: "What we need here are more attention and less prayer." He placed a huge importance on one's humble mind and on proper thoughts. He would say: "A thought can 'block' or 'unblock' the Prayer; when we don't forgive or ask for forgiveness, our prayer not only doesn't fly up to Heaven, it doesn't even rise above our own head." He said this metaphorically of course.
He obviously didn't regard the Prayer as an end in itself, a necessary and perpetual means - together with other forms of ascesis - for the discarding of the old self for our union with God. He used to say something along the lines of "We should be contemplating God's Infinite benefactions, and our innumerable - known and unknown - sins, our omissions etc. These will all generate humility inside us; a salvific cardiac pain, and thus, the Prayer will not be a conventional and tiresome thing, but will instead become a personal, natural need for the invocation of divine mercy, but also for glorification."
He regarded this as far superior to the application of various praying techniques such as special breathing or praying seated on stools, etc. He, of course, had respect for all these techniques but regarded them as mere aids that would help the nous to concentrate on the Prayer. In parallel, he would not omit to point out various physical and spiritual dangers (such as imagining that we are doing something lofty), but would also point out the organic dangers that can arise, such as heart problems on account of the pressure exerted by the flesh.
He would often say that, before counting knots on our prayer ropes (komboschinia), we should instead count our innumerable sins or read a Patristic text in order to attain awareness, thus escaping from mundane things and focusing only on the words of the Prayer; that we should also ignore all of our musings without exception - the personal ones, the impassioned ones, the demonic ones, those "from the left", those "from the right", the beneficial ones, the blasphemous ones etc...
He would stress the following: "We mustn't be surprised (especially during prayers) that the enemy (Satan) doesn't rest. We can actually exploit him", he used to say, "by making him an unpaid laborer who will actually prod us to persist in the incessant Prayer." To clarify this comment, he told us of a spiritual struggler, who, when lying down to sleep would be besieged by demons that gave him unclean thoughts (logismous). To which he reacted by exclaiming: "It's a good thing that you reminded me!" and would then get up and perform many prostrations...The Gerondas had commented that when we have a conscience like that man's, then the little urchin isn't a fool; when it scopes out (he would say this quite often) that it will lose the battle, it knows it is not to its advantage to persist (and thus work for free), because instead of causing us harm it is actually doing us good.
The Geronda placed great importance on one's thoughts and one's proper, healthy conscience, as well as on our proper spiritual placement opposite God, our fellow-man, etc... "This is where we have a serious ' oil leakage', he would say, "which is why unfortunately there are no spiritual fruits."
He would stress that we should ask only for Divine mercy in our prayers, in order to repent in a proper manner that is pleasing to God, and thus be forgiven so that we might see our wretched state, much more clearly and in depth. "Only thus," he would say, "will God give you His grace, my blessed child, and whatever else is necessary for your salvation and your fellow man's." "Unless we come to abhor ourselves God-wise (without a trace of despair), we shall continue to tumble into new pitfalls - both latent and evident ones. The spiritual state naturally varies, from the novice to the perfected, given that it is a progress that never ends.
This contemporary Holy Father used to say: "I am only a tin can, just because sunlight is reflected off it sometimes, you think that I am the sun." Other times he would say (and I mean it, 100%): "I am just an unpolished tin can".
(To be continued)
"Glory Be To GOD For All Things!"- Saint John Chrysostom
With sincere agape in His Holy Diakonia (Ministry),
The sinner and unworthy servant of God