The Jesus Prayer
Frederica Mathewes-Green, Darton, Longman &Todd
I’m not sure what I was thinking when I picked up this book. I was preparing a study on the Lord’s Prayer so perhaps thought of a connection between ‘Jesus Prayer’ and ‘Lord’s Prayer’? Or maybe it was the reference to “The Ancient Desert Prayer”?
Being a Frontier Services Patrol Minister I have a thing with ancient deserts.
Whatever, it is certainly not a book I would normally have read.
As an “evangelical protestant”, I knew there were “read prayers and said prayers” and that reading from a book was not a real prayer.
I also knew that this practice of repeating a mantra was an unchristian Eastern religious practice. I still struggle with my preconceptions and prejudice.
This book provided an excellent introduction to a form of devotion that was unfamiliar to me.
Frederica Mathewes-Green gives an introduction to the history, theology and testimony of experience to the practice of the Jesus Prayer, which (for those like me unfamiliar with the concept) is, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” Part 1, Chapter 1, includes an introduction to the spirituality and wisdom of the Orthodox branch of Christianity.
Among the insights is that the Jesus Prayer is as old as the church itself and has been in continuous use through the Desert Fathers, through the monastic movements, and up to the present day.
Chapter 2 leads the reader into “Terms, Concepts and Context” and offers an insight into the ethos and practice of the Eastern Orthodox Churches. From our Western, Roman and Protestant perspective this can appear very different.
“It shouldn’t be surprising, really, that the two great geographic realms of Christianity would develop different characteristics. They lived different histories, they grappled with different controversies, fought different wars, asked different questions, produced different art, and developed different forms of government and very different cultures.”
Many of these differences can inform, from a different perspective, some of the issues facing the Western churches. It will be an interesting time as God’s world gets smaller and we are forced into deeper relationships.
Chapter 3, “Heart, mind and the ‘little radio’”, lead into the actual personal use of the Jesus Prayer.
Step 1: Pray “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.”
Step 2: Repeat.
“But if that’s all you know, you’ll soon run into trouble. You can try to force your mind to keep going over and over those words, like a gerbil on a wheel, but it’s going to get pretty tedious.”
What makes it rewarding is that you can begin to sense the responsive presence of the Lord.
Part 2 of the book is what would be commonly titled “FAQ” (frequently asked questions).
While I enjoyed the historical and theological study of Chapter 1, and was inspired by Chapters 2 and 3, this section remains for me the most intimate and challenging. I was faced clearly with a form of devotion that was not only foreign but also contrary to much of my early training.
Just some of the questions may give you an idea.
How should I prepare to start practising the Jesus Prayer?
Should I have a special place for prayer in my home?
How fast should I say the prayer?
What if I don’t want to include formal repetition of the Jesus Prayer in my daily prayer time? What if I don’t even have a daily prayer time?
Can I say the Jesus Prayer during church?
Will reading this book change my devotional and prayer life to this model?
Will it inform and change my devotional and prayer life?
I think it already has, and also overflowed into my daily living.
A very readable introduction into another way of devotion, that has the capacity to increase the reader’s comprehension of God and life.
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