In the last post, we explored the Western tradition of Christian meditation known as Lectio Divina or Divine Reading. Let’s now turn our focus towards the Eastern front and dive into how our brothers and sisters in the Orthodox communities where exploring spiritual discipline.
Around the 4th Century, you see for the first time in Christian literature the use of the term hesychasts. It is based on the Greek word for “stillness, rest, quiet, peace.” The practice resembled Eastern meditation more closely than the Western front. Practitioners would seek to silence the world around them by focusing inward in hopes of having an experiential knowledge of God. This was achieved through repetitious prayers or thoughts on a particular scripture.
One prayer in particular seemed to surface over the centuries and it is known as The Jesus Prayer. While there have been adaptions throughout various denominations, the general consensus is this:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.
Often a monk or priest would tie knots into a rope and give it to the practitioner. It was meant to be used a guidance tool. You started at the first knot and repeated the Jesus Prayer. Allow the words to sink in and move to the next knot.
I have a friend who once gave me such a rope (forgive me for I don’t know the official name of the rope, but I am certain it sounded better than “rope”). It was one of the most powerful experiences I had with Christ in my journey so far. Starting off, it felt a bit awkward to just say the prayer while holding the knot. But as I allowed myself to stew on the words of the prayer and explore the marvelous depths of what Christ did on the cross, the knots became harder to pass on. By the end of the rope, I found myself sobbing. We’re talking full on tears running down my cheeks, could barely talk kind of sobbing. My affection for Christ grew.
In Matthew 6:7, Christ warns us about repeating prayers:
And in praying use not vain repetitions, as the Gentiles do: for they think that they shall be heard for their much speaking.
So how is repeating the Jesus Prayer any different? Well, as with all Spiritual Disciplines, God looks at the heart. In Christ’ warning, He pointed out that they were using empty words. Routine liturgy had robbed them of experiencing God the fault is on them, not the liturgy. If the Sabbath as made for man and not the other way around, so is the liturgy.
It’s quiet honestly no different today. How often do we go through the movements of modern Church services? Sing songs mindlessly. Songs based on Scripture. Yet, when you are repeating a prayer or Scripture with the intent of having an encounter with the Father, you are not using those repetitions in vain. Your heart is exposed and God will honor that.
So here’s the challenge. If you know of a brother or sister in the Orthodox faith, I would encourage you to have them explain the Jesus Prayer to you and ask for a “rope”. If you don’t know anyone who practices, then make yourself one by adding 10-20 knots or beads. Again, these are just to guide you through the prayer and have no special power. Work your way through the prayer rope and let us know how your encounter with Christ went.
Interested in reading more about Christian meditation. Be sure to check out the other posts:
- Spiritual Discipline: Meditation
- Meditation: Lens of Tradition
- Meditation: Lens of Tradition II
- Meditation: Lens of Reason
- Meditation: Lens of Experience