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Sunday, April 26, 2009

Learning to Pray the Jesus Prayer—A lunch, a book, and a video.

I was having lunch with a friend recently when he said a book that helped him learn about prayer was The Art of Prayer published by Faber and Faber. A quick search on produced a list of similarly titled books including The Art of Prayer an orthodox anthology compiled by Igumen Chariton of Valamo translated by E.Kadloubovsky and E.M. Palmer edited with an introduction by Timothy Ware (London, Faber and Faber, 1966). I purchased the book online and began reading.

The Introduction alone makes this a book worth studying carefully. The goal of the book is summed up in the first five lines of the Introduction: ‘What is prayer? What is its essence? How can we learn to pray? What does the spirit of the Christian experience as he prays in humility of heart?’ Such are the questions which this book sets out to answer.

As Timothy Ware explains this book was compiled by Igumen Chariton, a Russian Orthodox monk in the community of Valamo on an island in Lake Ladoga on the borders between Finland and Russia. After the death of his spiritual director (a staretz or elder), Chariton turned to books for guidance.

“It was his custom to copy down in a special notebook the passages which particularly impressed him, and so in the course of time he compiled an anthology on the art of prayer . . . in 1936 he decided to publish the material in his notebook. Deliberately self-effacing, he added no comments or connecting links of his own—‘not daring even to presume,’ as he puts it, that he had ‘achieved Inner Prayer’—but he left the authors to speak entirely for themselves” (page 10).

While most of the quotations are from Russian writers in the second half of the twentieth century, the collection goes back as far as the fourth century. “Taken as a whole, Father Chariton’s anthology sets before the reader the spiritual teaching of the Orthodox Church in its classic and traditional form” (page 10). The quotations focus on the Jesus Prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy upon me.”

After reading the introduction, and discovering a kindred spirit in Igumen Chariton, I decided to learn more about Timothy Ware. Thanks to Wikipedia, I soon followed a link to iTunes U, where Seattle Pacific University’s Annual Alfred S. Palmer Lectures in Wesleyan Studies are posted. Here, Timothy Ware now known as Bishop Kallistos is the featured speaker on four free video lectures that can be downloaded to your iPhone or iPod. His talk “What is Prayer” provides an especially helpful overview of the Jesus Prayer. You can find Bishop Kallistos’ talks here


stepha said...

Cool! Sounds really awesome! I will check it out. I've been wanting new reads for awhile now, I checked off my sci-fi fantasy fix at Barnes and Nobles today... Now I can fish this one out!

Kevin said...

Bern, Have you heard of the Anglican book entitled, "A New Zealand Prayer Book?" I also just recently heard about a series by Phyllis Tickle (I love that name) called "The Divine Hours." I am currently reading James Sire's "Praying Through the Psalms" and that has been a good experience.

Bern said...

Hi Kevin, I've not heard of the NZ book you mention, but have used The Night Offices by Phyllis Tickle and her autobiography The Shaping of a Life, A Spiritual Experience (Doubleday, 2001). By the way did your prof return your copy of The Art of Prayer?