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« on: July 24, 2010, 12:58:19 PM »

Hello everyone!  This is a question specifically for the Oriental Orthodox Christians on this board.  Is the use of the Jesus Prayer common in Oriental Orthodoxy, either among laymen or monastics?  Is hesychasm part of Oriental Orthodox monasticism?  Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas, but do you have something similar?  These questions came to mind yesterday and today I can't get them out of my head.  There is an Oriental Orthodox monastery relatively close to my house, so perhaps I can drive down there one of these days to talk to the monks. 

Thanks in advance!
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« Reply #1 on: July 24, 2010, 01:57:40 PM »

Hello everyone!  This is a question specifically for the Oriental Orthodox Christians on this board.  Is the use of the Jesus Prayer common in Oriental Orthodoxy, either among laymen or monastics?  Is hesychasm part of Oriental Orthodox monasticism?  Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas, but do you have something similar?  These questions came to mind yesterday and today I can't get them out of my head.  There is an Oriental Orthodox monastery relatively close to my house, so perhaps I can drive down there one of these days to talk to the monks. 

Thanks in advance!

Hesychasm as understood and practiced in the Eastern Orthodox Church is not part of the monastic tradition of the Oriental Orthodox Churches. It is true that in today's Coptic monasteries (maybe in others either???) they may use the Jesus prayer, I guess influenced mostly by EO books on this. The same is true about the laymen too, both among the Copts and Armenians, especially of Armenia, where most believers can read Russian books. But this is not our tradition. I haven't yet read anything, written by any of the Fathers of an Oriental Orthodox Church that would teach on this kind of hesychasm. The hesychasm understood in our Churches is the one used, for example, in the Lives and Words of the Fathers of the Desert. That is, it has a more general meaning.


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« Reply #2 on: July 24, 2010, 03:44:47 PM »

Let me agree with vasnTearn,

There is no emphasis on seeking an experience of light in the Oriental Orthodox tradition, nor in the ancient monastic tradition which is preserved in the Oriental Orthodox communion. The teachings of the Desert Fathers remain the model for Oriental Orthodox monasticism, and they certainly teach the use of a short prayer, sometimes, 'O God make speed to save me, O Lord make haste to help me'. They also use the name of Jesus in various forms, so it is not so much the case that the Jesus Prayer is a Byzantine import to modern practice, but that there was always a wider variety of such prayers in the past of which the name of Jesus was one.

The aim is to be entirely present to God, and the narratives of the Fathers teach us the extent to which this may result secondarily in a variety of experiences as God wills, but they are not the aim of the life of prayer, which is simply to be present to God. To this extent it seems to me that perhaps the emphasis is not on experiences of light or anything else but only God Himself.

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« Reply #3 on: July 24, 2010, 04:18:01 PM »

Thanks to both of you!
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« Reply #4 on: July 25, 2010, 03:20:50 AM »

I thought this might be helpful:

"Ancient African asceticism contributed greatly toward the emergence of hesychasm. Hierarch Porphyrius Uspensky found in the libraries of Mt. Athos tenth- to fifteenth-century anthologies with selections from ancient lives of Holy Fathers about prayer and inward activity. This discovery indicated that the sources of hesychasm could be found in the early centuries of the Church. St. Anthony, in the third century, spoke of stillness: 'Let us be men of silence and hesychasts.' he instructed Blessed Theodora on the necessity of becoming quiet and keeping silence, of sitting in her cell and recollecting the mind within herself. Blessed Theodora said: 'Rest from cares, silence, and innermost soaring of the mind constitute unceasing prayer. Lord Jeus Christ, Son of God, help me.' This is a very early reference to what came to be known as The Jesus Prayer. This prayer is often mentioned in the Paradise of the Holy Fathers and other anthologies.

St. Macarius (295-392 AD) was one of the first hesychasts. As Archimandrite Cyprian writes:

'From his mystical experience St. macarius knew what path all Eastern mysticism would subsequently take. His instructions on the struggle with the passions, on the purification of the heart, on freeing the mind, i.e. on its sobriety, all pursue the main objective: man's illumination. The mystical teaching of light, which is attained by quieting the mind from everything that may disturb and exasperate it, was well known to this desert dweller of the 4th century, one thousand years before St. Gregory Palamas and the hesychasts came out with their teaching on the subject. Their very term 'hesychia' (stillness) was frequently used by him in association with the concepts of 'peace,' 'calming down,' 'prayer,' 'silence,' etc. Hesychasm was in no way an 'innovation' or 'invention.' St. Gregory of Sinai gave an even clearer and more precise definition of what the ascetics of the fourth century knew from experience.'

Due in large part to the references to The Philokalia in the recently popular The Way of a Pilgrim, many modern readers have begun to rediscover these ancient texts. Yet few realize how deeply embedded they are in African spirituality... Even a cursory examination of The Philokalia reveals that the work is dominated by the writings of the African Fathers and those who were influenced by them. St. Anthony of Egypt, St. Macarius the Great, St. Mark the Ascetic, Evagrius of Pontus, St. John Cassian, and St. Moses the Ethiopian are just a few of those included in one of the most important spiritual treasuries of the Christian world."

[From African Monasticism: Its Influence on the Rest of the World  by Fr. Paisius Altschul]


My Priest had never heard of the Philokalia. But Ethiopian Orthodox Christians certainly practice the Jesus Prayer. I imagine that within our non-Chalcedonian Churches there are many hesychasts who are not aware that they are hesychasts. They have simply been practicing the ascetic and prayerful disciplines prescribed by the Fathers which have been preserved and passed down through the centuries by all the Orthodox faithful.


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« Reply #5 on: July 25, 2010, 12:14:46 PM »

It's time for me to reveal my ignorance once again.  What's hesychasm?
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« Reply #6 on: July 25, 2010, 01:36:29 PM »

The aim is to be entirely present to God, and the narratives of the Fathers teach us the extent to which this may result secondarily in a variety of experiences as God wills, but they are not the aim of the life of prayer, which is simply to be present to God. To this extent it seems to me that perhaps the emphasis is not on experiences of light or anything else but only God Himself.

And, as I'm sure you know Father, an experienced Eastern Orthodox monk would say the same thing.
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« Reply #7 on: July 25, 2010, 01:43:58 PM »

There is quite a stress in some later hesychast writings on how to achieve certain experiences as soon as possible, and this tendency in some hesychast writings as been noted and criticised by some modern EO writers. I have noticed this even in my own limited studies.

It is not present in the older writings of the desert spirituality which are the basis for both EO and OO spirituality.
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« Reply #8 on: July 25, 2010, 02:31:36 PM »

There is quite a stress in some later hesychast writings on how to achieve certain experiences as soon as possible, and this tendency in some hesychast writings as been noted and criticised by some modern EO writers. I have noticed this even in my own limited studies.

It is not present in the older writings of the desert spirituality which are the basis for both EO and OO spirituality.
Yes, Mt. Athos, after all, claims that its founders came from the monestaries of Egypt, Palestine and Syria.
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« Reply #9 on: July 25, 2010, 04:17:42 PM »

Hello everyone!  This is a question specifically for the Oriental Orthodox Christians on this board.  Is the use of the Jesus Prayer common in Oriental Orthodoxy, either among laymen or monastics?  Is hesychasm part of Oriental Orthodox monasticism?  Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas, but do you have something similar?  These questions came to mind yesterday and today I can't get them out of my head.  There is an Oriental Orthodox monastery relatively close to my house, so perhaps I can drive down there one of these days to talk to the monks. 

Thanks in advance!

The Syrian OO's have one, but it's much longer than ours. I'm trying to remember how it goes, but it's been three years since an OO told me. Next time I'll record it on video.
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« Reply #10 on: July 26, 2010, 12:59:56 PM »

Hello everyone!  This is a question specifically for the Oriental Orthodox Christians on this board.  Is the use of the Jesus Prayer common in Oriental Orthodoxy, either among laymen or monastics?  Is hesychasm part of Oriental Orthodox monasticism?  Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas, but do you have something similar?  These questions came to mind yesterday and today I can't get them out of my head.  There is an Oriental Orthodox monastery relatively close to my house, so perhaps I can drive down there one of these days to talk to the monks. 

Thanks in advance!
You mean Jesus prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner."  If you mean that, and if you talk to folks in Ethiopia what "Jesus prayer" is, most likely they would construe that to mean the prayer: "Our Father who are in heaven ..." the one that Jesus taught to his disciples, that is at least as far as I know.
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« Reply #11 on: July 26, 2010, 06:19:28 PM »

Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas,

As to another matter implied by this sentence, there is a gravitation among certain OO right now to accept the Theology of Palamas, particularly the Essence-Energies distinction. I believe that minasoliman addressed this matter in a couple of posts awhile ago. Actually coming from the Byzantine tradition myself, I have retained this understanding, and have seen no reason so far to abandon it.
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« Reply #12 on: July 26, 2010, 07:42:57 PM »

Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas,

As to another matter implied by this sentence, there is a gravitation among certain OO right now to accept the Theology of Palamas, particularly the Essence-Energies distinction. I believe that minasoliman addressed this matter in a couple of posts awhile ago. Actually coming from the Byzantine tradition myself, I have retained this understanding, and have seen no reason so far to abandon it.


Do you mind explaining this a bit more? As an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian who worships at a Greek Orthodox Church, perhaps I have unwittingly absorbed some theological errors. Also, since much of my understanding of Orthodoxy has come via the OSB, and books by EO scholars, (and also The Way of A Pilgrim, etc.) I may have erroneously accepted hesychasm as a tradition common to both Churches. It does seem that Ethiopians understand the Jesus Prayer to be the Lord's Prayer. But anyway, the excerpt I posted in reply # 4 seems to indicate that hesychasm is indeed a tradition all Orthodox share, EO and OO alike.

Selam
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« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2010, 08:39:47 PM »

I think all the different Oriental Orthodox traditions use the basic prayer "Lord have mercy," and variations of it:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=JuKCm3_7dcs

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,4892.msg294466.html#msg294466

http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php/topic,17284.0.html


I think what they are talking about above is a person using this prayer in a very particular way in order to experience a mystical light, or something.  I don't fully understand it.  I just get the feeling that we do use the prayer, but differently.
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« Reply #14 on: July 26, 2010, 09:30:57 PM »

So now I found this article about it:

http://orthodoxwiki.org/Hesychasm

I get the feeling what is outside of our tradition is the breathing techniques, bodily postures, and using the Jesus Prayer in a way that some have described as being like a mantra.  That doesn't mean we can't use "Lord have mercy," or some other short prayer, to make ourselves "present to God," as Father Peter put it.
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« Reply #15 on: July 26, 2010, 10:29:12 PM »

Obviously it wouldn't be hesychasm as it was explained by Palamas,

As to another matter implied by this sentence, there is a gravitation among certain OO right now to accept the Theology of Palamas, particularly the Essence-Energies distinction. I believe that minasoliman addressed this matter in a couple of posts awhile ago. Actually coming from the Byzantine tradition myself, I have retained this understanding, and have seen no reason so far to abandon it.


Do you mind explaining this a bit more? As an Ethiopian Orthodox Christian who worships at a Greek Orthodox Church, perhaps I have unwittingly absorbed some theological errors. Also, since much of my understanding of Orthodoxy has come via the OSB, and books by EO scholars, (and also The Way of A Pilgrim, etc.) I may have erroneously accepted hesychasm as a tradition common to both Churches. It does seem that Ethiopians understand the Jesus Prayer to be the Lord's Prayer. But anyway, the excerpt I posted in reply # 4 seems to indicate that hesychasm is indeed a tradition all Orthodox share, EO and OO alike.

Selam

Gebre, I am talking about something rather different. Most of this thread is discussing the praxis of Hesychasm. In this post I started talking about the most theological implications of Hesychasm that were discussed in the mid-14th century at the so-called "Fifth Council of Constantinople" which some Byzantines recognize as the Ninth Ecumenical Council. One of the most significant points was the distinction of God's Essence and His Energies. One (the Essence) refers to His infinite inner being that is completely incomprehensible and even imperceptible by us. The Energies, on the other hand, are the eternal emanations from God which constitute His divine livelihood. In the Byzantine Palamite (after Gregory Palamas, the Archbishop of Thessaloniki of the time) theology, it is understood that we are able (sometimes) to perceive the Energies of God and (sometimes) also able to participate in them.

This touches on what the whole hoopla about the "light" is about. Some of the 14th century Hesychasts claimed that, while in the midst of practice, some of them could perceive an awesome light which they claimed was an eternal emanation (Energy) of God. There was a fellow named Barlaam of Calabria who began to denounce the Hesychasts and say that such a thing was impossible, and that there was no way that God could be in any way perceived as such. Gregory Palamas was his primary opponent and upheld that they were perceiving eternal Energies of God. Her elaborated his belief that the light that the Apostles perceived when they say Christ transfigured was the same eternal Energies of God, and as such the light came to be known as "the Tabor Light". The doctrine of Palamas is what won out in the Byzantine church. The dimensions in which we attain to theosis (God's grace, glory, actions, etc.) all came to be understood as not creations but rather eternal emanations of God, inherent to His life.

Now, regarding the Byzantines as having been outside the Church at that time, I don't particularly care to speculate whether or not their claims of experiencing the Energies of God were correct or not. On the other hand, I accepted the Palamite Essence-Energies distinction while I was part of their church. I have not discontinued to uphold this theology after having rejected Chalcedon, as I have not seen yet far any reason why it would contradict Oriental theology. However, I may eventually turn out to be wrong about that, and I will willingly shed myself of this teaching if it turns out that it actually is error.
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« Reply #16 on: July 26, 2010, 10:31:29 PM »

I get the feeling what is outside of our tradition is the breathing techniques, bodily postures, and using the Jesus Prayer in a way that some have described as being like a mantra.

I don't know exactly what you mean by "being like a mantra", but the breathing techniques and bodily postures are really emphasized barely at all in the Byzantine tradition today, even to the point where some of the laity are not even aware of their existence. I think a lot of what outsiders might find fault in Hesychasm are trappings that actually are not given as much regard as they might think.
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« Reply #17 on: July 26, 2010, 10:39:54 PM »


I don't know exactly what you mean by "being like a mantra",

I don't either.  I got it from the OrthodoxWiki article.   Smiley

Quote
but the breathing techniques and bodily postures are really emphasized barely at all in the Byzantine tradition today, even to the point where some of the laity are not even aware of their existence. I think a lot of what outsiders might find fault in Hesychasm are trappings that actually are not given as much regard as they might think.

That's interesting.  Years ago, I read The Way of the Pilgrim, and I seem to recall something of this in there, although my memory of the book may not be that great.  All I know is that in the Armenian Church we do say "Lord have mercy," but, as Vasntearn indicated, its use in private devotion is not as elaborately developed as it is in the EO tradition.
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« Reply #18 on: July 26, 2010, 10:55:45 PM »


I don't know exactly what you mean by "being like a mantra",

I don't either.  I got it from the OrthodoxWiki article.   Smiley

Quote
but the breathing techniques and bodily postures are really emphasized barely at all in the Byzantine tradition today, even to the point where some of the laity are not even aware of their existence. I think a lot of what outsiders might find fault in Hesychasm are trappings that actually are not given as much regard as they might think.

That's interesting.  Years ago, I read The Way of the Pilgrim, and I seem to recall something of this in there, although my memory of the book may not be that great.  All I know is that in the Armenian Church we do say "Lord have mercy," but, as Vasntearn indicated, its use in private devotion is not as elaborately developed as it is in the EO tradition.

Yes. I know that Hesychasm certainly is not developed anywhere near as extensively amongst the Oriental traditions as in the Byzantine. The "it's not part of our tradition" approach on this manner is fine by me. I'm just a little skeptical of the idea that there is something inherently inconsistent with Oriental Orthodoxy about it.
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« Reply #19 on: August 04, 2010, 01:41:11 PM »

I'm pretty sure there is a practice among Coptic monks to memorize and repeat all the Psalms continually.

I recall a story about a Coptic monk who while in a coma his lips still moved, he was still repeating the psalms. I think could be seen as a form of Hesychasm.
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« Reply #20 on: August 04, 2010, 03:23:21 PM »

Hesychasm is rooted in the desert monastic spirituality and so is not absent from our Orthodox tradition. What is absent is the later development which is criticised by some EO and OO writers.

Likewise the essence and energies distinction is ancient and not medieval. What concerns me about some later and modern understandings of this distinction is that it is sometimes used to avoid God actually being immanent in the world and only present in a mediated manner. This is essentially the Theodorean concern - but as I say, it is not necessary to a proper understanding of the essence and energies distinction.

I don't see that the Palamite teaching is necessary to our Orthodoxy - if it is found to be problematic - because the proper distinction is already present from the earliest times.

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« Reply #21 on: August 04, 2010, 11:54:52 PM »

I don't see anything wrong with Palamite theology.  It seems to me that St. Gregory Palamas continued the tradition of ancients such as the Cappadocians, the Alexandrian fathers (especially St. Cyril of Alexandria), both desert and episcopal fathers, and some of the Western fathers like St. John Cassian and St. Irenaous.

In fact, those who do reject Essence/Energy distinction to me tend to fall along the lines of Nestorianism/Theodoreanism as Fr. Peter mentioned.  And may I also add, it seems the Coptic bishops, HG Bishop Youssef of the Southern US Diocese seems to accept Palamite theology as well, and quotes St. Gregory Palamas at times.

I think the issue of the Essence/Energy distinction is not the distinction itself, but the misunderstandings in using the phrase "partaking of the Divine nature," where many of our Church heirarchs seem to think some people are teaching that we can partake of God's unapproachable essence.

God bless.
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