St John Cassian on Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

John Cassian was born about 360 in Dobrogea , located in the Danube delta in what is modern Romania. Somewhat atypically for an Eastern Christian, his native language was Latin. He entered a Bethlehem monastery in his early twenties but spent many years as a visitor among the desert fathers in Egypt. He next shows up in Constantinople, where he was ordained a deacon by St John Chrysostom. When the latter was deposed, Cassian had to leave and ended up near Marseilles, where he became a priest and founded one monastery for men and another for women. He died in 435.

His works are the Institutes and the Conferences, from which latter work (New York, Paulist Press, 1985) the following quotes are taken. Although not recognized as a saint by the Western church, he is mentioned in Benedict's Rule and his feast is locally celebrated in Marseilles on today's date.

Prayer changes at every moment in proportion to the degree of purity in the soul and in accordance with the extent to which the soul is moved either by outside influence or of itself. Certainly the same kind of prayers cannot be uttered continuously by by any one person. A lively person prays one way. A person brought down by the weight of gloom or despair prays another. One prays another way when the life of the spirit is flourishing, and another way when pushed down by the mass of temptation. One prays differently, depending on whether one is seeking the gift of some grace or virtue or the removal of some sinful vice. The prayer is different once again when one is sorrowing at the thought of hell and the fear of future judgement, or when one is fired by hope and longing for future blessedness, when one is in need or peril, in peace or tranquility, when one is flooded with the light of heavenly mysteries or when one is hemmed in by aridity in virtue and staleness in one's thinking. (p. 107)

We need to be especially careful to follow the gospel precept which instructs us to go into our room and to shut the door so that we may pray to our Father. And this is how we can do it.

We pray in our room whenever we withdraw our hearts completely from the tumult and the noise of our thoughts and our worries and when secretly and intimately we offer our prayers to the Lord.

We pray with the door shut when without opening our mouths and in perfect silence we offer our petitions to the One who pays no attention to words but who looks hard at our hearts.

We pray in secret when in our hearts alone and in our recollected spirits we address God and reveal our wishes only to Him and in such a way that the hostile powers themselves have no inkling of their nature. Hence we must pray in utter silence, not simply in order that our whispers and our cries do not prove both a distraction to our brothers standing nearby and a nuisance to them when they themselves are praying but also so as to ensure that the thrust of our pleading be hidden from our enemies who are especially lying in wait to attack us during our prayers. In this way we shall fulfill the command "Keep your mouth shut from the one who sleeps on your breast" (Mi 7:5).

The reason why our prayers ought to be frequent and brief is in case the enemy, who is out to trap us, should slip a distraction to us if ever we are long-drawn-out. There lies true sacrifice. "The sacrifice which God wants is a contrite heart" (Ps 50:19). This indeed is the saving oblation, the pure offering, the sacrifice of justification, the sacrifice of praise. These are the real and rich thank offerings, the fat holocausts offered up by contrite and humble hearts. If we offer them to God in the way and with zeal which I have mentioned we can be sure to be heard and we can sing: "Let my prayer rise up like incense before your face and my hands like the evening offering" (Ps 140:2). (p. 123-124).

Kallistos Ware on the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Metropolitan Kallistos Ware is one of the leading Orthodox spiritual writers in the English-speaking world. Born Timothy Ware in Bath, England in 1934, he was raised in the Church of England. He converted to Orthodoxy as a young man and several years later made his monastic profession and was ordained to the priesthood. He served for many years as an Oxford lecturer in Byzantine studies.

Bishop Kallistos has written and spoken often on the Jesus prayer, one of the underpinnings of Eastern Christian spirituality (I have an earlier post on the same subject which can be found under "The Jesus Prayer" in the Previous Posts section of the sidebar). The following excerpt is from a recent interview carried over Ancient Faith Radio, an Orthodox webcasting enterprise. And, while I vehemently disagree with his politics, a big hat-tip nonetheless to Thomas Katsampes for transcribing it.

The Jesus prayer can be used in two main ways. It can be used as part of our daily special prayer time when we are seeking to pray and not to do anything else. I might call that the "fixed" use. And then the Jesus prayer can be used during the day as we go about our characteristic activities in all the passing moments that might otherwise be wasted. As we are doing familiar tasks, as we are walking from place to place, as we are waiting for the bus, or...when we're stuck in a traffic jam. The first thing when we wake up in the morning, the last thing before we go to sleep. if we can't sleep at night, we can say the Jesus prayer in a free way.

Now the fixed use of the Jesus prayer helps to produce within us a contemplative attitude. It helps to create silence within us. The Jesus prayer is a prayer in words, but because the words are very simple and constantly repeated, in and through the words of the Jesus prayer we reach out into the living silence of God. Sometimes, yes, in our prayer we can simply wait on God and not say anything. Those are very precious moments, but if we try to do this regularly we may find that in practice we are simply subject to endless wandering thoughts. We can't by a simple act of will turn off the internal television set. So the Jesus prayer gives us in our prayer time a specific way of praying, a practical method which can help to gather us in prayer, can help us to overcome wandering thoughts, can help us to attain through words an attitude of silence, of waiting on God, of listening to Him...

As to the "free' use, it would seem that its aim is to help us to find Christ everywhere...It helps us to bring Christ into the different moments of our daily life so that our awareness of God's presence with us is not just limited to our set prayer time, but flows over into the day so that as we go about our familiar tasks while performing those tasks with full attentiveness we can also become aware that Christ is with us wherever we are and whatever we do. So that the Jesus prayer bridges the gap between prayer time and work time. It helps us to turn our work into prayer. Paul says "pray without ceasing", not just morning and evening, not just seven times a day, but without ceasing, continually. How are we to do that? Perhaps the first step is to use very frequent prayers, to have throughout the day moments of prayer. The prayer may not be continuous but it will become more and more frequent, and that is the first step to fulfilling St Paul's injunction. So the Jesus prayer helps to make the whole world a sacrament of God's presence. Wherever we go, whatever we do, we feel that Christ is with us. And many people feel called to use the Jesus prayer in this free way, even though perhaps they may not use the Jesus prayer in their set prayer times in the fixed way. That's perfectly all right. Each should follow the path of prayer to which each feels personally called, with the guidance of course of their spiritual father or spiritual mother.

Prayers to St Benedict  

Posted by Joe Rawls

Benedict of Nursia (480-547) was the scion of a noble family who was sent to Rome for a good classical education. He was disgusted by the morally dubious behavior of many of his classmates (some things never change) and so he resolved to take up the life of a hermit. After a few years of this, his reputation for holiness had grown to the point where he was persuaded to become the abbott of a small nearby monastery. Unfortunately, these monks were just a bunch of slackers, and when Benedict had the gall to tell them to actually live like monks, they tried to poison him. From this inauspicious beginning, Benedict went on to establish more successful (and less homicidal) monasteries at Subiaco and Monte Cassino. He wrote his famous Rule for monastics during the last years of his life. Almost all of what we know about his life is found in the Dialogues of St Gregory the Great, incidentally one of the founders of the English church.

On today's feast of St Benedict I want to share a few prayers to him taken from the Roman, Anglican, and Orthodox traditions. We start with two Orthodox selections taken from the Menaion for the month of March, when they observe his feast. (a menaion is a service book containing variable prayers). A troparion is a stanza of a hymn or religious poem; a kontakion is a collect hymn or sung collect. Then we go to a prayer taken from The Online Guide to St Benedict, a Roman Catholic site. Finally we top things off with the collect for today found in the Episcopalian Lesser Feasts and Fasts.

Troparion tone 1
By your ascetical struggle, O Godbearing Benedict,
you proved true to your name.
For you were the son of benediction, and became a model and rule to all who emulate your life and cry:
Glory to Him who has strengthened you; glory to Him who has crowned you; glory to Him who through you works healings for all.

Kontakion tone 8
Like a sun of the Dayspring from on high
you enlightened the monks of the West and instructed them by word and deed.
By the sweat of these ascetical achievements
purge from the filth of passions us who honor you and cry: Rejoice O Father Benedict.

From The Online Guide to St Benedict
Lord, by your grace St Benedict became a great teacher in the school of your service. Grant that we may put nothing before our love of you, and may we walk eagerly in the path of your commandments. Through Jesus Christ...Amen.

From Lesser Feasts and Fasts
Almighty and everlasting God, your precepts are the wisdom of a loving Father: Give us grace, following the teaching and example of your servant Benedict, to walk with loving and willing hearts in the school of the Lord's service; let your ears be open to our prayers; and prosper with your blessing the work of our hands; through Jesus Christ our Lord...Amen.

This 'N That  

Posted by Joe Rawls

I draw your attention to a few additions and one deletion in the "Favorite Links" portion of the sidebar.

The Chicago Consultation is an advocacy group for the full inclusion of LGBT people within the church. See especially Marilyn McCord Adams' major address.

Occidentalis is a good reference source for liturgical texts of both the Eastern and Western churches.

Science and Faith contains a number of essays--and many useful links--on this vitally important topic. It is the work of Episcopalian Robert J Schneider, retired professor at Berea College.

On a more negative note, Fr Jake Stops the World is no longer with us; it's been discontinued by its blogkeeper Fr Terry Martin. It was a very active site for the discussion of current issues impacting the Episcopal Church and the wider Anglican Communion. His posts would routinely draw 50-100 comments; many were unkind or plain snarky and some weren't even sane. I guess Terry just burned out. A big tip of the hat to him for all his work.

Finally, I can't resist throwing in this bit from the wildly popular site Stuff White People Like. This is the creation of Christian Lander, a Canadian who had the great good sense to drop out of the film studies PhD program at Indiana University. Now he's probably getting a best-selling book out of the thing.

#2 Religions that their parents don't belong to

White people will often say they are "spiritual" but not religious. Which usually means that they will believe any religion that doesn't include Jesus.

Popular choices include Buddhism, Hinduism, Kabbalah and, to a lesser extent, Scientology. A few even dip into Islam, but it's much more rare, since you have to give up stuff and actually go to Mosque.

Mostly they are into religion that fits really well into their homes or wardrobe and doesn't require them to do very much.