Colliander on the Jesus Prayer  

Posted by Joe Rawls in

Tito Colliander (1904-1989) was an ethnic Swede who was born in czarist St Petersburg and spent most of his life in Finland. He and his wife converted to the Finnish Orthodox Church as adults. He was primarily a novelist who wrote in Swedish but also left behind a body of spiritual writings. Probably the most significant of these is Way of the Ascetics (St Vladimir Seminary Press 2003). Chapter 25 (the book is available here online) deals with the Jesus Prayer.

I can resonate with what Colliander says about the Jesus Prayer because my own use of it, while regular (most of the time), is hardly effortless. The "monkey mind" is still an uninvited guest during prayer time, and the whole practice is not in the least glamorous. Colliander gives us a much-needed reminder that prayer is not an end in itself, but a means of preparing the ground of our souls for the raining down of God's grace.


...Lord, Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Repeat it aloud, or only in thought, slowly, lingeringly, but with attention, and from a heart freed as much as possible from all that is inappropriate to it. Not only worldly thoughts are inappropriate, but also such things as every kind of expectation or thought of answer, or inner visions, testings, all kinds of romantic dreams, curious questionings and imaginings. Simplicity is as inescapable a condition as humility, abstemiousness of body and soul, and in general everything that pertains to the invisible warfare.

Especially should the beginner beware of everything that has the slightest tendency to mysticism. The Jesus Prayer is an activity, a practical work and a means by which you enable yourself to receive and use the power called God's grace--constantly present, however hidden within the baptized person--in order that it may bear fruit. Prayer fructifies this power in our soul, it has no other purpose. It is a hammer that crushes a shell: a hammer is hard and its strike hurts. Abandon every thought of pleasantness, rapture, heavenly voices: there is only one way to the kingdom of God, and that is the way of the cross...

If you hammer a nutshell too hard, you may crush the kernel as well. Lay on with caution. Do not pass over suddenly to the Jesus Prayer. Hold back to begin with, and even afterward, use your other prayer practices as well. Do not be overanxious. And do not suppose that you can pray proper attention to a single Lord, have mercy. Your prayer is bound to be divided and scattered; you are, indeed, human...Do not shriek to high heaven in amazement if at the beginning you completely forget your prayer practice for many hours at a time, perhaps for a whole day or longer. Take it naturally and simply: you are an inexperienced sailor who has been so anxiously occupied with other things that he forgot to keep watch on the breezes. Thus, expect nothing of yourself. But do not demand anything of others, either.

Being About My Father's Busy-ness  

Posted by Joe Rawls

It's probably a safe bet that the first-century church had its share of workaholic clergy and lay leaders. Things haven't improved since then, of course, although clergy burn-out, often underlain by compulsive overwork, is now recognized as a serious problem. A problem that, despite lots of talk, will be with us for the foreseeable future. Anglican priest Kenneth Leech offers contemplative prayer as a possible antidote. But it won't be easy, of course. In his very fine book Experiencing God: theology as spirituality (Harper and Row 1985) he recounts an anecdote told by Carl Jung (whose father and several uncles were Reformed ministers). A big hat-tip to Fr Mike Marsh of Interrupting the Silence.


Jung recounts a story of a clergyman who had been working fourteen hours a day and was suffering from emotional exhaustion. Jung's advice was that he should work eight hours a day, then go home and spend the evening alone in his study. The clergyman agreed to follow Jung's advice precisely. He worked eight hours, then went home and to his study, where he played some Chopin and read a novel by Hesse. The following day he read Thomas Mann and played Mozart. On the third day he went to see Jung and complained that he was no better. "But you don't understand," Jung replied, on hearing his account. "I didn't want you with Hermann Hesse or Thomas Mann or even Mozart or Chopin. I wanted you to be all alone with yourself." "Oh, but I can't think of any worse company," answered the clergyman. Jung replied, "And yet this is the self you inflict on other people fourteen hours a day."

Blessed John Henry Newman  

Posted by Joe Rawls

During my 30 years as a Roman Catholic--coinciding with the first 30 years of my life--John Henry Newman (almost invariably referred to as Cardinal Newman) was presented to us lay folk simply as a scholarly man who had sacrificed a brilliant career in the Church of England to become a Roman Catholic. Depending upon whom you listened to, he either abandoned heresy for the one true church or he simply followed the dictates of his conscience at great personal expense. Beyond that, we didn't learn much about his life and thought, even if, like me, we attended Newman Centers (chaplaincies for Roman Catholic students) at three different universities. It was only after I became an Anglican in the early '80's that I learned more about both the Anglican and Catholic Newmans.

Pope Benedict's recent beatification of Newman--the first step towards eventual canonization--refocuses attention on both sides of the Tiber/Thames divide upon this complex, controversial, and sometimes contradictory churchman. Weighing in with a few trenchant observations is Eamon Duffy, himself a Roman Catholic and a Cambridge University church historian. Click here for the complete essay.


...Newman was a sublime prose stylist and a scholar soaked in the Greek and Latin Fathers. Between 1833 and 1845 he transformed the Church of England, persuading its clergy that it was no mere department of state for moral uplift, but the English branch of the ancient Catholic church, through its sacraments and apostolic teaching a means of encounter with God. Everything about modern Anglicanism, from the look of its buildings to its theology and forms of worship, bears the marks of his teaching...

Newman's thought came into its own in the 20th century, influencing, among others, the young Joseph Ratzinger, ironically enough, since Pope Benedict's understanding of papacy is not a million miles from that which Newman deplored. Yet the beatification ratifies Newman's distinctively English (and Anglican) formation. To that extent, it is an ecumenical act. It also affirms Newman's lifelong struggle to combine intellectual integrity with the surrender of a heart and mind to a God he experienced both as love and truth. For a church whose claims to integrity, love and truth are currently taking a beating, that's a candle in the dark.

Athonite Benedictines  

Posted by Joe Rawls in ,

An obscure facet of monastic history--but one very close to the spirit of this blog--is the Benedictine monastery of St Mary which existed on Mt Athos ca 980-1287. Known in Greek as the Amalfion, it was founded by monks from the Italian city-state of Amalfi, which in its heyday rivaled Genoa and even Venice in terms of maritime trade. Amalfitan monasteries were also found in Constantinople and in Jerusalem (the chapel of the latter is now a Lutheran church).

According to a contemporary Greek text the Mt Athos foundation was established by Beneventus, brother of the duke of Benevento. He became friends with the monks of the Orthodox monastery of Iveron, close by the site of the Amalfion. The Greek monks "treated him with the greatest kindness and invited him to make his home among them, saying 'both you and we are alike pilgrims'...And so he built a pleasant monastery in which he gathered many brothers. With the help of our fathers the whole work was completed...and to this day there exists on the Holy Mountain this monastery of the Romans, who live a regular and edifying life according to the Rule of Holy Benedict..."

Relationships between the Roman Catholic Benedictines and their Orthodox neighbors remained amiable even after the rupture between the two churches in 1054. As the centuries passed, the fortunes of the Amalfion gradually declined along with those of its parent city. In 1287 the monastery was peacefully dissolved and its assets transferred to one of the Orthodox communities. This long-term peaceful co-existence remains a model worth emulating for Eastern and Western Christians of the present day.

Click here and here for additional information on the Amalfion.