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Prayer without ceasing is not a mantra

by
17 June 2009

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From Paul Brighton-Cross

Sir, — I read with curiosity, and also with bemusement, Simon Parke’s piece concerning mantras (Comment, 5 June).

It came as a disappointment to discover, despite the wealth of available material on the subject, that the Jesus Prayer is still being referred to as a “mantra”. The Jesus Prayer, in spite of a rather facile similarity of form with the mantra, is nothing of the sort. Nor are the Jesus Prayer or the mantra alike in purpose.

Surely it is axiomatic that the Jesus Prayer is not used in the same way as mantras are used in meditation or in secular endeavour. The Jesus Prayer has an altogether higher intention: it helps us to discover the grace of baptism. Prayer, as essential to a Christian as breathing, is, in St Gregory of Sinai’s words: “baptism made manifest”.

St Paul calls upon us to “pray without ceasing” (1 Thessalonians 5.17). We Orthodox use the Jesus Prayer to do God’s will, not our own bidding. It is also an inner aceticism: according to St Ignatius Brianchaninov, attempting to pray without ceasing is a “hidden martyrdom”. The Jesus Prayer, firmly rooted in scripture, is the means by which one may achieve ceaseless prayer — prayer of the heart.

The heart is Christ’s palace. There, Christ the King comes to take His rest. The Jesus Prayer must be said with love and faith, never repeated automatically in a mechanical fashion, never prayed obsessively.

To lump together the Jesus Prayer with Vedic techniques — even worse, with gym workouts, Sir Ranulph Fiennes, and Churchill’s speeches, however much it may have been done without malice, is at best ill-informed, and at worst denigrating of Orthodox spirituality.

PAUL BRIGHTON-CROSS
Crowborough Road
Prittlewell SS2 6LP

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