Tuesday, September 30, 2014

The Savior and the South

In ‘A Note on the Origin of Southern Ways’ Tom Landess stresses the importance of the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, Jesus Christ the Son of God, in Southern life and how Southern belief in Christ has shaped (and continues to shape) various aspects of our individual and corporate life for the better (see especially pgs. 161-9, Why the South Will Survive).

This is a rather remarkable thing to have happened in the age of enlightened skepticism, unbelief, and apostasy.  But there are still shortcomings.  The life in Christ among Southrons, as among others in the West, is often characterized by either the cold logic of systematic theologies and Bible studies or an overwrought emotionalism/imagination seen, for ensample, in free-wheeling evangelical Protestant worship services.

Such a life has developed because the West has forgotten the nous (νους), that faculty of the soul that allows us to have direct apprehension of spiritual realities.  Instead the West has come to rely on either the bodily senses or the rational thoughts and imagination of the mind to worship and understand God and draw nearer to Him.  This is fraught with peril, for these latter faculties are prone to great delusion in our fallen state.

For more on the nous, please give a listen to Dr Clark Carlton’s podcast on the subject:

In order, then, to go beyond the rationalism and/or emotionalism of the usual Southern relationship with God the Son towards a true and full union with Him, and to help in the task of cleansing the nous and the other parts of body and soul (together with prostrations, fasting, and so on), we offer to our countrymen the Jesus Prayer, one of the foundational prayers of the Orthodox Church.

Just how important it is in Christianity may be seen in the teachings of the Holy Elder Barsanuphius of Optina Monastery (+1913).  He says, ‘The Jesus Prayer has enormous significance in the life of a Christian.  It’s the shortest path to the attainment of the Kingdom of Heaven.  However, even that path is a long one, and once we have set foot on it, we should be ready for sorrows.  . . . the Jesus Prayer brings a man to a repentant frame of mind more quickly than the other prayers, and shows him his infirmity—consequently, it draws him close to God more quickly.  A man begins to feel that he’s the greatest sinner, and that’s just what God is looking for.’

The Holy Elder continues, ‘The enemy tries in every way to divert a Christian from this prayer.  He fears it and hates it most of all.  Truly, by the power of God a man who always does this prayer is preserved unharmed from the snares of the enemy.  . . .’

He warns, however, that the Jesus Prayer must be undertaken in humility by a man, or he will come to harm.  ‘You have to consider yourself to be standing below everyone, and strive to receive from the Lord those gifts that are undoubtedly brought by the Jesus Prayer: a repentant heart, patience, and humility.  Amen’  (‘St. Barsanuphius of Optina: Talks with Spiritual Children’, The Orthodox Word, pgs. 132, 133, 139).

Bishop Hilarion, Metropolitan of Volokolamsk in Russia, gives a good introduction to the Jesus Prayer in a series of talks shown on Russian television in 1999.  The first is presented in full below, followed by paths to the others in the series.

The Apostle Paul says: Pray without ceasing (1 Thessalonians 5:17). People often ask: How can we pray without ceasing, if we are working, reading, speaking, eating, sleeping, etc.? That is, if we are doing things that would seem to be incompatible with prayer? The answer to this question in the Orthodox tradition is the Jesus Prayer. The faithful who practice the Jesus Prayer attain to constant prayer, that is, to a ceaseless standing before God. How is this done?

The Jesus Prayer is: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” There is also a shorter form: “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me.” But one can also reduce the prayer to three words: “Lord, have mercy.” One who practices the Jesus Prayer repeats it not only during the divine services or when praying at home, but when travelling, eating, and going to sleep. Even if one is talking without someone or listening to someone then, without losing the intensity of his perception, he can nevertheless continue to repeat this prayer in the depths of his heart.

The meaning of the Jesus Prayer does not of course consist in its mechanical repetition, but in always feeling the living presence of Christ. This presence is felt by us first us all because, by pronouncing the Jesus Prayer, we pronounce the name of the Savior.

The name is a symbol of its bearer; in the name is present, as it were, the person to whom it belongs. When a young man falls in love with a young woman, he ceaselessly repeats her name, because she is, as it were, present in her name. And inasmuch as love fills his whole being, he feels the need to repeat this name over and over again. In just the same way, a Christian who loves the Lord repeats the name of Jesus Christ, because his whole heart and being are drawn to Christ.

It is very important when performing the Jesus Prayer not to try to imagine Christ, depicting Him like someone in some life situation or, for example, hanging on the Cross. The Jesus Prayer should not be paired with images that might arise in our imagination, because then there is a substitution of real imagination. The Jesus Prayer should be accompanied only by an inner sense of Christ’s presence and a feeling of standing before the Living God. No external images are appropriate here.

Source:  http://www.pravmir.com/prayer-xix-jesus-prayer/ , posted 23 June 2014, accessed 30 September 2014

Other talks in this series:

To go yet deeper into the Jesus Prayer, read The Philokalia,

and other Orthodox books:

The South has had a good beginning, but it is time to leave behind the ways of our spiritual youth and grow into the fulness of the sons of God.  May Our Savior bless the South and all peoples ever more abundantly with His life-giving presence.

Works Cited

Landess, Thomas H.  ‘A Note on the Origin of Southern Ways’.  Why the South Will Survive: Fifteen Southerners Look at Their Region a Half Century after I’ll Take My Stand.  Clyde Wilson, ed.  Athens, Ga.: U. of Georgia Press, 1981.  pgs. 159-70.

‘St. Barsanuphius of Optina: Talks with Spiritual Children’.  The Orthodox Word.  49.3 (2013): 105-42.

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