The Jesus Prayer: Breathing and Posture

310px-Jesus_Sinai_IconBishop Kallistos Ware says that by spending only a few moments praying The Jesus Prayer each day, we actually transform all the other remaining moments of the day. In the beginning, there may be no new insights and no pleasant feelings. Was it a waste of time? Not necessarily. By faith, the Christian believes that spending time wanting to pray, and actually praying, does touch a Merciful God. God hears. But we can expect invisible, subtle snares, sent from Satan, precisely because we have been praying with more effort. In a sense, we rouse the enemy to action. St. John Chrysostom says that when we begin to pray we stir the snake to action, and that prayer can lay the snake low.

There is no ascetic effort more difficult, more painful, than the effort to draw close to God, Sophrony tells us. When we begin to pray, we expend desire and effort. The results are up to God. Real prayer is a gift from God, not the payment for our perspiration. Prayer works in the Unseen Warfare as a power/gift from Jesus, given as a function of our ability to receive it. We increase our ability to receive by asking for the increase, and God grants it as He sees fit, in His tender, all sweet and merciful manner.

Breathing and Posture

The Orthodox understanding of the role of the body in prayer rests upon a sound anthropology. The body, soul and spirit act as a single unit, not divided or split up. Therefore, the body has a role in prayer.

Bishop Kallistos Ware says that if we pray the Jesus Prayer for short periods, ten or fifteen minutes at the beginning, then there is no problem matching the words of the prayer to our breath. We are to breath naturally, without playing with the rhythm of the breath. On the inhale, we can say, “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God.” On the exhale, we can say, “have mercy on me, a sinner.” We are to breath and pray slowly and reverently and attentively.

The usual position, as recommended is a comfortable sitting position in a chair. Sometimes standing is recommended. Usually the eyes are kept closed. Posture can take many forms, as long as the postures are reverent. Bishop Ware, St. Igantius Brianchaninov and Sophrony all agree, “the fullness of the Jesus Prayer can by practiced without any physical methods at all.”

In summary, it can be said that physical methods are optional and not at all necessary. Physical techniques are more suitable for beginners, says St Gregory Palamas. St. Theophan suggests, “Make a habit of having the intellect stand in the heart, but not in a physical way.”

COMING UP NEXT: The Jesus Prayer: Annotated Bibliography and Internet Resources

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Filed under Contemplative Prayer, The Jesus Prayer

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