Grains of Wisdom: The Jesus Prayer
The whole of the venerable Elder’s life was his continual meditation in the Prayer of Jesus. He tried to apply the command of Paul, “pray without ceasing”.
Every evening he had as his rule to occupy himself with the prayer of Jesus unwaveringly for six continuous hours. He left this precise method in one of his letters. “I knew a brother, who for six hours brought his mind down into his heart and did not permit it to go out from the ninth hour of the afternoon (about 3 pm) until the third hour of the night (about nine pm). He had a clock that struck the hours. And he became drenched in sweat. When he got up, he worked out the remainder of his debt.” This manner of spiritual work, learned from the Fathers, shows great mental strength and a high spiritual condition. For it is truly rare, especially in our days, to find a mind that can pray unwaveringly for such a long time. The blessed Elder said that to accomplish such a great spiritual feat a person must compel himself in prayer and he emphasized: “Say the prayer all the time. don’t rest your mouth at all. Thus it will become habitual in you and the mind will receive it.”
The Hesychast Elder is one of the contemporary Athonite Elders who taught the details of the practice of noetic prayer, not only to monastics but also to the laity. According to the Elder, all people, without reference to their way of life, wherever they find themselves, and whatever they do, can undertake noetic prayer. The blessed elder wrote concerning this, “The practice of noetic prayer is to constrain yourself to say continually the prayer unceasingly with the mouth. Attend only to the words “Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me” and you will experience sweetness as if you had honey in your mouth.”
One who wants to practice noetic prayer systematically should not wait for particular moments which he sets aside for the prayer. The sanctified Elder, as a teacher of prayer, emphasizes: “Always say the prayer: sitting or in your bed or walking or standing. ‘Pray without ceasing, give thanks in all things,’ says the Apostle. You should not only pray when you lie down. It wants struggle: standing, sitting. When you tire, sit down, and then stand again. If you eat or work, don’t stop the prayer.”
Excerpt from a Homily by Elder Ephraim of Vatopaidi