Read an Excerpt
From the Foreword
"Lord, teach us to pray."
Prayer is our true life, our highest path. Without prayer we are not genuinely human. We have been created to pray, just as we have been created to speak or to think. Yet how are we to pray? We can all of us commence with exterior prayer, with words of prayer recited from memory or repeated from books. But how are we to advance from this to living inner prayer? "Pray without ceasing," says St. Paul (1 Thess. 5:17). How shall we make prayer not just one activity among others but the activity of our entire life, a dimension present in everything that we undertake? How can prayer become part of our very self, not merely something that we do but something that we are? "Lord, teach us to pray" (Luke 11:1). Where do we begin, how do we embark on the journey inward?
To questions such as these St. Ignatius Brianchaninov (1807–1867) offers in the present work an answer that may at first seem oversimplified but that is in fact profound and far-reaching. Begin the journey, he tells us, by practicing the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner. Use this short invocation at home, he says, during your set periods of daily prayer. Use it in church at appropriate moments in the services. Use it also in a "free" manner, once or many times, throughout the day as you go about your customary tasks. It is a prayer for all seasons, a prayer that can be said by anyone, in any place and at any time. Yet, despite its straightforward character, it is a prayer that leads also to the deepest mysteries of contemplation and creative silence. As St. Ignatius Brianchaninov puts it, "Such is the property of the Prayer of Jesus—it leads its practicer from earth to heaven, and places him among the celestial inhabitants." Calling it "the royal way" and "the narrow way," he states: "Do not think of it as a human institution; it is a divine institution."
The Jesus Prayer is particularly associated with the monastic life. During the rite of monastic profession, the future monk or nun is given a rosary or prayer-robe, to be used when invoking the Holy Name, and in this way the Jesus Prayer may be seen as part of the monastic vows. At the same time, Ignatius is careful to insist that the Jesus Prayer is suitable for "all the people of God without exception . . . whether monks or laypeople." He does not claim, however, "It is the only way," for he believes that there are many different paths of prayer which lead to salvation, and in this connection he quotes Christ's words, "In My Father's house are many dwelling places" (John 14:2). Yet he would, I think, have said, "It is the best way." Certainly he says (to paraphrase the whole argument of the present book), "It is an ancient way, commended in the Bible and the Fathers. It has helped many; it has helped me; it may also help you."