Humble-Mindedness: The Doorway to Pure Prayer
An interview with Elder Dionysius (Ignat) of the St. George Kellion, Kolitsou Skete, Mount Athos, Greece
Over the past ten years it has become a common occurrence for pilgrims on Mount
Athos to make the one-hour trek from Vatopedi Monastery to the Kellion of St.
George. The long and dusty uphill trail passes by monastery fields and within
sight of the place where St. Gregory Palamas labored. After several steep ascents,
the trail branches off onto a winding path that cuts across the verdant mountainside.
In springtime, the thick foliage threatens to choke the passageway, while a
myriad of wildflowers paints a dazzling landscapea fitting offering to
the mountains protectress, the Theotokos. Proceeding past the ruins of
centuries-old monastic dwellings, the pilgrim arrives at a terraced plot of
land overlooking the Aegean Sea. There, amidst well-tended gardens and enclosed
by a rustic, tree-limb railing, stand a few whitewashed stone buildings adorned
with blue trim: the Kellion of St. George. Outside, sitting on benches, one
would find a few pilgrims waiting in hope of receiving a few profitable words
from the humble Elder, Hieroschemamonk Dionysius (Ignat).
Four years ago in these pages we presented the life story of Elder Dionysius 
in a three-part article on the Elders of Kolitsou Skete, a Romanian dependency
of Vatopedi Monastery, Mount Athos, Greece. On April 28/May 11, 2004, this righteous
Romanian Elder reposed in the Lord after a long, God-pleasing life of ninety-five
years. Elder Dionysius had been a monk for eighty-two years, seventy-seven of
which were spent on Mount Athos, and sixty-six of which were spent in the same
kellion. He was a wonderful, loving monk and spiritual father, well known by
his fellow Athonite monks but largely unknown to those outside the Holy Mountain
until the last fifteen years or so.
Elder Dionysius was born in Romania in 1909, the youngest son of eight children,
and was baptized with the name Dimitry. He was always close to his older brother
George (later the Monk Gymnasius), and followed him into the monastic lifefirst
in Romania in 1922 and then on Mount Athos in 1926. After ten years of extreme
physical hardship and struggle on the Holy Mountain, the two brothers came under
the spiritual direction of Elder Gideon (Chelaru). They were also able to obtain
(and restore, both physically and spiritually) a kellion of their own, dedicated
to the Great Martyr George, in Kolitsou Skete. Fr. Gymnasius attained great
holiness before his repose in 1965, and Elder Gideon died a righteous death
in 1979 . For almost ten years Elder Dionysius only constant co-struggler
in the St. George Kellion was Schemamonk John (Shova) . There were, however,
a small number of spiritually experienced monks nearby to whom he could go for
spiritual advice, including Elder John (Goutsou) (1996) , Elder Dometian
(Trihena) of the St. Hypatius Kellion (1984) , and more recently Elder
Joseph the New of Vatopedi Monastery.
Elder Dionysius was one of the last living links to the holy ascetics who lived
on Mount Athos during the first part of the twentieth century. He was a man
of deep spiritual prayer, who engaged in the noetic activity spoken of in The
Philokalia. Many who have benefitted from his counsel commented that the most
common theme of his encouragement to his fellow strugglers was patience,
patience, and more patience.
Although the Elder had been born of simple farmers and had spent most of his
life in obscurity, his renown drew a constant stream of pilgrims seeking a spiritual
word. Toward the end of his life the fathers of the kellion would have to lock
the gates so that the Elder could rest his body, which was exhausted by strict
ascesis and illness. Even then people would scale the gates just to talk to
Fr. Dionysius. Students and world leaders, Greeks and Americans, all flocked
to receive a blessing from the rough and weathered hands of the ascetic. Even
the heir to the British throne, Prince Charles, was at the Elders funeral,
paying his respects along with two hundred monks from all over the Holy Mountain.
In memory of this holy Elder, we are presenting an interview with him containing
much profitable counsel. The interview was conducted in May 2001 by Hierodeacon
Cleopa Paraschiv, author of the Romanian book The Prayer of Jesus: The Way of
Uniting the Mind with the Heart . At that time the Elder was ninety-two years
old, blind and physically infirm, but rich in the spiritual wisdom that is born
of long and unremitting labor.
1. On the Jesus Prayer
Question: Most pious Elder, what is the purpose of our life in this temporal
Answer: The main purpose of our earthly life is to be saved, to arrive in the
Kingdom of Heaven. Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: Be holy, just as
your Father in Heaven is holy! (cf. Matt. 5:48). During this earthly life,
with the help of Divine Grace and our good Christian deeds we can enter the
ranks of the saints. And if, because of our lack of virtue, we cannot join the
ranks of the saints, we should strive to inherit Paradise. By no means can you
simultaneously be a good Christian and commit sin. If you commit sin, you depart
from the Grace of God and unite yourself to the devil. Thus, you depart from
the Church, from the Holy Mysteries and from the Divine teachings in order to
satisfy your own passions, which the devil has settled in your soul. You should
not obey your passions. Thats why the Church sings: From my youth
do many passions war against me
(Hymns of Degrees, Tone 4). Thats
why the Holy Scripture tells us: Seeing that ye have put off the old man with
his deeds; and have put on the new man (Col. 3:910). Because if were
of the old man, were the slaves of passions and sins.
Question: What is the teaching of the Holy Fathers about the human spirit and
the demonic spirit?
Answer: The human spirit becomes a demonic spirit through sin. The devil sows
the seeds of bad deeds in our heart through the working of our energy and thoughts.
If you accept the bad seeds into your heart, theyll start sprouting. And
if youre not careful to throw them away and purify your heart with the
Grace of the Holy Spirit and good Christian works (prayer, fasting, Confession,
Holy Communion, etc.) theyll take root and grow. And from that moment
on, the devil will go away from you, because from that moment on hes sure
that youll follow your passions to every bad thing.
Question: So, if youre dissolute, does Divine Grace depart from you and
does the spirit of fornication lead you to all kinds of depraved sins and unnatural
Answer: Of course. But its more serious, in that they become like natural
deeds. You think and say that in no way can you leave these sins. Thats
why, from the beginning, we should observe bodily and spiritual purity. We will
have great help in our spiritual warfare if we observe bodily and spiritual
purity, as is the case with monastic life. And the lay people should have marital
relations with restraint, on the days permitted by the Church, and only after
an Orthodox marriage ceremony. The devil knows this and thats why he tries
so hard to cast people into the sins of fornication. These many evils of our
days are from the demons, who want in this way to defile the temple of the Holy
Spirit, which is a Christians body, and afterwards to lead it into every
evil thing. Once youve committed sins of dissoluteness you cant
pray any more; you cease participating in the Holy Liturgy, you stop confessing,
and you cant perform other good Christian deeds anymore.
Owing to this worldly spiritwhich forms from childhood around the heart
through poor education, pornographic movies, advertising, desires, sins, etc.the
Christian can no longer pray, nor can he do a good, salvific deed. But even
those who have fallen into great sins can correct themselves, with the help
of Divine Grace. This struggle and deliverance from sins and from the demons
will be counted unto them as martyrdom.
Question: After Baptism, is the devil expelled from the depth of our heart
so that he now works from outside?
Answer: He works from outside the heart. But if we sin, we allow him to penetrate
into the depths of the heart. This is what a passion is. From now on, this passion
will lead us, but not even now does Divine Grace leave us. God gave man total
freedom. The Grace of the Holy Spirit showed him the difference between right
and wrong. It showed us the way to the Kingdom of Heaven, and the way which
leads to perditionhell. God tells us: I have set before you life and death,
blessing and cursing: therefore choose life (Deut. 30:19). The Grace of the
Holy Spirit could have made it impossible for man to ever fall. But in that
case he would have had neither personality nor virtues, but would have been
an animal or a robot. None of Gods creations has the freedom that man
has. The Christian who fulfills Gods commandments with the help of Divine
Grace may become a saint. And God is so good that even when we fall into sins
and cry to Him in repentance, Lord, forgive me! Lord, help me! He
comes to us and helps us to rise from our sins. That is why our Lord Jesus Christ
told us, Come unto Me, all ye that labor and are heavy laden with sins, and
I will give you rest (Matt. 11:28)!
However, if the passions have settled in a man and have become like a new sinful
nature, that man will say, Its impossible to cut off these passions!
This is especially so because we are in the last times, when mankind has become
careless and insensible towards spiritual things. Whether one is a layman, a
monk or a priest, one isnt concerned over passions and sins. This a great
danger because thereby we allow the demons to progress in controlling us.
Question: Where does our pride come from?
Answer: Pride is only from the demons. Through Holy Baptism, God has forgiven
the ancestral sin and personal sins committed before Baptism, and has given
us the Grace of the Holy Spirit of perfection, telling us, Be ye therefore perfect,
even as your Father which is in heaven is perfect (Matt. 5:48).
Question: But the effects remain!
Answer: We should cut them off through the Grace of God, which will always
help us on our way to perfection. But since we have been created with freedom,
we must fight in order to defeat the passions and the sins. For example, if
you smoke you have the power to say, Ive confessed, and with Gods
help I will smoke no more from now on! But the old man within you will
say, Youve smoked for so many years! You wont be able to!
Youll get sick and die! But if you have faith, strengthened by the
Grace of the Holy Spirit, youll respond, Ive made my decision,
and with Gods help Ill quit smoking no matter what! And then
the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon you and will help you in every
way. But if you think like this: Ill give up smoking, but Ill
smoke for one or two more weeks and after that Ill quit, no matter what,
then youre not decided, you dont have your will strengthened by
the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and you wont give up smoking.
Question: May parents sins be transmitted to their children?
Answer: To parents who have great sins and vices (profligates, alcoholics,
drug users, smokers, etc.) there may be born children with physical and mental
illnesses. This is confirmed by medical studies as well. But here intervenes
the Divine Grace present in the Holy MysteriesBaptism, Chrismation, Holy
Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Unction, and Marriagewhich will help
the child be saved. For example, a child who is born blind has other Divine
gifts compared to a child who is born healthy, in order to live in this life
and be saved. But the sins which parents commit after the childs birth
may also have negative repercussions on the spiritual and bodily state of the
child. Moreover, through the poor education they give to a child, parents can
instill passions in his heart which are destructive to the soul. We have examples
in the Holy Scripture and in Holy Tradition that from pure and righteous parents
there have been born children who became saints, such as the Mother of God,
St. John the Baptist, etc.
2. On Humble-mindedness
Question: St. Silouan the Athonite says that the only thing a Christian should
learn as long as he lives in this earthly life is humble-mindedness .
Answer: Thats true, father. The Christian should first learn what humility
is in order to be able to humble himself afterwards, in every moment of his
life, before people and the demons . In this way he will grow spiritually, and
his heart will be filled with the Grace and fragrance of the Holy Spirit. Thus,
the Holy Trinity, the Mother of God, the Holy Angels and all the Saints will
make their home in his heart. In short, his heart will become a spiritual Paradise.
And if you have the Lord of Sabaoth, you will be happy wherever you are. Unfortunately,
people today are educated in the spirit of self-love, pride, vainglory, dissoluteness,
love of money, etc., and their heart becomes a hell, full of sins and unclean
spirits. Thus, the proud man tortures himself and tortures others, too. Humble-mindedness
is a Christian virtue which you should try to have every moment of your life.
Question: What is humility of heart?
Answer: Our Lord Jesus Christ teaches us: Learn of me; for I am meek and lowly
in heart: and ye shall find rest unto your souls (Matt. 11:29). With the help
of Divine Grace and our good Christian deeds, our stony hearts will change into
spiritual hearts. Thats why God tells us, My son, give Me thine heart
(Prov. 23:26). The eye of your heart should always be on God. Thus do we hope
to be saved, and the Grace of the Holy Spirit will always help us.
3. The Means of Facilitating the Prayer
Question: The Athonite Fathers advise us to say the Jesus Prayer with repentance
and not mechanically. What can you tell us about this?
Answer: The whole work of the Prayer of Jesus is for repentance! Because we
pray: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
This means repentance. Because if you pray without repentance it means that
you have high-mindedness and are on the wrong path. Why do we pray to our Lord
Jesus Christ to have mercy on us? Because were sinners. So, we say this
prayer only for repentance. If you have high-mindedness, no matter how little,
God will not have mercy on you. The devil knows this, because he fell due to
his high-mindedness. Because of this, the devil sows the passions in the heart
of any man in the world, through his high-mindedness. The enemy whispers to
us, Glory to God! Youre a monk. Youre not like other people.
Youre a sinner but youre not like other people. This is spiritual
destruction for a Christian. The more important the gifts are that you have
received from Godwhether you are a bishop, priest, deacon, monk, doctor,
professor, engineer, etc.the more indebted to God you should consider
yourself to be, and more sinful than other people. If the Holy Apostle Paulwho
was raised up to the third heaven and who saw Mysteries which eye hath not seen
neither have entered into the heart of man (I Cor. 2:9), humbles himself,
saying, Christ Jesus came into the world to save sinners; of whom I am chief
(I Tim. 1:15)then what can we take pride in, who are full of passions
and sins? Because the more you purify yourself of your sins and draw near to
God, in the Divine Light you see your passions and sins in their true magnitude,
and the darkness in your heart.
So, if you consider yourself to be more sinful than all people and even than
the demons who enslave you in every bad thing, then the Holy Spirit will descend
upon you. High-mindedness is very harmful for our spiritual life! Thats
why St. John of Damascus says in the Canons to the Mother of God, Lord
Jesus Christ, Son of God, by the prayers of Thine All-pure Mother, have mercy
on me, a sinner, who am more sinful than any man in the world! He did
not say this out of formality, but thanks to his humble-mindedness he considered
himself more sinful than any man in the world. Only in this way will the All-good
God help us to inherit the Kingdom of Heaven, because a humble sinner is better
before God than a proud righteous man. He who has every good deed but is high-minded
will be left by God to fall into sins and to be humbled in this way. That is
why our Lord Jesus Christ gave us the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee.
The Pharisee had good deeds, but his mind became exalted, and he said, I
am not like everyone else and like that greedy Publican. God did not bless
him for this high-mindedness. And the Publican didnt even dare look up
to heaven and said, Good Lord, have mercy on me, a sinner! And God,
because of his humbleness, blessed him. Thus, he left the Temple justified and
blessed by the Grace of the Holy Spirit.
Question: How can we defeat a powerful angry thought?
Answer: This spirit of anger comes because you do not have humble-mindedness.
But you should struggle, because in a moment of rage your mind and reason darken
and you can do many evils. You should humble yourself, ask for forgiveness and
pray to God to help you, because our Lord Jesus Christ told us, Without Me ye
can do nothing (John 15:5). Thats why we become angry: because were
proud, we pretend that were someone important and that were right.
Question: It often happens that we have many obediences within the community
life of the monastery, and Im saddened because I dont have time
enough for prayer and reading.
Answer: Father, if you endure obedience without murmuring, God will send down
upon you the Grace of the Holy Spirit, and the humble prayers which you also
make are received by Divine Goodness. When you do your obedience without murmuring,
you have peace of soul. You should do your obedience as a son of God by Grace
and not as a slave or an animal. If youre taken and given another obedience,
you should not murmur, but say, This was Gods will! Ill do
it with all my love. And God will bless you with His Grace.
Question: However, I have this spiritual dissatisfaction because I cant
pray, I cant fulfill my rule of prayers and prostrations!
Answer: It doesnt matter! Be at peace! God will give you what you could
not fulfill because of the blessed reasons. Be patient! All will passmay
the Good Lord grant you patience! Remember that patience is baked at midnight
(prayer) and is eaten in the daytime. If you did not pray at midnight, you will
not be patient in the daytime. The Holy Apostles were unable to keep vigil together
with the Savior Jesus Christ in the Garden of Gethsemane, and thats why
they did not have the Divine power to resist the temptations of the next day.
A little patience! In your patience possess ye your souls (Luke 21:19).
Question: I am attacked by evil thoughts, blasphemous thoughts. Are they from
the demons? They do not leave me alone in the Church either! What shall I do?
Answer: Pay no attention to them! Leave them alone. Let them howl in your mind.
Pray to God with humility: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on
me, a sinner! Thus, theyll pass by themselves, naturally. Because
if you stay and converse with them and the enemy sees this, theyll give
you trouble. You should say in your mind: Im a monk and I believe
and do everything the Holy Orthodox Church teaches me!
Question: I torture myself the most when I judge my neighbor!
Answer: Father, the greatest danger for each of us is when we judge others.
Do you know why? When you judge your neighbor, and especially priests, your
father confessor, or your elder, the first thing that will happen is that the
bodily passions will fight you more than at other times. This is allowed by
God because you did not pay attention to your own sins and judged others instead.
But we should arm ourselves with the sharpest sword against the demons and their
wiles, which is humble-mindedness. Thus, if you see a man committing a sin,
say in your mind, Im much worse than he is. But not only with
your lipsyou should be convinced that you really are worse than he is.
Even if I didnt commit that sin in deed, I did it by desire, by thought,
or by agreeing to it. And Im a monk (for a monk, a sin committed in thought
is as severe as a sin committed in deed by a layman). Furthermore, we dont
have the right to judge anyone. Our Lord Jesus Christ tells us, Judge not, that
ye be not judged (Matt. 7:1). Because if we judge, were proud and God
will allow us to fall into great sins in order to humble us so we can see our
sins. And if we humble ourselves, God will remove that passion and the warfare
which comes upon us from the demons. Because humble-mindedness drives the devil
away like fire. But we should be in a state of watchfulness and discernment
Question: How can we be united with God?
Answer: You should purify your soul and body from all the passions and, little
by little, youll come to perfect love for God. But you should partake
of the Grace of God in the Holy Mysteries, pray much, fast, keep vigil, and
perform other good Christian works in order to establish humble-mindedness in
your mind and heart. Being humble-minded, praying, and having discernment, a
man draws near to God with spiritual joy. Thus, he will have many temptations,
especially so as to be humbled. No matter what spiritual step you are on, if
you are not humble-minded the enemies will knock you down in a moment. On the
foundation of humble-mindedness you can build all good works: obedience, spiritual
tears, Divine love
Question: How can a Christian find quietness for praying, a Christian who lives
in the tumult and noise of a city?
Answer: We should try to obtain as much as possible! We should not be negligent.
Because negligence is the greatest danger for the soul of each man. It means
you have no mercy for your own soul, and thus youre in great spiritual
danger. You didnt do your [prayer] rule? Negligence tells you, It
doesnt matter. You didnt fast? Negligence tells you, It
doesnt matter. Did you commit fornication? Negligence tells you,
It doesnt matter. We should strive as much as we can and God
will help us to be saved. The greater the temptations are, the greater the Grace
of God will be and the greater the crown. But God will not allow us to be tempted
above our strength. If we have prayer and purity of soul and body, the Grace
of the Holy Spirit will descend upon us and all great difficulties will easily
be solved. These hard times for the salvation of our soul were prophesied by
the Holy Fathers. A disciple asked his Elder, Father, look, were
powerless and the enemy fights us. If thats the way it is as now, what
will it be like in the last times? The Elder responded, Son, in
the last times, the monks will be like laymen and the laymen will be like demons!
But I know people who live in the center of Bucharest and lead a pure and spiritual
Question: Christianity is the religion of love. But there are Christians who
say that they cant love their neighbor even with a natural, human love.
What shall we say about Divine, holy love?
Answer: This happens because their heart is full of desires and sins. But man
is not born with passions. Hes born pure. With the passage of years, through
everything he does, he acquires his passions. Sin enters your nature after you
start embracing and loving it. Man is not created by God to be bad. By no means!
Man is good, but his education and society corrupt him. But let us strive for
salvation of soul and God will help us.
Question: This year, when I drew near the Holy Mountain by ship, a bad spirit
was fighting me to go back. Was it a demonic or worldly spirit?
Answer: Father, the demonic and worldly spirit are one and the same! The worldly
spirit is a demonic work. The Holy Apostle John said almost two thousand years
ago, The whole world lieth in wickedness (I John 5:19). This means that the
world is led by and works with the spirit of pride, love of money, vainglory,
profligacy, theft, lying, etc.
5. On Gathering the Mind*
Question: When we say the Jesus Prayer aloud, it can be spoken or chanted.
Which way is the best?
Question: I have read in the writings of the Holy Fathers that if we speak
the Prayer, demonic thoughts can enter into the pauses between the words.
Answer: Demonic thoughts can come in if you chant it, too. The most important
thing is to be humble-minded, and for your mind to be attentive to the words
of the Prayer and not wander about everywhere. Your mind, spirit, and heart
should be directed towards our Lord Jesus Christ. We should make an effort,
and the Grace of the Holy Spirit will help us pray.
Question: Owing to worldly worries and demonic and human temptations, our mind
is scattered all the time. How can we gather our mind under such conditions?
Answer: The Holy Apostle Paul teaches us: Pray without ceasing. In every thing
give thanks (I Thess. 5:1718). We should pray with repentance and with
humble-mindedness and have hope in the goodness of God, Who has helped us so
many times in our prayers.
Question: When you pray reading the Psalter, Akathists, the Prayer Rule, or
the Seven Praises , the heart warms up. Can this warmth of heart be used in order
to concentrate ourselves when we say the Jesus Prayer?
Answer: Father, these are subtle things. But if you have spiritual joy and
the peace of the Holy Spirit is within you, theres no need to search whether
its in the heart, the mind or the soul. Because if its in the mind
its also in the heart, and if its in the heart its also in
the mind and in the soul. If its in the mind, its also in the heart
and if its in the heart its also in the mind, because that spiritual
joy is a Divine work. Its impossible for there to be gladness in one place
and discontent in another. Because the gift of the Holy Spirit sanctifies a
man entirely when it descends upon him. The man is all spiritual joy.
Question: While practicing the Jesus Prayer, there may occur a pain in the
heart. Is it a good thing to concentrate on that place?
Answer: At such times you cant say the prayer with the lips, but only
with the mind. The heart is not in a state of illness, as some practitioners
of the Jesus Prayer wrongly think. In those moments, the heart experiences spiritual
joy and spiritual tears course down from the eyes.
Question: If you say the Jesus Prayer for a long time, does the mind get tired?
Answer: Of course. Its very important that the mind be pure and peaceful,
because if its occupied with thoughts it gets tired more rapidly. And
if the devil also meddles with his temptations, the mind becomes darkened and
scattered and will have to labor spiritually for a longer time. Thats
why the Holy Fathers left all worldly worries and went to the desert or to the
heart of the mountains, so as not to see or hear anything, and they would eat
a little piece of dried bread every few days. Living this way they would purify
their minds perfectly and draw them closer to the good Heavenly Father. But
we have testimony from the Holy Fathers that there were people even in royal
palaces who had the Jesus Prayer. At that time there were more pure people who
were more pleasing to God than there are nowadays.
Question: When the mind becomes tired from saying the Jesus Prayer, is it good
to read the Psalter, Akathists, the writings of the Holy Fathers, or to sing
troparia or the Doxology?
Answer: Until the Jesus Prayer is established perfectly within us, we will
not be able to say it ceaselessly. It is good to alternate and say other prayers
too, or to read or sing religious songs. However, blessed physical labor will
also help us very much. Even if we have the Jesus Prayer, we should not give
up the rule of prayers and prostrations which we have received from our father
Question: On Holy Mount Athos, I saw that there are cells in which the Athonite
Fathers do their [prayer] rule and the Seven Praises saying the Jesus Prayer.
Answer: Its true. But our father confessors advise us that the rule should
not be omitted for any reason. In church, in some sketes and cells they replace
the Seven Praises with the Jesus Prayer. One of the Fathers comes to the kliros 
and utters aloud one hundred times: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have
mercy on me, a sinner! Then another father takes his place and so on,
for a time equivalent to the Seven Praises. The other fathers who are in the
church listen attentively and repentantly. The old fathers said that while they
were practicing the Seven Praises in this way in the church of the St. Anne
Skete, an Elder saw the Savior Jesus Christ coming down in the midst of them.
6. Learning the Jesus Prayer
Question: How is it better to learn the Jesus Prayer: synchronized with your
breathing or synchronized with your heartbeat?
Answer: I believe its easier to learn the Jesus Prayer with the breathing.
St. John Climacus says that your prayer should be united with your breathing.
Just as you breathe in order to be able to live, so should you pray in order
to feed your soul with the Grace of the Holy Spirit. When you breathe in, say,
Lord Jesus Christ Son of God, and when you breathe out, say, have
mercy on me, a sinner! Since youre a sinner, you should cast the
passions and sins out of your heart and introduce our Lord Jesus Christ into
your heart. Because you direct all the passions and sins into your heart with
your thinking. Through the Jesus Prayer we aim at drawing Jesus Christ into
our heart when we say, Lord Jesus Christ Son of God; and when we
say, have mercy on me, a sinner! we drive out the passions and sins
which are there in our heart. Calling upon the name of Jesus Christ ceaselessly,
a Christian becomes deified. But care, perseverance, and quietness of mind are
needed. Thats why the Fathers left for the desert, for remote places,
in order to have quietness and to be able to concentrate their mind. With much
speaking, even if its beneficial, you can fail. St. Arsenius the Great
said, I have regretted speaking, but I have never regretted being silent.
But we who talk all the time and waste our time uselesslyhow can we say,
Lord Jesus Christ? Regarding the learning of the Jesus Prayer, whether
based on breathing or on the heartbeat, every Christian should conclude, from
his own experience, which method is more useful.
Question: Since nowadays we no longer have hesychia, stillness of mind, is
it appropriate to take part in the liturgical life as often as possible (the
Holy Liturgy, Confession, Holy Communion, Holy Unction) in order to purify ourselves
from sins and to pray more easily?
Answer: The Fathers who teach such things take into account the weakness and
the worries of modern-day people. Thats why, instead of staying at home
and praying on a little stool, its better to take part in the Holy Liturgy,
to confess and receive the Eucharist with the help of the Grace of the Holy
Spirit present in the Holy Mysteries, to listen carefully to the prayers, chants
and teachings of the Church so your heart can be purified by the Grace of the
Holy Spirit. But preparation is necessary for Holy Communion, as the Holy Apostle
Paul teaches us.
Question: The Jesus Prayer may be uttered with pain of heart. How do you recommend
our Christians to practice it?
Answer: One must say the Jesus Prayer with a heart broken through suffering,
so that spiritual tears will course down from your eyes. This is a Divine gift
which very few acquire. So, we should say the prayer calmly, with discernmentbecause
if you do not have discernment, other temptations may occur, such as damage
to the heart, mental illnesses, etc. Our tempter has a treasury of evils and
has grown old in evil. He even dared to tempt our Lord Jesus Christ.
Question: Is the sensing of God in our heart a prayer too?
Answer: Yes, it is. The feeling of God in your heart is also a prayer. But
this is a great Divine gift. When you have the presence of God in your heart
you dont use words anymore, so as to keep the spiritual joy in your heart
as long as possible. If you have fear of God in your heart, everything you do
will draw you near to God, everything will purify you of sin and you will feel
the presence of God in your heart as spiritual joy, peace, Divine love.
Because we learn from the Holy Gospels that the fear of the Lord is the beginning
of wisdom (Ps. 110:9). Theres a great deal of human wisdom now. So many
things have been discovered and invented. But very few of the wise men of this
world give glory to God, Who gave them the mind, wisdom and power to discover
and create these things. Most of them say, I did it! But there is
no passion worse than egotism before God. No action, no deed that is done egotistically,
is accepted by God. Thus, the proud man, no matter what he does, descends moment
by moment, hour by hour, into the depths of hell.
7. Mistakes in Practicing the Jesus Prayer
Question: What are the more serious mistakes made by those who practice the
Answer: Pride of the mind is the greatest danger and few are delivered from
it. You can defeat it only if you are humble-minded. But humble-mindedness should
be firmly rooted in your soul, heart and thinking. Humble-mindedness is a virtue
which is acquired through great efforts and spiritual struggles. We must fight,
and the All-good God, seeing our pains, will not leave us to be defeated by
the demons. We must be careful, especially with the sin of judging our neighbor.
For instance, you see a man talking to a woman and start judging them, thinking
that theyll commit fornication. At that moment, the spirit of fornication
will enter your soul, mind, and heart.
Question: While practicing the Jesus Prayer, there may occur in our heart a
warmth which is from the spirit of fornication. How can we be delivered from
Answer: Father, this is the biggest problem! If you do not have humility, then,
no matter what you do, delusion and demonic temptation will appear. Thats
why the Holy Prophet David tells us, I was brought low and He saved me (Ps.
114:6)! We can be delivered from all the temptations you enumerated in your
book The Prayer of Jesus: The Way of Uniting the Mind with the Heart, and from
others which you did not enumerate, if we have humble-mindedness. The devil
cant enter the heart of a man who has humble-mindedness. The most powerful
weapon against the demons that each of us has is humble-mindedness. Its
not prostrations or fasting or all-night vigils, because if you dont have
humble-mindedness, at the first demonic attack your soul will be defiled by
the wicked spirits of fornication, vainglory, anger, etc. So, if you dont
have humble-mindedness, salvation is difficult and full of temptations. These
temptations are allowed by God so that you can see your infirmities and humble
yourself. See what the Holy Apostle Paul tells us: We wrestle not against flesh
and blood, but against
spiritual wickedness in high places (Eph. 6:12).
But we cannot conquer unless we have humble-mindedness! If you say with humble-mindedness:
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner! the hostile
devil will not be able to draw near us with his temptations. The tempter, the
devil, draws near when we become high-minded or accept thoughts and words of
pride and vainglory from people or demons; for instance: See how much
youve advanced in praying! or, You can see that youre
not like others! In fact, this is the goal toward which the devil strives
in order to make us high-minded, and in this way to deprive us of prayer.
Question: But can the devil attack us with thoughts of anger, envy, hatred,
fornication and other similar thoughts?
Answer: Yes. Thats why you should uproot your main passions from your
heartthrough Confession, penance, prayer, good deeds, and almsgiving.
Question: But the Holy Fathers say that the practice of the Jesus Prayer helps
the most with the quelling of a mans passions!
Answer: Of course! These must be done together: the Jesus Prayer along with
the good Christian works which I mentioned before. The Jesus Prayer changes
the old man into the new, spiritual, Divine man. When you establish Jesus Christ
in your mind, soul and heart, you have become a throne of Divinity, a temple
of the Holy Spirit. And Divine Grace brings purity and holiness to your mind,
soul, and heart. But for this we must make an effort. Before receiving Communion
of the Holy Mysteries, we should purify our soul and body, saying the Jesus
Prayer. And when we want to sleep, we should say the Jesus Prayer. The Grace
of the Holy Spirit and our guardian angel will be with us if we fall asleep
having the name of our Lord Jesus Christ in our mind.
Question: What can you tell us about warmth of the kidneys, which is natural,
and which can occur during the practice of the Jesus Prayer?
Answer: The Holy Neptic  Saints teach us that this warmth which comes from the
kidneys is a natural warmth, which is born of the work of the will. This warmth
brings harshness, agitation and coldness into the soul. One who prays should
avoid this warmth while practicing this prayer. He should pay no attention to
it, and should not concentrate on it. Its good to do physical work, which
will lead to the disappearance of this warmth. Its not an easy thing to
reach perfection by means of the Jesus Prayer, but we should labor and fight
spiritually, because God does not ask anything of us that is beyond our strength.
Question: If you pray while having bad thoughts (of pride, anger, fornication,
etc.), can these irritate the other fathers and brothers in the monastery too?
Answer: If you have bad spirits in your heart while practicing the Prayer,
they will fight against the other fathers and brothers in the monastery, too.
Question: How is it better to say the Prayer of Jesus, in the full or the short
form? Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!
or, Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me! or, Jesus, have mercy
on me! or, Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
Answer: It depends on ones mind and on his spiritual state. Its
best to say it completely, because in this case we recognize the Divinity of
our Savior Jesus Christ, we ask for His mercy and we acknowledge our sinfulness.
But when theres much disturbance within us and outside us and we cant
concentrate anymore, then we cry with repentance, Jesus! Jesus! Jesus!
Its important to cry out with repentance!
Question: What is good for a beginner to do in order to learn and practice
the Jesus Prayer?
Answer: First of all, with the help of Divine Grace, a beginner should stop
committing great sins. For this a beginner should look for a good spiritual
father for Confession and in order to make a good Christian beginning. Then,
he should regularly attend the Divine Liturgy, as often as possible; he should
fulfill his daily rule of prayers and prostrations given by his spiritual father,
and practice the Jesus Prayer twice a day for at least fifteen minutes, in a
quiet place. He should learn and practice the foundation of all good works,
the virtue of humble-mindedness, because if you do not humble yourself before
God, men, and demons  you will lose everything. He should cut off his own will,
live in obedience, and accept joyfully whatever happens to him. Failure to cut
off ones own will, contradicting others, and justifying oneself represent
the beginning of high-mindedness.
Thats why you should humble yourself
and be obedient. When you are sincere, not doubting, but have humble-mindedness,
the Grace of the Holy Spirit will descend upon you. This is a good foundation
and you will be able to grow spiritually, fighting against temptations, having
the Jesus Prayer as an unconquerable weapon. If you have humble-mindedness,
you can defeat the passions. This does not mean that you have become perfect;
but when you have the Grace of humble-mindedness, with the help of Gods
power you can struggle against the passions, sinful men, and the demons.
Question: How can we keep our mind purified from evil thoughts?
Answer: If you humble yourself, the Grace of the Holy Spirit will keep your
mind pure. But if you do not obey, if you do not cut off your will, if you do
not humble yourself, you distance yourself from Gods Grace and cannot
resist unclean, demonic thoughts.
Question: Are there moments in which Gods Grace leaves us?
Answer: The moments in which Gods Grace leaves us are those in which
we commit great sins. But he who has humble-mindedness is never abandoned by
* Webmaster Note: The original article sections were misnumbered. There was no part 4.
- The Othodox Word, no. 217 (2001), pp. 85101.
- See The Othodox Word, no. 216 (2001), pp. 1925; and no. 217, pp. 9495.
- See The Othodox Word, no. 220 (2001), pp. 22840.
- See The Othodox Word, no. 216 (2001), pp. 1319.
- See ibid.
- Not yet translated into English.Ed.
- The Romanian phrase smerita cugetare, literally humble thinking,
is translated here as humble-mindedness. This is distinct from smerenie,
- In saying that we should humble ourselves before demons, the Elder is obviously
not saying that we should acquiesce to them. Rather, we should repel their attempts
to sow the seeds of pride in us, and at the same time we should not pridefully
think we can overcome their temptations on our own, without Gods help.Ed.
- Another name given to the daily cycle of Church services.Ed.
- Kliros: the place in church where the services are read and sung.Ed.
- Neptic: from the Greek word nepsis, meaning spiritual watchfulness and sobriety.
- See note 2 on p. 11 above.
Translated from the Romanian by Gratia-Lavinia Constantinescu.
Orthodox Word, Vol. 41, No. 1 (#240Jan-Feb, 2005), pp. 5-26. Posted on 6 Dec, 2005 (n.s.).