Sunday, December 6, 2015

Science Studies the Jesus Prayer

Can seven words—Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me—change lives?
It may seem a lot of effort over just seven words: Finding 110 Eastern Orthodox Christians, giving them a battery of tests ranging from psychology to theology to behavioral medicine, and then repeating the tests 30 days later. But the seven words—"Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me" (a.k.a. the Jesus Prayer)—are among the most enduring in history. What Boston University psychologist George Stavros, Ph.D., wanted to find out was whether repeating the Jesus Prayer for ten minutes each day over the 30 days would affect these people's relationship with God, their relationships with others, their faith maturity, and their "self-cohesion" (levels of depression, anxiety, hostility, and interpersonal sensitivity). In short, Stavros was asking whether the Jesus Prayer can play a special role in a person's "journey to the heart."
The answer—at least on all the scales that showed any significant effect compared to the control group—turned out to be a resounding yes. Repeating the contemplative prayer deepened the commitment of these Christians to a relationship with a transcendent reality. Not only that, it reduced depression, anxiety, hostility, and feelings of inferiority to others. So powerful were the psychological effects of the prayer that Stavros urges his colleagues to keep it in mind as a healing intervention for clients. He recommends that the prayer be used along with communal practices so that one's relationship with God and others is "subtly and continuously tutored." In other words, going inside to find God does not mean going in it alone.

No terror on earth can be compared with that horror that I experienced in the life after death ( Nun Tatiana )

Following the early morning service, at 5:00 a.m., I had scarcely stretched out to rest, when an unusual vision began. I saw myself in St. Petersburg, on Vasiliev Island. I was going to Divine Liturgy at the Cathedral of St. Nicholas. I was wearing my monastic Schema and sitting in a small carriage.

Suddenly I found myself in a dark square. Frightened and overcome by trembling, I ran in different directions, looking for a way out of this terrible situation. Suddenly, I saw hundreds of people coming. They were all laypeople. Their faces were dark, smitten with an everlasting sadness, with faces just like my own face.
“Who are you?” I asked them.
They answered: “ We have suddenly passed over to Eternity, just as you have.”
What I felt at that moment defies description! Fear and trembling permeated my entire being. Just then, a radiant man, whose countenance was veiled by the light he was emitting, came to me and said, “Follow me.” And he took me to the place where the souls of the dead are judged.
He took me past forests, steppes, and buildings. The steppes were endless, and I understood that I had left behind my life on earth and that I had entered into life beyond the grave, but unprepared and unexpectedly.
He then led me into a chamber, where a multitude of laypeople – men and women, adults and children – were assembled. They were all possessed by a perpetual grief. There was a lady sitting at an enormous table in the middle of the chamber, and she said to me: “This place is prepared for you until the Second Coming of the Lord.”
I looked at all of the people there and asked: “What do you do here? Do you pray to God in this place?”
They replied sorrowfully: “In Eternity the Lord will not listen to us, because we have behaved carelessly during our life on earth. We will never have the boldness to call upon the Name of the Lord. When we were living on earth, we were given the task of suffering after ourselves and of praying for our souls. The command of Christ, ‘Pray without ceasing’ (Thessalonians 5:17), was our duty. Although we should have said the Jesus Prayer throughout our lives, with our every breath, we paid no attention to the state of our hearts. But just as one cannot live without air, so also the soul dies without unceasing prayer. We were individuals who conducted ourselves properly; we fulfilled all of our duties – but not the most important one, that of prayer.”
When I heard this, I began to pray and make the sign of the Cross. And what happened? To my horror, I realized that even the sound of my voice was coming back to me! I looked about me and saw a metal ceiling, walls, and a painted wooden floor. I then began to shake with fear from the awareness that I could not run away from that unpleasant situation.
The people around me said: “In Eternity, the Lord will not listen to us. Only those who are alive on earth can remember us before Him.”
And then the lady began speaking to me: “These people were good Christians. They loved the Lord and performed good deeds for their neighbor, but they did not acquire the Lord in their souls. They ended up here, like you, because of their negligent lives, since they thought that everyone lived the same way.”
“Oh!” I said. “Oh, how I am tormented and suffer! It is as if fire is burning me!” I fell down, with the sensation that my body was being separated from my bones.
“What kind of life did you desire?” the lady asked me. I replied, shaking: “I would have liked the kind of life such that, when I died, I would see earthly and heavenly things, the Lord and the Mother of God.”
At this point, the lady smiled and said: “Only the Saints enter Eternity in this way – those who, through the Jesus Prayer, acquired the Lord in their hearts while they were alive. But you are a nun, and yet you did not teach yourself this! By means of this prayer, the Grace of God comes to dwell in you, and when the soul is parted from the body, it is with Christ and does not feel this trembling that you are now experiencing. Paradise is in a man’s soul; where the Lord is present, there Paradise is also. You should speak about your vision to all monastics and to all Christians who live on earth and are going to perdition on account of their negligence. Only do not speak of it to unbelievers and those whose faith is weak. The Almighty is able to raise up a man who has been dead for a hundred years, in order to prove that there is life after death; but a person so raised would not be believed, and they would kill him.”
While the lady was uttering these words, I suddenly felt some hope that I would be returning to earth! All of those who were in the metal chamber pierced me with their glares, saying: “Well, then, do you intend for her to leave this fearful torture chamber?”
The lady continued: “If someone dies while saying the Jesus Prayer, his soul stands in the presence of the Lord, and he will be inseparable from Him for eternity. Likewise, if a man dies while uttering the prayer, ‘Most Holy Theotokos, save me, a sinner,’ then he will be inseparable from the Mother of God. If someone is not able to utter even a single word, then, if he struggled to attain this prayer during his life on earth, his soul will say it for him on his deathbed. The state in which the soul leaves the body is the state in which it abides forever. There will be no change for the better. Only if one is commemorated (on earth) can he alter the state of his soul.”
Then she said: “O monastics, monastics! You call yourselves monks and nuns, saying that you have abandoned worldly things. But just how do you live? You do not entrust all your problems to God and the Mother of God, but you think: ‘I need to have this and that; I cannot live without this thing or the other thing.’ The Mother of God does not look after such monastics, either in this life or in the next. She only looks after those who entrust all of their problems to her, who withstand afflictions, poverty, and illness in the name of the Mother of God and say: ‘These things must be pleasing to the Queen of Heaven; they have all come upon me in accordance with the will of the Most High.”
“Do you want me to show you the negligent monastics?” the lady continued. “Look.”
And I saw nuns coming towards me – those who served in the Altar and stole money, forever holding in their hands the pieces of paper on which were recorded the people whom the money belonged.
There also came others, who failed to preserve their chastity. Among them were chanters, whose faces were grief-stricken, like my own, wounded by an everlasting sorrow.
“Chant a hymn to the Mother of God; I want to hear one!” I said.
And they responded: “We no longer have such boldness, for when we were living in the monastery, we did not serve her with a pure heart.”
I wept bitterly, for on account of our inattentiveness we were deprived of this blessing of chanting hymns to the Lord and His All-Holy Mother.
* * *

After all of these things that I saw and heard, the man who had taken me into the judgment chambers came and told me: “We will now go to the place where your soul is separated from your body.”
I suddenly awoke on my bed. I was afraid to move. I looked all around my cell, tidied it up, made the sign of the Cross, and uttered a prayer: ‘Glory to God, it was only a dream!’ I had barely managed to say these words, when I suddenly found myself back in the next life, and the man who had been guiding me said to me: “Do not think that you were dreaming. You really were in the life beyond the grave!”

I fell on my knees before him: “Woe is me! How miserable I am! I am back here again. Why was I only concerned about the things in my cell and not about running to get away?”
“Follow me,” he told me. “We will visit many places for twenty days, and afterwards we will return to the place that has been prepared for you to abide in until the Second Coming of the Lord.”
I wept and was unable to walk. He turned his face and looked at me with compassion. I asked him: “Are you my Guardian Angel?”
“Yes,” he replied.
I began to implore him: “Pray to the Most High and return my soul, so that I may repent.”
Then my Guardian Angel said; “I will take you back, but under one condition: that you tell of all that you saw and heard here.”

I fell on my knees and promised that I would do all of this. And suddenly, at that very moment, I felt joy in my soul. The Angel said to me: “The Lord is not in your heart, but you have promised to acquire Him. If you are overcome by foolish embarrassment and do not fulfill your promise, then you will return here to your previous place. I will be with you and I will observe how you do all of these things.”

At once I was back on my bed. I sprang up, seeing the man standing beside my bed. I ran to my cell-attendant, saying: “I was in the life after death!” After that, I ran from there to the door, to tell all of the Sisters. The man was still standing on the same spot. I was afraid that something was going to happen to me. I opened the door to tell the Sisters everything, with out embarrassment and without concealing anything. Then I saw that the man had disappeared through the wall. I went again into the corridor in a state of rapture; I summoned the Sisters.

They hastened to surround me and were astonished at the extraordinary change that they saw in me, which had come over me in such a short span of time. They had seen me totally calm twenty minutes earlier at our regular service. I fell on my knees before them and told them that from this moment on I would change completely.
No terror on earth can be compared with that horror that I experienced in the life after death. And to this day, I constantly speak with everyone about what I saw, without any hesitation. Amen!

From the Greek translation, by the Holy Monastery of Ss. Cyprian and Justina in Fili, Greece, of the Russian book, “Orthodox Miracles in the Twentieth Century”, pp. 305-311.

Almsgiving gives rise to many blessings - St. John Chrysostom

Build palaces and mansions in Heaven without the help of engineers and contractors.
Buildings are erected in Heaven by the poor whom you help here on earth. These structures never
deteriorate or collapse.

Furthermore, they also help you to win God’s favor, and they purify you from sins—sometimes they can even deliver you from death!
Do not be surprised with what I say.

Everyone, of course, is powerless before death;
almsgiving, none the less, can conquer even death itself. This is confirmed by the account of Tabitha.
Tabitha was a Christian who lived in Jope during the time of the Apostles. As described in the
Holy Scriptures, she performed many good works and continuously gave alms.

At some point she became ill and died. At that time the Apostle Peter happened to be in a
neighboring city named Lydda, which was not far from Joppa. Two Christians from Jope went to
find the Apostle and informed him that this compassionate and charitable woman had just died. Upon hearing this, the Apostle immediately followed them.

When he arrived in Joppa, he proceeded to the second story of the house where they had placed the body of the deceased. There, he was encircled
by many widows; all of them were crying and showing him the clothes and garments that Tabitha had bought for them while she was still alive.

What did the Apostle Peter do then? He kneeled and prayed. Next he turned to the corpse and said, “Tabitha, arise!” That very same moment the dead woman opened her eyes, and, when she saw the Apostle, she got up. The Apostle Paul grabbed her hand and pulled her to her feet.

Then he called all the Christians and the widows
who were gathered there and presented her to them (Acts 9:36-41). Do you see how she was rewarded for the alms and help she gave to those poor and needy widows? The blessing she received was incomparably greater than the alms she gave, even if she had given all the money in the world.

St. John Chrysostom