Monday, December 14, 2015

How the Jesus Prayer Differs from the Hindu Mantra ( St. Paisios )

One of the greatest spiritual gifts that Elder Paisios gave me was his guidance along the mystical path of the Jesus Prayer. This started at the beginning of our acquaintance and continued until his repose twelve years later. The Jesus Prayer consists of the repetition of the phrase "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me."' The Jesus Prayer is not recited as a Mantra, but as a prayer to the Person of Christ.

Prayer, as I learned, is a relationship between two persons, God and man, who move towards each other. Thus, the swiftness or slowness with which a person advances in prayer depends on both the human and divine wills. Neither the freedom of God in His sovereignty nor the freedom of man in his free choice are ever violated. For his part, man offers his good intention, his labors, and his desire to draw near to God. God, in turn, offers His grace...

When yogis claim that the Jesus Prayer resembles their own mantras, they are in fact trying to fit the Jesus Prayer into their own Procrustean bed. Of course, there are similarities, but there are also enormous differences-both a table and a horse have four legs, but to conclude that they are consequently the same would be an error of the crudest sort. But this is just the kind of error the yogis make when they claim that the Jesus Prayer is a kind of mantra. A brief examination of the essential differences between the Jesus Prayer and a mantra should provide those with an open mind the wherewithal to draw the proper conclusions.

First, consider how the Orthodox tradition understands the meaning of the Jesus Prayer: "Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me." The word "Lord" is the name for God most frequently encountered in the Old Testament in the oft-repeated formula "Thus saith the Lord ..." or in the commandments: I am the Lord thy God. When Orthodox Christians call Jesus Christ, "Lord," they are confessing that He is the God of the Old Testament Who spoke to the patriarchs-Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. The Word is the Person who gave the law to Moses. In other words, the One who spoke to the prophets was none other than the second Person of the Holy Trinity, Who later took flesh and was united with human nature in the Person of Jesus Christ. Furthermore, when we say "Lord Jesus Christ"-with faith, with all our heart's strength-we come under the influence of the Holy Spirit, as Saint Paul says: No man can say that Jesus is the Lord but by the Holy Spirit (1 Cor 12:3).

Having recognized the existence of the true personal God outside and beyond his own self, from this God a Christian asks "mercy." The elder once told me, "Mercy contains all things. Love, forgiveness, healing, restoration, and repentance all fit within the word 'mercy."' It is the mercy of God that brings about repentance, purification from the passions, the illumination of the nous, and, in the end, theosis. From my journey I have learned that salvation comes from the mercy of Christ, the unique Savior of mankind, rather than from my intelligence, my prideful endeavors, or the techniques of yoga. Salvation and theosis are so very precious that it is impossible for anyone to make any effort or do any ascetic labor that would be equivalent to even the smallest fraction of their value.

Indeed, from my conversations with other fathers who were laborers in the Jesus Prayer and from my own experience, I know full well that prayer is a gift from God. Nothing is accomplished by human labor alone, for Christ said, Without Me ye can do nothing (John 15:5), and as the Apostle James bears witness, Every good gift and every perfect gift is from above, and cometh down from the Father of lights (James 1:17) Even as God granted us existence, in the same way He gradually grants us to know Him and be united with Him through prayer, leading us ultimately to life eternal.

Now, consider how the yogis view a mantra. First of all, there are many mantras, and each refers to one of the many gods of the Hindu pantheon such as Krishna, Rama, Vishnu, or the goddess Kali. There is not one standard explanation given by yogis for the mantras; rather, their explanations are tailored to the receptivity of each listener. For beginners who are not disposed to worship idols, yogis give a pseudo-scientific, mechanistic explanation: they claim that the benefit accrued by repeating the mantra is due to certain frequencies produced by its pronunciation, which cause spiritual vibrations that activate spiritual centers within man. (However, the existence of such centers in man can only be taken on faith-if someone willingly chooses to believe such a claim.) For those who are inclined towards psychological interpretations, the yogis present the repetition of a mantra as a type of auto-suggestion that enables the practitioner to program his inner world according to positive models. When addressing those who have become more involved with Hinduism and now believe in many gods, the yogis claim that the worshipper receives the blessing of whatever god is being invoked.

What constitutes the infinite distance separating the Christian Jesus Prayer from the Hindu mantra, however, is that which lurks behind the name of the god being invoked in a mantra and invited into the soul. Through the mouth of the Holy Prophet David, God declares, All the gods of the nations are demons (1 Psalm 95:5)––In other words, behind the names Krishna, Rama, or Shiva are demons lying In wait. Once they are invoked by the use of the mantra, the door is open for the devil to begin his theatrical productions, using sounds, images, dreams, and the imagination in general in order to drag the practitioner deeper into deception.

Another significant difference between the Christian Jesus Prayer and the Hindu mantra is the diametrically opposed viewpoints of the two faiths regarding techniques and the human subject. I recall a conversation I had with Niranjan after he had given me permission to begin to practice some supposedly powerful yoga techniques. I said to him, "It's fine practicing the techniques, but what happens to the human passions of greed, lust for power, vainglory, and selfishness? Aren't we concerned about them?" "They disappear," he replied, "through the practice of the techniques." "Do they just disappear like that, on their own?" I asked. "Yes, they disappear automatically, while you are practicing the techniques."

What an astonishing assertion: physical exercises can wipe out the inclinations that a person's soul acquired in life through conscious choices. But, in reality, man, as a self-determining and free moral agent, can change the conscious aspect of his personality and his moral sense only by the use of his own free will to make conscious decisions in real-life situations. Any external means to automatically induce such a change in a person's consciousness without his consent circumvent man's free will, obliterate his volition, and destroy his freedom, reducing man to a spineless puppet manipulated by a marionettist's strings. Hinduism's relentless insistence on properly performed techniques with automatic results degrades man by depriving him of his most precious quality: the self-governing free will. It restricts the boundless human spirit within a framework of mechanical methods and reflexes.

Orthodox Christian Faith, on the contrary, recognizes and honors the gift of human freedom as a divine trait. This recognition and approach help man to be actualized as a free being. Precisely on account of the human freedom to choose, man's often- unpredictable responses can't be limited to the mechanical reflexes of a closed system, but can innovatively turn in any spiritual direction that he, as a free subject, wills. This is why Orthodoxy is not adamant about techniques and methods. In freedom and with respect, Orthodoxy seeks the human heart, encouraging the individual to do what is good for the sake of the good, and pointing out the appropriate moral stance of the soul before God, which an individual can then freely choose to embrace.

Genuine spiritual development entails a deepening familiarity with God and with one's own self, acquired through moral choices that a person freely makes in the depths of his heart. Spiritual progress is a product of man's way of relating to himself, to his fellow man, and to God by the good use of his innate moral freedom. This is why Christ calls out, If any man wills to come after Me, let him freely deny himself (Matt 16:24)––that is, without being deceived, without being psychologically compelled, and without being forced, all of which are inappropriate to the spiritual nobility of Christian life.

Saint Porphyrios had a small parrot that he taught to pray in order to illustrate the absurdity of some Christians' empty repetition of the words of prayer, as well as the ridiculousness of the opinion commonly presented in Eastern religions that someone can make moral advances by physical exercises or breathing techniques. Every so often, the parrot would mechanically say, "Lord, have mercy." The elder would respond, “Look, the parrot can say the prayer, but does that mean that it is praying? Can prayer exist without the conscious and free participation of the person who prays?"

The Gurus, Young Man, and Elder Paisios by Dionysios Farasiotis, St Herman of Alaska Brotherhood, 2008, pp 276-285

Love for the person with AIDS ( St. Porphyrios )

At one time, I took a sick person to him who was diagnosed with AIDS. Some of my friends who knew that I was friendly with the Elder asked me to help this sick person who was extremely depressed. The AIDS victim was in really bad shape and he wanted to commit suicide. When I heard that he wanted to commit suicide, I sent him to another priest who was also a doctor. His name is Fr. Stamatis. The sick person went to this priest but the priest advised him to go and see Elder Porphyrios.
I took him to the Elder. He was a person who did not appear to look like a Christian. He had a very worldly look about him. I left him in the cell with the Elder. The Elder kept him there for a long time. When he finished, he came out of the cell crying but he was very serene with a prayer rope in his hand that the Elder had given him. He was crying but not in a way that made him appear helpless. His eyes were filled with light. The Elder called me into his cell. “Come in here so that I can speak to you. What was that soul that you brought to me? What a marvelous soul that was!”
The person from that encounter repented and he truly lives in a spirit of penance. I have seen him many times since then as a doctor. I see that he has been reborn. He visits monasteries. He goes to confession. He receives Holy Communion and he thanks Christ for AIDS because this has become for him the reason for his true salvation.

From the book: “Miraculous Occurences and Counsels of Elder Porphyrios

Abstaining for Lent


Fasting, by definition, means abstaining from food, drink, and pleasures. Sometimes abstinence is manifested by not eating anything at all (for one or several days). Most frequently, however, it is accomplished by giving up meat and dairy products and switching to vegetarian foods. In medical terms fasting is similar to dieting. It is a diet with an important spiritual goal.

The necessity of abstinence of food arises from the human constitution itself, possessing not only a body but an immortal soul. Because of the sinfulness of our nature, the harmony between our body and soul has been disturbed. As a result, the desires of the flesh often predominate and sometimes completely stifle all the soul's endeavors for righteousness. A person becomes a pitiable slave to his passions and at times worse than an animal. It is possible to restrain one's physical desires and to allow the soul's noble aspirations to bloom and strengthen with the help of prayer and fasting.

It should be noted that the commandment of abstinence was given to our forefathers Adam and Eve when they were still in paradise and, hence, were sinless. We refer here to the commandment forbidding them to eat the fruits from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil (Genesis 2:17). Fasting became especially necessary after their fall, and we see in the Bible that righteous people throughout the Old and New Testaments fasted during certain periods of their lives. A few examples follow.

The great prophet Moses, the law-giver of the Old Testament, had been fasting for 40 days before he received the Ten Commandments from God on Mt. Sinai (Exodus 34:38). The righteous king David fasted frequently as we can conclude from his God-inspired psalms. The great prophet Elijah, (1 Kings ch.19) who was taken up to heaven alive, also used to fast. The prophet Daniel had fasted before he received the revelation from God about the destiny of his people (Acts 10). The prophet John the Baptist fasted to a great extent and also taught his disciples to do so. The prophetess Anna, living at the temple for about fifty years, served God by fasting and praying throughout the day and night. For that she became worthy of God's grace and received His revelation about the birth of Jesus Christ (Luke 2:37).

Even the sinless God-and-man our Lord Jesus Christ fasted for 40 days to prepare for His mission of the salvation of the world. Following His example, the Apostles and the early Christians used to fast also, as can be found in the epistles of Saint Paul (Acts 13:3; 1 Cor. 7:5 and 9:27; 2 Cor. 6:5 and 11:27). From early Church history we learn that the dedication of particular days of the year to fasting became a widespread practice among Christians in the first few centuries. That is why in our time also the Church gives such great importance to Lent and states that without prayer and fasting spiritual growth is impossible.

The books of the New Testament teach about the benefits of fasting. In answer to the Pharisees' reproach that Christ's disciples did not fast, the Lord answered that the time to fast had not yet arrived because the Bridegroom (Christ) was with them. But when the Bridegroom will be taken away (that is, when Christ dies), then they will fast (Luke 5:33-35). Therefore, since apostolic times it has become customary to fast on Wednesdays, when Judas betrayed Christ, and on Fridays, when Jesus Christ was crucified on the cross. For the same reason the Church timed Lent to the days preceding the Passion Week. To the disciples' question as to why they could not drive out a demon, the Lord answered: "This kind does not go out except by prayer and fasting" (Matthew 17:21). In fact, demons for the most part work through our carnal nature, arousing in it improper passions, thus pushing us towards all kinds of sins, and in this way controlling our will.

To free ourselves of their influence, it is necessary to weaken the body and strengthen the soul through abstinence and prayer. Of course, one has to fast for the sake of improving oneself and not to be praised by people, as the Lord explained in his Sermon on the Mount. He said: "So that you do not appear to men to be fasting, but to your Father who is in the secret place; and your Father who sees in secret will reward you openly" (Matthew 6:18).

The heirs of the Apostles, the Holy Fathers and teachers of the Church, impressed on Christians the importance of fasting during Lent. "Do not scorn the Forty day Fast," writes Saint Ignatius of Antioch to the Philippians. "It is the imitation of the life of Christ." The Blessed Jerome in the name of all Christians of his time said, "We fast during Lent according to the tradition of the Apostles." "The longer the abstinence, the easier the acquirement of salvation," teaches Blessed Augustine. According to the teachings of St. Asterius of Amasis, Lent is "the teacher of moderation, the mother of virtue, the tutor of God's children, the instructor of the confused, the tranquility of thoughts, the support of life, a lasting and undisturbed peace; its strictness and importance weaken passion, extinguish anger and rage, quench and calm any worries which arise from overeating."

Blessed John Kolov said: "When a king plans to capture an enemy's city, he first of all stops its supply of provisions. Then its citizens, pressed by hunger, submit to him. Something similar happens with carnal desires: if a person will spend his life in fasting and hunger then improper desires will fade away." According to the teaching of John Chrysostom, "Just as non-restraint from food is, at times, the cause of countless evils for humanity, so fasting and contempt for carnal pleasures were always the cause of great blessings … As light sailing vessels speedily cross the seas and those overburdened with cargo sink, so fasting, clearing up our mind, helps us to cross the turmoils of our present life and to strive for heaven and spiritual things."

Fasting, according to the teaching of Basil the Great, brings forth prophets, strengthens the warriors of Christ, and makes the law-givers wiser. Fasting is the good guardian of the soul, the weapon of the valiant. It repels temptations, is the cohabitant of sobriety and the foundation of chastity. Fasting carries prayer to heaven, becoming its wings.

The Holy Fathers, explaining the importance of abstaining from food, insisted that one should abstain simultaneously from vices because the moral improvement of a Christian is the main goal of fasting.

"The benefit of fasting," teaches Saint Basil the Great, "is not limited by the abstinence of food alone, because true fasting is the eradication of evil deeds. Everyone should become liberated from lies. Forgive your neighbor when he insults you; forgive him his debts. You don't eat meat, but hurt your brother … We will fast in a way that is pleasing to God. A true fast is the elimination of evil, restraint of what one says, suppression of anger, the alienation of lust, malignant gossip, lies, and perjury. Abstinence from all these is true fasting." In summary, just as we fell into sin and lost heavenly bliss because of the lack of restraint of our forefathers, so through voluntary fasting we can restore in ourselves the grace of God.