Saturday, October 01, 2005

The Jesus Prayer 4

Let’s suppose now that you’re Roman Catholic and want to pray the Jesus Prayer. We assume here that you have no interest in leaving Catholicism. Of course, the considerations of the previous post apply, mutatis mutandis, to you also. There are a few other considerations, however, which lead us to recommend that you remain within your own tradition.

The Roman Catholic tradition has a different anthropology from the Orthodox tradition. It views man in a different way. You have been brought up in a culture and in a religious tradition that views man in that way. The spiritual traditions of the Roman Catholic Church speak to men (and women) brought up in that culture and in that religious tradition. When you look at the Jesus Prayer, you do so through the filter of your own culture and religious tradition.

It is a bit like icons. The Roman Catholic Church has a genuine artistic tradition, one that diverged in the early Medieval period from the common artistic tradition of Roman Catholicism and Orthodoxy. Nowadays, Roman Catholics sometimes paint icons, supposedly in the Byzantine tradition. However, having been reared on artistic norms embedded in Western culture, the artists never really succeed. Something else, something rather odd, is the result. So it is with the Jesus Prayer. Something else comes out of it when a non-Orthodox takes up the Jesus Prayer, even if he is Roman Catholic.

There is the further danger of dilettantism. In the Roman Catholic Church today, there is a certain smorgasbord attitude towards religion. Many things are on display. We pick and choose. This is sometimes called by Roman Catholics themselves, ‘cafeteria Catholicism’. In this smorgasbord, the Jesus Prayer is a mild curry. It’s hot all right (‘Eastern’) but not so hot it really burns like yoga. We make sure that we get a prayer stool of the proper height, with the proper design. We worry about whether our prayer rope is knotted in the proper Byzantine style and whether it has 33 knots or 50 or 100. We worry about our posture. That is not what the Jesus Prayer is about.

Next, there is the problem in modern Catholicism of syncretism. Often, use of the Jesus Prayer is a stage on a road that started with a Roman Catholic ‘take’ on meditation with mantras, with a Roman Catholic ‘take’ on yoga. We disagree with this.

Finally, there are movements in the Roman Catholic Church, even among religious, that depart from the historical teachings of the Roman Catholic Church either in morality or in basic Christian dogma. It is not for us to judge, but the persons involved in these things are going to get burned. The Jesus Prayer is just going to add fuel to the flame.

So we recommend that you stay within your own tradition.

If you are interested in Orthodoxy for itself, you should start with a historical treatment of the Orthodox Tradition.

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