In praying the Jesus Prayer, we should not ‘hop around’ various names and intentions: we should once and for all fold into all our being all those people and all those intentions for which we want to pray, and concentrate on the Prayer. It is a temptation to ‘hop around’ names and intentions; that prevents us from progressing into the depths of the Prayer so as to purify our inner being, optimally so as to purify our heart in conscious sobriety.
When we are praying the Jesus Prayer or an allied prayer, such as the Our Father, we should optimally have our mind in our heart in silence and stillness, praying the Prayer with intent. This can become even painful, so as to give meaning to the word of St Silouan the Athonite that to pray for someone is to shed blood. For in our very stillness, alone before God with our mind in our heart, our very self invokes the God who is before us: we are quite literally as one before Another. Our whole being is focused on the words of the Prayer in the depths of our heart, where is also our mind, united to the Prayer. Thus, united to the Prayer are our mind and our heart and our intent. This is a painful but fruitful experience.
As we progress in the Prayer in this way, we descend ever more deeply into our being, ever finding that we must ‘repent’ in order to begin to make progress in making the words of the Prayer, whatever formula we use, ‘our own’. This is a never-ending road, a never-ending battle against Ego. It is a never-ending battle for sobriety, in the sense of St Hesychios of the first volume of the Philokalia.
However, there is another road of the Jesus Prayer that will intercept and cut off this road of sober intercessory prayer: that is to emphasize the sentiment or emotions. We should not pursue tears or compunction or other emotional states; we should let them come to us naturally. When they come, we should not dwell on them. We should rather dwell on the sober invocation of God with our mind in the depths of our heart, soul and will.
To be able to pray the Prayer in this way, we must have made progress in descending into our heart with our mind, and we must have made progress in combating passionate thoughts. This is mental ascesis. Mental ascesis is the interior rejection of thoughts which form in our consciousness, which thoughts are expressions of any one of the eight passions.
In the present series on combating the passions, we are discussing how to combat those eight passions, largely at the more practical and exterior level of life in a coenobium. As a Hesychast once said to George: ‘I knew a fellow who early left the coenobium for the hermitage, and although he learned to put his mind into his heart, when he did so he found that he did not have the strength to reject the tempting thoughts. In despair he left the monastic state.’ You must make much progress in combating in the objective conditions of your life the passions that we are discussing, before you can become a monk, before you can become a Hesychast practising the Jesus Prayer in silence and tranquil peace.