“The Jesus prayer and the prayer of the heart”, by Archimandrite Placide Deseille – Part II

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Please find here the end of the conference.
The first part of the conference can be found here.

There is no method to reach it, as everything depends on the grace of God and on our humility. Nevertheless, we can say that the Jesus prayer practiced in the active phase of the spiritual life can prepare the soul to it better than any other form of prayer. It leads indeed to a certain impoverishment of the discursive intellect, it does not incite the mind to reflections or to multiple considerations. It is a simple supplication of the soul before Christ. In itself, it already brings a great simplification in our mental activity and therefore leads us to the discovery of these deep instincts inscribed in us by the Holy Spirit. And these are the very essence of prayer.

Saint Isaac the Syrian, Homily 8 :

Note by the translator:
Father Placide actually quotes a translation he did himself from Discourse 21 – Greek edition. Here below, we have mostly followed the text as published in The Ascetical Homilies of Saint Isaac the Syrian (Holy Transfiguration Monastery: Boston – Revised second edition, 2011, pp.185-188), but slightly edited it when necessary as to better reflect Father Placide’s own translation. These edits are in italics.

BLESSED is the man who knows his own weakness, because this knowledge becomes to him the foundation, root, and beginning of all goodness. For whenever a man learns and truly perceives his own weakness, at that moment he strengthens his soul on every side against the laxity that dims knowledge, and he increases watchfulness in himself. But no one can perceive his own infirmity if he is not allowed to be tempted a little, either by things that oppress his body, or his soul. For then, comparing his own weakness with God’s help, he will straightaway understand the greatness of the latter. And again, whenever he looks over the multitude of his devisings, and his wakefulness, his abstinence, the sheltering, and the hedging about of his soul by which he hopes to find assurance for her, and yet sees that he has not obtained it; or again, if his heart has no calm because of his fear and trembling: then at that moment let him understand, and let him know that this fear of his heart shows and reflects that he is altogether in need of some other help. For the heart testify inwardly, and reflects the lack of something by the fear that strikes and wrestles within it. And because of this, he is confounded, since he is not able to abide in a state of surety; for God’s help, it is said, is the only help that saves. (cf. Ps. 59:13 ; 107:13, etc.).

2. When a man knows that he is in need of divine help, he makes many prayers. And the more he multiplies them, his heart is humbled, for there is no man who will not be humbled when he is making supplication and entreaty. “A heart that is broken and humbled, God will not despise” (Psalm 50:17) . Therefore, as long as the heart is not humbled, it cannot cease from wandering; for humility collects the heart.

But when a man becomes humble, at once [divine] mercy encircles him, and then his heart is aware of divine help, because it finds a certain power and assurance moving in itself. And when a man perceives the coming of divine help, and that it is this which aids him, then at once his heart is filled with faith, and he understands from this that prayer is the refuge of help, a source of salvation, a treasury of assurance, a haven that rescues from the tempest, a light to those in darkness, a staff of the infirm, a shelter in time of temptations, a medicine at the height of sickness, a shield of deliverance in war, an arrow sharpened against the face of his Enemy, and, to speak simply: the entire multitude of these good things is found to have its entrance through prayer.

From this time forward he revels in the prayer of faith, his heart glistens with clear assurance, and does not continue in its former blindness and the mere speech of the tongue. When he thus perceives these things, he will acquire prayer in his soul, like some treasure. And from his great gladness the form of prayer is turned into shouts of thanksgiving. This is the very thing pronounced by one who has defined the form proper to each aspect of our spiritual life: “Prayer is joy that sends up thanksgiving.” Here he speaks of the prayer that is achieved through the knowledge of God, that is, prayer that has been sent from God. For at that moment a man does not pray with labor and weariness (as was the case before experiencing this grace), and but now his heart is full of joy and wonder, it continually wells up motions of confession and gratitude while he silently bows the knee. And from his vehement inner ardor, since he is very greatly moved by astonishment at this comprehension of God’s grace, he suddenly raises his voice in praise and glorification of Him, and sends up thanksgiving; and he moves his tongue while being held with great awe.

3. If any man has reached this in truth and not in fancy, and has made many observations of this reality in himself, and has come to know its many differences by reason of his great experience, he knows what I say and that there is nothing here contrary to the truth. And from this time forward let him cease from pondering vanities, and let him remain with God by means of unbroken prayer, while being in anxiety and trepidation lest he be deprived of the magnitude of God’s succor.

4. All these good things are born to a man from the recognition of his own weakness. For out of his craving for God’s help, he presses on toward God by the petitions of his prayer. And to the extent that he draws near to God in his intention, God also draws near to him through His gifts, and will not take His overshadowing away from him, on account of his great humility; for just like the widow before the judge, he cries out to be avenged of his adversary (Lc 18:15).

But for this very reason the compassionate God defers in granting a man’s requests, even so that this may become a cause for him to draw near Him, and for his need’s sake to stay close to Him who is the brimming fount of succor. Some of his petitions God grants him promptly ( I mean those without which no one can be saved), but some He withholds from him. And on certain occasions He restrains and dispels from him the scorching assault of the Enemy, while on others, He permits him to be tempted, that this trial may become to him a cause for drawing near to God ( as I said before), and also that he may be instructed, and have the experience of temptations. And such is the word of Scripture: “The Lord left many nations, without driving them out; neither delivered He them into the hands of Jesus, the son of Navi, to chastise the sons of Israel by them, and that the tribes of the sons of Israel might be taught, and learn war” (Judges 2 :23ff).

5. For the righteous man who has no consciousness of his own weakness walks on a razor’s edge, and is never far from falling, nor from the ravening lion — I mean the demon of pride. And again, a man who does not know his own weakness falls short of humility; and he who falls short of this, also falls short of perfection; and he who falls short of perfection is forever held by dread, because his city is not founded on pillars of iron, neither open lintels of brass, that is, humility. No man can acquire humility save by humility’s own means, whereby the heart is made contrite and the deliberations of conceit are brought to nought. Indeed the Enemy often finds in him a slight cause whereby he can deflect a man from the path. Without humility the [spiritual] work of man cannot be perfected, and the charter of his liberty does not yet bear the seal of the Spirit, but rather, until now he is a slave, and his work does not rise above fear. For a man cannot correct his work without humility, and he is not instructed except through temptations, and without wisdom he does not acquire humility.

6. Therefore the Lord grants the saints means to acquire humility, through a contrite heart and ardent undistracted prayer, so that those who love Him might draw nigh to Him through humility. Often he jolts them with the passions of their nature, and the falls caused by shameful and polluted thoughts; and often too by rebukes, insults, and the buffetings of men; but sometimes with diseases and bodily ailments; and at other times with poverty, and the utter lack of pressing necessities. And sometimes it is with a torment of excessive fear which He permits to fall upon them in the open warfare of the demons that troubles them strongly; but at times with dire variations, one more oppressive, grievous, and difficult than the next. All these things occur so that they may have causes to be humbled, and lest the slumber of negligence overtake them, either as regards those things from which the ascetic is wont to fall ill, or as regards the fear of things to come. Therefore temptations are necessarily profitable to men.

Source in French

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Emma Cazabonne was born and raised in France. She taught English before entering the Cistercian Order. She translated and published articles relevant to her interest in Cistercian spirituality, the Middle Ages, and Orthodoxy. She moved to the United States in 2001, converted to Orthodoxy in 2008, and married. Her husband is an Orthodox priest. She continued to publish articles, a Cistercian texts anthology, then finally launched her career in literary translation, while teaching French. If you are interested in having your book translated into French, she can be contacted here https://wordsandpeace.com/contact-me/