Saint Paisios of Mount Athos shared that once he stayed alone in his hermit cell, doing his monastic prayer rule. In the utter silence, his heart was set in quiet, peaceful and attentive prayer. At some point, his soul smoothly transferred to a state of contemplation, and he saw the Uncreated Light which filled the whole space of his cell, and Father Paisios himself. This Light penetrated the whole being of the elder and filled him with peace and non-ecstatic quiet bliss which instilled the feeling of humbleness and humility.
Father Paisios was not able to say exactly how long this contemplation of the Uncreated Light lasted. After this moment of grace, Father Paisios started to come to his senses and had to sit down. He grabbed a glass of water, had some food…, and suddenly cried. He was crying because just a moment ago, he was filled with uncreated grace, and now it had seceded and he was back to the mundane everyday things, like food and water.
After the Holy Spirit visited him, the elder more deeply felt his human imperfect nature that has its physical needs.
Father Paisios was thinking, “I am dust and ashes. I should have forgotten about food and about myself in general, after God visited me. I am still such a carnal man…”
When God visits a sinful man, this will always be accompanied by the feeling of unworthiness and deep repentance on man’s part, which differs from the feeling of delusion that often tempts hermits with a high opinion of themselves and their worthiness.
While using this example, I would like to focus on another moment also. Namely, Saint Paisios of Mount Athos, as well as all of the Early Church Fathers, noticed that when grace visits one, during this state of contemplation, they would always lose track of time. In a way, they kind of “dropped out of time itself”. Having united with God, in the state of deification, they assumed His characteristics, one of which is being “outside of time”. Both now and ever and unto the ages of ages eternally. The person does not realize how much time he spends in ecstasy, be it five minutes or the whole day. With the Lord, a day is like a thousand years, and a thousand years are like a day.
I once spoke to my friend, a hieromonk who could not understand and as a result, could not accept the practice of saying the Jesus prayer fast. He was an educated person with a strong logical reasoning and I had to explain to him in a logical way.
“Can you tell me, please, when do you read faster: when you read out loud or in your head?”- “In my head, obviously.” “As an educated person, you are probably familiar with the method of fast reading, when you scan through the text, getting the meaning of the text, without focusing on the linguistic details of it.”- “Yes, sure.”
If this method works with a complex narrative, where the ideas and events are changing quickly, it is surely possible with a short prayer that repeats. We repeat it without pauses where unneeded things can interrupt it. Later when it becomes a habit, one wants to say it again and again. You finish one and the next one is coming, without losing your focus or getting distracted by something else. Our goal is not a full focus, our goal is God. Focus is just a means.
A very important moment in the practice of the Jesus prayer is being in an imageless state in which the mind does not live through logical and visual thinking, but exists in a simpler non-visual, inward thinking way. Such a mind is fast and light because it is simple. It can say the prayer fast and many times. Which carriage will go faster? The one that will have fewer obstacles on the way. The smoother the road is, the faster the trip is. Thoughts matter; they are the obstacles that slow down the movement.
Thoughts come from visual thinking and logical reasoning. Let your mind move into the area of a non-imaginary and simple state and you will have fewer obstacles.
This will also work better, if your mind is not in or out, but through constant work you will train it to be next to your heart. It is very peaceful, non-visual and focused there.
I used the word “next to your heart”, not “in your heart.” This is very important, because only grace can enter your heart, and our business is to stay by the door and knock at it, with humility. We cannot break in the door. It is the most Holy Place, the key for which is with God. No technical tricks will help you enter there by yourself. We are standing by the door with humility and knocking, or even better- just standing and waiting. However, if your humility, work and dedication develop your skill in finding the place next to your heart, this means a lot. It is peaceful and quiet there.
The threshold of the Kingdom of Heaven has a scent of the Kingdom of Heaven.
The prayer here occurs without any linguistic form but through impression, instantly, especially by a person who has a skill of prayer, for whom it works intuitively, very simply, but also very precisely. Without any illusions or fantasies. God is simple, He is also experienced simply, without obstacles and interferences. The Holy Fathers teach us not to overcome obstacles but to work around them while moving only forward, faster and faster. It is not surprising that their interior prayer of a Single Thought would accelerate. This acceleration would break them away from the earth; the laws of friction, of contact, and finally of movement that would change from horizontal and temporary to vertical – directly to God. The vertical stops time. It is the territory of the Holy Spirit.
Once someone told me that it is hard to pray for others with the Jesus prayer, because the image of that person distracts you from God. This would be true if you do not have the skill of interior prayer without using visual images. But if your mind did acquire this experience of prayer without imagining, the person you pray for will go though your prayer as an impression without distracting you from God. You would experience that person as a point without accompanying properties and other difficulties. And most importantly, you can experience two or more people, not like two or three points but like one. And the whole of humankind – like one simple united body.
When they teach you to play the piano, you first learn to hold your hand properly. If this is not done correctly from the beginning, the musician will not be up to standard all of his or her life. In any science, the basics are very important. In the science of all sciences, the Jesus prayer, the mentor forms the correct direction of the novice’s movement. It may not be very clear for a novice at first, he may not understand everything; but he simply trusts his mentor.
It is important to have fewer thoughts, impressions, emotions, fewer complexities and more simplicity, stability and hard work. Everything will come naturally. That is why they say, “Say the Jesus prayer and it will teach you itself. Your spiritual father will only keep an eye on you.”
Simple things can be done faster, for that exact reason they are not difficult. The Fathers of Athos are an example here – they are experts, whose experience cannot be understood theoretically without actively experiencing their holy work.