Instructions to Nuns. Pray Without Ceasing

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The following text is from Counsels and Instructions of a Spiritual Father To The Nuns of The Moscow Joy of All Who Sorrow Monastery, From the Guidance Of The Great Ascetics and Teachers of Monastic Life, compiled by the spiritual father of the Moscow Joy of All Who Sorrow Convent, Hieromonk Joseph (Moscow 1913). The book was written at the request of the nuns, who asked him for ongoing guidance in the monastic life. As is written in the preface, it is "addressed to the inhabitants of women's monasteries, to all who wish to step upon the path of monastic life, as well as to pious laywomen, who will find here a multitude of soul-saving counsels, and draw from it great profit for their souls." Fr. Joseph slightly changed the texts he cited in order to apply them to nuns, but these instructions are aimed at all spiritual strugglers, regardless of gender.

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On Sobriety and Prayer

Ukrainian nuns. Ukrainian nuns.
Pray without ceasing—and pray without anger or thinking. Know that every thought that distances the mind from God, no matter how good it might seem in and of itself, is from the devil, who constantly sows high-sounding and irrational dreams only in order to distract the mind from God, from His commandments and His good works. The attention must not attach itself to any such thing, but rather it should firmly tear itself away and cleanse the heart in every way from evil suggestions. The devil tries very hard to distance the mind from God and enmesh it in worldly delights. But the soul should try in every way to struggle and not comingle with unclean thoughts; and in order to do this it should not fix its gaze upon that which the ancient and ever cunning seducer paints inside the head; that is, the images of things, faces and deeds into which the evil devil transforms himself. The poor person who has been drawn into this stands in one place, thinking that he is somewhere else; he sees, it seems to him, various faces, talks to them and carries on affairs with them, meanwhile this is none other than diabolical prelest.

Thus, having contained yourself within, bind the mind and cut off all unrelated thoughts with the name of Jesus Christ, who took away the sins of the world. Wherever you body stands, let your mind stand there also, so that there might be nothing between God and your heart that, like some cloud or curtain, might darken the heart and hide the face of God from it. If the mind should be sometimes distracted, it must not linger with those thoughts, so that its comingling with them would not be counted as deeds before God in the Day of Judgment, when God will judge the secret thoughts of men and every human thought will be confessed before Him. This podvig is bound up with many tempations both interior and exterior, but be brave. Blessed is the man who endures temptations, for having been tested, he will receive the incorruptible crown and become the temple of the great King—Christ, Who having built an abode within him, will settle into him and move him.... Having such a promise, let everything go and attend unceasingly to the Lord God; ask nothing more from Him that mercy, and that will be sufficient for you. In asking for mercy, ask for it with humility and contrition of heart, from morning till evening, and if possible, call out to Him all night also:

Lord Jesus Christ and Word of the Living God, through the prayer of the Theotokos have mercy on me.

Force yourself, and I repeat: force yourself, for this work requires great force. It is a narrow and sorrowful path that leads to the door of life, and only those who force themselves will enter in. (The Kingdon of God suffereth violence, and the violent take it by force) (Mt. 11:12). Do not distance yourself from God in your mind, and may your heart preserve the remembrance of the Lord Jesus Christ. The same sweet name repeat and repeat until it makes its resting place in your heart, and Christ will become magnified you.

Watch, and never abandon the rule of this holy prayer, for I have heard from the holy fathers who said: she who abandons this rule is no nun. Whether a nun be eating, drinking, walking or serving, she should ceaselessly call out: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.

Through the remembrance of the name of the Lord Jesus Christ the heart warms itself for the battle against the enemy; through the remembrance of the Lord the laboring soul seeks out everything, the evil and the good: it routes out the evil and implants the good. This remembrance triumphs over all the power of the devil in the heart and catches him, overcomes him and sunders him in half. Tirelessly call on the name of Jesus Christ, and having descended into the depths of the heart, it will burn up all the roots of sin and enliven the soul. Ceaselessly call upon the name of the Lord Jesus, and your heart will swallow the Lord, and the Lord will swallow the heart, and the two will be one. By the way, this is not the work of one day or even two, but sometimes of many years and a long period of time. Much labor and time is required before the enemy is expunged and Christ comes to dwell.

St. Theophan the Recluse

On the Jesus Prayer

The prayer which the holy fathers call the Jesus Prayer, is pronounced thus:

Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner. The holy fathers teach us this prayer in many different ways. Saint John of the Ladder says: "Labor to enclose your mind in the words of the Jesus Prayer—pray aloud and attentively with the mind—the heart cannot help but participate in attentive prayer. Thus, whoever prays in this way will pray with his lips, his mind and his heart. Progressing in prayer, he will acquire prayer of the mind and heart, and thus attract Divine grace to himself." This method of St. John of the Ladder is the simplest, most understandable and best.

St. Nilus of Sora, one of our Russian ascetics, instructs us to be silent in thought—not to think during prayer, not of anything bad, nor even of anything good. Instead of any thought, he says to gaze ceaselessly into the depths of the heart and say: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me a sinner! According to the teaching of St. Nilus of Sora, one may pray standing, sitting, or lying down, not constraining the body so that the spirit can work freely, only regulating the breath, breathing quietly and frequently.

St. Seraphim of Sarov instructs the beginner to do the Jesus prayer without ceasing. While praying, he says, attend to yourself, that is, collect your mind and unite it with the soul. At first, for a day or two or more, say the prayer with the mind only, separately, attending to every word particularly. When the Lord will warm your heart with the warmth of His grace and unite you in one spirit, then this prayer will flow within you ceaselessly, and will be with you always, delighting you and nourishing you. And at first, you should say the prayer with your voice, that is with the lips, the tongue and speech—aloud to yourself alone. When the lips, the tongue and the feeling of prayer are satiated with pronouncing it aloud, then voiced prayer is ceased, and the prayer is prounounced in a whisper.

"Then," says the Russian priest Dorotheus, "mental prayer of the heart begins at will—self-authoritatively, ceaselessly working; it becomes habitual and acts at any time, during any activity, in any place."

So that we might not become lost in various methods and specifics of the Jesus Prayer, let us content ourselves with these teachers of it: St. John Climacus, St. Nilus of Sora, St. Seraphim of Sarov and Fr. Dorotheus. Thus, whether you stand, sit, walk or lie—force your thoughts away from everything, be silent in thought (St. Nilus of Sora); be attentive to yourself, gather your mind and unite it with the soul; at first for a day or two and more, say the prayer with the mind alone, attend to every word separately (St. Seraphim); try to enclose your thoughts in the words of the prayer. Pray aloud and with the mind, attentively, with the heart's participation (St. John Climacus); at first repeat the prayer aloud to yourself, then in a whisper, and accustom your mind to it (Fr. Dorotheus).

Based upon all we have related above about the Jesus Prayer, we can gain an understanding of it in practice. "When you inhale, say: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God—and in this way mentally bring the Lord into your heart; and when you exhale, continue: Have mercy on me a sinner! In this way mentally cast out your sinfulness with the name of the Savior." This is the method of doing the Jesus Prayer that is easiest of all to learn, and can be prayed night and day. (Bishop Justin. On fasting and prayer.)

On the Excercise of the Jesus Prayer

If you live in a monastery where the evening rule with prostrations is performed in church, then when you return to your cell, immediately begin the Jesus Prayer. If you live in a monastery where the evening rule is performed in church but without prostrations, then after returning to your cell do the rule with prostrations, and then occupy yourself with the Jesus Prayer. If you belong to a monastery where there is no common evening rule, but each is left to do her rule in her cell, first do the rule with prostrations, and then occupy yourself with prayers or psalms, then finally with the Jesus Prayer.

First begin pronouncing one hundred Jesus Prayers with attention and without hurrying. Afterwards, if you feel that you could do more, add another hundred. After a time, depending upon the need, you can again add to the number of prayers. In order to say one hundred prayers unhurried and attentively thirty minutes or around a half an hour are required. Some ascetics need an even longer time. Do not say the prayers hurriedly, one slowly after another; after each prayer make a brief pause and thus enable your mind to concentrate. Repeating the prayer without stopping makes the mind scattered. Go from one breath to the next with care; breathe quietly and slowly. This mechanism prevents scattered thoughts. After finishing the praying of the Jesus prayer, do not give yourself over to various thoughts and dreams, which are always empty, seductive and delusive; but conduct the time until you go to sleep in the disposition you received during your labor of prayer. Inclining toward sleep, repeat the prayer and go to sleep with it. Accustom yourself, so that when you awake from sleep, your first thought, word and deed will be the Jesus Prayer. Say it several times, rise from your bed and rush to Mattins. During Mattins, do the Jesus Prayer as much as possible. If you have a little free time between Mattins and Liturgy, occupy yourself with the Jesus Prayer. Do the same after lunch. The Fathers advise occupying your self after lunch with remembrance of death (St. Nilus of Sora, Homily 7.) This is perfectly correct, but the living prayer of Jesus is inseparable from a living remembrance of death;(The Ladder Homily 28—a living remembrance of death is bound up with a living prayer to the Lord Jesus, Who destroyed death by death and granted men eternal life through His temporary submission to death.

During church services it is helpful to excercise the prayer of Jesus. It keeps the mind from wandering, helps it to be attentive to the church hymnody and reading. Strive to accustom yourself so to the Jesus prayer that it would become your ceaseless prayer, for which it is very convenient because of its brevity, as longer prayers are not. The Fathers say: "Whether a nun be eating or drinking, sitting in her cell or on obedience (in monastery work and toil), whether travelling or doing anything else, she should ceaselessly call out: Lord Jesus Christ Son of God have mercy on me a sinner.(Philokalia), Callistos and Ignatius of Xanthopoulos, Chapter 21.

An Offering to Contemporary Monasticism

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