Practice of the Jesus Prayer is A Long and Difficult Path
A struggle is required in the practice of the Jesus Prayer. Saint Maximos said, “Spiritual knowledge without ascetic practices is the theology of the demons.” (A Night in the Desert of the Holy Mountain, p 61) To transform our being and free our mind from domination by passions, and to bring it into the heart to be aligned with God as its focus is not a simple task. Reflect on the difficulty you encountered in developing other disciplines you have learned in your life, whether it relates to your work life, home life, or a sport. You will find that the same is even more true for your spiritual life. The practice of the Jesus Prayer requires a firm commitment, much effort and time. The practice of the Jesus Prayer must become a daily practice and engrained in your daily life. It is not something that you can allow yourself to ever say, “I am too busy today,” or “I feel too tired for prayer.” It must become just like other things you do without fail, like the simple act of brushing your teeth, taking a shower, and other such activities that are not treated as options in your life. If you skip it you should have the same unclean feeling as if you skipped your shower or brushing your teeth. This is how daily prayer needs to find its place in your life. It needs to become an integral part of your life.
We need to have caution about being over zealous in the beginning. When we start a new activity we are often overly enthusiastic and throw ourselves into it with great zeal. We start out thinking we are some kind of superstar of prayer making bold changes in our life. We too think we can do anything with our own will power. But, when faced with difficulty, we very quickly fade and often do not finish the race. Our actions can be like the seeds referenced in Scripture that are sown on the hard ground that don’t germinate. We to often find what we started with such zeal is too difficult to master, and we become discouraged and drop out. Beware of this tendency and try to start with the realization that this is a difficult process. Make a commitment to enter into it with humility, seeking the help of God, and begin slowly so you can finish the race. Remember the story of the tortoise and the hare? You want to be the tortoise with a consistent and steady effort. The path is not easy and you will encounter difficulties.
As you repeat the prayer over many months you will find that it gradually, on its own accord, goes deeper and deeper into your consciousness and will begin to act on your soul. The Church Fathers counsel us to not be concerned about the difficulty we will encounter. They remind us that we are fighting against strong forces for our salvation. Gregory the Sinaite says, “In the beginning there occurs unutterable contrition and unspeakable pain of the soul.” We should expect forces to work against us in this endeavor. We must recognize the nature of our brain and how it is programmed to keep things as they are. To live in union with God there must be changes made in our mental programming. This is not easily done. This is why we say the prayer has two functions. One is worship with repentance with humility and the other is to develop the capacity to focus our attention on the prayer and God. The Jesus prayer will lead us from earth to heaven and carry us to another world if we have patience and perseverance. Saint Ignatius Brianchaninov reminds us of the aim of the practice of this prayer. He says, “Dwelling with the mind and heart in heaven and in God - this is the chief fruit or end of this prayer.” (On the Prayer of Jesus, p 35)