On The Difference Between the Jesus Prayer & Yoga
They say that the “Jesus prayer” and the way it is practised is a Christian yoga and is connected with prototypes of Eastern religions. What do you have to say about this?
– It seems that those who say this are completely ignorant of the grace-filled state of our Church, since we obtain divine grace through the Jesus prayer. They have not experienced it; that is why they do not know it. Yet they should never accuse those who have experience. They blaspheme against the Holy Fathers as well. Many of the Fathers fought for the Jesus prayer, and they spoke strongly about its value. What then? Did they fall into error? Did St. Gregory Palamas fall into error? They are even ignorant of the Holy Bible. The blind men said the words: “Son of David have mercy on us”, (Matt. 20. 30), which means “Jesus have mercy on us”, and their sight was restored; the lepers said it and they were cured from their leprosy (Lk. 4. 27), etc. The prayer “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me”, consists of two basic points: The dogmatic one –acknowledgement of the Divinity of Christ– and the suppliant one –supplication for our salvation. In other words the confession of faith in Christ is connected with the confession of our inability to be saved of our own accord. This says everything, and the whole struggle of the Christian is based on these two points: Faith in Christ and awareness of our sinfulness. The “Jesus Prayer”, therefore, expresses to the utmost the effort of the faithful in a few words and summarises all the dogmatic teaching of our Orthodox Church.
I would also, Gerondas, like you to explain to me and expand more on what I was saying earlier, on the differences between the Jesus prayer and yoga, and for you to show me its superiority over the other eastern religions, since you offer great experience.
–The subject is very big, my son, and one could say many things about it. From what I said previously the following stand out:
Firstly: In the Jesus prayer faith in God, Who created the world and Who governs it and loves it, is expressed strongly. He is an affectionate Father who cares about saving His mortal creation. Salvation is attained “in God”. For this reason when we pray we implore Him by saying: “Have mercy on me”. Self-redemption and self-divinization are far from the athlete of noetic prayer,* because this is the sin of Adam, the sin of the Fall. He wanted to become God outside God’s plan for him. Salvation is not attained “through ourselves and does not emanate from ourselves”, as the human philosophical systems claim, but is attained “in God”.
Secondly: We are not struggling to meet an impersonal God through the “Jesus prayer”. We do not seek our elevation to “absolute nothingness”. Our prayer focuses on the personal God, the Godman Jesus, for this reason we say “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God”. Divine and human nature meet in Christ, in other words in the fullness of the divine Word and all of humanity the perfection of divinity dwells in him in the flesh”. (Col. 2. 9) Therefore, anthropology and soteriology (teaching about man and his salvation) in Orthodox monasticism are closely connected with Christology. We love Christ and keep His commandments. We place great importance on this matter. We insist on the keeping of the commandments of Christ. He Himself said: “If you love me, you will keep my commandments”. (John 14. 15) By loving Christ and by keeping his commandments we are united with the entire Holy Trinity.
Thirdly: We do not reach a state of pride through unceasing prayer. The philosophical systems you mentioned before are possessed by pride. We acquire the blessed state of humility through the Jesus prayer. We say “Have mercy on me”, and we consider ourselves the worst of all. We despise none of our brothers. The athlete of the Jesus prayer is a stranger to every sort of pride. And whoever has pride is foolish.
Fourthly: Salvation, as we said before, is not an abstract notion but union with God, the Holy Trinity in the person of our Lord Jesus Christ. This union, however, does not efface the human factor. We are not assimilated, since we are ourselves also persons.
Fifthly: As prayer develops we acquire the ability to discern error. We can see and distinguish the movements of the devil but at the same time the energies of Christ. We recognise the deceit of the devil who, many times, changes his form even into an angel of light. We distinguish, therefore, good from evil, the uncreated from the created.
Sixthly: The struggle for the “Jesus prayer” is connected with the cleansing of soul and body from the corrupting effect of passions. We do not aim at reaching Stoic apathy but we strive to attain the dynamic state of dispassion,* which means that we do not aim at the mortification of passions but at their transformation. Without dispassion one cannot love God and be saved, but because this love has been corrupted and distorted, we strive for its transformation. We fight to transform the distorted states that the devil created in us. We cannot be saved without this personal struggle which is achieved with the help of the grace of Christ. According to St. Maximos, “Spiritual Knowledge without practical life (purification of heart) is the theology of the demons”.
Seventhly: We do not try to guide the nous noetic faculty to absolute nothingness through the “Jesus prayer”, but to turn it to the heart and bring the grace of God into the soul, from where it will spread to the body also. “The kingdom of God is within us” (Lk. 17. 21). According to the teaching of our Church, it is our way of thinking, according to the flesh, which is bad and not our body. We must not try to get rid of “the garment of the soul”, as the philosophical systems claim, but we must try to save it. Additionally, salvation means redemption of the whole of man (of the soul and the body). We do not aim, therefore, at the destruction of the body, but we fight the worship of it. Neither do we want the destruction of life. We do not aspire to reach a point where we do not desire life so that suffering ceases. We practise the Jesus prayer because we thirst for life and we want to live with God eternally.
Eighthly: We are not indifferent to the world around us. The various systems you mentioned before avoid facing people’s problems, so that peace and impassibility can be maintained. We have in mind the opposite: we pray unceasingly for all. We are suppliants for the whole world. Moreover, salvation is union with Christ while we are in communion with other persons. We cannot be saved just by ourselves. A joy which is only ours, without being joy for other people as well, is not true joy.
Ninthly: We do not place great importance on psychosomatic techniques and on the various postures of the body. We consider some of them as assisting the concentration of the nous on the heart, i.e. which in essence do away with all of this. I repeat, we do not strive for impassibility, a negative state, but for the acquisition of divine grace…