Leading up to Christmas the season can be frantic, exams for students, Christmas concerts at your children’s school and of course Christmas shopping etc. Yet, it is still important to try to remember the Jesus Prayer throughout your day and to dedicate some time in the morning and/or evening to pray the Jesus Prayer formally.
You may have noticed that it is not easy to concentrate on the prayer. Each time you begin to pray your mind is filled with thoughts and distractions, this is normal, do not despair. You may have also noticed that the thoughts disappear when you stop praying. There is a reason for this. Elder Sophronios, from the monastery of St John the Forerunner, in Essex, England, a man of our times, reminds us that when we pray the Jesus Prayer, the name of the Lord, awakens all that is concealed deep inside us. The Jesus Prayer is like a torch that shines into our deeper self and reveals our passions and weaknesses. So what do we do in this situation? We try to say the Jesus Prayer even more earnestly and armed with this new self knowledge we cultivate a deeper repentance in our soul.
This self knowledge is an important step forward in your effort to learn and grow the Jesus Prayer.
Keep in mind that the devil also brings distractions when you pray the Jesus Prayer. He will do anything to stop you. Listen to this remarkable story related by Elder Ephraim from Katounakia of Mt Athos to his disciple:
One elder said to his disciple: ‘Say the Jesus Prayer’.
‘Elder, I say the prayer, “Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me”, but I don’t understand anything, nothing happens’.
‘You might not understand or notice anything, but the devil does. The prayer burns him and he flees.
‘Elder, how am I supposed to see this?’
‘So, my child, do you wish to experience the power of the Jesus Prayer?’
‘Yes elder, of course I want to experience this’.
‘Very well, then, I’ll pray to God to show you a sign in order for you to understand the power of the Jesus Prayer’.
The Elder prayed and fasted for three-days.
After these three days he said to his disciple: ‘My child, take this basket and fill it with water’.
‘Yes. I did’.
‘Then do as your told, but under one condition; you must keep saying the Jesus Prayer all the time. Don’t stop saying the prayer’.
‘Let it be blessed’.
And off he went. ‘Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me, Lord Jesus Christ have mercy on me’, he kept praying. When he reached the fountain, he put the basket under it. The water began to fill the basket without leaking. And he continued to say the Jesus Prayer without ceasing. It goes without saying that, at the same time the elder was praying in his cell in order that God would help the disciple realise that he was not wasting his time with the Jesus Prayer.
‘Where are you off to, monk?’
‘I am going to my elder’
‘What is your name?’
How long have you been a monk?’
‘Five or six years’.
‘And what handiwork do you do?‘
We carve wooden seals for prosphora*’
That was it! The basket emptied and all the water poured out all over the place! As soon as he stopped praying and began to idle talk, the basket emptied. So, he went to his elder with an empty basket.
‘What happened, my child?’ asked his elder.
The disciple told him the whole story.
‘My child, you stopped saying the prayer and began talking. This is why the basket emptied. Furthermore the person you were talking to wasn’t a person at all, but the devil. If you hadn’t spoken, the basket would still have been full. Do you realise that while you were saying the Jesus Prayer the basket was holding the water? The moment you stopped saying the prayer the water poured out of the basket.’
What an amazing account! May this story encourage us also in our endeavour to pray the Jesus Prayer this Christmas fast and assure us that our Lord Jesus Christ takes notice of our efforts.