Liturgy and Hesychastic Prayer
 in Spiritual Direction



 Symeon the New Theologian

EARLY Christian leaders believed that spiritual guidance should be sought and found in liturgical prayer. The readings and rituals that accompanied the Eucharistic celebration and the Sacraments of Initiation (baptism and chrismation/anointing) were regarded as opportunities for discernment, deeper understanding of the self in relation to God, and for contemplation.

IN the Orthodox Churches an indispensable aid in spiritual direction (and liturgical prayer) is the practice of hesychasm, which emphasizes the regular repetition of the Jesus Prayer: Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me [,a sinner]. It is worth noting that in the Roman Catholic tradition this prayer is recommended as one permissible form of the Prayer of the Penitent (Act of Contrition) in the Sacrament of Penance and Reconciliation.  We will spend two lectures on notable figures in the development of this tradition, all of whom are revered as important models of spiritual direction in the Christian East.

THE Catecheses of St. Cyril of Jerusalem offer a brilliant example of the liturgical celebrations of Baptism and Eucharist interpreted and explained as occasions of ongoing spiritual guidance, even spiritual direction, offered to both neophytes and those already received into the Church.  The readings and ritual actions of the liturgy invited the participants to reappropriate and deepen their experience of prayer, their discernment of God's will, and their daily re-offering of themselves to God.

IN the writings of Dionysius the (pseudo-) Areopagite the ritual of the Church becomes a source of rich contemplative experience and an opportunity for spiritual growth.  Liturgical prayer becomes a kind of contemplative planetarium through which the whole universe is perceived as a series of cascading waterfalls of grace and transformation.  The people of God learn that they are mediators of grace to one another.  The whole of salvation history, including especially one's own spiritual journey, is understood as an interrelated movement between [1] kenotic outpouring (procession), [2] indwelling or abiding, and [3] reunion (theosis); later described as a threefold rhythm of [1] purification, [2] illumination, and [3] [re-]union.

FOR Maximus Confesor the liturgy is the chief place where we experience and apply to our own experience the threefold movement of [1] asceticism (purification); [2] beholding God in creation (theoria physiké); and [3] God contemplated beyond all word and image.  This interior threefold rhythm can be applied to every liturgical action: thus the daily or weekly experience of liturgical prayer becomes a laboratory in which we are taught about our own deepening union with God by means of symbolic rituals  The Church building is. for example, a symbol of the soul; and the unfolding of the liturgy is a mirror of our own spiritual journey.

SYMEON the New Theologian is a foundational figure in the Eastern Christian tradition of spiritual guidance.  His hymns and treatises emphasize an experience of indwelling (later called uncreated) light during prayer that he also associated with the ability to serve as abba or amma and the power to remit sins.  Although he predates the fully-developed practice of the Jesus Prayer, he is also regarded as one of the founders of hesychastic spirituality.  We will look at excerpts from his works in an article by Bishop Kallistos Ware.

OUR final glimpse of Eastern Christian models of spiritual guidance takes us to another article by Bishop Kallistos, this time on the 14th-century origins of hesychasm. 

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