Elder John Guides about Jesus Prayer

Letters of Valaam elder John (Alexeev). Letter 164.

Schema-hegumen John (Alexeev)

New Valamo


Honorable Inok Fr…

You write to me that you are eager to start the labour of unceasing Jesus prayer, but some are telling you that Jesus prayer will bring you into spiritual deception. Oh, there are new blasphemers against the Jesus prayer: they do not understand what they are saying. One gets into spiritual deception not because of this prayer, but because of pride, self-confidence and willfulness. It would be good to speak about this prayer in person, for it is impossible to write everything. However, I will try to write in short words, in the way I can.

The spiritual life is the highest of all sciences; it can be called ‘spiritual philosophy’. Of course, not many can understand this philosophy. Most people understand spiritual life as external labour only. But, this external labour is needed as a means to reach the spiritual inner life. Unfortunately, some stay with the letter, which kills the spirit, and do not have a slightest idea about inner spiritual life.

St Philotheos said ‘if a monk is not aware about the inner sober spiritual life but tends to give all their attention to the practice of the virtues; then we should pray for such monks’. St John Chrysostom said that noetic knowledge of God is enough to destroy the demons. That is the reason why demons tempt us by various thoughts. The Holy Fathers called the first thought ‘prilog’ (‘addition’, attack’[1] or ‘attraction’[2]). Should we accept that thought, the demon puts into our mind sinful thoughts: suspicion, envy, rancor, love to arguments, pugnaciousness, wiliness, vainglory. One does not know where to look first because out of curiosity, one loves to listen to worldly things and gushes with one’s mouth everything that one’s has at one’s heart. So said the Lord: ‘for out of the abundance of the heart the mouth speaketh’ (Matthew 12:34). Lo! For all those temptations of the devil the Holy Fathers have invented the Jesus Prayer as we, the sinners, cannot avoid all those devices of the devil without God’s help.

Say it in this way: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.’ Your attention should be focused in the upper part of your chest, your mind should be contained in the words of the prayer, and the attentiveness is the soul of the prayer. In the beginning, it will be hard, as dryness, laziness and will flow of thoughts occur, for the enemy hates the prayer and rebels with various thoughts. Do not lose heart, continue your prayer and Our Lord will arise and rebuke the winds and the sea as in the time of the Apostles (Mt 8:26) – in the same manner He will stop your storm of thoughts. Although it is a bit early to tell you this I will nevertheless: if you persevere in prayer, the merciful Lord will give you consolation. Then you will know from your own experience that the Lord is good.[3] But beware of striving to attain tender feeling[4] and flow of tears. If in your heart there is a well-prepared humble place for the Lord, then the Lord will give His graceful mercy without our will and waiting.

In order to succeed in your prayer, try as much as you can to gain your inner peace. Do not interfere with other people’s affairs, do not judge; do have humility, for the humility is the most important of all – without humility there cannot be any virtue.

St John of the Ladder astonishes by one thing, which he does not explain: why do we so quickly and easily incline to the passions rather than to the virtues, having have Almighty God, angels and saints to help us towards the virtues, and only the wicked demon to help us to sin[5]. The Saint did not want to explain, and the question remains open.

But in my opinion the demon has got some mighty co-workers, namely our fallen nature and the world with its temptations.

I wrote to you in a few words, should you not understand anything, write back to me.

Asking for your holy prayers,

Elder of Valamo monastery.

[1] Saint John Climacus and his Heavenly Ladder (Fr. George Florovsky)

[2] The Ladder of Divine Ascent St. John Climacus Translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, Harper & Brothers, 1959 (Step 15. On incorruptible purity and chastity to which the corruptible attain by toil and sweat, 73)

[3] King James Bible, Ps.34:8 (Protestant (Hebrew) numbering)/Ps 33:9 (Greek numbering)

[4] Word for ‘umilenie’ in the English translation of the Letters of Fr. John (Christ is in Our Midst: Letters from a Russian Monk, St Vladimir Seminary Press, Crestwood, NY, 1996,p.85)

[5] The Ladder of Divine Ascent St. John Climacus Translated by Archimandrite Lazarus Moore, Harper & Brothers, 1959 (Step 26, 134)


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