Happy Holy-Days!

It’s so easy to forget why we celebrate December 25th each year – it’s all about the birth of Jesus Christ.  This is the season to thank God for the greatest gift of all – true joy, peace and eternal life.

We celebrate the joy that God has given us in his presence on earth, the gift of His Son, Jesus Christ, here to save us.  We embrace and experience the true peace that a life devoted to God gives.  We thank God for His forgiveness, and the possibility of our own resurrection from the limitations and materiality of our limited human existence.

All Glory to God!

Let us share again, the story of Jesus Christ birth, found in Luke, Chapter 2:

And it came to pass in those days, that there went out a decree from Caesar Augustus that all the world should be taxed.

(And this taxing was first made when Cyrenius was governor of Syria.)

And all went to be taxed, every one into his own city.

And Joseph also went up from Galilee, out of the city of Nazareth, into Judaea, unto the city of David, which is called Bethlehem; (because he was of the house and lineage of David:)

To be taxed with Mary his espoused wife, being great with child.

And so it was, that, while they were there, the days were accomplished that she should be delivered.

And she brought forth her firstborn son, and wrapped him in swaddling clothes, and laid him in a manger; because there was no room for them in the inn.

And there were in the same country shepherds abiding in the field, keeping watch over their flock by night.

And, lo, the angel of the Lord came upon them, and the glory of the Lord shone round about them: and they were sore afraid.

10 And the angel said unto them, Fear not: for, behold, I bring you good tidings of great joy, which shall be to all people.

11 For unto you is born this day in the city of David a Saviour, which is Christ the Lord.

12 And this shall be a sign unto you; Ye shall find the babe wrapped in swaddling clothes, lying in a manger.

13 And suddenly there was with the angel a multitude of the heavenly host praising God, and saying,

14 Glory to God in the highest, and on earth peace, good will toward men.

15 And it came to pass, as the angels were gone away from them into heaven, the shepherds said one to another, Let us now go even unto Bethlehem, and see this thing which is come to pass, which the Lord hath made known unto us.

16 And they came with haste, and found Mary, and Joseph, and the babe lying in a manger.

17 And when they had seen it, they made known abroad the saying which was told them concerning this child.

18 And all they that heard it wondered at those things which were told them by the shepherds.

19 But Mary kept all these things, and pondered them in her heart.

20 And the shepherds returned, glorifying and praising God for all the things that they had heard and seen, as it was told unto them.

21 And when eight days were accomplished for the circumcising of the child, his name was called Jesus, which was so named of the angel before he was conceived in the womb.

22 And when the days of her purification according to the law of Moses were accomplished, they brought him to Jerusalem, to present him to the Lord;

23 (As it is written in the law of the Lord, Every male that openeth the womb shall be called holy to the Lord;)

24 And to offer a sacrifice according to that which is said in the law of the Lord, A pair of turtledoves, or two young pigeons.

25 And, behold, there was a man in Jerusalem, whose name was Simeon; and the same man was just and devout, waiting for the consolation of Israel: and the Holy Ghost was upon him.

26 And it was revealed unto him by the Holy Ghost, that he should not see death, before he had seen the Lord’s Christ.

27 And he came by the Spirit into the temple: and when the parents brought in the child Jesus, to do for him after the custom of the law,

28 Then took he him up in his arms, and blessed God, and said,

29 Lord, now lettest thou thy servant depart in peace, according to thy word:

30 For mine eyes have seen thy salvation…

 

BOOK REVIEW: “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” by Norris Chumley

By Carl Gregg, May 10, 2011 3:49 am

http://www.patheos.com/community/carlgregg/2011/05/10/book-review-mysteries-of-the-jesus-prayer-by-norris-chumley/

Norris Chumley, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality (HarperOne 2011), 196 pages.

The entirety of 1 Thessalonians 5:17 consists of a three word exhortation from the apostle Paul to “pray without ceasing.” Advocates of the “Jesus Prayer” — most popular in Eastern Orthodox branches of Christianity — insist that this ancient spiritual practice is perhaps the most effective vehicle for making Paul’s vision of ceaseless prayer a reality (ix).

The author, Norris Chumley, is an Emmy award-winning documentarian, who also holds a Ph.D. in Theology and the Arts from the progressive and renown Union Theological Seminary in New York City. Appropriately, given the author’s status as a documentary filmmaker, there is a full-length DVD available to supplement the book: “For the first time on film, desert hermits, monks and nuns reveal the simple prayer, bringing us into their private cells, caves and sanctuaries in the Middle East, Mediterranean, Eastern Europe and Russia.” A small group study guide is also available for purchase separately. If your small group enjoys this book and the Jesus Prayer practice, a challenging follow-up for next Lent would be a study of John Climacus’ spiritual classic The Ladder of Divine Ascent (c. 600 CE), written by a spiritual giant as the capstone to a life spent praying the Jesus Prayer. The annual tradition in all Orthodox monasteries is that Climacus’ text is read aloud daily throughout Lent while the monks are eating (51-53).

I am perhaps not Chumley’s target audience since he writes on the opening page that he assumes that readers of this book are in all likelihood unfamiliar with the Jesus Prayer; however, his words are a reassurance that this volume is a much-needed introduction to this relatively-unknown spiritual practice. Specifically, this volume is a more accessible introduction to the Jesus Prayer than the excellent (but nonetheless formidable) traditional books on Orthodox spirituality such as the Philokalia, which literally mean the “love of the beautiful.” For those who enjoy Chumley’s work, the next step — before tackling the Philokalia — would be perhaps the nineteenth-century spiritual classic The Way of a Pilgrim, which records the story of an individual who succeeds in using the Jesus Prayer to achieve Paul’s vision of prayer without ceasing. As a first step toward this goal of ceaseless prayer, many begin by saying the prayer only a few times or up to twenty or thirty minutes a day (23).

Like Paul’s simple, three-word exhortation to “pray without ceasing,” the Jesus Prayer itself is mere twelve words: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” These words are a mantra of sorts, and saying them repeatedly is a way of cultivating inner silence, and eventually the possibility of a firsthand experience with God (1).

Chumley dates the origins of the Jesus Prayer to at least the “second century” as developed in the rich prayer lives of earliest desert mothers and fathers — Christians who fled to the desert to escape distractions and to cultivate the solitude they felt necessary to achieve the highest levels of spiritual experience (14).

Despite the immense influence of the Jesus Prayer on Orthodox spirituality over the course of many centuries, this spiritual practice is perhaps unexpectedly a “private prayer…not part of the liturgical life of the Orthodox Church; it is not even prayed aloud in a group as Catholic often pray the rosary, or as Protestant recite together the prayer of the day [or the Lord’s Prayer]. It is profoundly personal…” (51).

Besides reviewing the history of the Jesus Prayer tradition, a large part of Chumley’s book includes reflections on his pilgrimage around the world to some of the historic centers of Eastern Orthodox monastic life: Mount Athos in Greece, the Painted Churches in Romania, and the Caves of Kiev in Russia. His reflections on meeting with the monks and nuns there are beautifully accompanied by many black and white pictures as well as a color-photo insert in the center of the book. This book is obviously a labor of love, and the unique profundity it contains is indicated in the surprising revelation Chumley discovered en route:

we were told everywhere we went that no producer or camera crew had ever asked the monks and nuns about their souls, let alone what it meant to pray unceasingly, or what it meant to practice the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer. Surprisingly, once I got to know the monks and nuns, I discovered that they were genuinely happy that we have come to inquire about what is most important to them: connection with God…. [P]rayer is connection with God. (173)

In closing, if this review has stirred the beginnings of a potential call within you to explore the Jesus Prayer further, I invite you to read the book and/or watch the DVD; however, the deeper invitation — and ultimate goal of Chumley’s work — is to encourage a wider audience to experiment with praying the Jesus Prayer themselves, to experience firsthand with what it feels like to try and “pray without ceasing.” As the final sentence of the book says, “First in words, then in silence: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner’” (180).

PBS Stations Broadcast Short Version of “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”

from the National Council of Churches:

http://www.ncccusa.org/news/110420jesusprayer.html

For Easter, An Ancient Christian Meditation Revealed

‘Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer,’ feature film and book

New York, April 20, 2011 — “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” a new book and documentary feature film on the prayer, with an unprecedented inner-view of Orthodox monasticism has an abbreviated public TV version playing on over 218 PBS TV stations this week, and especially for Easter.

The national television broadcasts were generously funded by the ORDER OF SAINT ANDREW THE APOSTLE ARCHONS OF THE ECUMENICAL PATRIARCHATE IN AMERICA, the Virginia H. Farah Foundation, the Avalon Foundation, and many individuals worldwide.  It is distributed by American Public Television.

For a full listing of all PBS station broadcasts and more information, visit www.JesusPrayerMovie.com, and/or call your local station for dates and times.  Set your DVRs and TiVos!

The HarperOne book, by Dr. Norris J. Chumley with the Foreword by His All Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, is available in bookstores everywhere, or on Amazon.com.

The Full-length film is available on DVD at www.JesusPrayerMovie.com

Selected cities and broadcasts (subject to change – check local listings or call your local PBS station):

NEW YORK:  WLIW Channel 21, Saturday 4/23 at 5pm
WASHINGTON DC:  WHUT Ch. 32, Sunday 4/24 at 9pm and Monday 4/25 at 1am
CHICAGO: WYCC Ch. 20.1 and 20.2,  Monday 4/25 at 8pm and Wednesday 4/27 at 12:30
LOS ANGELES: KVCR-24 San Bernardino/LA, Sunday  4/24/2011  at 10:30pm
ATLANTA:  WGTV-8 Atlanta/Athens GA, on Sunday 4/24/2011 at 12:30 PM
INDIANAPOLIS: WFYI-20 Indianapolis IN Sun 4/24/2011 3:00 PM
LAS VEGAS: KLVX-10.1 Sunday 4/24/2011 3:30 PM
SALT LAKE CITY: KUED-7, Sunday 4/24/2011 12:00 PM
SEATTLE: KCTS-9, Sunday 4/24/2011 1:00 PM
MILWAUKEE: WMVS-10.1, Saturday 4/23/2011 3:00 PM
NEW ORLEANS: WLAE-32.2,  Friday 4/22/2011 at 8:00 AM
SHREVEPORT: KLTS  24, Friday 4/22/2011 8:00 AM and Sunday 4/24/2011 at 4:00 PM

The full-length movie was featured at a benefit in Chicago for the Iakovos Retreat Center recently with over 1,000 faithful attending, sponsored by his Eminence Archbishop Iakovos and His Grace Bishop Demetrios.  If you would like to show the movie at your parish or Church, please contact the producers:  friends@Jesusprayermovie.com

Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate — announcement

‘Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer’ to air on PBS television stations, April 23-27

“Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” a new book and documentary feature film on the prayer, with an unprecedented inner-view of Orthodox monasticism has an abbreviated public TV version playing on over 218 PBS TV stations this week, and especially for Pascha.  The national television broadcasts are partially funded by the Order of Saint Andrew the Apostle, Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate.  The program is distributed by American Public Television.

For a full listing of all PBS station broadcasts and more information, visit www.JesusPrayerMovie.com, and/or call your local station for dates and times.  Set your DVRs and TiVos!

The HarperOne book, by Dr. Norris J. Chumley with the Foreword by His All-Holiness Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew, is available in bookstores everywhere, or on Amazon.com.

The Full-length film is available on DVD at www.JesusPrayerMovie.com

Selected cities and broadcasts (subject to change – check local listings or call your local PBS station. Full station list at JesusPrayerMovie.com):

NEW YORK:  WLIW Channel 21, Saturday 4/23 at 5pm
WASHINGTON DC:  WHUT Ch. 32, Sunday 4/24 at 9pm and Monday 4/25 at 1am
CHICAGO: WYCC Ch. 20.1 and 20.2,  Monday 4/25 at 8pm and Wednesday 4/27 at 12:30
LOS ANGELES: KVCR-24 San Bernardino/LA, Sunday  4/24/2011  at 10:30pm
ATLANTA:  WGTV-8 Atlanta/Athens GA, on Sunday 4/24/2011 at 12:30 PM
INDIANAPOLIS: WFYI-20 Indianapolis IN Sun 4/24/2011 3:00 PM
LAS VEGAS: KLVX-10.1 Sunday 4/24/2011 3:30 PM
SALT LAKE CITY: KUED-7, Sunday 4/24/2011 12:00 PM
SEATTLE: KCTS-9, Sunday 4/24/2011 1:00 PM
MILWAUKEE: WMVS-10.1, Saturday 4/23/2011 3:00 PM
NEW ORLEANS: WLAE-32.2,  Friday 4/22/2011 at 8:00 AM
SHREVEPORT: KLTS  24, Friday 4/22/2011 8:00 AM and Sunday 4/24/2011 at 4:00 PM
If you would like to show the movie at your parish or Church, please contact the producers:  friends@Jesusprayermovie.com

The Order of St. Andrew the Apostle is comprised of Archons of the Ecumenical Patriarchate who have been honored for their outstanding service to The Orthodox Church by having a Patriarchal title, or “offikion,” bestowed upon them by His All Holiness, Ecumenical Patriarch Bartholomew. Those upon whom this title of the Mother Church has been conferred are known as “Archons of the Great Church of Christ,” and the titles are personally conferred by the Exarch of the Ecumenical Patriarchate in America, His Eminence Archbishop Demetrios.

The Order of St. Andrew’s fundamental goal and mission is to promote the religious freedom, wellbeing and advancement of the Ecumenical Patriarchate, which is headquartered in Istanbul, Turkey.

Stay Connected! Follow us on these social networks:    /OrderStAndrew

Support Religious Freedom for the Mother Church! Visit archons.org/donate

Book Review: Christianity Today / Books & Culture

by Frederica Mathewes-Green

http://www.booksandculture.com/articles/2011/marapr/prayceasing.html

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer
Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality
Norris J. Chumley, HarperOne, 2011, 224 PP, $26.99

What’s so mysterious about the Jesus Prayer? It’s one of the shortest and simplest prayers you can find: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.” It’s one of the most ancient prayers, too; think of how often in the Gospels people ask Jesus for mercy. A prayer for mercy would likely have been one of the variations when the Desert Mothers and Fathers (AD 2nd-5th c), who sought to pray constantly, were trying out different short, repeated verses of Scripture to discipline the wandering mind. (St. Augustine reports that they “have very frequent prayers, but these are very brief.”) Those ancient monasteries and hermitages are the spiritual nursery in which the Jesus Prayer had its birth.

It might be better to call it a spiritual laboratory, though, because this short petition has profound effects. To some extent, that’s only natural: whether it is a Christian prayer, a Hindu mantra, or a two-item shopping list, any attempt to keep repeating a phrase—any attempt at all to restrain the mind’s aimless ramble—is going to reverberate through mind, memory, and will. But since this is, in fact, a prayer, invoking Jesus Christ and asking for his mercy, it has deep and life-changing effects on the person makes it a mental habit. In time, the teaching is, you begin to sense a direct connection with the presence of God, and to hear his responding voice.

Over the centuries a lot of wisdom has built up about how to use the Jesus Prayer safely and effectively. It’s wisdom that has been conserved mostly in Orthodox monasteries, which is where men and women go who want make this single-minded pursuit of union with God. When it comes to prayer, a monastery is where you find the rocket scientists.

Author Norris Chumley explains that, while pursuing a degree at Union Theological Seminary in New York, he wanted to learn more about how to know Christ through prayer—not just book-knowledge, but by direct experience. He found in his church history professor, the Very Rev. Dr. John A. McGuckin (an Orthodox priest), a fellow pilgrim, and began the eight-year process of producing a documentary and a book, both bearing this title. It is a unique project, for monastics traditionally keep their spiritual lives very private. By presenting frankly his desire to introduce the West to the power of the Jesus Prayer, Chumley found doors opening in Orthodox monasteries in Egypt, Greece, Romania, Ukraine, and Russia. He was able to interview monks and nuns and record their first-hand reports of the effects of this profound and simple prayer.

What I found most winning, even surprising, about the book is Chumley’s unaffected manner. It is easy for those who write about spiritual profundities to grow long-faced. Self-importance is a constant temptation. One who pretends to be an expert on mysticism would be in particular danger. But throughout Chumley maintains a sunny, simple quality. Everywhere he goes he is receptive and grateful. This tone begins on the dedication page, which reads, “This book is dedicated to Jesus Christ, and the likeness of him in all of us.” I can’t think of another time I’ve seen a book dedicated to Jesus. The Acknowledgements begin: “Above all, I thank God for my life, my family, my interests, and my work. I thank God for Jesus Christ, God in a human life… I thank God for the reality of the Cross, for Jesus’ resurrection, for the Holy Spirit.”  When explaining the words of the Jesus Prayer, he doesn’t flinch: “Son of God is meant literally. Jesus is the Second Person of the Holy Trinity, begotten by God the Father. For the salvation of the world he came down from heaven and was born of the Blessed Virgin Mary. He is the Son of God and the son of Mary, fully God and fully human.”

The Dean Emeritus of St. Vladimir’s Orthodox Theological Seminary, the Very Rev. Dr. Thomas Hopko, says, “Everybody wants the Jesus Prayer, but nobody wants Jesus.” Some people who explore Orthodox prayer disciplines are looking for spiritual experiences, not a Lord. That is refreshingly not the case with Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer.

The first stop in Chumley’s pilgrimage is the most ancient site of Orthodox monasticism, the monastery of St. Antony (AD 251-356) in the Red Sea mountains a couple of hundred miles southeast of Cairo. Though he had gone to some trouble to arrange the necessary permissions, Chumley found that no one in the monastery had been informed. Yet here, as elsewhere, he found a ready welcome.

From the monastery Chumley climbs the 1100 steps up the mountainside to St. Antony’s cave, and finds it “one of the holiest places I’ve ever been.” In the monastery chapel a “smallish monk” takes him aside and says, “God told me you were coming,” and reveals himself to be the monastery’s starets (spiritual elder, a separate role from that of abbot). He is Fr. Lazarus, previously an atheist and professor of Marxist philosophy and economics in New Zealand. “One day he felt a powerful and unexpected call to convert to Christianity and to travel to Egypt and seek God at St. Antony’s Monastery. He has been there ever since.”

Chumley next journeys to the Monastery of St. Catherine on Mt. Sinai, passing one armed checkpoint after another. On arrival, however, he found that, though he had gone to some trouble to arrange the necessary permissions, no one in the monastery had been informed. The abbot welcomed him, however, and gave him and his crew permission to film “anywhere and everywhere.”

This monastery is of particular historic interest because, being geographically remote, it has mostly escaped invasion and destruction. Much of it remains today as it was when first built, around AD 550. In the ancient, jewel-like monastery church Chumley and his crew attend the four-hour daily liturgy that begins in the wee hours and concludes at dawn, filming even behind the iconostasis, beside the altar. This service provides a daily dose of silence and awe that strengthens the monks for the daily assault of tourists. Though monastics voluntarily take on many serious disciplines, that of offering hospitality to busloads of photo-snapping visitors must be among the most daunting.

Chumley also gets to tour the monastery’s ossuary. In lands where there is limited room for burial, a common custom is to disinter a body after a few years and free up the grave for a new tenant. The gathered bones, taking up much less space, are then laid to rest for the second time. St. Catherine’s ossuary is a small building full of bones: a pile of skulls over here, femurs over there, and a separate pile for abbots. Here Chumley has one of several brushes with the miraculous. He notices an unusual scent in the room, “a unique fragrance, like musk oil mixed with citrus and herb.” Fr. Neilos explains that the bones of holy people sometimes exude a fragrant oil. This phenomenon may start and stop repeatedly, over the centuries. “I have never smelled anything like it before. No cologne or perfume comes close.” (He encounters it again in the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev. Fifty feet underground, in a network of tunnels, lie the cells and burial places of countless saints, and Chumley again finds the mysterious fragrance beyond words.)

The next stop is Mt. Athos, a rocky peninsula in northern Greece which is home to some 20 Orthodox monasteries and untold numbers of hermits. Though Chumley had gone to some trouble to arrange the necessary permissions, when he opened his bag to show the abbot and monks of Vatopedi Monastery his camera and sound equipment, there was a flutter “as if I were about to draw out something unholy, or at least unwholesome.” Abbot Ephraim gestured for the others to settle down, then patted Chumley’s chest, over his heart. “I could feel a powerful energy coursing from my head to my toes. It felt as if he’d psychically read my soul.” (The ability to be a “soul-reader,” to see a person’s history and struggles at a glance, is a common attribute of holy monastics.) The abbot said, “Fine. You are sincere,” and the cameras were welcomed everywhere.

And so it goes, with further visits to Romania, Kiev, and Russia. In every place Chumley meets monks and nuns who are open and friendly, and to all appearances normal, despite having dedicated their lives to unceasing prayer.  In Orthodox monasticism, there isn’t an expectation that monastics will perform a calling in the world (such as medicine or teaching); there aren’t even orders (such as Franciscan, Benedictine, or Carthusian). Instead it’s all about prayer, and an expectation that prayer changes the world. In Romania, Archbishop Justinian explains, “We have three virtues: fasting, almsgiving, and prayer…But out of those, prayer is the key. It is a means of gaining direct contact with God.” Prayer is the source even of theology. In his Foreword, the Ecumenical Patriarch, Archbishop Bartholomew, states that profound prayer is “the living seed of all spiritual life and theological thought.”

It’s an interesting to consider what role persecution and martyrdom might have played in the forging of this spirituality. Chumley mentions that, even today, Christians in Egypt are at risk for mob violence: “Riots broke out a few years back…when a rumor spread that Christians were sprinkling a magic liquid on Muslim women’s burkas that caused little crosses to materialize on the fabric.” On his journey to Mt. Sinai he has an armed bodyguard, and violence there is nothing new: the sixth-century emperor built St. Catherine’s because Bedouins were killing the monks on a regular basis. In most middle-eastern lands, of course, Christians were conquered by Muslims earlier or later during the course of 800 years. In the formerly-Soviet lands, the toll was very great. At the turn of the twentieth century there were 1200 monks living at the Monastery of the Caves in Kiev; the communists shot or imprisoned them all. In Romania, communists inflicted a similar toll, and Ceaucescu bulldozed dozens of historic churches.

After the fall revival came swiftly, if not always surely. In Romania, in particular, there has been a surge in monastic vocations; Chumley notes a “vibrancy and energy that is contagious. We felt it…everywhere we traveled in Romania.” (Mt. Athos, too, is experiencing a revival. “In the 1960s it seemed that Athos was dying,” with only 1,100 monks, most in their fifties. Now there are 2,200 monks, most in their twenties and thirties.)

But Sister Josephina, abbess of the immense Varatec Monastery in Romania (home to 600 nuns), says that many who come to try a vocation end up leaving again. Father Jonas, abbot of the St. Jonas Monastery near Kiev, says that there may have been fewer monks during the communist era, “but they were real monks; they were martyrs. They suffered a lot. And now there are more monks, but their quality is not the same.” (This may be reflexive humility. Chumley notes, “If Fr. Jonas was suggesting that today’s monks lacked the fervor and commitment of their predecessors, I did not see it.”)

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer overflows with the monastics’ advice and stories about prayer, and these are expressed in simple rather than esoteric terms. The ex-atheist Fr. Lazarus, of St. Antony’s, says that the silence of being in a beautiful, quiet place is “transient; it will not last.” Interior silence, on the other hand, is “much harder to find, but it is long-lasting. …I am living up there in the mountain. For long periods of time—two weeks, three weeks, one month—I don’t see any people.” Yet, even though he is not committing “sins of action,” he must fight to fend off memories and other thoughts. “If I don’t have interior silence, I can be as busy in mind as if I were in New York.”

Sometimes words just aren’t enough. In “rapid-fire Romanian,” Archbishop Justinian describes how to cultivate the Jesus Prayer, saying it without ceasing whenever one gets a chance, “until it becomes a habit.” With time, “the thought itself becomes a prayer,” and earthly worries no longer dominate the mind. Then the cycle of habitual thoughts begins to undergo a change. “Now you start having the pure thoughts, and pure thoughts exercise a tendency toward the heart and it starts changing the heart. This is the mystery. This is the sacrament.”

Chumley says that, as the Archbishop was talking, he couldn’t understand one word (till it was translated later), but tried to intuit what these words meant. Perhaps the Archbishop sensed this, because he abruptly took a different tack. Like the abbot on Mt. Athos, “Suddenly he reached out and took my hand with his, and he put his other hand on my chest. Immediately I felt a truly strong presence of God coursing through me. Deeply moved, I began to cry.”

As you can see, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is not a volume of devotional foggery, but a first-hand account of a rare pilgrimage. Chumley is able to interview many wise monastics, in itself an unusual achievement, and he passes on to us their valuable sayings. But he also encounters moments that are surprising, that involve the body as much as the soul, and challenge a view that would restrict spirituality to the ethereal realm. If prayer is going to change the world, it will have to intersect with material reality. If a monastic is going to gain the heights of effective prayer, he or she will have to train like an athlete. Praying is hard work. And as Fr. Jonas says, “Without prayer a monk is just a man in a black dress.”

Book Review

By Frederic and Mary Ann Brussat

http://www.spiritualityandpractice.com/books/books.php?id=21020
Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer 
Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality
Norris J. Chumley
HarperOne 04/11 Hardcover $24.99
ISBN: 9780061874178

This book by Norris Chumley, an Emmy Award-winning executive producer and director, is an illustrated companion to the documentary film em>Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer. Both book and film chart Chumley’s spiritual journey with John A. McGuckin, a priest and professor, to Orthodox monasteries to learn more about the Jesus Prayer which they characterize as” the wellspring of Christianity’s first mystical tradition.” Their journey begins with visits to the monasteries of St. Antony in the Egyptian desert and St. Catherine’s on Mount Sinai and end at a Russian church with an elaborate liturgy on the Feast of the Holy Trinity. This pilgrimage of the heart, mind, and feet takes eight years and covers a lot of ground.

Chumley gives a brief history of the Jesus Prayer and its impact upon Eastern Orthodox believers. The monks talk about this hub in their devotional life which spurs them to silence, humility, mystery, and direct connection with God. Some believers have called the Jesus Prayer a Christian “mantra,” and that isn’t far off the mark. Chumley and McGuckin also shed light on the rituals, devotional practices, icons, and spiritual insights of the Orthodox church.

Kirkus Review

MYSTERIES OF THE JESUS PRAYER

Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality
By Norris J. Chumley (Author)
(reviewed on March 15, 2011)
http://www.kirkusreviews.com/book-reviews/non-fiction/norris-j-chumley/mysteries-jesus-prayer/

A rare investigation into the spiritual life of Eastern Orthodox Mystics.

Through the repetition of one prayer—“Lord Jesus Christ, have mercy on me, a sinner”—monks, nuns and hermits have found inner silence and union with God for nearly 2,000 years. With the intention of bringing this prayer to the masses, Chumley (Columbia University Institute for Religion, Culture and Public Life) and his friend Father John secured permission to visit and document the devotional way of life preserved in ancient monasteries. As they toured the Holy places as privileged guests, they crossed the Egyptian desert in an air-conditioned van to the oldest Christian monastery on Earth, viewed Moses’ still flourishing burning bush at St. Catherine’s on Mt. Sinai and experienced the powerful ringing of the world’s largest bell at close range in Kiev. “Without prayer, a monk is just a man in a black dress,” says Father Jonas in Kiev. The book includes full-color photographs and wonderful insights into a legendary world that still exists. In particularly evocative prose, Chumley recalls the myrrh-scented remains of saints as he views stacks of bones in the monks’ cells, tells heroic but often gory tales of famous saints’ demise and shares the peaceful wisdom of the monks. Although impressed by the warmth and love exhibited by the Holy people he encountered, Chumley remains an outsider and writes for the intellectual, rather than devotional, reader.

A blend of anthropological study, spiritual quest and travelogue that sheds light on the search for inner peace.

Experience the Jesus Prayer: BOOK, DVD, CD, Public TV & Study Guide (click “Store”)

BOOK: on sale in bookstores everywhere, and if you buy it here online, it is AUTOGRAPHED BY THE AUTHOR, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality, by Dr. Norris J. Chumley.  Deepen your experience with the Jesus Prayer, and discover new ways of using it in your life.  A beautiful collector’s edition and companion to the feature film, filled with history, art, photographs and wisdom.

Get the DVD Full Length Director’s Edition available in retail stores and in our online store. Click “STORE” above to order, and help us recoup the costs of making the film, and the TV broadcasts.  Catch the film on iTunes, and selected Comcast and Verizon FiOS Video-On-Demand.  Coming soon to Amazon On-Demand and Netflix (put it on your list, please!) Our CD of Music & Meditations is a deep and satisfying sound tapestry that you also might find useful in your practices.

A short sampler edition of the documentary is showing on selected PBS stations in the U.S. and Canada. Download the list of stations here. IF YOU MISSED IT — call your local PBS station and ask for it to be replayed.

WHAT “WORDS” OF WISDOM TOUCHED YOU?

Talk with your friends about what you learned and experienced.  You are a valuable and worthy person in our mission to share the Jesus Prayer with others.