We started off this long journey with a look at the most basic aspect of Christian anthropology: the nature of the soul. We have now arrived, passing through a study of Evagrius Pontikos’ ascetical theory, at an elaborate method of Hesychasm that we have dated to the mid-Eighth Century. What have we learned?
The practice of mental prayer in the heart is based on a very detailed and very well-thought-out anthropology and psychology that the Fathers of the Orthodox Church developed combining the data of Christian revelation with both the received philosophical psychology of Plato, as elaborated by Evagrius Pontikos, and their own experience of asceticism under the influence of Grace.
Although the cosmology of Evagrius was condemned by the Fifth Ecumenical Synod in 553, parts of his psychology which were not heterodox, including his ascetical psychology, were received into the tradition of the Orthodox Church.
A key aspect of the anthropology underlying the practice of the Jesus Prayer is the explanation given in the Orthodox Church of the nature of the soul. Consistently with Christian revelation, the Fathers teach that the soul is a living intelligible substance that inhabits the body. It is not the body nor a part of the body nor the functioning of the body nor the functioning of a part of the body. The soul is created in the image of God. It does not disappear when the body dies and disintegrates. It is not God but it is immortal.
We cannot say that the soul, or mind, of man is merely the elaboration of algorithms hierarchically related the one to the other, algorithms which were embedded by chance in chemical reactions in the brain, itself the random result of a blind evolutionary process under the control of chance.
From the beginning, then, Orthodox anthropology distinguishes the Orthodox Christian presuppositions of the use of the Jesus Prayer from Western post-Enlightenment philosophical positions that the soul is non-existent, a mere manner of speech for the subject of the actions that a human being does, actions which are founded on the human being’s identity as a biochemical complex; and from Eastern traditions which view the soul either as part of the Godhead or as a substance capable of dissolution.
In the case of the traditional Thomist anthropology of the Roman Catholic Church, still very influential among the senior members of the hierarchy although largely passé in Roman Catholic academic circles, the basic understanding of the nature of the soul, drawing as it does on the Neoplatonist formulation of St Augustine, is very similar to the understanding of the Orthodox Church, despite the Aristotelian interpretation given to St Augustine by St Thomas Aquinas.
Hence, the foundation of bioethics is much the same in the Roman Catholic Church as it is in the Orthodox Church, with the exception that Roman Catholic moral theology, which continues even in academic circles to be very heavily influenced by St Thomas, takes a different road from Orthodox moral theology on account of St Thomas’ radical Aristotelianism.
Moreover, St Thomas, following that same radical Aristotelianism, delineates a strongly Aristotelian and rationalist philosophical psychology that ultimately is incompatible with the Orthodox method of mental prayer.
It cannot be overemphasized that the beliefs of the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer have very far-reaching psychological effects on his practice of the Prayer: it is only the most naïve psychologist that would dismiss the beliefs of the practitioner of a form of meditation or prayer as irrelevant to the psychological analysis of that practice.
The Orthodox philosophical tradition that we have studied supports an understanding of the soul, or person, that makes the soul or person something living but incomprehensible in its essence. The human person is incomprehensible in himself or herself. We can never grasp the essence of the other person: he is who he is, and his fullness is hidden from our eyes: we see the person laughing, but we never know in his fullness the person who laughs.
This is also true of the Persons of the Godhead: they too are hidden from our eyes: only their operations (energeies) make them manifest, either in this life or in the next.
This treatment of the human person has consequences in bioethics. It is not the state of the body that determines the state of the person. Neither at the beginning nor at the end of a human life are we warranted in assessing the existence of the person or the quality of that person on the basis of his bodily condition, whether it be his stage of development or his state of decrepitude due to illness. The living person exists from conception to death; he exists in relation to God his Maker just as he exists in relation to his parents and friends.
The central aspect of this approach to the person in the Orthodox tradition is his dignity as a man created in the image of God.
In both bioethics and prayer, ‘person’ plays a central role, that person who is an image of God.
As an image of God, the person must be treated in a way which befits his dignity. This is the heart of bioethics.
Moreover, it is as a person that a man prays, especially the Jesus Prayer. The Jesus Prayer is not a mechanical device to affect the workings of algorithms that we call the human person, or the biochemistry of his brain, so that the person might have an interesting but pointless subjective psychological experience.
The Jesus Prayer is a relation between a person and another person: between the person praying and the Son, the Father, the Holy Spirit.
Hence, in the Orthodox Church, it is a person who prays, who is baptized, who starts on the road of perfection, a person who through Baptism enters into a living and spiritual relation with the Father, Son and Holy Spirit. It is a person who is sanctified.
Here, it is important to understand the respect that must be shown to the sinner. That sinner is a person who is an image of God, even if distorted. Through Baptism and the other Mysteries of the Orthodox Church, through the program of Orthodox asceticism that we have called mental prayer, that person can return to the fullness of the image of God; he can become a saint. We cannot deny him this hope.
Moreover, because the sinner is a person, he must be treated at all times in a manner that befits his dignity as an image of God: neither is he to be pressured or browbeaten in a way that diminishes his dignity as a person nor is his human freedom to be diminished, even in the name of obedience: entry into the Orthodox Church, or even into the monastic state, is not forced entry into a totalitarian group.
It is a person that meets the Body of Christ, the Orthodox Church, and hears the Gospel of Salvation. It is a person that makes a free choice to be baptized, to enter into the Body of Christ, the Church; to begin the Way of salvation. It is a person who encounters the Jesus Christ who said: ‘I am the Way, the Truth and the Life.’
In the tradition of the Orthodox Church, the Jesus Prayer is inserted into a soteriological context: its use is part and parcel of the reality of Christian Revelation as understood by the Orthodox Church. We do not ‘superadd’ the Jesus Prayer to the otherwise ‘saved’ Christian in the sense that an Evangelical Protestant Christian might understand that: the use of the Jesus Prayer is part of the Orthodox process of ‘getting saved’. For in the Orthodox Church, ‘being saved’ is a lifelong process that depends on the Mysteries of the Church.
First is Baptism. As we have seen, the earliest recorded work to discuss the Jesus Prayer is at pains to discuss the nature of Baptism, the results of Baptism and the relation of the Jesus Prayer to Baptism. In the Orthodox Church we start with Baptism.
Baptism cleanses the mind (nous) of the person baptized and grants him the indwelling of the Holy Spirit. There is no other way to receive the indwelling of the Holy Spirit.
It is through Baptism that the Orthodox Christian enters into intimate relation with God, by means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit who enables him to cry out ‘Abba, Father!’, and who intercedes for him with sighs too deep for words. It is by means of the indwelling of the Holy Spirit received in Baptism that the person can pray the Jesus Prayer in its fullness.
It is very important to understand that these are not mere theoretical points with no relevance to the lived experience of the Orthodox Christian: they are a lived reality for the newly-baptized Orthodox Christian. He changes in Baptism; he is made a new creation in Christ—a new person. He is made light.
Orthodox Baptism presupposes a doctrinal foundation which orients the newly-baptized Christian to a life-long journey towards salvation. Hence, the Jesus Prayer is prayed by Orthodox Christians who have received the forgiveness of their sins, the cleansing of their mind (nous) and the very Holy Spirit itself; and who are oriented by their doctrinal formation to a particular way of life after Baptism, to the contextualization of the Jesus Prayer within an Orthodox soteriological framework.
These matters are extremely important for an understanding of the psychological basis of mental prayer in the heart: they orient the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer in a certain way (‘psychologically’); they set the stage for the deeper psychological analysis of mental prayer that is carried out in the context of this doctrinal formation. That is, the doctrinal formation gives a structure to the understanding of the Orthodox practitioner of the Jesus Prayer, and that doctrinal formation also is the basis of the deeper psychological analysis of the practice of the Jesus Prayer that the practitioner will use to advance in his exercise of the Prayer.
This deeper psychological analysis combines the received psychology of Plato, as elaborated by Evagrius Pontikos, with the Orthodox theology of salvation: within the context of the Platonic psychology, the practitioner of mental prayer or mental ascesis is taught to understand himself and his thought processes in certain ways and to react in certain ways to the phenomena he introspectively perceives.
The Fathers of the Orthodox Church retain an essentially Platonic psychology. The soul is composed of the mind (nous) and the passionate part of the soul (the emotions), subdivided into the desire (epithumia) and the temper (thumos). These last are considered by the Fathers to be the two great emotional forces in man.
This tripartite schema of the soul is for the ascetic the most basic structuring of all mental phenomena. The ascetic considers all mental phenomena that he sees in himself and others to be comprised in this tripartite schema. There is no concept of the unconscious in this psychology, although there is a concept of the external mind, the demon, that tempts the ascetic. The demon plays much the same role in Orthodox psychology that the id, the source of instinctual drives, plays in modern depth psychologies, with the difference that the demon is considered to have intelligence, albeit depraved, and free will, and hence to be able to exercise intelligence in setting a temptation, whereas id impulses are considered in modern depth psychology to be blind.
Key concepts in this Orthodox psychology are the dual notions of ‘according to nature’ and ‘contrary to nature’. That is, the mind and the emotions of the person are considered to have operations ‘according to nature’ and operations ‘contrary to nature’. The operations ‘according to nature’ of the mind and emotions are the virtues and the operations ‘contrary to nature’ are the vices. In the case of the mind, these are the noetic or intellectual virtues and vices; in the case of the emotions or the passionate part of the soul, these are the moral virtues and vices.
This understanding of the mind and emotions is tied in Orthodox ascetical psychology to the Genesis account of the Fall of Adam and Eve. Before the Fall, the operations of the mind and emotions were according to nature in Adam and Eve. After the Fall they became contrary to nature in Adam and Eve and their descendants. Hence, the Fall is a central concept both in Orthodox soteriology and in the psychology of the Jesus Prayer.
After Baptism, the goal of the Orthodox Christian is to return the parts of his soul, his mind and emotions, from their operations contrary to nature to their operations according to nature. This is seen by the Fathers as a return to the condition of noetic and moral virtue of Adam and Eve in Paradise, or, because of the ascension of the human nature in Christ in his Ascension to the Father, to an even higher condition.
This emphasis on the Fall and on a return to a previous ideal state of virtue is a very important element both of Orthodox soteriology and of Orthodox mental ascesis. The Orthodox Christian or ascetic looks back to an ideal time when in Adam the operations of the intellectual and emotional parts of his soul were according to nature. He is striving in Christ to return to that ideal state.
With the help of Grace, especially as this Grace is expressed in the Mysteries of the Orthodox Church, the newly-baptized Orthodox Christian begins a lifelong journey to return the parts of his soul from a condition contrary to nature to a condition according to nature, from a condition of vice to a condition of virtue. This journey is both a return to
This is very important for an understanding of the psychological orientation of the practitioner of the Jesus Prayer.
The operations according to nature of the mind, the noetic virtues, are to be found in contemplation, especially of God; and the operations according to nature of the emotions, the moral virtues, are to be found in Eros (eros) towards God (the desire) and dispassionate anger towards the demons (the temper). Hence, the newly-baptized Orthodox Christian begins a life-long struggle to return his mind to the contemplation of God, his desire to Eros (eros) towards God and his temper to a dispassionate hatred of the demons. There are of course other virtues of the mind and the emotions.
Because of the difficulty of this soteriological program, the Orthodox Christian may elect to become a monk or nun: he or she may renounce the world and the things of the world, including marriage and wealth and glory, in order to devote himself or herself more fully to this program of salvation. Hence, the ascetical program of the Orthodox monk or nun is merely the soteriological program of the ordinary Orthodox Christian writ large.
While the Jesus Prayer has never been said by the saints to be exclusively for monks and nuns, it is in the monastic context that its fullest use can be realized.
The Christian ascetical program to return the mind and emotions from their operations contrary to nature to their operations according to nature, to return the mind and emotions from vice to virtue, is founded on the psychological model of the rejection of temptation. This is to be found even in the most active life of the ordinary Christian or tonsured monastic, even in his most banal confrontations with the most common moral choices. But this model of the rejection of temptation also enters into the deepest strata of Orthodox meditation and contemplation, for the rejection of temptation is the basic structure of meditation and contemplation in the Orthodox ascetical tradition.
The Orthodox Christian, especially the Orthodox monk or nun, realizes his or her struggle to attain to the operations of the mind (nous), desire (epithumia) and temper (thumos) according to nature, to attain to noetic and moral virtue, as a struggle against temptation, or, more positively put, as a struggle to keep the commandments of God, first the ethical and spiritual commandments of the Old Testament, then the sublime commandments of the New Testament.
Hence, the Christian, above all the tonsured monastic, struggles first to keep the commandments of God by rejecting temptation in his actions. Then when he is purified, he struggles to keep the commandments of God by rejecting temptation in his very own thought processes. The Jesus Prayer is used as part of this ascetical struggle, both at the stage of keeping the commandments in action and at the stage of keeping the commandments in thought.
Using the ascetical psychology of Evagrius Pontikos, we have analyzed the deepest strands of the struggle to keep the commandments in thought.
Evagrius teaches us that this ascetical struggle to keep the commandments in thought has a natural progression: first we reach moral perfection, moral virtue, by bringing the passionate part of the soul, the seat of the emotions, to its operations according to nature; then we progress to noetic perfection, noetic or intellectual virtue, by bringing the mind (nous) to its operation according to nature in the contemplation of God.
The operations contrary to nature, the vices, of the passionate part of the soul, the emotions, can be categorized into eight passions or tendencies of the person to act morally in ways that are contrary to nature. These eight passions are: gluttony, fornication (these two relate to the desire), avarice, sorrow, anger, accidie, vainglory and pride (these six relate to the temper). The temptations that must be rejected in order to bring the emotions to their operation according to nature can be categorized in the same way.
In some Orthodox ascetical analyses, three of the passions or emotional tendencies contrary to nature are singled out as basic and generative of the others: gluttony, avarice and vainglory.
Finally, in an isolated remark, Evagrius states that behind all the passions is self-love.
When the tonsured monastic, or even the ordinary Christian, reaches the stage of rejecting temptation in his thoughts in order to keep the commandments of God in his thoughts, he continues to use this schema of the eight passions in order to give a structure to his mental ascesis.
The temptation in thought, the temptation in the mind (nous), begins as an image of an object of sense. We have all had such images when in a state of quietness; we probably have not paid much attention to them. However, the Orthodox tradition of mental ascesis teaches us that these spontaneous images of objects of sense are each one of them related to one of the eight moral passions of the emotions that we have just listed, and that, moreover, we can tell which of the eight passions is implicated by the content of the image.
These spontaneous images in the mind of objects of sense arise out of what modern psychology of the Freudian school would call id impulses, although they are not necessarily sexual: such images have the same typology as the passions: gluttony, fornication, avarice, sorrow, anger, accidie, vainglory and pride. In the Orthodox ascetical tradition, of course, the inception in the mind of an image of an object of sense is ascribed not to an id impulse but to the action of a demon.
Above all, we have learned that the spontaneous image can and should be rejected: there is nothing in this Orthodox ascetical psychology that would counsel a person to accept such an image, and the practice suggested by it, as being natural to the human condition: these images are seen as founded on the operations contrary to nature of the desire (epithumia) and temper (thumos), the emotions, even when it appears that the images and the practices they suggest are quite normal.
This marks a great divergence of this ascetical psychology from modern received interpretations of Freudian and other depth psychologies.
This ascetical psychology also differs fundamentally from the Freudian and other depth-psychological analyses, and from the analyses of other schools of psychology, not only in the analysis of the actual workings of the human person—what his primary motivations are; how his motivations articulate the one with the other; how his mind and emotions are related; the significance of a spontaneous image in his mind—but also in the implicit and often unspoken value-judgements contained in each psychology. It would be a naïve student of psychology indeed who did not recognize that Freud and the other modern founders of psychological systems had in their psychologies implicit value-judgements. Orthodox ascetical psychology is explicit in its value-judgements, based as they are on the Orthodox interpretation of Revelation.
Evagrius extends his analysis of the ascetical struggle to keep the commandments in thought, to the dreams that the ascetic has. Here, too, his analysis differs radically from the analyses of the modern depth-psychological schools.
The monk or nun practising this Orthodox method of spirituality in its fullness, once he or she has passed beyond the stage of keeping the commandments in action, is placed in a situation of quietness where he or she can pay attention to the images and thoughts that arise spontaneously in his or her mind. The monk or nun confronts these images and thoughts as temptations to be rejected so that the commandments of God might be kept in thought.
We have learned in the sources the relation between the initial tempting image and the subsequent impassioned, or tempting, thought.
This treatment of introspected mental images and thoughts as temptations to be rejected distinguishes this Orthodox tradition of mental ascesis from Eastern methods of meditation. No Eastern tradition, be it Hindu or Buddhist or Muslim (Sufi), treats meditation in this way. Those traditions have a completely different orientation.
It also marks a very great divergence of this Orthodox tradition of mental ascesis from some forms of Tibetan Buddhist meditation, where the meditator is counselled to give himself wholeheartedly over to such images as they present themselves to his mind.
Moreover, although certain non-Christian religious traditions recognize the existence of demons, not all of those traditions reject the demons as fallen minds that are alienated from God and the good. Here, the Orthodox ascetical tradition is clear and firm: the demons are never agents of good, only of evil.
It cannot be overemphasized that this Orthodox orientation to these thoughts and images as temptations from evil demons has very far-reaching psychological consequences on the ascetic practicing this mental ascesis: it stamps his mental ascesis in the tradition of the Philokalia.
This program of mental ascesis based on the rejection of images and thoughts in order to keep the commandments in thought is intended to lead to an ‘emptiness’ of mind (nous) from such images and thoughts, which emptiness both announces and confers on the person the moral virtues, the operations of the emotions according to nature, dispassion (apatheia), and enables him to enter into contemplation so as to acquire noetic virtue.
Evagrius implies that ultimately it is the Holy Spirit that confers the moral virtues on the person.
The stages of contemplation after the attainment to ‘emptiness’ of mind or dispassion are well-defined in the Kephalaia Gnostica of Evagrius Pontikos, but not so well-defined in On Sobriety by St Hesychios, although that work does betray a clear Evagrian influence. One does not in any event pass immediately from emptiness of mind or dispassion to the contemplation of God. There are stages. These are necessary for the gradual purification and illumination of the mind.
The basic stages of contemplation in Evagrius are the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created things, the contemplation of the angels, the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of the angels, and the contemplation of God himself.
In Evagrius, the contemplation of God, but also contemplation generally, is not the ascetic’s discursive rumination in the mind on various propositions about the goodness of God, the goodness and beauty of his creation, and so on. Contemplation is the intuitive, or direct, cognition of an intelligible reality by means of the faculties of direct spiritual cognition of the human mind.
As the person ascends through contemplation, his mind is purified and he becomes the better able to contemplate, the better able to cognize intuitively the intelligible reality being contemplated. This especially manifests itself in the transition from the contemplation of the reasons (logoi) of created objects to the contemplation of the angels: in that transition, or transformation, the ascetic puts off the senses and his mind is thenceforth focused exclusively on intelligible objects of contemplation, with the result that he no longer has the same relation to objects of sense that he once had: they become as it were mere shadows of a deeper reality.
Evagrius has an extremely detailed and difficult analysis of the cognitive psychology of the stages of contemplation, with a great emphasis on the kinds of mental representations that bear into the mind the cognitions related to those stages: mental representations which are sense impressions; intelligible mental representations such as the reasons (logoi) of created objects, the spiritual cognitions of angels and the reasons (logoi) of the angels; and the mental representation of God himself. This very difficult contemplative psychology is very important for a theoretical understanding of the stages of contemplation and of the transformations of the mind that are required for their attainment.
In On Sobriety, although reference is made to the Evagrian schema of contemplation in such a way as to make it clear that the author was familiar with the works of Evagrius, there is not such a clear delineation of the stages of contemplation as in Evagrius. Instead, there is an emphasis on the illumination provided in Jesus Christ by the Holy Spirit, in much the same way and with much the same language that at a later date St Symeon the New Theologian will describe his own mystical experiences of divine illumination.
The final stage of contemplation, the final stage of the restoration of the mind to noetic virtue, to its operation according to nature, is accomplished in the conscious habitual union of the person with Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit; this is variously named divinization (theosis), adoption by grace as a son of God, dispassion (apatheia), the contemplation of God or Theology. In this union, two persons are united: the person who is praying and the Son.
It might, however, be more accurate to say that in this union the person praying is united to all the three Persons of the Holy Trinity. In the fully Orthodox tradition of contemplation, the Father is not singled out as being higher than the Son and the Holy Spirit in such a way that the highest contemplation of God would be the contemplation of the Father, whereas the contemplation of the Son would be a lower contemplation, as Evagrius teaches in the Kephalaia Gnostica. In the fully Orthodox tradition, union with one Person of the Holy Trinity confers union with all the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
In this union of the person with the Son, which union is experienced as light, the Uncreated Light of later Palamite theology, the final moral virtue of divine love is conferred on the person, along with higher noetic virtues such as discernment.
However, in accordance with basic Orthodox anthropology, the person who in contemplation participates in this union with Jesus Christ is considered still to be able to sin. He has in no way lost his free will and he has in no way been utterly freed from temptation. Only after the General Resurrection will he be granted both freedom from sin and the inability to fall.
For the Christian who has in this life such an experience of union with God, there are two kinds of temptation: pride and self-love; and false, or demonic, contemplation or gnosis.
Up to this point, the Jesus Prayer has not entered into the analysis of the ascetical struggle to keep the commandments of God in thought, to reject temptation in thought, followed by the ascent to God in contemplation. The Jesus Prayer is inserted into the program of mental ascesis that we have just described. It is an important part of the program of mental ascesis but it is not itself the whole program.
There is a temptation among Westerners to overlay an Eastern mantra model on the Jesus Prayer that would be a reinterpretation of the Jesus Prayer freed of the specifically Orthodox content that we have discussed above, freed of the Orthodox ascetical psychology that is the Jesus Prayer’s natural setting.
In our view, such attempts are both dangerous and doomed to failure.
In the Orthodox ascetical tradition of the Philokalia, the Jesus Prayer is inserted into a program of mental ascesis based on an ascetical psychology that treats the images and thoughts that arise spontaneously in the mind as temptations to be rejected. The systematic rejection of these tempting images and thoughts is expected to lead over a period of years to a freedom of the mind from such tempting images and thoughts. It is this program of the rejection of tempting images and thoughts that is at the heart of the Orthodox program of mental ascesis, not the repetition of the Jesus Prayer perhaps as a mantra. It is the systematic rejection of tempting images and thoughts which is expected to lead to a purification of the ascetic’s emotions so that he can enter into contemplation. The Jesus Prayer is used as part of this program of mental ascesis.
This is a profound aspect of the psychology of mental ascesis in the Orthodox tradition. For it creates a certain psychological structure that determines the attitude of the Orthodox ascetic to the images and thoughts that arise spontaneously in his mind when he is in a state of quietness (‘in meditation’), and positions the use of the Jesus Prayer within that psychological structure.
Moreover, the ascetical texts take it for granted that the monk or nun has entered into the Orthodox Church and that he or she has properly arranged the rest of his or her spiritual life in regard to the Church and its Mysteries.
This program of mental ascesis is combined with a bodily ascesis which supports it but which is secondary to it in importance.
Moreover, we have seen that the conscious habitual union of the monk or nun with Jesus Christ in the Holy Spirit is to be seen as the free gift of God and not as the wage of works: although Eastern yogic traditions do emphasize the need of the grace of the guru to enter into advanced states of contemplation (as they understand those states surely), there is a greater emphasis in those traditions on the effort of the man himself, the more so than in this Orthodox ascetical tradition.
Hence, looking at the particular method of mental ascesis of St Hesychios, member of the
Moreover, we have seen that although today there is a school of the use of the Jesus Prayer which emphasizes compunction and tears and pursues them, the method taught by St Hesychios does not emphasize compunction and tears at all, except as possible fruits of his method of sobriety.
This method of sobriety is based on a sober attention in the mind to the formation of tempting images and thoughts with a view to their rejection. It is also based, at least in its later stages, on the descent of the mind (nous) into the heart, so that this sober attention is exercised with the mind (nous) in the heart. This is the highest form of this program of mental ascesis: this sobriety practiced with the mind in the heart.
We have seen that the Orthodox ascetical authors provide very detailed and subtle descriptions of the onset of a temptation as an image in the consciousness of the ascetic who is keeping sobriety with his mind in his heart, and of the evolution of the image into a tempting thought which ultimately ends in consent to and practice of the act of sin suggested by the initial image. These descriptions are very important, although very advanced, aspects of this ascetical psychology.
The Jesus Prayer is practiced with the mind in the heart as part of the program of the rejection of tempting images that arise while the mind is in the heart. As part of this program of mental ascesis, the Jesus Prayer is repeated twenty-four hours a day, so that its repetition becomes automatic even in sleep. We have seen that this automatic repetition twenty-four hours a day even in sleep is attested in the earliest recorded work to refer to the Jesus Prayer. The result of this practice of the Jesus Prayer as part of a program of mental ascesis is the progressive purification of the emotions from the passions, so that there are no longer tempting images and thoughts in the consciousness of the ascetic, or better put, so that the ascetic rejects at the earliest possible moment the tempting images and thoughts. This is the operation of the passionate part of the soul according to nature, emotional health, manifested as an emptiness of mind from such tempting images.
When the ascetic has attained to this emptiness of mind, then he at all times maintains a guard on his mind to keep it empty. An integral part of the ascetic’s guard of the mind is the automatic repetition of the Jesus Prayer even in sleep. Another very important part of this guard is the extreme attention that the ascetic exercises in his mind with a view to rejecting at the earliest possible moment spontaneously arising images of objects of sense.
It is from this guard of the mind that the ascetic begins to contemplate, eventually being granted by the free grace of Jesus Christ the gift of union with Jesus Christ himself.
We have seen that the automatic practice of the Jesus Prayer is facilitated by the synchronization of the prayer with the normal breathing.
When the Jesus Prayer is prayed as part of this program of mental ascesis it is prayed both as an invocation—for recall that the practice of the Jesus Prayer is a spiritual relation or converse between one person and another, the person praying and Jesus Christ—and as a means to introduce into the mind the repetitive play of the mental representations conveyed by the Prayer. The repetitive play of those mental representations has a dissolving effect on impassioned memories and thoughts in the ascetic.
The precise relation in St Hesychios of the Jesus Prayer to the method of mental ascesis is this: Drawing on his predecessors, St Hesychios teaches us that we are to reject the spontaneous image in the mind by means of ‘rebuttal’, the mental word by which we reject the demon who has sown the temptation. This act of rebuttal by the use of a word or short phrase—the sources are clear that what is intrinsically important is the psychological rejection by the ascetic of the spontaneous image—freezes the image as a localized phenomenon in the ascetic’s field of consciousness and does not allow it to evolve into a tempting thought that fills his whole mind and that might be acted upon. However, to dissipate the now-frozen image, the ascetic must invoke Jesus Christ: this is the Jesus Prayer used as invocation.
However, this is not to be understood as the intermittent starting and stopping of the Jesus Prayer, which should continue automatically. It is an analysis of the role of the Jesus Prayer in this method of mental ascesis.
The goal of the ascetic in practicing this form of mental ascesis is to arrive at a state in which his mind is in his heart, he has a deep quietness or stillness of spirit, and there are no images in his consciousness, only the eternal repetition of the Jesus Prayer. This is the guard of the mind, and it is from this state that the ascetic is raised by the grace of the Holy Spirit to contemplations, ultimately to the contemplation of God which confers on him divine love and union with the three Persons of the Holy Trinity.
May the Mother of God pray for the author of this work. Amen.
 John 14, 6.
 Cf. Gal. 4, 6.
 Cf. Rom. 8, 26.
 In Evagrius’ sense of the term.
 Here, in the sense of St John of Sinai.