Praying with the body: the hesychast method and non-Christian parallels
Metropolitan Kallistos addresses the question of whether there are parallels between the hesychastic method of prayer and other apparently similar techniques of prayer in Hinduism and Islam. Looking at the origins of hesychasm and the teachings of figures such as St Gregory Palamas, St Gregory of Sinai and Nikiphoros the Hesychast, Metropolitan Kallistos addresses the question: is the Jesus Prayer an essential and authentically Christian practice, or is it unnecessary and perhaps even harmful?
Remember God more often than you breathe.
St Gregory of Nazianzos
A ghost in a machine?
‘Glorify God in your body’, says St Paul (1 Cor. 6:19). But how in practice is this to be done? How can we make our human physicality an active participant in the work of prayer? This is something to which as Christians we need to give particular thought at this present time. For we are living in an age when, alike in philosophy, in physics and in psychology, it is proving less and less helpful to posit a dichotomy between spirit and matter, between soul and body. The statement of C.G. Jung is typical: ‘Spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body is the outer manifestation of the living spirit — the two beings really one.’ If writers on Chris tian spirituality continue to assume a sharp contrast between body and soul — as they have frequently done in the past — their words will seem increasingly irrelevant to their secular contemporaries.
In reality a body-soul division of a Platonic type has no place within Christian tradition. The Bible sees the human person in holistic terms, and despite the heavy influence of platonism this unitary standpoint has been repeatedly reaffirmed in Greek Christianity. ‘Is the soul by itself the person?’ asks a text attributed to Justin Martyr (d. c. 165). ‘No, it is simply the person’s soul. Do we call the body the person? No, we call it the person’s body. So the person is neither of these things on its own, but it is the single whole formed together from them both.’ The contemporary Greek theologian Christos Yannaras insists in similar terms that the body is to be regarded not as a ‘part’ or ‘component’ of the person, but as the total person’s ‘mode of existence’, as the manifestation to the outside world of the energies of our human nature in its completeness. I am not a ‘ghost in a machine’ but an undivided unity. My body is not something that I have but something that I am.read...