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Christe Eleison!

The Invocation of Christ in Eastern Monastic Psalmody c. 350-450


James Frederick Wellington

For centuries the Jesus Prayer has been leading Orthodox Christians beyond the language of liturgy and the representations of iconography into the wordless, imageless stillness of the mystery of God. In more recent years it has been helping a growing number of Western Christians to find a deeper relationship with God through the continual rhythmic repetition of a short prayer which, by general agreement, first emerged from the desert spirituality of early monasticism. In this study James Wellington explores the understanding and practice of the psalmody which underpinned this spirituality. By means of an investigation of the importance of psalmody in desert monasticism, an exploration of the influence of Evagrius of Pontus and a thorough examination of selected psalm-commentaries in circulation in the East at this time, he reveals a monastic culture which was particularly conducive to the emergence of a Christ-centred invocatory prayer.
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Chapter One: Updating an Alsatian


← 6 | 7 → CHAPTER ONE

Updating an Alsatian

I. Noms du Christ et voies d’oraison

1. Overview

In Chapter 3 of Noms du Christ, Hausherr introduces the reader to what he understands to be the motivation behind the emergence of the Jesus Prayer. Quoting from the nineteenth-century Russian classic, The Way of a Pilgrim, he records the eponymous hero’s question to his staretz: ‘How is it possible to pray continually?’ He continues:

Many other men in preceding centuries had asked themselves the same question the Pilgrim asked. And the answers given have varied widely. It was from this very search for continual prayer that the Jesus Prayer was born. In order to understand and appreciate and situate this prayer we will have to accompany that search, discover its guiding principles and observe the results which it has produced.1

What follows is a Great Trek from the acts of prayer of the earliest Christian communities to Nicephorus and the Athonite teaching on the Jesus Prayer in the medieval period. For the purpose of this study our attention is focused on the third, fourth, and fifth chapters, which are the most relevant to our task. For in those chapters we are offered a detailed analysis of the elements within desert monasticism which, Hausherr claims, constitute the evolution whose end product was to be the invocation, ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me’. Let us consider a brief...

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