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Christe Eleison!

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

Series:

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 Two: The Spirit and Practice of Monastic Psalmody

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← 18 | 19 → CHAPTER TWO

The Spirit and Practice of Monastic Psalmody

The monastic culture of fourth-century Lower Egypt in which Evagrius produced his ascetical writings, and in which the monastic quest for continual prayer was conducted, has been vividly portrayed in a wide range of primary sources, and has been the focus of attention of an impressive corpus of modern scholarship. Among the former are to be found the Apothegmata patrum, Athanasius’ Epistola ad Marcellinum, John Cassian’s Conlationes and De institutis, the Historia monachorum in Aegypto, Palladius’ Historia Lausiaca, the Pachomiana Latina of Jerome and the Vita Pachomii. The latter are well represented by the works referredto in Chapter 1.

How much we know about the belief, life and practice of the early Egyptian monastic communities is therefore the subject of a vibrant and ongoing discussion. This discussion will be the focus of the present chapter, in the course of which we will be examining the De institutits, the Historia Lausiaca, and the Pachomiana Latina. By way of introduction, however, let us consider the fourth-century understanding of the spirit of monastic psalmody afforded to us in Athanasius’ Epistola ad Marcellinum.

I. Epistola ad Marcellinum

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