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Christe Eleison!

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

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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 Three: The Relationship between Psalmody and Prayer

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← 44 | 45 → CHAPTER THREE

The Relationship between Psalmody and Prayer

The purpose of this chapter is to explore the relationship between psalmody and prayer in the writings of Evagrius of Pontus. The three most relevant works under review here will be the Scholia ad psalmos, the De oratione and the Antirrhētikos, though some consideration will be given to Ad monachos, Ad virginem, Kephalaia Gnostika, Peri Logismōn, Praktikos and Skemmata (Capita Cogniscitiva).

Evagrius was born around 346, probably in Ibora in Pontus, in Asia Minor. A disciple of the Cappadocian Fathers, he was ordained deacon by Gregory of Nazianzus, whom he accompanied to the Second Ecumenical Council in 381. Following a brief stay in Jerusalem, he went to Egypt in 383 where he lived till his death in 399. Speculative teachings attributed to him led to his condemnation in 553, but his teaching on prayer and the practice of the monastic life ensured his continuing influence in monastic circles.

As has already been noted, the effective condemnation of Evagrius at the Fifth Ecumenical Council resulted in the secretion of some of his works within the offerings accredited to other authors, and often in different translations. Thus, his Scholia ad psalmos was successfully concealed within the psalm commentary attributed to Origen until the disclosures made by von Balthasar and Rondeau. Similarly, the De oratione, in the Greek Philokalia, is ascribed to Nilus, but, since the scrutiny of Hausherr,1 its authorship has...

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