I used to be very involved with Centering Prayer and the Christian Meditation taught by Benedictine monk John Main. I led weekly “Christian meditation” groups and retreats at parishes, coordinated retreats led by a well-known Benedictine monk, etc. This was my life for many years. In the final year of my involvement with this movement, I was in a period of novitiate as a Benedictine Oblate (one who tries to follow the Rule of St. Benedict while living in the world), trying to decide whether to take my final vows as an Oblate and remain in the Christian Meditation movement, or whether to enter the Orthodox Church. As I entered more and more deeply into the discipline of Christian Meditation over many years and came to know others who were very experienced in this practice, and simultaneously studied the Orthodox faith and the tradition of the Jesus Prayer, I came to see that Christian Meditation/Centering Prayer were of a very different spiritual origin and orientation than the tradition of the Desert Fathers and its continuation in the Orthodox Church today. I came to the conclusion that CM/CP were completely incompatible with the Orthodox tradition, and so in the end I had to make a choice of which to follow for the rest of my life.
Christian Meditation (CM) and Centering Prayer (CP) were attempts to “Christianize” Hindu mantra meditation as taught by Swami Satyananda in Malaya (in the case of CM) and Maharishi Mahesh Yogi (in the case of CP). While abbot of Spenser Abbey in Massachusetts, Fr. Thomas Keating would invite Zen masters to teach his Trappist/Benedictine monks to meditate. Since Christian Meditation/Centering Prayer methods come directly from the non-Christian East, there is no surprise that one would come to a similar experience by practicing these same methods even within different religions. In fact, the experience is very much the same, which is why within the CM/CP circles it is very popular to believe that at their “mystical core” all religions experience the same thing and only describe this experience in different terms. Some describe their experience in terms of “God” and “Love”, while others in terms of “Emptiness” or the “Absolute”, for instance, depending on the religious doctrines through which this same experience is interpreted.
From my ever deepening engagement with Orthodoxy, I came to see that this “common experience” at the “mystical core” of all these practices is only the experience of our own created nature, our own created human spirit. This experience of our own created spirit is often described in terms of experiencing “reality” outside of the consciousness of time and space, an experience of limitlessness, of eternity, of boundlessness, of oneness, etc. This is a very enlightening and transformative experience for people, but it is purely the experience of created reality arrived at as a natural consequence of applying a certain psycho-somatic technique. In other words, this experience has nothing to do with entering into communion with the Uncreated God through His divine and uncreated energies (grace). But, is such an experience of one’s created spirit a bad thing?
In Christian Meditation and Centering Prayer, one is often taught about the experience of communion with God, when in reality the practitioners of these methods are only being led to the experience of the limitlessness of their own created spirit. When one experiences their own created spirit and mistakes this for the experience of the Uncreated God, this is a delusion, and this delusion becomes the greatest obstacle to actually knowing God and entering into communion with God. This delusion, in fact, creates a greater obstacle to knowing God than even the grossest passions because one has been brought ultimately to the worship of his own self as God. This is the experience of the Hindu that says “Atman is Brahman” or “Self is God”. Through the belief that one’s own created spirit is God or equal to God, which is the same as mistaking your created spirit for the Uncreated Spirit, one falls into the same delusion as Lucifer at the time of his great fall.
The contemplative movement in the West today, which is led primarily by the teachings of Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation, has at its core this spiritual deception and confusion regarding the experience of God and one’s own created spirit. It is no wonder, then, that the leaders of this movement, from the famous Thomas Merton to the “teachers” of our own time, see no problem with Christians learning to meditate from Zen masters and Hindu gurus (I have met a few Roman Catholic religious who are also certified Zen Roshis, for instance). The practice of these methods have led to a “New Christianity” which is not a return to the tradition of the Desert Fathers (which this movement tries to exploit for its own justification) and the early Church, but is rather a betrayal of the very foundation of the apostolic faith and the establishment of a new faith which lays the foundation for the future religion of Antichrist.
It is very popular in the CP/CM teachings to refer to the Orthodox tradition of the Jesus Payer as being of the same tradition. This, in fact, is how I first learned of the Orthodox Church. As one looks deeply into each tradition, however, one will see that everything is approached very differently. You can then see the continuity and consistency of the Orthodox tradition of the Jesus Prayer and its complete inseparability from baptism in the Orthodox Church and participation in an Orthodox sacramental life. You can then compare this to the recently created traditions of Centering Prayer and Christian Meditation which have no living continuity with the early Church but which were revived only through contact with the non-Christian East. You can then look for the fruits of these traditions, you can see the Desert Fathers of old and the contemporary Desert Fathers of the Orthodox Church that have the exact same tradition and worldview as the fathers of old; and compare this to the fact that the CP/CM movements have produced no such contemporary saints that are as the Desert Fathers. The deeper you enter into these subjects, the more you will see their divergence, and yet only one of these traditions is consistent with the faith “once and for all delivered to the saints”.
A few quotes from Elder Sophrony of Essex and Hieromonk Damascene of Platina from Hieromonk Damascene’s book “Christ the Eternal Tao”:
Fr. Damascene says concerning the experience of inner light:
“Here we are treading on dangerous ground, so it is necessary to step lightly. This is where many who have practiced watchfulness have fallen into delusion over the centuries. Everything depends on the purity of one's intention in going within. If one's intention (conscious or unconscious) is not to face one's sin-condition, repent and thus be reconciled to God, but instead to "be spiritual" while continuing to worship oneself, then one can - upon becoming aware of the light of one's spirit - begin to worship it as God. This is the ultimate delusion.”
Archimandrite Sophrony is then quoted as saying:
"Attaining the bounds where 'day and night come to an end,' man contemplates the beauty of his own spirit which many identify with Divine Being. They do see a light but it is not the True Light in which there 'is no darkness at all.' It is the natural light peculiar to the mind of man created in God's image.
"The mental light, which excels every other light of empirical knowledge, might still just as well be called darkness, since it is the darkness of divestiture and God is not in it. And perhaps in this instance more than any other we should listen to the Lord's warning, 'Take heed therefore that the light which is in you be not darkness.' The first prehistoric, cosmic catastrophe - the fall of Lucifer, son of the morning, who became the prince of darkness - was due to his enamored contemplation of his own beauty, which ended up in his self-deification."
Fr. Damascene then comments on this passage:
“The darkness of divestiture of which Fr. Sophrony speaks is the state of having risen above all thought processes, which we have described earlier. If a person's motive is prideful, he will stop at this point, admiring his own brilliance; but that brilliance will still be darkness. He will think he has found God, but God will not be there. He will find a kind of peace, but it will be a peace apart from God.
“To go beyond thought is not yet to attain true knowledge. Such knowledge comes from the Word speaking wordlessly in the spirit that is yearning for Him; it does not come from the spirit itself. The Word will come and make His abode with the spirit only if the person approaches Him in absolute humility, for He Himself is humility, and like attracts like.”
Fr. Sophrony writes further on those who go within themselves without humility:
"since those who enter for the first time into the sphere of the 'silence of the mind' experience a certain mystic awe, they mistake their contemplation for mystical communion with the Divine, whereas in reality they are still within the confines of created human nature. The mind, it is true, here passes beyond the frontiers of time and space, and it is this that gives it a sense of grasping eternal wisdom. This is as far as human intelligence can go along the path of natural development and self-contemplation...
"Dwelling in the darkness of divestiture, the mind knows a peculiar delight and sense of peace... Clearing the frontiers of time, such contemplation approaches the mind to knowledge of the intransitory, thereby possessing man of new but still abstract cognition. Woe to him who mistakes this wisdom for knowledge of the true God, and this contemplation for a communion in Divine Being. Woe to him because the darkness of divestiture on the borders of true vision becomes an impenetrable pass and a stronger barrier between himself and God than the darkness due to the uprising of gross passion, or the darkness of obviously demonic instigations, or the darkness which results from loss of Grace and abandonment by God. Woe to him, for he will have gone astray and fallen into delusion, since God is not in the darkness of divestiture."
To experience the darkness of divestiture and the light of the mind, says Fr. Sophrony, "is naturally accessible to man," but to experience the Uncreated Light of the Divinity is given to man by a special action of God. These two experiences differ qualitatively from each other. Fr. Sophrony writes:
"It has been granted to me to contemplate different kinds of light and lights - the light the artist knows when elated by the beauty of the visible world; the light of philosophical contemplation that develops into a mystical experience. Let us even include the 'light' of scientific knowledge which is always and inevitably of very relative value. I have been tempted by manifestations of light from hostile spirits. But in my adult years, when I returned to Christ as perfect God, the unoriginate Light shone on me. This wondrous Light, even in the measure vouchsafed to me from on High, eclipsed all else, just as the rising sun eclipses the brightest star."
Fr Damascene then comments on this passage:
“We do not practice watchfulness so that we can become silent and peaceful. Rather, we become silent so that we can know the unpleasant truth about ourselves, and so that we "hear" the Tao/Logos speaking directly to our inward being. He does not speak in an audible voice; His voice makes no noise even in the mind... Scripture calls His voice still and small. We cannot hear it unless we tune in to it by separating from all the static noise in our heads.”
After these words, Fr. Damascene then goes on to describe the Orthodox teaching regarding the Jesus Prayer.
In the Orthodox tradition of the Jesus Prayer, the practice of the Prayer cannot be separated from the Orthodox sacramental and ascetical life. Since the non-Christian meditation practices, such as are followed by Buddhists, Hindus, and many non-Orthodox Christians (in the tradition of Thomas Keating, Thomas Merton, John Main, etc.) are primarily psycho-somatic techniques that lead to the experience of one’s created nature, these techniques can easily be practiced by different people regardless of their religion, and all who practice these techniques come to a similar experience. In the Orthodox Church, however, man’s salvation, theosis, and his entire spiritual development begins with the reception of the Holy Spirit through baptism and chrismation in the Orthodox Church. By entering and remaining in the Orthodox Church, man begins to receive and be deified by the Uncreated Energies of God as he grows in humility, virtue, and repentance while regularly receiving deifying grace through the sacraments of the Orthodox Church.
Confession, repentance, humility, and self-control provide the fertile ground for the seeds of the Jesus Prayer to grow and bear fruit; while providing also the protective leaves that shield and preserve the fruit from the disease and scorching heat of pride and delusion. For a tree to bear fruit, however, it is not enough to have good soil and leaves for protection, but sunlight is needed also for growth and vitality. In the same way, along with confession, repentance, humility, and self-control, man needs the divine rays of uncreated grace from the sacraments of the Orthodox Church.
There have been many Eastern Catholics who have tried to make progress in the Jesus Prayer, but who eventually realized that they could not make much progress until they joined the Orthodox Church. I have commented already on the fact that in the Orthodox Church man's spiritual development and theosis begins with baptism and chrismation in the Orthodox Church. As I'm sure you know, the Orthodox Church does not consider baptisms or other sacraments performed outside of the Orthodox Church as true and grace-filled sacraments. The Uncreated Energies of God operate through the sacraments of the Church, but when when a priest or bishop goes into schism and is broken off completely from the body of Christ, the sacraments performed cease to be effective and grace-filled. This reality explains how so many abuses occurred in Roman Catholicism once they became separated from the Church, just as it explains the chaos of Protestantism and the absence in both of these groups of saints who are of the same spiritual stature and worldview (phronema) as the saints of the first centuries. [...]
Regarding those who have converted to Orthodoxy from Eastern Rite Catholicism, and your assertion that some Orthodox have converted to Eastern Rite Catholicism, I am thinking particularly of people like Hieromonk Gabriel (Bunge) and Hieromonk Placide (Deseilles) who were patristic scholars and lived for decades as monastics on the Eastern Rite under the Pope before coming to the conclusion that they were on a dead end that could only be resolved by entering the Orthodox Church. Do you have such people, who lived for decades as Orthodox monks and were renowned as patristic scholars, who came to the conclusion that they were in a dead end in Orthodoxy and so fled to the Pope?
On the subject of judging the progress of others, my only point is that I have heard several accounts of those who sought to practice the Jesus Prayer in a serious way in Eastern Catholicism who found this attempt to be futile and so converted to Orthodoxy. Fr. Theophanes of Kapsokalyvia, as one example, said after his conversion that he really wasn’t able to understand the Jesus Prayer properly until his conversion to Orthodoxy. Other long-time Roman or Eastern Catholics have spoken of the great grace they received after entering the Orthodox Church.
Within the Orthodox Church, we have many contemporary examples of hesychasts who labored day and night praying the Jesus Prayer and whose lives exemplified the same spiritual qualities as the Desert Fathers of old. I have not heard of any contemporary hesychasts of Eastern Rite Catholicism whose lives were of the same spiritual character as our contemporary Orthodox saints and elders. I have never seen a book on the Jesus Prayer by a contemporary hesychast of Eastern Rite Catholicism. I assume that if an Eastern Rite Catholic wanted to seriously learn to pray the Jesus Prayer, he would find little support within Eastern Rite Catholicism and would need to turn to the books and counsels of living and reposed Orthodox saints and elders who do not consider Eastern Rite Catholicism as part of the Church and have no communion with Eastern Rite Catholics. Of course, if I am wrong about any of this, please feel free to challenge me on these points.
Before I was Orthodox, the Benedictines trying to recover practices of “contemplative prayer” were always quick to point out that such a tradition died in Roman Catholicism after the Schism (though they would blame scholasticism rather than the Schism), but that a similar (to them) tradition of the Jesus Prayer remained a living tradition in the Orthodox Church from apostolic times until today. For those who wish to truly learn this way of prayer, it is necessary to be part of this living tradition.
Written by the user "jah777" @ http://www.orthodoxchristianity.net/forum/index.php?topic=18458.45