At the end of October 1951 I spent several days at the Greek monastery of Saint Dionysios. There I met a Greek man from Cicon, who had lived in Russia and in the Caucasus for some time, and from there he moved to Athos during the civil war. His name was Father Euthymios. This sixty-year-old man was distinguished by wisdom and served in the monastery as a librarian. We had many great conversations with him.
One evening we sat on the balcony of his cell, overhanging the sea, and enjoyed the calm, warm autumn weather. The sun was setting in the west. The sky and the sea were in a golden glow.
– Father Euthymios, – I said, – in Konevitsa I spoke with Father Dorotheos about pure prayer, and then, on New Valamo, I asked Father Michael about the limit of prayer. What would you say on the subject?
– Although church and private prayer with books and music is very useful, it is also temporary, – Father Euthymios answered. – We do not always have books and sheet music, and we cannot always be in church or in a cell. We need to live, work and fulfil our obediences. I do not know any other prayer, besides Jesus prayer, that can be unceasing. No church, no cell, no books are needed for it. You can pray the Jesus Prayer everywhere – at home, in the street, on a trip, in prison or in a hospital. You just need to learn it.
– But how?
– It doesn’t matter exactly how you learn. You can start with repeating it to yourself as loudly as you can in your cell or on the road, when there are no people. You can do it slowly, or in a whining tone, the kind that beggars have. But you have to do it with attention. “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner!” Repeat it as often as possible, continue repeating it silently in your mind, but also with attention and slowly. And then you can combine it with breathing and the heartbeat. Just do not dare to do it all alone. Let someone who struggles in the same field teach you, otherwise you will fall into bad thoughts and so on. It may go on like this for many years, or you might as well learn soon. Then this prayer will start flowing through your mind like a brook, while you walk, work or sleep. You may be asleep, but your heart is awake. Then you won’t need words or even thoughts. Your whole life will become a prayer. It is similar to what Father Dorotheos told you about John of Moldova.
– Tell me, Father Euthymios, is there a way to tell when a person has made a great progress in the Jesus Prayer?
– There certainly is. If you want to learn prayer from someone, then choose a quiet and humble Elder, who does not condemn anyone, except through his own foolishness. Choose someone who does not get irritated, shout or give orders. Beware the Elders who, having not yet mastered anything themselves, start to rule over others. They may have studied the external or technical side of prayer, but they have not acquired its spirit. Just imagine how can someone who constantly calls out “…have mercy on me, a sinner” judge others?
– Will they soon be ringing for the Vespers, Father Euthymios?
– They will – he replied. – Here they are already. It’s time to go to church.
We left the balcony and went down the corridors and stairs leading to the Catholicon lit by the golden sunset. The service began slowly and ‘earnestly’, as it usually does on Mount Athos. “O Gladsome Light of the holy glory of the immortal, heavenly, holy, blessed Father, O Jesus Christ. Now we have come to the setting of the sun and behold the light of evening. We praise God: Father, Son, and Holy Spirit…”
In the evening I went out to the balcony of my cell and looked at the sky strewn with countless stars. Father Euthymios quietly approached me:
– Looking at the sky, are you? What greatness and what beauty of creation. There is no need to think about the details now. In due time you will have the high degree of understanding achieved in the height of prayer. You cannot understand it with your mind; you need enlightenment. People do not notice any of this in the world full of worries. Lord forgive me for saying this, but often we are like pigs looking for acorns on the ground. True happiness and beauty are revealed to those who live in God. Yes, the power of prayer is great and gracious. Compared to it, everything else is dust and ‘vanity of vanities’.
Sergey Bolshakov. At the Heights of Spirit
Translated by The Catalogue of Good Deeds