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Can the Rosary be Orthodox, despite being heterodox in origin?

Alpha60

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Iconodule said:
While I brood on my prospective essay, I'll just make a few points I've made before, that seem lost on a lot of folks here:

- The rosary is not a parallel practice to hesychastic prayer. That is not its origin or intended purpose. The rosary emerged as a way for laymen to easily perform the divine office, AKA the hours. Treating the rosary as a parallel or rival practice to the prayer of the heart/ Jesus prayer is stupid.

-If we are to use the terminology of the desert fathers and Philokalic authors, the rosary is psalmody, not prayer. Psalmody and prayer are distinct practices within the spiritual life, both regarded as important. One is discursive and varied, the other is utterly simple and focused.  If you don't know the difference then you have no business talking about imagination and prayer since you have no idea what either word entails in the context of Orthodox spirituality.

-Meditation on sacred events is something built into the liturgical cycle as well as a necessary aspect of reading scripture and viewing icons. If you attend church and listen to hymns about the annunciation, nativity, etc. you will meditate on these events. In the Philokalia several authors, including Evagrius Pontikos, advocate a vivid reflection on death and the last judgment. St Mark the Ascetic recommends meditating on the life of Jesus and all his saving acts. This is not just a blip in the radar, either. Centuries later, St Nicholas Cabasilas advocates meditating on the life of Jesus as a constant activity for all people. Shouting "prelest" and "idolatry" any time such meditations arise in Catholic practice reflects ignorance or hypocrisy.
This is superb, this message needs to be heard, and I literally cannot find a word sufficient to express the enormous gratitude I feel for your timely posts reminding us of all of this, in a compact manner.  You are the true champion of genuine Orthodoxy in the face of the dangerous imposter of Netodoxy, a dismal shadow of the Orthodox faith formed by reading a few poorly written articles by heretics and misguided fanatics, combined with certain dangerously inaccurate 20th century books which propagate erroneous myths about our religion and what it entails.
 

Sharbel

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Briven said:
It can't be. Imagination is forbidden in prayer and leads to prelest and idolatry. The rosary is an entirely western Roman phenomenon.
Using the imagination is not part of the Rosary and one can certainly think about, say, the Crucifixion while praying.
 

hecma925

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Imagining, thinking, meditating mean all the same thing is what I'm understanding in this thread.
 

Orthodox_Slav

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Sharbel said:
Briven said:
It can't be. Imagination is forbidden in prayer and leads to prelest and idolatry. The rosary is an entirely western Roman phenomenon.
Using the imagination is not part of the Rosary and one can certainly think about, say, the Crucifixion while praying.
why use the imagination when you can use a cross to think about the crucifixion!
 

Iconodule

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hecma925 said:
Imagining, thinking, meditating mean all the same thing is what I'm understanding in this thread.
"Imagination" (the Greek word is phantasiā, whence we get "fantasy" and "fancy"), as warned against in the fathers, especially in the context of prayer, seems to entail thoughts arising from sensory perceptions and memory. Whether these thoughts come unbidden or through a willful daydreaming, they are distracting and break our concentration. More dangerously they can give rise to delusions- false visions or insights, or pleasing sensations that we mistake for signs of spiritual attainment.

This is different from the structured visualizing we get from reading scripture or attentively singing church hymns. If the former kind of imagination might be considered an ascending imagination- that is, arising from earthly experience and memories- we might call this other imagination a descending imagination, that is, deep spiritual insights have been wrought into images by the careful hands of our hymnographers and theologians. These images lift our souls and focus our thoughts, while daydreams and mere memories bring down and scatter.

If, as some seem to suggest, mental imagery is categorically non-allowable in Orthodox spirituality, then our hymns should just be blocks of abstractions. Instead they are filled with vivid images engaging the senses. It is impossible to attentively pray the Akathist Hymn without forming the mental images it invites us to form. The images are rich and varied but structured toward clear spiritual themes. This hymnography therefore presents a very disciplined visual meditation aimed at raising us to contemplate the mysteries of our salvation, worship God, and honor his holy ones.

The meditations of the rosary are like this. A number of guides to the rosary have been written, with passages written for each mystery as an aide. Some of these guides are terse, others are more detailed and flowery. The content of these meditative guides can be judged on their merits case by case, but overall it cannot be said that the rosary encourages flights of fancy. In the life of a busy person, it can serve to still a wandering mind and train a consciousness, prone to wandering and daydreaming, to reflect instead on sacred themes.

So the criticism of the rosary itself, as encouraging delusion, prelest, etc. misses the mark and can't even be made without ignoring important aspects of (Eastern) Orthodox spiritual practice. That leaves us with the other basic criticism- that it is Western and post-schism. See above- "Is Orthodoxy so deficient in prayer options that makes people look to outside practices?" If the rosary is an "outside practice" then we can conveniently dismiss it without actually addressing the substance of the practice itself. But it only works if we share two underlying assumptions: 1. The rosary is of purely Western and "post-schism" origin; 2  In the year 1054 some light switch was flipped to the "off" position in the West and everything that happened after then is at best suspect.
 

Agabus

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Agabus said:
The traditional Rosary is being used without modification in the Antiochian WRO.
I was tempted to think the link I cited above could be congregational piety versus the entire vicarate, but doing some completely unrelated searching last night, I found the Orthodox West site (which is officially affiliated with the Archdiocese) has a very similar section about the devotion.
 

Iconodule

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I want to say something else, which I alluded too before, which is the distinction between the Jesus prayer and the specific hesychastic practice of prayer.

Hesychasm is for monks. Without some dramatic intervention from God, the attainment of the imageless and, eventually, wordless prayer one reads about in the Philokalia takes years of intensive practice in seclusion and quiet. Attempts have been made to popularize hesychasm to some degree or other but for the majority of laymen it is not practical. A few years ago IoanC helpfully offered this translation, from a Romanian Athonite elder: In our days, various ideas have come up and there is even a magazine for hesychasm in which it says that hesychasm is the best method for the current world to live in harmony with the universe. This is a great confusion between hesychasm and unceasing prayer. To be a hesychast means to be a hermit. 

(...)Then, how can you say that hesychasm is the best method for people in the world, when only the hermit, found himself in isolation, is able to reach whatever spiritual progress through great struggle? He lives in certain special conditions. Running from the world and harsh life, in isolation, are intrinsic only to him. How can you say that this scattered world is a good environment for the realization of hesychast prayer? This is impossible. St. Basil The Great together with St. Maximus The Confessor talk about unceasing prayer. They lived before the hesychastic fathers that The Church would come to now much later. Along the lines of unceasing prayer according to the apostolic urge, St. Basil explains how to pray without ceasing. In his homilies, he says that God does not expect us to ask Him to give us this and that because God knows better than us what we need. We should do what the apostle says in a different place: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
+++
The obtainment of this state of unceasing prayer is accomplished through love, asceticism, elevating one's mind to God, and holy contemplations. He who has this has unceasing prayer."


One rarely gets such a sober, matter-of-fact statement in English Orthodox publications.

The Jesus prayer is not hesychasm. It is a tool (and not the only available one) for attaining the prayer of the heart but simply praying the Jesus prayer is not hesychasm. The Jesus prayer was widely advocated by many saints but they were not necessarily expecting laymen to thereby become hesychasts.  As Fr Petroniu suggests above, unceasing prayer can manifest in a number of ways and the unceasing prayer of the heart of the hesychasts is not for everyone. When people talk about the Jesus prayer and imageless prayer in one breath, as something for everyone, I detect a whiff of this dubious universalization of hesychasm, a practice which most Orthodox Christians to this day have either never heard of or only have the vaguest idea about. In many times and places it was unknown even to many monks.

There's a famous story told by Saint Symeon the New Theologian about a young layman George (actually Saint Symeon himself, before he took the veil) who attains ceaseless prayer while busy working in the imperial court. It is meant to prove that anyone can attain this ceaseless prayer. However, the details of the story cast doubt on this- young George, in meetings with the emperor and other imperial ministers, frequently seems to "space out" and ask people to repeat what they said. Some people get annoyed, at which point the emperor defends him, saying something to the effect of, "He is constantly remembering God, we should admire him!" So this young man, already in a very comfortable and privileged position, also has a very sympathetic boss who is willing to put up with what most bosses (and co-workers) would see as scatterbrained and irresponsible behavior. How many of us, in the world, are so fortunate?

So, coming back to this objection to the rosary as encouraging delusion because it involves visual meditations: I think this attitude comes hand in hand with this assumption of hesychasm as the norm for all Orthodox Christians. This assumption is propagated, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so, sometimes maybe unintentionally, in all kinds of popular Orthodox literature and by some very respected churchmen. I guess it's one of those many ripples from the hugely influential neo-patristic revival, which sought to return Orthodoxy to its vital sources but was also very romantic and often exaggerated certain aspects of our tradition. Undoubtedly something very important was recovered but the vociferousness with which it was done left us painted into a corner with a very romantic and unrealistic model of the Orthodox spiritual life, almost like we can all be seeing the uncreated light in a few months. If we want to warn against delusion, isn't there a huge danger here? There are so many popular books and articles out there about the Jesus prayer that one would think meat-and-potatoes devotions like the hours or akathists are an afterthought and nothing particularly profound could be written about them.

When someone mentions the rosary, instead of reacting with "No good! Jesus prayer only!" maybe it would be more useful to take it as a challenge to reflect on our own neglected devotions that have something in common with the rosary.
 

noahzarc1

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Iconodule said:
I want to say something else, which I alluded too before, which is the distinction between the Jesus prayer and the specific hesychastic practice of prayer.

Hesychasm is for monks. Without some dramatic intervention from God, the attainment of the imageless and, eventually, wordless prayer one reads about in the Philokalia takes years of intensive practice in seclusion and quiet. Attempts have been made to popularize hesychasm to some degree or other but for the majority of laymen it is not practical. A few years ago IoanC helpfully offered this translation, from a Romanian Athonite elder: In our days, various ideas have come up and there is even a magazine for hesychasm in which it says that hesychasm is the best method for the current world to live in harmony with the universe. This is a great confusion between hesychasm and unceasing prayer. To be a hesychast means to be a hermit. 

(...)Then, how can you say that hesychasm is the best method for people in the world, when only the hermit, found himself in isolation, is able to reach whatever spiritual progress through great struggle? He lives in certain special conditions. Running from the world and harsh life, in isolation, are intrinsic only to him. How can you say that this scattered world is a good environment for the realization of hesychast prayer? This is impossible. St. Basil The Great together with St. Maximus The Confessor talk about unceasing prayer. They lived before the hesychastic fathers that The Church would come to now much later. Along the lines of unceasing prayer according to the apostolic urge, St. Basil explains how to pray without ceasing. In his homilies, he says that God does not expect us to ask Him to give us this and that because God knows better than us what we need. We should do what the apostle says in a different place: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
+++
The obtainment of this state of unceasing prayer is accomplished through love, asceticism, elevating one's mind to God, and holy contemplations. He who has this has unceasing prayer."


One rarely gets such a sober, matter-of-fact statement in English Orthodox publications.

The Jesus prayer is not hesychasm. It is a tool (and not the only available one) for attaining the prayer of the heart but simply praying the Jesus prayer is not hesychasm. The Jesus prayer was widely advocated by many saints but they were not necessarily expecting laymen to thereby become hesychasts.  As Fr Petroniu suggests above, unceasing prayer can manifest in a number of ways and the unceasing prayer of the heart of the hesychasts is not for everyone. When people talk about the Jesus prayer and imageless prayer in one breath, as something for everyone, I detect a whiff of this dubious universalization of hesychasm, a practice which most Orthodox Christians to this day have either never heard of or only have the vaguest idea about. In many times and places it was unknown even to many monks.

There's a famous story told by Saint Symeon the New Theologian about a young layman George (actually Saint Symeon himself, before he took the veil) who attains ceaseless prayer while busy working in the imperial court. It is meant to prove that anyone can attain this ceaseless prayer. However, the details of the story cast doubt on this- young George, in meetings with the emperor and other imperial ministers, frequently seems to "space out" and ask people to repeat what they said. Some people get annoyed, at which point the emperor defends him, saying something to the effect of, "He is constantly remembering God, we should admire him!" So this young man, already in a very comfortable and privileged position, also has a very sympathetic boss who is willing to put up with what most bosses (and co-workers) would see as scatterbrained and irresponsible behavior. How many of us, in the world, are so fortunate?

So, coming back to this objection to the rosary as encouraging delusion because it involves visual meditations: I think this attitude comes hand in hand with this assumption of hesychasm as the norm for all Orthodox Christians. This assumption is propagated, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so, sometimes maybe unintentionally, in all kinds of popular Orthodox literature and by some very respected churchmen. I guess it's one of those many ripples from the hugely influential neo-patristic revival, which sought to return Orthodoxy to its vital sources but was also very romantic and often exaggerated certain aspects of our tradition. Undoubtedly something very important was recovered but the vociferousness with which it was done left us painted into a corner with a very romantic and unrealistic model of the Orthodox spiritual life, almost like we can all be seeing the uncreated light in a few months. If we want to warn against delusion, isn't there a huge danger here? There are so many popular books and articles out there about the Jesus prayer that one would think meat-and-potatoes devotions like the hours or akathists are an afterthought and nothing particularly profound could be written about them.

When someone mentions the rosary, instead of reacting with "No good! Jesus prayer only!" maybe it would be more useful to take it as a challenge to reflect on our own neglected devotions that have something in common with the rosary.
Very helpful post.
 

PorphyriosK

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Iconodule said:
I want to say something else, which I alluded too before, which is the distinction between the Jesus prayer and the specific hesychastic practice of prayer.

Hesychasm is for monks. Without some dramatic intervention from God, the attainment of the imageless and, eventually, wordless prayer one reads about in the Philokalia takes years of intensive practice in seclusion and quiet. Attempts have been made to popularize hesychasm to some degree or other but for the majority of laymen it is not practical. A few years ago IoanC helpfully offered this translation, from a Romanian Athonite elder: In our days, various ideas have come up and there is even a magazine for hesychasm in which it says that hesychasm is the best method for the current world to live in harmony with the universe. This is a great confusion between hesychasm and unceasing prayer. To be a hesychast means to be a hermit. 

(...)Then, how can you say that hesychasm is the best method for people in the world, when only the hermit, found himself in isolation, is able to reach whatever spiritual progress through great struggle? He lives in certain special conditions. Running from the world and harsh life, in isolation, are intrinsic only to him. How can you say that this scattered world is a good environment for the realization of hesychast prayer? This is impossible. St. Basil The Great together with St. Maximus The Confessor talk about unceasing prayer. They lived before the hesychastic fathers that The Church would come to now much later. Along the lines of unceasing prayer according to the apostolic urge, St. Basil explains how to pray without ceasing. In his homilies, he says that God does not expect us to ask Him to give us this and that because God knows better than us what we need. We should do what the apostle says in a different place: Therefore, whether you eat or drink, or whatever you do, do all to the glory of God.
+++
The obtainment of this state of unceasing prayer is accomplished through love, asceticism, elevating one's mind to God, and holy contemplations. He who has this has unceasing prayer."


One rarely gets such a sober, matter-of-fact statement in English Orthodox publications.

The Jesus prayer is not hesychasm. It is a tool (and not the only available one) for attaining the prayer of the heart but simply praying the Jesus prayer is not hesychasm. The Jesus prayer was widely advocated by many saints but they were not necessarily expecting laymen to thereby become hesychasts.  As Fr Petroniu suggests above, unceasing prayer can manifest in a number of ways and the unceasing prayer of the heart of the hesychasts is not for everyone. When people talk about the Jesus prayer and imageless prayer in one breath, as something for everyone, I detect a whiff of this dubious universalization of hesychasm, a practice which most Orthodox Christians to this day have either never heard of or only have the vaguest idea about. In many times and places it was unknown even to many monks.

There's a famous story told by Saint Symeon the New Theologian about a young layman George (actually Saint Symeon himself, before he took the veil) who attains ceaseless prayer while busy working in the imperial court. It is meant to prove that anyone can attain this ceaseless prayer. However, the details of the story cast doubt on this- young George, in meetings with the emperor and other imperial ministers, frequently seems to "space out" and ask people to repeat what they said. Some people get annoyed, at which point the emperor defends him, saying something to the effect of, "He is constantly remembering God, we should admire him!" So this young man, already in a very comfortable and privileged position, also has a very sympathetic boss who is willing to put up with what most bosses (and co-workers) would see as scatterbrained and irresponsible behavior. How many of us, in the world, are so fortunate?

So, coming back to this objection to the rosary as encouraging delusion because it involves visual meditations: I think this attitude comes hand in hand with this assumption of hesychasm as the norm for all Orthodox Christians. This assumption is propagated, sometimes subtly, sometimes less so, sometimes maybe unintentionally, in all kinds of popular Orthodox literature and by some very respected churchmen. I guess it's one of those many ripples from the hugely influential neo-patristic revival, which sought to return Orthodoxy to its vital sources but was also very romantic and often exaggerated certain aspects of our tradition. Undoubtedly something very important was recovered but the vociferousness with which it was done left us painted into a corner with a very romantic and unrealistic model of the Orthodox spiritual life, almost like we can all be seeing the uncreated light in a few months. If we want to warn against delusion, isn't there a huge danger here? There are so many popular books and articles out there about the Jesus prayer that one would think meat-and-potatoes devotions like the hours or akathists are an afterthought and nothing particularly profound could be written about them.

When someone mentions the rosary, instead of reacting with "No good! Jesus prayer only!" maybe it would be more useful to take it as a challenge to reflect on our own neglected devotions that have something in common with the rosary.
Thanks for sharing these insights.  So do you think prayer of the heart and hesychasm are one and the same or can a distinction be made?  I ask because from my reading, especially from St. Theophan the Recluse and St. Ignatius Brianchaninov, striving for unceasing prayer of the heart is something necessary for all Christians, while at the same time both saints more or less cautioned against solitary life or hesychasm.  So it seems that at least in their view there was more of a distinction.  I know St. Ignatius seemed to actually be very guarded and suspicious that hesychasm was even possible in his time and forbids any monk thinking they are capable of solitude. 

But for both St. Theophan and St. Ignatius, prayer of the heart is primarily repentant prayer that is felt in the heart and not just verbal or "head" prayer.  They consider prayer made "outside" of the heart to be the type that leads easily to pride, prelest, and delusion. So whether it's the Jesus Prayer or the Hail Mary or an Akathist hymn or canon, the important thing to them is that the heart is active in the prayer being said.
 

Iconodule

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There seem to be different ways of ranking the types of prayer but from what I recall prayer of the heart occupies a "middle" but very important place. It is not easily attained, except by the grace of God, but it does seem to be something everyone should strive for. Hesychasm includes it but also assumes a very rigorous and secluded mode of life, leading to higher states of prayer, pure prayer, and vision of the uncreated light. Sts Nicholas Cabasilas and Tikhon of Zadonsk give spiritual counsels more attuned to laymen; they urge constant prayer and meditation but not a specific formula or anything like the regimented lifestyle that one reads in hesychast books.
 
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