Ancient Christian Meditation Discovered

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A prayer used some 2,000 years ago, still in use by monks and nuns in far away caves and monasteries but mostly unknown to the rest of the world, is the subject of a new documentary feature film and book. It's called Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer and focuses on a prayer thought to have first been practiced by the Apostles.

Most of us want peace and happiness in our lives; that's what we live for. Sometimes it may feel that true peace and spiritual contentment are impossible in this chaotic world of stress, speed, over-stimulation and overstretched finances. At times, the desire to run away to some distant land may be highly tempting.

Most of us cannot just retreat to a cave or monastery where we can be totally contemplative, meditating and praying with God without disruption. We don't have the luxury of leaving it all behind. The answer is to integrate meditation and prayer in all of your daily activities. Like the Apostle Paul suggested, pray constantly. The Jesus Prayer is the perfect meditation. It's like a Christian mantra.

Monks, nuns and spiritual hermits have left their troubles in the "civilized world" behind for centuries, initially escaping to the Egyptian desert. One of the earliest Christian monks was Saint Antony, a man determined to find God in silence and isolation. Born to a wealthy Alexandrian merchant family, one day he passed by a church and heard the minister reciting the words of Jesus, "Go, sell everything you have and give it to the poor, and come and follow me." He took those words to heart and at the age of 34, gave away his entire inheritance and retreated into the desert. He found an abandoned tomb and lived alone there for many years. In the desert he not only found a way to abandon his material desires, he learned to live with very little water or food, seeking only prayer as sustenance. Saint Antony, considered by some to be the father of all monks, recited the Jesus Prayer over and over, seeking only the mercy of his lord Jesus Christ.

This ancient prayer has been passed down through generations. Initially recited verbally, it was ultimately written in obscure instruction manuals intended only for monks. It was kept in secret, only to be revealed as part of a dedicated life of isolation. Some spiritual counselors advise using it only with the help of a disciplined guide, in the context of a life devoted to monasticism. Others say that anyone can use it.

Still in use some 2,000 years later in monasteries and churches that grew out of the Egyptian desert and spread to Greece, the Mediterranean, Eastern Europe, Slavic lands, and Russia, the Jesus Prayer is now being revealed to those of us in the western world.

There is no longer a need to become a monk or nun to know and use this prayer. It isn't necessary to leave your family, work or home behind and renounce everything. The prayer, Kyrie Eleison in Greek (Lord have mercy), or the Jesus Prayer, has great power. The documentary feature film and companion book from HarperOne, Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, will introduce methods for using this prayer early next year, so that anyone can use it at any time and in any place.

Travelling with camera crews to ancient lands of peace and solitude, for the first time on film hermits, monks and nuns in caves, monasteries and convents share this ancient mystical prayer with the outside world. Based on a book The Spiritual Meadow, written in the seventh century, a priest, John Moscos, takes a student, Sophronious, to meet monks seeking spiritual words of wisdom. In the new film and companion book Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer, Very Rev. Dr. John McGuckin and I retrace their steps, bringing the wisdom of both ancient saints and living Christian sages and spiritual masters to you.

We travel to the oldest existing monastery on earth, St. Antony's, in Upper Egypt bringing you inside St. Antony's mountaintop cave where he lived for 46 years. You'll meet the staretz, or living spiritual master, Father Lazarus, and hear his explanation of what exactly this simple prayer is, and how to use it. We bring you along on a journey to Mt. Sinai, the place where God spoke to Moses. We introduce you to the wise old men of St. Catherine's monastery, built in the late fifth century. Seeking only a word and a prayer, we take you to Greece and holy Mount Athos, a peninsula of peace profound where only monks live since the 10th century. As Christian nuns and monks fled to eastern provinces since the fall of Constantinople in 1453, we travel their routes to Eastern Europe, to Romania, Ukraine, Old Russ, and Russia.

Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer is almost finished. Look for it around Easter of next year, but in the meantime, please join us on the journey with a few sneak peeks at