I met with Father Phil for a second time to discuss everything I learned from Peter Gillquist’s book, Becoming Orthodox, as well as to share what I had learned from Father Andrew’s podcast, Orthodoxy vs. Heterodoxy (see previous posts if you missed those).
I still wasn’t convinced, but these resources gave me plenty to think about. My conversations with Father Phil mostly went something along the following:
Reluctant Convert (Me): “Ok, I get why Mary is revered by the Orthodox Church and why you pray to saints. But I’m still not convinced this is right.”
Patient Priest (Father Phil): “That’s okay, I’m not here to convince you.”
RC: “You mean you’re not going to argue me into submission?”
PP: “That’s not my job, but the Holy Spirit’s.”
Many priests, pastors, and friends often try to argue me to their side, which ended up in heated arguments and often times hurt feelings, rather than winning a convert. I’m thankful that Father Phil did not take this approach.
The next thing he did was give me the most significant book to my conversion. Philokalia: The Bible of Orthodox Spirituality
by Anthony M. Coniaris is a laymen’s guide to the five volume set of the Philokalia which was put together by my patron saint, Saint Nicodemus of the Holy Mountain.
Philokalia literally translates to “Love of the Beautiful”. And what is most beautiful is Jesus Christ.
In this book, Anthony Coniaris lays out the most important aspects of Orthodox Spirituality which sums up to prayer, specifically the Jesus Prayer.
One excerpt from his book tells the story of a man who traveled the nations looking for someone to teach him how to be continually in prayer as the Bible commands. No one could give him an answer of what this looked like and gave only unhelpful tips. Finally he came to an old monk who when asked the question told him to say the Jesus Prayer constantly.
What is the Jesus Prayer?
It is the prayer that stopped Jesus in his tracks.
“Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.”
It is an amalgamation of two scriptures. The first comes from the parable of the Publican and the Pharisee, in which the Publican says, “Lord have mercy on me, a sinner.” The second comes from blind Bartimaeus in Luke 18:38-40 “And he called out, saying, ‘Jesus, Son of David, have mercy on me!’… and Jesus stopped…” (from the NASB).
It is a prayer that calls out to Christ, recognizing him as the savior, and recognizing our own position of need.
It was as though my heart had found what it was longing for. I’ve been told many things growing up in various churches. “You don’t need to do anything once you’re saved.” Or “You need to follow these things or else you’ll end up in hell.” Not word for word, but the point remains.
Orthodoxy instead gave me something to do, while telling me I can do nothing. I think this is the true state of the Christian life. We beg God for mercy, recognizing his position as Lord of all, and our position as less than the dirt.
It gave me something to pray when I didn’t know what to pray. It calmed my spirit.
After reading this book, I purchased a small prayer rope from Saint Anthony’s
monastery in Florence, AZ. I have worn it almost every day since it arrived. Not because I believe it gives me any special connection to God, but that it gives me a tangible reminder to pray, and to stay focused while I pray.
There are many prayers that the Orthodox church prescribes for a variety of situations. But I have found none that have been more important in my life than the Jesus Prayer.
Because this book impacted me so much, I want to take time to really go through it in my blog.
Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.