Saturday, January 03, 2009

Ostrov…

The film is focused on father Anatoly's repentance of his sin (therefore the virtually continuous occurrence of the Jesus Prayer); but the transgressions of the depicted character (a fool for Christ) and their impact on the others are the means by which the actual plot develops. The film's director Pavel Lungin, speaking of the central character's self-awareness, said he doesn't regard him as being clever or spiritual, but blessed "in the sense that he is an exposed nerve, which connects to the pains of this world. His absolute power is a reaction to the pain of those people who come to it;" while "typically, when the miracle happens, the lay people asking for a miracle are always dissatisfied" because "the world does not tolerate domestic miracles."

Screenwiter Dmitry Sobolev further explains: "When people ask for something from God, he is often wrong because God has a better understanding of what a person wants at that moment." Pyotr Mamonov, who plays the lead character, formerly one of the few rock musicians in USSR, converted to Eastern Orthodoxy in the 1990s and lives now in an isolated village. Pavel Lungin said about him that "to a large extent, he played himself." Mamonov received a blessing from his confessor for playing the character.

The simplicity, the humbleness, the remoteness, the miracles converge into creating a timeless snapshot of the Orthodox spirituality, apart from the historical circumstances. Patriarch Alexei II of Russia praised Ostrov for its profound depiction of faith and monastic life, calling it a "vivid example of an effort to take a Christian approach to culture."

(From the Wikipedia entry on the recent Russian film Ostrov) (You need to read the whole entry for the context…)

 

Life is precious. Not because it is unchangeable, like a diamond, but because it is vulnerable, like a little bird. To love life means to love its vulnerability, asking for care, attention, guidance, and support. Life and death are connected by vulnerability. The newborn child and the dying elder both remind us of the preciousness of our lives. Let's not forget the preciousness and vulnerability of life during the times we are powerful, successful, and popular.

(Henri Nouwen, from Bread for the Journey)

This comes very close to my own heart in the Jesus Prayer. I have recently discovered a fellow-traveller on the path of this Prayer, who calls himself Confessing Evangelical - an English Lutheran living "somewhere on the fringes of London" but located here in cyberspace. Here is a list of permalinks to his posts on the Prayer: Confessing Evangelical's posts on the Jesus Prayer.

Probably CE's most striking post is The Jesus Prayer as a summary of the gospel, where he quotes Bishop Kallistos Ware:

…to have mercy is to acquit the other of the guilt which by his own efforts he cannot wipe away, to release him from the debts he himself cannot pay, to make him whole from the sickness for which he cannot unaided find any cure. The term "mercy" means furthermore that all this is conferred as a free gift: the one who asks for mercy has no claims upon the other, no rights to which he can appeal.

I think the thing that God is trying to show me by calling me to the Jesus Prayer is that here in fact is the way to "pray without ceasing" (1 Thessalonians 5.17) - as intercessors, all God asks of us is broken hearts - we do not need to find solutions to the prayers we pray, nor just the right words to frame them. God knows what is on our hearts (Romans 8:26-27) - we need only be honest and courageous enough to feel: feel the pain and the grief and the confusion and betrayal and despair the world feels, and to come before our Lord and Saviour with them on our hearts, and ask for God's mercy in the holy name of Jesus.

It is difficult to speak of the aim or goal of [contemplative] prayer, for there is a sense in which it is a process of union which is as infinite as it is intimate... The meaning and design of the Jesus Prayer is an ever deepening union with God, within the communion of saints. It is personal, corporate and eternal, and the great mystics, in the Biblical tradition, come to an end of words. They say that "eye has not seen nor ear heard", they speak of "joy unspeakable" and "groanings unutterable" and "peace that passes understanding".

But there are some things which we can say, which are derivative of that central core of ineffable experience. We can say that such prayer contains within itself a new theology of intercession. It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into such contemplative prayer as opens before us in the use of the Jesus Prayer. God knows, loves and understands more than we do, and he carries us into the dimension of contemplative prayer and love, and effects salvation, reconciliation and healing in his own way, using us as the instruments of his peace, pity and compassion.

Thus we can say that the "prayer of the heart" unites us with the whole order of creation, and imparts to us a cosmic awareness of the glory of God in both the beauty and the sadness of the world. The process of transfiguration for the whole world has begun in the Gospel, but it will not be completed until the coming of Christ in glory. And until that time we are invited, through prayer, to participate in the healing of the world's ills by the love of God. And if we participate at such a level, then we shall know both pain and glory. The life and ministry of Jesus in the gospels reveal this dimension, for Jesus was at one and the same time the "man of sorrows, acquainted with grief", and the transfigured healer, manifesting the glory of the Father upon the holy mountain.

Brother Ramon SSF Praying the Jesus Prayer Marshall Pickering 1988 (now unfortunately out of print)

1 comment:

  1. "It is not that we are continually naming names before God, and repeating stories of pain, suffering and bereavement on an individual and corporate level, but rather that we are able to carry the sorrows and pains of the world with us into such contemplative prayer as opens before us in the use of the Jesus Prayer."
    This is true, and I was thinking, Mike, that maybe this relates to why Merton spoke of people who practise the Jesus prayer being led by the Spirit to shorten it bit by bit, until finally their prayer is simply "Jesus".

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