The earliest detailed descriptions of a physical technique occur in two texts, the first dating from the late thirteenth century, the second in all probability more or less contemporary with it.
All that is necessary to fulfil one’s duty to God is to pray simply, to stand and say the Our Father as Christ taught us.Half a century after Diadochos, the two Old Men of Gaza, St Barsanouphios and St John (early sixth century) recommend a variety of short prayers that include the name of Jesus.Around the same time or slightly later, the contains for the first time what came afterwards to be regarded as the standard form of the Jesus prayer: ‘Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me.’ The addition of the words ‘the sinner’ at the end is not found before the fourteenth century.He was arrested in 1276, taken to Constantinople and then to Acre, where he was tried before a Latin judge and exiled to Cyprus, although he was released in the following year. Palamas mentions the work , stating: ‘Because he saw that many beginners were incapable of controlling the instability of their intellect, even to a limited degree, he proposed a method whereby they could restrain to some extent the wanderings of the imagination.’ Nikiphoros is sometimes termed the ‘inventor’ of this bodily method, but Palamas does not actually say this.Perhaps Nikiphoros did no more than provide the first written description of a technique that had long been traditional on Athos, and had been handed down orally from teacher to disciple.Metropolitan Kallistos addresses the question of whether there are parallels between the hesychastic method of prayer and other apparently similar techniques of prayer in Hinduism and Islam. This is something to which as Christians we need to give particular thought at this present time. Jung is typical: ‘Spirit is the living body seen from within, and the body is the outer manifestation of the living spirit — the two beings really one.’ If writers on Chris tian spirituality continue to assume a sharp contrast between body and soul — as they have frequently done in the past — their words will seem increasingly irrelevant to their secular contemporaries. In fact Evagrios is less anti-physical than these words suggest, for he assigns an important function in prayer to such bodily experiences as the gift of tears.Looking at the origins of hesychasm and the teachings of figures such as St Gregory Palamas, St Gregory of Sinai and Nikiphoros the Hesychast, Metropolitan Kallistos addresses the question: is the Jesus Prayer an essential and authentically Christian practice, or is it unnecessary and perhaps even harmful? For we are living in an age when, alike in philosophy, in physics and in psychology, it is proving less and less helpful to posit a dichotomy between spirit and matter, between soul and body. In reality a body-soul division of a Platonic type has no place within Christian tradition. One of the most thoroughgoing attempts in the history of Christian spirituality to ascribe a positive and dynamic role to the body during prayer was made by the fourteenth-century hesychasts.That puts you right for the whole day; but not to go on over and over again to the same tune. Besides, it’s bad for your heart.’‘Don’t think in that way about this holy book, sir’, I answered. It was from them that the monks of India and Bokhara took over the “heart method” of interior prayer, only they quite spoilt and garbled it in doing so.’Which of the two is right, the Polish steward or the Russian pilgrim?‘It was not written by simple Greek monks, but by great and very holy men of old time, men whom your Church honours also [. Is the ‘heart method’ of the hesychasts authentically Christian, a true way of fulfilling the in junction, ‘Glorify God in your body? Already among the monks of fourth-century Egypt it was the custom to use ‘arrow prayers’, short and fervent invocations frequently repeated, as an aid in preserving the continual ‘remembrance of God*. We need to give it concrete and practical expression in our theology of the sacraments, especially the sacraments of the eucharist and of marriage, and equally in our theology of prayer. It is not enough, however, simply to assert this holistic anthropology in theory.