Sunday, October 24, 2010



Just as there can be a properly trained voice,
there can be a properly trained soul.
— Fr Alexander Elchaninov

This presentation is based on the research that I undertook for a book titled Imagine That… : Mental Imagery in Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox Private Devotion, published in paperback in February of 2009 with the blessing of His Eminence Archbishop Kyrill of San Francisco. The work is an analytical comparison of Roman Catholic and Eastern Orthodox attitudes toward mental imagery. In this presentation, I wish to focus specifically on the Orthodox tradition of prayer.

Eastern Orthodoxy displays a great degree of uniformity in following a path of stillness of thought and silence of mind to achieve the prayer of heart in private devotion. John Climacus writes in The Ladder that “the beginning of prayer consists in chasing away invading thoughts…”

The mind is to be freed from all thoughts and images and focused on the words of prayer. Further in the chapter on prayer, Climacus instructs not to accept any sensual images during prayer, lest the mind falls into insanity; and not to gaze upon even necessary and spiritual things.
Unlike Roman Catholicism, the Orthodox Tradition does not encourage the use of mental imagery.

In fact, it almost appears to forbid sensory imagination during prayer altogether. In the words of one of the contemporary Orthodox elders, Abbot Nikon Vorobyev (1894-1963), “that, which sternly, decisively, with threats and imploring is forbidden by the Eastern Fathers, Western ascetics strive to acquire through all efforts and means”.

1 comment:

  1. It seems that what you're talking about here is none other than meditation, although most people, whether accurate or not, associate it with Eastern religions and philosophies. Considering that the goal of meditation is to clear your mind, as you mentioned in this post, it seems that the Jewish prayers were designed as forms of meditation. Regarding mental imagery in particular, there is the verse from Psalms 18:6, which states, "I shall set God before always." Although perhaps "imagery" is the wrong word here - perhaps mental direction is more accurate.

    I wanted to ask you about something else, however. Some 7 years ago when you left comments on my blog, you wrote that you were "addicted to Judaism." What exactly do you think is the nature of this addiction and how are you dealing with it? Haha. Have you seen anybody about it?

    One of the sections on my blog is devoted to Christianity, although it's still quite small (one post, for now).