11 July 2009

Did Eastern Fathers Pray in the Spirit?

In the Spiritual writings of the Christian East, specifically the Philokalia, many types of prayer are described: psalmody, the Jesus Prayer, contemplation, singing hymns, and vigils. One type of prayer that is often mentioned but not explained is "formless prayer" that, according to St. Peter of Damaskos, exchanges human words for "the divine words of the Spirit".

Ilias the Presbyter calls this free-form prayer, "sweet smelling wine," and "those who drink deep of this wine are rapt out of themselves." (Gnomic Anthology, 72)

If you've been following my recent posts then you can guess where I'm going with this. When I read words like this through a Charismatic lens I can't help but connect it to the spontaneous prayer in the Spirit associated with the Renewal. I naturally associate praying with "divine words of the Spirit" with praying in tongues. And the resulting rapture and ecstasy is that sweet consolation one feels when caught up in Spirit-filled worship.

I'll admit that I could be totally off-base here and simply projecting my experience onto ancient words. Even so, what I have discovered in my recent survey of Eastern Christian spirituality is a vocabulary for understanding contemporary Charismatic experience in an Eastern context.

My prayer is that Eastern Christians find joy and "sober-minded drunkenness" as they transcend the words of prayer, psalms, and Liturgy into communion with the Holy Spirit.

Heavenly King, Comforter, Spirit of Truth, everywhere present and filling all things, Treasury of Blessings and Giver of Life, come and dwell within us, cleanse us of all stain and save our souls, o gracious One.
~Eastern Prayer to the Holy Spirit, Tone 6

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