Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer

Norris Chumley “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer: Experiencing the Presence of God and a Pilgrimage to the Heart of an Ancient Spirituality” [HarperOne, 2011]
“For nearly two millennia, the holy men and women of Eastern Christianity have built lives of reflection, humility, and constant connection to God around a simple sentence, the Jesus Prayer. Now, Norris J. Chumley—a documentarian and professor—reveals the history, practices, and abiding wisdom of this mystical tradition to the rest of the world.
Chumley traveled to some of the early Church’s holiest sites with the Very Reverend Dr. John A. McGuckin, a priest and professor—to St. Anthony’s Monastery in the Egyptian desert and St. Catherine’s Monastery on Mount Sinai, to convents in Transylvania and to monasteries in Russia, the Ukraine, and Greece—in search of Christianity’s first mystical tradition and its modern-day practitioners. The monks and nuns he met taught him how to move through the stages of the Jesus Prayer, and how it can foster an unceasing, and ever deepening, conversation with God.”
“Norris Chumley presents a lavishly illustrated companion to the PBS documentary “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”. Readers can follow Chumley on a pilgrimage through the holiest sites of the early Christian world as he searches for modern-day practitioners of the ancient Eastern mystical tradition and its most sacred prayer: “Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” This beautifully illustrated volume includes black-and-white and full-color images of the author’s travels through Eastern Europe, including rare pictures from visits to holy sites where photographers are only rarely granted access.”
“The Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” [DVD, Magnetic Arts, New York City]
“”Lord Jesus Christ, Son of God, have mercy on me, a sinner.” These are the simple words of the Jesus prayer, used since the earliest Christian times as a means of quieting the mind, stilling the body, and opening the heart to God. This ancient prayer is now the subject of a new two-hour documentary, eight years in the making, by priest-historian Very Rev. John McGuckin and author-filmmaker Dr. Norris Chumley. “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer” traces the steps of the two men as they visit hermitages, monasteries, and churches in five Orthodox countries, seeking spiritual insights from the monastics who have practiced the prayer for many decades.
The film opens in the Egyptian desert and shows us the tiny cave of St. Anthony, the third-century monk considered the father of Christian monasticism, and the oldest practicing monastery in the world named for him. It continues to the spectacular St. Catherine’s Monastery in Sinai and journeys to Greece, Romania, Ukraine, and the majestic Holy Trinity Monastery of St. Sergius in Moscow. Along the way we meet several monks and nuns who reflect on the Jesus prayer, monasticism, and the Christian life. They include a young Ukrainian raised Communist and now eagerly serving the church as a priest, a widely esteemed Romanian elder, blind since birth and author of numerous theological books, who passed away shortly after he was interviewed for the film, and a young nun at an “urban” monastery in Kiev, Ukraine, who touchingly described sensing God’s presence right next to her during prayer.

Richly photographed and enhanced by Byzantine and Slavic chanting, the film beautifully portrays the splendor of Orthodox worship and spirituality.”

The website for the book and DVD is at:
See also the Facebook site:
See also Norris Chumley’s website:
A downloadable Study Guide was available, but seems not to be now that the store on the website for the book and DVD has closed.

“In this feature film, “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”, Dr. Chumley and his collaborator, Father John McGuckin, have provided an unprecedented, insiders’ view into the lives of contemporary Christian ascetics, athletes of spiritual struggle. They are a profoundly thoughtful — if surprisingly cheerful — collection of Orthodox monks and nuns.

As I was watching their faces, revisiting certain familiar enclaves and listening to their words, I kept thinking back on my own conversations with similarly prayerful folks, recalling my own slow journey into prayer, assisted in my turn by the fathers of Mount Athos and the mothers of Ormylia and Souroti.

In his book “The Sacrament of Love”, the 20th Century Orthodox theologian Paul Evdokimov observes: “It is not enough to say prayers; one must become, be prayer, prayer incarnate. It is not enough to have moments of praise. All of life, each act, every gesture, even the smile of the human face, must become a hymn of adoration, an offering, a prayer. One should offer not what one has, but what one is.”

I believe him.
Even so, how, one must wonder amid the distraction, the frenetic busyness and the roaring cacophony of contemporary life, does such a desirable becoming come about?

In their new film (and its soon-to-be-released book by the same title), Father John and Dr. Chumley offer an intimate insight into an answer, the ancient and efficacious practice of noetic prayer, the prayer of the heart, the Jesus prayer.

These prayer-seeking travelers take us with them as they retrace the journeys of early and modern saints whose love of God has drawn them and countless others into the stillness, the inner quiet that avails a profound sense of God’s utter and absolute nearness. These two men serve concurrently as our guides and as our fellow pilgrims journeying from the first monastic enclaves of Egypt, to the Holy Mountain of Greece, the forests of Romania and of the Ukraine, and finally to the majestic churches of Russia.

At every stop along the way, the pilgrim is offered unusually intimate insights into the lives of those who have been called to lives of prayer. At each successive stop, one increasingly comes to apprehend that this calling is not only for monks and nuns, but is a vocation to which each of us has been likewise called. As one articulate amma puts it, “It is for everyone. Why not?”
One comes to see that, as Paul Evdokimov has averred, these are men and women who are not merely saying prayers, but are becoming prayer. These are men and women who are actively making of their very persons a continuing hymn of praise.

In his “Ages of the Spiritual Life”, Evdokimov has also written: “…[T]he invocation of the name of Jesus makes the grace of his Incarnation universal, allowing each of us our personal share and disposing our hearts to receive the Lord … The ‘prayer of the heart’ frees and enlarges [the heart] and attracts Jesus to it … When Jesus is drawn into the heart, the liturgy becomes interiorized and the Kingdom is [established] in the peaceful soul. The Name dwells in us as its temple and there the divine presence transmutes and Christifies us.”

May it be so.

This is, finally, what every ascetic effort, the Lenten fast included, is all about: the strengthening of our hearts and minds, the deepening of our prayer and our increasing participation in the God Who Is.
May this astonishing and bold new film, “Mysteries of the Jesus Prayer”, assist countless others in the recovery of this ancient path to union with Christ our God. Now and ever.”

Scott Cairns at:


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