Thursday, June 30, 2016

Using the Jesus Prayer

Brother John Hoffman

Over the years, several people have asked about the Jesus Prayer and how to use it. I would like to share an answer I received from Metropolitan Anthony Bloom, some thirty-six years ago.

To use a phrase of Theophan the Recluse: the Jesus Prayer is not a talisman or an amulet, and although the powers of darkness cannot hear the holy name of Jesus without fear, it has no magic power over us. Anyone can use it if he does so with simplicity of heart (not as though he was engaging in a mysterious mystical exercise) and if the words are really meant; i.e., express a need and sincere attitude of mind.

To use it, you must be deeply, intensely, sincerely, aware that you are in need of God and that only in Him is salvation for you. To say that you are a sinner means just that; a sinner is one who is afraid of depth, who shrinks away from his own depth, who feels safer on the superficial levels of his being and his life, to whom the storms life experienced on its surface are more familiar, and seems to be safer than all the serenity and peace of the deep. As a result, the sinner cannot reach God who lives as the core of his being, cannot relate otherwise that superficially (in fear, greed, hatred, aggression, etc.) to his neighbor. If you are in this condition and are aware, painfully aware of it, you can honestly call yourself a sinner before God, and speak the other words of the Prayer.

The beginning of it is a complete profession of faith, which implies more than “believing,” but also the corresponding “doing.” Faith without works is dead. If you wish to call Jesus “Lord,” you must think out the implications of his “Lordship” in your personal life and set out ruthlessly without self-pity, to bring about in all your actions, thoughts, feelings, acts of will and desires. “Have mercy” covers a vast ground—“let your anger cease, grant me gratuitously your forgiveness, give me time and scope to change my life.” Read the Prayer of Manasseh; it means “heal me” (I am sick in soul and body, with the sickness of corruption), pour upon me your grace, that I may fulfill my vocation, which is your will. What is impossible to men is possible for God-in brief, become partakers of the Divine Will.

If you are aware of your desperate need, then cry to God in the brief invocation which the Jesus Prayer provides, but do not imagine that you are doing something meritorious or mystical or great—a drowning man has little cause to be proud of howls for help, salvation. Pay no attention to any feelings or physical phenomena. Take as a criterion for having prayed well a new and more ruthless readiness to do God’s will—humbly, unassumingly, and inconspicuously in His commandments. Let no one ever notice you are taking life seriously. One never pays too high a price in order to remain unnoticed.

ForceFree Training Seminar Held at New Skete

Brother Christopher

            In the summer of 2007, we began to introduce into our board and train program the use of the remote training collar. Earlier that summer I had attended a workshop held by Marc Goldberg and Martin Deeley, two experts on its use, and experienced first-hand how effective and gentle it could be when used properly for regular obedience training. Until that point, I had used the remote collar only to solve particularly difficult behavior problems. What I witnessed at the workshop was a new way of approaching this sort of training that provided dog owners reliable obedience and a new level of freedom in both communicating and relating with their dogs. The effect that seminar had on the way we train dogs here at New Skete has been revolutionary. Building on the tradition of training we have been known for many years, we were now able to help owners reach off-leash reliability with their dogs much more quickly, allowing for a more relaxed and enjoyable relationship. In short, we were able to be even more helpful to clients who enrolled their dogs in our program than ever before. It also began a lasting friendship between New Skete and both these stellar trainers.

            Well, fast forward to the present day. For the past several years we have been hosting two four-day seminars each summer entitled “The Art of Living with your Dog.” Marc Goldberg initially suggested the idea to us, and the seminars have been very successful and warmly received. They have provided us with an additional means of sharing our vision and approach to dogs with the general public. However, those seminars are not “hands on” in the sense of teaching attendees the practical skills of working with dogs. “The Art of Living with Your Dog” has been intentionally more philosophical in orientation, giving attendees the opportunity to experience our approach in a unique and relaxed way. People have been grateful for this approach; at the same time, many encouraged us to consider offering a separate seminar that focused on the e-collar and the way we use it here at New Skete. Since we had learned so much from our friendship and association with Marc Goldberg, we came to the mutual decision to collaborate in hosting a “Force-Free Training Workshop” devoted to teaching this method and using New Skete as the venue.

            Happily, the first e-collar workshop took place from June 7th to the 11th and brought 19 eager attendees. Throughout that week, they took advantage of the unique opportunity of learning this approach in a practical and safe way, working with some of their own dogs as well as dogs that were present in the training program. For myself personally, it was a great pleasure working closely with Marc Goldberg. Having come to know each other well over the past eight years, we were easily able to provide a comprehensive and in-depth introduction to this method of training in a manner that meshed our presentations seamlessly with each other. The result was an enlightening seminar that was very well received by the participants. Plans are already afoot for hosting the workshop again next year.

            Putting together a workshop is always something of an adventure, and this one in particular had its own challenges. Aside from some of the attendees bringing their own dogs and requiring boarding, working with “live” dogs to see how the training works in real life made the seminar different from our other seminar. However, the fact that the seminar was well thought out and planned made it flow naturally and organically. Much of the credit for this goes to our employees, who worked continuously behind the scenes, making sure the schedule was kept to, meals were prepared and served, and coordinating the efforts of the volunteers to make the seminar a success. To all who helped during these days, a very sincere thank you! 

Remembering Our 40th Anniversary Celebration

Reflections by Brother Luke

The year 2016 is our golden jubilee, marking 50 years since the founding of New Skete in 1966.  On our web site and our Facebook page you will find announcements of events commemorating this milestone in our community’s history. These include a benefit concert that was held on the day of our Open House, June 4 (see article by Br. Stavros), a new icon painted by Sr. Cecelia featuring the Transfiguration surrounded by other images of our life and work, and our annual Pilgrimage on Saturday, August 6, which will include a visit by our bishop, Metropolitan Tikhon, and a lecture by Fr. Michael Oleksa on the Alaskan roots of Orthodoxy in America. A new CD of a collection of New Skete recordings made over those 50 years will be available at the Pilgrimage. As a community renewal event, the monastics will gather on August 11–14 with Columba Stewart, OSB, who will lead a four-day conference. A new book of articles assembled by friends of New Skete on the theme of the Future of Christianity will also be published this year. A major feature of this celebration will be a complete renovation of our Transfiguration Temple, originally built in 1969—1970. For this we have invited our friends and benefactors to join with us to make this iconic symbol of our community once again an architectural jewel that will sparkle for decades to come.

As we worked to plan and organize these 50th anniversary events and celebrations, I was reminded of our experience in planning for our 40th anniversary in 2006. We started working on that celebration in 2005 when we decided to hold our first pilgrimage. In past years we had always considered the Feast of the Transfiguration on August 6 as a special celebration for the communities because the Monks’ monastery was dedicated to that feast, as was our first church. Now we were taking a new step to raise the profile of the celebration and to move it to the Saturday within the festal octave—which in 2016 actually falls on the feast day itself. We had no idea how the first pilgrimage would turn out. Happily, it was a success, and we were encouraged to go ahead with the second pilgrimage in 2006 to mark our 40th anniversary. As is the case this year, in 2006 we invited our bishop, then Metropolitan Herman, to celebrate the Divine Liturgy. The agenda for the day was a bit ambitious, with three lectures, a training demonstration, and a food court organized by our Chapel Community. Exhibits featured vestments produced by the Nuns, liturgical articles and icons, photos of our history, and photos of our puppy program. The guest speakers that day were Fr. Alexis Vinogradov, who spoke about Alexander Schmemann and New Skete, and then Dr. Roberta Ervine and Fr. Robert M. Arida, dean of the OCA Cathedral in Boston, who spoke about Liturgy and New Skete: Roots in Jerusalem and the Great Church of Constantinople. We also had an illustrated presentation on the history of New Skete given by members of New Skete on Friday. In subsequent years we realized that the Friday component was adding too much to the pilgrimage, and the number of lectures was reduced. Our enthusiasm in 2006 was moderated in later years as we realized the event offered more information and activities than could be absorbed by the attendees.

But the 40th anniversary year was more than just the pilgrimage. We also had a concert at which Kevin Lawrence played several of Bach’s solo violin sonatas, a retreat in May on the theme of spiritual direction, the Open House in June, and a Blessing of the Animals on October 4. Earlier in the year, Dr. Richard Schneider gave a lecture, “Do Icons Create the Church?” which included an analysis of the icon plan in our Holy Wisdom Temple. Since New Skete was founded in February, we even pushed the 40th celebration into January 2007, when we scheduled a retreat for the community members at Christ the King Retreat Center in Greenwich in which we reflected on our individual and community journeys in faith. Also in 2006 we issued our new recording of the Presanctified Liturgy.  Some of our plans never came to fruition, such as a retrospective issue of Gleanings, a mosaic icon for the new Welcome Garden, and an Ecumenical Symposium.  We were getting our feet wet in a new kind of opening to our community and region. All that activity served to launch us on a path of reaching out to broaden our witness and ideally embrace more people in the work and spirit of the community.  The next ten years would see many of these initiatives grow and bear more fruit. The 50th anniversary celebration is the latest blossoming of that earlier experience.

This reflection is the last in the series I offered to write on the 13-year period I served as prior of the Monks of New Skete. They were intended as a contribution to our 50th anniversary celebration.  As we near the culmination of our present celebration with the Pilgrimage on August 6, we can look to the future and focus on our dreams for the next 50 years for New Skete.