Wednesday, 29 April 2015

Alexandros Andreou: The 'Prayer of the Heart' in St Mark the Monk

The 'prayer of the heart' is a significant element of the Eastern Christian monastic practices that aim at deification, and particulary those belonging to that ascetic current championed by St Gregory Palamas and the Philokalia in the fourteenth and eighteenth centuries respectively. It is regarded as one of the fundamental practices that may accompany the practice of repentance, reveal the latent grace of baptism, and bring the ascetic into a direct and personal communion with Christ. In this paper, I examine the references to the 'prayer of the heart' that appear in the writings of St Mark the Monk, a seminal fifth-century ascetic writer of some repute, student of St John Chrysostom, and the 'theologian of baptism par excellence.'
I argue that Mark was aware of at least an early form of the prayer, which he valued enough to recommend to those under his pastoral care. The specific prayer technique was sufficiently well known so as not to warrant explicit analysis. Instead, Mark suffices to refer to it by employing certain key phrases (e.g. 'single-worded hope', 'descent into the heart') that evoke it in his immediate readers' minds. To this end, following an examination of the extant textual evidence, I identify the place and function of the 'prayer of the heart' within Mark's fundamentally baptismal theology and in connrection to his approach to monastic education, and discuss its relation with its immediate Evagrian precedents and later Symeonic and Palamite antecedents.

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