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Teachings on the Prayer of the Heart in the Greek and Syrian Fathers


The Significance of Body and Community


The prayer of the heart is an early Christian contemplative tradition of striking profundity and beauty. Christian authors of the Greek- as well as the Syriac-speaking world placed the heart at the center of a mystical theology that viewed the body as a God-given instrument of divine ascent and the relational setting of Christian existence as an important means of experiencing God’s abiding inner presence. This work sheds light on the Syrian church’s approach to the mystery of the divine encounter.
Publisher: Gorgias Press LLC
Availability: In stock
SKU (ISBN): 978-1-4632-0383-2
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Publication Status: In Print

Publication Date: Jun 18,2014
Interior Color: Black
Trim Size: 6 x 9
Page Count: 303
Language: English
ISBN: 978-1-4632-0383-2
$45.19

The prayer of the heart is an early Christian contemplative tradition of striking profundity and beauty. In this work, the inherently embodied, communal nature of this ancient teaching is explored, and its relevance to contemporary mystical seekers is addressed.

Taking as its starting point the holistic biblical orientation of the prayer of the heart, the present work draws on the writings of renowned early Christian ascetics from Aphrahat the Persian Sage and Origen of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor to consider the deeply experiential, integrative nature of their teaching. Christian authors of the Greek- as well as the Syriac-speaking world placed the heart at the center of a mystical theology that viewed the body as a God-given instrument of divine ascent and the relational setting of Christian existence as an important means of experiencing God’s abiding inner presence. Committed to the unity of body and soul, of individual and community, and of internal and external worship, the early Christian writers presented in these pages believed the hardships and joys of mundane, day-to-day existence to be valuable means of transforming the human heart into a place of interior worship and divine indwelling. The world-affirming tenor of their message promises to speak to all contemporary individuals who seek to experience greater intimacy with God despite the many demands and distractions of worldly existence.

"Jill Gather here presents a warm yet scholarly study that demonstrates the distinctive, and too often neglected, approach of the Syrian church to the mystery of the divine encounter. Her theme is the prayer of the heart, and in the course of demonstrating the deep embodiment of Syrian mysticism, she uncovers fundamental springs of eastern patristic literature. This is a study demonstrating close attention to the texts and historical contexts, which does not neglect the obvious and radiant fact that the overriding passion of all the early Syro-Christian thought was the encounter with the living God in the sanctuary of the heart. A luminous book." - John McGuckin, Columbia University

The prayer of the heart is an early Christian contemplative tradition of striking profundity and beauty. In this work, the inherently embodied, communal nature of this ancient teaching is explored, and its relevance to contemporary mystical seekers is addressed.

Taking as its starting point the holistic biblical orientation of the prayer of the heart, the present work draws on the writings of renowned early Christian ascetics from Aphrahat the Persian Sage and Origen of Alexandria to Maximus the Confessor to consider the deeply experiential, integrative nature of their teaching. Christian authors of the Greek- as well as the Syriac-speaking world placed the heart at the center of a mystical theology that viewed the body as a God-given instrument of divine ascent and the relational setting of Christian existence as an important means of experiencing God’s abiding inner presence. Committed to the unity of body and soul, of individual and community, and of internal and external worship, the early Christian writers presented in these pages believed the hardships and joys of mundane, day-to-day existence to be valuable means of transforming the human heart into a place of interior worship and divine indwelling. The world-affirming tenor of their message promises to speak to all contemporary individuals who seek to experience greater intimacy with God despite the many demands and distractions of worldly existence.

"Jill Gather here presents a warm yet scholarly study that demonstrates the distinctive, and too often neglected, approach of the Syrian church to the mystery of the divine encounter. Her theme is the prayer of the heart, and in the course of demonstrating the deep embodiment of Syrian mysticism, she uncovers fundamental springs of eastern patristic literature. This is a study demonstrating close attention to the texts and historical contexts, which does not neglect the obvious and radiant fact that the overriding passion of all the early Syro-Christian thought was the encounter with the living God in the sanctuary of the heart. A luminous book." - John McGuckin, Columbia University

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Contributor Biography

Jill Gather

Jill Gather earned her doctorate in Early Church History at Union Theological Seminary in New York City. She is deeply interested in the mystical tradition of the Late Antique and Byzantine Christian world.

  • Table of Contents (page 5)
  • Abbreviations (page 7)
  • Introduction (page 11)
    • The Doctrine of the Prayer of the Heart (page 23)
    • Historiographical Considerations (page 35)
  • 1 The Prayer of the Heart: its Biblical Origins (page 55)
    • The Old Testament (page 55)
    • The New Testament (page 64)
  • 2 The Prayer of the Heart: Its Syrian Christian Background (page 71)
    • Aphrahat (page 71)
    • Ephrem the Syrian (page 89)
  • 3 The Prayer of the Heart: Its Greek Christian Background (page 135)
    • Origen of Alexandria (page 135)
    • Evagrius of Pontus (page 170)
  • 4 The Early Byzantine Synthesis (page 191)
    • Dionysius the Areopagite (page 191)
    • Maximus the Confessor (page 216)
  • 5 Retrospective and Prospective (page 241)
    • The Desert Tradition (page 241)
  • Conclusion (page 263)
  • Bibliography (page 279)
    • Secondary Sources (page 284)
    • Primary Sources (page 279)
  • Index (page 299)
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