Br Ramon SSF & Simon Barrington-Ward
Praying the Jesus Prayer Together
BRF, London, 2001, £6.99
(price at publication
‘That is my half of the book,’ [Ramon] said, ‘I hope you won’t mind, but I’ve finished it and it’s complete, just waiting for your half! You see, I was in a bit of a hurry!’ Ramon completed his part of this book during a ‘kind of plateau’ of improved health and physical strength prior to his death from cancer in June 2000, and Bishop Simon completed the project later. I had eagerly awaited the publication of their book, although when I first held a copy in my hand I realised that I wasn’t quite sure exactly what kind of work it was. In places it is the kind of systematic teaching on the Jesus Prayer I had expected, with a chapter for instance by both authors on the biblical basis, and another from Ramon of practical ‘how to do it’ teaching. The book doesn’t start there though, because it really is what the title implies: a description of life in its ups and downs, and spiritual friendship, based in the practice together of this simple yet profound way of prayer. It is not really surprising, then, that both authors provide touching reflections on their different experiences of Ramon’s illness and death – and surely it is forgivable in the circumstances that the text as a whole felt just a little disjointed. We read, too, how others have been drawn together in this way of prayer through the ministry of ‘the bishop and the hermit’.
For me, perhaps the most moving chapter was the final one. Here Bishop Simon describes how the Orthodox monastery in Essex, where both he and Ramon had learned so much, was founded by the Russian Archimandrite Sophrony (who died in 1993), who in his turn had found a spiritual guide in Saint Silouan, at that time (1930) a relatively obscure monk of Mount Athos. That final chapter is about so much more, but I was moved by the sense of being able to share in the wisdom of the Desert Fathers, passed on from person to person through the centuries to our own day. This did prove to be a book that helped me to pray.
Desmond Alban SSF
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